Freedom Road

When we think about a future beyond the long crisis ahead, we find ourselves confronted with challenging questions.  Among them is the meaning and implications of “perfect freedom” — the principle articulated by Patrick Henry, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and others.

Patrick Henry famously said, “Perfect freedom is as necessary to the health and vigor of commerce as it is to the health and vigor of citizenship.”

Many Americans consider this as an unyielding principle.  But context matters.  Those following this blog over time have, I expect, given thought to the limits of freedom we experience in our personal lives.  We all live in a reality defined by limitations and constraints.

A democratic society that provides the security and social order needed for the freedoms we treasure will always present us with limits.  The decisions we make concerning personal relationships, education, employment, and recreation impose the most immediate constraints in our daily lives.

So, what is ‘perfect freedom’?

If we are committed to ‘perfect freedom’ in principle, how can we fault business leaders for maximizing profits by moving jobs overseas or mechanizing assembly lines or in using any other means absent of fraud?

What else can we expect?  And, how can any alternative be legislated with fairness or practical effect?

Yet, we are now forced to recognize that even capitalism itself cannot survive in a world where “anything goes.”

Healthy businesses depend on stable economic policies, predictability, and the accuracy of price-seeking markets.  Free markets are necessary because prices in the marketplace must reflect reality for both buyers and sellers.

These are basic structural necessities that make economic freedom possible. No commerce and no functional economy is possible without it.

Freedom depends on respect for the rules that make it possible.

Today we find ourselves facing the overwhelming consequences of structural economic destruction.  Capital is monopolized by a tiny minority, and it is parked in unproductive places.  Money is not circulating, which limits economic activity.

A vibrant consumer economy has been derailed and the middle class hobbled.

The functional integrity of free markets has been abandoned to the self-centered interests of predatory individuals and institutions.  And that is not all.

Money and power now flow in the virtual reality of electronic networks, largely independent of the productive economy.  The new network economy is global, while jobs and people, community and responsibility all remain locally constrained in the real world.

Americans have entered a major turning point.

Placing blame is of little use when we are confronted with such extremes.  Yes, we must understand our predicament.   But, it is essential that we then turn our attention to re-imagining and re-configuring the future.

We need to think creatively and think together, calling on partisan adversaries to pull in their horns, get practical and apply themselves locally.

For many, the jobs we had are gone for good.  Incomes have stagnated or deteriorated for decades.  Most significantly, many of us have lost our means for living with self-respect.

Making an income influences our sense of dignity and well-being.  Unemployment and poverty are not simply insufficiencies of income.  They have a debilitating impact on individual freedom, initiative, and capacity.

Poverty and overwhelming debt are more than regrettable misfortunes.  They inflict a serious drag on a productive economy and are a blight on liberty.

Local communities can choose to overcome this barrier.  Individuals with practical experience can share knowledge and skills, assisting others to step out of our old lives and gain new competencies.

Each of us can look around, think creatively, and take initiative – cooperating where necessities become obvious and building businesses that address local and regional needs.

Locally and regionally-based economies need to be reconstructed, transcending the chaos around us and surmounting the stumbling blocks thrown up by government and big business.

We can network with people in nearby communities to share ideas and resources, to find (or offer) learning opportunities, and to expand our horizons.

Americans are smart, industrious, and resourceful.  We can rise to the challenge and free one another from the shackles of limited perspective and inadequate skills.

Working together requires many things, among them patience, vision, creative imagination, cooperation and generosity of spirit.

These are choices that are ours to make.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about September 27.

First Principle

If Americans are to regain confidence in the future, we must learn to work together effectively despite our differences.  And, we will need to employ means that can actually lead to the ends we seek.  Let’s proceed then with respectful deliberation rather than emotion and ego.

The clash of differing opinions is a time-honored American tradition.  But, no American responds well to abuse, verbal or otherwise.  Expressing our views is important, but nothing will subvert our purpose more quickly than a combative attitude that alienates the very people we need to influence or work with.

We have choices.  We can choose to join forces to tackle the practical problems that threaten the safety and security of our communities.  We can choose to distinguish ourselves with civility and common decency, cooperating to resolve practical problems.

It is only in dependable working relationships tasked with shared responsibilities that we can truly come to know and influence one another.

We live in a time of dangerous instability.   It is a time to refrain from antagonistic words, a time to refocus our energy away from the dysfunction of partisan politics, so to secure essential needs at home.

I have described three essential elements that make safe communities possible.  They are trust, dependability, and constructive action.

These elements will only be found in communities where neighbors rise above their differences to serve a higher purpose.  And, for self-respecting Americans, purpose must be something more than “survival.”

As regular readers know, I use the term “constructive action” to describe the positive means by which we can realistically pursue shared goals.  And, I have explained that constructive action is impossible without a shared sense of purpose.

Shared purpose, I wrote, is a lens through which a community can bring the challenges of necessity into focus and coordinate the efforts of diverse personalities.  In working relationships, shared purpose can provide a standard by which to determine priorities and judge progress.

So, how can we understand constructive action?

Constructive action begins with the refusal to do harm.  It is action taken with dignity, respectfully, which refuses to hurt or injure – by impatience, dishonesty, hatred, or wishing ill of anybody.

Please do not misinterpret constructive action as merely a negative state of harmlessness.

On the contrary, while constructive action in its purest form attempts to treat even the evil-doer with honesty and grace, it will by no means assist the evil-doer in doing wrong.  Nor will it tolerate wrong-doing in any way.

Constructive action requires that we resist what is wrong and disassociate ourselves from it even if doing so antagonizes the wrong-doer.

Constructive action is the essential first principle upon which all other principles, values, and purposes depend.  Its’ underlying premise is pragmatic.  It allows communication and problem-solving even in the most difficult circumstances.

There is a close relationship between the positive spirit of respect and trustworthiness that characterizes constructive action and the moral integrity of the civil society we wish to build.  The two are inseparable as means and ends.

Constructive action is the means.  Unity of purpose grounded in moral integrity is the end.

Western political thinking has always considered means to be either an abstraction of tactics or simply the character of social and political machinery.  In both cases means are considered only in their service to the goals of political interests.

Here we have a very different understanding of means, replacing end-serving goals with an end-creating purpose.

Such an approach to our methods is necessary if we seek to apply traditional American values to rapidly changing circumstances.  Thus my call for the active engagement of all Americans in this endeavor, despite our vast diversity.

A vital and prosperous future can only be reached by capitalizing on our differences – in knowledge, skills, perspectives.

And, the better our working relationships, the better our chances for influencing one another – to attract, inspire, and understand.

Again, we have clear choices to make.

Either we choose to respect the Constitution and recover the fundamental meaning of the American Idea, or we can walk away forever from the safety, stability, and integrity of a future we can trust and believe in.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about May 31.

Foundations for Security

In seeking security for those we care for at a time of crisis we would do well to consider the qualities of order and stability that security requires.

Safety depends on the conditions we put in place around us, and therefore upon our ability to provide for necessities and to create a dependable environment.  This includes access to adequate food and healthcare, a roof over our heads, safe functional sanitation, and absence of conflict, among other things.  None of these will be possible without proactive, trustworthy relationships with our neighbors.

With deteriorating social and economic conditions we will be exposed to the failure of institutions and systems we have depended on for basic needs.  Our neighborhoods may feel less safe.  Police protection may become less dependable.  Some individuals might lose their balance and become disoriented.

It is quite possible that we will find it necessary to organize our communities effectively to meet needs and resolve problems.

In a time of social degradation it would, in my view, be wise to think carefully and rationally about the potential for sociopathic violence.

But, let’s be clear: The possibility for violence is only one among a wide range of security concerns.  In the coming weeks I will touch on some of these, including ways we can both prepare for and limit personal encounters with violence.

As we experience increasing disorder, I expect it will become increasingly clear that we must assume responsibility for our own necessities.

Food security will be a major problem if we do not learn how to produce and preserve food.  Hunger is not fun and hungry people are often not very nice.  By the way, March and April are crucial months for planning gardens and preparing the soil in the northern hemisphere.

The greatest test for some may be the sudden recognition that we do not really know how to be self-sufficient.  Our well-being will depend on how we respond to these challenges.  And so, as we find our way forward in a new reality it will become apparent that the requirements of security are in fact the requirements of stable communities.

That said, let’s be realistic about the relative nature of security.

President Dwight Eisenhower, a five star general, reminded us of the limits: “If you want total security,” he said, “go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.”

Like President Eisenhower, Helen Keller also had a way of putting things in perspective.  Being both deaf and blind gave her insights into life that the rest of us would do well to think about.

Security is mostly a superstition,” she said. “It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.  Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.  Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

Fear can interfere with our ability to address problems and to keep our heads clear in difficult circumstances.  However, security concerns certainly do need to be addressed to keep our families safe and our communities productive.

I suggest that a sequence of responsibilities applies to local communities:  Freedom depends on security, which depends on stability, which in turn depends upon honesty, trust, dependability, and forbearance.  All these depend on personal commitment and generosity of spirit.

There is one other essential component as well, which I call “constructive action.”  By this I mean the active condition in which dependable working relationships are built.

Trust and dependability among neighbors can only be functional in the presence of constructive action guided by principle and a shared sense of purpose.

Principle and purpose cannot be constrained.  Stability is only possible when we are in motion.  Constructive action supported by a shared sense of purpose will be the only way to navigate through dark times.

Stability is the necessary foundation for security.  And, constructive action allows us dynamic flexibility in responding to what the world throws at us.

All of this will also depend on our readiness to work closely with people we have differences with.

We cannot be tentative about this.  Building trustworthy communities will not be easy.  Our future depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about April 6.  To receive alerts by email when new posts are available, please click the “Follow” button on the right side of this page.

America: Meaning, Action, Place

We have been considering the value of local communities as the means for seeking safety and stability during a long crisis.  Further, I have argued that communities are the basic building-blocks of a civilized society.  Well-organized, fully functional communities will become the foundations for an American future we can respect and believe in.

Thoughtful readers will have recognized that the strategy proposed here implies a premise – a pattern and framework for action that few have imagined.

The United States is a large, diverse, and pluralistic nation.  Diversity and pluralism have long been elemental expressions of our national identity, and compelling evidence of the strength in the constitutional model that America demonstrates to a troubled world.

How can American communities restore meaning to the vision we have inherited?

No political philosophy is offered here; only a reminder that Americans are the beneficiaries of a priceless birthright: An exceptional Constitution, an “idea”, and a belief in ourselves that has carried us through crises and hardship for more than 200 years.

There is only one means for recovering the vision, attitude, and confidence that makes us who we are.  This will be through honest, rational engagement in the commitment to resolve local problems and address shared needs with our fellow-citizens.

The decisive success of such a bold undertaking can only be forged in the crucible of genuine communities – in our own communities – built in place, wherever we are.

To pull ourselves out of crisis and set course for a truly American future, it will be necessary to learn the lessons of civility, of operative unity, and the practical skills required for organizing and collaboration.

Ultimately these can only be learned through personal engagement and experience. We cannot overcome our fears and regain confidence in the future by isolating ourselves – either physically or emotionally.

The profile and characteristics of community required to overcome social disorder and estrangement will reflect, as much as possible, the diverse composition of America as a whole.

Yes, this will be extremely challenging.  But, we have no choice.

I have presented the rationale for ensuring that we know our neighbors and can depend on them.  I have spoken of the necessity to rise above our differences, at least to the extent that we can collaborate in addressing local problems and needs.

The resources, skills and tools needed for these endeavors are available and can be learned by anyone.  And, I assure you that the frame of mind that allows community to flourish can be achieved by every American.

However, we have not talked about the challenges posed by ideologies or dogmatism or domineering personalities, or the inevitable demands of simply working with difficult people.

We will do this in the blog and in the book, and I will need your feedback to keep it real.

First and foremost, however, one thing must be made perfectly clear.

Those who retreat into isolated communities that represent distinct religious groups or political ideologies, will launch us backward and set the stage for disaster.

An isolationist, fear-based attitude would be subversive to both the purpose and structure of the United States as a Constitutional Republic.

Such an error would be an ironic rejection of everything America stands for, not simply projecting a hostile predisposition toward perceived evils, but toward the integrity of the Republic itself.

The future is ours to build.  The center must hold.

There are effective ways to protect the Constitution and restore the American Idea.  Alienation can only lead to chaos, and violence will subvert its’ own intended purpose.

Our methods and means must be fully compatible with the future we seek.  As the means, so the end.

Neither morality or social order are the products of abstract intellectual rules.  Rather, they are lived in and through active working relationships that engender mutual bonds and instill values that transcend selfish interests.

Where there is a will, fellowship among people and groups will lead to the communication and understanding needed to promote stability and the regeneration of the nation.

Ours is a great honor and responsibility: To restore the United States of America to its rightful place in history.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about March 23.  You may register for emailed alerts by clicking Follow on the right side of this page.

Walking the Talk

Big corporations sometimes show little regard for local communities.  Geared for profit-making, not citizenship or moral responsibility, giant business organizations are resistant to compromise.  They are neither human nor humane.

Living in an economy dominated by corporate culture, we find ourselves perceived as economic units, “consumers” pressed into service by a materialist mindset.

It should not be surprising to find ourselves alienated from mass society, isolated from one another, and struggling to find meaning in life.  The interconnected relationships that civil society depends on have evaporated.

Americans need not submit to such a destiny.  Ours is a nation of people, not machines.  We are prepared to work, but not as tools.  We are social beings, but independent in mind and spirit.

In reality independence is relative, but always an attitude and a choice.  The independence that leads to self-sufficiency could actually become a matter of life or death.  It can mean food security or financial stability or being a good parent.

The meaning of independence takes on new dimensions when crises strike.  But, there is much more to this than survival.

It is in communities and in the quality of active human relationships that we form the matrix of a free society.  Freedom is realized in serving a principled purpose, and in the vitality of lives that are engaged, responsible, and in motion.

Constructive relationships with other people allow ideas to be shared.  Our ability to solve problems is enhanced.  In trustworthy relationships, self-sufficiency gains strength and dependability.

Are we willing to take this on?

We might not want to put up with community.  It’s hard work.  Some try to avoid it all together.  But, it is impossible to ignore it in a civilized society – unless we take snowshoes, an axe and a rifle, and walk into the wilderness.

I know how attractive solitude can be.  But, I also know it would limit my opportunities to grow as an individual, as well as the honor of dedication to the country I love.

Historically, the basic building blocks of the American Republic have been communities. There was a time when the bonds that held everything together were the personal relationships that made communities work.

Communities are formed by the inspiration and determination of individuals and families, interwoven into mutually supportive networks, and networks of networks.

It will not be easy to regain what came to us more naturally in the past.  Yet, our future depends on loyalty to the “American Idea”, a vision that embraces unity, diversity, and trustworthiness.

Americans are accustomed to contentious politics and unconstrained partisanship.  There will always be value in the clash of differing opinions.  However, we have entered a period of instability and potential danger.  This is the time to rise above our differences to repair and protect the interwoven fabric of the Republic.

We face unprecedented complexity, deteriorating institutions, and a growing scarcity of resources.  Things will not work the way we expect they should, and there will be no one to resolve the problems except ourselves.

If we are to rebuild a society in which the foolishness of the past is not repeated, we must think constructively about the principles and human qualities that are needed.

Generosity and good will are essential human virtues, but they are only the beginning.

Finding solutions to community problems requires consultation, collaboration, foresight and creative imagination – all of which call for a maximum diversity of practical skills, knowledge, and perspective.

This might sound idealistic.  In fact, it is the only way to build communities and, I believe, to restore a broken society.

Learning how to do it will be difficult and often frustrating.  But those with steadfast patience and vision – who can see the end in the beginning – will carry though and prevail.

Resolving differences of opinion or non-core values is not necessary for this to work, and may often be impossible.

While giving one another space to have genuine differences can be uncomfortable and aggravating, holding ourselves apart over disagreements while hurling insults can only reap destruction.

Rising above our differences can be a formidable challenge, but there is no other way.

Tom

Dear readers:  Please look for the next post on or about March 9.

Finding Courage in Crisis

The courage to step forward in a time of crisis often means responding to pain and frustration as a positive personal act.  This can be especially challenging if it feels like the world around us is unraveling.

To persevere in the present turmoil, we are in need of a vision of the future that embodies our hopes and a purpose we believe in.  Our values and sense of personal integrity are vitally important.  But, ideas are useless without action.

What is to be done?

Our responses to a crisis will be guided by our values and sense of belonging.  We must never forget that there can be no freedom without personal responsibility.  This is the backbone of a free society.

This is our country and our world, and the problems we face belong to us as well.  In my view, a commitment to the integrity of civil order is a commitment to ones’ own personal integrity.

We would do well to think about who we are and what integrity means to us.  This will lead to greater self-sufficiency and a stronger sense of purpose and belonging.

Self-sufficiency and purpose give us self-confidence; both are important.  Self-sufficiency concerns practical matters and will-power.  But purpose has to do with ideas, and ideas can be problematic.

So, let’s think about this.

Sense of purpose is a personal matter, yet it would be useless in a vacuum.  It builds on creative thinking and adapts to change.  If we are not engaged, thinking and responding, we are not paying attention.

However, purpose also implies a future.  How can we think about the future when all we know is the past?

It would be easy to attach ourselves unwittingly to ideas or expectations that are based solely on past circumstances.  There is both strength and danger here.

Most of us develop a firm commitment to certain ideas.  This has value, so long as we keep our minds open.  We need the capacity to stick to our beliefs and to follow through with plans.  Otherwise nothing would get done.

But, at a time of extraordinary disruption and change, when the future is hard to imagine, purpose and expectations can sometimes take unexpected turns – or disappear into a fog.

We know what kind of world we wish to live in, at least in general terms, but the details of the future will be veiled from view.

Why?  Because the emerging reality of the future will remain in constant motion during a long crisis.  And, in the coming years we can expect to be bombarded by sequential crises

This is why shared moral values and agreement on basic principles are important in genuine community.  A vision for the future needs to be built upon mutual respect and understanding, rather than on the assumptions of a crumbling past.

Even in the midst of chaos, “constructive action” can be understood as the means by which we unite and progress toward intended goals, not away from them.

So, let’s keep two priorities in mind:  First, to hold firmly to values capable of guiding us through turmoil.  Second, to stay alert, allowing flexibility of judgment and adjusting our thinking as conditions change.

If we believe in freedom we cannot allow presuppositions to set the future in concrete. That is not what freedom is about.

Let’s be clear.  Assumptions that we carry with us from the past are dinosaurs that threaten our ability to create the future.  Our values and principles must be permitted to guide our way, based on the realities at hand.

We may dislike the conditions in which we find ourselves at any particular moment.  We may determine to alter them.  But, to be rigid and inflexible would court disaster.  Our independence as free people depends on our capacity to engage effectively with ever-changing circumstances.

We are challenged to keep our balance at the vortex of historic change, resisting absolutism and bigotry in the spirit of liberty.  Our values will support personal integrity and trustworthiness; our vision will help us keep our bearings as we traverse a stormy sea.

To survive and serve we must summon the courage to spread our wings and soar on the wind.

Tom

Please look for the next blog post on or about February 23.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries are posted on alternating Fridays on both this and a Facebook page.  A project description, an introduction to the forthcoming book, and several chapter drafts are posted on this page.

From Darkness to Light

Without neighbors we can depend on, how will we find safety for our families and the strength to build the future?  Tell me, please, in what place other than our local communities do we have the opportunity amid deepening turbulence to forge dependable relationships, heal wounds, and influence our destiny?

I have never said it will be easy.  Responsibility never is.  We face an extraordinary turning point, an oncoming sequence of crises that will challenge each of us to rise to a new level.

Do we imagine that a shining superhero will rescue us from chaos?  Or will we, as I asked in the last post, pick ourselves up, reach out to our neighbors, and do what needs to be done?

This is an uncompromising question.  Not to answer it, or to defer commitment, is in fact to answer it.  Failure to rise to necessity is to accept defeat.

Whatever ones’ personality, political philosophy or religious belief, we have an unavoidable choice to make.  Either we retreat into ourselves, accepting what is given as beyond our control, or we step forward to engage hardship and purpose with constructive intent.

This is a very personal choice, but at a time of existential crisis for America it takes on great significance – for ourselves, for the nation and for the world.

The United States has served as a model for governance and an engine of creative vitality that is unparalleled in human history.  The American idea has been a beacon of hope for people everywhere.  There has never been anything else like it.

And, the world is watching.

To hesitate would be to act as victims rather than as Americans.  It would be to choose loss over promise, helplessness over responsibility.

We may be temporarily intimidated by difficult circumstances.  But we must never give in, and never lose sight of the dawn of a new day that even now lights the horizon.

Living with purpose gives us courage and inspiration.  Without the courage to begin anew, we will join the slide into turmoil.

Strengthening our communities will not isolate us from uncertainty.  It will provide only limited protection as an island of safety.  What it can do, however, and will do if we are determined, is to open the door to genuine possibilities — dependable neighbors, mutual assistance, food security, and economic renewal on a human scale.

It positions us to best keep our balance, mentally and spiritually.  And, it keeps the potential for an American future alive.

Working with people is probably the most challenging part of life.  Choosing to work together will require perseverance and forbearance – a readiness to exercise tolerance, patience, self-control.  Communicating effectively will become a necessity.

There will always be difficult people to test us.

Our job is not to be heroes or caretakers or managers, although these roles may call on us at times.  Our job is to win over hearts and minds to the cause of reason, safety, mutual respect.

Only then will it be possible for fear to give way to sincere listening, anxiety to understanding.

No one is asking that we change our views.  Our lessons, (and those we need to teach), are those of democracy: Patience, problem-solving, teamwork and collaboration.

Progress will come one step at a time and will often seem painfully slow.

Making a commitment to stay positive requires considerable resolve.  But, focusing on productive purpose and building dependable relationships can make a very big difference.

The negativity that imposes itself on us may appear powerful, but it can only exist in the absence of constructive action, and only has the energy we allow it.

When we set out on a practical path and offer encouragement to others with a friendly spirit, we become as a light that pushes back the darkness.

If we meet with overwhelming negativity, it may be wise to take our energy elsewhere.  But, we must never allow our vision to dim or our compassion to be compromised.

Darkness can always be countered with light.  Darkness is the absence of light and has no substance of its own.

The light of a small candle defies even the darkest night.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about February 9:  Finding courage in crisis.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries adapted from the forthcoming book are posted on alternating Fridays on both this, the main blog site and a Facebook page.  To receive alerts by email you may click “Follow” on the right side of your screen.

Turning Point for America

Whether our ancestors came to this continent by choice or in slavery, or were forcibly separated from their indigenous American roots, all of us are estranged from the lands and lives of our forbears.

For some the escape from oppression or deprivation has taken great determination and willpower.  With a strength rooted in the individualism of the survivor, Americans have reconstructed human society on the basis of association, reciprocity, and principle: freedom of thought, economic independence, and a new sense of belonging that transcended social and religious differences.

Despite the hardships, European settlers formed communities and built a vibrant civil society that flourished through the first half of the 19th century.

However, our inquisitive nature and the inclination to range far and wide across the North American continent soon took us away from physical roots and led to the society we know today – mobile, disconnected, alienated, and suspicious of differences.

Cut off from the cultural foundations that provided previous generations with the basis for social stability, personal identity, and moral integrity, our values have become less confident, our standards less clear.

First railways, and then a proliferation of highways, major industrial enterprises and shopping malls facilitated unrestrained pursuit of economic productivity and material gain. Cheap energy made many things possible.  Big always seemed better and was certainly more profitable.

Somehow we lost any sense of proportion, purpose, or belonging.  A society once anchored by small businesses and community cohesion soon fell apart, morphing into urban sprawl, broken families, and lost dreams.

What have we been thinking?  Did we ever really have a vision?

We have lost interest in community, except in isolated rural areas that have found themselves increasingly on the defensive, both socially and economically.

For new immigrants the trials have always been greatest.  And for people of color, especially blacks, numerous setbacks keep resurfacing.

Paradoxically, the resulting loss of social cohesiveness has led to diminishing independence and self-sufficiency for virtually everyone.

Many of us have a haunting awareness of the deterioration and decay of American society. Some have responded with inarticulate anger, with little understanding of the historical context or economic forces that are contributing to their unease.

Do we understand the forces of disruption that are confronting us?

Sensing the loss of vitality in an economic order that once provided us with the dignity of self-sufficiency, and watching the deterioration of the civil order we have depended on, we look for something or someone to blame.

In the past year this blog has reflected on a national character that has, historically, embodied conflicting values: generosity and self-indulgence, a welcoming inclusiveness and an unfriendly prejudice.  We now find ourselves at a turning point at which hard choices are becoming clear.

The positive ideals that have given us a feeling of dignity are partly veiled from memory, and the need to clarify our identity as a nation has become clear.

Never fully realized, the visionary foundations laid down in 1787 remain ideals.  The genius of our Constitution has allowed the nation to grow and mature.  Yet, we find ourselves in confusion today, without a vision, and without a sense of community we can trust or depend on.

As we find ourselves confronted with growing instability and uncertainty, I believe this is the only place that offers us effective control over our destiny – our own local communities.  It is here that the future will be determined.

Yet, we know very little about how to make community work.

We are presented with a formidable task.  Without trustworthy neighbors and coherent communities, how are we to engage constructively with America as a whole – a people uprooted and disorganized in the wasteland of a broken society?

How will we build dependable relationships, a stable civil order, and a safe future for our children and grandchildren?

I do not voice this question as an intellectual exercise, but rather as a personal challenge to my readers as thinking, caring, self-respecting individuals.

This is our turning point.  Do we have the will to rise above our differences to engage with our neighbors to meet local needs and resolve shared problems?

Do we have a choice?

I don’t think so.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about January 26.

The Forward Edge of History

The vision of America that came to life with the birth of the Nation was unprecedented in history.  It is subverted today by a bitter divisiveness that disallows dialog and obstructs decision-making.

To regain the integrity of that vision – and to build a future we can all believe in, Americans must navigate carefully through currents of alienation, hostility, and misinformation.

Violence begets violence in a downward spiral, verbal or otherwise. Words can ignite fierce, uncontrollable fires.  And, irresponsible, dishonest or self-serving actions can do the same.

Destructiveness can take many forms.

When the banks nearly collapsed in 2008, the United States hovered on the edge of catastrophe.  Americans discovered that failures of responsibility, foresight, and common sense involved the very people and institutions we depend on.

We were stunned by the foolishness that came to light in places where we are most vulnerable.  It was a startling discovery: A cavalier disregard for the interests of both citizens and nation – by institutions we had previously regarded as models of dependability.

In retrospect, however, we can see that this crisis has long been coming, and that it reveals far more than foolishness.

For many years we have watched a broad social deterioration in America that comes with a self-centered lack of principles and the absence of genuine values.

Respected national leaders have stained themselves.  We have even seen immoral and deeply hurtful actions committed by religious leaders and clergy, the supposed exemplars of integrity.

Where will it stop?  In addition to the material damage done to our lives, the rampant failure of responsibility appearing at the core of our society is demoralizing.

There is nothing more destructive.  Indeed, it strikes at the foundations of civilization.

It is easy to get caught up in emotional feelings at a time like this.  We have healing work to do.  If we wish to reaffirm the ultimate purpose of this great nation, it will be necessary to modulate our speech and better manage our emotions.

Times of peril require that we communicate carefully and avoid contributing to inflamed passions, however offended we may be.  Hurled accusations and insults make it impossible for others to hear reason.

The trouble with blame is, first, that it tends to be indiscriminate. It blinds us to the complexity of circumstances, and to the plural identities of those who disagree with us, or who may have just made some bad mistakes.

We often fail to see that we share many similar values and commitments with those who anger us.

Secondly, blaming will blind us to looming perils that are the fault of no one.  A fierce storm has come upon us.  We need each other if we are to take responsibility for the needs of our local communities.

Make no mistake: A storm of this magnitude will alter everyone’s perspective.  It is essential that we transcend personal fear, resisting its attendant passions, and learn to work with those around us.  We will build from there.

Some of you have expressed serious doubts that this is possible.

I never said it would be easy; I said we have no choice.  If we are unable to confront crises shoulder-to-shoulder as loyal Americans, freedom will be lost in the chaos of the deepening storm.

This will require patience, cooperation, and learned skills.  We must try to see the end in the beginning – the vision of a civil society where respectfulness, fairness, and moral responsibility prevail and freedom of expression is nurtured and defended.

This vision and purpose might just be worth our learning to get along, even for the most doubtful among us.  Local communities are the one place where we can be assured of having the freedom and capacity to make this happen.

Steadfast determination and the legendary American generosity of spirit are among the virtues that will be called upon again and again in the coming days.

We will not escape this great turning point in human history.  It will inflict tests upon us whether or not we respond with dignity and compassion – whether or not we take our rightful place at the forward edge of history.

Tom

A note to readers:  The blog will take a break until after Christmas.  Please watch for the next post on or about December 29.

If you wish to know more about the project you can find a description, along with an introduction to the forthcoming book and several chapter drafts elsewhere on this page.

In This Time of Danger

I have addressed my concerns to Americans for two primary reasons.  I believe we have entered a period of severe, successive and interacting crises that promises to be deep, grinding, and long-lasting.  And, I am concerned that the bitter divisiveness and disunity current among us will limit our ability to respond effectively to the danger we face.

Many of you know that the present disorder has been gradually escalating for decades. We now find ourselves with a pervasive loss of respect for civility and moral responsibility, (both public and private), a frightening loss of social coherence and stability, and a broad deterioration of economic well-being for ordinary Americans.

We now stand at an extraordinary turning point.  Do we want the United States to be preserved as a constitutional republic?  Are we personally prepared to rise above our differences to make this possible?

There are pragmatic solutions to these questions, but they will be extremely difficult.  I have never said it would be easy.  I have said I do not think we have a choice.

With closed minds and hardened attitudes our circumstances are becoming increasingly extreme.

We face a formidable array of complex crises.  The challenges are diverse, profound, and mutually reinforcing.  Some will impose themselves suddenly, others gradually, but all will ultimately converge as they impact upon our lives.

What is most extraordinary is the number and variety of crises that are emerging into view at the same time: social and economic, moral and material.

An abbreviated review is offered here to demonstrate this diversity.

1) Increasing social instability characterized by a dramatic loss of civility and unrestrained anti-social behaviors that include accelerating incidences of brutality and mass murder.

2) A banking and monetary system that favors the financial elite rather than the American people, and which has become dominated by self-serving individuals who appear incapable of recognizing that their risk-taking behavior threatens the well-being of everyone, including themselves.

3) Massive government, corporate, and private indebtedness, which constricts the economy and threatens to precipitate a significant devaluation of the US dollar.

4) Old and deteriorating infrastructure, which we depend on every day: bridges, municipal water and sewage systems, and the electrical grid.  These cannot be upgraded or replaced by national, state, and municipal governments that are hobbled by indebtedness and shrinking revenues.

5) An exponentially increasing global population.  With this comes rapidly increasing risk of war and global epidemics, as well as food shortages caused by falling water tables and the ongoing loss of arable farmland.

6) The rapid development of advanced technologies without a commensurate advancement of ethical maturity or a commitment to moral responsibility.

7) Degradation of the natural environmental systems that provide us with clean air and water, the consequence of population pressures and the long-term aggregate build-up of toxic substances derived from motor vehicles, household products, and industrial pollution.

8) Last, but not least, the loss of ethical integrity and moral responsibility on a massive societal scale.  This deterioration is overwhelming the values and norms upon which social stability depends.  It is a crisis weakens our ability to respond to all other crises.

During the past 100 years we have seen the emergence of integrated global systems that include transport, communication, and surveillance technologies, and an interactive global monetary system.  No crisis can take place anywhere without disrupting the whole interrelated system.

However dark the immediate future, we will always be presented with opportunities.  The most important opportunity for us lies in a disruption so broad and profound that it alters our perspective and challenges our assumptions.

We will find ourselves thinking differently to survive: How well do we actually know our neighbors? What are our priorities?  How important to our future is the idea and vision of America?

Local problem-solving will once again become paramount.  Safety and food security will depend on a diversity of local knowledge, skills and experience – regardless of our politics or religion or the color of our skin.

Discovering safety and strength in diversity will change us.

If we can build dependable communities we can also begin to talk – to identify shared needs and shared values, and to re-imagine a shared vision of the future that we can respect and believe in.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about 8 September:  “A Confluence of Crises”

Finding Our Balance in the Storm

We live in a world of unprecedented complexity.  Add to this a sense of moral responsibility, and life can be imposing!  The conditions we will face in a serious social and economic crisis will create unexpected challenges.  It will be easy to stumble and fall

So, let’s think about how we can respond to extreme conditions with courage and fortitude.  How can we meet adversity in a way that can actually serve as a springboard for constructive action and community-building?

All of us sometimes feel inadequate.  Courage fails us.  It can be difficult to find our footing and focus our energy productively, especially when we are confused or surprised.  And, it can sometimes feel impossible to be supportive of others, many of whom we seem to have little in common with.

Preparing ourselves will be important as we navigate through one of history’s great turning points.  Our ability to function responsibly under difficult circumstances will be challenged again and again.

I believe we have entered a period of upheaval that will be unparalleled in character and global in its dimensions.  I will explain in my forthcoming book why we can expect to experience “a confluence of crises” in the coming years, an extraordinary convergence of inevitable and seemingly unrelated crises.

It is imperative that we meet our tests with dignity, and above all not to give in to fear.  Democracy is by nature unpredictable, and it will be severely tested in the coming years.  Our future will depend on steadfast patience and forbearance if we are to preserve the open discourse and cooperation that liberty requires.

The American Republic is and always was founded on core human values and a positive, constructive attitude.  We cannot stand by and watch our future descend into chaos.

Those who are alive today have been chosen by history to bring America through this critical passage in time.  Preserving the essential qualities of the American Idea will be our great responsibility as we transit the upheavals of a great storm.

We must keep our balance, keep our hearts and minds focused on our ultimate purpose and not allow ourselves to be dragged down by rancor and bitterness.

We will prevail if the means we employ are harmonious with the ends that we seek.

I offer you symbolic imagery below for our place in history – a metaphor for freedom’s truth.  What follows are the final lines of a eulogy I delivered for my father at his memorial service, and a testimony to what I learned from him.  Please think about it:

“He gave me one truly great thing above all else…. And, this he did by teaching me the ways of sailing boats.  He taught me to fly on the wind.  He taught me to sail, to ride high on the blustery gale!

“Without fear we ventured out on the running tide, suspended between liquid and ether, to know the snap of the rigging, the sting of salt spray, and the unyielding rush of a steady keel straining against the wild.  Together we embraced the untamed and raced across the sky.  He was my Dad.”

Throughout life we are subject to the vagaries of a capricious human world, just as we can be subject to the vicissitudes of the wind and sea.  Yet, core principles and steadfast standards remain firmly in place in both worlds if we have the eyes to see.

Understanding the requirements of this truth, we can then spread our wings and learn to fly.

As with a sailing vessel at sea, our identity as human beings can only be realized in action.  It is through action alone that we free ourselves to discover the world we are given, learning as the sailor learns – to engage a fluid and often unpredictable reality with wisdom and flexibility.

Failing this, we will beat ourselves against an implacable and merciless resistance.  An unwillingness to learn will expose us to the storms of life in a rudderless ship and with our rigging in disarray.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about August 25.

A note to new readers:  Blog entries adapted from the forthcoming book are posted on most Fridays here and on the Facebook page.  A project description, an introduction to the book (in draft), and several chapter drafts are available on this page.  Reader engagement on the FB page is substantial.  To receive alerts by email you may click “Follow”.

America at a Tipping Point

To speak of rebuilding the foundations of the American Republic is certainly not to suggest deficiencies in the Constitution.  On the contrary, the founders created a structural bulwark for stability that must be defended vigorously.

The foundation that concerns us today is built with the integrity the Constitution requires of us: The responsibility, trustworthiness, and cooperation that transcends differences among citizens.

A reader commented that, “America is at a tipping point because every tenet [and] moral fiber of this nation has been diminished, so that no one is held accountable.  [There is] no moral compass because the foundations are removed.”

We do not have to agree on the details to recognize the truth in this view.  And, we cannot wait for somebody else to fix it.  It is time to stop complaining and join with those around us to secure the safety and well-being of our local communities.

Changing our attitude about this does not mean changing our opinions or compromising our principles.  Not at all!  To address people with dignity and kindliness will win their respect and loyalty.  Harsh and derogatory words will estrange and alienate.

If we wish to be heard – to share our views and represent our principles – we need to work with others in a way that makes this possible.  Communication will not be easy until we are ready to work shoulder-to-shoulder, to meet the needs we have in common and make things right.

No, this will not be easy. Many of us have serious differences. But addressing shared problems is the way mutual respect begins and interest in listening becomes genuine.

We will talk more about this later, but the important thing to recognize is that when the going gets tough, relationships count.  I don’t just mean with our next-door neighbors, as important as they are.  If we find ourselves under threat, directly or indirectly, the last thing we need is neighbors down the road or over the hill who are an unknown quantity.

And, we are not simply talking about making acquaintances here.  This is not about borrowing a cup of sugar over the back fence.  To make our communities safe and to rebuild the nation we need dependability. And that means trust.

Yes, well, in the midst of this crisis we find that trust is not something that Americans know much about.  Mostly we do not believe in it any more.  This is a big problem.

We cannot simply start trusting people because we wish for it.  The reality we live in is decidedly untrustworthy.  Most of the people around us do not have a clear concept of what trust means, much less an understanding of why it is important or what to do about it.

Change will take time.  The effort begins with the courage to be patient and accept differences. Let us not deny ourselves the maturity of forbearance and kindliness.

If we wish to be heard it is usually necessary to first convince others that we are actually hearing them.  Only then will we be heard.  In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey wrote:

“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across.  And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely.  So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand.”

Building dependable relationships with our neighbors requires grit and determination. We will win a few and lose a few, but the ones we win will move the nation forward – and might save lives.

The loss of trust has accompanied the loss of civil order and security in this country.  Solutions to these most serious and fundamental problems begin on the path back to trust.

Trustworthiness is the foundation of security.  Without trust America faces existential danger.  And, without forbearance and cooperation no trust – or progress – will be possible.

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about August 12: Finding our balance in the storm.