Dignity, Self-respect, and Ugliness

Public corruption and transparent dishonesty are very discouraging.  And when public discourse descends into ever more rancor and bitterness, it attests to deepening disarray.

As individuals we can choose not to live this way.  What can we do?  When useful debate has ceased, and purposeful dialog has degenerated into extremes of invective, ridicule, and slander—what are our options?

Personal dignity and self-respect depend on our values and our attitude.  And these only become real when translated into action.  Words are not enough.

Divisiveness reflects entrenched partisan views, but mean-spirited ugliness is degrading and accomplishes nothing.  Do we somehow imagine that such behavior supports our beliefs or advances our interests?

It is extraordinary that so much of this ugliness is unabashed and occurs in full view of the world.  Americans have always been a contentious people, but self-respect and a self-conscious sense of our national character have tended to constrain shameful extremes.

Given the unparalleled ease with which citizens can now participate in public debate, unthinking acts and lapses of judgement are made far easier and their consequences more enduring.

How does this reflect on us as Americans?  Who do we wish to be?  Where is the concern for self-respect and integrity that once mattered?  Are we no longer a society with values?

Morality and the ethics of responsibility are closely related to values.  And values are closely related to virtues.  Virtues?

Does anyone care about values and virtues in today’s world?

Let’s get real!  Truthfulness, dependability, trustworthiness—these are virtues that a civilized society depends upon.  They are the living substance of human values.

One way to think about these questions is to consider the value we place on the ends we seek.  What do we wish for in our future?  The ends we seek can only be reached by means that actually get us where we want to go.

As the means so the end.

In the present circumstances the future has become a vital concern for everyone.  Reason and conscience can only guide us to safety if we adhere to truthfulness.

Today in the United States ethics and values involve far more than a concern for ones’ self-image.  And, most Americans will never accept a moral system imposed from outside.

Rather, we are concerned here with something that is of vital importance to the future of our country.  Social order and trustworthy relationships are not only crucial for our personal lives, but for the security and well-being of the nation.

Developing personal virtues is not easy.  Consistent self-examination requires determination and acceptance of life’s tests.  But, without essential virtues there can be no values, either in our lives or in a future we can believe in.

In my view, the most fundamental of virtues is truthfulness.  All other virtues follow from truthfulness—honesty, reliability, credibility, trustworthiness.  These form the foundations of civilized life.

As I have noted previously, it will only be in community that we have the opportunity and freedom to live and learn civilized values, to build trust, and to experience the richness of genuine relationships.

This can’t wait.  We all have neighbors.  It is time to act.

We may not respect the beliefs or behaviors of other people (August 23 post).  But without a readiness to engage, to communicate openly and honestly, we are lost.  This is how people change and grow.

If we cannot share our experience and offer guidance patiently, and if we fail to believe in the potential for people to change, living in this world will never be safe or happy.

Making this work will depend, ultimately, on firm values and self-confident generosity.  Of all people, Americans should know the importance of this.

I have argued that diversity of experience and perspective, knowledge and skills will facilitate physical survival.  They are the instruments of safety and order.

However, differences that come at us with ugliness are a threat to all these things.  Ugliness exhausts and debilitates.  Mean-spiritedness pushes people away and shuts the door to life.

Tom.

You may watch for the next post on or about October 7.

Note to new readers:  An introduction to the coming book and several chapters in draft are linked at the top of the homepage.

Integrity or Degradation: The Choice is Ours

We stand at a critical point in American history.  Our thinking, attitudes, and quarrels have collided with hard realities in the 21st century.  A multi-generational record of short-sightedness, ineptitude and irresponsibility, tells us of deepening societal degeneration at every level, social, economic, political.

Self-respect cannot wait for things to change that we have no control over.  We are each capable of responding to the world around us with dignity and creativity, and we must.

For this reason, I have proposed a challenging strategy for your consideration.  And it is an extremely difficult proposition.

Unfortunately, I do not believe we have a choice.

The wide-ranging needs we have as Americans—for resolving shared problems, for meeting local needs, for envisioning a decent future—all depend on a willingness to create genuine community.

Why is this?

If we are to reverse the slide toward chaos, we must first acknowledge a core responsibility upon which everything depends.  This is the imperative that we build and protect trust.

True community exemplifies the need for trust.  All constructive relationships depend on trust.

Social stability, justice, and effective governance all depend on trust.

Without the assurance of trust, liberty and justice will remain elusive, and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.

The integrity of trustworthiness will be essential for building a future we can believe in.

The American founders warned that this could be a problem. (See previous post, August 23).

Patrick Henry was among several quoted by Charles Murray in his important book, “Coming Apart”:  “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”

“Everyone involved in the creation of the United States,” writes Charles Murray, “knew that its success depended on virtue in its citizenry–not gentility, but virtue…. In their various ways the founders recognized that if a society is to remain free, self-government refers first of all to individual citizens governing their own behavior.”

Clearly there can be no integrity where neither citizens or civil servants care for trustworthiness.

And, here we are today.

The strategy proposed here rests on the principle that trust can only be learned and lived in the active relationships of genuine community.

Community—true community—disciplines us to develop trustworthiness and dependability by necessity.  Human beings cannot gain virtues in a vacuum.  This can only be acquired in personal relationships—where dependability matters and each can see the integrity of the other.

And, there are additional reasons why a free society depends on community.  We can investigate these going forward.  We depend on community for much more than physical survival in a crisis.

Community is the seat of civilization.  It is the basic unit comprising human societies, the structure in which justice, social order, and cultural identity are grounded.

It is in family and community that the individual learns values, finds equilibrium, and gains a sense of belonging.  Community encourages members to express their unique identity, character, and creativity.

So it is that community, when endowed with the full engagement of its’ citizens, becomes the substructure for freedom and security.  No other institution is capable of serving this purpose.

Among the historic roles of community is to anchor the diversity of institutions, associations, and organized functions that we call civil society.

Why is this so important?

Without diverse opportunities and choices for meaningful involvement, the individual becomes disengaged and disoriented, set adrift, vulnerable to dishonest, despotic and predatory influences.

The absence of such mediating institutions thrusts the individual into a vulnerable reliance on an increasingly pervasive and autocratic central government.

Finally, in closing, (and as I said to you on July 26), please remember that integrity is the highest attainable value—a quality of moral soundness.  Trustworthiness is the substance of that value, and responsibility provides the constructive action with which we make it so.

This can only be learned as we mature in real human relationships, working to find safety and to build the future.

There is no middle ground.  Either integrity and responsibility are wholly present or they are compromised.  Without them no civilization is possible.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about September 22.

Note to new readers:  A project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft are linked at the top of the homepage.

If We Are to Remain Free

The United States Constitution is a legal document.  It is carefully crafted in structure and intentionality.  But it is far more than a simple contract.  It embodies a vision and a trust.  It was prepared for us by men who cared deeply about the future and about Americans as a people.

It is important that we understand this because the Constitution comes to us as the gift of an inheritance.  The freedom it promises is made real in a legislative order and in the protections it provides.

These are among the essential elements of a society that provides both stability and the creative space to forge a future.

I have been sharing my observations with you about the impediments we face if we are to make this gift effective.

The authors of the Constitution made deliberate assumptions about the character of the American people.  Their contract with us was an act of faith, an expression of the belief that Americans could be entrusted with the future.

This is made clear in the Constitution itself.

In the previous post I shared views from several of the Founders quoted by Charles Murray in his book, “Coming Apart”.  I will repeat two of them here:

Patrick Henry was insistent: “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”

And, George Washington in his farewell address: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

“Everyone involved in the creation of the United States,” writes Charles Murray, “knew that its success depended on virtue in its citizenry–not gentility, but virtue…. In their various ways the founders recognized that if a society is to remain free, self-government refers first of all to individual citizens governing their own behavior.”

How do we feel about this idea?  It’s a little scary, wouldn’t you say?

There were reasons why the Founders thought this way.  A high degree of moral responsibility was necessary, Charles Murray continues, “because of the nearly unbridled freedom that the American Constitution allowed the citizens of the new nation. 

“Americans were subject to criminal law… and to tort law, which regulated civil disputes. But otherwise, Americans faced few legal restrictions on their freedom of action and no legal obligations to their neighbors except to refrain from harming them.

“The guides to their behavior at any more subtle level had to come from within.”

Virtues are the substance of good character.  But this is not instilled in us by nature.

Good character cannot be formed in a vacuum.  We learn what matters in life by engaging meaningfully with other people.  Personal character matures by means of relationship.

Regular readers will not be surprised when I suggest that virtues can only be lived and learned in community—where constructive relationships call for trust and dependability.

In genuine community we experience the necessity for trust every day—for truthfulness, trustworthiness, responsibility.

Without such virtues, life in human society is intolerable and security is out of reach.

Need I say more?  Just look around you.

How can we trust and respect others, you will ask, if they do not trust and respect us?  Well, breaking down barriers will take honest determination.

Living in community requires certain virtues.  Adjusting to such disciplined conditions will take time, but the necessity must be confronted openly.

Dialog is the essence of genuine relationship.  Developing character starts here.

Without give-and-take a relationship does not exist and problem-solving is impossible.

We may not respect the beliefs or behaviors of other people.  But without a readiness to engage, to communicate openly and honestly, we are lost.  This is how people change and grow.

If we cannot offer guidance patiently and believe in the potential for change, living in this world will never be safe or happy.

Our differences support problem-solving.  Diversity brings experience and perspective, knowledge and skills.

We need these things.  They are the instruments of safety and order.

However, differences that come at us with ugliness are a threat to all these things.  Ugliness exhausts and debilitates.  Mean-spiritedness pushes people away and shuts the door to life.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about September 8.

America at a Tipping Point

America is troubled today by the crippling consequences of distrust.  Polls have reported a steadily growing distrust of government for many decades.  Like a cancer, the problem has now spread throughout American culture.

Do we imagine that constructive problem-solving—or an orderly and prosperous future—can be possible without trust?

Americans have always been a contentious lot.  Yet we have remained loyal to the vision and ideals of the founders, for better or worse.

Many of you share my view that our future depends, first and foremost, on the bulwark of stability and justice that is the Constitution.  However, the Constitution depends on the expectations the founders had of the integrity and character of future Americans.

“Everyone involved in the creation of the United States,” writes Charles Murray, “knew that its success depended on virtue in its citizenry – not gentility, but virtue.”

James Madison was explicit: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical [wildly fanciful] idea.”

Patrick Henry was equally forceful: “No free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.”

And, in his farewell address George Washington famously said: “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”

These words of wisdom are quoted in Charles Murray’s book, “Coming Apart”.  “In their various ways”, he comments, “the founders recognized that if a society is to remain free, self-government refers first of all to individual citizens governing their own behavior.”

A reader of this blog has commented further 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 details to recognize the truth in this.  Yet, we cannot wait for somebody else to fix it.  In America accountability falls to ourselves.

Only in community can the true essence of accountability be fully understood.  Here the integrity of trustworthy interpersonal relations cannot be avoided.

Honest relationships can be hard work, but when the going gets tough relationships count.

I don’t just mean engaging with our next-door neighbors, as important as this is.  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 concerned 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.

OK, to be quite honest, building trust is not something that Americans know much about. Mostly we don’t believe in it any more.

In my previous post I reminded readers that social stability, justice, and effective governance all depend on trust.  Without this assurance, liberty and justice will remain elusive and the fabric of this nation will continue to disintegrate.

Trust is the substance of integrity.  It is essential for building a future we can believe in.

Yet, we cannot start trusting people simply because we wish for it.  The social reality we live in is decidedly untrustworthy.  Many people 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 and patience.  We can expect a steep learning curve.

Building honest and reliable relationships with our neighbors calls for grit and determination. We will win a few and lose a few, but the ones we win will buy us a degree of security—and move the nation forward.

This can only be learned face-to-face, and with the courage to engage fully, to overcome mistakes, and to accept one another as whole persons in all our complexity.

We are adults.  We learn by doing.  Let’s not deny ourselves the maturity of forbearance and kindliness.

Each must decide if the future matters, and then join with others to make it decent, dependable, and real.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about August 25.

Grit and Grace

Americans today face a critical moment in time, arguably as profound as any in our history.  Freedom of opportunity, social and economic justice, and the preservation of our ability to seek personal goals are all at stake.  The character of the nation appears to be in question.  Our sense of identity as a people has been shaken.

We are all aware that this crisis is far bigger than an unexpected viral pandemic.  The causes of social degradation and political disruption overshadowing recent decades have been making themselves felt for a long time.

We are experiencing the present adversity as an American crisis, and it is.  But it is taking place in the context of a great turning point in the human story, a period of time when an unprecedented number of monumental crises are converging across the globe.

Our own crisis is inextricably intertwined with the affairs of the world.  Never has there been a greater need for the stability of the American vision.

I have proposed a simple, yet demanding course of constructive action for Americans, which can allow for survival, safety and functional coherence in local communities.

This will be extremely difficult for us to carry off.  But we have a choice.  Without a willingness to engage with one another in this a way, we have to question whether the nation can survive as a democratic republic.

We must find our way with both grit and grace, navigating through complex, sequential and interacting crises.  We have entered a transition that will dominate the course of the 21st century.

For Americans the outcome will depend on our character as a people, and our understanding of the unprecedented structural change that will confront us every step of the way.  Necessity presents us with stark, uncomfortable choices.

We can give free reign to anger and disillusionment, allowing ourselves to be dragged down into demoralized helplessness.  Or we can determine to stand firmly together as a people, rising above our differences to address the immediate practical priorities that confront us.

Are we prepared to preserve core values as we forge a genuinely American response to evolving conditions and a converging series of crises?  Will we have the vision, courage, and fortitude to commit ourselves to principled means and to engage responsibly in constructive action?

I will not offer political philosophy, nor will I speak of ultimate goals.  Fundamental values and shared purpose must be agreed upon by the American people.  Rather, I am proposing a way forward that calls for qualities of character, attitude, and responsibility that transcend conflict and controversy.

As a first step, I ask that we begin by turning away from the dishonesty and deceit of partisan politics to respond to the practical needs and problems in our local communities – which, in microcosm, embody and exemplify the challenges facing the nation as a whole.

However, make no mistake:  Consolidating local communities is only the first step.  This will create a platform for democratic engagement and a base from which to confront the oncoming forces of disintegration and disequilibrium.

The ultimate vision of the future will be up to you, the American people.

Essential lessons involving physical needs and social order must first be learned in the crucible of crisis.

We must discipline ourselves to abstain from deceptiveness, deceit, or manipulation.  Genuine virtuousness and a constructive attitude are called for, however dark the prospect.

I ask that we rise above our differences with the conviction that however immense the tests we face, however the world changes around us, however diverse our personal circumstances, this nation must not be permitted to abandon its founding vision and ultimate purpose.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about June 2.

Note for new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found at the top of the homepage.

This Crisis, Here and Now

Faced with severe challenges and the haunting presence of fear and uncertainty, we turn to inner personal resources and reserves.  Where do we find strength when a family is in need, when hopes and expectations suddenly vanish?

For many of us the questions that present themselves, perhaps late at night, in some way turn on character, emotional equilibrium, and for the fortunate, on religious grounding.

With the future thrown suddenly into turmoil, how can we respond – as parents, citizens, human beings?  What kind of person are we?  Clearly, courage is called for, but what does that really mean?

We are being tested: What is the best we can be?

Character, values and virtues all emerge more clearly, demonstrated as they always are through actions and behavior.

Words can come easily, but truth makes itself known in action.

I have some suggestions you might wish to reflect upon.  Our world has been shaken and will likely be a different kind of place after the pandemic.  But the world is not ending.

Human beings have often been tested severely.  This is our history, and it has been rough.  Yet, we have never stopped learning, creating, maturing.

And civilization has continued to advance.

Somehow injuries heal, mistakes are corrected, and human failures vanish behind us in the mists of time.  Yes, as individuals we can fail.  But others are always raised up in our place.

So, again, we are here and now:  How do we wish to respond?

What will our needs and priorities be when we are able, once again, to engage directly with our neighbors?  Will living with dependable neighbors seem more important now?

How can we ourselves become resourceful, trustworthy neighbors?  Communities can improve safety and security in many ways.  Are we willing?

What knowledge, skills and tools do our neighbors already possess?  Electrical, plumbing, IT, security?

Communities can cooperate to grow food, of course, even in urban neighborhoods.  And this is the time of year when the soil is turned and gardens are started.

In a world now dominated more than ever by the stresses of an integrated economy, of population growth and complexity, we can expect a future punctuated by unexpected crises.

Long-time readers of this blog know my concern that local community is the only place where we have the ability to address the needs that both dignity and survival require.

We can choose with our neighbors to rise above our differences, to share personal knowledge and skills, to collaborate in problem-solving.  These are the basic building blocks with which the future will be built.

Community is the seat of civilization.

And, so it is that learning the lessons of cooperation, dependability, and trustworthiness will secure a richer, safer future.

Do we wish to live with neighbors we trust?  Do we wish for neighbors who recognize and appreciate our own efforts to demonstrate trustworthiness?

If so, we will have to step forward and make it so.

Living with integrity, in my view, is to be committed to these things – expressed in our relationships with others who seek the same.

It is only in collaboration with others that we can build a future we can respect and believe in.  It cannot be done in isolation.  Every kind of isolation must come to an end.

Will the coronavirus pandemic awake us to the challenging potential of this waiting reward?

Or will it require a series of ever greater crises and even more terrible suffering for Americans to turn the corner?

There is no other way.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about May 6.

Note for new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found linked at the top of the homepage.

America: Meaning and Challenge

We all have anxiety about coronavirus and the related instability in the financial system.  These are serious concerns.  But, let’s not take our eyes off the ball.  We have more fundamental issues to deal with – challenges that will continue and deepen with each oncoming crisis.

In my view our greatest concern should be our difficulty dealing with crises, in problem-solving, especially in our local communities.  Because this is where trust, dependability, and survival count most in our lives.

Americans have always been a contentious lot, yet we are capable of showing fierce allegiance to America.  How, I asked in the previous post, have our national attributes led to strength?

I quoted from James Surowiecki’s book, The Wisdom of Crowds, where he described how unexpected solutions can be found when independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints are aggregated in a decision-making process.

I have suggested that such wisdom can be found in small groups, intentionally and intelligently, when we are committed to meeting local needs and resolving local problems.

A decision-making process that seeks common purpose among diverse participants can be managed as a learned skill.  Anyone can learn how to facilitate such a process.

Effective solutions depend on a group’s ability to generate new ideas that go beyond consensus.

This is only possible when we rise above our differences to leverage our diversity in knowledge, experience, and problem-solving skills – and take an inquisitive interest in the input.

All available information is needed on the table.  Unexpected insight might prove invaluable.

With an attitude of patience and civility toward one another we can make an ongoing effort to seek effective solutions.  A degree of uncertainty is natural and healthy.  We can always make course corrections.

However, we must each see with our own eyes and think with our own minds.  We must never be certain of another person’s certainty!

Unity is not sameness.  Unity can only come into being with the embrace of differences.  Living with diversity presents us with the necessity for learning how to engage with one another in practical ways.

In the first chapter of my coming book, which is posted on the blog’s homepage under the heading American Crucible (www.freedomstruth.net), I quote conservative columnist Peggy Noonan, who makes a heartfelt call to the American people in her little book, Patriotic Grace, What It Is and Why We Need It Now.

In it she urges us to rise above our differences, however significant they may be, to reaffirm “what it is to be an American.”

Peggy Noonan writes:

“Politics is a great fight and must be a fight; that is its purpose. We are a great democratic republic, and we struggle with great questions. One group believes A must be law, the other Z. Each side must battle it through, and the answer will not always be in the middle.  The answer is not always M.

“But we can approach things in a new way, see in a new way, speak in a new way.  We can fight honorably and in good faith, while—and this is the hard one—both summoning and assuming good faith on the other side.

“To me it is not quite a matter of ‘rising above partisanship,’ though that can be a very good thing.  It’s more a matter of remembering our responsibilities and reaffirming what it is to be an American.

“…And so I came to think this: What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace—a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we are in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative.  That admits affection and respect.”

Does she have a point?  I think so.  We can acknowledge the things that divide us, address them in a manner that allows practical solutions, and unite to protect a civil order that allows us to preserve or recover the freedoms we cherish.

Or, we can let it all come to naught.

I never said it would be easy.  I have said that if we are to recover the integrity of the nation we wish to honor and respect – we have no choice.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about March 25.

Note to new readers: A project description, introduction to the coming book, and several chapters in draft can be found at the top of the blog’s homepage.

Deeper and More Dangerous

We live in extraordinary times. Having entered a period of current and impending crises, Americans are challenged to pull together as a people, to safeguard the constitutional order of the nation, and to find our way together to a future we can depend on.

We face a broad range of crises, all emerging into view at virtually the same time.  We have discussed several here briefly, and others at greater depth.

Some, like the continuing debt crisis, have major current implications.  Others, like the unrecognized instability of complexity in today’s digitized world, remain hidden, but may well provide the trigger that sends everything into a tailspin.

I have placed emphasis on the coming financial storm because it hangs over us now, waiting for a trigger.

The too-big-to-fail banks are now bigger than they were before they helped bring down the economy in 2008.  Federal and corporate debt have expanded enormously since that time, further devaluing the US dollar.

Millions who lost their jobs and homes in the 2008 crisis remain mired in poverty.

Respectable higher-paying employment has been lost overseas or to robotics and mechanized production.  Experts predict that 30% of current jobs will disappear in the next 10 years.

The stock market has shot upward with no foundation in economic reality.  It has now reached irrational valuations not seen since just before the 1929 panic and the dotcom crash of 2000.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), which is the central banker to the world’s central banks, has stated openly that central bankers will be out of options when the next crisis hits.

The BIS suggests that the major central banks have mismanaged the situation to a large extent because they don’t understand it.  Previously “unthinkable risks,” the BIS said, are coming to be “perceived as the new normal.”

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) also released a report stating that “key fault lines” are growing across the US financial landscape, and that “new pockets of vulnerabilities have emerged.” The largest and most interconnected banks “dominate the system even more than before.”

As imposing as the financial drama appears, in my view there is a deeper and more dangerous crisis.  And, it is clearly visible behind all the others.

I have written here of the profound loss of personal integrity – honesty, trustworthiness, responsibility – we have witnessed in recent years.

A profound collapse of moral standards has taken place on a societal scale.  It has infected many personal relationships and virtually all institutions.

This is the deeper crisis, and it may ultimately be responsible for the general deterioration that appears to be dragging civilization to its knees.

Dependability, trust, and responsibility are the basis for the sound functioning of all human affairs, and lack of them has led to crippling disorientation and disorder.

Why has this happened to such a stunning extent?  Certainly, we have lost the ethical foundations that have contributed to stability in the past.  But, why?  We are intelligent people.  What happened to good judgment?  Where is common sense?

Have we walked away from responsibility believing that honesty and fairness limit our freedom?  Or have we just become thoughtless, undisciplined, sloppy?

Has the daily bludgeoning from mass media stunted our ability to think for ourselves?

Whatever the reasons, we are now reaping the whirlwind.

For a world where many young people have grown up with little or no effective parenting, and where many of their elders have lost any meaningful grounding in values or virtues, there will be no valid guidance available in the chaotic upheavals that lie ahead.

Dealing specifically with impending or potential dangers is very important, but is beyond the scope of this blog.  Rather, I seek to gather Americans around a focus on safety, common needs, and constructive purpose in our local communities.

This is essential regardless of the nature of unpredictable events.

We have entered a time of severe testing.

Such testing requires us to rise to our full personal potential – patiently working together in our communities despite our differences.

This degree of patriotic loyalty is the only antidote to the toxic cocktail of partisan negativity that is poisoning the American soul.

Tom

You may watch for the next post on or about January 15.

Note to regular readers:  Two new drafts have been posted at the top of the home page (see above).  They are Chapter 6: Freedom and Individuality, and Chapter 9: Confronted by the Past.  In addition, Chapter 1: American Crucible has been revised.  I look forward to your feedback.

The Forward Edge of History

The vision of America that came to life with the birth of the nation was historic.  That vision, controversial as it then was, has been subverted today by a bitter divisiveness that disallows dialog and obstructs decision-making.

Our efforts to regain the integrity of our national identity and to build a future we can believe in, will call on Americans to navigate through currents of alienation, hostility, and misinformation.

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

Arguably, the United States has been headed for trouble for decades.  But, in the last quarter century social and economic conditions have reached dysfunctional extremes of miscommunication, irresponsibility, and violence.

When the banking system nearly collapsed in 2008, the United States hovered on the edge of material catastrophe.  Americans discovered that failures of responsibility, foresight, and common sense involved the very people and institutions we depended 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 the crisis had been a long time coming – that it continues today, that nothing has been fixed, and that it reveals far more than foolishness.

The disarray is surely the consequence of something deeper and more basic than financial incompetence.

National leadership has stained itself.  Confidence was compromised, trust destroyed, first in politics, then among institutions and interests that have associated too closely with politics.

We have 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 degrading and demoralizing.

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

Times of peril require that we avoid contributing to inflamed passions, however offended we may be.  Hurled accusations and insults make it impossible for others to listen and 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 very bad mistakes.

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

Secondly, blaming blinds us to looming perils that are the fault of no one.  A fierce storm has come upon us.  We need each other for the sake of our local communities.

A storm of this magnitude will alter everyone’s perspective.  The time is coming when we will need to reassess, to adjust, and to seek safety in collaboration.

We must resist fear and its 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 and learned skills.  We must try to see the end in the beginning – the vision of a renewed society where respectfulness, fairness, and moral responsibility prevail.

Both individual freedom and community coherence depend on this.

It is a purpose that 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 ability to make this happen.

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

The future 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:  Please watch for the next post on or about December 31.  New readers can find a project description, a draft introduction to the coming book, and drafts of several early chapters at the top of the home page.

Disruption and Endurance

The twentieth-century brought an astonishing number of advances to the human world – scientific, technological, and agricultural.  It was also a century of appalling violence, the most destructive in human history.  An estimated 167 million to 188 million people died at the hands of their brothers.

The century that put communism, fascism, and nationalism on the map also saw the invention of highly efficient weaponry and a willingness to direct it against civilian populations on a massive scale.

Do we understand what could happen to us on American soil – tragedies more devastating than anything we have experienced since the Civil War?  How easily we ignore the warnings!

At this historic turning-point we can least afford a repetition of the world’s destructive past. Only a strong America, just and wise and levelheaded, can lead a disrupted world back to stability and peace.

In his book, “The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West”, the historian Niall Ferguson, who I have introduced to you previously, is explicit:

“The hundred years after 1900 were without question the bloodiest century in modern history, far more violent in relative as well as absolute terms than any previous era…. There was not a single year before, between or after the world wars that did not see large-scale violence in one part of the world or another.”

Niall Ferguson’s observations are useful because he departs from the typical explanations that blame weaponry and fascist governments, as significant as these were.  Instead he identifies the true causes as ethnic conflict, economic volatility, and declining empires.

In short, he reminds us of our human vulnerability to fear, emotional insecurity, and tribalism.

The convergence of multiple crises I have been writing about here involve all these things, but also newly emerging threats that most of us have not seen coming.

These include an extremely fragile, interdependent banking system, depleted natural resources, the rapid loss of farmland and collapsing aquifers, and the degradation of critical environmental ecosystems.

Run-away technology is rapidly outpacing the maturity of human moral competence.

In every case, the challenges we face as individuals and families rarely come into focus until we consider their local implications.

And, as Dr. Ferguson points out, it is the anxiety of people under pressure that leads to social deterioration and violence.

Long-time readers know my views.  In the extremes of social and economic stress, it is my belief that local communities are the only place where we have the freedom and opportunity to take control of our lives in a civilized manner.

The difference between a disrupted past and a secure future will depend entirely on the manner in which we address problems with our neighbors and manage our local affairs.

We cannot completely wall-out the chaos of the world, but we can accept personal responsibility for the unity and well-being of our communities.

The distinction between past and future will be determined by dependable relationships, respectful attitudes, and giving a helping hand.

Building trust with neighbors and cooperating to meet shared needs are personal choices that lead to safety.

As we work together shoulder-to-shoulder, we can begin to know, understand, and influence one another.  The lessons of civility and cooperation to be learned here will serve us well as a nation.

Yes, we need to be realistic— Many people remain crippled by dogmatic prejudices.  This is unlikely to change until we are forced to address the essential needs that we face together in a disintegrating social order.

Patience and determination will then make many things possible as never before.  Necessity sharpens the mind and invigorates the will.

Distrust and alienation are diminished as we identify common concerns and work in service to common needs.

And what of our common purpose?

Ultimately, in my view, our first priority must be the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic.  The future depends on this.

Let us seek a strengthening respect for the Constitution and the cooperative form of governance it requires.

It is the Constitution that has allowed us gradual progress, an advancing strength toward unity, justice and inclusive fairness for more than 200 years

Tom

Dear readers:  I will be taking a short break— Please watch for the next post on or about December 17.  New readers will find a project description, an introduction to the coming book, and several working drafts of early chapters linked at the top of this page.

Danger and Opportunity

I have addressed my concerns to the American people for two reasons.  I believe we have entered a period of severe, successive and interacting crises.  Serious threats involving economic instability, a disintegrating social order, and the deterioration of physical infrastructure have clearly emerged.  Disruptions promise to be long-lasting.

Most of all, the bitter divisiveness and disunity current among Americans will limit our ability to respond effectively to the dangers before us.  Indeed, our ability to govern ourselves is already impaired.

This is not simply the result of recent political conflict.  Many of you are aware that social and economic disorder has been 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 stability, and a broad deterioration of economic well-being for all ordinary Americans.

We 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 require us to rise to the challenge.  I have never said it would be easy.  I have said I do not think we have a choice.

We face a formidable array of complex crises.  The problems are profound, diverse, and mutually reinforcing.  Some will impose themselves suddenly, others gradually, but all will ultimately converge to impact our lives.  What is most extraordinary is the multitude and diversity of crises emerging into view simultaneously: social and economic, moral and material.

I will offer several examples.

Political instability has constrained civil dialog.  Undisciplined verbal hostility cripples the possibility for constructive collaboration.

Massive indebtedness – government, corporate, and private – is suffocating the economy and threatens resolve itself in another banking collapse and a significant devaluation of the dollar.

The banking and monetary systems have been abused, favoring the financial elite rather than the American people.  This has nothing to do with free markets.  Indeed, it is a direct threat to free markets.

The financial world is dominated by self-serving individuals who appear incapable of recognizing that their foolishness threatens the well-being of everyone, including themselves.

Deteriorating infrastructure, which we depend on every day, includes bridges, municipal water and sewage systems, and the electrical grid.  These cannot be upgraded or repaired by governments that are hobbled by indebtedness and shrinking revenues.

The rapid development of advanced technologies has vastly increased the complexity of the world around us.  Systemic complexity is now far beyond the capacity of even the most intelligent human minds to understand or control.

Furthermore, technology has advanced far more rapidly than the ethical maturity of decision-makers.  A commitment to moral responsibility is severely lacking.

The degradation of the natural environment, which provides us with clean air and water, is the consequence of population pressures and the long-term build-up of toxic chemistry derived from motor vehicles, household products, and industrial pollution.

Most significantly, the loss of ethical integrity and moral responsibility on so massive a scale is overwhelming the values and norms upon which civilization depends.  And. this weakens our ability to respond to every challenge.

However, I suggest to you that we have a hidden and unexpected opportunity here.  A disruption so severe and disturbing has the potential to alter our perspective.  It will challenge our assumptions and our courage.

Such conditions have the potential to awaken us finally to the requirements of responsibility, cooperation, and maturity.  It will be necessary to think differently, both to survive and to build a positive future.  How well do we actually know our neighbors?

Is the United States worth saving as a constitutional republic?  Is it worth the effort to collaborate with those who see things differently, but who share our loyalty and commitment to this great nation?

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

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

Tom

Please look for the next post on or about October 23.

Freedom in Crisis

Big corporations often show little regard for local communities or the people who live in them.  Geared for profit-making, not moral responsibility or citizenship, giant business organizations dominate our lives today.  They are neither human nor humane.

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

It should not be surprising that we find ourselves alienated and irritable at a time of crisis, isolated from one another and struggling to make sense out of chaotic circumstances.

The interconnected web of relationships that civil society depends on has evaporated.

Americans need not submit to such a destiny.  Ours is a nation of people, not machines.  We are prepared to work, but not to be used.  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 financial stability or food security 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 as autonomous individuals, and in the vitality of lives that are engaged, responsible, and in motion.

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

Are we willing to take this on?

We might not want to put up with community-building.  It’s hard work.  Some try to avoid it all together.  A few might prefer to 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 real.

Communities are made functional 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 in diversity, trustworthiness and dependability.

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 dangerous period of instability.  This is a 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 are not working as we expect they should.  And there is 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 local problems will require consultation, collaboration, foresight and creative imagination.  All of these call for a diversity of practical skills, knowledge, and perspective, and therefore a diversity of membership.

This might sound idealistic, but we can no longer depend on outside help.

Learning how to do it will be difficult, requiring learned skills and determination.  Those with steadfast patience and vision – who can see the end in the beginning – will carry through and prevail.

Resolving differences of opinion or non-core values is not necessary for stabilizing a crisis.  While giving each other space to have differences can be uncomfortable, holding ourselves apart over disagreements while hurling insults can only reap destruction.

Rising above our differences is a serious challenge.  But there is no other way.

Tom

Note to regular readers:  Please look for the next post on or about October 9.