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.

American Crucible

The extraordinary challenges confronting the American people will mark a turning point, and a test of America’s character and place in history.

For more than two hundred years the United States has stood before the world as a beacon of hope, a source of creative imagination and ingenuity, and as a singular model of freedom, diversity, and vitality.

In the cauldron of crises it is easy to forget the unparalleled historic meaning of the United States, and the role it has played in the progress of an ever-advancing civilization.

Our confidence in the future is shaken by abandoned responsibility and collapsing institutions.

Economic well-being and the social coherence of the nation have been weakened.  The generosity of spirit for which Americans have long been known has faded.

This week I will step away from recent topics to revisit the central theme of this blog and forthcoming book.

I ask my fellow Americans to consider the danger in the present crisis – a threat to the survival of the United States as a constitutional republic.

The most basic underlying problems have not been caused by present or past leadership, but by structural change, by a weakened understanding of personal responsibility, and by a lack of constructive thinking.

Political leadership will not save us.  Hope lies in the hands of the American people and our readiness to rise to the occasion.

My question to you is this:  Will you align yourselves with a loyal core of American citizens, however diverse, who possess the will and the vision to assert our shared identity as a nation?

Small at first, we will grow.  This will take time, but increasing numbers will be attracted by the American spirit.

We have entered a great turning point that is neither partisan nor cultural, but rather social, ethical, and economic.  It has been brought on by greed, lack of foresight, and the abdication of moral responsibility over a long period of time.

My message is brief.  It will be short on analytical detail and will avoid blame.  There is more than enough blame to go around and we all know about it.

Rather, I will focus on the essentials of mind and attitude, of moral character, and of our relationships with one another that will be required to go forward.

The challenge will be to turn despair into courage and failure into honor and self-respect.

The book will acknowledge mistakes and the failure of vision and responsibility. I will consider the way we have gradually abandoned control over our lives.

However, I will do so not to fix blame, but for the purpose of understanding the steps required to build a stable future we can respect and believe in.

In the present fragile context, priority must go to ensuring the safety and well-being of our families and communities.  This will depend on trustworthiness — and teamwork among our neighbors.

There can be no freedom without trust.  And, we cannot begin to build trust or address the future without first securing stable local communities in which to resolve immediate problems, meet local needs, and learn to collaborate.

Is this really possible?

Yes, but only with great patience, a commitment to fairness, and a determination to pursue constructive, life-affirming solutions.

America has gained its vitality from our diversity and the creative engagement found in the clash of differing opinions.

I do not ask you to alter your views, but to listen to others with interest — to understand, influence, and debate.

Our differences must not be permitted to subvert the unity of purpose that defines this nation.

At a time of existential danger we are confronted with a stark choice.

Will we seek the ideal of collaboration made possible by the Constitution?  Will we protect two hundred years of commitment, hard work, and sacrifice by generations of Americans who have given their lives to this unprecedented vision?

Or, will we give way to the emotions of uncompromising partisanship – and allow a great trust to vanish from history?

Tom

A note to regular readers:  My blog posts are adapted from a forthcoming book.  They appear both on this page and at facebook.com/freedomstruth.  You will find a project description here (linked above), as well as an introduction to the book and full drafts of several chapters.

A Deepening Crisis

There is trouble in the land.  The signs that things are not right confront us daily.  The mainstream media focuses on conflict, politics and the economy, but we know the disintegration goes far deeper.

The illness reveals itself in hostility and bitterness, in material deprivations, in the degradation of human dignity and loss of moral responsibility.  Many of us share a sinking feeling.  We are afraid of the future and, increasingly, we fear one another.

Numerous oncoming crises rise like storm clouds above a darkening horizon.

I have surveyed some of these threats in Chapter Two of the coming book: “A Confluence of Crises.”  Many are interrelated.  I have argued that we must pull ourselves together despite our differences, both for self-preservation and to ensure the endurance of the America we value and believe in.

The broad themes running through this blog (and the book) are the survival of this constitutional republic and the necessity for Americans to work together, shoulder-to-shoulder in the coming years to meet local needs and resolve local problems.

As challenging as this may be, we really do not have a choice.

My purpose here is to reach out to my fellow Americans, to propose practical tools, and with a positive spirit, to get us through a dark chaotic time and out the other side.

I believe our greatest challenge will be to recognize the love and hope for this country we all share despite our many differences.  This can only happen when we determine to inquire and listen to one another with a genuine interest in finding a shared understanding.

We are called upon to rebuild the foundations of the nation in preparation for a future we can respect and believe in.  This will require courage, patience, determination.

The negativity and hopelessness we sometimes feel are caused by the crises around us and must not be permitted to define our future.  Even when we cannot see our way clearly, we must ensure that our actions are consistent with the ends we seek.

The dangers of internal conflict and disunity are especially great in a degrading social order.  We have arrived at an historic turning point, both as Americans and as human beings.

The world is undergoing massive structural change, a process taking place outside the realm of our normal experience and expectations.  This is caused by events that are beyond our control, but we have to deal with it.

What do I mean by structural change?

Examples include the uncontrolled advance of technology that threatens life and liberty, the unprecedented complexity of economic relationships and fiscal distortions, the overwhelming dominance of the very wealthy, and the threats of terrorism, bankrupt governments, and a large aging population with insufficient savings.

All of these have little to do with partisan politics.  That mistakes have been made and illusions foolishly pursued is undeniable.  But, very big changes are coming that are actually not anyone’s fault.

This blog has focused on values, principles, and learning to live in community – because we are entering new territory.  We have passed beyond the limits of our understanding and experience.

To think of the future in terms of recovering the past will not be helpful.  We must pick ourselves up, hit the reset button, and move forward with a spirit that is congruent with a rapidly changing reality.

Tom

Important note for regular readers:  This blog normally posts every two weeks.  However, I will be traveling in late March and April, and hope to begin posting again in May.  You may register for emailed alerts by clicking the “Follow” button on this page.

Please note that a full draft of Chapter Six, “Confronted by the Past”, has recently been added to others at the top of the page.

Stepping Forward, Taking Ownership

I have urged that we prepare for a future beyond the impending crisis, and I have proposed three priorities for your consideration.

In my view, the first priority will be to organize our local communities with constructive purpose.  By this I mean mobilizing to meet local needs, resolve local problems, and ensure that we have dependable neighbors and open lines of genuine communication.

The second priority depends on the first.  Everything from neighborhood safety and food security to ensuring the future of the United States of America as a constitutional republic will require that we rise above our differences.

Learning how to collaborate in meeting local needs is only the first step in taking ownership of America’s destiny.

I have never said it would be easy.  I said I do not believe we have a choice.

The third priority will be to start consulting strategically in our communities about building toward a future we can believe in.

All this will ask more of us than simply to communicate with civility.  It will require that we remain rational, investigate reality for ourselves as individuals, and open our hearts.

On a material level we need to be aware that profound structural change is happening in the world around us.  Not all the problems confronting us will be someone’s fault.

By structural change I do not mean anything to do with ideas or political philosophy, but rather the inevitable change brought on by technology, complexity, and rapid population growth.

Structural change will include vanishing jobs, aging physical infrastructure, and major public health threats introduced by international travel and a deteriorating environment at home.

Pervasive systemic change will confront us with surprises we have not even imagined.

I believe we face a long, grinding crisis.  Meeting the shared needs of local safety, energy, food and clean water will depend on functional relationships among neighbors.

If we are to foster dependable relationships we have no choice but to cultivate common ground on which to live and work despite our differences.

In the coming book I will offer practical tools you may find useful.

We will consider the basic skills and processes with which we can accommodate differences (and difficult people) without losing our minds – how to make decisions in small groups, how to transform conflict in reasonable ways, how to create and manage small businesses, and much more.

We all face a steep learning curve.

As  of you know, the purpose of this project involves more than a concern with survival.

A secure future requires a constructive attitude that builds on the foundation of trustworthy relationships, cohesive neighborhoods, and mutually supportive networks of communities.

The learned skills with which we manage relationships, construct plans and negotiate solutions will prepare us for whatever the future holds.

We will soon recognize that our first responsibility will actually be to manage ourselves.  Emotion clouds reason.  Insensitive words can cause alienation where mutual respect is needed.

There are some lessons we can only learn the hard way, but which we would do well to accept gracefully–

How can we relate to others in a manner that will actually lead to the desired results?

What approach will best facilitate community-building among diverse and sometimes anxious or frightened neighbors?

What personal attitude can we foster in ourselves that will best generate a positive response in others?

Beyond the personal challenges of mastering the self, there are a number of concerns for the future that beg thoughtful attention before our backs are against the wall.

Working Americans have been facing deterioration in our quality of life for a long time.  And, in fact, economic conditions could rapidly become worse.

How can we think constructively about finding local solutions?  Who has land on which we can grow food?  What small local businesses will suddenly become viable in a collapsed economy?  Who can we learn from and work with?

A renewed America will call for ingenuity and new ideas.  The force of circumstances will change us all for the better.  But, we must attend to relationships now and not wait for disaster to strike.

Tom

Dear readers:  I will be taking a brief break.  Please look for the next post on or about November 1.

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.