Responsibility and Trust in America

Community is the seat of civilization. It is in our local communities that we engage with one another face-to-face and work shoulder-to-shoulder.  And, it is in responding to crises and meeting shared needs that we earn respect, learn patience and build trust.

With our neighbors we can overcome disorder in our own little corner of the world.  Trust and responsibility don’t just appear by good fortune.  They are formed in the trials of necessity and hardship.

Like a marriage, a genuine commitment to community forces us to mature as adult people – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.  Perhaps this is why so many avoid full participation.

However, there are other reasons to live responsibly.  Just beyond the boundaries of family, community is that place where the reality of immediate needs must be addressed and resolved.

Americans have avoided personal responsibility for these aspects of civilized life for a long time.  We will continue to do so at our peril.

It was not always thus.  Prior to the American Revolution and for close to 100 years afterward Americans gravitated easily, even impulsively, toward decentralized local governance and an independent frame of mind.  We managed our own affairs in cooperation with our neighbors and expected regional autonomy as a natural condition.

Civil society flourished during America’s first century, a vibrant force that was documented admiringly by Alexis de Tocqueville in his two volume commentary, Democracy in America.  Americans created an immense variety of civic organizations to address every conceivable interest and social need.  Citizens did this on their own initiative, inspired by their sense of belonging and the spirit of the times.  There were few restrictions or constraints.

The need for community in America, both in spirit and as a practical matter, is as important today as it has ever been.  It is only in direct engagement with our neighbors, and in all spheres of problem-solving, that we will learn the skills of living and working productively with one another.

As Americans, we have been here before and we can do it again.

Some argue that the decentralist tradition of the American past represents an ideal to which we should aspire.  And this is, indeed, an attractive vision.  However, I think it should be apparent for all to see that there must be a balance struck between a nation of fully engaged local communities and a competent and trustworthy central government that respects and protects the primacy of local responsibility.

At the present time it is difficult to imagine a limited central government managed by mature adults who are prepared to protect both our freedoms and our security.  But, that is what we need.

Without law there can be no freedom.  And, there can be no freedom without a mature understanding of responsibility.  I believe that a valid vision of limited government for the American future can only come from a view firmly anchored in local communities.

Those who understand trust, moral responsibility, and constructive action – and who recognize the very high stakes involved – will build the foundations for the American renewal at home, with their neighbors.

Building unity within communities is a gradual process.  It depends on each of us to reach out across our differences, to form friendships that develop trust, to be supportive in times of trouble, and to influence the hearts and minds of all who care.

It will take time and patience, creative thinking and new skills, and we will do it because America is too important to lose.  The future of humankind depends on it.

Tom

Dear readers: Watch for the next post on or about November 28.   Please note that a project description and several sample chapters from the forthcoming book are linked on this page.

Toward A Stronger America

The sorrows and shame of recent days are not unexpected or isolated in the American experience.  However, they rise now on the crest of a wave of fear and agitation, sharp reflections of extreme and intensifying social and economic pain.

We have arrived at a turning point.  Mean-spirited hostility and irrational violence challenge us to refocus our identity as Americans.  We have much to learn about seeking grace in the midst of trouble.

Recovering a future we can respect and believe in will not be easy.  Numerous emerging crises imperil an already fragile social order.  The coming years will call on each of us for courage and fortitude.

Perhaps most challenging, local community safety and resilience necessitate working together despite our diversity.  Meeting locally shared needs will be the priority in the face of severe crises.

Rising above our differences may seem an overwhelming obstacle, but I do not believe we have a choice.

A strong America will only be possible with sufficient unity to enable social stability and good governance.  And, unity can only be found with patience, forbearance, and a positive attitude – personal qualities that can best be locally grown.

Along with these qualities, communities need members with diverse practical skills, knowledge and experience.  There will be no security without working relationships that are trustworthy and dependable.

The qualities and skills we need to survive in the present may prove constructive as we move toward the future.  A right attitude for dealing with an immediate crisis will probably be the right attitude for working with one another to shape our destiny as a nation.

There will be no effective means for moving forward without a commitment to collaborate.  The ends we wish to achieve will be determined by the means we use to reach them.

This is not theory, but reality.

An honest consultative process, with ends and means in harmony, will gather and further develop the best ideas.  Positive change comes with fully inclusive citizen engagement.

Americans can do this.  The energy of citizens working in well-organized communities will generate a pattern that will prevail over time.  A resilient future will reflect the strength gained from lessons learned.

Regular readers know I will not prescribe political solutions.  Rather, I will suggest ground rules for collaboration and decision-making, and identify topics for dialog and consultation that can allow a truly American vision to emerge from the rich soil we have inherited from the past.

In addition to the difficulties we face in meeting local needs, we are also confronted with looming structural changes in the social economy and the wider world.  Community-building for survival is only the first step.

Unity of purpose can benefit from an accurate understanding of what is happening in the wider world.  However, distorted information and periods of confusion are inevitable.  Safety and stability is most important and will depend on steady hands – holding firmly to ethical principle and moral responsibility as individuals and as communities, wherever we find ourselves.

The clear thinking needed to overcome the threat of social disintegration can only come from citizens who understand trust, responsibility, and constructive action.  The stakes are very high.

Americans disagree often; we are a contentious lot.  Yet, our strength comes through a diversity that broadens our perspective, knowledge, and skills – and through our readiness to rise above our differences to build an open, free-spirited society.

Ultimately, the Constitution of the United States is essential as the anchor for safety.  The future depends on it.  And, the re-emergence of a healthy civil society will restore balance and character to the vision that sustains us.

The day will come when Americans will be known again for our generosity of spirit.  The pattern of the future will emerge from the learning we acquire as we struggle to conquer the challenges of this great turning point.

Tom

A note to regular readers:  Please watch for the next post on or about November 14.  I would appreciate your comments.  I value your feedback!

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.

Independent and On Our Own

Many of us feel trapped in social disorder and a slowly suffocating economy.  Ours is a predicament that seems to be sliding toward disintegration.  Foreboding weighs on the soul.  These feelings are not unreasonable, but let’s try to take a step back and look at the whole picture.

I submit that the collapse of the old order and the birth of something good and revitalized are both happening at the same time.

This is hard to see when we are confronted daily by the degradation of what we have always known.

A dysfunctional past must collapse before a revitalized nation can turn the corner and strive for a principled and productive future.  But there is no reason to wait for the bottom.

I have no hidden agenda.  I do not propose a social or political prescription for the American future.  Rather, I seek the restoration of a spirit and character that we can respect, support and believe in.

We are at a turning point.  We have entered a window of opportunity when it will be possible to reaffirm the vision and principles that have made this nation a beacon of hope to the world for 200 years.  And, it is an opportunity that may not come again.

I have shared with you some of the reasons why I believe we are in trouble.  And I have shared my conviction that we must look toward a future beyond the crisis.

Most readers are aware that I have avoided addressing partisan issues, and I have done so for a reason.

I have personal views and opinions.  My intention, however, is to call Americans to join forces with one another despite our great differences, to identify a broadly understood shared purpose and seek the means to rebuild the foundations of the Republic.

If courage and patience fail us, if we are unwilling to understand, influence and collaborate with those who offend us, we could lose everything.

Our responsibility is to ensure that America comes through this great turning point with purpose, committed to building the kind of future we want to live in.   This depends on each of us individually.

Without a determined effort based on shared purpose, a secure and civilized future will not be possible.

Looking ahead, we cannot know exactly how things will play out.  How long will these fragile conditions continue before an unexpected shock knocks down this house of cards?

We cannot know the extent to which we will be forced to struggle with the remnants of the economic past.  We cannot foresee how social deterioration or the degradation of infrastructure and environmental systems will challenge our resourcefulness.

We can no longer have confidence in government to maintain order or meet emergency needs.  Whatever comes our way, we are on our own.  Only the strength of well-organized local communities can be depended on.

We need to unify our local neighborhoods and communities around problem-solving and meeting local needs.  This is where we have the power and capacity to take matters into our own hands.  And we need to get on with it.

Effecting change on a national level will be far more difficult and the means for doing so more complex and political.

The financial elite will remain in control until they lose control.  As long as financial collapse is avoided the global economy will remain trapped by financial interests that have attention only for their own short-term gain and are oblivious to the implications of structural change.

However frightening the disruptions of the near future, we would do well to recognize the unique opportunity this represents.  Most human beings are only willing and able to consider constructive change when societal assumptions are shaken.

As I have said, the time to gather people together, to engage in creative thinking and positive action, to identify shared values and embrace a shared vision – might not come twice.

Building community with our neighbors will not only increase safety and security for our families, but will also provide a forum for dialog and problem-solving that will carry us forward through the storm.

Tom

Please watch for the next post on or about October 11.

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.

Darkness Before the Dawn

To envision a confident and productive future while we are still mired in the degradation of a decaying society is difficult.  Yet, even as the present order fails we must prepare the foundations for a future we can respect and believe in.

An American renewal is only possible if we rise above our differences and step forward with patience, determination, and inquiring minds.

I look forward to a future in which Americans carry themselves with dignity and treat one another with respectful consideration.  We are learning that problem-solving is impossible without collaboration, and that economic decision-making must be realistic and responsible.

Are we surprised?

Compassion and realism are both essential attitudes. But, idealistic motives for building a just society are subject to the harsh realities of current resources and the balance sheet.

It appears a crisis is unavoidable before we can advance constructively.  We live in a complex society.  Something has to awaken us to the necessities of forward thinking and moral responsibility.

The financial world is now poised to trigger the next shock.  Already massively indebted and near bankruptcy, the government continues to spend like there is no tomorrow.

The Congress has been officially warned that Social Security will soon be unable to meet promised payments.

The ability of the nation to attend to social needs will falter, not because of mean-spirited antipathy, but because bankruptcy is an unyielding taskmaster.  Entitlements will remain in name only, gutted by the devaluation of the dollar.  We will be starting from scratch.

At this writing the crisis has yet to fully precipitate.  Those who understand the untenable condition of our credit-based monetary system, and have their eyes open, are telling us the financial world cannot avoid massive restructuring.

We cannot know if this will be managed in an orderly manner or will spiral out of control.  Either way the dollar has to be devalued significantly.

Unfortunately, this will only be the beginning.  The consequences of fiscal irresponsibility will introduce a long crisis.  A sobering array of intensifying pressures and additional crises are emerging into view.

There will be a period of time when the surprises can only keep coming.

It is for this reason that we must stand our ground locally, building strong communities and dependable relationships – despite our differences.  Constructive action must replace blaming and prejudice.

And, we must begin now.  The future is desperate for clear thinking and positive energy.

We must be especially wary of silver-tongued ideologues who promise to fix everything for us.

I understand the anger.  It is real and it is valid.  But the only effective solutions will require that we all step up to the task.  Freedom depends on responsibility – personal responsibility.

The old order is self-destructing, and the seeds of destruction have been sown for a long time.

The towering mountains of paper wealth accumulated by the self-styled masters of the universe will evaporate before our eyes and theirs, a direct consequence of their own greed, their myopic fascination with money, and their lack of foresight.

There is no way to sugarcoat the pain this will cause for everyone else.

But, let’s be clear: We need not endanger our families and friends with acts of rebellion.  That will simply not be necessary.

We have work to do that calls for our full attention.   Our job is to get serious about rethinking the future, to rebuild and re-unite and not to wait.

The impending financial upheaval will set the stage for what follows.  We must make this a time for listening and learning and developing new skills.

Trust-building, dependability, and constructive action are the order of the day.  Working out social and political differences will come later.

I will not offer specific prescriptions.  An American future must be reconstructed in this time of crisis by the American people themselves — as we are brought finally to our senses.

I will outline principles, strategic thinking, and organizing tools that can make constructive action possible.  Only then can we begin taking control of our lives as a free and responsible people.

Even in a long crisis.

Tom

Dear Readers, please watch for the next post on or about September 14.

A project description can be found at the top of this page, (www.freedomstruth.net), as well as a draft introduction to the coming book and sample chapters, including: American Crucible, The Power of Diversity, and The Will to Freedom.  I depend on your feedback.

Rationality and the Conflict of Values

We have been talking about values.  So, let’s turn our attention to the most fundamental of questions: Why are values essential to civilization?  How can shared values provide stability, sanity and safety, as society passes through major disruptions and change?

Most perplexing, why do our own personal values sometimes conflict with each other?

Human values grounded in religious teachings have remained relatively consistent for thousands of years.  The great majority are still accepted as valid today despite a society that is largely indifferent or even hostile to religion.

Since ancient times the history of ideas has been dominated by the assumption that society, and indeed all of human reality, is an integrated and coherent whole, governed by rules that are consistent and rational.

Consequently, it has been assumed that every genuine question must have a single correct answer and that the true answers to all questions must be compatible.

To put it another way, all truths were assumed to be harmonious, and when accurately understood could be expected to conform in consonance with one another.

This thinking is certainly logical, and it is reasonable that people would wish to believe in it.

However, as the human world has become more complex, we have been confronted with uncompromising evidence that reality and truth are not so simple.

We find ourselves increasingly challenged by choices that are incommensurable – that is, impossible to compare or measure against one another.  And, our most cherished values can come into direct conflict with one another, despite each being entirely good and reasonable in its’ own right.

This in no way questions the facts or the validity of the values.  Rather, it challenges us to make difficult moral judgments in complex circumstances.

Clearly, increasing complexity and morally perplexing choices will be present in our lives from now on.

Even science, the realm of endeavor most closely associated with reason and logic, is confronted with problems that present moral dilemmas – choices between evils.  And, the nature of complexity has proven mathematically impervious to predictability and rational expectations.

I do not deny an ultimate holistic conception of reality as an all-inclusive functional domain – one true Reality.

However, I suggest that its’ character requires us to mature – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – by engaging with ambiguity, paradox, and logical incongruities, all of which are intrinsic aspects of the world we are given.

I believe that to a limited extent such adversities can be addressed in similar ways by religious and non-religious people alike.  All of us face the daunting challenge of distinguishing between true reality and the myriad alternative realities imagined by the human mind.

Unsurprisingly, the earliest historical references to conflicting values and moral dilemmas appear in religious literature.

An incident I find most compelling is Jesus’ confrontation with a crowd of people who brought accusations of adultery against an unidentified woman.

Her accusers ended up walking away from Jesus (and from her) confounded by the rationality of His response to conflicting values. (John 8)

The letter of the law was not good enough.  It was a moment which I believe to be a turning point in human history.

The Apostle Paul describes an agonizing mental and spiritual ordeal in which he confronted insoluble choices.  His may be the earliest written account of the dilemmas presented by the two-fold nature of the human Will. (Romans 7)

Augustine, the philosopher and theologian of the 4th and 5th centuries, confronts the same problem in his “Confessions”, and “On Free Choice of the Will”, without resolution.

He finally reports his conclusion in “The City of God”, close to the end of his life.  And it is not what many would expect.

Augustine says we can only engage effectively with the conflicts and incongruities in life by means of love.

Yes, love, the ultimate law of unity and understanding that transcends diversity and differences, which prepares the way for problem-solving, and which aligns all aspects of our lives in a functional whole.

The way has been prepared for us in this world with severe tests of intellect and soul that will change us as we must be changed.

Tom

Dear readers:  The next post will be delayed for a week due to disruptions on the blog’s Facebook page, apparently caused by the current restructuring of Facebook code and consequent disarray.  Please watch for the next post on or about August 30.

Values Matter

I have proposed that a small unified core group of determined Americans could generate a powerful moral presence in the United States – by defining basic values clearly and projecting a vision for the future with a positive spirit.

This would be immensely attractive to a nation desperate for the feel of solid ground beneath its feet.  However, it raises emotionally charged questions.

How will Americans determine those essential values we can agree on?  And, how can we then work together to resolve problems and meet shared needs despite the differences we cannot agree on?

We know we have values we cannot compromise.  Yet, we all wish for a safe, reliable, and productive civil order which can keep its balance as a pluralistic society.

Many of us have been feeling hopeless about the divisiveness and dysfunction we feel all around us.  But when we think of abandoning hope we are confronted with the prospect of a future that is far worse.

A nation collapsed in antipathy would be a nation where it is impossible to share our thinking or disseminate our ideas and beliefs.  And, social chaos would be a briar patch ripe for the predatory intentions of totalitarian despots.

A totalitarian America would, by definition, not be America.  It would be a dictatorship where liberty has vanished, questioning is forbidden, and the independence of the human spirit is crushed.

Is this our choice?

Primary values are never negotiable.  So, when we are confronted with a collision of values that cannot be reconciled, what is to be done?

Our choices are limited. For any group or authority to force a particular vision or interpretation of reality on others would be a violent denial of the principles that make a free society.

Would we destroy liberty in order to defend it?

We are left with the necessity for negotiating a state of cooperation and collaboration that permits a functional civil society, yet allows us to express and disseminate our values and our views.

We all need to stand firmly for what we believe. But, to rise above our differences so as to secure the safety and well-being of our communities is not to compromise our beliefs.

Aristotle is quoted as saying “Those that know, do. Those that understand, teach.” And, if we are confident in our knowledge and understanding, we are able to entertain diverse thoughts without accepting them.

A wise man named Walt Disney once said: “Our heritage and ideals, our code and standards – the things we live by and teach our children – are preserved or diminished by how freely we exchange ideas and feelings.”

What is essential is not that we agree on any aspect of personal belief, but that we collaborate to restore the integrity of a civil society that allows for constructive cooperation.  The safety of our families and the economic well-being of our future depend on our ability to engage with one another with dignity.

We cannot allow America to disintegrate in unrestrained acrimony.  Our challenge is to establish conditions in which we can sustain freedom, seek change, and attract others to constructive action.

In so doing, I propose general acceptance of the following shared values.  I expect we can also agree on others.  In this way we can claim the moral high ground and attract a growing number of Americans to join us.

First, an uncompromising commitment to defend the Constitution and a respect for the rule of law.

Second, that we embrace the following values as the foundations for unity:  Justice, equity, truthfulness, honesty, fair-mindedness, reliability, trustworthiness, and responsibility.

These are universal values and must be understood.

However, if we are to gain a hearing, we must first engage people with compassion and a willingness to actually comprehend what they see and think – and why.  Then the real work can begin.

If no one can hear us, we will have no influence over the future.

Tom

Dear readers, I will be taking a short break.  Watch for the next post on or about August 9.  You can support this blog and the book project by suggesting that your friends and associates take a look.

Will the Center Hold?

Seeking an American renewal will be an arduous task requiring genuine dialog and rational negotiations. Basic values and national purpose need to be on the table.  Our differences are great and some have not been resolved for 200 years.  But, civilized debate may not turn out quite as we expect – if all sides actually listen.

At this very challenging moment for Americans I suggest that the goal of civil dialog should be to answer the following questions:

Will a courageous few stand together at the center of national unity?

Are we willing to rise above our differences to rebuild civil society based on moral responsibility and basic shared values?

Will this alliance of loyal and determined citizens establish itself as a civilized American “center” that transcends culture, religion, politics?

Will the center hold?

As difficult as it is to visualize how this can happen, I expect Americans will rise to necessity. Because we must.

The only alternative could easily be catastrophic collapse – with no future possibility of influencing receptive minds or furthering personal agendas.

I believe such a challenging course of action can ultimately succeed because it does not need to begin with large numbers.  A small unified core group of determined Americans can make this happen.  But, it will require citizens with vision, tenacity, and compassion who invoke a powerful moral presence.

Such an honorable vision for the future which embodies a generous and welcoming spirit will be immensely attractive to a nation desperate to feel solid ground beneath its’ feet.  Increasing numbers will respond.  A few at first, then many.

I expect the vision of a civil order based on trust and responsibility will draw Americans to it from every walk of life – from every religious faith, from every economic condition and political philosophy.

Why?  Because without safety, civility, and a stable order no one will be listening.  The business of the nation will grind to a halt.

The first priority must be to defend the identity and character of the United States as a constitutional republic.  The second priority will be to do what Americans have always done: to debate our many differences with fairness and dignity.

What is essential is not that we agree on all aspects of personal belief, but that we restore the integrity of a civil society that allows for constructive cooperation, so that we can secure the safety of our families and the stability of civil order.

If this is indeed our priority, we cannot allow America to disintegrate in unrestrained acrimony.  We will have to choose our battles.  Some issues might be argued more effectively on another day.

James Madison fought to have slavery abolished by the Constitution when it was first drafted in 1787.  It was painful for him to walk away from that vision, but he finally realized it threatened to kill the entire project.

It took decades for citizen abolitionists to get the job done.

Today, however, agreement about certain principles will be immediately necessary.  What must these be?

What are the core principles that will put America on the road to a self-respecting future? Not the core principles held dear by each of us personally, but rather those necessary to pull a diverse people together to make our local communities safe and dependable.

Each of us must consider our personal willingness to engage in respectful, meaningful dialog concerning these questions.

As regular readers know, I have suggested several principles in this blog that I consider essential.  In addition to a firm defense of the Constitution, I have written of the necessity for trustworthiness and civility, for moral responsibility and the concept of constructive action.

A fully American future can only be reached by identifying where we can find common purpose.

An inclusive vision of the future does not require agreement, but rather genuine curious interest and understanding – and a shared loyalty to the nation we love.  Only then can we work together on real problems and real needs.

We are either all in, seeking to build a free and fair society, or we are each on our own in a disintegrating world.

Tom

Dear readers, please look for the next post on or about July 19.

Principled Means, Principled Ends

These are perilous times.  We find ourselves confronted with growing social and economic instability and a clouded future.

We do not want to sit on our hands.  Yet, uncertainty and unprecedented complexity make it hard to see the way forward.  How easy it would be to let emotions rule, tipping our lives into chaos and endangering the principles we depend upon.

It is with this in mind that I take up where I left off in the previous post (May 30).  There are two reasons why political violence will not get Americans where we want to go.  One is tactical.  The other is strategic and more important.

The mythic ideal of the citizen soldier remains deeply engrained in the American psyche.  The problem is that if we imagine a heroic Star Wars scenario in defense of freedom and justice we are dreaming.

Any patriot preparing today for armed resistance in the tradition of 1776 will pit himself against a formidable opponent.  He will be outmaneuvered and outgunned by fully militarized police possessing the most advanced surveillance technology and backed by massive firepower.

Marine veteran James Rock made this very clear in his comment two weeks ago (on the Facebook page).

However, there is a more fundamental problem, and it is this:  Who exactly do you intend to fight?

American law enforcement agencies and the United States military are served by loyal, committed Americans.   These are our people, our sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.  They are working people, they have families, and they care about the future as we all do.

It is our responsibility to win them over, not beat them up.  They should be approached respectfully, with persuasive argument and bighearted example.

As I wrote in the last post, violence committed by Americans against Americans would contradict the rationale behind the incentive for violence itself.   It would be self-contradictory, pitting us against one another and subverting the integrity and viability of the American Idea as a guiding force for the good.

Our views on defending the Constitution or the corruption of principles are serious matters.  But, public servants, police officers and bureaucrats, are not the problem.

We must respect these people, not just as a matter of principle, but because we need them. They are essential to a constructive solution and we need to win their trust.

Americans are not to be persuaded when we are attacked, not for some high-minded cause or anything else.  When faced with hostility we naturally close ranks, and clear thinking stops.

Even the misguided rebellion of tiny splinter groups will be destructive to the cause of liberty.  Any resort to force can easily lead to cascading consequences in which violence begets violence in a downward spiral, tearing the fabric of the Republic and threatening both progress and principle.

Furthermore, it is simply not necessary.

Change is needed that is real and lasting, built on the solid ground of principle and trust, of moral responsibility and dependable communities – not quicksand.

I never said this would be easy, so let me be clear.  The skills, attitudes, and discipline that create trust are at the heart of what we need to learn if we are to build a future for the nation as a whole.

This is more than a matter of survival.  For thousands of years local communities have formed the foundations of civilization.  The essential concern in the present hour, and the basis by which to judge constructive action, must be the spirit and the quality of the future we wish for.

It will be our means that determine the ends we seek.

This is not a theoretical nicety, but hard-nosed truth.  Understanding it will determine success or failure.

Americans are capable of being decent, patient and forbearing.  Personal values and views must be respected, but if we are to identify shared values, ensure comprehensive security, and begin to rebuild a stable civil order, it will be necessary to rise above our differences.

Going to war with our fellow citizens makes no sense.  Indeed, the ends we seek could be delayed for decades and possibly destroyed by impractical or intemperate courses of action.

Tom

A note to regular readers: Thank you for the comments, ideas, and perspectives shared (mostly on the Facebook page) in recent weeks.  This project would be impossible without you!

Please watch for the next post on or about July 4: Will the Center Hold?

The Second Amendment, Then and Now

The Bill of Rights, which includes the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was first proposed to Congress by James Madison as articles to be incorporated into the main body of the Constitution.

Congress approved twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution in 1789 and submitted them to the states for ratification.  Contrary to Madison’s proposal, they were submitted as “supplemental” additions.  Articles Three through Twelve were ratified by the required number of states and became Amendments One through Ten in 1791.

The Second Amendment, which has become a matter of considerable interest in recent years, reads as follows:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

This was not controversial at the time.  The concept existed in English common law long before the enactment of the Bill of Rights.  And, many Americans feel it necessary to own firearms today.

The importance of this issue to the Founders was quite clear.  James Madison, who introduced the language that became the Second Amendment, also wrote that “The Constitution preserves the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation where the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms.”

Alexander Hamilton, like Madison a strong advocate for Federalism, was equally explicit: “The constitution shall never be construed…to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.”

Thomas Jefferson famously said: “No freeman shall be debarred the use of arms.” And he also wrote that “The strongest reason for the people to retain their right to keep and bear arms is as a last resort to protect themselves against tyranny in government.”

During the years just prior to the Revolutionary War there was mob violence in several of the colonies.  In addition, many Americans lived in or close to wilderness regions where conditions were essentially lawless.

The need people felt to protect their families was quite rational.

It should be noted that a primary motivation for supporting “a well regulated Militia,” expressed in the Second Amendment as “being necessary to the security of a free State,” was the strong opposition among the Founders to the concept of a standing army.

Thomas Jefferson put it this way: “None but an armed nation can dispense with a standing army.  To keep ours armed and disciplined is therefore at all times important.” “Every citizen should be a soldier,” he wrote. “This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

The American reality in 1776 and 1791 was entirely different from that confronting us today.

Yet, news of social and religious violence imposes on our peace every day.  Older Americans are particularly sensitized to what has changed: the radical loss of trust and the absence of civility, ethical integrity, and social responsibility.

We must acknowledge the compelling reasons why so many feel it necessary to possess firearms.

It is in this context that I express my concern about the threat of force made or implied in the name of political ends.  We already face dangerous instability, a condition likely to grow worse as conditions deteriorate.  Political violence could easily tip us into chaos.

For those with the eyes to see, it is clear that the use of force for political ends will very likely produce exactly the opposite of its intended purpose.  There is a dynamic relationship between means and ends.  The character of our results will be determined by the character of the means we employ.

Indeed, violence committed by Americans against Americans would endanger the Constitution and contradict the rationale behind the incentive for violence itself.  The uniformed services are staffed by our own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  We need to win them over; not turn them against us.

We have pragmatic alternatives.  We need to learn what they are.  Both our purpose and our means must be carefully considered, and we need to get it right.

We face a long crisis.  Many dark and dangerous things can happen.

Tom

A reminder for readers: Please look for the next post on or about June 14.

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.