Natural law—those rules and conditions that are validated by nature and resistant to human manipulation—suggests that the destiny of any civilization is determined within an impervious web of complex variables, which interact in a rhythm beyond the sensory capacity of man. Among other things, they suggest we control much less than we believe we do. But, there are some natural laws that include us as actors and offer guidance (if not inspiration) as to how we might succeed. Ironically (and also naturally), they are ignored under the weight of egotism during times of prosperity, only re-emerging during crisis. This group of Homo-natural laws (H.naturals) includes a navigational set that offer clues as to how we might better set a course toward success. They include maxims like “You are what you eat,” Your bike, car, motorcycle, plane, (etc.) will travel in the direction you are looking,” and “You will become what you talk/think about.” They are the fiber in our concept of will.
As the current political, economic, and social crisis unfolds, those who understand the H.naturals will do well. Those trapped in the egotism of yesterday will fail. What we consume, where we set our sights, and our prevailing narrative will define an identity that will ride H.naturals to a new destiny. As orator and perennial Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan claimed, “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for; it is a thing to be achieved.” Notwithstanding its inherent Homo-centrism, Bryan’s claim recognizes the role man plays within the reality of H.naturals. He offered these words in the late 19th century when America emerged as a player on the world stage—after another crisis: Civil War and Reconstruction. Like then, H.naturals will prevail today; and they apply to all of us, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or national allegiance. In other words, H.naturals don’t play favorites; the myth of American exceptionalism provides no surety of success. Those societies who understand this will be the next great powers. Those that don’t won’t.
It is critical then that we Americans consider carefully those matters that define us—that will conflate with H.naturals to set our course. Here are some suggestions to consider as we re-design our future—our ameritecture.
- In the future, national power will be gained referentially; attraction will prevail over coercion. The United States has the sole capacity via its military might to destroy any and every adversary. This is a good thing, as long as we don’t use it—as long as we protect the myth behind the curtain of Oz. Given this perception-cum-reality, it should not be surprising that our adversaries will choose alternative modalities to compete. As we have seen, some will continue to choose violent means, albeit asymmetrically, through terrorist networks using improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers. Others will buy our debt and subvert quasi-American institutions by offering more attractive alternatives to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Still others will look to exploit the weakness of our critical infrastructures through cyber-warfare to compromise our communication, power, and water systems. Boots on the ground, bombs in the air, and nation building, will not defeat these efforts. Ironically, through our predominance, we have rendered them obsolete. Today’s threats must be met by new means of power. We can succeed if most of the world sees America as its advocate—as a critical factor in its success. What Harvard’s Joseph Nye calls “soft power” must be applied through what I have termed enlightened altruism to defeat our adversaries. The people, from Xinjiang, to Naypyidaw, to Peshawar, to Abuja, to Caracas must all believe their future is better assured by having a positive relationship with the United States. They must have a basis of attraction to grant power to America referentially. They must be our new advocates—they must have a vested interest in our security. Every time we destroy another village, temple, or city our effective power declines and our national security is compromised. This is not peacenik talk. This is the new global realism.
- Government is not the answer, people are. Reagan had it half right: “government is not the answer,” but neither is it the problem, unless we allow it to be. We make it the problem by the abdication of personal responsibility. We ask it to do for us what we should be doing for ourselves. Government’s role should be re-cast—limited—to providing basic public goods like security and the rule of law; to protect us from external threats and internal mischief. While some government programs are arguably public goods, they diminish and at times subvert people and their communities. And, they collapse under the corruption of government operatives. Moreover, too many laws protect civil predators like health insurance companies and Wall Street grifters. We must reject the constellation of false choices partisanship promotes. For example, healthcare is neither a right nor a privilege; it is a public good. We are all better off when our neighbors are healthy too. But, it is a public good that is fiscally unsustainable under the legacy structure imposed by our government. It is a prime example of a failed distribution system—one that can be fixed only if our leaders muster the political will to breakup the cartel that is strangling families and communities and return the power of choice to the people.
- Openness and inclusion is the soul of American liberty; fear is the tool of tyrants. America is the most open society in the world. Both our beauty and warts are on display for all to see. Notwithstanding frequent embarrassments, this allows a fluidity of ideas and opportunities unmatched in the global system. We must fight to maintain this virtue in the face of those who seek to curtail it for their personal political, economic, or social benefit. Today, many extremists from many venues are attempting to close our society invoking fears of security, religious subversion, and racial or ethnic conflict. As with all bullies, fear is their weapon, currently amplified in an environment of crisis. They use glittering generalities and moronic simplicities while twisting historical fact to gain influence and serve themselves. They claim they are patriots, but like the wolf in a sheep’s headdress, they are the enemy within. They must be identified and exposed for what they are; they are America’s biggest threat. Common targets for their ire are immigrants, although race and religion may be their true concerns. While all historical data suggests immigrants are the lifeblood of the American system, these extremists would like to slit America’s throat with their jingoistic, ethno-centric, fear-based, vitriol. Each of us must stand up to sit them down.
- If we do nothing else well, we will succeed if we do education well. In a global system intelligence trumps geography, demography, and natural resources. Intelligence is everything. But, we must acknowledge there are different types of intelligence, each making their particular contribution to civil success. Currently, there is significant and justified hand wringing over test scores in math and science as well as painful cuts in resources due to our financial crisis. But if we compromise our capacity to generate future intelligence—comprised of both critical and creative skills—we will lose our competitive advantage and fail. Budget cuts today are reflexively aimed at non-quantitative, non-analytical courses as if math and science is enough to face future competition in a global economy. This is a potentially tragic mistake, especially considering our legacy-advantage of invention and innovation. Many nations perform better at math and science, but none exceeds the United States in the creative application of intelligence. We don’t need to be like everyone else. We need to be like us. We need to continue to invest in the engineer and the artist. It is through both these skill-sets—the analytical and creative—that America will continue to lead the world. We must apply both competition and cooperation—‘coopetition’—to leverage our intelligence and assure our future success.
We can’t control H.naturals, but we can make wise decisions on crafting our identity to maximize the likelihood of civil success. We can summon our heritage of liberty and diligently protect our capacity to out-innovate the world if we take care to suppress those who have succumbed to fear and oppression. We must understand that the world changes every day and that our old methods—particularly in the projection of power—may not serve our future interests. Above all, we must take personal responsibility, possessed of both courage and humility, to make our world (however large or small) better every day. Our destiny depends on it.