Six Words to Write on the Wall

Scholars identify crises as periods when outlier economic events (extreme data points) and social and political polarity (absence of a center or consensus) prevail over what had been considered the normative state.  Economic, social, and political order is in peril.  Stated otherwise, weirdness reigns.  As an Eisenhower baby I am old enough to remember a fair amount of tumult, but the outliers and polarity today seems more pronounced and durable.  Someday historians will turn the current noise blaring at us from all directions into something melodic and lyrical, but when you are in the midst of the milieu it sounds more like a kid performing at their first violin recital. We grit our teeth and brace ourselves until the tortuous fraying of the bow ceases.  What does this chorus of noise mean?  What do the various crises emanating from the political, economic, and cultural spheres portend for you and me?  How should we respond to these events?  What should we expect of others and ourselves?  Even more importantly, what does it suggest about how we should conduct our lives vis-à-vis the purposes and aims that define who we are? Is our destiny still even ours?

To assure that our destiny remains in our control we must first embrace the notion that crisis is good.  It is like the fire in the forest that is both devastating in the moment and essential for the future of its eco-system.  Crisis on a systemic level allows a cleansing of the detritus that has built up from years of traditional thinking codified to protect the status quo and, unfortunately, compromise our future.  What once was thought to maintain stability—like a money supply untethered from the gold standard—may mark the next tipping point toward systemic entropy.  Crisis, however, creates new spaces and resources for new actors to create and innovate.  It is like rebooting your computer: the operating system remains intact while the application software is disentangled from the remnants of prior tasks.  That is not to say crises are thoroughly cleansing; some of the rubbish remains, and that which does will fight mightily to do so.  We need look no further than some of the blowhards in politics and media to recognize this.  Yet, to succeed in our particular purposes and aims, we must take what space and opportunities arise and run through newly opened doors toward our future.

Embracing crisis as a liberating force also allows us to learn from past crises so that we might identify words, themes, and modalities we should employ to survive and prosper, or at least find a measure of tranquillity, if not a state of grace.  Reviewing the history of past crises while also surveying the current political, economic, and cultural landscape leads me to suggest there are six words or themes to write on the wall to guide us in answering the question, how should we conduct ourselves today?[1]

  1. Authentic.  Keep it real, and keep it true. During recovery from crises there is not enough slack in the system to reward work that is almost right.  Only the real stuff wins.  Like most people, I appreciate irony, but too often today irony is worn in much the same way as a teenage girl wears eye shadow; more comical than alluring.  Yet when properly considered the object of irony—exposed in relief—reveals authenticity. The question is, what is the fundamental value expressed in its simplest form?  Seek to produce values that are pervasive and durable throughout the system, product, policy, or personal regimen.  Once identified, set them like cornerstones to support everything you do.
  2. Resilient.  Here is a not-so-newsy flash: you, your family, your company, your community, your city, and your country will suffer a blow or blows as we unwind from the current crises in the chaotic and messy climb toward a new more settled state.  Crises, like forest fires, are indiscriminate.  Even if you avoid catastrophic damage, collateral damage is a certainty.  Many herald schemes of sustainability and independence, but they are just part of this larger objective of resilience.  To survive we must have the ability to bounce back.  In our personal lives, this means we have to be mentally and physically fit, and have access to sufficient financial and human resources.  On the human relations aspect, trust others as Machiavelli might: expect them to consider their own interests first—always ahead of yours.  But, have go-to folks that can bolster your efforts in those areas where they are stronger than you.  Take personal responsibility for your lot, however you define it.  When the blow comes take the hit, dust yourself off, and get ready to hit back.  Make yourself a hard target.
  3. Gonzo.  Just when you thought this was going to be a treatise on conservative realism, I invoke the late Hunter S. Thompson.  In shorthand, gonzo means that you should write all the rules down so you know what not to do.  Channel your inner Hunter, er Gonzo.  The vast majority of rules, frameworks, policies, and structures were adopted to protect those in power, not to protect or serve you.  Moreover, in a post-crisis world, they don’t work in your favor even if you were one of their yesteryear authors.  In the ascent from crisis, those who set aside tradition and define their world in their own terms will be profoundly successful and yes, much happier.  When you face the inevitable admonishment “you can’t do that” or “that isn’t allowed,” simply respond: watch me.
  4. Transcendent.  Rise above the rabble.  Don’t be drawn into the muck of ignorance that is so-often the marker of organizations and factions whose survival depends on the condemnation of opposing perspectives.  This is the basis of my objection to organized religion—particularly monotheistic religions—that advocate intolerance as a by-product of their own survival impulse.  The prevailing principle of these groups is, “if you don’t believe as we do you are wrong and will be subjected to our wrath.”  Political parties employ the same thinking.[2]  Be wary of ideologies and theologies that practice judgment and condemnation.  They are debilitating.  Retain your free will.  Read often and deeply; look for character, structure, and meaning.  Pursue knowledge beyond your comfort zone.  What does the artist know or do that might benefit the scientist?  This is the best way to nurture the power of an opposable mind.  An opposable mind is always open to new ideas that create solutions no one else has thought of.
  5. Stealth.  Several years ago I wrote an essay wherein I argued the next frontier—after my father’s frontier of space—was the frontier of anonymity.  It was based on the notion of harnessing the benefits of digital technologies, in particular, networks, to operate in a seamless and borderless manner to master the theoretically endless benefits of globalism.  All of this would be conducted in an anonymous manner where code and avatars replaced our traditional analog identities.  In many respects today, we are headed exactly in that direction as the anonymity of 1s and 0s dominate our commerce and communications.  Aliases have become the norm.  However, there are other aspects of anonymity—of a stealth existence—that have value beyond the ability to tweet your every thought behind an opaque hash tag.  High profiles are dangerous in periods of crisis and in the period of objectivism that follows in America’s historical four-phase life cycle (crisis—objectivism—radicalism—idealism).  Humility and self-restraint are clearly preferable to hubris.  There are many people who enjoy health, wealth, and happiness who never stick their head in front of the camera. Be like them.
  6. Grace.  There are many definitions and interpretations of grace, so let me start by suggesting the grace I write about here is when the proper balance of virtues are combined with other elements and resources to produce something beautiful.  A state of grace then is the modality that produces beauty, whether it is an object, product, service, idea, or writing.  Pierre-Auguste Renoir often argued that the most durable things in the world are those that are beautiful.  Grace is the capacity to bring everything together in such a way that people say wow that is beautiful, or amazing, or just plain cool.  I am suggesting here that grace is when you bring authenticity, resilience, gonzo, transcendence, and stealth together in just the right way to assure your destiny—which is indeed a truly beautiful thing.  Then, you are in a state of grace.

As we emerge from this period of crisis and enter a new period of objectivism, I expect those who seek grace through the careful application of these ‘six words written on the wall’ will retain a handhold on their destiny.  The fate of others will be chosen for them.

[1] The words and themes presented here all have their basis of research and argument found in prior posts at  Please peruse the archive for more substantive material on these six ideas including references to reading material.
[2] In my recent reading of memoirs from members of the George W. Bush administration, I have found an overwhelming sense of certitude that appears to have been the proximate cause of what I call sclerotic decision making.
By |2017-05-23T18:00:35+00:00April 24th, 2013|General, Leadership|0 Comments

American Empire(?): The Way Forward

The great American experiment that began more than 200 years ago is looking a bit weary as 2011 draws to a (welcome) close. As a relatively oddball group of historians who apply mathematics to history will tell you, when viewed through the lens of cliodynamics, the empire of America is already past its sell-by date. The average lifespan of great powers over the last 3,000 years is 215 years. It has been 223 years since the ratification of the US Constitution. But these kinds of analyses, especially those that appeal to our preference for simple dichotomies—live or die, good or evil, rise or fall, win or lose—seldom foretell outcomes that often fall outside the boundaries defined by carefully crafted pseudoscientific models. Clio, the muse of history for whom cliodynamics is named, would undoubtedly find such exactitude quite whimsical; a reason to pluck her lute with a wry smile. Nevertheless, the current crisis facing the US and much of the Western world is worth considerable contemplation as the consequences of ignoring what is going on might very well end American power as we have come to know and enjoy it.

By most accounts 2011 was a big disappointment. Outside of giving bin Laden his due most events were forgettable and regrettable rather than notable or laudable. The annual lists of best and worst expanded geometrically in 2011, mostly due to an increase in worsts. The economy remained anemic, our politicians were (at best) a source of painful entertainment, and the social fabric of society was torn by the realization that the pursuit of the American dream is a rigged game: fewer will get there and the few who do will act—often aggressively—to prohibit others from joining them. During 2011 ‘political will’ became an oxymoron, unless you count extremists in Congress who believe intransigence is virtuous. Since the current economic crisis began in August 2007, we have made steady progress in the wrong direction. Our economic crisis has become a political crisis and now, just in the last few months, the ‘Occupiers’ have made the case we now also have a social crisis. Most of us watched Greece burn in civil unrest without being able to dismiss the news with our usual effete indifference; our own profligacy has made us wonder how far the pain will spread; how long before it arrives here? Unfortunately, 2012 looks like more of the same in both Europe and the US, no real progress has been made to affect change in the legacy systems that lock us into a dangerous status quo that shows debt and entitlements overwhelming GDP.

While recent declines in the unemployment rate have been promoted by feel-good aspirants as the beginning of a new economic day, upon closer inspection they look as phony as the smiling politician who claims he or she has our best interest at heart. The declines ignore the fact that the chronically unemployed are no longer counted. Nevertheless, turning the tide of expectations from negative to positive is not all bad even if delusional, and nascent evidence suggests the beginning of a decoupling of US security markets from the woes of Europe might be possible. Meanwhile, China, which aims to diminish American power, is beginning to realize how growth presents a whole new array of economic, political, and social challenges. However, even if these nascent indications do herald more bullish markets for US securities it is likely a temporary condition, at best a respite from the messy progression toward full globalization where no one, or two, or even a few nations predominate; and which punishes those who have forgotten the value of savings and investment. Within two or three years our own debt issues – left to bloat – will put us in the same place as Europe and the world will begin to turn away from the dollar as the preferred reserve currency. A post-dollar world will be devastating to Americans unless it is choreographed by the US to affect a soft landing. However, if there is a respite in 2012 it will offer Americans one last chance to preserve the US economy and our relative position of power in the world. The way forward is what I will characterize as a great work-around. We must challenge legacy thinking and entrenched regimes. We must negotiate a new narrative to assure a better future. We must find new pathways around the systems and rules that endanger our future. Fortunately, out of inspiration or desperation, many are thinking this way and many more may join them soon. Game changers are being actively pursued by the best and brightest among us. Follow me.

The biggest ‘work-around’—already underway—emanates from beyond our shores but may make landfall in the US soon. It is what Robert Neuwirth of the journal Foreign Policy calls “The Shadow Superpower.” It is the $10 trillion global black market that he claims is “the world’s fastest growing economy.” Technocrats, bureaucrats, and aspiring plutocrats take note: much of the developing world and even some of the developed world are finding ways to avoid your negligent tutelage that too often lines your pockets with wealth produced by the enterprise of others. Neuwirth calls this “unheralded alternative economic universe … System D.”  Two years ago the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development revealed that “half the workers of the world—close to 1.8 billion people—were working in System D: off the books, in jobs that were neither registered nor regulated, getting paid in cash, and, most often avoiding income taxes.” Neuwirth suggests these enterprises are “ruled by the spirit of organized improvisation.” As we look at the hideous leadership we have today in the US, and face the struggle of making financial ends meet, how long before the model of System D (which is not too far removed from how we currently use eBay, Craig’s List, or Etsy) becomes a prevalent modality of commerce in the US? Although it will undoubtedly be labeled illegal by those charged with protecting the status quo, will it be considered immoral or unpatriotic? Once a tipping point of adoption is reached and such organized improvisation becomes the norm, how would the rutty-faced enforcers employed by the Fed ever rein in such a tsunami of renewed independence and self-reliance? Will there be a Shadow America?

Following in the modality of organized improvisation are what have become known as flash mobs that are also spawning what I will call flash capitalism. Neighborhood thugs who wanted to tip over a C-store to sate their appetite for Twinkies and cigarettes were the first to apply the flash mob model. Like al-Qaeda that first demonstrated the power of asymmetric networks, flash mobs have villainous origins. However, digital communication certainly allows spontaneous collective action and can also be used for good. Such was the case in the revolutions in many Arab states in 2011. It can also be used to more productive ends to both entertain and fund enterprise. My favorite feel-good flash mob is ‘Deck the Halls’ filmed at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. Another more recent example of this digital collectivism that fits into the modality of organized improvisation is a new online venue to raise funding for creative projects and entrepreneurial startups called kickstart. Tune in, hear the pitch, and decide if you want to support the venture. Since traditional lending has dried up largely due to commercial banks finding they can make better returns by using government bailout funds to trade exotic securities to assure their year-end bonuses, kickstart has created what is in effect flash capitalism. While fewer than half of the solicitors reach their funding goal, that is substantially higher than what traditional private capital markets achieve, which exclude most ideas and entrepreneurs without ever hearing the pitch.

The last idea I will share here is the biggest, most promising, most challenging, and frankly most inspiring idea I heard (and then studied) during 2011. It is the mother of all work-arounds. It is Jeremy Rifkin’s Third Industrial Revolution. I first heard Rifkin’s ideas on the Diane Rehm radio show, and you can listen here. Once you listen, you may want his book, which is available here. Rifkin’s work-around is of the energy complex, which he persuasively argues is at the center of humankind’s future and, I would argue further is the keystone in the arch holding up America’s future as a world power. He identifies five pillars that must be radically changed to produce a new narrative that defines our future. The first pillar is the shift to renewable energy. The second is essentially a re-conception of where energy comes from; in his thesis it comes from every building, which are turned into “micro-power-plants to collect renewable energies on site.” The third pillar is on-site storage of unused or intermittent energy utilizing hydrogen technologies. The fourth pillar is to utilize an Internet model to form smart energy networks that distribute energy in an “energy-sharing intergrid.” Finally, the fifth pillar is the transformation of the entire transportation fleet of vehicles into “plug-in and fuel cell vehicles that can buy and sell electricity on a smart, continental, interactive power grid.” The old energy model, which is highly centralized owing to a design that collects energy from a few places and transports it to a distant end user, is rendered obsolete once energy is collected, used, and shared from an infinite number of locations. This changes the whole power structure of the world – both energy and political – to a lateral and highly distributed model that will create thousands of jobs and – pun intended – pulls the plug on governments and despots who control energy as an insidious form of repression. (And yes, I include Western democracies here.) As Rifkin points out in his book, Europe is well ahead of the US in adopting his ideas. The EU has given them a full embrace. But, as mentioned above, we may have a respite in the US that allows us to catch up and surpass our friends in Europe. However, we have got to stop indulging the “drill, baby, drill” bunch and invest in the long term. That means no pipelines from Canada, among many other things. It means, in short, blowing up the status quo and having the confidence to form a new identity around our old values of independence, self-reliance, and innovation.

As leadership advisor Mike Myatt recently wrote in Forbes, leadership is many things, but it is mainly pursuit. It is the pursuit of excellence, of elegance, of truth, of what’s next, of what if, of change, of value, of results, of relationships, of service, of knowledge, and of something bigger than themselves.” If 2012 is anything; I hope it is the year we each start to lead-by-pursuit. Forget the elections and other political sideshows, just lead, baby, lead! If we do, we just might overcome the legacy systems that protect the status quo and ensure a much better future for America and the world.


By |2017-05-23T18:36:36+00:00December 27th, 2011|General|0 Comments

Re-imagining America

In my last post, “The Best in Us,” I argued that a breach of character—specifically the loss of honesty and humility—was at the center of our political, economic, and social problems in America. Bringing honesty and humility back to our discourse and decision-making is indeed elemental to the recovery of America. The lunatic fringe who stand on ideological and religious fantasies, and who spew invective that is void of any credible or durable ideal must be marginalized. Obama has tried, although addled by his own Socratic disposition and by the virulent and racist attacks against him, whereas a guy like Governor Chris Christie might have a better chance. Christie doesn’t appear to cotton to stupidity, and he seems to have the honesty thing down. His disposition and, lets face it, his ethnicity, may be more appropriate for the crisis we face. The last part, as repugnant as it is, is a sorrowful reality. That said, once we heal our character—in our leaders and ourselves—we must also move forward to re-imagining America. This requires a holistic makeover of American identity.

Now, before you go running around with your hair on fire accusing me of being an unpatriotic (or worse), let me be clear: the basics do not need to change. Independence, self-reliance, and innovation remain core values in a re-imagined America. But other myths, dispositions, preferences, and behaviors, which have found their way into our identity since the end of the Cold War twenty years ago, must change. Unfortunately, the end of the Cold War made us dumb, and 9/11 made us dumber. It is time to get things back on track. The “end of history,” which was hubristically claimed by Francis Fukuyama in 1992, was actually the beginning of our self-inflicted decline, which hit warp speed after 9/11. The post-evil-Soviet-empire era did not result in a prophesized thousand years of peace and prosperity; when coupled with digital technologies it simply created new ways to compete, mostly asymmetrically. Meanwhile, we Americans gorged ourselves on nothing-down ponzi schemes instead of doubling-down our investment in the things that made us great, most notably all things related to intelligence. Here are four things we need to re-think.

  1. The Power Trap. The United States won the hard power game based on brawn. Meanwhile, the rest of the world came up with new pathways to power that are soft, generally based in intelligence. China has focused on education and economics. Russia has focused on resource power, principally oil. Brazil has focused on agriculture, energy, and demographic power.  India is growing a well-educated middle class faster than any state in the world. Germany kept their debt low and invested in industry and trade. Ireland welcomed immigrants and entrepreneurs. But, the United States kept playing the old game: bigger weapons systems and odious domestic security schemes financed with debt and founded in fear. We are trapped in Cold War power narratives. Americans need to wake up to the new world and start thinking brains over brawn.
  2. The Wealth Myth. Since the Peace at Westphalia in 1648 that gave rise to the state-centric international system, wealth has been the denominator of power. The more land, resources, people, and money a state had determined its power in the world. Wealth is still important, but as argued above, intelligence (which is not always closely correlated with wealth) is now more important. However, there is another dimension to the wealth myth that needs to be considered anew. Wealth does not always mean we are better off. Affluence can actually weaken civil society. We need look no further than the last twenty years of American history. Even before the current recession began, depression was up, test scores and graduation rates were down, poverty and homelessness was rising, and the number one threat to our health was not some incurable disease, it had become self-indulgent obesity. All this occurred as the United States hit the pinnacle of its wealth and power in 2000. If we are going to succeed in facing the current crisis, we need to shift our focus away from wealth to well-being. We need to practice self-restraint and summon compassion. We must prefer austerity to audacity. We need to focus on those things that make us strong and content.  Dignity, respect, resilience, and, moreover our core values of independence, self -reliance, and innovation do not come from wealth, they come from strong bodies, agile minds, and whole hearts. They come from well-being.
  3. Our Growth Obsession. The orthodoxy of growth—that more is better—may be fatally flawed. We are reaching resource limits and facing environmental impacts that suggest we better get on the less-is-more bandwagon. As Herman Daly, a former member of the World Bank recently argued, “In an empty world, growth is good. But that is not the world we inhabit. We live in a world that is full of us and our stuff, a world that is finite in terms of the economic activity it can sustain.”[1] All of our current financial models call for growth. It has become the wicked requirement of affluence and the only relatively painless way out of overwhelming financial deficits.  However, what if we rejected that orthodoxy and, with a steady eye on well-being, conceived plans that aimed at contraction? What if we designed our lives and attendant expectations around less, not more? I will further suggest contraction, not growth, is the more reasonable way to survive the current crisis and to transcend the many maladies of affluence realized over the last twenty years. It may seem antithetical, even heretical, when considered through the lens of our current American identity, but it just may be exactly what our future identity requires.
  4. The Piety Preference. May we please retire piety from the political sphere? Until the 1970s religion was in the private and public sphere—at home and in church. It crept toward the political sphere during the 1950s as a point of differentiation with “godless communism,” then lurched further forward during the civil rights movement and anti-war demonstrations on the left in the 1960s, only to be met by even more fiery rectitude from the far right after Roe v. Wade in 1973. Since then, faith-based rectitude has produced more division—and violence—than at any time in US history. When I hear politicians and despots summon their faith I cannot help but wonder what Jesus, or Moses, or Mohammed, or Buddha, would say to them.  In America, where most politicians claim Christianity, I seldom witness even the slightest correlation between what politicians say and how they behave with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The fiber of diversity is what made America great, not the twisted interpretation of scripture for the projection of political power. To those who are elected to lead, please respect our differences by leaving your piety at home. We are a nation of laws, not prophecy.

It is time to think differently to save our future. As argued before, we must heal our character, but we must also re-imagine America. Old orthodoxies that served us well twenty, fifty, or one hundred years ago will not work today. They may even work against us. Our core values remain: independence, self-reliance, and innovation. But, the paradigms we employ—how we think about the world and our role in it—must be reconsidered. Things will likely get even worse before they get better, but the sooner we start the conversation about re-imagining America, the sooner we will all be better off.

[1] Interview of Herman Daly by Martin Eirman, September 5, 2011, “We need a Crisis, and a Change of Values,”
By |2017-05-23T19:45:51+00:00September 28th, 2011|American Identity, General|0 Comments

The Next Americans

I love the American story. I admire tales told by old-timers, especially about hardship, redemption, and survival. I am inspired by listening to young people express their dreams of how they intend to leave their mark, especially when I reflect on the fact that in many places in the world their peers are still unable to have many dreams, let alone express them. The Next Americans, which I will loosely suggest are the under thirty-five crowd, are today forging a new identity that will change America forever. My generation (Baby Boomers), ambitious and rapacious as we can be, is largely irrelevant in defining what it means to be a Next American. I accept this reality with a gulp of humility, a slice of regret, and a pinch of sadness. Yet, I believe in the Next Americans the same way my peers and I received the confidence of our predecessors: with a transcendent sense of hope.

The Next Americans have an unusual opportunity. While American identity constantly evolves and stalwart values like freedom, individualism, and self-reliance are often squeezed in the vice of circumstance, and at other times manipulated to the point of obscurity, periods of crisis offer the greatest opportunity to redefine the American story—to establish a new identity. For Next Americans, crisis is good. Every eighty years or so America comes full circle and is faced with a crisis. The American Revolution, Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Great Depression and World War II comprise the first three. I have posited that in the interregnum between crises America follows a dispositional progression starting with objectivism where unity, reason, inclusion, pragmatism, tolerance, and self-reliance mark discourse and behavior. Then, slowly, we move into a period of radicalism when we begin to reject the status quo and are attracted to narratives of liberalism, activism, inspiration, and intuition. We reject standardization in favor of differentiation while we accept, if not expect, our government to play a larger role in society. This is followed by a period of überidealism that establishes a dialectic synthesis of objective method and settled radical ideas and values. Hyper-exceptionalism is projected on an unwilling populace, both domestic and foreign. Grandeur reigns. Conspicuous consumption, speculation, deregulation, class inequalities and high religiosity are normative. The timber of humanity that Immanuel Kant suggested was ever crooked is at its gnarly apex during this period. Then, as if the laws of physics hold a bias for self-correction, crisis returns, generally characterized by both severe economic stress and war. Notwithstanding the requisite humility of an historian—that history is at best an imperfect predictor of the future—it seems more than plausible that we have entered another period of crisis, more or less on schedule. It may be several more years—accompanied by even greater peril—before we move into the next period of objectivism. Meanwhile, American identity is once again up for grabs.

Who we are as Americans is the common denominator of every major issue we face today. The role of government, immigration, fiscal and monetary policy, foreign policy, social services, healthcare reform, education reform, the role of unions, taxes, and deficit reduction battles, all contribute to the debate of what it means to be an American. During every crisis we wrestle between diversity and inclusion on one hand, and the impulse toward uniformity and exclusion on the other. We decide who is worthy and who is not, often based on bigoted parochialism. We engage in incendiary discourse and watch old assumptions collapse under the weight of new realities. Adversaries and advocates both conjure (often) bizarre interpretations of what the Founding Fathers must have meant when they scribed our original documents. Those who feel threatened by dispossession from their historical position in social order become a danger to all, most of all to themselves. But, out of the chaos, ugliness, and pain, a new American story is born. Old threadbare myths gain new fiber from the churn of discontent, like a recovering addict with a new hymn in his heart, we form new narratives that stagger forward toward the future.

Many suggest that our problems are strictly economic. President Clinton’s campaign strategist, James Carville, is famous for his admonition, “It’s the economy, stupid!” I agree with Carville, if your job is to manipulate a political outcome in the favor of your candidate, but I would argue this is otherwise a false premise. The economy and the danger of current and future Federal deficits are indeed deeply concerning. As a former student of economics I give them their due respect and, like many who view the facts in a sober and clear fashion, I see no immediate solutions that avoid extraordinary pain. However, I also recognize that our economic consequences are an effect rather than a cause; there are more substantive objectives we must pursue if we are to assure the future of this great nation. I offer three.

First, we must strengthen what I call our operational code. What we have lost during the last several years is our capacity to reliably predict the behavior of leaders who we have come to rely on, whether they are political, business, judicial, or religious leaders. Ethics have traveled beyond situational to vaporous. What some call our “rule of law” has been twisted to such a degree that we are now unable to form reasonable expectations. We behave at home and abroad as if the rules only apply to those who are subject to our power. The result is a collective social dissonance that may even slip toward civil insanity. We must fight to re-establish a clear operational code and force, as necessary, compliance therewith. Leaders must be accountable to their respective constituents, shareholders, employees, laws, and faithful. If we do not, chaos, while tolerable and even beneficial in small doses, may become endemic.

Second, we must commit to the development and application of creative intelligence. Teachers are a treasure, not a burden or a scapegoat. They should be paid as if we treasure them to assure the best Next Americans train brighter and more creative American minds. Furthermore, basic research and development must be the focus of rebuilding a prosperous and resilient nation. For example, big and ambitious public projects must be undertaken immediately to invent/innovate how we produce, distribute, and consume energy. Our security, health, and wealth depend on it. Second-rate creative intelligence will assure us of becoming a second-rate nation.

Finally, humanity matters. We must, again, take responsibility for each other and ourselves. We must reject the ethos that suggests a government or other institution is responsible for our welfare. The health of our relationships by and between members of families, communities, generations, races, ethnicities, and religions must honor differences first (to establish empathy) and second, identify common interests to produce mutual benefits. For millennia we have formed collectives to assure security and prosperity. In the last several years, however, we Americans have grown selfish and jingoistic. We cannot afford to face globalism with the insular and bellicose chauvinism that has become the clarion call of phony patriots. If we continue to allow this to be part of our story we will lose.

I am pleased to know many people who are the Next Americans. They prefer diversity and inclusion. They realize that zero-sum orthodoxy is more often wrong than right. They reject rational choice constructs that are an artifact of twentieth century scientific prejudice. Ideas and relationships matter beyond the calculus and confinement of worn methodologies. For them, cooperation carries as much gravitas as competition. Well-being trumps wealth as the primary ambition. They see the world as a complex matrix of interdependencies and reject the exclusionary and judgmental simplicity of the Manichean imperative that condemns those who embrace unfamiliar traditions or worship a different God as agents of evil. The Next Americans will do as we all have: they will fail their way to success. In the process they will define a new America. They will determine our new identity. I am grateful they will be the next to call this great country their own.

By |2017-05-23T20:03:54+00:00July 3rd, 2011|American Identity, General|0 Comments
Go to Top