Our Messy Independence

The independence struck by our Founding Fathers was a chaotic, random, and messy thing; struck against the anvil of uncertainty, while scribed with the certainty of death on their minds.  They were suspended precariously between the end of their proverbial rope due to British oppression, and the aspirant ether of self-rule.  To a great extent theirs was a leaderless coup d’état.  Their spokesmen were neither statesmen nor politicians by volition, rather merchants, farmers, and products of apprentice-styled servitude. Most importantly, they provided a model for our next, and-again messy independence.

Our collective oppression today is the result of a weird entropic abdication of duty and responsibility by those we have trusted with our votes and tax dollars.  While the best no longer serve, the better-than-good have proven worse than expected.  They have quickly become courtesans of the loud-mouthed and/or moneyed jesters of paper democracy; the furtive face of Benjamin too easily exchanged for the soul of our republic.

What lurks around the corner from this Great Abdication (and Great Recession) is an even Greater Tuneout followed by the next messy independence.  Anger and withdrawal—the current popular modus operandi—will turn to disengagement, then re-imagination, and rebirth.  The next leaderless coup d’état is coming soon—probably sooner than later—due to the velocity of technology. The dissonance of disservice will come home to roost.  People will take control of themselves, their families, neighborhoods, communities, cities, states, and country.  Bottom up.  Washington DC will be designated a superfund site; so much toxicity in such a small place. Weirdness will not win, people will. Inspiration, empathy, and enterprise will rise again.  Cries of complexity—the politician’s shill for do-nothingness—will yield to elegant simplicity.  And, our penchant for independence will prevail.

By |2017-05-25T19:04:08+00:00July 2nd, 2010|American Identity, General|0 Comments

Hijacking Jesus

My fellow Texans have a longstanding and attractive reputation for independence and enterprise, complemented (unfortunately) by a penchant for delusion and ethno-phobic evangelism.  The latter is on ugly display by a small group of fervent Christian fundamentalists who are hijacking Jesus to re-write American history and promulgate the primacy of White Conservative Protestants (WCPs).  Don McLeroy, a dentist from Bryan, Texas, who was appointed chairman of the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) by our governor-turned-secessionist Rick Perry, leads them.  Their central argument—that the United States is a “Christian nation”—is the veil behind which they are attempting to codify the primacy of WCPs as the originators and preferred arbiters of American ideals, as well as the central actors of American history. Make no mistake, their agenda has little if anything to do with Jesus Christ. It is all about power.

There are no Christian values in their rhetoric. No Golden Rule from Matthew 7:12, or God’s love from John 3:16, or contemplations of enduring love from 1 Corinthians 13.  Their arguments about America as a “Christian nation” amount to little more than mental parlor tricks performed with a blindfold to ignore the historical record.  That’s not to say they haven’t worked hard to produce their arguments; delusion is not easy.  It is that they require more leaps of faith than a tent minister whose pants are full of brimstone.[1]  We can have hearty debates about their claim of a “Christian nation,” but that is not the issue. The question is, so what if it is, or isn’t?  What difference does it make?

The answer is found in the substance of their proposals to the SBOE.  Their agenda has little to do with Christianity and everything to do with maintaining a social hierarchy that places them at or near the top.  César Chávez gets erased from textbooks purchased for Texas schools in favor of Phyllis Schlafly and the Moral Majority.  Ted Kennedy is replaced by Newt Gingrich.  The Reverend Pat Robertson is nearly as important as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. As McLeroy’s cohort and fellow SBOE board member Cynthia Dunbar reveals: “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”[2]  Re-writing history to highlight the primacy of WCPs is the pathway to enduring political power.

The aim of these Texans is to set a standard of citizenship that favors WCPs over people of color, or theological difference. African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans and Indians must join Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists in accepting an America founded in a Puritan-esque mystique that favors WCPs.  They must accept their lot as second-class citizens marginalized by an ethno-phobic doctrine that fantasizes the historical record of America.  Or, if they live in Texas, they can go to the polls on March 2 and vote people like McLeroy out. They can send a message of tolerance, inclusion, and compassion, consistent with the American ideals of liberty and justice for all. They can out-Jesus the WCPs.

[1] For a well-researched, comprehensive article on the WCP’s arguments and proposals at the Texas State Board of Education see Russell Shorto, “How Christian were the Founders,” The New York Times Magazine, February 14, 2010. For scholarly work on the religious heritage of America’s founding, see David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006) and Jon Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation (New York: Random House 2007).
[2] Dunbar in Shorto’s New York Times article.
By |2017-05-25T22:30:42+00:00May 16th, 2010|General|0 Comments

Rebooting “We the People”

We the People of the United States of America are in trouble.  Our democratic experiment is in peril, dominated by demagoguery and corruption.  The concerns of our Founding Fathers have come to fruition as ‘errant man’ has prevailed in the institutionalization of mercenary-grade rapacity.  Congress continues to get nothing done (albeit at great expense), and our Supreme Court has now put the final nail in the coffin of our liberal democracy by ruling that our Constitution really meant to read We the Corporations.  While liberty was once our common bond, anger has taken its place. Unless we find a way to reboot our democratic values we will soon enter the Pantheon of former superpowers.

While this may sound like a jeremiad, we have got to find a way out of this.  Our government still has power and money, but no longer has its people; who have and always will be its principal source of strength. If anyone could have succeeded in rebooting our democracy, President Obama arguably had the best shot, but a wide mandate evaporated in the quagmire of Washington DC.  Someday we may come to realize Obama was the canary in the coal mine, a sign that bright young leadership could no longer produce reform and renewal.  The system is ungovernable. It now exists as little more than a host for parasites.

Smart people with big money those at Goldman Sachs have made their risk assessment and are deeply discounting the capacity of the United States government.  While many rail against what they believe is a greedy behemoth, the reality is the folks at Goldman are simply doing a better job of pursuing their self-interest.  And, they have made their bet: they don’t believe the government can do anything to govern them.  They know what the rest of us are now realizing; our government—once a model for the free world—has a terminal case of constipation, which has immobilized its power. The partners at Goldman Sachs know they will always be able to out-smart and out-maneuver regulators in Washington.

There is a way out, however, thanks in part to new technologies that offer us new ways to form new modes of collective action.  While our government may be entering a slow but certain period of entropy, we have the capacity to form new relationships and associations to solve seemingly intractable problems.  The solution starts by taking a page out of Goldman Sachs’ game plan and learn to ignore our government.  Turn our back and, to the extent possible, quit feeding/funding the monster it has become.  Each of us must pick an objective—education, healthcare, alternative fuels, security, communication, technology, whatever.  Set out to organize those with common interests, whether or not they too are Americans.  When a solution is found, pursue its execution with all the energy and resources available, with or without government support or approval.

“We the People” can form more perfect Unions.  The time to get started is now.

By |2017-05-25T22:45:10+00:00January 22nd, 2010|American Identity, General|0 Comments

When Less is More

The time has come to get less out of our government. That’s right, less.

Societies operate in an invisible web of social contracts that define our mutual expectations in the pursuit of public goods through collective action.  We endeavor to capture the benefits of specialization and distributed authority in a manner where all of us are better off.  We reject schemes of isolation and independence by granting our proxy to others so that we might all enjoy greater security in our individual pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.  Today, our biggest contract—between the people and their government—is in a perpetual state of breach: all are not better off.  And, we all share culpability.

This social contract, facilitated by taxation and representation, has been compromised by a combination of neglect and over-expansion.  This is arguably a byproduct of prosperity. Fewer of us hold our representatives accountable.  Most of us don’t even vote.  We’ve come to expect too much; our cradle-to-grave concept of social services is unsustainable.  Most of what we argue about in public fora today was never contemplated in the bargain our Founding Fathers struck with the colonies.  It’s time to rollback our expectations and take our future back.

While the Republicans rail about waste, the Democrats cite inequities.  While the Republicans want to privatize public services, the Democrats implore us to expect more out of our government.  Both parties are wrong. The path forward starts by retrieving our resources and reclaiming authority to re-deploy them in new structures and processes.  In the old days, we called these communities.  Today, we can do even better.  Objective-specific networks comprised of individuals, companies, and non-governmental organizations must take advantage of new technologies to solve problems and produce public goods.  I call them “amoeba networks,” fashioned after that single-cell, highly adaptive, cell of an organism.  Imagine layers of amoebic networks that span many issues—open, transparent, and free of ideological hyperbole.  Many of the issues related to healthcare, education, and the development of alternative energy would be better served under networks unencumbered by laws that hinder innovation and entrenched, archaic systems of distribution.

Call your congressperson today.  Ask him or her to promise less.  Tell them we’ll fend for ourselves.  By retrieving our resources and reclaiming authority we can all be better off. Less can be more.  The alternative staring us in the face is simply unacceptable: where more and more becomes less and less.

By |2017-05-27T16:42:02+00:00September 28th, 2009|General|0 Comments

The Anger Party: Bring on Devolution !?

Last week, while I was watching a YouTube video of the September 12 “Tea Party” march on Washington—between my amusement and disgust—I was struck by more than the ignorance, racism, and piety, I was most impressed by the anger.[1]  The marchers were not minorities, young radicals, or those who have marched for the rights of gays or the unborn—not like we’re used to seeing. They were Boomers and Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.”  They were against anything with President Obama’s name attached to it and took extreme liberties in modifying his name on their placards and posters. But it was not at all clear what they wanted—what they were for.  When interviewed they mostly stumbled to take a position or articulate a point of view on any issue.  They were just plain mad.  They were white and over fifty. They were like me. Well, sort of.

Introducing: The Anger Party, committed to devolution!?  Notwithstanding a few bigots, racists, and evangelical misfits, these are mostly good people—patriots chanting “U-S-A” who are concerned about the future of America and, moreover, their position in it.  They represent the angry margin that was once the center of American culture.  The country they knew, or thought they knew, has changed.  And they are scared.  They blanche at the term “revolution,” although they embrace the historical notion of a tea party. What they want is devolution; they want power taken away from our federal government and things put back the way they were.  Most claimed the Republican Party, but many more claimed no party. They are the newly disenfranchised. They are the Anger Party.

Our Founding Fathers worried about this and struggled to produce an organic Constitution to allow for self-correction.  They strived to protect us from our “errant selves” and warned us of the danger of “factions.”[2]  More recently, Fareed Zakaria illustrated our slide toward an illiberal democracy in The Future of Freedom and argued for a rebalancing of liberty and democracy before restoration becomes impossible.[3]  It was clear to him, as it is to more of us now, that our form of collective action—our government—serves the few at the expense of many.  The Anger Party just wants to be put back on the list of the few.

While it is unlikely The Anger Party will prevail—especially without any sense of mission—the sentiment they represent (when you strip out the ugliness) is real.  It’s legitimate.  And, it’s a harbinger of things to come.  More people will become angrier more often as those who help themselves continue to ignore that they were elected to help others too.

[1] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUPMjC9mq5Y&feature=player_embedded#t=11
[2] See The Federalist Papers – particularly the writings of James Madison.
[3] Fareed Zakaria, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).
By |2017-05-27T16:46:18+00:00September 21st, 2009|American Identity, General|0 Comments
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