Our Next Destiny: Objective Morality

As a student of history, I have been trained to consider what we can learn from an expanse of time at altitudes that transcend the moment. To be clear, we must deal with the flames at our feet; ignoring them means tomorrow may never come. However, if we are to have any claim of authorship of our future, we must lift our eyes, hearts, and minds to consider new possibilities and opportunities. Otherwise, we are forever victims of circumstance. The time is now to lift our perspective to shape a new destiny.

I have written extensively about the cycles of American history. Born in crisis, our history suggests we then move to a period of objectivism, then liberalism, then idealism, and crisis again. We are at the end of our fourth period of crisis in American history, what I termed the “Age of Deceit.” What comes next—a new era of objectivism—has been characterized in the past by terms such as unity, reason, inclusion, pragmatism, tolerance, risk aversion, stability, containment, self-reliance, standardization, meritocracy, frugality, humility, redemption, secularity, family, and community.

Every period of objectivism varies to reflect the nature and consequences of the immediately preceding crisis. Historically, these consequences have emanated from economic and physical destruction. The periods that followed the American Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Great Depression and World War II were periods of objectivism. The next fourth period of objectivism will be different. Yes, there has been economic and physical destruction during the Age of Deceit that spanned the wars we waged in the Middle East, to the Great Recession, to the pandemic; but, this time, there has been an unprecedented degree of moral destruction as well. Among other things, the term “empathy” must join those above to set a new destiny—a new era—of objectivism.

Although deceit was the common denominator that I chose to characterize the period of crisis we are now leaving, the moral transgressions ranged a spectrum of violations of those things we might consider under the umbrella of “good.” In addition to our many deceits, we were also selfish, greedy, reckless, conceited, and profoundly narcissistic. Our calculus excluded morality; it began and ended in a transactional modality measured principally in dollars and seldom considered effects beyond ourselves—across extended peoples, places, or time.

Ironically, but also consistent with history, one might expect that morality would have been a primary consideration in the era just passed since periods of late idealism and early crisis are marked by high religiosity. After all, aren’t religions known for their high morality? The answer, of course, is that the values religions promote are, but the institutions and organizations formed to support them fall victim to the same things other institutions and organizations do: compromising their principles in the name of self-preservation. Organized religions compete for adherents just as private enterprise competes for customers. Doing good—meeting moral commitments—are often the first victim of competition.

Of the values all world religions hold is the idea that we should treat each other as we wish to be treated ourselves; the so-called Golden Rule. However, there is another tenet of morality we must both recognize and embrace if we are to transcend this crisis and deliver ourselves to a much better place—to a destiny of objective morality. It to, is taught by most, if not all world religions. I call it the principle of moral reciprocity. It is the idea that we are as strong as the weakest among us, as wealthy as the poorest among us, as safe as the least secure among us, as healthy as the sickest among us. This principle is they key to solving many of our problems; those that collectively fall into the basket of concerns we call inequality. And, it is a prerequisite of achieving the loftiest objective of all: a sustainable culture of integrity.

To secure a future of objective morality we must change two things: where we focus our eyes, and how we measure success. Where we end up, whether we are driving a car, or plotting a path to a new destiny, largely depends on where we focus our eyes. We go where our eyes tell the brain behind them to go. The brain then commands the body to coordinate its capabilities to get there. The other element is how we measure success; when we have arrived at our destination, be it a place or an outcome. In the Age of Deceit, we measured our success in dollars and personal gratification. It should be no surprise, then, that we are in the mess we are in as a society. I believe it can be argued we don’t even have a society today.

For the most part, this shift in perspective is understood by our current president, Joe Biden. Against extraordinary structural impediments, President Biden is trying to take us to a period of objective morality. The good news is forces tend to move us in the direction of objectivism following periods of idealism and crisis. In many ways, we are given little choice to correct our path if we are to survive. We have that going for us. Our eyes will naturally focus on new destinations out of the basic desire for self-preservation. However, embracing the principle of moral reciprocity is anathema to where we have been for the last three decades. This will be a formidable challenge.

Curiously, organized religion could play a positive role. The decline of religiosity in America could be addressed by a new appeal to the so-called “nones” that claim no religious affiliation by appealing to their sense of morality as defined by the Golden Rule and the principle of moral reciprocity. Organized religion—to save itself—must authentically and sincerely embrace morality again. If it does, it will be the first time since it supported civil rights and rallied against the war in Viet Nam in the 1960s. Since then, it has mostly spiraled into the abyss of its current irrelevance. It followed our descent into depravity rather than saving us from it.

As individuals, we must also set our sights on new horizons. If we want stronger families and communities, why do we continue to stare at our federal government and national media? We need to assure we each take responsibility for where our feet stand each and every day. We need to point at ourselves to assure a new destiny. We need to ask our neighbors how they are doing. No one will, or can, lift us up if we don’t make the effort ourselves.  Good and bad are both contagious. It is up to us to see which one spreads.

A life lived in a state of objective morality has many benefits. Today, given from whence we have come, it may just be the key to our very survival, and the prosperity—both material and moral—of many generations to come.

By |2021-04-11T18:40:34+00:00April 11th, 2021|Current, General, Leadership|0 Comments

The Truth Must Rise Again

Our urgent duty as Americans is to assure, from this point forward, that the truth, like the sun, rises each and every day.

Like many of my readers, I am in the last phase of my life.  And, like you, I do not know how long it will last. I have had great successes and great failures. I have laughed and I have cried.  My heart has been filled with joy and emptied by the pain of loss.  And like you, I have known—from a very young age—the difference between right and wrong; between truth and lies.

In moments of weakness, humans can lose their grip on reality; we can become susceptible to deceit—especially if in so doing it makes us feel strong again.  This is what Trump has done to millions of Americans; Americans who feel weakened by a world that is moving in directions that threaten their position in social, economic, and political order.  I have referred to this in other writings as the period of Great Dispossession.  Specifically, to white Christian nationalists who were easily captured by Trump’s rhetoric of reclaiming an American retrotopia perhaps best illustrated in the paintings of Norman Rockwell.

Pluralism—a fundamental tenet of Americanism—which was once a clarion call to the world to join us in the American experiment, was flipped from ideal to threat for those targeted by Trump.  Science and technology—that assured America’s place as a hegemonic superpower and literally extended our lives by decades—became a suspicious and dangerous regime deployed by highly educated elites.  Knowledge and reason, revered at our nation’s birth as a gift of the Age of Enlightenment, has been traded for beliefs corrupted by blind faith in purveyors of deceit—con men—operating at all levels of our society.  The Age of Deceit has reigned down upon us.

It was said by many, including president-elect Joe Biden, that the events of January 6th in our nation’s capital do not represent “who we are.”  I beg to differ.  Today, what has happened and may continue to happen, is exactly who we are.  It is ugly, embarrassing, and shameful, but we must each own our part—either through our active participation or our inactive complicity—if we are to have a chance of redemption and renewal.  We must own this truth.

Since as early as 2010, in this blog, I have warned about an emerging move toward the impulse of fascism in America.  I have warned about the degradation of the American values, writing most extensively about it in my 2020 book, Saving America in the Age of Deceit.  In public meetings in my own hometown, shortly after Trump’s election, I labeled him a wannabe fascist and further warned that the great irony of his presidency would be that while America has faced many existential threats throughout its history that today, as appalling as it was, that threat resided in the Oval Office. Many looked at me as if I were crazy, others just hoped I would be proven wrong.  I was neither.

We must, once again, see our country through clear eyes and full hearts. One of the great lessons of my life has been to work carefully and deliberately to always see things as they are as opposed as to how I might like them to be.  To be always and ever curious.  To question the givens. To learn even when it hurts.  As we age, we have a choice: do we become hardened in our thinking—intellectually sclerotic—or open to new knowledge and emerging realities? The first path leads to isolation and anger; the second path to fulfillment and transcendence.  The first life passes holding a bucket of resentment; the second swaddled by grace in a state of peace.  Which will you be?

Another tenet of Americanism is the prospect of second chances.  Who we are today, as painfully illustrated in our nation’s capital this week, does not have to be who we become.  Those with open and curious minds are always becoming.  Those with empathy lift others up to see the view they see: the promise on the horizon of hope where we must—immediately—allow truth to rise again.

By |2021-01-19T14:29:34+00:00January 10th, 2021|American Identity, Donald Trump, General|0 Comments

The Allure of Madness

As the country descends into chaos, driven by a mix of structural inequities and a ruthless pandemic that requires leadership far beyond the grasp of Trump World, we each have a choice: stand in resolution guided by values and virtue, or hitch a ride on a comet of madness toward a romanticized return to a mythical normal that will never be normal again. Regression—the fantasy of returning to yesterday—is the fault line of the selfish and uninspired. Progress requires clear-minded honesty and transcendent courage acknowledged with the certainty of sacrifice.  It has been curious, and at times shockingly sad, to watch which path people choose.

Standing to reestablish and actualize values and virtue is difficult work; an often gut-wrenching undertaking unaccompanied by the prospect of immediate reward. It requires a deep sense of self, based in the hardened steel of dignity to suffer sacrifice with eyes fixed on an aspirational horizon of fortitude. The other choice, escaping—riding the comet—renders the allure of madness; to thumb one’s nose at reality while indulging the impulse of selfishness. To ignore science and party with friends at old watering holes. To expect our institutions to suddenly rise up to save us as we spiral into self-absorption. To run away to the fantasy of a romanticized past—however distant and fanciful—to alleviate the quarantine blues.

As we stare at the last days of this crisis—the Age of Deceit—the selection process is underway.  The list of individuals, companies, organizations, and governments that comprised yesterday’s heroes—those we held in the highest regard—will undoubtedly be selected for or against as a new list is revealed.  The wonderboys of yesterday, like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey, are destined to become the pariahs of tomorrow. Companies that take their direction from investment bankers and tightly-wound lawyers may find their fortunes plummet as stewardship gains favor over exploitation. Those who bayed loudly from the pulpit to extol the promises of a white Christian nationalist renewal will be forced to reconcile their sermons, laced with more hate than love, as the offering trays return empty from the few left to listen. And governments will, once again, come to realize that leadership starts with service.

As I wrote in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, “the rudder on America’s ship of liberty [is] dangling from its hull.”  Out of greatness we have managed to create a stew of despair, dissonance, and dread.  Those who have succumbed to the impulse of selfishness—who embraced the allure of madness by grasping precariously onto the tail of the comet—will be forced to trade their gratuitous binge for the sober reality of tomorrow.  Those who set aside feeling good for doing good—the stouthearted and most resilient among us—will chart the new course of history.  Which are you?

By |2020-07-27T20:16:46+00:00July 19th, 2020|General, Leadership|0 Comments
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