Lean into Integrity

As I watch our country today—from Instagram and TikTok thirst traps to presidential mug shots—I find comfort in taking leave from these egoistic perversities, settling back into the seat of the soul, and reminding myself of higher forms of human dignity. On this Sunday, of the simple yet resolute strength of integrity.

Woven from virtues

as strong as braided steel

Anchored by truth and humility

integrity is the spine of character

 

Like the rock in the river

unmoved by the torrent of water

Standing steadfast against the current

that often prefers vice to virtue

 

Centuries old and yet rare today

integrity seems a quaint reminiscence

Foundational values faithfully tended

transcend wealth and idolization

 

Integrity nourishes the ascetic

whose frailty is an alluring mirage

Made invincible by devotion

his knowing eyes lay artifice bare

 

The greatest compass of all

is the one with a needle of integrity

Where should I go, what should I do?

Each step is a rung made from virtue

 

As when rhythm and harmony meld

the resonant vibe clutches the soul

Like a choir of impassioned angels

upon whose wings integrity sails

 

Today’s dystopic severities

are no match for virtuous character

Deployed in the spirit of mercy

to rescue the future of humanity

I wish each of you a sense of calm today before Monday ushers in a new array of disturbing fits of orange outrage and petulant narcissism. My advice: let it rise and let it pass. Notice, but do not engage. If we lean into the strength of integrity in our own lives (and demand the same of our leaders), Abraham Lincoln’s “better angels of our nature” may prevail again someday.

By |2023-09-10T12:30:03+00:00August 27th, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

Enlightenment II: Our Next-world Operating System

In the long history of the world—with and without humans—issues both simple and complex have been solved in due course by Nature. Prior to the current era of the scientific human, one looked only to Nature to find a solution since it had surely solved the exigent dilemma (however unfamiliar in the moment) many times before.[1] In our modern enthusiasm for identifying dependent and independent variables to make causal findings and promote Nature-defying alternatives, we humans attempted—often successfully—to subvert the laws of Nature. In the last couple of hundred years during which the scientification of everything has been underway, human welfare has flourished. Life spans have increased dramatically and the generation of wealth and welfare increased at increasing rates.

During this same period of time, the operating system that enabled humans to flourish together which had once been tribal, then monarchical and religious, was the nation-state. Since the Peace at Westphalia in 1648, when the nation-state system was born to solve trenchant conflicts by and between monarchs and religious leaders that killed around eight million people in what is now Europe, the concept of sovereignty applied to a geographically bordered area became predominant. And, notwithstanding the anarchical nature of the new nation-state system that provides no highest or central authority to oversee the system allowing conflicts to persist, this international system has prevailed for nearly four centuries. Every human on earth belongs to a nation-state that has geographic borders and sovereign governments that, at least ostensibly, exist to serve the interests of their members.

The time has come, however, to recognize that the international system is past its sell-by date. The very notion of sovereignty that served to foster the security and development of nations now appears to support more conflict and impediments to cooperation when we need it most. Current realities require new organizing principles and new systems to serve the interests of humans and, for that matter, all beings and Nature. The international system is not only unsustainable, it is nearing obsolescence. As more resources and efforts are inserted into the system today, total human welfare is now tipping towards decline. In the terms of an economist, incremental costs are exceeding incremental benefits suggesting a point of diminishing returns. Due to climate change, authoritarian regimes that insist on a zero-sum mindset, and capitalist regimes that while extremely efficient at creating wealth, but also equally proficient in its concentration, the growth that once lifted all boats is now putting the entire human flotilla at risk of sinking.

The good news is that technology now offers alternatives to reimagine a new operating system. The bad news is we cannot look to, or rely upon, today’s leaders of society—including political, business, and spiritual—to affect a transformation. Nevertheless, it is time to reinvent the world as we have now known it since 1648. I know it sounds impossible, but so seemed the Peace at Westphalia in 1648, which included some nine hundred warring factions. As the design wizard Buckminster Fuller argued, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

In the contemporary era, many thought the world had its best chance to enjoy global peace and prosperity after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991. Pax Americana and the promise of liberty and justice for all was expected to sweep the world beyond the Americas after the failure of communism and authoritarianism more generally. The American scholar Francis Fukuyama (now infamously) called it “the end of history.” In the decade that followed, the world did, indeed, become a relatively peaceful place notwithstanding the Yugoslav/Balkan Wars and the Rwandan Civil War. Then, technology also stepped in to offer a boost to prosperity with the shift from analog to digital technologies. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman predicted in his book The World is Flat (2005), the digital economy and globalization would lead to an even playing field between industrial powers and emerging economies. Surely, a new global egalitarianism would result.

However, the hierarchies endemic to the nation-state system proved more stubborn than the rapid technological advantages offered by the transition from MS-DOS to Windows to iOS. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the leaders of society, who stand at the top of the power/wealth hierarchy, are quite reluctant to diminish their relative position for the benefit of others. A borderless flat world never got much further than graduate level seminars in schools of international relations, or the salon in the Bethesda, Maryland mansion of Thomas Friedman. This was further complicated by the hubris of neoconservatives in the Bush/Cheney administration who enthusiastically and recklessly sought to remake the world in the image of America. Although the world does prefer Levi’s and Coca-Cola, it was not ready to give up its own cultures, traditions, and sovereignty. The result: the United States squandered its superpower status slowly imploding and devolving to the low point when President Trump puckered up to kiss the backside of the Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in 2018. In that moment, the hegemony of the United States ended, and with it the opportunity for global peace and prosperity in the international system contemplated under the thesis of Pax Americana.

So, where do we go from here?

In light of the peril facing the world today, five new principles must be recognized and incorporated as fundamental tenets in any new operating system. Those principles include:

  1. Existential threats to humanity are no longer confined to national or regional effects; they are transnational. The pandemic was a huge wake-up call to this reality. Global contagions do not respect borders, let alone sovereignty. The nation-state system proved not only incapable of dealing with the pandemic, in many ways it exacerbated it. Further, to believe that it will be another hundred years before we see a pandemic again is simply foolish. The interconnected reality of our world today assures a recurrence of something similar to Covid-19, or worse. Then, of course, there is climate change. A more gradually unfolding disaster, but it too is transnational. We have also seen how ineffectual our ostensibly common-good international institutions—controlled by nation-states and more recently the fossil fuel industry—have been to affect a solution to climate change.
  2. We do not need more wealth in the world, what we need are better distribution systems to get the fruits of wealth in the hands of all humanity. Although my younger capitalist self would have recoiled in horror at that statement, I have come to understand that the principal driver to the existential threat of climate change is our addiction to growth to create new wealth. In other words, it is actually now the interest of wealthy capitalists and oligarchs everywhere (as it is for the rest of humanity) to immediately transition to focusing on the distribution of food, energy, goods and services in as broad as possible manner to drastically reduce our addiction to growth and the fossil fuels it requires.[2] It turns out that sharing the wealth and the power that goes with it—today and for the foreseeable future—is our best hope to save all of us regardless of stature. I have written before about the transition from scarcity to abundance that occurred in the 1990s and our failure to realize its effects to change our ways.[3] This reality begets this new principle. Empowerment must replace coercion as a primary modality of governance. Plus-sum thinking must replace the traditional zero-sum (for every winner there is a loser) model.
  3. As humans, we are not independent from Nature; we are simply a small but important part of Nature. One of the effects of the scientification of everything that began in earnest in the late 19th century during the ramp-up to industrialization is that it drove the separation of our sense of self from being inextricably linked to Nature to being a wholly independent agent.[4] We were, therefore, able to disconnect the consequences of our actions from the consideration of anything other than other humans. (And, in even that we failed.) Nature became, simply and tragically, a resource pool to exploit for the benefit of humans alone. Subsequently, we aligned all human incentives accordingly, from which we have arrived in our current state of climate peril. In time, one way or another, Nature always prevails. In her consideration of humanity, it seems clear she is preparing the earth to cleanse it of us. With a sense of humility, we must realize that she gets to play the long game and that the presence of Homo Sapiens is little more than a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a split-second in universe time.
  4. We must re-think our concept of democracy from one-person, one-vote, to every person must act. As I mentioned above, existing leaders of society have no interest in seeing their power or wealth decline, even if only in relative terms. They will fight hard to maintain the status quo even while continuing to extol their undying and patently false commitment to our well-being. The nation-state system has been corrupted over its four centuries to protect their desires over our interests. Exhibit #1 is our own federal government that is completely out-of-step with the needs and desires of Americans everywhere. Does anyone really believe that politicians like Trump, Putin, and Xi, or business elites like Zuckerberg, Musk and Bezos, have any interest in anyone but themselves? Even Biden, who probably does genuinely care about Americans, faces tremendous obstacles in the Supreme Court, Congress, and the MAGA domestic terrorist organization more broadly, who have collectively hijacked our republic. In the future, to claim to be an American will require much more than voting once each year, or two, or four. We must each become active participants in solving both big and small problems to assure not just our prosperity, but our survival.
  5. We need to make technology our best friend while subduing its application for destructive effects. The promises Freidman envisioned for a “flat world” still exist and can be greatly enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI). However, as with all sources of power, they can be used for both good and ill. We have observed this phenomenon twice before with the development and deployment of nuclear power and also with social media. Hopefully, we have learned from both their great benefits and the equally devastating effects they can produce. Unfortunately, our biggest technology companies have every incentive to race to dominance and will do—in spite of their assurances to the contrary—whatever they have to do to establish the predominance of their particular AI offerings first. Safety be damned. Neither will industry associations nor our hapless federal government protect us from peril even while efforts will garner much media attention for political purposes (as they already have). As with much of the data security industry innovations that have occurred in the last two decades, I expect it will be dark-hacker actors in good-guy capes who will protect us best. Warnings aside, the connectivity of the Internet and the integration of AI holds extraordinary promise for enabling new power structures to replace the nation-state system.

These new principles must look to Nature for a solution. Structures to affect collective action for the production of public goods must be nimble, organic, durable, and fast. Moreover, they must not be susceptible to being corrupted by legacy hierarchies; they must stay as flat as possible. They must view the world as borderless and be amenable to being layered beneath and between each other aimed at specific objectives. The structure I found that best illustrates this comes from Nature in the form of neural networks. In effect, the development of objective-specific networks targeted at particular public goods where the participants who form the network include human actors and associations (public or private) to participate in and negotiate for desired outcomes. Collectively, they form a brain or operating system for our next world. In the spirit of Buckminster Fuller, a new model to force the obsolescence and ultimately displace the nation-state system.

Beyond Nature, there are a few real-world examples today that come close to the new power structures I am suggesting. Organizations/networks that are designed to circumvent traditional authority and affect connections for the development and distribution of resources to achieve a desired outcome. If we look to organized crime, cartels, terrorist and para-military organizations we will see what are, in effect, neural networks that are indeed nimble, organic, durable, and fast. All we must do is flip the objective from criminal, coercive, and destructive to empowering people for the common good. After all, as in the brain, neural networks can support both sanity and insanity. With proper connections and purposes, anything is possible.

Maybe John Lennon had it right in 1971 when the Beatles released “Imagine” even though those in power ignored him. In part, he sang:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too

Imagine all the people
Livin’ life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one …

Today, maybe it’s finally time to heed Lennon’s plea. But to save ourselves we will need more than imagination. We need to seriously consider new principles and new power structures and pursue them with smart determination. We were able to transform our world in the 17th century to the nation-state system and to the value of reason in the Age of Enlightenment. We need the modern-day Voltaires, Rousseaus, Lockes, Kants, and Humes—the philosophers and poets—to guide us toward an Age of Enlightenment II.  It is time to make the world new again. We must assure that the edge of light we see on the horizon is that of a glimmer of hope, rather than the reflective rim of the edge of a cliff. We have a choice, but time’s a wasting.

 

[1] Occasionally, we do look to Nature to solve current problems. An inspiring example is how an office building in Houston adopted principles from the Bayou ecosystem in its design. See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2023-07-22/houston-endowment-headquarters-models-sustainable-design

[2] Just look at the air quality in China from 2019 to 2020 during the pandemic lookdown of industry there. https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/blog/effect-lockdown-restrictions-air-quality-china.

[3] See “The Tragedy of Abundance,” February 16, 2022, https://ameritecture.com/the-tragedy-of-abundance//

[4] See Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013).

By |2023-08-27T13:06:51+00:00July 30th, 2023|General, Recent, The New Realities|0 Comments

Flow/Savor/Flow

A friend recently asked me, “What are your plans for the future?” Since my late teens, I have been able to answer that question with bullet-point clarity and precision leaving little room for either interpretation or negotiation. An objective-driven life. A master of my destiny. This disposition served me well through the preparation, achievement, and actualization phases of my life. But this time, in response to her question, I couldn’t provide an answer that was more than a day-and-a-half into the future. I expect it surprised both of us; I know it did me, and probably didn’t satisfy her query. I, however, was left feeling weirdly wonderful. Rather than feeling deficient, I felt light and at ease. I felt liberated.

Throughout my life, I subscribed to the maxim, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.” A pejorative dismissal of what I saw as the un-compassed losers—the aimless wanderers. There comes a time, however, when striving must give way to thriving; when just being is more satisfying than becoming. To be clear, my near-maniacal focus and determination served me well to a point. It generated great successes and set me up with enough financial resources to afford my current luxury of just being. I understand and am grateful for this last-quarter of life capacity. In addition to many victories, my objective-driven life has also been accompanied by many setbacks and sacrifices for myself and others, but alas, here I am now staring at a path of transcendence—the fourth and final phase of life.

In the last three years, I have zeroed-out my life. Much more than a Marie Kondo closet cleaning. Rather, a whole-life cleansing. This was as much an accident as purposeful, ushered in by divorce and disease; one devastating and the other deadly. It seems a bit early to feel grateful for these events—to characterize them as beneficial—but they have been catalysts of transformation. And, in the case of cancer, I certainly don’t want to tempt or taunt fate. While the pain of divorce has passed, the cancer still lurks. As anyone knows who has been through it, that sword of Damocles seems perpetually perched above the back of your neck; one abnormal blood test away from sucking you back into the gauntlet of radioactive imaging, toxic drugs, scalpels, and all manner of wires and tubing that make you feel like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians. I do not wish the pain of betrayal or cancer that I have endured on anyone. Fortunately, I have always been one to persevere—to find opportunity in the rubble of catastrophe. Of that I can indeed be grateful, and most of all recognize my mother in me. I thank her for that. She was a stoic’s stoic. When she passed a dozen years ago, it was with no regrets and on her own terms. She was truly transcendent.

As with many things in my life, I have made it through with a dogged determination to learn. Knowledge is everything to me; it facilitates that essential capacity to process the world. In this case, to figure out how to turn devastation into liberation. Yes, to make a silk purse of a sow’s ear. I took a deep dive into philosophy and spirituality. Many books and many teachers and many hours of contemplation and meditation. The cleansing process is, I think, the most critical. Without it, clarity is not possible; it is a prerequisite to awakening. Discarding, purging, and disentangling are key. Of not just possessions, but of desires, obligations, dependencies, conflicts and—perhaps most especially—of toxic relationships that diminish rather than enhance your life. Among other things, it has affirmed for me a notion I have long entertained: that wealthy does not mean being able to buy whatever you want, the wealthy among us are those who want what they already have. Once you arrive at that place where mornings are a moment of wonder about what the day will bring—and you embrace that—you are on the doorstep of deliverance. The only thing in front of you then is transcendence.

Along the way, I wrote this piece of verse, reading it to myself over and over until it was etched on my soul. I titled it, “Declaration of Liberation.”

Needs and wants and desires fade,

discarding what was or might have been.

Unconcerned about every tomorrow.

Today is what matters—a gift to tend.

 

Attention has space to savor the now;

no demands nor conflicts to disturb the moment.

No grasping, no clinging, no clenching, no suffering.

 

Just look around in awe.

 

Time stands still—no wait, no hurry;

clarity in presence of mind.

Unseen beauty lurks around every bend.

Breathe it in, then out.

 

Let it be, let it go.

Just this, just now.

Relax, release, and rise.

Notice how the poem moves from cleansing to a cadence of flow, savor, and flow. Only once you have cleaned your slate and largely discarded your old identity is flow even possible. Flow is that state of mind that allows life to move with the prevailing natural energy in a relatively frictionless manner, which allows awareness to thrive while accepting the reality of the impermanence of all phenomena, whether good or bad. It sets the demands of ego aside in favor of tranquility. Savor is the discipline to let the good land; to capture the moment of beauty—however it manifests—with any or all of your five senses. (Savoring is something I rarely did during my objective-driven life.) The big payoff? In a state of flow/savor/flow, it is simply not possible to be disturbed, let alone slip into a spiral of despondent rumination, which are both principal contributors to psychological despair.

Here follows another bit of verse to bring it all together, titled “The Last Quarter.”

Standing now, on the footings of wisdom, this last quarter of life is mine.

Preparation, achievement, and actualization have passed.

 

Reflection is lost to manufactured memories that loop and fade and deceive.

A different future beckons that neither dwells nor dawdles.

 

I accept all that I am; granting short shrift to sorrows.

Becalmed on the waters of tranquility, I neither fix nor scorn.

 

Time is limited, but undivided by obligations and dependencies.

Demands fade in a culture that easily dismisses the grayed masters of yesterday.

 

Never mind. My grin leaves its own trail of knowing.

Just let it be.

And, to close, one last piece: “The Fading Light.”

My wake, once deep and frothy, recedes now—ripples to glass.

Wisdom swells in its place, washing the stains of life away.

 

Hands hardened by toil and conflict give way to a softer heart,

beating to the delicate rhythm of tranquility.

 

Alone with thoughts both grand and small,

mediated by memories of triumph and loss.

 

Cast as a voyeur now to the victories and defeats of others.

Eyes fixed on the tumbledown of humanity.

 

Will they find their way, or consume themselves?

Time knows but remains, for the moment, silent.

 

My mark fades now into the twilight of obscurity.

Just enough light to find my way out as the curtain falls.

This post is my offering to those who may be struggling as I did over the last few years, or who just want a life upgrade. For my readers younger than sixty, I recognize it may be largely irrelevant to your life today, although others would argue this path of enlightenment can be pursued at any age. (I am not so sure.) If you are young and living an objective-driven life as I did, you might want to put “transition-to-transcendence” in your long-term goals and save this post in your tomorrow file.

For those of you in or nearing the last quarter of life, I highly recommend spending some time to affect a thorough cleanse. I see too many of my contemporaries clinging to their old identity and becoming intellectually and emotionally sclerotic, which is a clinical way of saying mired knee-deep in their own doo-doo. Bitchy and/or cantankerous are not how anyone should spend their last decades but, sadly, many do. It is a tragedy when the final phase of life is marked by a slow incremental descent into suffering, rather than the uplifting radiance of transcendence. There is no reason why the rest of your life shouldn’t be the best of your life; perhaps as joyful or more so than your youth.

On this Independence Day, maybe consider a little personal liberation. Start by getting out of the way of your own self. You might just discover a whole new world.

By |2023-12-01T15:38:46+00:00July 2nd, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

It’s About Stability, Stupid!

The allegory of the fish in the tank seems appropriate here. You see, the fish swimming in the tank of water has little to no effect on the nature of the water, but the water’s effect on the fish can be profound, even existential. Will it allow the fish to survive and prosper, or not? We are the fish, and the key to our future is more dependent on the water in which we swim than we may be willing to admit.

If history repeats, or at least rhymes, the water Americans will be swimming in for the next fifteen to twenty years is different than any since 1945 to 1961 and, the fact is, only the eldest among us have any recollection of that era. The vast majority of us have no clue what that water was like unless, of course, you are a student of history. And, no, you can’t learn this on TikTok.

We are entering the fourth post-crisis era in the history of America, which I illustrated more fully in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, called the “objectivism” phase. The last three periods of objectivism were the periods following the American Revolutionary War for Independence, the American Civil War, and the Great Depression/World War II. Today, we are emerging from the crisis which began in 2002 (which I call the “Age of Deceit”) marked by the War on Terror, Great Recession, the Covid pandemic, and a whole lotta lies.

Periods of objectivism are times in American history when we value stability, predictability, reliability and, most of all, a return to what we perceive as normal. What is decidedly out-of-favor is anything that rocks the boat—anything that includes upheaval or radical change. Collectively, we’ve had enough of that. Fatigue has taken its toll.

If you are in the persuasion business, which one way or another includes all of us, the next several years will require a keen understanding of these values and resulting trends. From politicians, to fashion designers, to filmmakers, to investors, to homebuilders, to ministers, and even actuaries, the water we are swimming in will affect both strategic and tactical decisions.

As a group, the first thing to notice about these values are that they are quite conservative. Like 1945-61, during the presidencies of Truman and Eisenhower, boring displaced exciting (unless one considered television’s The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet an actual adventure). Notwithstanding the “Red Scare” manufactured by the Catholic firebrand Father Charles Coughlin, the young Reverend Billy Graham, and Senator Joe McCarthy, Americans spent most of their attention on getting back on their feet following America’s third crisis establishing new households, neighborhoods, churches and communities with little upheaval or excitement other than the birth of lots and lots of kids—the Boomer generation. Making babies and mowing lawns was excitement enough. In fact, other than the Midwest roots shared by Missouri’s Truman and Kansas’ Eisenhower, the characteristic both men shared most obviously was the fact they were, indeed, boring!

In consideration of the forthcoming presidential election, both major parties and all candidates should study Truman and Eisenhower. Perhaps instead of Make America Great Again (MAGA), it should be Make America Work Again (MAWA). “Shit don’ work!” has become an unfortunate mantra in America as our fourth period of crisis ends. Planes don’t fly when scheduled, trains fall off their tracks, housing, childcare, and healthcare are a nightmare for many, nutjobs are roaming our streets with assault rifles, and children are behaving like adults while adults are behaving like children. It’s enough to wear a person out.

Before my Republican readers get too confident about these new waters, it is important to understand that the conservative label here is in the traditional sense of the term, the root of which is to conserve. Not the bastardized whackadoodle version of conservatism the red-cappers promote. After all, Trump is definitely no Eisenhower. That said, I wonder how long traditional conservatives—like the boring Mitt Romney—will continue to sit back and watch their party implode at the hands of a narcissistic maniac? The water is now flowing in their favor. At some point, the shame is not on the orange one, it’s on them.

It is time to return to basic American values based in the fundamental tenet of self-determination and a renewed sense of personal responsibility for ourselves and each other. It is time to CONSERVE our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Although a Democrat, Biden is probably best positioned to capture this hill of values, as long as he sets aside the impulse to engage in rhetoric that is perceived as too left-leaning in the direction of progressive idealism and can keep his feet beneath him on the campaign trail. He is, after all, Truman-like boring and actually has enough of a record on several of the relevant issues to argue for building on that record in a second term. Issues like climate change can (and must) be repositioned as a ­conserve-ative issue. Who knows, maybe even make our federal government relevant again. To my liberal friends, fear not: progressive idealism’s time will return someday. (Note that Kennedy followed Eisenhower.) However, that time is not today.

Despite Biden’s perceived advantage, don’t count Trump out. He could pivot from MAGA to MAWA (assuming he can stay out of a prison jumpsuit) and these periods do have room for the appeal of conservative authoritarianism. That’s what the Red Scare folks in the 1950s were all about. Lurking boogeymen will still be promoted by fearmongers. But, also as in the 1950s, scare tactics may get tiresome too. Trump may go the way of Joe McCarthy. Yet, conservatism does include a preference for tighter controls and clear unambiguous guardrails. Some—perhaps many—will prefer authoritarianism to reestablish a sense of stability and calm that could include oppressive and regressive regimes. Like the Germans in their post-crisis era after World War I who took a shine to a young political brawler in Munich named Adolph. America today is not the Germany of the late 1920s and early 1930s, but the natural attraction of authoritarianism among otherwise well-intentioned people should never be passively dismissed.

A related argument for a lean toward conservatism is well developed by the University of Notre Dame’s Patrick Deneen in his latest book, Regime Change: ­­­­­­Toward a Postliberal Future. Deneen’s argument is that we in the West would be better off replacing the current liberal elite with a new conservative elite to reestablish traditions and institutions to affect a more genuine populism like that he fondly recalls from his own childhood growing up in Windsor, Connecticut. In his view, progress and dynamism have indeed proven disruptive but, on net, also too destructive of social, economic, and political order. The outrage of many progressive reviewers indicate Deneen has certainly touched a nerve, and while I can find holes in his analysis, and expect that his predicted destination of conservative authoritarianism will never occur, history suggests his compass is pointing in the proper direction.

For anyone who has studied the history of human progress for more than a minute, one thing inevitably becomes crystal clear. Progress is not linear, nor is it predictable. It proceeds in fits and starts; two steps forward, one back. Surge then purge. It is random and chaotic, reflecting the array of human dispositions that characterize our civilization.  What the cycles of American history affirm is that during certain periods of time, progress for the sake of progress is not preferred. There are times when good-ol’ stability becomes fashionable. The foreseeable future is one of those times. For this moment in our history, folks will likely prefer stability to change, unless it’s a change back to normal.

To co-opt Bill Clinton campaign strategist, James Carville’s, admonition in 1992 that, “It’s the economy, stupid!” Today, our history suggests, it’s about stability, stupid! The next fifteen to twenty years won’t be exactly like 1945-61, but they may be more alike than different. Who knows, Netflix may even bring back Ozzie and Harriet. Or, not.

By |2023-07-02T13:11:42+00:00June 18th, 2023|Recent, The New Realities|0 Comments

Ah, Wisdom

The arc of wisdom bends

like the horizon towards infinity.

Hard-won, steadfast, and durable,

it quietly defies the fashionable

while it settles the soul.

 

Socrates, Seneca, and Christ—

unwilling to be unwise.

Threatening to the vapid fools,

drunk on political power,

who executed them for their wisdom.

 

Willing to serve, able to save,

wisdom seldom makes the guest list.

Dismissed with a swipe

in favor of the vainglorious

whose claim to history never arrives.

 

Wisdom finds strength in silence.

It never leaves, it never runs.

Its agenda is truth and integrity

to foster acuity with solemnity,

often in the face of cruel ignorance.

 

Wisdom is that soft low voice;

hard to hear and yet always there.

Always ready to serve

once we let go of ourselves,

opening to the prospect of liberation.

 

Clarity is revealed at the confluence

of mysticism and common sense.

To give rise to wisdom

and put the twinkle in the North Star.

To set and stay the course.

 

Summoned with humility and patience,

wisdom resides in the threads of awareness.

A reservoir as big as eternity,

yet as sublime as the sunrise

that opens the wildflowers in the meadow.

 

We ignore Nature at our peril—

the divine cradle of wisdom.

 

Wisdom is in the warmth of the sun

and in the power of the wind.

It flows in each rivulet of rain,

as mist in the cascading waterfall

and in the musky soil of fertility.

 

In the opaque hue of evening’s dusk,

wisdom coalesces with time

to conjure epiphany and thrive

in the comfort of innocence.

To bend like the horizon towards infinity.

By |2023-06-18T12:57:51+00:00June 11th, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

Healing the Heart in the Heartland

In our collective reemergence from the last few years of unwelcome isolation, I decided I needed some windshield time; to air myself out and reconnect with humanity. I chose the Heartland of America. Nine states and 3,500 miles driving from my hideout in southwest Colorado all the way to the upper peninsula of Michigan and back. Eleven days with all my senses engaged; a blissful liberation.

Countryside very different from my own with people whom my local friends would find beguiling if not threatening to their own socio-political dispositions. But also familiar to me inasmuch as I spent a great deal of my youth in the Heartland as my parents were both reared there. I spent many summers putting up hay, tending to livestock, and coming of age on the back of a horse as the lazy summer sun slipped down beneath the western horizon just before the mosquitoes rose up to make a meal of me.

On this road trip, I spoke with everyone from a homeless veteran in northeast Colorado to a retired professor in southern Michigan. I frequented diners, hotels, bars, museums, a state capitol, parks, gardens, cemeteries, and visited a university. What I found was a paradox of prosperity and fear; both inspiring and heartbreaking. I also believe I found a way forward to heal the dissonance that emanates from that paradox to set things right for the future of America.

Heartlanders are lovely people. I can’t remember being treated as nicely and respectfully over eleven days of travel in a very long time—perhaps ever. MAGA hats and all, these are folks who love their country, families, and communities. Their ancestors came mostly from northern Europe arriving first on foot from the east, walking next to their covered wagons, probably carrying Captain Randolph B. Macy’s Prairie Traveler as a guide (published in 1859). Then later they arrived by river, train, and much later via Eisenhower’s interstate highway system. The old Lincoln Highway still bisects most of this terrain and their many rivers were bulging with spring runoff as I made my way over and through.

The first thing I noticed was how nice all the roads are today, whether interstate or state highways, or county or city roads. Lots of new cars, shiny new pickups, and new gargantuan tractors and farm implements cover the landscape. Tidy yards, ballparks, and freshly painted houses and barns all point to an America that is as prosperous as I ever witnessed in my lifetime. It all set the expectation of a people who must surely feel successful and confident about the future—who feel very good about themselves.

But under the surface—barely under the surface—I found folks who were proud but scared. Afraid of boogeymen—from communists to transsexuals—who had been plugged into their psyches by nefarious national actors including Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson whom they listen to incessantly and embrace fervently. They are the principal villains in perpetrating the toxic psychological dissonance that arises from that mix of prosperity and fear.

Heartlanders have bought into—hook, line, and sinker—the idea that they live in a state of imminent peril. That their position in the social and political order of America is being stolen from them much in the same way the 2020 election was stolen from Trump. And, moreover, that woke liberal communists from cities in both the east and west intend to corrupt their children resulting in their moral ruination. That the thing they cherish most—their families—will be destroyed. Finally, that their political Lord and Savior is Donald Trump and, if they can’t have him, they want Tucker Carlson. I know, yikes.

I should stop-down at this point to remind my purple and blue friends and readers that these are really nice people. They are not mean or angry, or even dangerous. What they are is brainwashed. It is true that they live in a culture that prefers faith to reason which, of course, is a critical element in their vulnerability. But they would do anything to help humankind, even while they have been convinced to see much of the world beyond their fence lines as profoundly dangerous.

They have suffered what is the biggest con in the modern era: Trumpism. I see it as our job as caring Americans not to ridicule them, but to liberate them.

What they need today is a Reagan-esque leader to step forward and summon their substantial and well-intentioned American patriotism. To bring back that shining city on a hill that Reagan loved to invoke. Not to reshape the country or world in their image, but rather to honor the example they set—with humility—for their fellow Americans. To be regarded with the respect they deserve as critical contributors to the strength of America. To be told that yes, their lives matter too. To be told that their values and, most especially, their faith in God are not misplaced; that those attributes are respected too.

What they need is a Republican candidate that matches their prosperity to their self-worth. Trump has beat them down with fear. Heartlanders have been abused and like so many who suffer abuse, they have become their abuser’s prisoners. However, also like all who suffer from dissonance, they crave consonance. They need to close the gap to regain their well-being. They need compassionate healing.

Unfortunately, none of the current Republican field of presidential candidates for 2024 (with the possible exception of Asa Hutchinson) have adopted a strategy that doesn’t mirror—in one way or another—the game plan of Donald Trump. None are aspirational Americans. None speak of a new “morning in America” as Reagan did in his 1984 campaign. None foster even a hint of optimism. They are all stuck in the Trumpy game of negative manipulation.

I don’t know if the Republicans can find a candidate in time to displace Trump, but I know the approach I have outlined above would resonate mightily with Heartlanders who have fallen under his spell. These are good people and good Americans. They are open-hearted, but under Trump have become close-minded. It would be a catastrophe for America if they close their hearts like their minds. It is up to the rest of us to make sure the opposite happens: that their minds open to match their hearts.

All they need is a hand up. And, a new ballcap.

By |2023-06-11T12:50:30+00:00May 21st, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

Surviving the Future One Day at a Time

Every day of life is a test. Will my mind make the correct decisions? Will my body handle what it has to bear? Will my heart be held in comfort or be broken? Will I be better or worse off when I lay my head down to sleep again?

Our world is in transition; one day historians will probably point to these years as an interregnum. We are in that uncomfortable between-place of past stability and future unknowns. Like in the suspension of the bardo: between worlds. We have enjoyed a long period of relative peace and global well-being that now faces a number of disturbing challenges. The tensions of the old Cold War—between authoritarianism and liberalism—are back. As a result, globalism is in retrograde and with it the prospect for peaceful coexistence. Decades of fossil fuel consumption have now produced an existential threat to humanity, although many of us are in denial. Our democracy in the United States is becoming highly anti-democratic. By 2025, all three branches of our federal government may be controlled by a radical-right minority, as well as enough state legislatures to force a constitutional convention to codify their minority power for generations. (It takes 34 states to call a convention and 38 to ratify amendments under Article V.) And the next big thing: artificial intelligence (A.I.), is looking everyday more like the last big thing: nuclear power. Will it transform our lives making them better, or will it destroy us? I expect that like nuclear power, A.I. will most likely be a mix of blessings and curses, except this time we will all be participants in this Manhattan Project, and we will all have the nuclear codes. Gosh, what could possibly go wrong?

As Jerome Roos, a political economist at the London School of Economics recently wrote, “The solutions we pursue today—on global peace, the clean energy transition and the regulation of A.I.—will one day come to form the basis for a new world order.” He argues, progress and catastrophe are engaged in “an endless dance of creative destruction, forever breaking new ground and spiraling out into the unknown.”[1] It seems both thrilling and terrifying; like being strapped to the self-infatuated Elon Musk’s SpaceX Starship: will we “slip the surly bonds of earth … and touch[ ] the face of God,” or be blown to smithereens?[2] One thing I have learned in life is that when uncertainty is at peak levels, one must be both strong and flexible—to be physically, mentally, and emotionally resilient—to face what comes for better or worse. To steel thyself. When things one does not control seem to be out of control, personal resilience is paramount. Unfortunately, Americans are far from ready to deal with the new realities we face. Many Americans are sleepwalking into the future, while many others are self-absorbed in their own pity parties.

In the last several years in America, victimhood has become a prevalent cry in every corner of our society. While many claims are valid, grievances have also become a reflexive response deployed in even the slightest occurrence of dissonance—where what happens doesn’t fit with someone’s expectations of how they should (ideally) be treated. I understand that everyone wants a free backrub and a wad of free cash, but crying foul has become a national pastime. It has become an endemic cultural marker of American society. It’s not just the woke left who deploy it; it is equally asserted by MAGAs and everyone in between. Trump’s entire 2024 presidential campaign is grievance-based. The poor me/poor you, sympathy/empathy paradigm to attract and bind voters to his own contrived victimhood to return him to the Oval Office. His go-to campaign line is “I am your justice,” as if MAGA supporters are disenfranchised victims of injustice. Today in America, from the young lesbian black girl to the old misogynist white man, we have become so thin-skinned it is a wonder we can even get through the day. The allure of victimhood has weakened America right when we need generational strength.

Further, victimhood is now claimed even when no consequences have been endured. Today, if professors in American universities don’t warn their students of course material that might trigger their personal sensitivities, many students claim they have been wronged before even being subjected to the potentially offensive material. They plead for protections from unrealized and largely unforeseeable offenses.[3] I will spare you my what-a-bunch-of wimps rant on how ridiculous this is—at how it compromises education, let alone violates the principles of liberalism and free speech. Rather, let me flip the discussion and argue in favor of suffering, or rather, for what can be its benefits. To illustrate the vital role that suffering—reframed as an opportunity—plays in building personal and societal resilience. I will illustrate how suffering can lead to liberation; to higher levels of power in the form of resilience (which is the most essential power in the natural world); and is ultimately the gateway to joy.

As Friedrich Nietzsche suggested, if we don’t find meaning in suffering, we may not endure, let alone enjoy, our lives. And while we all know that strong bodies do not come from lying on the couch, in our modern era of affluence we have nevertheless embraced the idea that strong hearts and minds are built best by being swaddled in cashmere away from any prospect of ill-consequence. The vital link between undesirable outcomes and learning has become toxic when, in fact, it has always been the principal process in building intelligence and in strengthening character. We seldom learn much from success; it is in our suffering failures that learning occurs. The first step is to understand the nature of the sources of suffering, then to translate those experiences into new levels of liberation, such that we thicken our otherwise thin skin to experience greater multitudes of transcendent joy.

When we think of suffering, our minds first go to those events that originate externally that cause our suffering. Physical and emotional injury, negative economic consequences, or illness are all examples of things that happen to us—largely beyond our control. In these sufferings, we do not control the onset of suffering; most of us just do what we can to avoid the circumstances that created the unwelcome consequences to guard against their recurrence. But even with these types of suffering we can, as the Stoics taught us, control our response to the causal event. How we respond can actually have a significant impact on the magnitude of our suffering. We can’t eliminate it, but we can act to mitigate it.

Besides the arguments of ancient stoics like Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius, the best modern-era guide to consider suffering that originates from externalities is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Frankl, who suffered mightily in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, reflected upon Nietzsche’s sense of meaning that “He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How” to find meaning during his internment and build his strength to survive. In other words, he managed what he could: his response to the suffering imposed upon him. He summoned the physical, intellectual, and emotional fortitude to turn Auschwitz from the obvious camp of horrors it was into an opportunity to focus his mind on the meaning of reuniting with his wife and to turn the lessons learned from the ‘school’ of Auschwitz into a thriving post-Holocaust practice as a psychologist—to teach others how to transcend to endure. His aim was to be “one such example … that man’s inner strength may raise him above his outward fate.” Obviously, these lessons are unavailable to those today who swaddle themselves in cashmere to avoid ill-consequence, or demand a priori protections from potentially triggering events. Learning the hard way is indeed a beneficial contributor to a life well-lived as long as we recognize our agency—our power of choice—to craft our response to suffering.

One of the ironies of our suffering is that internally-sourced psychological and emotional suffering far outnumbers the externally-sourced suffering described above. Today in America, in the totality of our sufferings, we are are own worst enemy. We need point no further than our own meddling minds to eliminate much of our suffering. We have our own inner voices that should be on our side—that ostensibly are acting in our interests—but are actually slaves to our egos. To be fair, our egos have been carefully crafted throughout our lives and, in many ways, serve us well. Our egos protect and project the identities we have created to, on the one hand, form bonds with other similarly identifying people and to, on the other hand, differentiate ourselves from the rest of humanity to create a sense of unique value upon which we can gain favor in our many endeavors.[4] However, as our egos direct our minds, they introduce all kinds of thoughts that can initiate rumination—downward thinking spirals—that often leave us bereft and can lead to deep states of depression.

The key, then, is how to interrupt the meddling mind before it can foment rumination. In my experience, Buddhist teachings best address this objective.[5] Transcending the self, or ego, is one way to affect a disconnect between the ego and the mind. Essentially, through the practice of mindful meditation, we train ourselves to recognize the impermanence of all things by watching our thoughts rise and fall without consequence; to, in effect, let them pass without causing suffering. Deliverance from such suffering begins with awareness. We are not rejecting our ego (although I have argued that in late-life transcendence we should largely abandon it), we are simply taming it. We are saying, “I hear you, but chill out.”

Another emerging tool to interrupt rumination that leads to suffering is low-dose, or micro-dosing, psilocybin.[6] Unfortunately, due to ill-founded political interference, we have fallen way behind in our scientific exploration of utilizing psychedelics like psilocybin for what appear to be many break-through applications for psychologically-based maladies like PTSD and depression, as well as drug and alcohol addiction.[7] In America, we historically prefer much more toxic and addictive elixirs like nicotine and alcohol as numbing remedies, and would prefer dispensing chemically concocted medicines rather than non-addictive substances that come straight from the earth and have been utilized successfully for centuries by indigenous peoples. (Big sigh.)

In my personal experience with micro-dosing psilocybin, I did not experience any impairment whatsoever—not even that warm flush one experiences from a glass of wine. Zero, zip, nada. It just makes every day a bit sunnier and stops the onset of rumination in its tracks. I am not recommending everyone add it to their medicine cabinet today inasmuch as sourcing and dosing is a bit of a crap-shoot until further research and regulation are completed, but in my last three years of suffering during which I endured divorce, Covid, and cancer, I frankly wish I had discovered it sooner. Judge me harshly if you wish (although it has been decriminalized in my state of Colorado[8]), but your judgment is your problem, not mine. If you ask around, you may actually find many people like me in your community who have experienced similar benefits (albeit very quietly).

Finally, on the subject of suffering, deprivations (a common source of suffering) have been employed throughout the history of humankind as a pathway to liberation, enlightenment, and the building of resilience. Virtually all monastic practices—including numerous religious traditions—employ deprivations, or self-inflicted suffering, to affect spiritual practices to abandon the ego in favor of spirituality. Ridding the self of the self has been proven over and over again to be a critical element to support the prospect of enlightenment. In monastic practice, until the declarative statement “I am ___” remains a blank, it is presumed that enlightenment is unachievable. In our hyper-consumptive and materialistic America, we could all be much better citizens, friends, and family members if we embraced some simple deprivations. Being wealthy does not mean being able to get whatever you want; rather, truly wealthy folks are those who want what they already have, which leads me to our next subject: liberation.

We don’t have to be monks to learn from our sufferings. One of the benefits of suffering is the illumination of entanglements we have (wittingly or not) incorporated into our lives that often precipitate, or provide the environment for, our suffering. These entanglements come in the form of toxic relationships, wants and desires, conflicts, obligations, dependencies, regrets, and other contingencies that, without resolution or fulfillment, compromise our pursuit of happiness. They each represent a form of dissonance, which is at the root of nearly all suffering. Most importantly, they form the tentacles of bondage that prohibit our liberation, which is a prerequisite to the reliable and consistent experience of joy.

Toxic relationships speak for themselves; these are relationships that clearly produce more costs than benefits. Wants and desires are a classic form of dissonance; we want what we don’t have, which is a prima facie case of dissonance. Conflicts are disputes that usually harbor some amount of fear and anger and, more often than not, result in loss for both parties. All bad. Obligations are not necessarily bad; in fact, they are often quite necessary. But no obligation should be considered permanent. Meet your duty and move on. If an obligation cannot be completed, it may be more accurately considered as servitude, which is definitely inconsistent with liberation. Dependencies are all forms of subjugation whether to a person or thing. With the exception of those things that are necessary to survive—like food and water—all other dependencies are links in the chain of bondage. Regrets bind us to the past, which inhibits our ability to live in the present let alone enjoy tomorrow. Release them into a strong wind to carry them away from you forever. Contingencies—”Unless ____ happens I won’t be happy”—are most often beyond our control and represent perhaps the most insidious form of dissonance creating extraordinary levels of disturbance in our lives. Keep your feet out of the contingency trap; learn to take, and accept, life as it is.

In my post, “Twelve Contemplations for a Better Tomorrow” (September 4, 2022), I talk about dying to live.[9] It starts with the basic question, “If today was the last day of your life, would you die in peace?” Stated otherwise, would you be liberated from your many entanglements (like those discussed above) such that your passing might be considered as it should be—the ultimate liberation—and your soul would be freed? What I further suggest is why not affect your liberation to the greatest extent possible, today? Why not heaven on earth? It is impossible to eliminate all entanglements without becoming a monk (or a forlorn hermit), but it is entirely possible to limit your list and reduce your suffering to increase your resilience and foster the prospect of transcendent joy. A largely unencumbered life reduces the points of leverage that can be deployed against you, which increases your resilience. Further, it makes plenty of room for equanimity and joy. When much less matters—when your exposure to disturbance is minimized—you become a very hard target. Take a moment right now and visualize your life with 90% fewer entanglements. Your first feeling should be one of relief; once entanglements—sources of suffering—are discarded, your burdens are lightened, you can stand taller, and set your eyes on a horizon of joy. Welcome to liberation. Once your slate is relatively clean, the last discipline I suggest is to be very stubborn moving forward as to adding to your list of entanglements. If they don’t offer the prospect of joy, don’t go there!

Below, I also offer what I call a wordplay toolkit to differentiate suffering from liberation. It’s like a flashcard of reminders of the manner in how you might like to be described by others; an affirming device.

 

Suffering Liberation
Deceit Truth
Self-centered Open
Vanity Humble
Complexity Simplicity
Cowardice Courageous
Imposter Authentic
Deluded Clarity
Broken Whole
Victim Stalwart
Fragile Resilient
Disturbed Calm
Myopic Aware
Reckless Deliberative
Wayward Intentional
Synthetic Natural
Materialist Minimalist

 

One last note on liberation. Maintaining it and nurturing it are also enhanced by these three practices. First, stay in the present moment. There is nothing you can do about the past and very little you can do to affect the future. The exercise I often employ is what I call mastery-in-the-moment, one moment at a time. Whether you are performing in an orchestra, or doing the dishes, do the best you can at just that in that moment. Second, practice gratitude. When your mind is occupied with what you are grateful for, it is very difficult to fall into the negativity that precipitates rumination. And, grateful people are much more fun to be around. Finally, practice forgiveness. Let transgressions go. The exercise here is let it be, let it go; relax and release to rise.[10] Sometimes forgiveness is too difficult and, unlike others who claim it is essential, I suggest that whether or not you can forgive, you at least have the capacity to dismiss and discard, both the event and the offender. That is enough. After all, you are human, too. You can worry about sainthood later.

Resilience is the most important life-power we have. In physics, resilience is simply the capacity of an object to take a blow and maintain, or return to, its original form. It’s not about projecting power in any way; it is the capacity to preserve oneself in a manner that maintains all of our physical, mental, and emotional capacities. In Rick Hanson’s book, Resilient, he cites nine ways to make your life better—more resilient. He talks about “durable inner strengths hardwired to your nervous system” and how to grow them. These include the elements from three basic capacities: safety, satisfaction, and connection. As with all human capacities related to strength, resilience is like a muscle that must be exercised. For safety, he suggests exercises to build compassion, grit, calm, and courage. For satisfaction, exercises in mindfulness, gratitude, motivation, and aspiration. For connection, exercises in learning, confidence, intimacy, and generosity. In all of these types of self-help offerings, I will add the attitude you bring to yourself—your own self-critical nature—be highly modulated by kindness and patience. Strength is not built in a day, or even a month. It takes years and must be continually maintained. However, the strength of resilience is a much-preferred modality to fostering victimhood.

In Stephen Flynn’s 2007 book, The Edge of Disaster, he warned that Americans were living like “reckless teenagers.” His concerns were about things like chemical facilities and oil refineries located too close to neighborhoods; homes built on flood plains; fragile electrical grids; and the fact that our police and emergency responders were incapable of matching the ferocity of foreign terrorists who might exploit these, and other, vulnerabilities. At the time, his book was quite alarming, while it seems quaint—almost charming—today! The threats we face now, accompanied by a steady drumbeat of daily mass killings by our own trigger-happy homegrown terrorists, have placed us on a whole new “edge.” Today, we are tipping toward an existential abyss with extreme political dysfunction that threatens global peace and our own democracy; the now fully realized threat of pandemics; a climate that may no longer support human life in much of the world; and the prospect of putting nuclear-level power in the hands of A.I. where anyone, including A.I. itself, can pull the proverbial trigger.

Needless to say, our appetite for victimhood may be well earned under these threats, but it can also become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is essential that we learn to embrace suffering and the opportunity it offers to pursue liberation such that we can become much more resilient, and even improve our prospect for transcendent joy. In Part III of my book, Saving America in the Age of Deceit, I outline how to achieve resilience for yourself (chapter 7), your community (chapter 8), and how to transform leadership at all levels of American society (chapter 9). As I wrote there, “There is no magic wand to wave; what lies ahead requires honesty, work, sacrifice, and above all, character.” We can either wallow and whine, or stand up and graciously accept responsibility for ourselves and each other. We can denominate our lives in rancor, or goodwill. One path ends in despair, the other in joy.

In America, we always have a choice. What is yours?

 

[1] See Roos’ essay here, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/18/opinion/global-crisis-future.html.

[2] From the poem, High Flight, by John Gillespie Magee Jr.

[3] Fortunately, some universities are pushing back. See, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/04/12/nyregion/cornell-student-assembly-trigger-warnings.html?searchResultPosition=1

[4] For more on this mind-ego connection and what I call the “identity trap” see, https://ameritecture.com/the-identity-trap-suffering-or-transcendence/.

[5] There are many books on this subject, but an essential one is Michael Singer’s, Living Untethered.

[6] See this recent article on emerging applications of psilocybin, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/31/well/mind/psilocybin-mushrooms-addiction-therapy.html.

[7] See, Michael Pollan’s, How to Change Your Mind.

[8] See Colorado’s new law here, https://www.cpr.org/2022/11/25/colorado-psilocybin-legalization-whats-next/.

[9] “Twelve Contemplations for a Better Tomorrow” can be found here: https://ameritecture.com/twelve-contemplations-for-a-better-tomorrow/.

[10] For a summary and workbook links to practicing forgiveness, see https://www.washingtonpost.com/wellness/2023/04/20/forgiveness-mental-health-benefits/.

By |2023-05-21T21:05:40+00:00April 23rd, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

My Easter Sermon: Healing & Hope for a New America

I was recently asked by a friend who is a trustee at a college of theology what I thought they should be looking for in their search for a new president for the college. My default answer to this question of any institute of higher learning has always been to bring in leaders who can help turn theoretical intelligence into applied intelligence. To focus on the transformation of knowledge from passive to active. In the case of a college of theology, how to turn the noun—theology—into a verb. How to actualize the study of the nature of God and religious belief into measurable societal benefits; to heal a once great nation and world. To save ourselves from ourselves.

Since 1944, when the U.S. passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act (commonly known as the G.I. Bill), thousands of Americans went to college; most of whom were the first in their families. This effectively set the expectation of higher education for every American and established one of America’s greatest advantages over the rest of the world: our colleges and universities. Learning—the development of knowledge—has been America’s greatest asset in its ascent to superpower status. Since the end of World War II, Americans got way-smarter and it way-mattered.

During the last half of the 20th century and now into the 21st, our colleges and universities turned out thousands of engineers, scientists, mathematicians, digital technologists, business managers, bankers, doctors, and lawyers serving all the requirements of an industrial high-growth society. My own father, who was a World War II veteran, wanted to be an architect, but his father told him the country needed engineers. So, since he was a pilot in the Army Air Corp (the predecessor to the Air Force), he became one of the first aeronautical engineers ever minted out of the University of Michigan. Like many others in his time, he was a significant albeit largely unknown contributor to America winning the space race in the 1960s. We not only won the space race, Americans created the most affluent society in the history of the world.

However, our needs have changed. As I have argued recently at this post, our great success in transforming the world from a state of scarcity to one of abundance, and in the case of the United States to high affluence, has been both amazing and debilitating. Today, America is a very sick society. Notwithstanding our extraordinary wealth, we are emotionally and spiritually impoverished. We are the most violent nation in the world with the highest suicide rates in the world. When our children die, the most likely cause is death by gun. That fact alone should stop us in our tracks and cause us to take immediate corrective action, but it hasn’t. Meanwhile, many of our fellow Americans manifest all the characteristics of the chronically abused even though they are often considered well-off by traditional metrics.

Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, our citizenry had entered into progressive states of withdrawal. Many, like the white Christian nationalists who supported Trump, felt they were being slowly dispossessed of their position in society, while others saw the promise of Obama’s post-racial post-bigotry America evaporate before their eyes. Yes, we became profoundly divided, but together we were slipping into a bog of anger, fear, and depression. That bog of despair became our only common ground. Then, the pandemic turned isolation into a national state of mind. Deceit became a principal modality for many of us, most especially our politicians. Of course, the most divisive president in the history of our nation also contributed mightily to our emotional and spiritual malaise. We now know that his only purpose was to exploit our new vulnerabilities for his own gains. Thus far—in his ex-presidency—he remains a parasite feasting on the soul of America.

Today, our youngest adult generation—Gen Z, the Zoomers—are rejecting most of our traditional institutions and norms that bound us together and provided the foundation of our common interests. As David Brooks cited in the New York Times recently,

the Wall Street Journal/NORC poll … found that the share of Americans who say patriotism is very important to them has dropped to 38 percent from 70 percent since 1998. The share who say religion is very important has dropped to 39 percent from 62 percent. The share who say community involvement is very important has dropped to 27 percent from 47 percent. The share who say having children is very important has dropped to 30 percent from 59 percent.

These results were heavily influenced by Zoomers whose sense of withdrawal is even more significant than the general population. They have more-or-less had it with America and, frankly, I don’t blame them. They came into the world around the time of 9/11. Since 9/11, they have seen our ill-fated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Great Recession, Covid-19, the Trump era, and now a Supreme Court that is—for the first time in our history—taking rights away from Americans, many of which directly impact them. America in the 21st century is hardly a picture of superpower magnificence. Zoomer’s rejection of American institutions and norms is completely understandable. After all, what have we given Zoomers to believe in besides social media? America is sliding backwards for the first time since the Great Depression more than ninety years ago.

Unlike the post-World War II era, however, this is not a problem for smarter engineers and scientists. Our fundamental problems are relational involving matters of the heart more than the mind. Americans today suffer from poor interpersonal relations, poor relations with the natural world, and poor relations with the truth that underpins reality. We don’t need more STEM classes, we need more—much more—of the humanities. We need to reconnect with each other and the world in which we live in an honest and respectful manner. We need schools of theology and divinity, schools of the visual and performing arts, and schools of liberal arts to lead us out of this darkness. We desperately need them to translate the abstract contemplations of aestheticism and spirituality—and the heart and soul more generally—into coherent action plans to restore our nation and to lead the world again.

My daughter’s dream about college was different than my father’s and, in an era of affluence, she was allowed to pursue hers. She fell in love with live theatre in middle school and, after attending a performing arts high school, wanted to attend NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In her essay to gain admission, she related her experience in acting in the production of And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank. In her preparation for her performance as Anne Frank, she was able to meet with Holocaust survivors. She related this experience in her admission essay as believing that theatrical performances could change the hearts and minds of those who attend. She now works to cultivate creative teams to produce shows on Broadway for Creative Arts Agency. She is a shining example of what our country and world need right now (and has one proud papa).

In the Christian tradition, this is the season of resurrection and renewal—of inspired new beginnings. Our politicians have proven they are not going to lead us out of our malaise. If anything, it appears to be in their perverted interest to act to deepen it. It is up to philosophers, artists, the clergy, poets and writers to bring us answers we can both understand and act upon. We must stitch back together the fabric of the America that believed in itself; that cared about its neighbors at home and allies abroad; and who understood the sacred nature of Nature itself.

As a young boy-then-man in the 1960s and 70s, I witnessed great tumult in American society during the civil rights movement, the Viet Nam War, and Watergate that followed. There were violent protests—often accompanied by bombs rather than guns. We also had recessions and much higher inflation than we have today. We were locked in a cold war with the Soviet Union that was commonly cast as a fundamental battle between good and evil. The threat of a nuclear apocalypse was an everyday concern. Perhaps the presence of an enemy kept us humble and focused.

However, one thing never wavered: our belief that America was the greatest nation in the world. This remained an unshakeable core belief for the vast majority of Americans regardless of political affiliation, religious tradition, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, or gender. Had we perfected the aspirations of our founders that “all men are created equal,” or that everyone deserved the opportunity to pursue happiness on their own terms? Absolutely not. But we never abdicated our belief in those ideals.

Today, we need a renewal of our ideals—perhaps a combination of old ones and new ones. We need to listen to the soft power of the humanities more than the hard power of the sciences. We need everyone to lock arms and move forward to once again embrace the ambitions of our founders and those of the leaders of the world’s great religions including not just Jesus Christ, but Moses, Muhammad, and the Buddha too. We will never achieve perfection, but that is not failure; that it is simply human. Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount set impossible standards, but it is not the standards that matter in the end. It is the pursuit thereof that will bind us together in a cause to save ourselves personally, our nation, the world, and humanity itself.

I have always believed in the power of One; of you and me and every other One we know. My message is not just for scholars of the humanities. It is for each and every One who comprise humanity. As I have written before, we must stop shaking fists and start shaking hands. We must turn contempt into understanding and conflict into cooperation. Hope is hard, but it holds more promise than cynicism. Remember, we are dependent on each other and upon Nature. This is a fundamental truth. Another, which some describe as a “noble” truth is that suffering is inevitable. The silver lining of suffering is, however, that it makes enlightenment possible.

Please join me in transforming our collective suffering into our mutual enlightenment. To affect healing and embrace hope. It can be done. It must be done. My humble plea is that each of you go forth into this season of renewal and bring your one humble, curious, and warm light into the world. Perhaps together, our lights can vanquish the darkness. Maybe we can even reconstruct the pedestal built by prior generations upon which America once stood.

This much is clear: we have the resources to do whatever we wish. The question remains: do we have the will? Can we summon the strength of our humanity to set aside our grievances and claims of victimhood to lift each other out of that bog of despair? Can we convert our losses into opportunities to address our world again with courage and compassion; with reverence for our past and a renewed sense of hope for our future? Can we commit ourselves to each other as partners for a new day?

The time is now to open ourselves to this new day for a new America that is eager to be born.

Happy Easter, Passover, Ramadan, and spring!

By |2023-12-01T15:39:28+00:00April 9th, 2023|General, Recent, Spiritual|0 Comments

The Courage of Patience

He faced the mob of righteous zealots

Standing against a cold wind-driven rain

Relentless in their intent to shame

His rain-streaked face knows what the righteous don’t

His resolve stands with the certainty of timeless wisdom

 

In the moment the mob wonders

Is he confused, feeble, or just plain crazy?

Shamed many times before and yet he stands

Undaunted against the forces of ignorance

His scars like armor reveal the truth

 

The mob has chosen an easier path

To surrender themselves to the convenience of deceit

Their sentinel trolls smirk at the man of patience

Hunchbacked, revealing their spineless character

While he wields the power of time against expedience

 

His strength assured by the clarity of integrity

And the patterns in the sands of time

Pointing always toward the wisdom of patience

Against the hordes of the fashionable scions

He awaits that magical moment of revelation

 

As angels circle like a halo of reverence

The sky clears and only calm warmth remains

Time has its way, as it always does

Patience worn thin, but never bare

The dazed mob left staring at the spot the feeble man once stood

Only his divinity remained

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The ancients, sages, and prophets had many points of view and dispositions. Most lived unsettled and nomadic lives. Many were persecuted and some executed for what they believed. What they all had in common, however, was the courage of their convictions that survived the ages largely because of their most valuable virtue: patience.

They held and shared their convictions with a sense of undaunted perseverance. Regardless of what was popular and most often an easier path to take, they leaned into resistance whether in the form of a cold wind-driven rain, as employed metaphorically in the verse, above, or more direct ridicule.

In the past few years, we have individually and collectively endured plenty. In spite of their sense of moral virtue, many gave in to the impulse of expedience and joined the often-angry mob, while others chose to flee their commitments and obligations to wipe their slate clean; both attempting a different form of escape from civil and personal responsibility. Those who were steadfast in their sense of virtue and duty took their licks, often enduring periods of painful isolation. They remained—both in-place and in-virtue.

But the sun always rises again. Sunlight reveals and, as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis suggested, is “the best of disinfectants.” In the moment of dawn, roaches and rats scurry for cover. Sunlight is always unwelcome to those with something to hide or who wish to simply conceal their shame (if they can even still feel shame). Those left standing, who have endured their lot with a sense of honor, are the ones we should quietly acknowledge if only with a mental note of admiration.

Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal, perhaps this year more than any in the last few years. It is also time for spring cleaning. Look around your life. It is time to take stock of those who stood with you in the cold wind-driven rain and those who took cover or ran. I expect you will find the number who stood relatively few, which at first may be disheartening, but it can also make life much easier moving forward if you actualize the opportunity. Now you know with whom to spend your time and energy.

One of the great lessons of life is knowing when to discard the practices and people that threaten your well-being. This may sound harsh and contrary to building your circle of friends and community. It may appear to violate your sense of empathy or inclusion. But, as the stoic Epictetus taught, “protect your own good in all that you do.” Do not allow your sense of moral virtue—your good—to be compromised by those whose selfish cowardice is their prevailing navigational beacon. After all, it’s okay to be empathetic toward yourself, too. You have no duty to those who succumbed to the convenience of deceit. Rather, your duty is to shield both your character and your soul from these nefarious influences.

Carpe diem. And, happy spring.

 

Note to those who read “Our Imagination Blindspot” (March 12, 2023). In this post I warned of the emerging technology of AI. I ran across an excellent examination of both the promise and threat of AI recently in the New York Times by Yuval Harari, Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin. It can be found, here.   https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/24/opinion/yuval-harari-ai-chatgpt.html

By |2023-04-09T13:16:33+00:00March 26th, 2023|General, Recent|0 Comments

Excavating Happiness

The great promise of meditative mindfulness is that peace and tranquility already exist; that they are within you right now and in every prior and future now. At first, I met this claim with curious skepticism. If they are already here, why can’t I feel them? If I am so full of goodness and beauty, why do I often feel like crap? After hundreds of hours of contemplation, the answer appears to reside in a simple yet powerful truth: we are living in an artificial world under the illusion of connection in violation of natural truth resulting in chronic moral suffering. We know what is right, but we are living wrong. The good news is we are in complete control and, therefore, can change all of it. We can move from what the writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit calls moral injury to moral beauty.

First, we must recognize the problem. As many, like Harvard’s Steven Pinker argues, the data suggests things have never been better. Measurements of wealth and welfare nearly all support the argument that because of our rapidly expanding capabilities over the last few hundred years, the lives we lead are longer, healthier, and more productive than any lived by our ancestors. Common sense suggests we should, therefore, be happier. But, by many other measures we aren’t nearly as content as those in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries whose daily lives were much more difficult. In the Happiness Index that ranks countries around the world, none of the wealthiest countries ranks in the top ten. Number 1? Finland. The fundamental problem is that our pursuit of success—measured in traditional terms—has limited positive impact on our happiness and, in many respects, may even be detrimental.

As Solnit observes,

Look closely, and you can see that by measures other than goods and money, we are impoverished. Even the affluent live in a world where confidence in the future, and in the society and institutions around us, is fading—and where a sense of security, social connectedness, mental and physical health, and other measures of well-being are often dismal.

To address the problem, we must first realize that we have created this world. The incentives we have structured in our marketplace of success and the feel-good receptors we have allowed to define our egos are born from the same psychic infrastructure that favors exploitation over altruism, isolation over connection, and conflict over cooperation. Of course, inasmuch as we created this world, we can un-create it, too. In other words, as I often remind my children, the second rule of life applies: it is up to us. (The first rule is: shit happens.)

Exploitation rose naturally from the reality of scarcity. Survival meant realizing that there were only so many pieces of pie to go around. Under the condition of scarcity, us vs. them, and zero-sum game theory were prevalent and legitimate constructs. But things changed in the late 20th century. This is where we must heed Pinker’s argument of greater welfare. The fundamental shift that occurred was from scarcity to abundance. The culmination of the productivity of the industrial era and the transition from an analog world to a digital world meant that win-lose could become win-win.

This is when we should have shifted our thinking from exploitation to altruism, but we didn’t. We should have transitioned from coercive power to referential power where we accumulate power by the extent to which we serve the interests of others. If we had, we would all be better off and be able to meet the challenges of the day, like poverty, the pandemic, and climate change. Instead, we stayed the course allowing both power and wealth to intensify in their concentration within a small percentage of the population. The shame belongs not on the heads of the have-nots (as many politicians would assert), it belongs on the heads of the haves. And, please note: the exploitation I speak of is not confined (as some may quickly judge) to capitalism. There is just as much if not more exploitation in socialist and authoritarian regimes. If anything, capitalist democracies hurdled scarcity first making way for the benefits of abundance. Regardless, none of us were wise enough to fully understand the implications of this shift. In that moment, we missed an enormous opportunity to reshape our world.

We have also become hostage to our preference for isolation. America is a country that has always celebrated independence. After all, it is called the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July is known as Independence Day for good reason. Our most fundamental birthright is the right to self-determination. Unity has always been subverted by our preference for independence—for separation from each other—for isolation. In fact, it is only under dire circumstances that we ever come together, usually when attacked by a foreign actor, as in 9/11. Most recently, even a deadly pandemic that put everyone’s life at risk regardless of social, political, or economic standing, became a divisive event that produced profound disunity. We Americans much prefer, “you be you and I’ll be me” and, moreover, leave me the hell alone. This is the quintessential American.

Our penchant for independence and individualism served us well until it didn’t. A curious and unfortunate coincidence occurred at the time of our shift from scarcity to abundance. As I argued in Saving America in the Age of Deceit, in the late twentieth century, in particular after the collapse of the Soviet Union, “individualism, or the notion that Americans were possessed of free will and took responsibility for its expression thereof, was replaced by narcissism.” Our hyper-individualism turned us into churlish prigs. So full of triumphalism, we even stopped taking pictures of others and landscapes in favor of our own headshots to celebrate our self-perceived magnificence. Selfies became exhibit number one of our many narcissisms. This is where socialist democracies did indeed have an advantage over capitalist democracies (see quasi-socialist #1 Finland, above).

However, our isolationist tendencies expressed as hyper-individualism has proven most damaging in our separation from the natural world. As I have argued before, perceiving ourselves as separate from nature may prove to be the proximate cause of the collapse of Homo Sapiens. One of the by-products of the industrial age is that through the -ification and -ization of everything, humans have placed systems of subjugation between themselves and nature in a perverted master-slave relationship. Make no mistake, this relationship, if pursued to its ends will result in the end of humanity. It is, as many prophets, gurus, sages, and gods have claimed over the millennia, a noble truth that nature rewards harmony and punishes dissonance. If humans remain dissonant, we will (to use Charles Darwin’s phrase) be “selected against.”

Another teaching of meditative mindfulness is the toxicity of conflict. Virtually all spiritual teachers, regardless of tradition or heritage agree that things like desire and attendant conflict are the root of all suffering. Humanity has been burdened by conflict since inception. This, too, is partially a product of scarcity, yet the greatest civilizations would have never become great without the implementation of cooperation. From the hunter-gatherers to the industrial age, specialization and the division of labor has proven far superior to going it alone. Of this, both Adam Smith and Karl Marx agree. Among other things, this practice resides at the core of the strength of capitalism which, notwithstanding its propensity to concentrate power and wealth, is undoubtedly the most efficient system to organize and deploy capital and labor for the production of wealth. Capitalism excels at production. Where it falls short is distribution, which threatens other important principles including the basic norms of democracies.

Again, somewhat ironically, our shift from scarcity to abundance was accompanied not just by the ascendence of narcissism, but also by the rise of hubris. We doubled down on conflict and competition right when we should have shifted to higher modes of cooperation. And, not just by and between nations, but by and between races, political parties, religious traditions, and even gender. Our preference for exploitation, isolation, and conflict is tearing us apart both internally and externally; it is why we often feel like crap. Moral suffering has become an endemic condition in America and much of the world even while we live in the first era of abundance in the history of humankind. How stupid is that?

To move from the condition of suffering to happiness—from Solnit’s contemplation of moral injury to moral beauty—is, therefore, within our grasp. Win-win and plus-sum game theory must become prominent modalities. Coercion must give way to altruism. We must choose harmony over dissonance between ourselves and with nature. Only then can we achieve both internal and external consonance. Only then will we switch to right from wrong. Only then can the peace and tranquility that has been buried beneath our egos be excavated to assure both our happiness and our survival.

The first rule of life still applies: shit happens. But the second rule also holds: the rest of everything else is up to us.

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