Growing up in a Midwest college town in the ’60s was probably the best of all worlds. While we were aware of the jarring changes happening elsewhere, we were largely unaffected by it. In Iowa, it was easy to buy the comforting notion that the New Deal and WW II had won the battle for a kinder, gentler America and set the stage for the eventual defeat of poverty, hunger and totalitarianism.
I was not simply the heir to those successes. I was part of the generation that would perfect (or at least improve) on them. All we needed do was stay the course. At the time, I saw little contradiction in accepting a commission as a Marine officer, even knowing what I knew about what was happening in Vietnam. Did I have reservations about the war in SE Asia? Yes.
It was hard not be aware (painfully aware) of the disconnect between our stated values and our foreign policy, or our treatment of our brothers and sisters of color. It was even more painfully obvious when I got overseas and stepped in front of my first platoon and saw how many of my platoon were “minorities.” By this time, if you didn’t want to serve, you could (and many did) dodge it.
Citizenship, Service and Stewardship
I didn’t dodge it, because I believed that direct, personal service in some form was the first duty of citizens. As a Marine officer, I also recognized I was a steward of the lives and well-being of the Marines with whom I served. I owed it to their mothers and fathers to discharge that stewardship to the best of my ability. In service to something greater than myself, I found deeper meaning and a kinship transcending not only self but my immediate family, embracing all of my brothers and sisters who called the United States home.
When it came time to decide to leave the service or to continue, it was not a difficult choice. I continued and my active service spanned the era bounded by the end of Vietnam and the retrograde from Somalia. That and six bucks gets me a cup of coffee almost everywhere and a “thank you for your service.” You’re welcome, by the way. I’d do it again. But no, in case you’re wondering, I don’t believe the military isn’t the only or even most important way to serve. But honest servants are what’s needed, today.
The bedrock genius of the American ideal is citizens fully vested in America’s promise and the personal commitment to all of it. American is white, but it’s also black, brown and red. It’s both left and right coasts, the Heartland and the south the Islands, (including Puerto Rico) and Alaska. All of it, uniquely beautiful and inexpressibly precious. And when we have occasion to think about it, being American feels good. But being American isn’t about feeling good, it’s about being good. Not perfect, but certainly well-intentions. That is not simply a willingness but a profound desire, to serve. Not self but the nation.
It's Not About "Isms..."
A lot of ink, electronic and actual, is being expended these days over “socialism.” Opponents of progressive candidates of all flavors are attempting to hang the (at best) loosely defined term around their necks as a means of heading off change they find threatening. Socialism, it is said, is too expensive and kills both initiative and stagnates growth.
On the other side of the political spectrum, we have more radical progressives demonizing capitalism as the fundamental culprit behind the predicament in which we find ourselves today. Capitalism, some argue, is fundamentally antithetical to life. Capitalism, some say, is the metaphorical millstone grinding up the world, for pocket change.
So who is right? Is capitalism genuinely responsible for climate change, species extinction, undrinkable water and non-biodegradable waste? As currrently practiced, yes. Does socialism stifle growth and degrade initiative and motivation? Depending on how it’s practiced it might.
Chasing Butterflies and Letting the Elephants Get Away
But what is really at the root of these problems? Is it the system(s) or is it the people responsible for how they are practiced and how success is rewarded? Would we even have capitalism, socialism, democracy or autocracy without humans? Can we agree that the answer is no? We dreamed up the systems, institutions and practices associated with each in order to solve a problem or to exploit potential.
There’s nothing fatally wrong with that. Humans are perfectly imperfect, often sloppy innovators who discover system bugs by implementing them and fixing what’s broken until we “get it right.” We try stuff until we come up with something that works, often with scant regard for the long-term consequences. As an entrepreneurial model, it has worked well and much of our tribal knowledge continues to extoll that thought process as a way to avoid studying problems to death.
But for most of our history, we could afford to make lots of mistakes on our way to “something that works” because there weren’t 7 + billion of us swarming the Earth. Is it possible that innovation in the 21st Century may come with a potential price tag that ought to enter into our innovation calculus?
It has been said that experience is the best teacher. If our experiences over the last twenty to thirty years have taught us anything, it is that unbridled greed does not make for a just, happy or even prosperous society. What it does is concentrate wealth and power in the hands of a few who then proceed to leverage that power and wealth the gain yet more, ever more at the expense of the less fortunate.
It has become increasingly obvious that the unregulated growth implicit in laissez-faire economics is unsustainable. The question that begs both for humans as a specie and for the world as an ecosystem is what reward system should replace that of unrepentant greed?
Do we have the intellectual creativity to craft a reward system that is sustainable or will we pretend not to notice the consequences of or actions as we whistle past the graveyard? What might a better model look like and what would be the philosophical underpinnings of a more thoughtful society? These are but two of the themes of my new science fiction series collectively known as The Knolan Cycle. Tier Zero, Vol. I of The Knolan Cycle will be released in Nov, 2019.