Do conservatives have a point?

Yeah, but...

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker under fair use license

As frequent readers of this blog thread and subscribers to Dirk’s Tribe know, I’m active on several online forums. Recently on one such forum, the question appearing as the title to this post was raised. After reading several responses, I felt more or less obliged to respond. I’ve decided to share my answer here, because I think not only the question deserves serious consideration, but because I think that we have to even ask in the first place screams volumes about America, at the tailend of the second decade of the 21st Century.

Ultimately, what we “buy” we have to pay for. So yes, there needs to be a plan for that. It’s called revenue in the form of taxes, tolls, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow for the purpose of investment, or to do things that government is best suited to do. It also doesn’t mean that taxes are a dirty word, Grover Norquist’s opinion notwithstanding. Some of our most prosperous times have been periods of high taxes, especially on corporate America. Most discussions of corporate taxation ignores the maze of deductions that make it possible for many of them to pay little or no taxes. In our current low interest rate environment, it’s hard to come up with an argument against borrowing now for thoughtful long-term investment. Which brings me to my next item.

A caveat emptor, first...

One caveat emptor before I answer. I don’t really think of myself as liberal so much as a progressive. Some may consider that to be a distinction without a difference. It isn’t, IMO. A liberal as practiced today as someone who is kind of a knee jerk “if it’s new it must be better.” A progressive, IMO, is someone who tends to agree with a liberal most of the time, but has more of a cautious anchor out to windward. Liberals say, “yeah let’s try it, while a progressive says, “uh, maybe…but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Fiscal Conservatism

Ultimately, what we “buy” we have to pay for. So yes, there needs to be a plan for that. It’s called revenue in the form of taxes, tolls, etc. That doesn’t mean we can’t borrow for the purpose of investment, or to do things that government is best suited to do. It also doesn’t mean that taxes are a dirty word, Grover Norquist’s opinion notwithstanding. Some of our most prosperous times have been periods of high taxes, especially on corporate America. Most discussions of corporate taxation ignores the maze of deductions that make it possible for many of them to pay little or no taxes. In our current low interest rate environment, it’s hard to come up with an argument against borrowing now for thoughtful long-term investment. Which brings me to my next item.

Infrastructure

Used under fair use license

It’s a very conservative idea to build things that promote prosperity and to take care of them. (Roads, bridges, port facilities, airfields, schools & hospitals) all come to mind. The things that help the economy hum. Recall that (for example) the interstate highway system was begun during the Eisenhower administration and was responsible in part for pole-vaulting America into prosperity.

And in maintaining that infrastructure, we also promote fuller employment. I should add that as we maintain/replace infrastructure, we need to incorporate new technology & to rebuild in ways that environmentally sound & sustainable. No one with the sense to avoid falling over backwards in the toilet really believes climate change is hoax. I should add that innovation in the energy and conservation sectors not only serves to facilitate efficiency and a better quality of life, it also encourages innovation.

Immigration and Border Security

If we’re perfectly honest, most of us recognize that an open border, isn’t smart, over the long pull. What the Trump administration has been doing at the border isn’t either. Comprehensive immigration reform is a better answer than a border wall or the draconian measures of separating children from their families. True conservatives I know are as appalled by his practices as are liberals. 

From wikipedia under fair use protocols

It isn’t just principles that matter…so does execution. In the long run, a balanced immigration policy that welcomes contributors (especially contributors with innovative ideas) keeps the American experiment young and vibrant.

Strong Defense

Under Creative Commons License

. Long a conservative cause, I’m firmly behind that. It isn’t yours if you can’t defend it. Note the word defend. Over the past few decades, we’ve poked our collective noses in places it doesn’t belong for (often) the flimsiest (even demonstrably false & self-serving) reasons. There’s a difference between a strong defense and an officiously interfering foreign policy. We used to understand that difference and we’d do well to remember it. It’s also worth remembering that every dollar we spend on unnecessary defense expenditures are dollars not available to invest in the things that contribute to long-term sustainability and continuing prosperity.

Privacy

This has generally been a conservative cause and I happen to agree with it. So what’s up with this surveillance state thing? Is it possible that we’ve taken the Homeland Security thing a bit too far? Just wondering out loud…

Second Amendment

With no apologies to  my liberal brothers and sisters, this is a protected right and should so remain. Has the NRA gone overboard? Yep. Is the NRA probably in bed with Remington, Winchester & Colt? Yeah. But I’m not for the government rounding up private citizens’ weapons.

I think there’s room (and a lot of it) for debate over what weaponry should be proscribed. I can’t make a compelling case in favor of unlimited access to whatever weapons a citizen can afford and I do believe there’s a sound argument that some weapons just don’t belong in the hands of private citizens. That said, liberals ragging on men and women who are knee-jerk obsessive about protecting their second amendment rights only complicate the search for consensus on what constitutes common sense gun legislation and/or licensing mandates.

Law and Order

I’m aboard and so are most thoughtful citizens. The absolute minimum we should expect of our government at all levels is the enforcement of laws, rights to life and property and whatever safety laws have been enacted in the name of everyone’s quality of life.

But can we all agree that law enforcement needs to be even handed? That, too, is a conservative principle. We should really get back to that & it should not matter what color you are or whether you’re wearing a turban, a hijab or a yamaka.

The notion that legitimate Black Lives Matter protests over objectively unjust policing of brothers and sisters of color are somehow more egregious than (for example) tiki torch carrying anti-semetics shouting “Jews will not replace us” or Proud Boys running amock over mask-wearing mandates is not simply ludicrous, it is antithetical to the very principle of law and order.

First Amendment Rights

Freedom of the Press. We need a robust, open press. Frankly, I think Sinclair & Fox News aren’t open and often not even news. But freedom of speech is protected, which means, (technically) we are obliged to accept 45’s railing against the MSM as “fake news.” But if you’re truly conservative, you recognize his thin-skinned whining as wrong-headed demagoguery…and damaging to both strict applications of constitutional principles and the representative democracy we’d all like to believe we have.

Freedom of religion. (Also a first amendment protection). I get that there are some who feel threatened by Islam, but it wouldn’t be smart to re-write the Constitution because we’re scared. The first amendment provides that: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or the free practice thereof.” That includes Islam and (if you’re so inclined) whatever brings you closer to the Maker, however you choose to define that personally. For clarification, based on some feedback I’ve gotten, these protections extend to all religious practices not otherwise enjoined by law. When I wrote this, I thought this should be obvious without actually stating it, but those protections extend to Christians, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Native American Spirituality B’hai, etc. And yes, atheists and agnostics.

All of that said, it's still a bit more nuanced...

So yeah. In overarching summary, there are a number of conservative principles I can and do get behind, despite my “liberal” leanings. But as thoughtful readers have already detected,  there’s underlying thread of this post. All principles and their application take place in a context. In common with many progressives, I believe our principles and their application should pay deference to that context and the undeniable changes that should be influencing our behavior. As our contextual realities change, so should the laws and the practice of applying those principles by which our lives are governed. 

As an independent  who’s been paying attention, it seems to me that a bunch of stuff has happened since the Constitution was written. Having regard for that painfully obvious reality, can we agree that the specific application of those conservative principles may be in need of a nod to how our world has changed? The world changes…we need to grow into those changes. You can’t build a fire with yesterday’s ashes.

Diversity…?

Nobody asked me, but...

Actually, in this case someone did…ask me, I mean.

Recently, someone posted a question on a forum I follow that struck me as being tragic while also being painfully emblematic of our time. I’m going to share it here along with an extended version of my response on that forum. The question was:

Is it true the US cannot escape from a violent racial clash as white-non-white power balance is changing?

On the surface of things, the answer to the question seemed almost laughably obvious. But after a moment of thought, I got our interlocutor’s point. I’m still disturbed that it’s something we need ask in the second decade of the 21st Century, but if we’re honest, the news in 2020 doesn’t favor a more optimistic view. That we have not yet embraced the essential kinship of us all is not simply a stain on our soul, it is a missed opportunity, even while it’s understandable, in light of human nature. 

I think it was my sophomore year in high school when one of my history teachers (who remains in my personal pantheon of heroes/heroines, btw) made an incredibly insightful observation that has stuck with me my entire life. She said,

“Nothing is but thinking makes it so.”

It was, she confessed, an adaptation of a line from Shakespear. Hamlet. (Act II, Scene 2.) At the time, I’d had my first rudimentary lessons in epistemology, so my first reaction was, “wait a minute, facts exist independent of our opinions. I was about to raise my hand and object when she spared me the embarrassment of outing myself as having taken her literally. 

“Often,” she went on to say “we construct an alternate reality that has consequences the echo in history, sometimes for centuries.”

Her observation wasn’t about race or racism, it was about the break-up of the feudal system in Europe during the 19th Century, post-Napoleon. Many of the nation-states emerging during that period did so, she pointed out, because of their shared perception that they were one people. They “perceived” themselves as having “kinship.” It was that belief, she said, as much as anything else, that shaped post Napoleonic Europe. And my subsequent experiences have led me to believe she was right.

My thoughtful history teacher’s point was that for those formative nations, the indispensable accomplice of their unity was their belief in it. In the United States, we are an incredibly (& in my opinion, beautifully diverse) collection of people unified by a commitment to the best version of ourselves.

It is a vision we often fail to realize, but at it’s best, it is underpinned by law and a delicate balance of citizenship & stewardship. It’s intellectual bedrock is the notion that all men and women are created equal, however poorly our stated philosophy manifests itself action. There’s a temptation if you’re aligned with this vision and its undeniable promise, to conclude it’s universally shared. Most of us know, better, unfortunately, especially men and women of color. Or any difference, for that matter.

Nothing is but thinking makes it so.

Recall my observation earlier, that my history teacher made my sophomore year in high school. We are what we think. If the photos following bother you, is it time to ask why? 

Love is not blind to difference...
It celebrates it...
with joy & conscious gratitude!

What does your visceral reaction to them say to you and (if you’re honest with yourself) about you? My own reaction to the question with which I began this post and my online answer to it was mixed, as I have already noted. Let me cop here and now to my own prejudices conscious and unconscious.

All of us have them to some degree, I suspect. If you’re like me, (read that white, middle class…ish but the first to go to actually graduate from college)  you grew up in a home that gave lip service to tolerance and respect. But (perhaps) also grew up with an unconscious, sense of entitlement. An “I’m white, so I must be right…” sense of certainty about things, though if asked, you might (as I would have) denied it with an indignance that proved the point.

It’s possible to overcome that…to abandon unconscious self-deception, but most of us need to have it brought to our attention, first. For me, I had to go halfway around the world to overcome it. It wasn’t a conscious pilgrimage. It came to me courtesy of Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC). 

It was in Asia that I got to know you, first brothers and sisters of color and it was from you that I got my first lessons in an alternate view of “American Exceptionalism.” It took a little longer to appreciate the nuanced messages I was sending without meaning to. (I’m still struggling to learn, btw).

In the end, what we see or what happens to us is not what makes us who we are. It is what allow ourselves to think that determines our attitudes. It is the conscious choice to be better.

For me, the partial, imperfect solution to racial, ethnic or religious prejudice has not been tolerance. It has and remains a conscious effort to see the beauty in all of us. And the more I look the more beauty and merit I see.  

Someone about now is thinking, it’s going to take more than that. Yes, it is. It will take engagement, honesty and continual honest, self-examination. It will take conscious engagement, patience and a measure of painful honesty both with ourselves and about ourselves. It will require humility and vision and above all a reverence for the vision that was the basis for our nation.

Yes, that’s asking a lot, especially if you’re not already convinced of the necessity. But there is no alternative if we are to survive and thrive. We are one. Not some of us. Not the privileged few. We are all one. And in the final analysis, isn’t that a good thing. Isn’t it?

“Thank you for your service…”

The invisible cost of service

Hell is for Heroes

I remember the first war-themed motion picture that “stuck.” By stuck I mean stuck as in I remembered the whole plotline and the ending. It was the 1962 film, entitled Hell is for Heroes. It would be years before I really understood the underpinning nuances of the story fully, and even more years before personal experience taught me of the draconian choices military service often forces on the men and women who go in harm’s way.

When “Hell is for Heroes” was released, PTSD wasn’t a thing. It would be nearly 20 years before the term was coined, finally finding its way into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-III) in 1980. And as anyone who’s had a close call with death knows, the experience sticks and reliving it tends to fire all the nerves and emotions it evoked when it happened.

“Thank you for your service” is (at least) an acknowledgement of what the men and women who venture out on the pointy end of the spear go through. I’m always just a little “at a loss” for what to say in response when someone offers me that thanks, however. I finally came up with an anodyne “It was my honor and I’d do it all again.” It’s true, by the way. I would.

 

Courtesy Patrol: Oceanside, 1972

Anyone who has ever lived around a town that hosts a major deployable military force knows what to expect. Whether it’s during extended, multi-year conflicts in which combatants rotate home after a combat tour, or (especially) when the war winds down and troops start come rotate back to their home installations. Fresh from the roller coaster ride of moments off the charts fear and unspeakable drudgery and boredom, many perhaps most come up with coping strategies, some constructive and effective, some not.

In Courtesy Patrol, one of the short stories in the Through the Windshield, anthology, a young lieutenant back from a combat tour in Southeast Asia is Courtesy Patrol in Oceanside, on a payday weekend. Patrolling the girlie bars and grills, he is gets his first glimpse of just how violent the effects of PTSD can be.

The experience sticks with him and it’s still on his mind the next day. The events of the night before stick to his thoughts, not surprisingly and lead to a greater appreciation of how for most of us who serve, that service changes us, in ways we don’t fully appreciate, sometimes for years. In Courtesy Patrol, this is his moment of epiphany and nothing will ever be quite the same, again.

Through the Windshield, Drive-by Lives is a great way to sample D.B. Sayers’ writings and to acquaint yourself with the themes that weave their way through his writings. It’s available on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle formats. Or you can subscribe to Dirk’s Tribes at the top right of this page and get a PDF copy absolutely free.

The Truth Often Hides in Plain Sight

An alternative view of "Aliens..."

Lysia Knolan Seeker and Waykeeper

In Chapter 1 “The Presence,” the reader immediately senses that Marty’s meeting with Lysia Uupao is important, fateful, even destiny changing. Some unusual is going on, just beneath the surface, but it isn’t necessarily obvious what.

In Chapter 2, “Attáru (Awakening),” the reader learns just how fateful the meeting is. Lysia Uupao, her representations notwithstanding, is not Indonesian, or Polynesian or anything else Marty has ever met. From another world, Lysia is here on Earth (or Kurrithaal as the Knolans call it) for a reason. And it’s not obvious just what that reason might be.

While there are notable exceptions, the majority of tales involving “first contact” between Earth and hypothetical aliens postulate that alien motives will necessarily be hostile, not simply different. Is it possible that we’re wrong about that? As chapter 2 makes clear, the Knolans are not hostile, as nearly as we can tell. That said, chapter 2 doesn’t rule that out, either. What is “the Way,” and how does it relate the Knolan’s motives? For that matter, why are Knolans reproducing (clandestinely, apparently) with Earth humans? And what does it mean to be a “Seed?”

Knolan Motives for Contact

By the time thoughtful readers get to the end of chapter 2, it’s clear that Lysia and her superior, Turnia, are not of this world and that their interest in Marty isn’t an idle, passing interest. In Lysia’s case, it’s also obvious that it’s very personal. But the reader still doesn’t know the motives underpinning their interest or what to expect if Lysia does as Turnia has instructed. Should we be worried about Lysia’s designs on Marty? Should Marty be worried about them? The reader still has no idea.

Even as chapter 3, “The Mission” ends, while it’s obvious that Lysia’s personal interest in Marty goes beyond her professional interest, it still isn’t clear what Knola’s interest in Kurrithaal or its Seed. And the overarching question lurks in the background, to wit: why have not the Knolans made direct contact with “leadership” on Earth? It seems apparent that they haven’t, but why haven’t they? Chapter 3 provides no answer. And what are the “perils” to which Marty’s Awakening expose him? Whatever they are, Lysia, clearly, expects to share those perils.

Are the Knolans vulnerable to someone or something themselves? Who or what? And are their motives for making contact with Earth (Kurrithaal) then mixed by perils they believe we share with them? How might their motives toward Earth be changed if that “peril” whatever it is were not a factor?

And the Larger question?

Our default assumptions notwithstanding and assuming contact with other intelligent life is possible, how different (or similar) might they be? Is it possible that Steven Hawking’s speculations about hostile aliens is correct, or was he speculating out of an abundance of caution and prudent fear? 

The answer to this question will likely remain unknown and unknowable unless and until contact is made. And is it just possible that it depends on which alien race contacts us first? Is it all that improbable, if we postulated that there might be one species of alien interested in Earth, there might be more than one? Or that their interests in us might be at odds?

As Tier Zero unfolds, these and many other practical and philosophical questions will come up. Tier Zero is not simply a tale of First Contact, it is a speculative adventure of life, death, conflict and courage, as well as questions of ethics and courage. You can purchase Tier Zero in paperback or Kindle now.

D.B. Sayers is a retired Marine officer, retired corporate trainer/manager turned full-time author. You can join Dirk’s Tribe and stay up to date on his progress to with Tier Zero’s sequel, Eryinath-5. due out in 2021.

A More Perfect Union

In the 2d decade of the 21st Century, it’s difficult to remember a time when bipartisan cooperation at some level was not simply accepted it was expected. There’s a temptation to blame the deterioration of political courtesy on Fox News or Breitbart or MSNBC & CNN. All of those points have merit, but there’s no missing the deeper truth. It doesn’t sell if no one is buying.

There are a host of factors that are at play in the political polarization here in the United States and more broadly, across the world. It’s ironic that this should come at a time when we can least afford it. The posts under this sub-heading are intended to contribute in some small way to the recognition that at our core, we are still one.

The essential kinship of Americans and in the even broader sense, humanity writ large, is something we all recognize most profoundly in moments of crisis. But when we take the time to look beyond our own daily grinds to acknowledge the struggles of others in that same grind, we are (or should be) reminded that we all face those same challenges and ultimately, the same outcome. In the grand scheme of things, while the details of our individual ends are uncertain, the end itself is not.

At our very best, we face each other with love and kindness, and our shared, inevitable end with courage and grace. In these things, the very best of what it is to be human finds its highest expressions.

A Lucid Eye

From the artist's perspective...

An author sees life a little differently. Not necessarily better…just differently. What follows is Dirk’s take on a lot of things in the event you might be interested. In the last analysis, living is an art form and if we do it right, life IS art!

For the engaged, living is a dance. As a long-time surfer, I can assure you, there are days when the sun goes down too soon. At the same time, the transition between day and night is every bit as dramatic and lovely as the transition between our mother ocean and the our mother Earth.

And there are also days when cooler weather and the siren song of skis slicing through the snow is as (or more) appealing. One of the great things about life is it’s your call.

Common Ground

In the end, we are one...

On another forum I’ve been known to frequent, someone asked a question that’s been on my mind for a while. Rarely at a loss for an opinion, I weighed in and I’m going to share both the question and my response. Before I get into it, I’m going to offer a disclaimer. 

I don’t labor under the notion that the following answer is the only thoughtful take on this one, but I do think it may be one of the better takes if we’d like to salvage the nation so many of us love.

The question asked, was: “How can we find the common ground in such a polarized political environment?”

I wonder if there’s an argument for starting with desired end-state? What do we mean by “common ground and common ground on whose terms? In the second decade of the 21st Century, what would common ground look like?

Is not a huge part of the problem with polarization today the language we use to describe each other? As long as conservatives characterize liberals or progressives as libtards…or liberals characterize conservatives as casino capitalists or white nationalists, are we likely to find common ground?

I think not, because we’ll never get close enough to each other to find that common ground. It’s that common ground isn’t there. If you’ve done much travelling, as I have, you know it’s there. It’s just that we have a number of organizations driving the political narrative in America whose best interests aren’t served by us seeing each others’ essential humanity.

And we know who these organizations are. An incomplete list follows.

The two major political parties whose life blood is money. Money obtained (for the most part) by donations. So their rhetoric is targeted at keeping those donations flowing from the most politically motivated. Do you need a PhD in political science to puzzle out where that leads? Not in the America I know. They’ll pander to the folks who have and are willing to cough up the greens.

The paid media (mainstream and otherwise) who spend a lot of time, money and effort in figuring out who their viewers are and what trips their emotional triggers. Perceptive readers are already way ahead of me, on this I suspect, but I’ll say it anyway. If we persist in buying what they’re selling, they’ll keep selling it and we’ll never set foot on the emotional common ground to which our questioner refers. Put another way, we’ll never recall when we recognized we were one, irrespective of the differences of opinion that are a natural part of being. At core, America is still America in all it’s lovely breathtaking variety.

America in all it's variety

As long as the purpose of political parties and the media is to sell an agenda rather than arrive at the truth, we’ll allow wit masquerade as wisdom & the policies of this nation writ large will remain the prisoner of motivated cognition. We used to know better. For the same reason biodiversity leads to a more robust, resilient ecosystem a diverse society is much more resilient to the change that is the lei motif of life.

E Pluribus Unum

We don’t have to love each other (though that would be nice) but we do have to live together, and we’ll never get there if we’re inclined to argue from a starting point that demands us to think the worst of each other.

Just one broken-down baggy-eyed retired Marine officer’s opinion.

The Times are a Changin’

Zat Rana is a writer who is a frequent contributor on Medium a forum to which I subscribe. In late September of this year, he posted an article on Medium in his Personal Growth series that I found thought-provoking and at the same time, just the tiniest bit frustrating. I’m going to link to it, in case you want to read all of it, but I’m going to quote the (IMHO) pivotal points and take things a little further.

Campus collage

As Rana suggests in his Medium post:

“Growing up in a generation even as recent as the mid-20th century meant that your sense of self was mostly shaped by a combination of your local cultures, popular media culture, your education, and whatever life experiences you accumulated living in the real world. Today…the internet has not only completely shattered and broken what we think of as popular culture into million little pieces, incapable of making a coherent whole, but it has also equipped us with all of humanity’s knowledge…too much information and too many cultures and too much knowledge only overwhelm, and given how the human mind works, leading us to confusion.”

If you’re like me, at this point you’re thinking “shhh-yeah!” It’s hard to imagine anyone with a modicum of “pay attention” not nodding their heads in agreement. Confusion, along with change seems to be the lei motif of your age. And if you have as much runway behind you as I do, you’re also probably thinking, “But this is not news. It’s not like we didn’t see this coming.”

Future Shock the Book

The Tofflers gave the phenomenon Zat is referring to a name. The called it “future shock,” in their their book of the same name. In essence, Future Shock is the exposure to too much information too fast. If you’re interested in a really thoughtful, way ahead of it’s time look at it, just follow the link. 

 

 

I should note (parenthetically), that the Alvin and Heidi had a specific take on what “too much information” was. To them, it wasn’t simply a lot of new, random information. It was new information that (at first) cracked and (later) broke, existing paradigms.

In the simpler time in which I grew up, I had a built-in break from the bombarding we take from the world. I had my swimming work-outs, chores and homework to do and a couple of hours of leisure in the evening to align (or reject) the information with which I had been bombarded with my (admittedly flawed) sense of self and place.

But in the Internet age, as Mr. Rana points out, breaks have to be engineered into our lives. Compulsive learners in particular need help with this. 

“In the global village created by the internet, on the other hand, the node of your digital self is constantly bombarded by the larger network, which is itself shaped by hidden algorithms, mostly manipulated by those who happen to shout the loudest. For the average person, the amount of consumption far exceeds the amount of time they have to rationally make sense of it. And when they can’t rationally make sense of it, they take shortcuts, which is clearly apparent in the rampant and blind tribalism on most social media networks.”

Mr. Rana goes on to conclude:

“The most effective people learn to close the gap between what makes sense and what is right. What makes sense is what is coherent only if you ignore anything that doesn’t suit your existing narrative. Rightness, on the other hand, is the willingness to embrace temporary incoherence — or a state of confusion and nonsense — long enough that a broader and more honest mental model of the world can be created.”

I’m personally aligned with the drift of his post, as far as he took it. But as someone who spent the first 20-some years of his life in uniform, hypothetically defending these United States, I find myself missing the other half of the equation in Mr. Rana’s post. Cohering our individual model of the world with what’s happening around us is certainly part of personal growth.

But it is only half the job we humans sharing this world with other humans and other species must accomplish. The other half of the job is finding a way to coexist harmoniously with the other inhabitants of our biosphere. We are of and part of, the world in general. Our place in it is as much about contribution as it is about clarity, comfort and fit.

Fire jumping the road in CA
Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Whether we are referring to dovetailing the scientific reality of anthropogenic climate change with the needs of a complex society, simple personal disagreements or the overarching priorities of our governance, our personal growth is (or should be) in part about contribution. It borders on cliché to quote (possibly) JFK’s most famous line from inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country,” quote.

But that line became a cliché for a reason. Embedded in that single line is the fundamental, understanding that however diverse we become, we are nevertheless one body. In time, we must as a biosphere come recognize that truth on a global scale. Our place is not simply in our nation. It is our place in the world writ large.

Long term, there is no other sustainable perspective and we all know this. Recognition of a non-egocentric membership in that global community is perhaps one of the prime indicators of personal growth. This is not a denial of self. It is a declaration of a kinship and the ultimate reflection of the best we can be.

West of Tomorrow and the Meaning of Life

Woman seeking meaning in the desert

To be honest, I don’t remember where I first blundered across this statement, but I remember vividly the oddly conflicted sensation of being @ once energized and enervated by it. Yeah, I know…logically inconsistent. Guilty as charged Welcome to my oft-conflicted world of tail-swallowing paradox. A little explanation may just be in order.

Like a lot of aphorisms, it is evocative. In a sense, it feels self-proving on its face and at some level, empowering. For someone like me, it’s a bit of a charge to think I get a vote with respect to the meaning of life. And if we could track down the original author and wake him/her up to ask them what they intended, my guess is it’s probably meant to be empowering.

At the same time, it’s also a kick in the Gluteus Maximus. Empowerment is meaningless unless it’s actionable and acted upon. So this while this aphorism is a declaration of empowerment, it’s also a call to action. With power comes responsibility, not simply for action, but the consequences thereof.

Photo courtesy of Alexander Hafennanum and Unsplash

The longer I pondered this simple statement, the more it reminded me of an iceberg. There’s so much more going on, beneath the surface. If we are to internalize this statement and render it actionable, then we are called not only to take action to give our lives meaning, but to express that meaning in ways that we find moral in principle and ethical in practice.

But in order to do that, we must know ourselves well enough to know by which moral principles we wish to be bound and how, specifically, we can give meaning to our lives within those constructs. It’s difficult for me to see anyone actually living this aphorism to its fullest logical extent, without a lot of thought put into who we are, how we wish to live, and how we will define success.

Storm front at sunset
Photo courtesy of Yannos Papanostsopolous & Unsplash

In West of Tomorrow, Clay Conover is midway through his life, plus or minus. He has long-term plan that reflects how he defines both success and meaning. But in common with all of us, he’s not pursuing those dreams of success and meaning in a vacuum. And in common most of us, he doesn’t have anything like omniscience.

Sheera Prasad, a newly hired trainer at the contract training firm in which he is the lead trainer looks a lot like part of the vision of success he has in his mind. Sheera appears to be of the same mind. But Clay has spent his first career looking for ambushes and his usually sharp instincts are whispering warnings. Will he listen to them? If not and he’s wrong, will he ever recover?

West of Tomorrow is a tale of corporate intrigue, betrayal, misplaced love and the phoenix that lives in all of us. West of Tomorrow is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle formats.

We Own Tomorrow, for Better, for Worse

A Nation (or world) Divided...

Streets on Fire
A riot in France (Courtesy Randy Colas-Unsplash)

Divisiveness, political, racial, religious and cultural has become such a platitude that it is now accepted as the deplorable but inevitable truth of the 21st Century. Driven in part by increasing diversity and where diversity is clustered, (the argument goes), it’s inevitable.

There’s the left and right coasts and there’s “fly over” country. There’s the haves and the have nots. There’s the “liberal” north and the “conservative” south and you can follow those socio-economic fissures by simply looking at the political breakdowns in those same regions and those facts all pretty much speak for themselves.

Dem-Republican Vote Dist.

Moreover, the pundits are quick to tell us, this is not simply a U.S. phenomenon. It’s global and like the experiences we’re currently having here in our country, it’s happening for similar reasons, and for those similar reasons, it’s inevitable “over there,” just as it is “over here.” And those changes are catalysts of still more change.

 

But isn't it up to us?

It would be naive to claim that the contextual reality in which we find ourselves is an illusion. It isn’t. But at the philosophical level, there’s a problem with in my humble opinion. The hard core, self-appointed “realists” may feel obliged to disagree with me and that’s fine. By your very right to differ, if you’re comfortable with a paradigm that postulates conflict as inevitable, you can stop reading now, or if you’re so inclined, or feel free to read, dissent and comment accordingly.

But I wonder if we can agree, that conflict is a choice? Can we not disagree respectfully, without being disagreeable? Surely, somewhere between extremes of meta-ethical relativism and unyielding moral universalism there is a place where we can coexist? Irrespective of your preferred socio-political or economic model, can we not agree that what makes us alike is greater than what divides us? In the words of Rilke, living in another time of tectonic change:

“Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again…”

Rainer Maria Rilke

Change is literally the lei motif of our age. At the personal level, it’s as individual as our fingerprint. More generally, our reaction to the changes around us But we defined in part by the form our change and that inevitable friction that disagreement takes. If you’re riled up and expostulating based on something you read on a website no one’s ever heard of or a FB post without links to the source, you’re probably being pulled to one extreme or the other. Honest men and women, even opinionated ones, aren’t ashamed of the sources upon which they base their opinions. The necessary accomplice of learning is perspective, often perspectives that do not dovetail with our own. That said, the ability of those perspectives to alter our own depend on verifiable, credible information.

We are one...

Man holding a sign I'm here for my 3 year old grand daughter
Its up to us...Courtesy Roya-Ann Miller & Unsplash

But beyond the formation of our opinions—hopefully the result of conscientious pursuit of truth—there is the fundamental truth underpinning all others, if we’re human. We are human and one. For better or worse, we are the dominant specie on this planet, collectively responsible for not only what we do, but for the outcome.

We are the stewards of our fate and the generations following us. I can’t imagine anyone with children not appreciating this and recognizing (if belatedly) that we do not inherit the Earth from our parents. We borrow it from our children.