Trend Lines Going Forward

Lemhi Dawn 4 9-16-04

It is hard to believe that the first decade of the 21st century is now history. It has not been the decade that most of us expected. It has been filled with terror, war, economic disruption, political disappointment, natural disasters that showcased governmental inadequacies, and the emergence of social media as a force. In many respects, it was a decade where society did not move forward, and little prospects for broad scale improvement in the near future. 

Andy Crouch, an insightful cultural interpreter, has posted his assessment of the 10 tends that marked the first decade of the 2000's.

  1. Connection
  2. Place
  3. Cities
  4. The End of the Marjority
  5. Polarity
  6. The Self Shot
  7. Pornography
  8. Informality
  9. Liquidity
  10. Complexity

I'm in basic agreement with most of what Crouch offers here. However, it raises questions for me.

If these are trends, then where are they leading us? 

What is the line that extends from the past through the present to the future?

What should we do in response to these trends?

These trends are markers or sign-posts of changes that have been long in development.  I see these trends leading forward in the following ways.

Connection / Place / Cities / Pornography / The Self Shot

This trend line is complex because it is a mixture of several converging ones.

The need ...

for relationship,

for rootedness in a place,

for a place of openness, discovery and genuine diversity,

for intimacy, and,

for a real understanding of one's own identity.

All these are converging. Each of these trends have their problematic dimension though:

Of the shallowness of online connection

Of the disconnection of people from the physical places where they live and work

Of the economic viability of both rural and urban environments that fail to create an environment for human creativity

Of the failure of the institution of marriage to be a viable form of human intimacy for large numbers of people

Of a religious and political culture that offers narcissism rather than human community as a basis for human purpose.

The End of the Majority / Polarity / Informality / Liquidity / Complexity

This trend line is moving fast away from the social conventions and institutions of previous generations. The status of elite groups and institutions once secured by a culture of common perceptions and simple approaches is under going dramatic change. One-size-fits-all, works-for-all, and is available-to-all is no longer reflective of the way the world works, if it ever truly did.  Instead, complexity is the structure of society. As a result, no single or generic approach works. Instead many different approaches can be effective. The key here then is to understand how complexity impacts us on a daily basis.

Donald Norman writes in Living with Complexity,

"The keys to coping with complexity are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understanding. Does it have an underlying logic, a foundation that, once mastered, makes everything fall into place? Second is our own set of abilities and skills. Have we taken the time and effort to understanding and master the structure? Understandability and understanding: two critical keys to mastery."

Questions that I have.

What is the underlying logic that explains the meaning of these trends?

What is the "design (of the thing itself)" of the time we live?  

What is the historical movement that helps us to gain understanding of the past decade, the past generation, and what we may expect of the next decade and generation.

My conclusion is that we are in the midst of dramatic period of unprecedented change. In order to understand these trends, we need to understand the assumptions that have guided human history for the past several centuries.

For example, beginning in the 18th century a shift began that impacted virtually every country. It was the shift from aristocracy to democracy. What may not be readily evident in this shift is the continuity that was maintained throughout these great historic changes.

I wrote about this shift in my review of Lucino Visconti's masterpiece, The Leopard. It is a picture of the change from the old aristocratic order to new world order of democratic progressivism. In that post, I include a long dialogue that the Prince of Sicily and the representative of the new modern, progressive government of Italy have. Here's a portion.

The Prince: I am a member of the old ruling class hopelessly linked to the past regime and tied to it by chains of decency, if not affection. I belong to an unfortunate generation straddling two worlds and ill at ease in both. And what is more, I am utterly without illusions.

What would the Senate do with an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for those who guide others? No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would get bitten off.

Chevalley: Would you seriously refuse to do all you can to alleviate the state of physical squalor and blind moral misery in which your own people lie?

The Prince: We are old, Chevalley. Very old. For more that 25 centuries, we have borne the weight of superb civilizations that have come from outside, never of our own creation, none we could call our own. For 2,500 years, we've been nothing but a colony. I'm not complaining. It's our fault. But we are worn out and exhausted.

Chevalley: But all that's over now. Sicily is no longer a conquered land, but a free member of a free state.

The Prince: Your intention is good, but it comes too late.

Sleep, my dear Chevalley, a long sleep - that is what Sicilians want. They will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even to bring them the most wonderful gifts. And between ourselves, I doubt whether the new kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage. Here, all expression, even the most violent, is a desire for oblivion. Our sensuality is a longing for oblivion. Our knifings and shootings are a longing for death. Our laziness, the penetrating sweetness of our sherbets, a longing for voluptuous immobility, that is ... death once again.

Chevalley: Prince, are you exaggerating? I myself have met Sicilians in Turin who seemed anything but asleep.

The Prince: I haven't explained myself well. I'm sorry. I said Sicilians. I should have said Sicily. This atmosphere, the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of the climate, the constant tension in everything -

Chevalley: Climate can be overcome, landscape improved, the memory of evil governments canceled. Surely the Sicilians want to improved.

The Prince: I don't deny that a few, once off the island, may wake up, but they must leave very young. By 20, it's too late. The crust has already formed. What you need, Chevalley, is a man who is good at blending his personal interests with vague public ideals.

The picture here is of the clash between the ideals of progressivism and the exhaustion of the old order. With the former there was a belief that the world's problems could be solved, and with the latter, a realization that even in the midst of change, there is not much that changes.

What we can see here is not the replacement of the aristocracy with a populist government, but rather the transfer of power from one kind of elitism to another. It is the elitism of modern democratic progressivism that is reaching the same point that the old order aristocrats reached two centuries ago. That exhaustion is the inadequacy of the ideas and values that inspired revolution to create a sustainable society in a highly complex context. Ultimately, what happens is the loss of the ideals themselves and the adoption of a formula that is designed to resist change and perpetuate the system.

This trend suggests other trends.

The end of institutions as a unifiying force in society.

Whether those institutions are political, religious, social or educational, they no longer command the loyalty or respect by people as they once did.  Instead, communities of causes have replaced them and is seen in Crouch's Polarity trend.

This emerging trend is really the mixture of several changes.

A shift from a global to a local perspective as locus of solution making.

The impracticality of one-size-fits-all approaches to solving social and econonic problems is reflected in the persistance of the recession in its many forms.  This a product of the growing complexity of society that responds better to small, local initiatives than those applied from a single source.

A shift from a national orientation to a relational one.

As I've written previously, online technology enables us to work with colleagues globally as if we are locally connected. National origin means less, and personal values mean more in this context of local collaboration on a global scale.

The emergence of belief as the common bond that unites people organizationally.

One doesn't have to look farther than the passionate advocacy of the environmental movement or the Tea Party movement to see how traditional institutions are being replaced my groups of people who form temporary communities to advocate for a cause. This puts institutional elites at a disadvantage as institutional integrity has been less about causes or beliefs and more about process and operational integrity.

These are some trends that I see, and see them as positive developments. However, there are aspects of these changes that I don't think are quite yet apparent, yet will bring a new level of disruptive change as they emerge.

Many of the governing assumptions of our time are based on social, political and economic philosophies that were born in the era of The Leopard. I'm convinced that the ideologies of capitalism, liberal progressivism and its socialist varient, and individualism will come to be replaced by new ideas that provide a way forward.  It is my impression that we think these are given, guiding assumptions of contemporary society. I'm not convinced that these philosophies represent the future, but the past. It is why I see the two political parties as regressive, rather than visionary.  As these ideologies lose their vitality and relevance, their advocates have become more divisive and defensive. In my opinion, this divisiveness is a sign of the fading viability of these social philosophies.

If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd wager that the future trends that we'll see emerging over the next few years are:

New organizational structures that are designed for shared responsibility and collaboration.

Values as the unifying force, not only in organizations, but in society.

New confederations of cities and organizations that circumvent the artificial constraints of state and national boundaries.

Lastly, what should leaders do to be prepared to adapt to these changes?

1. Develop the leadership capacity of everyone in your organization.

2. Build organizational community through an emphasis on and the operationalizing of the Connecting Ideas of the Circle of Impact - Purpose, Mission, Values, Vision and Impact.

3. Take time to develop an understanding of the logic of what is happening locally and globally. Test assumptions, and be positively self-critical. In other words, think for yourself by constantly seeking to develop your capacity to observe, think, assess and make judgments.

My wish for each of us in 2011 is that we find new strength of purpose, greater capacity for leadership, and an ability to make a difference that matters that changes our world for the better.  All the best to you in your leadership endeavors.

Quick Takes: 10 Ideas for Changing the World

Time magazine recently published their annual list of ideas that are world changers. It is an interesting list.

Here's the list as posted at Marketing Chart.

1. Jobs are the New Assets: Though the last decade saw many real-estate investments and stock-portfolio values skyrocket, today’s recession and many assets’ subsequent loss in value is causing Americans to re-evaluate how they define themselves, putting much more emphasis on the fact that they have a job – their human capital – and less importance on their dwindling assets. This, experts say, is leading to a society that may more carefully live within its means and may ultimately focus on finding increased job satisfaction.

2. Recycling the Suburbs: The housing bust is causing the American suburbs as we know them to die, Time said.  This, combined with changing demographics – including a lower number of overall households with children and a rising preference for urban amenities – is steadily wiping out the recent “American Dream” of a suburban house with a big lawn. Though environmentalists are applauding the demise of car-addicted sprawl, experts acknowledge that the country will face a huge challenge in “remaking” the far-flung, abandoned infrastructure to create things people will want to use again.

3. The New Calvinism: Recent religious trends in the US are showing a resurgence in what Time calls “new Calvinism,” complete with “an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity and…predestination.” The shift, which may in part be driven by people’s need for blanket assurance and the security that an all-knowing god and a predestined life can bring in troubling times, is steadily gaining steam.

4. Reinstating the Interstate: President Obama’s plans to revitalize the crumbling and decrepit US interstate system can potentially reinvigorate not only the roadways themselves, but also create new and creative energy and transportation systems along them that will help Americans use power more efficiently, enable public transportation and be better for the environment. Though the government’s ownership of the interstates and the land surrounding them can potentially clear the way for innovative projects, states, regions and other governing bodies and organizations involved in the revamp must work together in unprecedented ways to make it happen.

5. Amortality: A term recently coined by Time writer Catherine Mayer, “Amortals,” embodied by such celebrities as music producer Simon Cowell and singer Madonna, are those who live in the same way, look the same, and do the same things from their teen years until they die. These extinction-dreading amortals, as Mayer calls them, could very well relegate age-appropriate behavior to history books and could have social, medical and commercial ramifications.

6. Africa as Business Destination: Though news media accounts that portray Africa as a “hopeless place of war and famine…populated by tyrants and children with flies in their eyes,” generate the popular belief that Africa needs charity dollars, many multinational corporations, including Ecobank and other Chinese firms, are finding that business investments in parts of Africa offer some of the world’s highest returns. This shift toward “trade, not aid,” is changing the way the world relates to Africa, and transforming the African psyche to one that actively contributes to the world economy rather than taking handouts from it.

7. The Rent-a-Country: The end of food isolationism caused by last year’s high oil prices is giving way to a growing number of food-growing deals between nations, where countries with plentiful, arable land supply food to other nations with the money to pay for it. Though this idea is not new, there is a rising consciousness that many of the food-growing nations cannot even feed their own people and investors face growing risks of popular and governmental backlash. Still, the model has potential if economic and regulatory conditions can mutually benefit all parties involved.

8. Biobanks: Officials at the US’s National Cancer Institute are spearheading an effort to set up the country’s first national biobank, which would store tissue samples, tumor cells, DNA and other biological material from the American public. Though deposits into such a biobank could ultimately bring about advancements in medical science and improve the overall population’s health, the challenge will be gaining the public’s acceptance and trust and maintaining the privacy of “depositors” by restricting access to researchers and those who have permission to access the information.

9. Survival Stores: Retailers throughout America are cutting prices and offering deep discounts to entice shoppers to buy, but the shop of the future might not look anything like what we have today. Instead, Time says today’s stores may give way to places that offer consumers the opportunity to buy low-cost, long-lasting durable goods and also provide experiences to help them cope during difficult times. For instance, a so-called survival store might offer a bicycle to replace the car a consumer can’t afford, and also offer yoga or financial planning to help address stress and money problems.

10. Ecological Intelligence:The global economy and the complicated supply chains involved in producing many of today’s products have grown faster than most consumers’ ability to understand the environmental and ethical consequences of this production. Over the past several decades, industrial ecologists have been using a method called LifeCycle Assessment (LCA) to break down these production processes and supply chains and help major companies improve their ecological consciousness. Recent web startups, such as Good Guide are helping consumers do this too, because ultimately, ecological intelligence involves understanding that what we do in the world is interconnected with everyone else,Time said.

I'm not overwhelmed by this list of ideas. I find them rather pedestrian, not world changing. Even #3 is not a new idea. This religious perspective, as described above, has been around a very long time. Just because someone has given it a new label doesn't mean that it is some new religious expression.

There really is nothing here about how people are to live together. Nothing about changes in the economy or government. Nothing about social enterprises or social media.

There are huge societal shifts taking place. And each one of the ideas above are happening within a larger context of change. This isn't to say that these ideas don't matter. Rather they are not necessarily the most important ideas that are changing the world.

No More Torture

Last night President Obama told the American people and the world that the United States would no longer practice interrogative torture. 

In my inbox this morning comes this note from Michael Yon,

President Barack Obama has spoken.  His words beamed around the world.  I am in Asia preparing for a long year in Afghanistan and other contended places, but stopped to listen closely to President Obama's words.  Most of the things that President Obama talked about will take years, or many years, to implement.  But one thing can happen NOW.  No more torture.

I believe we can beat the terrorists we face without torture.  In fact, we can fight them better and more effectively from high ground than from low ground.

Thank you President Obama for moving to the high ground.

Michael Yon

Yon is an independent journalist whose coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been insightful and prescient. I highly recommend subscribing to his email alerts.

Yesterday, I watched FBI director Robert Mueller's presentation and Q&A at the Council of Foreign Relations on Monday. There he stated that the FBI does not use torture. He went so far as to say that any FBI agent serving anywhere in the world, serving with any combined forces is under obligation to operate by FBI protocols.

From Wikipedia, torture is ...

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him, or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. 

I've always been skeptical of the benefits of torture. I'm glad we are taking the lead on this issue.  It means that we can face any person of any country with integrity and openness without compromise.  As our global community grows closer, the people of good-will in each country need to know that as American's, we can be trusted.

What President Obama has done is not just a shift from Bush adminstration policy,  but the policy that has governed the nation for generations. It is a good thing. Thank you, Mr. President.

Quick Takes: Welcome to My World, Barack

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice speaks on the world that Barack Obama inherits and the Bush legacy.

"... the United States under this president has been more active and more insistent that democracy is not just something for a few."
I’ve seen too many peoples dismissed as not ready for self-government. First it was Asians, and then Latin Americans and Africans were there for a while. I know for a while black Americans were, too. I’ve seen it said, well, you know: They’re illiterate; how could they vote? And then you see in Afghanistan people line up for long, long lines. Because somehow they know that making a choice matters.
George W. Bush deserves credit for recognizing that the terms were now going to be set for the next big historical evolution. The president recognized that freedom was something that was not just desirable but essential for the United States; that it meant not just freedom from tyranny but also freedom from disease, from poverty. And that if you were going to have democratic leaders, they had to be able to deliver for their people. Thus the president supported the millennium challenge and the H.I.V. AIDS and Malaria project. And linking up the great compassion of the United States with our security interests. Making it about democracy, defense and development. We’re at the beginning of that historical transformation, and yes, sometimes it’s lonelier at the beginning than at the end.

It’s really recognizing that this is about a single answer to what is the right form of government, and that’s democracy. It takes different forms: there is Japanese democracy, and there’s American democracy, and there are fragile democracies, and there are emerging democracies, and there are states that are trying to find some form of popular legitimacy.

During the Bush first term, I felt that the 21st century would be the century of freedom. That is at the heart of my own political philosophy.

When I read pieces like this interview with Secretary of State Rice, it takes me back to a summer I spent in Pakistan in1981 doing refugee work during the Afghan / Soviet War. We traveled all over the NorthWest Frontier Province along the Afghan-Pakistani border. We met people everyday who loved the USA because we represented freedom and hope to them. The Afghan's we met were fleeing war. The Pakistanis lived under a military dictatorship friendly with the US government.

The challenge that faces President-elect Obama is the complexity that forces moderation of ideology. However, when core principles are built on a common denominator that can be shared by all people, like freedom, then progress can be found.

The Davos Question

Have you heard about The Davos Question?

What one thing do you think that countries, companies, or individuals must do to make the world a better place in 2008?

As we go through a global financial crisis, and as we prepare to elect a new president and members of the Congress, state legislatures, and city and county officials, this may be a good time to ask this question.

Here's my answer.

Countries: Restore citizen trust and confidence in government and their national economies.

Companies: Restore public trust and confidence in the capitalist system that links all companies and all nations.

Individuals: Learn to think for yourself. Take responsibility for the future. Take action to strengthen the institutions of your local community. Be a collaborative partner.

What is your answer to the question?

Check out these YouTube videos of world leaders answering the question.

HT: Bryan Caplan

A view of society's systemic problems at the New Orleans Mission

This week I'm along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans with the youth from our church. Monday, we spent the day at the New Orleans Mission.  The Mission is a place similar to Gospel or Rescue Missions that can be found in cities and small towns all over America. It is one of the few places where men and women who have reached the lowest level of destitution can come and find some help.

Here's a brief overview of the New Orleans Mission's work.

The goal of our programs is to bring the homeless into a structured program to address addiction and other problems and to allow them to re-enter society as productive, sober citizens. We provide dinner, shelter and breakfast for around 100 men and 15 women each day. We also offer spiritual guidance, educational classes and case management to anyone needing assistance.

What I saw at the Mission reinforced what I saw 25 years ago when I was working the same population in Atlanta as the member of a church staff responsible for the our ministry in the city. Institutions like the New Orleans Mission are not solutions to the problems of poverty, substance abuse or homeless.  What the Mission does provide for most their clients is a basic level of care on a daily basis. Some enter a year-long training programs and some women with children a transitional housing situation that provides greater stability.

The real problems begin for these people before they ever have a drink or become homeless. Our society is arranged to progress a certain type of person through the system. State university higher education systems are growing in size as the most affordable education is a state one, made the more so by the advent education lotteries.

The problem is that many people are not college material. It doesn't mean that they are not intelligent. Rather, their intelligence is of a different sort, a more grounded, practical type.  Yet, they are tracked along with everyone else into a college degree program, when it would make more sense for them be trained in a skill as an apprentice. This is more the European model, and serves them well.

One of the outcomes of this restricted view of education is not just that it doesn't prepare a particular type of person for a job, but it creates a vacuum of qualified job applicants that has been filled by immigrants.

The reality is that we need to realize that homelessness is a systemic problem that is a result of many different factors, education being only one.

Additional Material:

Let me tell the story of two people I met at the mission. I'm not using their real names.

Barbara is a women in her forties, originally from Baton Rouge, who is now in New Orleans after living in Michigan for a number of years. Her daughter and son live with their families in California. Barbara has found herself jobless and homeless. She is an intelligent, sweet-spirited person who lacks fundamental stability in her life. She owns her own laptop computer. Her openness to life has meant that when she feels led, she moves. After Katrina, she felt led to come back to her homestate. The problem is that there is very little excess housing. Much of it was destroyed or damaged beyond repair during the hurricane and subsequent levee break in the city of New Orleans. So, here she is living at the Mission from night to night, trying to put her life back together. When I asked her about her children and her family in Baton Rouge, she told me that they don't know she is homeless, and doesn't want to burden them with her problems. As I sat and talked with her, I realized that I didn't have any answers for her.

I met a man name Wayne, who is a house painter. I'm not sure where he grew up, but he was last in Chattanooga. He came to New Orleans looking for work. He works everyday through a work program at a church. He is intelligent. We had a very engaging conversion about politics, evil and God's forgiveness. It wasn't a quirky, wierd conversation. It was the kind that I might have with anyone at a coffee shop on any given day. Wayne is a painter, and what he needs is a car so he can get out to the suburbs where he can find better paying work.

These two people represent just one type of person who is homeless. Their situation is a mixture of their own poor decisions (Don't we all make them?) and circumstances that do not provide what is often called a "safety net."  Whatever the answer is to homelessness, it will probably not impact Barbara or Wayne at any time in the near future. The Mission is the best chance they have. The system of interacting environments in our society produce a complex setting for change. Where does that change begin? The only answer I can come up with is two-fold.

One is that people who have the means need to care for those that do not. That care needs to be such that it allows them to break the cycle of addiction and dislocation. It is a tall order that cannot be done from far away. It has to be done locally, and done in every locality. Part of that breaking of the cycle is dealing with addiction and personal health. Part of it is providing safe, secure low-income housing. And part of it is providing not only jobs but also a means to preserve the financial benefit of those jobs through savings accounts and financial discipline.

The second answer goes to what I wrote above. We must diversify our education system so that people who are not truly college material can find meaning and purpose in school at a younger age. State education bureaucracies should not track all kids in the same direction with the intention that they go to one of their state universities. The goal should be to provide the right kind of education to meet the wide range of people that live in our communities. We can't wait until a kid is 16 and drops out of high school to provide him an alternative educational experience. We should begin to provide vocational experiences to school kids at an early age in order to spark their imagination for what they can do. I see this happening with the kids I know that participate in 4-H programs.

After spending a day at the New Orleans Mission, I am now convinced that homeless begins in childhood, and that we must address it as such if we are to ever change its course. 

Free Speech or Free to Speak with Conditions

Free speech is as American as apple pie. However, as both Virginia Postrel and Kurt Anderson describe, there are now social and political stipulations to the exercise of free speech that make it not so free any more.  Read what they have to say.

I read this in light of our family's experience of meeting Scottish National Party leader and Member of Scottish Parliament Stuart Maxwell this summer. Our conversation was Maxwell touched on the prospects of Scotland becoming fully independent from Great Britain.  What was distinctive in this conversation was the sense on his part that the country was being reborn.  It was as if we were speaking with Thomas Jefferson or James Madison during the Constitutional Convention.

More importantly, I came away with the sense that the Scottish people are united around independence.  As Americans, we are we united about? Is it free speech? I don't think so. Is the pursuit of happiness? I'm not so sure. It would seem that what unites us is our distain and scorn for people with whom we disagree. It is a wholly negative unity, not a positive, constructive one.

Conversation is a basic component of all relationships. Without communication, relationships die.  If we are not able to speak freely, then we are not able to speak honestly. And without honesty, our relationships lack integrity.  The social and political elites of our society believe that constraints on free speech are a protective measure. Do you think we need protective from someone else's ideas? I don't.

Free speech allows to see separate the good ideas from the weak ones, the worthy speakers from the idiotic ones.  The more speech the better.  It is the only way we'll ever begin to find the unity that we need as a community.

What is true nationally is also true on smaller scales - community, business, family, one-to-one.  Free speech to be healthy requires not only openness, but also an environment of respect where people listen to one another. I know this sounds like the most obvious observations, but it is obvious in practice.

So, is it free speech or free to speak with conditions? It is a choice that matters.

9/11 six years on

Today I read Norman Podhoretz's article in today's Wall Street Journal entitled,  "American the Ugly."   He writes about the radical left in 1960's and Vietnam, and places it in the context of the war on terrorist and the War in Iraq.

Here's what bothers me. There are people who believe whatever bad thing happens to the United States is deserved. That we are an evil empire and whatever hatred and violence that we received from people like Osama Bin Laden is justified. This perspective amazes me for it runs so counter to my own experience.

The public's response to 9/11 and then four years later to Hurricane Katrina belies the claim of The Ugly American. Remember that book from the 1960's?  I do, and I know it contributed to my ambivalence as a teenager about the Vietnam War.

These words of Podhoretz resonated with me.

... as the Vietnam War ground inconclusively on, the institutions that shape our culture were one by one and bit by bit converting to the "faith in America the ugly." By now, indeed, in the world of the arts, in the universities, in the major media of news and entertainment, and even in some of the mainstream churches, that faith had become the regnant orthodoxy.

There are two things I want to say in response because I believe he is correct in his assessment.

1. Goodness is not a naturally occurring societal substance. It must be created by human initiative. For goodness to take place, there must be an idea or vision to believe in. America as a ugly nation that deserves destruction is not a strong ideological position to build or repair society. It is now a well-used epigram of Edmund Burke's, who said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."  Evil is a counter-creative, destructive phenomenon. Goodness requires action.  It will not happen without the decision of men and women who seek to create things that are good.

Which leads to my second conclusion.

2. For all our consumerist avarice, I am amazed at the generosity and humanitarian goodness of the people of the US.  The sacrifices of fire and law enforcement people on 9/11 was an image that broke through a "the America is ugly" meme. It encourage others to give, to make sacrifices and create goodness in ways new to them.  Then came Katrina, and the outpouring of materials, money and time far exceeded the paltry help of the government.  The amount of money given annually to charitable causes is astronomical.  I'm impressed by the  American parents who adopt unwanted children in countries like China and the former Soviet Republics.  A day doesn't go by here my little out-of-the-way city Ashevile where I don't see an American parent with an Asian adopted son or daughter. 

Frankly, I don't trust the America is ugly crowd. I don't trust them with my family's security, our health, our economy or the future. Trust is earned, and it is based on respect. I find that they are blind to the goodness that people do without expectation for recognition. They are blind to their own self-deception.

As we move beyond another day of remembrance for those who died on 9/11, and the political season descends into even worse ugliness, let us remember that what we are told is not the whole story. It may not be even a real story.  All you have to do is look around and you'll find human goodness.  It exists where people have been moved to act to create something good.

The Big Picture, A Long View

Wretchard at The Belmont Club posts on Prospect Magazine's article where they asked 100 writers and thinkers the following question - Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next?

They follow the question with the following comment: The pessimism of their responses is striking: almost nobody expects the world to get better in the coming decades, and many think it will get worse.

Wretchard's post excerpts each writer.

The conclusion that I leave with is that these intellectual elites have backed themselves into an ideological corner.  This is a generation of thinkers whose ideological mother's milk was revolution.  You can see it in their hatred of democracy, of freedom and the love of authoritarian regimes where they are they are the philosophers of the revolution.  The revolution is not authoritarian, but individual and collective on a personal level. And this they cannot accept, because they are historical determinists, believing in the inevitability of their vision of the future, regardless of its realism.

My own Long View? 

The future belongs to people who are well connected to a wide diversity of people and cultures.  It is being made by people who are also thinkers, but ones who also do. Governments and elites will do what they have always done.  The difference in this century will be the emergence of the economy of the collaborative individual who knows how to cross barriers, broker deals and create new opportunities where there were none. They will do this without the permission of the intellectual elites who will lament the chaos of the world order, and continue to call for authoritarianism over democracy.

Some random thoughts this morning before swim practice car pool

Catching up with you ...

Item #1: Been thinking about the relation between confidence and humility ... it struck me the other day that when we gain confidence that we should also gain humility. That both are a product of maturity, and are gifts of friendship and insight.  It occurred to be that the people who are the most confident in their ability to do things and make a difference also recognize what they can't do, and know how to solicit others to participate through their own talent.

Item #2: I'm way behind on most everything - Christmas cards, blog reading, column writing -because I've been writing daily essays for my Presbyterian Polis blog series, Innovative Business Ideas for Churches.  If you are a member of a religious congregation, obviously I'm writing to my colleagues and brother and sister Presbyterians, but the ideas are relevant to any religious congregation, check it out.  Pass it along to your pastor, priest or rabbi.  BTW, I have an interview with Greg Stielstra, author of PyroMarketing, coming on Monday.  I'd love to hear your comments, stories or questions.

Item #3:  Tom Peters' Gotta Read list here, here, here and here.

Item #4: Chris Anderson, The Long Tail, on  I, for one, welcome our new Christian homeschooled Lego robotics overlords.  My scout troop is filled with these guys.  But they are not doing Lego robots anymore. They make real battle robots like you see on TV.  It is a different generation.  They like to do things with their hands. They like to play role play strategy games.  They like to play online strategy games.  They learn how to work together.  They are smart, independent, but not isolationist. They are home schooled, but at 16 they start taking college courses at the local community college.  For these kids who mostly come from conservative, traditional homes, their education is anything but traditional. I've learned that to lead them is to give them explicit parameters of expectations and let them figure out how things work. They are problem solvers and will be tremendous assets to organizations in the future.  A word of advice: if you are used to working with people whose education taught them a compliance of passive aggressive resistance, then your leadership approach is going to have to change to work with these kids.  If you don't they will leave you in the dust.  Oh, one more thing, they loved to be intellectually challenged, and if you are not intellectually oriented, or at least have some intellectual curiosity, then you will have a more difficult time understanding what is going on in their heads.  I watch them and wonder why MIT or CalTech hasn't come calling.

Item #5: The Big Questions, New Scientist 50th anniversary special 1956-2006.  Bill Kinnon referenced this issue of the magazine.    The articles are fascinating.  Here's what you will find.

What is reality? By Roger Penrose

Can we be sure that the world we experience is not just a figment of our imaginations?

What is life? By Robert Hazen

If we encountered alien life, chances are we wouldn't recognise it - not even if it were here on Earth

Do we have free will? By Patricia Churchland

The more we find out about how the brain works, the less room there seems to be for personal choice or responsibility

Is the universe deterministic? By Vlatko Vedral

However you look at it, the answer seems to be "maybe"

What is consciousness? By Paul Broks

How does the brain, with its diverse distributed functions, come to arrive at a unified sense of identity?

Will we ever have a theory of everything? By Michio Kaku

2000 years of rational enquiry may be approaching their crowning glory. Just one more push could be enough

What happens after you die? By Mary Roach

We have all wondered if there is an afterlife, but only a few are brave - or foolish - enough to try and find out

What comes after humans? By James Hughes

All species are fated either to die out or to evolve into something else - all except humans, who have a chance of a transcendent future


Brilliant minds predict the next 50 years

What this shows is that scientist are philosophers.  I love 'em.                                                      

This is stuff some of my scouts would love.

Enough now, time to car pool. Enjoy your day.