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Mission

One Great Challenge Facing America Today

August 26th, 2017 // 4:51 am @

The Coming Fall

Only 15 percent of Americans are on target to fund 1 year or more of their retirement. One single year. Yet many will live twenty to thirty years after retiring. This one fact alone is a major blow against conservatism.

It may in fact kill conservative principles and ideals in the next two decades, and it could deeply hurt the American economy and our freedoms in the process. This is not an exaggeration. Put simply:

How can conservatives expect to win elections or, even if they are victorious at the ballot box, actually pass conservative laws and policies when more than 85 percent of the American people are going to be fully dependent on someone else’s money for housing, food and clothing, health care, and other expenses during retirement?

With the massive Baby Boom generation moving into retirement, many analysts ask: how can the United States implement anything short of collectivist socialism in the next thirty years?

To cut away the safety net, or to default on the promised Social Security and healthcare benefits workers paid into for decades, would be immoral and create widespread poverty for many of our most vulnerable. To buck up and pay for these obligations, and supplement them with what will be needed for millions of retirees to just get by, will require levels of taxation and regulation that will truly be nothing short of…well, socialism.

Bottom Dollar

Few people want to admit this reality—Republican politicians least of all. But over sixty years of government promises, spending money that should have been saved, inflating the currency, and putting numerous regulatory hurdles in the path of entrepreneurialism, innovation, and economic growth have taken their toll. A national debt north of $20 trillion dollars (more than $100 trillion when all the obligations and liabilities are met, and a lot more as these obligations and interest on the debt increase every month) leave us little wiggle room.

There are two realistic responses. First, we can go after major economic growth. This will require a systemic change in our economy—meaning mass deregulation and getting the government almost entirely out of the marketplace. Tax rates must come down drastically, and foreign-held corporate money must be encouraged to repatriate without penalty. Foreign direct investment must also be recruited (another reason tax rates must be significantly reduced).

The second option is to keep on the current path until we default, then allow an IMF bailout of the U.S. and the replacement of the dollar as the world reserve currency with International Monetary Fund SDR currency or some other (probably electronic) legal tender. This will result in a major reduction of the standard of living for most Americans and an explosion of additional government handouts. Most retirement and other savings that do exist will be wiped out, and nearly all Americans will go on the dole, with a few elites at the top, and both socialism and globalism will dominate.

The amazing thing, to me at least, is that many of our nation’s leaders right now—in both parties—actually prefer the second option. Moreover, a lot of them believe that this is the best course for our future. They deeply believe in globalism, collectivist economics, and the end of America’s attachment to free enterprise, gun rights, family values, and religion. They believe that government is the greatest power on earth, and deserves our universal allegiance and support. Even, ultimately, reverence. Anyone who disagrees, they believe, is small-minded or caught in the past—or both.

New or Old

Not only do many Democratic leaders hold this view, but a surprising number of Republican officials believe it as well, or at least they vote like they believe it (which brings the same results). This is a real battle, and the globalist elites are winning. The media, most of academia, and a majority of politicians are on their side. In their view, the future of the world is at stake—either a bright future of globalism (with elites in charge) or a return to dark-age tribalism, as they see it (where the regular people rule through small-minded, unenlightened democratic influence), will ensue. They are determined to ensure the globalist outcome.

They literally consider it a war–and one that is worth winning, whatever the cost. If academia, media, Hollywood and the lobbyist/D.C. bureaucracy/political party-apparatus can force the Trump administration to back down from anti-globalist policies and behaviors, so be it. That’s what the hubbub is about on the nightly news, investigations, etc.

But if not, they’ll take more drastic measures. A currency default might do it, causing bank holidays and massive layoffs. Or a serious shakeup in the White House—brought on by the Special Counsel, indictment of the President, or something else that circumvents the will of the voters and instead chases the goals of the elite. Something unexpected, of the same magnitude, could trigger a return of White House alignment to globalist goals. Today’s elites in government, media, finance, etc. can hardly remember a time when globalism wasn’t the clear agenda. Most of them are outraged at the very thought.

The rest of America has a serious problem. Remember the 85 percent of Americans who don’t (or won’t) have enough retirement savings to last more than a year? How are conservatives going to effectively promote smaller government and a return to genuine free enterprise in a nation strapped with the $20 trillion-plus national debt, $13 trillion in consumer debt, over $100 trillion owed in debt plus unfunded liabilities, and many millions (and growing) of retirees who will desperately need financial support?

The Next Step

I’m an optimist, because I believe the best days of America and the world are yet to come. Usually I infuse my writings with optimistic ideas on how we can really improve things in the days ahead. But right now I have to admit that I’m concerned. I’m not sure how we get past the economic hole we’ve dug for ourselves—not just politicians, but the regular people as well. We are culturally, if not actually, dependent on government spending and government growth.

Yes, a lot of people want the government to cut back, but they can’t agree on what to cut. Almost all Americans want the government to keep spending for things that benefit them directly. The ones that support cuts mostly only support cutting other people’s government benefits. Thus Congress doesn’t actually fix much.

Unless this changes, Democrats will continue to be the party of bigger government and increased socialism while Republicans will talk about smaller government, limits, and Constitutional boundaries—but when the votes come to the Senate, truly conservative changes won’t have enough Republican support to pass, and when cases make their way to the Supreme Court, free enterprising systemic changes to the government-corporate-K Street nexus won’t have enough Justices behind them. Too many officials simply aren’t willing to do what needs to be done. It’s too hard, and too unpopular.

I’m not sure what can change this.

Of one thing I am certain, however. History is absolutely clear on this point. As goes entrepreneurship, so goes our nation. Ultimately, a major increase in effective entrepreneurship, innovation, and business ownership is going to make or break us. It will create growth if it happens, and that changes everything. Also, the future of entrepreneurship is something each of us can influence. Our next three decades will either bring massive economic growth or the rise of rampant socialism to America. To choose the path of growth, our government can help (by deregulation and choosing to be smaller)—but a lot more people engaging effective entrepreneurship is the indispensible. Period.

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“The Coming Tide”

July 25th, 2017 // 7:22 am @

A Prediction

For decades the Democrats proudly saw themselves as the party of the little guy and the working poor. Republicans were considered the party of Wall Street, white collar professionals, and big business. But these alignments have changed during the opening years of the 21st Century. The Democrats are now, as The Atlantic put it, “a coalition of Millennials, minorities, and white professionals.” The Republicans consist of whatever is left over, which amounts to a majority of people in the large majority of states.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this new political arrangement is that so many white-collar professionals are now Democrats. Moreover, a large number of them are genuinely liberal, even progressive. This is a major departure from historical trends.

The most obvious reason for this shift is something members of the professional class have in common: years of participation in and graduation from the modern American university system. To find success in today’s campus environment often corresponds with embracing academe’s general values, processes, and views. When such views emphasize diversity of thought and vigorous debate of different ideas, the result is a certain kind of learning—and a certain kind of graduate. This approach helped make American universities the best in the world.

But when such views and values include rejection of diverse ideas, religious values, and pressure to adopt one overarching political and cultural perspective (pervasively advanced by the Left), a different result is natural. A different kind of typical graduate is also inevitable. This is where we find ourselves today. As the American campus has moved increasingly Left, the culture experienced and accepted by a large number of its participants has followed suit.

College Flight

This leaves many conservative or religious families, and others who aren’t particularly conservative or religious but don’t want their college youth to be ridiculed for their views or indoctrinated with blatant liberalism, with a difficult choice. College, long considered a required rite of passage into adulthood by many families, is becoming less attractive to a lot of people. The rebuttal is that the financial rewards of a college degree make it unavoidable. This boils down to two widely accepted but currently weakening views:

  1. College leads to financial success
  2. Financial success requires college

Perception is never quite as accurate as reality. Belief #1 (college leads to financial success) is a partial truth. It turns out to be true for some people, not true for others. In the 2010s, it is false for more than half of college graduates. Belief #2 (financial success requires college), on the other hand, is patently false. There are many people with financial success and means who dropped out of college or never enrolled at all. Indeed, many business owners who never finished college find their company bombarded with resumes and applications of those who did.

Certainly college is an effective path to career for many people. However, a downside for parents who aren’t committed liberal ideologues is the worry that many of today’s universities will turn their children into exactly that. And the biggest losers in the current system—even in the few schools where religious or conservative values are acceptable—are students whose focus on career prep distracts them from getting a truly great education. Sadly, this describes a significant majority.

II.

To be clear, all of this is part of a much larger national context. The bigger trend is that Americans are increasingly rejecting the 1960s promise of a society of experts who wisely and efficiently fix everything. The golden era of the American university was an outgrowth of this post-World War II zeitgeist: that everyone could participate in a society of experts, and that expertise and institutions held the solutions to all our national, world, community, material, and even personal problems.

Increased medical expertise and technology would make us truly healthy; better law schools and lawyers would ensure true justice to everyone; advanced technology and training in journalism would bring a golden age of media full of light and truth; business advances and expertise would eradicate poverty and bring prosperity to all. And so on….

The promise of what experts would bring the world was exciting, even intoxicating. True political experts, we were assured, would bring lasting peace, end conflicts, and spread happiness to every city and town. The Fed would ensure a stable and growing economy at all times, using modern expertise and financial algorithms to save us from major financial challenges. The promises were endless.

Over fifty years later, none of these expectations have been realized. Not even one of them. The entire “experts will fix everything” project is a bust. Just look at the current state of our politics, from the Clinton era to the Bush years, from Obama to Trump. Problems are far from solved. Many of our great national institutions, both public and private, have declined or lost their way. The citizenry’s trust of our government, and of experts in general, is lower and lower each decade.

In truth, the era of the expert is insolvent. It’s well past bankrupt, to be precise. We’re still training more experts, but they still haven’t solved the problems that caused us to want more of them in the first place. A lot of things have gotten worse. In short, something else is needed…

And soon.

What’s Next?

While national debts continue to skyrocket (more than doubling in the past 8 years), markets show increased volatility, and governmental credit ratings are downgraded, many of the experts assure us that things are getting better. But all they’ve shown is that they don’t really know what they’re doing. They know how to keep themselves well paid and in power, but beyond that, they haven’t fulfilled their purpose.

For example, imagine what would happen if we faced an economic depression like those the U.S. suffered in the 1930s, 1860s, or 1780s. When the Great Depression came, most Americans trusted the government, our leaders, and our national institutions. Today most citizens have very little trust in any of these; indeed, over sixty percent of Americas don’t trust the government to do the right thing most of the time. If crisis comes in this atmosphere of mistrust, few solutions from Washington will find enough traction to be successful.

This is a dominant characteristic of our times: We can’t seem to solve our national problems, big or small. We are mired in political squabbles, both between parties and within parties, and Washington accomplishes very little that actually helps the American people. It often causes harm, in fact.

As a people, we have largely lost trust not only in governmental officials and institutions but also in the media, Wall Street, Hollywood, the schools, big business…the list is long. Whom do we really trust as a people? Whom can we turn to in crisis—with real confidence they’ll fix things? In short, which experts do we really believe have our backs anymore?

If the promise of “experts will save us, and all our youth should become experts” doesn’t ring true anymore, what does? What is the answer? From the founding era through westward migration and the Industrial Revolution, the overarching goal of most Americans was to build a business and raise a family. This was our drive, our agenda. It was our national project, carried out by myriad individuals and families.

Then after World War II we turned our gaze in another direction: the career, a profession, education as job training, and daily life spent meeting the needs of the corporation or whatever organization employed us. In short, experts ruled and most people wanted to be experts. If they couldn’t swing it themselves, they at least tried to make it a reality for their children. Even family goals were expected to bend or give way to the interests of employers. Schools, likewise, were reorganized to separate, grade, sort, and point young people in the direction most likely to meet corporate needs. Experts oversaw the entire process, literally from cradle to grave and almost everything in between.

As the evidence of expert limitations grows, and as our national faith in the power of experts to solve our problems erodes and crumbles, what is left? Where will we turn? A whole generation of Millennials grapple with this situation in their work life, and more decide to opt out of the system than join it. Where are we headed?

III.

So far, nobody can definitively answer these questions. Time will tell, but in the meantime we must do our best to understand and prepare for the economy and world that is emerging in the post-faith-in-experts era. My opinion is that the most likely path forward is to reconnect with our American roots and turn our sights once again toward entrepreneurship. Business ownership is, in fact, the historical American pastime. The fact that many people abandoned it for half a century only worked because a few business owners did things on a big enough scale to employ the many.

But eventually, like any system where the many depend on the few for survival and progress, the few began taking more and more of the profits and power for themselves. In history this was called aristocracy, in more recent times it has been called socialism, and in our day it often gets away with calling itself capitalism. But whatever we call it, such a model is a far cry from the free enterprise system that turned America into a world leader—based firmly on freedom and the goal of most people to be independent owners and build their own businesses.

If and when this goal once again permeates our national mindset and our people’s choices, we’ll see the rise of a nation of problem-solvers. At that point, we won’t be dependent on politicians to fix things, and as a result, things will actually get fixed. In the process, we’ll naturally see a decreasing attachment to political parties and the rise of a non-political majority of business owners and family raisers.

There was once a name for just such goals: “The American Dream.” It’s time to bring it back.

To put it succinctly: Experts won’t save us. Politicians won’t fix what ails our nation. The solution will come, if at all, from a cultural change that marks the resurgence of a certain kind of person. At one point in history, people around the world had a word for such independent-thinking mavericks who took risks and then worked incredibly hard to make their businesses flourish and grow. They called them “Americans.” What qualified one for such a title? A burning drive to build and lead one’s own business, and to raise a family and community of young people with the same goal.

I think we’ll witness the rebirth of this same “tide in human affairs” very soon. In fact, I believe it’s already begun. But it faces strong headwinds blowing in the other direction, so we need to do better if we want the American Dream to succeed again. This is our key to the kind of future we want to pass down to our children and grandchildren.

Families, schools, communities and parents can either raise a nation of “independents” or a society of “dependents.” One will bring freedom and opportunity, the other won’t.

It’s our choice, and the decision won’t be made in Washington — or even at the ballot box.

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Chaos in Current Events!

June 21st, 2017 // 8:50 am @

History is Repeating Itself, But Do We Know Its Lesson?

Cycling Back Around

This is a chaotic time. Political scandals, media lies, shootings and violence based on political disagreements, terrorist attacks in formerly safe places. For the American people, it’s both frustrating and scary.

It helps to step back and take a deep breath, then turn to history for answers. Since patterns frequently repeat, they can tell us a lot about what’s actually happening—beyond the anger and intensity of nightly news reports. They can also tell us what’s coming.

Here’s how things work. Since the beginning of written history society has been split between three groups: 1) those in power, 2) those who have some power but are seeking more of it in order to be at the top of the power pyramid, and 3) other people who just want to live their lives. The good news is that in the United States today, a higher number of people are free to enjoy life and seek to live their dreams than perhaps any other society in known history. That’s worth smiling about, no matter what the news tells us.

On the other hand, a lot of people today have a sense that things are heading in the wrong direction. We have a lot of problems, both here and abroad, and it often feels as if some spark will soon set off some kind of powder keg that leads to real crisis. It’s a feeling like many Americans experienced in the late 1930s and early 1940s, or in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The American founding generation felt it at the beginning of the 1770s. In each of these cases, that sense of unease and anxiety was eventually followed by drastic challenges—Pearl Harbor, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War.

Indeed, according to the cycles of history, we’re in that same turn of the pattern right now. It’s unclear exactly what will happen to bring bigger national crisis, but a lot of people feel a foreboding sense that something momentous is about to come.

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

To put this in clear perspective, the news right now is a tale of four nations.

One: the business news reports almost daily signs of an economic upturn, more financial opportunity, and budding growth in a rebooting economy.

Two: international news reports increasing terror attacks, alarming danger signs in North Korea, Iran and from ISIS, and a looming energy building for more conflicts ahead with Russia and China.

Three: the mainstream media portrays the Trump White House and the Republican Congress as ineffective, and throws out daily allegations of Administration corruptions, lies, conspiracies and hidden agendas to hurt the nation.

Four: conservative media debunks these mainstream reports and points instead to the kind of alleged corruption on the Left: Loretta Lynch, James Comey, the Clinton Foundation, illegal leaks, violent “Resisters”, DNC collusion with the mainstream media, Hillary Clinton’s emails, etc.

It is amazing how often these competing sources of media tell exactly the opposite story about a given event from the day’s news. Most people listening to all the reports are left deeply confused, or cynical. And those who only listen to one news source are frequently surprised by what friends tell them about the news. “But I listened to the total opposite on the morning news! You must be remembering that wrong.”

To make sense of all this, let’s put aside the noise and distraction. Let’s be as blunt and direct as possible: We are living in one of those historical periods where we face an existence-level conflict. We are literally in the midst of an existential war. Such wars are both cold and hot, violent and emotional. They are deeply rooted in the conflict between major ideas—with two cultures battling to survive, to win, and to thrive. But each side feels that it must fully defeat an opposing culture in order to survive.

Such intellectual wars have always existed, but they only reach a crisis-point like the one we are now experiencing when certain factors align. First, instead of a general conflict among ideas, the populace finds itself facing off in a dramatic disagreement between two major viewpoints, two overall paradigms that cannot peacefully coexist. Second, the stakes are high enough that almost everyone in the society firmly picks one of the two sides. Even people who are usually moderate, or generally centrist in their views, feel strongly enough about the current situation to put aside their typical willingness to see both good and bad on both sides. They now clearly see one side as right and the other as wrong. Many people go further—they see their side as Good, and the other as Evil.

Third, and this is where—according to historical patterns—the real danger sets in, more and more people find their emotions leading them, and they stop really thinking about current events. Symbols, which are always important in society, become the main thing in such eras. Symbols take over. For example, we now live in a nation where millions of people don’t even consider a certain policy if it is supported by the Trump Administration. They immediately think they “know” it is bad, wrong, hurtful—as soon as the name Trump is attached. In contrast, millions of other people have the exact same emotional reaction to anything attached to the name Obama, or Hillary Clinton. Rationality, consideration, and even empathy, are largely ignored. Millions basically turn off their brains and simply react to symbols—and their reactions are emotional, charged, and frequently downright angry. This turns violent more often than in less extreme eras of history.

Diverging Paths

In the current environment, winning has become the only goal for many in leadership, and for a majority of the population. And winning itself is defined as having certain people in power and in office, and/or other specific people out of power and out of office. Nothing but winning is acceptable to far too many in positions of influence and power—both public and in the private sector.

But there is an even worse situation, and it is the one we are now living. This occurs when one side believes that winning is the only important thing, and is willing to go to any length, any extreme, to win, while the other side still believes that some things are more important than winning.

When this happens, the side that only cares about winning becomes truly extreme, loses its moral sense and ethical compass, and goes entirely on the attack, using any means and justification it can muster. The other side, still convinced that morality is more important than winning, holds back, tries to show restraint, and attempts to use reason and appeals to decency to make its case. The result, in history, is mixed:

  • If an election is near, the anger gets channeled to the voting booth and a winning number of voters weigh in and throw their support behind the side arguing for decency, goodness, and wisdom.
  • If no election is imminent, the anger grows and is expressed mostly by the political class: those on the full attack win, while the side seeking reason and decency loses.

We are now witnessing the latter scenario. And history is clear on this point: Nations are drastically hurt by this approach. It tore the United States apart in the 1960s, where we witnessed the assassination of a President and two other major national leaders, along with massive violence, cultural civil war, and the destruction of national trust and cooperation. Similar events tore nations apart during the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and Bismarck’s Wars. The French and Indian War, the War of the Roses, the 30 Years War, and a number of others followed the same pattern. World War I took Europe for a similar ride—or, more precisely, a similar culture war culminated in the muddy trenches full of blood and machine-gun casings that webbed the continent in World War I.

In each case, it came down to two great, competing ideas or cultures, large or powerful groups supporting each side, and, eventually, the rise of symbol to extreme levels that incited violence, irrationality, and all-out culture war. We are now witnessing the same stew. Any who aren’t alarmed, or at least deeply concerned, don’t understand the ebbs and flows of history.

The solution, as history teaches, is to clearly identify which idea is right—and reject the other. This finally ended the great conflicts listed above, whether the conflicting ideas were communism vs. democratic free enterprise, a divine right of kings vs. the inalienable rights of all, Nazism vs. parliamentary democracy, imperialism vs. self-determination, slavery vs. individual rights, etc.

Follow or Lead?

To make matters even more challenging, today we are engaged in two such wars at the same time. First, there is the battle of radical Islamic terrorism vs. democratic inalienable rights. The clear winner will be democratic inalienable rights, which is more popular than terrorism among Muslims and pretty much everyone else around the world. Only the terrorists themselves, a very small minority of the world’s population, think theirs is the right idea.

The second great war being fought right now for control of our future is more complex. More difficult. Indeed, it threatens to tear our modern societies apart. It consists of, to put it as directly as possible, the competing ideas of democracy vs. aristocracy.

Elites choose the latter. They think society should be run by a few, and that the rest of us should accept the rule of our “betters.” And be grateful.

This is the underlying battle of our times. It is the war being fought in Washington D.C. between the Establishment and the American voters, and in most of our schools (where young people are largely convinced that success consists of getting a job working for elites, showing gratitude to elites, and kowtowing to elites in return for the promised salaries, promotions, and employee benefits). It is the war being fought on our campuses, and in most of the television programs and movies we consume.

Sometimes the message from schools, campuses, and the entertainment media is blatant, while other times it is subtle. But the message is nearly always the same: “the values of elites are best”, and “the rule of elites in all walks of life is just the way things are—and the way things should be”. This viewpoint is repeated over and over: “The best we can do is fall in line and get the kind of education and careers elites want for us.” Few people are able to spend many years in this system without succumbing to its promises and threats.

Perhaps the very center of this war is the media. Nearly every mainstream media report today communicates the same message: elites are the answer, we all need to adopt and celebrate elite values, all other values are obsolete or inferior, the voters get it wrong when they don’t follow elite media guidance, and the best path for our children is to embrace elite values and get the kind of good jobs that are mostly available working for elites and furthering elite agendas. The message is clear, and it is repeated from many of our most venerated institutions: “Everyone who isn’t an elite, or working for elites, is a loser, an outsider, an inferior.”

The Choice Right Now

This is not an exaggeration. Step back, look at our society today, the culture wars that are brewing, the leaders and their battles, and the news media. We are the world described just above—run “of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites.” The United States is a society at war, and the war is democracy vs. aristocracy. Note that aristocracy is promoted by nearly all of our major societal institutions. We are a world where all men and women are created equal, to paraphrase Orwell, but some, the elites (and those who adopt elite values and work for their goals), are to be treated more equal than others.

When the voters put in presidents and other leaders approved by elites they are applauded by the same elites. Media, academia, television, movies and experts of all stripes laud such officials and those who voted for them. When voters elect anyone who threatens or challenges elite values or goals, these same institutions turn to full attack mode. It’s like a pack of jackals going after their worst enemy. It’s Lord of the Flies. The courts are brought to bear, the media is weaponized, schools and universities become arms of elite propaganda, and the bulk of professionals and experts turn their attention to reversing or amending electoral “mistakes.” The voters must be kept in their place. Their superiors must rule.

Again, to history—it has always been thus. In fact, this is what Burke and Santayana were talking about when they warned that those who don’t learn from the mistakes of history are bound to repeat them. Specifically: The aristocrats have always known how to respond when a bit of democracy raises its head in challenge. They lie, they attack, they use innuendo, they mischaracterize, they publish false reports—followed by more false reports. When they do tell the truth, they spin it to promote their narrative. Where possible, they employ character assassination. If these fail, they look for another way. Any way to bring back elite rule and control.

This can go two ways, history shows us. If the people are swayed by such elite manipulations and tactics, the elites quickly regain their power. If not, if the people hold strong against elitist lies, agendas, and domination, democracy spreads and free enterprise flourishes.

Make no mistake. No matter how it looks (and remember that elites almost single-handedly control how it looks), the battles we witness on the nightly news are not personality vs. personality or even political party vs. political party. Something deeper is afoot. Aristocracy and Democracy are at war. Rule by elites vs. rule by the regular people. This is a true fork in the road. We will either remain a democratic, free enterprise nation, or we will become a fully functioning aristocracy.

This is our choice. Right now. And it boils down to whether we let the media sway our views, or not.

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Increase Your Influence By Ian Cox

April 19th, 2017 // 8:05 am @

by Ian A Cox

The Biggest Question

Wow! That’s deep.

The thought kept recurring as I read. The article, written by an innovator, filled me with numerous ideas—old and new—about Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. The author showed how this classic work, and others like it, are relevant to national events right now, including the famous–not to mention great–maxim: “That government is best which governs least.”

The author showed how this applies to our current national challenges. The biggest question that came to me as I read  was something we all need to consider:

“How can we increase our influence in a world that seems to be heading in the wrong direction?”

This isn’t just a rhetorical question. We have more power than we might realize. The struggle for freedom resets with every new generation.[1]

We are always one generation away from potentially losing our liberty. Education is key, and understanding freedom is a must for those who hope to protect and spread freedom.

Moreover, the battle for freedom resets in certain predictable ways. In his book We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident, Oliver DeMille gives some perspective on this fateful struggle for freedom in the United States after we gained our independence.

Here’s a summary:

  • The House of Representatives was the first to vie for power, as early as the 1790’s. But the executive branch flexed its muscles as well and managed to stop the over-reaching House.
  • In the early 19th Century the Marshall Court pushed for widespread control, but the Presidents during the time were able to largely obstruct court expansion (checks and balances = obstruct).
  • Next, the mid-19th Century saw a resurgence of local governments as prejudices ran rampant and public servants and jurors turned a blind eye to injustice. This was eventually curbed by the exodus of many oppressed groups and minorities to the west, which created new regions and states, increasing the federalizing power (the Electoral College).
  • The States then pushed for dominance of power in the mid-to-late part of the 19th Century, but were beaten by the combined federal powers of the three branches of government.
  • An Aristocratic Senate was the leading power center of the early 20th Century, but it only gained influence where the Court allowed.
  • The Executive branch stole the baton from the Senate in the settling dust of the Second World War, and this continues today. In fact, its aggressive competitor for power is the Supreme Court—both take turns usurping influence.

A great strength of the United States Constitution is the multi-layered governmental system it created, including a network of intricate checks and balances, as outlined above. The price of human nature and usurping freedoms from others is that power doesn’t decrease; it only transfers to other branches that tend to increase their power in order to bring back a proper balance. In each of these eras a complete takeover was thwarted, but power was centralized and freedoms gradually slipped away.

Deciding Our Fate

This power pendulum persistently swings back and forth, from one group to another, until more individuals take up their true duties as citizens (real influence).

This can occur 1) peacefully, 2) when a violent reset happens (like the Civil War), or 3) when our society collapses and something new is established out of the ashes.

The peaceful option is clearly preferable.

These issues and problems are not merely something we need to think about for today and tomorrow. We must embrace these things with a generational perspective. Because they exist on a grander scale, we have to ask the important questions. Are we solving the problem, or are we stopping one problem by creating a new one?

For example, the Civil War was practically written into the original Constitution; it was a paradox in the fabric of the whole system. Either the joint founding ideals of “all men are created equal” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” had to be done away with, or slavery had to go. Both could not ultimately flourish together.

Likewise, the Mexican-American War (against Spain) was guaranteed as soon as the Monroe Doctrine was adopted. And, once we decided that extensive international relations via broad treaties were in our best interest, we accepted the wars of Europe as our own.

Phillip Bobbitt’s Shield of Achilles shows how we inadvertently embed the battles that future generations must fight into the chinks and weaknesses of the systems and programs we create today. The establishment of organizations like the Federal Reserve, Internal Revenue Service, and International Monetary Fund created the inevitable outcome of hyper-inflation, boom-bust cycles, and fiat currency, to name a few.

To a great extent, we are always creating our future crises.

Is this the society and government we want to fund with our taxes? Is this the group we want to endorse with our good name? To stand with confidence, with a clean conscience, and to fulfill each of our moral obligations, we must ask ourselves the hard questions. Here I reiterate the innovator’s call to action; we must not be the ostrich with our heads buried in the sand–but we also must avoid falling victim to a conquering Caesar (or a Byzantine bureaucracy[2]).

Revolutionary Options

There are a few options that have historically worked in changing a society’s fate. Some of these alternatives are still very possible today, while others are becoming less and less available to most people. Here’s a breakdown of the top three from history:

1) Exodus

You pack up and leave, in hopes of finding a better place to restart. This has happened successfully many times in many cultures, but it is risky. Today there are very limited options for this choice. We have different forms and styles of government to pick from, but there isn’t untamed land that can be cultivated and founded from the ground up.

2) Violence

This is probably the most common form of rebellion. A group raises up arms and fights, in hope of overthrowing or removing tyrants. This method usually fails—not that it doesn’t remove the tyrants from power, but it typically breeds revolution after revolution[3] and more often than not, ends with some new tyrant. In most cases, little actually gets fixed.

3) Civil Influence

In the modern world, civil influence has become the regular, expected, and non-violent form of change. This was brought about in large part by the spread of more democratic forms in societies and governments. As the people’s standard of living, education, and access to information worldwide increases, so does their ability to get involved and flex their muscles as the first and foremost branch of any governmental form.[4] This is the at times slowest method of change, but often the most successful in the long-term.

Where civil influence was once answered with the death sentence (if you weren’t in the ruling class), it is now a real and viable option for any member of society to initiate the spark of change. This requires us, as John Locke argued, to be tolerant. Like the original thirteen colonies, we have now reached a point where the regular people need each other in order to get the right things done. This means we need to work with people who don’t always perfectly agree with us in every detail—or even in many details.

Now, this doesn’t mean we don’t stand for what is right or shirk our moral duties, but rather that we pick our battles. If we are constantly coming out against everything that peeves us, nobody will listen when it really matters (e.g. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”). Some things will absolutely happen in society that we dislike. But we can’t let disagreement make us disagreeable. It’s actually good that there are differing views on important issues. In fact, we should have a Hamilton and a Jefferson at each other’s throats in cabinet meetings, Congressional floor debates, and Supreme Court decisions–because it leads to more considered and effective solutions in the end.

More importantly, to really have influence, it is helpful not to be the guy who people hate at parties, always harping about the latest issue. Build friends, foster relationships, and focus your political influence when the time and topic are right. That said, be ready and watchful. The right time and topic will come.

Hope for a Better Future

A government by the people will largely be a reflection of the people. It could be a great government if a Moses, Marcus Aurelius, George Washington, Confucius, Muhammad, Cincinnatus, etc. is at its head; but as history has shown, it wouldn’t last. Maintaining a long-lived and successfully free society demands that a lot more citizens think and understand the principles of freedom (at the same level as, or better still, higher level than, our political leaders).

If you and I do this and we invite our communities to do the same, if “we the people” take on the responsibility to govern ourselves, we can and will have the best type of government—one that need only govern least. We must stop passing the buck on the hard things, or someone else will gladly take them up and decide for us. We the people, the first and original branch of government, have always had the most power to check and balance our government, and that hasn’t changed in today’s world.

An elite class can only rule when most of the citizens don’t have the same level of learning.

With persistence, civil influence really can provide proper checks and balances against the potential threats to freedom that naturally exist wherever power resides. In truth, it’s ultimately the only thing that does. It can be difficult. It takes patience, vigilance, study, understanding, and sacrifice.

But it does work.

Notes

[1] See, for example, the struggles of ancient Greece to unite city-states (unity vs. sovereignty), and the same issues in the nations of Europe and later the American colonies.

[2] A much more likely outcome in our situation.

[3] Consider the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, etc.

[4] From the American Revolution to Brexit.

About the Author

Ian A Cox is an entrepreneur and consultant who mentors leadership and the Liberal Arts for students and business men and women of all ages and levels. Ian is a popular keynote speaker at educational and business events. He loves reading, basketball, and discussing deep ideas on history and political science. Ian and his wife Emma have two sons.

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Symbol vs. Substance

February 27th, 2017 // 7:44 am @

(The Reality of Today’s Political Protestors)

Thought vs. Feeling

Liberty BellNo doubt about it. Symbols matter. The flag. The national anthem. Stories about great heroes from history, such as Paul Revere or George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Jr. In short, symbols move us. They take on a life of their own—above the historical facts, more important to peoples’ hearts and minds than mere reality. “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story,” as Samuel Clemens put it.

Symbol has power. But not as much power as truth. The simple, genuine truth is even more formidable than symbol. Not always as influential, or persuasive, in the short term—but more important. Compare two views of the world:

Symbol over Substance: “Perception is reality.”

Substance over Symbol: “The truth shall set you free.”

The truth is that perception isn’t reality; reality is reality. Period. But perception, or symbol, does have great power. That’s why the arts are often more influential than science or logic: symbols make us feel, and feel deeply, and when our feelings are at high pitch our minds usually follow.

When politics is added to this mix, the results are interesting. Or, in more symbolic language: when our emotions take over politics, everything becomes larger than life–even overwhelming. The feelings are strong, tied to deeply emotional symbols: the White House, the media, election night agony or ecstasy. As a child I was always surprised at how much emotion adults exhibited when the names Nixon or Carter were mentioned. Immediate anger, or sadness, or a smile. Then came the name Ronald Reagan—a certain cause of sudden frowns or grins, depending on whom I was talking to at the time.

I wonder at today’s children. Say “Barack Obama” to them, or “Hillary Clinton,” and the immediate response is extreme. Happy or sad. Smiles or anger. Hardly ever anything in between. Say “Donald Trump” to our youth, and adults, and the response is pretty much never boring or uninterested. Anger, yes. Joy, yes. Sometimes mixed emotions. But seldom lukewarm.

Look Both Ways

Chicken-eagle-croppedSuch symbols have power. Indeed, to a large extent, the symbols of our modern politics dominate public opinion.

But substance still matters. It is, in fact, vitally important. If we limit our understanding of politics to symbol, we’ve got a major national problem. Jon Stewart pointed this out very effectively when he noted that while many of his friends voted for Hillary Clinton, those who alternatively voted for Donald Trump didn’t do so because they support racism or calling people names, but because they tended to believe he’d be better for the economy.

In short, every top political figure is really two people: the symbol and the substance. To understand both is mature. To ignore both, thinking that the political leader is really only the symbol, or only the substance, is inaccurate and short-sighted.

The old adages “Focus on the issues” or “It’s the economy, stupid,” suggest that substance is king, that ultimately the voters choose based on the issues. But daily media spin and the words of celebrities, singers, actors (Oscars, Grammys, Music Awards, Hollywood, etc.) emphasize the other view—that symbolism is the real battle. One popular song says that we don’t want science, we want signs.

In the Information Age, the symbols frequently consume us. Wise citizens see through media spin that paints a leader as all symbol. But such citizens aren’t so fully swayed by substance that they think symbol doesn’t matter.

This is complex. It’s difficult for wise citizens, because they must weigh both the symbol and the substance of each political candidate, and decide which mix is best for the nation.

Just Symbol

The two big political parties make it even more difficult, by constantly trying to put symbol above substance, trying to convince voters that their party is best and their candidate best—regardless of the details or the optics, how things really are, or how things look. “Just vote for us” the parties assure us. “We’re right; the other side is wrong. Always.”

Again, astute citizens see through the smokescreen. They identify each candidate’s substance, and symbols, and make the difficult choice. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had more candidates who were strong both on issues and symbols?

For some, President Obama met that standard. The symbols were strong: first black president in the United States. Wonderful! The American Dream is real, the symbol of Obama assures us. For those who like weaker national security, supporting Israel’s enemies, more government intervention in the economy, and further regulating peoples’ lives, Obama made sense. But for people who wanted to reduce governmental regulation and get the economy booming, while strengthening our national security, Obama’s tenure left much to be desired.

Neither McCain nor Romney offered something clearly different. The overwhelming symbol of both was “more of the same,” “a repeat of the status quo,” “a continuation of the Bush Administration.” Both candidates actually offered significant differences in their policies—but the symbol most voters experienced was still “the same old thing.”

Hillary had a similar problem. Her policies and symbols offered voters “more years like the Obama era.” For many Americans, particularly among those who were hurting economically, the idea of more Hillary/Obama policies was appalling. They wanted something drastically different. They yearned for change. In fact, it is very possible that if Bernie Sanders had been the Democratic nominee, with his powerful symbols of change, he would have won the White House.

This is the complexity of voting. Sanders and Trump both owned the symbol of “massive change”, while by 2016 the leading Hillary/Obama symbol was “no change, bad economy.” For some, Hillary symbolized “first woman president,” but the larger public view for many was “more of the same”. She found this symbol too deeply ingrained in the populace to overcome.

Diverging Paths

flamout-SOL-TCAIn other words, voters don’t just have to choose who to vote for in presidential elections, they also need to choose their personal voting criteria: for specific policies, or for the symbols. It can be even more challenging than this, in fact. Voters also have to choose between every candidate’s good and bad symbols, and good and bad policy promises.

For example, Trump lost a lot of votes because he too often symbolized “acting like a jerk, attacking people who disagree with him, being insensitive to women, minorities, the disabled, etc.” But he gained votes with citizens who believed he symbolized “truly big change in Washington” or who focused on the issues of “booming economy and stronger national security.” Many voters hated the first set of symbols, but liked the second.

In earlier elections, Obama supporters had to choose between the motivating symbols of “yes we can” or “breaking the glass ceiling of race” and the divisive symbols of “Americans cling to their religion and their guns,” as if personal faith and individual freedoms are somehow suspect. This lost him votes, but it gained him votes as well. No candidate’s take on the issues is perfect for a majority of voters.

Hamilton and Madison started the Federalist Papers with a discussion of this same reality. Specifically, Federalist 1 notes that a number of wise and good people opposed the new constitution, while a lot of wise and good people supported it. With any important issue, Hamilton assures us, there are wise and good people on both sides. How can this be? The answer, Hamilton explains, is that only bad people do the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, but good people act in three ways:

  • good people sometimes do the right thing for the right reason
  • good people sometimes do the right thing for the wrong reason
  • good people sometimes do the wrong thing for the right reason

In other words, in our day not everyone who voted for Hillary wanted the economy to get even worse or for public officials to be lax with national security emails, and not everyone who voted for Trump looks down on women and minorities or hates immigrants. The symbols and the substance aren’t in lock step. This makes attacking someone who wears a Trump hat or openly supports Hillary, for example, particularly disgusting kinds of physical abuse.

Indeed, while supporters of Hillary often downplay her use of emails as much less important than the media suggested, or note that her views on national security and trade were actually much stronger than Obama’s, even though the media refused to effectively show it, and Trump supporters will point out that he’s spoken widely of wanting more legal immigration (going against the Republican norm), symbols once ingrained in the public mind are hard to overcome. The reality is usually far deeper and more complex than the symbol.

Response and Responsibility

The truth is important: the symbols and the substance aren’t the same. The way the press portrayed Senator Clinton is only partially true, full of spin and falsehoods; same with President Trump. The reality has layers and levels. Wise citizens need to look deeper than party, media, and popular spin.

All this makes the violent protests of the Left even more ridiculous. Many on the Right hated President Obama’s policies and his perceived symbol of “bigger and bigger government” every bit as much as many on the Left now hate Trump’s approach. But instead of breaking windows, starting fires, looting, and violently assaulting those with a different view of things, they focused on working hard in their jobs, raising families, and serving in their communities.

They suffered under a president whose policies and perceived arrogance they deeply disliked, and with every Obama increase in regulation that made the Bush-era economy even worse. But they accepted the votes of those with a different view who put President Obama in office. They didn’t mob together to destroy property or physically assault people. Even the Tea Parties, as vocal as they were, didn’t make a national trend of out looting, burning, and assaulting. They focused instead of sharing ideas, seeking for a more favorable election outcome in the future.

Those on the Left who have chosen violence to protest the new president are entirely out of line. There violent acts are, in fact, illegal and immoral. Both the symbols and the substance of violent protest are wrong. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. stood loudly and effectively for peaceful protest, and left a powerful and noble legacy of standing up for change, for what they believed in, for what is right—the right way.

James Madison considered every election a “peaceful revolution”. There are ways to disagree in a civil society. Violence isn’t one of them.

In fact, the worst negative symbol of the Trump era is calling names and acting like a jerk to people who disagree with you. It’s often offensive, and sometimes extreme. Note that some of the talking heads on MSNBC and other networks have done the same thing for a long time. Still, two wrongs don’t make a right; both sides are to blame when they overstep the bounds of civil discourse.

But as bad as this is, at least it is done with words. The physical violence of those on the contemporary Left who loot and destroy in the name of political anger is a true tyranny in our time, a literal fascism in our midst—and the media who encourage this by portraying it as noble, or somehow blame it on the president or anyone else, or who refuse to condemn it in the strongest terms because the looters agree with their politics, are just as bad. This is precisely the wrong kind of symbol—and substance.

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