November 22nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
Few people feel a lot of optimism about this, however.
Palestinians argue that they are a people under siege, a nation under occupation. Many in Israel feel the same deep fear — they are a nation under siege by their neighbors, surrounded on all sides by an overwhelming and committed group of enemies.
Both sides feel that their very survival is on the line, and both see negotiations between Israel and Palestine as talks about the very future of the entire Middle East.
The stakes are high and the scenario is, as always, potentially explosive. The result is an almost systemic cynicism and pessimism from both sides and nearly all the spectators.
But there are some significant new factors at play now which could change the entire dialogue. The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts — whether you generally supported or opposed them — have influenced some major changes in the Middle East.
These could have great impact on the future. And other changes have caused a new situation in at least three major ways.
A New World
First, with the Cold War over, the whole context of Middle East issues has been altered. From the 1950s until the 1990s, almost everything discussed about Middle East peace was done in the context of U.S.-USSR relations.
The world was bipolar, and Middle East diplomacy followed this pattern.
Today, in contrast, there are many additional players. Russia still has interests in the area, but with the development of its own oil reserves these interests could be less strategically vital.
In fact, Russia’s economy has become an oil economy in the past 10 years. Disruption of oil from the Middle East could boost the Russian economy and increase European openness to Russian trade and cooperation.
As usual, Britain, France, Germany and others have a real concern for what happens in the Middle East. It’s no longer a U.S./Soviet-dominated game, and the U.S., Israel and Palestine have to deal with input from many more actors who have a stake in the game.
The Pacific Century
Second, China is on an epic journey of worldwide economic expansion. It is investing massively in Southern Asia and Africa — buying resources, land, businesses, transportation and communication companies and assets, etc.
It is also investing in Latin America, Oceania, Europe, North America and the Near and Middle East. This includes both public and private investment, but top Chinese leaders are unconvinced there is a real difference.
China hasn’t tipped its hand yet on strategy, but with all this ownership it certainly cares about major international talks — including in the Middle East. The U.S., Israel, Islamic states and everybody involved in Middle East diplomacy will have to deal with growing Chinese clout.
This is a reality, a growing one at that — and it will be for a long time to come.
The Joker in the Deck: Iran
Third, the Middle East itself has changed. It’s not your grandfather’s Middle East anymore. With the major shift of power in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in Pakistan and newly emerging economic power India, the political environment is much altered since the 1990s.
Instead of a Jewish-Muslim divide, the major conflict in the new Middle East may well be the growing division between the Sunnis and Iran.
Indeed, if “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” a naturally cooperative stance (one hesitates to use the word “alliance”) between Israel and all of Iran’s potential Islamic enemies is probably inevitable. It is already gaining momentum.
The conflicting agendas of Israel and Palestine are still very real, and they are increasingly couched in a region where Israel is sided with the Sunni states against Iran.
The list of those on the same side as Israel in this emerging conflict could bring a number of very interesting questions.
Where will Saudi Arabia stand? Egypt? Jordan? Iraq? Pakistan? Syria? Yes? No? Maybe? What about India? And where will the European Union stand?
For that matter, where will the U.S. position itself in a world where it is increasingly struggling to balance its own budgets and meet its own financial obligations? How long will the American people agree to keep spending money on Middle East issues?
Certainly the U.S. will want to maintain its alliance with Israel. But what else will it be able to afford? And with President Obama and the U.S. in general falling in popularity in the Islamic world, it is unclear what is ahead.
Of course, Iran’s push to be nuclear could impact this — drastically — in either direction. A nuclear Iran could strengthen an Israeli-Sunni alliance, for example. Ironically, an Israeli or American military response to Iran could do the same — or the exact opposite.
In a world so changed, even the experts aren’t convinced they know what’s ahead.
What is Needed from Americans
America became the world’s sole superpower in 1945, and within a decade Israel had been formed as a Jewish state and the USSR had become a second superpower.
The Middle East divide between Israel and its neighbors has been a constant for nearly all of America’s time as world leader.
Today all the constants are shifting. The Middle East arguably ended the superpower roles of both Great Britain and Russia, and the U.S. must consider its actions carefully to avoid being a third casualty of this conflicted region.
Still, America has real and lasting interests in the area, not the least of which are its historical alliance with Israel and, of course, oil.
The old lines in the sand have been blurred in the past 15 years, and many American citizens and leaders are unclear about what this means.
As the debate over the mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks on the trade towers shows, some Americans feel less than friendly toward Islam. Others are strongly supportive of the traditional American values of religious freedom and tolerance. This debate is argued in strong words and often heated tones.
But this makes it even more challenging for American leaders to know where we stand on Middle East issues.
If an Israeli-Sunni alliance continues to grow, for example, how will most Americans respond? And if the conflict with Iran turns violent in the months ahead, as nearly all experts predict, the stakes will rise again.
American leaders will have a hard time effectively representing American values until American citizens clarify what role and direction they want the U.S. to take in the Middle East. A few things have changed, and many stay the same.
Unfortunately, too often the American people have reacted knee-jerk and with shallow understanding to what goes on abroad. The future of the Middle East is too important for such tepid citizen involvement.
American citizens need to study up on the Middle East so they can decide where they stand — and thereby help guide and support their leaders in principled, wise and effective Middle East policy. This issue will not go away any time soon.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
Connect With Oliver:
November 12th, 2010 // 5:18 am @ Oliver DeMille
Certainly the rise of the Internet has revolutionized most industries, and its impact on education is expected to be significant. But the change in technology isn’t the only major shift which is impacting schooling.
The end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of world politics — and of course, politics always impacts education.
Also, economic struggles have caused nations to put a premium on expenses, with the result that education is being asked to meet higher standards in order to justify its cost.
All of this would seem to indicate the need for broader, more inclusive and expansive education, with a focus on quality teaching and increased excellence.
Instead, these three trends have combined to create a surprising result.
Where increased Internet connections at first promised to bring more understanding, tolerance and cooperation between groups, the opposite has too often occurred.
Though we have the world at our online fingertips and the ability to interact directly with those of differing views, ideas and values, too many people are joining cliques that promote a narrow mindset and exclude and mistrust all others. The defensive posture occasioned by economic challenges and world events seems to increase this tendency.
Where is the Melting Pot?
The 18th and 19th century ideal of a melting pot doesn’t seem to be spreading enough online. In the 1970s it sort of evolved into the salad bowl idea, where differences were welcome as we all mixed together in a single serving.
Now we’re lucky if the clans in society agree to occupy a separate station at the same smorgasbord.
The danger to freedom is significant, maybe even extreme. James Madison taught in Federalist 10 that numerous factions would benefit freedom by keeping any one or two groups from becoming too powerful.
All decent groups would have a say in the world in this model, Madison argued. This benefit still remains in the Internet era.
But Madison also argued that people would come together when great cooperation was needed, that people and groups would put aside differences and collaborate on the important things.
Unfortunately, this powerful cultural model is unraveling in our time.
The reason is simple: As people increase their connections with those who agree with them on most things, they begin to fall into groupthink, a malady where most of those you communicate with agree with you on most things and disagree with you on little. Each member of the group learns how to more effectively argue the clique’s talking points, and nearly everyone stops listening to other points of view.
From Madison’s day until the Internet age, such natural bonding with groups was always tempered by geography. No matter how hard people tried to interact only with like thinkers, no matter how hard they worked to keep their children free from diverse views, neighbors nearly always ruined this utopian scheme.
The debate, the discussion, the conversations amongst diverse peoples all living in a free society — these helped individual citizens become deep thinkers and wise voters, and it helped ensure that negative traditions slowly were replaced with better ones. Without such progress, no free society can retain its freedoms.
But in the virtual age, no such checks or balances are in place. Youth and adults in all educational models and work environments are able to avoid deep conversations about important topics like politics, beliefs and principles with all who disagree with them.
This is facilitating a clique mentality. Social networks, email, cell phones and the other emerging technologies all strengthen this trend away from diverse and connected communities and toward homogenous and exclusive cliques.
The problem is that such cliques are by their very nature arrogant, overly sure of their own correctness on nearly everything, and vocally and even angrily opposed to pretty much everyone outside of their own clique.
Unfortunately, they too often spend a great deal of energy and effort demeaning other people, groups and ideas. Such cliques typically refuse to admit their own weaknesses while they label and vilify “outsiders.”
On the positive side, this is one reason there are now more independents than either Democrats or Republicans: a lot of people just got tired of too much hyper-partisan rhetoric.
But this problem goes far beyond politics, and impacts nearly every segment of our society. It is like adopting Elementary or High School culture among the adults in our world.
Since education is always an outgrowth of society, this trend is a major concern. The rebirth of tribes in our time, many of them online tribes made up of people who find common ground and like to work together, is the positive side of this same trend.
Indeed, using technology to interact and connect with people you like and learn with is certainly constructive. Leaders are needed to help increase the positive melting pot on line and in social networks.
Hopefully this will continue to grow. But its negative counterfeit is an increasing problem.
|Tolerant, Inclusive, Friendly||Intolerant, Arrogant, Exclusive|
|Respectful of Other Views||Angry and Overly Critical of Other Views|
|Market by Helping You Find the Best Fit for You, From Them or Their Competitors||Market by Tearing Down Competitors to Build Themselves|
|Respect Your Ability to Make the Best Choices for You||Act As If You Need Their Expertise to Succeed and Will Fail Without Them|
|Offer to Help You Meet Your Needs||Try to Convince or Sell You to Act “Now” in the Way They Want, or You’ll Fail|
In short, the positive New Tribes offer you more freedom, empower you, and give you opportunities and options in a respectful and abundant way, while the clique mentality thinks it must “sell” you, convince you, and tear down the competition.
The New Tribes are relaxed, supportive and open, while cliques are closed, scarcity-minded and disrespectful of the competition and all “others.”
Ruining the Game
When my son was young he wanted to join a sports team, so I took him to watch a number of sports in progress. He ended up engaging karate, which became a long-term interest in his life.
During the visits to various sports venues, he witnessed an angry father at a little league baseball game. While most of the parents in attendance probably hoped their child would win, they seemed to find value in the game regardless of wins and losses; they apparently felt that the game was a positive experience for all the kids — for other children as well as their own.
One man took a different approach. He yelled and swore at each umpires’ calls that went against his child. He quite vocally demonized the other team and the other team’s coach. He stood behind the backstop when the other team was pitching and tried in many ways to distract the opposing pitcher.
He went after this 10-year-old pitcher from the other team like he actually wanted to hurt him. The boy’s coach had to go reassure the pitcher several times. I don’t know if the boy was afraid of the angry man, but he looked like it.
Most of the parents in the crowd were upset with this man, but they remained polite. After about 30 minutes of this, my eight-year-old son asked if we could leave. He was uncomfortable with the situation even as a mere spectator.
He never asked to go back to a baseball game, and we didn’t stay long enough to see if anything was done to help this man calm down. From the conversations in the crowd, it was clear that the man did this at every game.
I do believe that this man cared for his son and wanted to help him. He may have had many good intentions, and he certainly had some positive intentions. But he acted in the clique mentality. He did it without respect or proper boundaries.
(A new thought: I’m pretty sure he soured my son to playing baseball, but only now as I write this does it occur to me that maybe he also helped interest my son in karate for his own defense!)
A High-School-ization of Society
If you are this kind of a sports parent (or sports fan in high school, college or professional sports), you know who you are.
But do we not also see these clique behaviors too often in business, work, politics and even education?
Clearly the impact on education is significant. More to the point, the future of education can’t avoid being impacted by the High School-ization of culture.
Cliques are negative in many ways. And: they are just plain mean. They can do lasting damage even among youth; so imagine their potential impact when adopted by a significant and increasing number of adults of our society.
In short: the Cold War is over and we tend to look for enemies within rather than outside of our own nation; economic struggles of the past years have made most people less tolerant and more self-centered and even scared; and the technology of the day has made it easier than ever to connect with and only listen to a few people who tend to agree with us on almost everything.
Unless these tendencies change, things will only get worse. The future of education is closely connected with these trends, tendencies and perspectives.
Modern versus Shakespearean Mindsets
The great classical writer Virgil provides some insight into the challenge ahead for education. In our day we tend to see the world as prose versus poetry. Some might call this same split the left brain versus the right brain, science versus art, or logic versus creativity.
Using this modern view of things, some educational thinkers see the future of education as the continuing split between the test-oriented public and traditional private schools versus the eclectic personalization of charter, the new private and home schooling movements.
Or we may see the intermixing of these two models as traditional schools become more creative and new-fangled education becomes more test-focused.
In an earlier age, the Shakespearean world tended to divide learning into three categories: comedies, tragedies and satires.
Comedies show regular people working in regular circumstances and finding love or happiness in regular life.
Tragedies pit people against drastic challenges that test them beyond their limits and bring major changes to their lives and even the world.
Satires emphasize the futility of our actions and show us the power of fate, destiny and other things we supposedly cannot control.
Applying this mindset, one would expect to see a future of education with all three outcomes. Comedic approaches to education try to make sure everyone gets basic literacy and that all schools meet minimum standards. No child can be left behind in this education for the regular people — and we’re all regular people.
In contrast, some will seek for a truly great education and to make a great difference in the world. If they fail, the tragedy is the loss of their potential greatness to the world. If they succeed, the world will greatly benefit from their leadership, contributions and examples.
All education should be great, this view maintains, and all people have potential greatness within. If I thought the Shakespearean worldview was driving our future, I would be of this view.
A satirical stance would argue that some people will get a poor education and yet do great things in their careers and family. Others, according to this view, will get a superb education and then either fail to accomplish much of anything or do many bad things with their knowledge.
Education has little correlation with life, the satirist maintains. Fund education better, or don’t; increase standards, or not; emphasize learning or just ignore it—none of this matters much in the satirical view. A few will rise, a few will fall, most will stay in the middle, and education will have little to do with any of this.
I disagree with this perspective, and I believe that history is proof of its inaccuracy. There are, of course, a few exceptions to any system, model or rule; but for the most part a quality educational model has a huge impact on the freedom and prosperity of society.
But I do not believe that either the modern or the Shakespearean mindsets will influence our future as much as that from and even earlier age — the era of Virgil.
I am convinced that Virgil’s understanding of freedom eclipses both of these others. Virgil witnessed Rome losing many of its freedoms, and he saw how the educational system had a direct impact on this loss.
In the Virgilian model, education is not modeled on the conflict between left and right brains nor on the battles and interplay between comedy, tragedy and satire.
Instead, he saw learning as the interactions of the epic, the dialectic, the dramatic, and the lyric.
In our post-Cold-War, Internet-Age, financially challenging world, our learning is deeply connected with all four of these.
Epic education means learning from the great(est) stories of humanity in all fields of human history and endeavor, from the arts and sciences to government and history to leadership and entrepreneurship to family and relationships, and on and on.
By seeing how the great men and women of humanity chose, struggled, succeeded and failed, we gain a superb epic education. We learn what really matters.
The epics include all the greats — from the great scriptures of world religions to the great classics of philosophy, history, mathematics, art, music, etc.
Epic education focuses on the great classic works of mankind from all cultures and in all fields of learning.
Dialectic education uses the dialogues of mankind, the greatest and most important conversations of history and modern times. This includes biographies, original writings and documents that have made the most difference in the world. It is also very practical and includes on-the-job style learning.
Again, this tradition of learning pulls from all cultures and all fields of knowledge.
It especially focuses on areas (from wars and negotiations to courts of law and disputing scientists, to arguing preachers and the work of artists, etc.) where debating sides and conflicting opponents gave rise to a newly synthesized outcome and taught humanity more than any one side could have without opposition. Most of the professions use the Dialectic learning method.
Dramatic learning is that which we watch. This includes anything we experience in dramatic form, from cinema and movies to television and YouTube to plays, reality TV programs, etc.
In our day this has many venues—unlike the one or two dramatic forms of learning available in Virgil’s time. There is a great deal to learn from drama in its many classic, modern and post-modern modalities.
Lyric education is that which is accompanied by music, which has a significant impact on the depth and quality of how we learn. It was originally named for the Lyre, a musical instrument that was used for musical accompaniment during a play, or with poetic or prose reading.
Some educational systems still use “classical” (especially Baroque) and other types of music to increase student learning of languages, memorized facts and even science and math.
And, of course, most Dramatic (media) learning is presented with music.
With all this as background, I think the future of education is very much in debate. My reasons for addressing this are:
- It appears that far too few people are engaged in the current discussion that will determine the future of education.
- Even most who are part of the discussion are hung up on things like public versus private schools, funding, testing, left versus right brain, minimum standards for all (comedic) versus the offer of great education for most (to avoid tragedy), teacher training, regulations, policy, elections, etc.
- I know of very few people considering the future of education from its deepest (what I’m calling Virgil’s) level.
Specifically, our current technology has changed nearly everything regarding education, meaning that in the Internet Age the cultural impact of the Dramatic and Lyric styles of learning over the other types threaten to undo American freedom.
In short, freedom in any society depends on the education of the citizens, and when the Epic and Dialectic disappear, freedom soon follows.
And make no mistake: The Epic and Dialectic models of learning are everywhere under attack. They are attacked by the political Left as elitist and contrary to social justice; they are attacked by the political Right as useless for one’s career advancement.
They are attacked by the techies as old, outdated and at best quaint. They are attacked by the professions as “worthless general ed. courses,” and by too many educational institutions as “irrelevant to getting a job.”
But most of all (and this is far and away their most lethal enemy) they are supplanted by the simple popularity and glitz of the Dramatic and Lyric.
I do not believe that the Dramatic, Lyric and other parts of the entertainment industry have an explicit agenda to hurt education or freedom—far from it. They bask in a free economy that buys their products and glorifies their presenters.
Nor are Dramatic and Lyric products void of educational content or even excellence. Many movies, television programs, musical offerings and online sites deliver fabulous educational value.
Songs and movies, in fact, teach some of the most important lessons in our society and many teach them with elegance, quality and integrity.
But with all the good the Dramatic and Lyric styles of learning bring to society, the reality is that both free and enslaved societies in history have had Dramatic and Lyric learning.
In contrast, no society where the populace is sparsely educated in the Epics has ever remained free. Period. No exceptions.
And in the freest nations of history (e.g. Golden Age Greece, the Golden Age of the Roman Republic, the height of Ancient Israel, the Saracens, the Swiss vales, the Anglo-Saxon and Frank golden ages, and the first two centuries of the United States, among others), both the Epic and Dialectic styles of learning have been deep and widespread among the citizenship of the nation.
If we want to remain a free society, we must resurrect the use of Epic education in our nation.
Using Virgil’s models of learning as a standard, I am convinced that we are now choosing between six possible futures for our societal education—and freedom. Our choice, at the deepest level of education, is to select one of the six following options (or something very much like them):
I. Epic Only.
Since all societies adopt Dramatic and Lyric methods of learning, this model would make Epic education official in academic institutions and leave the Dramatic and Lyric teaching to the artists. Such a model is highly unlikely in a world where career seriously matters and has only been applied historically in slave cultures with strong upper classes.
(Theoretically, this model might be offered to all citizens in society instead of the more elitist model of history. But without career preparation, some in the lower and middle classes would be lacking in opportunity regardless of the quality of their Epic education.) This model is very bad for prosperity and freedom.
II. Dialectic Only.
Again, such a society would have non-school Dramatic and Lyric offerings and schools would emphasize career training, job preparation, and basic skills for one’s professional path.
Business, leadership and politics would be run by trained experts and citizens would have little say in governance. Like the aristocracies of history, this model is not friendly to freedom — though it can support prosperity for a short time.
III. Dramatic and Lyric Only.
Only tribal societies have adopted such a model, and they were easily conquered by enemies and marauders. This model is not good for prosperity or freedom.
IV. Epic and Dialectic Together.
Again, the Dramatic and Lyric would still be part of the society but not a great part of the schools. Unfortunately, without the Dramatic and Lyric taught together with the Epic and Dialectic, the Epic is greatly weakened.
Societies which have tried this, like modern Europe and North America, have seen the Epic greatly weakened and the Dialectic take over nearly all education. This is bad for freedom and long-term prosperity.
V. All Four Types as Separate Specialties.
In this model, young students would receive only a basic broad education and would focus on a specialty early on. Each type of learning could be very well developed, but each person would only be an expert in one (or, rarely, two).
This was attempted by many nations in Western Europe, and to a lesser extent Canada and the U.S., since World War II. The results were predictable: freedom and prosperity suffered for all but the most wealthy (who got interconnected Epic, Dialectic, Dramatic and Lyric education in private schools).
VI. All Four Types as Interconnected Learning.
This combines great Epic, Dialectic, Dramatic and Lyric learning together—for nearly all students in society.
Moreover, all four options are available to all students in public schools and the laws also allow for numerous private, home and other non-traditional options with parents as the decision makers.
An additional natural effect of this system is that the adult citizens of society are deeply involved in learning throughout their lives — using all four types of learning and applying all knowledge to their roles as citizens and leaders. This model has been the most beneficial to prosperity and freedom throughout history.
The choice between these types of education is being made today. During the Cold War, especially after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, American leaders determined to de-emphasize Epic education and focus on the Dialectic.
Then they further weakened this choice by dumbing down the textbooks and workbooks when they removed much of the actual dialogues which formed the basis of each field of human knowledge.
Later, facing the increasing popularity of career-focused schooling, states and school boards took much of the Dramatic and Lyric out of the schools. Indeed, the last two generations of students were mostly educated in a shallow version of the Dialectic Only.
The consequence to freedom has been consistently negative for at least four decades. It has also widened the gap between “the rich” and “the rest” and reduced general economic opportunity.
Today, we must make the choice to resurrect truly quality education. If we make the right choice, we will see education and freedom flourish. If not, we will witness the decline of both. Indeed, we simply must make the right choice.
We must also realize that this is not a choice for the experts. If the educational or political experts make this choice alone, it will mean that the people as a whole have not chosen to be educated as free citizens.
We must all do better in studying all four styles of learning, and in engaging the technology of our day to learn from diverse views and spread important ideas far and wide — to all groups and people, not just some narrow clique.
It is time for a new type of citizen to arise and earn our freedoms. As Virgil put it long ago:
Now the last age…
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew;
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven…
Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
Connect With Oliver:
November 2nd, 2010 // 2:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is often cited by people trying to see where America is on the long path of her place in history.
Certainly the detail of Gibbon’s work is full of specifics and nuance. But another work may be even more helpful.
Although it is more general in treatment, Arnold Toynbee’s great A Study of History covers many civilizations through history as he tries to understand the overall patterns and principles of societal successes and failures.
Why Societies Grow and Succeed
Toynbee shows that through history, certain things have helped civilizations grow and succeed, while other things haven’t had such an impact.
For example, it is neither a society’s institutions nor an economic division of labor that are responsible for success (as some historians have suggested).
Even societies that don’t grow or succeed have their institutions and divisions of labor. Nor do race or environment cause success or failure, as some have erroneously argued. Neither are religion and beliefs the cause (more on this later).
The one thing all great civilizations in history have in common, the thing which has spurred them to greatness, is adversity.
Indeed, the challenges of the world are necessary, historically, for any people to become advanced.
Sometimes such challenges spring from environment, but in such cases it is the difficulty of the environment rather than its ease which incentivizes progress.
Likewise, religions which teach of a great battle between good and evil and elicit individual involvement in this battle serve as pacers of accomplishment.
Adversity may include the stimuli of hard countries, frontier, outside aggression, external pressures, and of weaknesses or failures. And, according to Toynbee, “the greater the challenge, the greater the stimulus.”
As long as adversity doesn’t actually destroy or cause a society to burn out, it is the major spur to growth, progress and success.
Three other things can cause a civilization to slow and eventually fail.
- First, strong slave, caste or class systems ineffectively harvest the leadership/creativity pool and lead to failure.
- Second, little success occurs where significant specialization creates a mass of focused workers and the managers of society are political and/or financial experts.
- Third, a major challenge or crisis just as a people is becoming powerful can at times be insuperable.
This third eventuality, however, can also be the catalyst of much greater success, wealth, growth and power.
For example, in U.S. history, the Civil War had the potential to end the American experiment or solidify the U.S. as a major world influence.
Clearly the latter occurred, positioning the New World as the greatest global power less than a century later.
In short, societies become powerful when they avoid caste and too much specialization, and overcome the various challenges they face.
Peoples who do these things grow, and growth means that formerly disparate individuals, families and tribes become a self-determining group.
“[S]elf-determination means self-articulation,” for Toynbee, meaning that the people in a society share a common understanding of the past, unity against current challenges, and a vision of the future.
Moreover, they reform or establish their institutions to achieve the shared goals.
During the growth phase, societies go through various periods of “withdrawal and return,” sometimes focusing on themselves (like America’s isolationist periods of after the War of 1812 and World War I), and other times emphasizing major involvement with other nations (such as U.S. expansionary eras in the 1830s-40s and after World War II.)
During this long period of facing and overcoming challenges, sometimes turning inward and other times seeking broader interactions, the people grow, gain in power, and grow weary of the continual challenges.
A desire for utopia arises, and part of the shared societal vision for the future is a yearning
for a time of lasting peace, prosperity, kindness and ease.
Toynbee calls this the Second Coming motif.
Over time, a growing nation attempts to adopt many of the idealistic values of the utopian motif, and the society begins to see itself as a Great Society.
Eventually, it sees itself as the Great Society, and it starts to attempt to impose its views and models on the rest of the world.
The upside of this is that the society increasingly attempts to improve itself, adopting many positive practices and customs and serving more and more elements of society.
The downside is that during this phase people become arrogant.
If the first step of decline is arrogance, the second is “a time of troubles” where the actions of society and its institutions too often fall short of the people’s lofty ideals.
For example, consider the era when Americans saw themselves as the land of the free, the best place in the world — but they were besieged with problems like youth revolution, Vietnam, the struggles of minorities and women, Watergate and other political corruptions, and so on.
A third major step toward decline occurs when the “…creative minority degenerates into a dominant minority which attempts to retain by force a position that it has ceased to merit…”
Nurturing the Creative Minority
Societies achieve all the steps of self-determination, growth and power through a partnership of the masses and the “creative minority” — the group of leaders who envision, articulate and guide the civilization to progress and success.
In American history, for example, the creative minority included the American founders and framers, the educated class through most of the 19th century and the wealthy classes in much of the 20th century.
They are Jefferson’s “natural aristocracy.”
In times of societal growth, the creative class leads, overcomes challenges, builds institutions and
wealth, and helps pass on core values and ideals to the rising generations.
It succeeds because it is fundamentally creative, entrepreneurial, enterprising and innovative. It leads, and the masses partner with its creativity and help the nation grow.
Unfortunately, when arrogance and attachment to institutionalism set in, this leadership minority stops building through creativity and begins trying to maintain its status and dominance.
Solutions are less important than votes, and staying in power trumps overcoming our challenges.
Today this group is what Arthur Brooks has called the 30 percent elite class that rules the 70 percent in our nation.
Diagnosing the Decline
At this point in decline, the masses divide themselves into two groups: 1) those who don’t want anything to change, who want everything to go back to how it was in their youth, and 2) those who loudly and sometimes violently demand change and different leaders.
Toynbee calls this period “…the failure of administration and the ruin of the middle class.”
A next step comes when the people, masses and leaders alike, begin to “…ascribe their own failure to forces that are beyond their control.” This comforting (sort of) thought turns out to be false, but the people usually stick with it and accelerate the decline.
Despite the widespread feeling of despair a society feels at this point, Toynbee goes to great lengths to show, using numerous historical examples, that decline is not caused by Acts of God, environmental or natural disasters, failures of business or technology or even government, nor from foreign attack or dangers.
Decline is not a homicide, but always suicide from within the society itself, and it has two main causes.
Instead, they focus on bureaucratic survival and budgetary growth instead of their initial mission.
In this environment, leaders become so stifled by attachments to institutional policy, methods and personnel that they stop making effective, efficient, innovative or commonsensical decisions.
“Indeed, the party that has distinguished itself in dealing with one challenge is apt to fail conspicuously in attempting to deal with the next.”
He says that leaders fail when they start to depend on the successes of past institutions and techniques. They stop being leaders and start just trying to keep their power.
As a result, problems remain unsolved even while new challenges continue to pile on.
Second, as a result of the first problem, the masses lose faith in the leadership minority and refuse to support them. The elites respond by trying even harder to maintain their power, and nearly all the energy is spent on being dominant rather than on leadership.
Of course, in this environment, the problems get worse and worse.
The next step is for the power minority to attempt to justify its own leadership existence by engaging multiple military conflicts abroad.
Since it has much greater power in military force than it does to solve its own internal challenges, the dominant minority (whatever political party it represents) energetically engages (and escalates) its international conflicts.
As the society becomes more militaristic, the government naturally begins to turn a wary eye toward its own citizens.
Internal freedom decreases, and the split increases between the dominant minority, the non-dominant minorities who wish they were in power, the masses who want to quietly leave things to the experts, and the masses who want to vocally and forcefully cause things to change.
If all this sounds familiar, remember that Toynbee outlined this scenario in the mid 1940s. It is not prophecy, scenario planning, or simply a summary of current events.
This outline is based on the patterns of history, and as Santayana famously said, if we don’t know this history we are bound to repeat it.
Six Choices For Citizens
The good news is that Toynbee’s book is widely available. We only need a citizenry that will read it, ponder, consider what does or doesn’t apply to our situation, and take appropriate action.
I don’t agree with everything in Toynbee, but there is much for our generation to learn. Specifically, Toynbee tells us that we must make six major choices if we want to turn our current challenges into a great future rather than a declining society.
Note that these are choices for the citizens—the regular people—not just for those in power.
These choices are brilliant. They really do offer a chance for us to turn our struggles into a solid foundation for a free, prosperous and happy America.
I could outline these six choices, share my views on them, and discuss how I think they apply to our world today.
Unfortunately, such commentary would probably be just one more opinion.
What we really need in our day is a citizenry which reads the originals, thinks about them, and applies them.
We need a new creative minority that engages wise study, deep thinking, innovation, initiative and creativity.
I am anxious to discuss the potential in Toynbee’s commentary with others who have also read the original.
His six choices are found in chapter 19, and in chapter 20 he shares several warnings that are relevant and vital in our day. The title of his great book is A Study of History. I hope you will read it.
Toynbee’s six choices offer real solutions to current challenges, and I hope that more and more regular citizens will read Toynbee and other great classics and apply their ideas to modern concerns.
Successful societies progress from strong foundations to challenging growth, and then they face a period of decline. They can come out of this decline—or not—depending on the choices of the citizens.
Note that the traditional leaders of society always stop really leading at some point during decline, and that it is then up to the citizens to restart the nation toward success.
I firmly believe we are that point.
If we, as regular citizens, choose wisely on all six decisions, or even most of them, we will help build a more free and prosperous future.
Otherwise, we are following all the historical patterns of serious national decline.
But, as Toynbee put it:
“The divine spark of creative power is still alive in us, and, if we have the grace to kindle it into flames, then the stars in their courses cannot defeat our efforts to attain the goal of human endeavor.”
The poet Shelley wrote:
The World’s great age begins anew,
The golden years return,
The Earth doth like a snake renew,
Her winter weeds outworn:
Heaven smiles, and faiths and empires gleam
Like wrecks of a dissolving dream…
To make another great and gleaming age, we need to make six important choices.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.
Connect With Oliver:
November 1st, 2010 // 2:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
In his modern classic, Rascal: Making a Difference by Becoming an Original Character, bestselling author Chris Brady introduces two groups that are currently leading our nation and world.
Both groups can be found in Wall Street, Main Street, Las Vegas, Silicon Valley, Hollywood and in both of the major parties on Capitol Hill.
Both groups have great impact in the world, but the direction and focus of each group is significantly different. And unfortunately, members of one of these groups are far too rare.
The first group is what Brady calls:
“…the Council of They. They are the thought police, the guardians of political correctness, the masters of conformity, the keepers of the status quo. It is They who struggle to keep life always the way They say it should be, who fight change, who persecute creativity, and hurl criticism at anything that smacks of originality or authenticity.
“They try to say who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out.’ They seem to have so much power that good, creative people leave their lives on the shelf rather than face their wrath. They will try to influence how you live, what you do, whom you should marry, and how you should raise your children. They want control, obedience, and blind acquiescence…
“The only problem is, that herd of people following along in step aren’t going anywhere, and as long as anyone listens to them, he or she won’t go anywhere either.”
Like almost anything in our modern society, it is tempting for Republicans to point to this definition and say that the Council of They is Democrats, and for Democrats to say exactly the same about Republicans.
Many in the media, ironically, would think of the Tea Parties—who are clearly not following the path outlined by the experts.
Perhaps the reason this resonates on both sides of the political debate is that herd thinking has become too widespread across our society.
The second group doesn’t really act like a group, because it is made up of independent individuals who do their own thing.
Indeed, perhaps because of this choice to act according to their own views (not as followers of the herd mentality), Brady calls these people “Rascals.”
“What Rascals do is get out of line. In fact, many Rascals have heard most of their lives that they are out of line in one way or another! Rascals don’t fall for the lure of going along or becoming someone else just to please others. Rascals follow their convictions and confidently head in the direction of their destiny, mindful of their Creator and not of the crowd.
“Non-conformity is not what we are talking about, but rather, authenticity….The first rule of becoming a Rascal is to slay the dragon of They. Rascals, quite frankly, don’t care what They say. Rascals don’t take their cue from the peanut gallery. Rascals are driven by their own sense of purpose and direction.”
Brady rejects the definition of the term “Rascal” as unprincipled or dangerous to society, and instead focuses on people like John Wycliffe, the American founders, Mark Twain, Harriet Tubman and Mother Teresa who see what is needed in the world and go against the norm in order to make the world better.
One of his heroic “rascals” is the freedom-loving Chinese man who stood in front of the tank in the famous video clip from the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.
Some of the very most important Rascals in history are regular people who ignore the path of the masses and take action to make a positive difference in society.
For those who want to be such leaders, Brady includes an excellent test to help you find out how much of an independent-minded leader you are.
I highly recommend this book to everyone.
What America Needs
Modern America needs a generation of great leader-citizens. Many great leaders like Gandhi, Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and others have done things in ways outside the mainstream—ways that are creative and genuine.
Such people have been called by many names, including Outliers, Pioneers, Explorers, Beagles, Founders, Mavericks, Trailblazers, Disruptive Innovators, and Leaders.
Most recently I described the coming impact of their independent thinking on the political future of America in my book FreedomShift.
Centuries ago the great classical economist J.B. Say invented a name for people who go against the norm, change things for good even in the face of societal opposition, and turn unproductive commodities into productive resources for society. He called them Entrepreneurs.
More recently, Jonathan Fields called them “Career Renegades,” people who overcome the widely-promoted fears that unless we follow the “normal” paths outlined by society we’ll end up failing.
In the new post-meltdown economy, success at all levels and walks of society is more and more dependent on being this innovative type of person. In our time, perhaps the best name for such people is “supermen” and “superwomen.”
Whatever we call them, today they lead most small businesses and more of them are found in small business than anywhere else. America needs more of them.
We live in a society in desperate want of leadership from such people. The future of our national prosperity depends on how well they overcome the current challenges to the economy—including government overreach—and apply innovation, initiative, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, and social leadership in our nation and world.
Such leadership is needed in business, family, neighborhoods, the arts and sciences, society and government. Each of us should consider in what ways we can improve ourselves and provide such leadership.
Our national future may well depend on how effectively we make and implement this choice. And it is time for Washington to decrease regulation, taxes, and get out of the way of the small businesspeople who can rebuild our economy.
Connect With Oliver:
October 29th, 2010 // 4:00 am @ Oliver DeMille
And many Americans believe the economy will continue to decline. If it does, the Obama Administration has very few tools to respond.
The White House has based its entire economic policy on an ideological belief in government spending and intervention, but further economic downturn will require it to take serious action.
What can it do that it hasn’t already tried? How much more can it spend? And at what point will it accept that such spending isn’t delivering fixes to unemployment and the economy as promised?
If the government increases spending, promotes more stimulus, raises taxes or increases regulations (or all of the above — which is what it has done so far), it will run into major difficulty.
So far none of these have fixed the economy. The nation now ranks Democratic leaders at their lowest rating ever compared to Republicans (42 percent to 52 percent).
And the major issues fueling dislike of the Obama agenda are unemployment (now 9.6 percent), the healthcare law and other increased government regulation, and massive government spending.
Some economists, like Paul Krugman, say the problem is that the stimulus should have been much bigger in the first place — since now there is very little support for more government spending.
The White House seems to agree, and it is preparing to raise taxes on big business. The problem with this strategy is that very few small businesses have a lot of extra cash right now. Big business, in contrast, has a lot more extra cash than the whole of government stimulus.
Unfortunately, with the Obama Administration promising to end tax cuts to big business, these companies are unlikely to hire or spend their cash on hand. And if President Obama does raise taxes on big business, they are likely to simply hold their cash or spend it in other countries.
A lot of corporations are seriously considering moving more of their operations abroad to find more favorable environments for profit. Many have already made this move, taking jobs and money with them.
Some countries are aggressively advertising their low tax rates to lure international investors. For example, a full-page ad in The Economist reads:
“Fact: the Gulf’s lowest taxes are in Bahrain. As are the region’s lowest living and operation costs. Which leaves more of the cake for you and your business.”
A lot of nations are using similar campaigns to lure investment, while the U.S. is actively adopting policies which drive capital away.
Why would businesses that can afford to move stay in the U.S. to face more White House attacks and increasing taxes and regulations?
This not only won’t help our economy. It will increase unemployment, make credit harder to obtain for small businesses, and convince consumers to buy less. In short, it will significantly hurt the economy.
The Obama plan claims to help small business, but in fact its proposed policies will do the opposite. One Harvard economist points out that our debt load is now even worse than that of Greece, which has just experienced major economic collapse and is being bailed out by international banks.
Open For Business?
The impact on the elections is obvious. If a lot of Republicans win, they will have more influence to argue for more business-friendly policies. But there is no guarantee they will do so.
After all, the Bush Administration significantly out-spent the Clinton Administration before it. No matter what happens in the election, the Obama team needs to take a different route if they want to reboot the economy.
Two years into Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the economy was struggling and unemployment was above 10 percent. Reagan pushed to cut taxes, reduce government spending, and, perhaps most importantly, sent out the message — over and over — that government needed to be reduced and that private business was the hope of the economy.
In retrospect, spending actually increased under Reagan, but his consistent message of promoting business, support for business growth and free enterprise, and the need to cut government and spending made business feel safe.
He spoke optimistically of business on all levels, and lauded the opportunities provided by free enterprise and free markets.
The result? Businesses hired and entrepreneurs went to work. Commerce soared. Growth quickly soared to 8 percent (the Obama “recovery” was around 1 percent) and unemployment rates came down. The 1980s became an era of economic boom, which grew into the roaring 1990s.
Too often the opposite message is coming from Washington. The White House repeats its “unfriendly to business” message over and over, calling businessmen “fat cats” and telling young people to work for non-profits and not go into business.
It constantly promotes increased government spending and ever-expanded regulations which drastically increase the cost to start and build businesses. It has publicly attacked the Chamber of Commerce, the ultimate small-business advocate, and in general it has sounded angry and dangerous to business.
Now, in the name of “helping small business,” it is increasing taxes on big business and people who succeed in small business — many of those above the $200,000-$250,000 threshold are small entrepreneurs.
And, as I said above, many big businesses which hold a lot of cash are making plans to take it abroad. These realities are a serious problem.
Americans now believe Republicans (49 percent) “would do a better job of dealing with the economy than Democrats (38 percent).” But what exactly is the Republican plan? It is unclear.
Americans seem to believe that at least Republicans will stop increasing taxes and regulations on business, and perhaps be a lot more friendly and welcoming to business.
Whom Do Voters Support?
Perhaps the most significant reality is that Democrats and the Obama Administration now have a 60 percent disapproval rating among independents.
Of course a lot of Republicans support Republican politicians and a lot of Democrats support Democrats. But President Obama was swept into office by independents, and now most of them no longer support his policies.
Independents are mostly for fiscal responsibility, lower taxes and lower levels than the current government intervention in the economy. Indeed, many of them supported Candidate Obama because they disliked the Bush Administration’s high-spending, over-regulating policies.
It seemed to independents that Candidate Obama promised new leadership and a new direction for Washington. Many independents have been shocked and dismayed by the Obama Administration’s move to the left. But they could have supported this surprise if there wasn’t such a lack of new-era leadership.
For example, as an independent, I expected President Obama to be liberal. I closely read The Audacity of Hope (affiliate link) before the election and I was clear that he would govern from the left.
But I also thought he would bring a new brand of leadership — a fresh, charismatic, Generation-X-style emphasis on American growth and vibrancy rather than old-line Washington politics.
Unfortunately for all Americans (left, right and independent), that did not occur.
Many independents feel abandoned by President Obama less for his liberalism than for his return to “Washington politics as usual.” This shift occurred within days of inauguration, and his popularity among independents has consistently fallen ever since.
We live in an era where the key to winning elections is to combine support from your base (liberal or conservative) with the support of independents.
This is true nationally and in most locales as well. For Democrats, who will get the bulk of Democratic votes no matter what, the goal right now should be to bring in independents by pushing through many tax breaks and finding ways to deregulate business requirements.
When asked who they will vote for in the 2010 Congressional election, 62 percent of registered independents said they support Republicans; 30 percent plan to vote Democrats.
This is a huge split in American politics, where voting differences are usually 1-3 percentage points and a 6 percent split is a landslide.
As a result, many current Democratic candidates are frequently using the phrase “I’m independent.” As the election season kicked off right after Labor Day, the Obama Administration changed its message —apparently to attract independent voters.
President Obama said in his speech on September 8th that it is American business which drives the economy, and Timothy Geitner said the same day that American businesses are very innovative and able.
This change is a good move for the administration, but President Obama still managed to include disparaging remarks about privatization and Wall Street.
Despite the fact that there may be truth to what he says, it is the tone of anti-business that reverberates. He may get past this bias in the weeks and months ahead, but will it last after the election?
From an independent perspective, it doesn’t seem like it.
Business really does drive the economy, and we need to genuinely embrace and support this.
Independents are tired of the constant attacking between parties. Instead of Republicans attacking President Obama and the White House attacking Republicans, why can’t either just get serious about enacting policies that actually help small business?
It’s the Economy!
Our leaders must find ways to significantly help business.
Proposed tax cuts for small business, payroll tax holidays, and not taxing research and development are good starts with bipartisan support. The Obama Administration deserves praise for these proposals. But a lot more is needed.
If the government is going to spend money regardless of what the voters want, the current push to spend it on infrastructure is probably the best plan.
Still, spending $50 billion of taxpayer money is quite an expense. And nearly all infrastructure contracts will go to big firms, further excluding and in places even hurting many small businesses.
Unless private business is convinced to rebuild the economy, one business at a time, government spending will just make the problem worse.
Harvard economist Niall Ferguson responded to President Obama’s new plan by pointing out that the $50 billion of infrastructure expenditures will do little or nothing to boost the economy since the plan is built on faulty economic reasoning that is good for politics but bad for the economy.
In contrast, Ferguson argues, we should be studying how Reagan and Thatcher successfully battled and overcame major recession in both the U.S. and Britain in the 1980s. Even experts from left agree that the proposed Obama plan won’t do much to help the economy.
President Obama’s speech included numerous jabs against Republicans, which many independents agree with. But it didn’t include much that could really help the economy.
This has many independents frustrated. It feels too much like more politics, not better leadership.
For example, the proposal to put freezes on non-security spending is a good idea, but it rang hollow, sounding more like a political debating point than something the president really cares about.
If he gave it the same support as health care, and kept pushing it with tenacity and refusals to give up on the idea, many independents would be impressed.
Instead, it seemed to come across like the right thing to say in this election season, but prone to be ignored in favor of big government spending after the election.
If that isn’t true, if the Obama Administration really does follow through on this proposed freeze on the non-essentials, many independents will swing back to supporting President Obama.
But I think that most independents will wait until after the election to see if this happens.
The president’s speech was excellent in many ways, and independents should be glad that he is now saying some of the right things. It felt like the return of Candidate Obama.
But therein is the problem. Is it just campaign rhetoric? The contrast between Obama’s campaign persona and his Head Democrat persona is so dazzling that it’s more challenging than usual to hope that Mr. President will lead out.
And why did he say a lot of the right things about fiscal responsibility but only get passionate when he was criticizing Republicans or talking about increased government spending?
It’s the Economy, Really!
The Democratic narrative seems to be that without the stimulus the recession would have been much worse.
But many independents don’t buy it. They didn’t like many of President Bush’s policies, but they are just as frustrated with the current administration’s strategies.
They believe the stimulus was a flop and healthcare and other massive regulations have seriously hurt the economy. They blame both Obama and Bush for the current economic mess.
But since Bush is out of the discussion, their frustration is pointed at President Obama.
American independents aren’t the only ones who feel that the Obama Administration’s stimulus and massive spending/regulating strategy has worsened the economy.
Some international analysts, for example, say: “[The stimulus] has not worked. The whole thing has failed. And that is why America, of the big economies, is the one that is now teetering on the brink.”
Some say, “I think in Europe it’s very clear the direction the Europeans are going down, which is to basically start bringing public debts and deficits under control. Obama is still worried about the polls….Personally, I think the best thing they could do is probably just sit on their hands in the U.S. …”
If the plan is to spend more, tax more and increase regulations, then I agree — let the politicians sit on their hands and do nothing!
But what if, instead, they cut taxes, deregulated small business, changed the healthcare law to incentivize business investment, and extended an olive branch of friendship and thanks (yes, genuine gratitude) to entrepreneurs and business for their vital contributions to our prosperity?
Doing nothing, as good as it may sound to Tea Partiers and some independents, is not enough. Washington needs to reverse the bad-for-business policies accumulated since 1987 — or at least during the Bush/Obama growth of anti-business policy since 2001.
If this sounds impossible, we may be in for a very long period of economic struggles.
In Conclusion: It’s the Economy!
The future of the economy depends on the willingness of small business to take risks and the willingness of big business to hire, spend and invest.
Until our national leaders are willing to cut government spending, lower taxes, reduce government interventions in almost every sector of business, and show more genuine friendliness to business, our economic problems will continue.
Whatever the results of the 2010 election, Washington has got to make friends with business. We simply must make those who spend their lives in business feel safe and excited about building, hiring, investing, growing and spending. Otherwise, deepening economic troubles are ahead.
We desperately need real leadership in Washington, leadership which will actually incentivize, promote and reboot the economy.
The best-case scenario would be for the Obama Administration to lead out in this direction. After all, they’ll be in the White House for at least the next two years.
This pro-business outline (cut taxes, significantly reduce regulation on business, get government spending under control, and make friends with business) should be the guiding principle to every voter in every election across the nation this year.
We need to pay little or no attention to political party and instead elect leaders who will help kick-start, encourage, and stimulate the economy.
This is a true mandate, and our national future depends on it.