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Friday, December 29, 2017

On writing

Why write? When Flannery O’Conner was asked this, she responded, “to know what I am thinking.”

Makes sense.  Especially for extraverts—as defined by Meyers-Briggs as those minds who process externally in distinction from introverts who think things out internally before expressing. Ask my partner. I drive her crazy by my talking to myself. When I chair a committee, run a team, or call a staff meeting, I usually tell the participants to realize that just because I say something doesn’t mean that I hold what I say as a position. I’m just thinking out loud.

So, for me, writing is not only knowing what I’m thinking but also finishing what I’m thinking.  Like a carpenter finishes a table after he’s made it. A thought is an invention, a product, that needs to be planed, varnished, sanded, and polished. Thoughts are images, words, formulas, models, symbols that connect feelings, smells, hearings, tastes, and other experiences. They are categories that combine and analogies (and other figures of speech) that denote. We make them up and use them to communicate to each other. Ordinary language, and the languages of art, science, religion, morality, and social order constitute our world and our reality.

Whoa! Let’s be clear here. Am I saying that our words, formulas, models, images are inventions? Artifacts? And that they constitute reality? Isn’t it rather that they are tools to help us discover and know reality as it really is?

Yes, indeed, both.  Thoughts, the product of our thinking, help us both construct and discover realities and the reality of the world and the universe, including ourselves. The construction and the discovery is one and the same process of thinking which is never quite finished. Mainly because our thinking is part of what we are thinking about. We both catch it and lose it in the act.

Knowledge of things occurs when we relate them and show how that relationship works to predict other relationships which then produce other relationships. We are on an unending quest to construct and discover the relationship of everything to everything. Because we construct truth does not make it relative. Because we discover truth does not make it absolute. Truth is neither relative nor absolute. Truth is relational. And relations are real and define reality.

I get other people’s ideas when I read or hear them. I write or connect their ideas so they become mine as well; but I change them and me in the process. I write to put our ideas out in the forum where they can be criticized, evaluated, corrected, and finished.

For awhile.

The Trumpian reaction of 2017 confused me. I did not understand how a democratic Republic, as I characterized my nation, could be so xenophobic, racist, mean to newcomers, misogynist, anti-science, illiberal, white-supremacist. I no longer knew if I belonged. I had to figure out who I am, what I believe, and most of all how it could happen that so many people, and an entire political party, could be so antithetic to my values and even my vocation in life.

And so, I reflected and read and considered what was happening from many viewpoints, especially trying to understand the viewpoints of those who wanted to send immigrants back to their countries of origin, who believed that America should be first and over all other nations, who judged “white” people superior to persons of color, who didn’t care about global warming or other environmental damage, who thought that government was alien to the people.

Then I wrote.

I wrote about the meaning of being and growing soul—the spiritual, transcending, and empathetic dimension of humanity. That helped me understand that the human experiment is indeed a process that is dialectical, at every moment ranged between polls that could lead to destruction or creation.

I wrote about the three choices facing our nation with origins in our founding and examples through its history under various names: Populist Nationalism, Economic Liberalism, and Democratic Republicanism. I discerned their roots in the structure of human existence. And the disorder in its elements. That helped me understand what I first found unintelligible and malicious in current events.

I wrote about the difference and interaction between race and class. And the confusion of visible cultural identity with invisible economic systems. That helped me understand how race, religion, origin, and sexuality became covers and excuses for disrespect, inequity, and exploitation.

I wrote about people, especially those I lived and worked with and those by my own vocation I cared most about. I confronted our despair, cruelty, fear of others, greed, powerlessness; and I saw the possibilities of hope, kindness, rapport, compassion, and possibility itself. That helped me understand how we together have choices and that the way out of victimhood was action with those people. 

I will no longer be a suffering patient.  I will be a healing agent. I will resist. I will struggle. I will overcome.

That’s why I write.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Three Models of American Politics

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson: these three giants of American history suggest three ideal types to understand what is happening in our contemporary American Dark Age of Decline. 

John Adams who along with Alexander Hamilton were unionist Federalists advancing the development of a federal government with the powers to hold the states and factions together for defense, for commerce, and for dealing from strength with the nation states of the world. They were the predecessors of the Whigs and then the Republican Party from Lincoln to Taft and Eisenhower preserving the Union and building its industrial capacity as a great capitalist nation. 

Thomas Jefferson with Madison and Monroe were freedom-concentrated Republicans advancing civil rights, local development, public education. Jefferson's greatest dread was the return to monarchy or autocracy. On the other hand, he recognized the distortions of the masses and sought to support the institutions (social habits) that would prevent both autocracy and mob rule. He planted the roots of the contemporary political progressives in which government 's purpose is to assure the welfare of the People--life, liberty, and happiness.

Andrew Jackson appealed to the common man without education or wealth. He fought to limit the powers of those considered elite by education or by wealth and class and opposed their institutions, chiefly central banks and universities. He was the defender of personal property, including slaves, regulated not by the federal government, but by the individual states, all which could be achieved by Western expansion including taking Indian land. 

These early US presidents signify three types of political actors in the US today which I label National Populist, Economic Progressive, and Democratic Republican.

National Populism: Main tenets include America First (economic protectionism, avoidance from foreign engagement, isolationism, aversion of global law and trade agreements), distrust of centralized government (opposition to regulations on guns, environmental protection, land and property rights, corporations, changing local values), wariness of intellectuals and science, cultural assimilation (white supremacy, biblical law, evangelical Christian values, economic individualism), and governance by dominance leadership.

Economic Progressivism: Main tenets include corporate power (minimal taxation, economic individualism, bottom line thinking, Calvinist morality), wealth as measure of success, higher education in management, law and finances, passage of wealth and status through inheritance, business as state priority, increased wealth among corporate elite as the means to achieve national and global prosperity, and hierarchical governance by corporate leadership with business skills.

Democratic Republicanism: Main tenets include human and associational rights, limits on religious and cultural dominance (separation of religion and politics, reason over belief), universal public education, employment, and health care, non-governmental and voluntary associations as the locale of politics, sharing wealth and power, unity not in cultural assimilation but commitment to pluralism with a focus on equity and equality, and governance through broadly consulting, highly educated leadership.
These types correspond to three human dimensions: culture, economy, and politics. National Populism makes cultural values, religion, ethnicity, the core of human individual and social existence. Economic Progressivism makes material wealth or prosperity in livelihood the main drive of the individual and the social order. Democratic republicanism makes the commitment to the dignity, equality, and natural rights of all human persons of whatever cultural status or economic position the foundation of personal and social well-being.

Cultural values, economic interests, and political power are essential elements of humanity. But power is primary. The democratic republican insight is that shared power will lead to shared values and wealth so that all persons can achieve freedom, meaning, and prosperity. Cultural institutions (religious, educational, artistic, and scientific) and economic institutions (businesses, corporations) will thrive ultimately on the foundation of democratic republican principles and institutions.

Appreciation of traditional cultural values and the growth of economic prosperity are imperative for the sustenance of a Democratic Republic; but they are destructive of that Republic when they dominate the popular agenda. This is our situation today when major reactionary forces are advocating freedom for, but not Jeffersonian freedom from, religion. These same forces are reviving the pre-modern notion of a state creed towards assimilation to a dominant culture. And to achieve prosperity, they prioritize and reward the wealthy, rather than enjoin John Adams’ struggle for equity.

Both contemporary established political parties, beholden to economic elites and using populist propaganda, have wavered from democratic republican principles. Employing mass advertising and social media, they indoctrinate the populace with a win-lose, us-them, your side-my side, demagogic mentality. Only the restoration of local politics, place-based publics of persons with diverse viewpoints and win-win mentalities, transcending partisan, religious, ethnic, sexual, and class affiliation, can restore democratic republican principles and, in this way, reform the parties.

I doubt that either political party dominated or distracted by National Populism will take up that challenge. Therefore, I look for leaders of an enlightened future in community-based non-profit, non-governmental organizations. Here I encounter with hope new Sam Adams, Harriet Tubmans, Jane Addams, Martin Luther Kings—people with principles, not dogmas. I share these civil leaders’ underlying faith in the future of people who will think, speak, and act together on solving seemingly small problems like safe neighborhoods, affordable housing, pre- and post- school education, by building publics of involved citizens (with or without national documents) which together constitute the Republic for which we stand.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Abundance: Wealth vs Citizen Power

To: Peter Dimandis:

Peter, good optimistic report. As a progressive, I appreciate optimism and consider myself as such. However, as a democratic republican (rather than a national populist or a plutocratic autocrat), I find the main measure for optimism, the sharing of power and wealth (not just the amount of it) also needs to be considered. There is much evidence for discouragement on this measure. My optimism here is based on faith--not evidence, faith in people who have the power to act together. 

On Nov 19, 2017, at 1:05 PM, Peter Diamandis <> wrote:

The world is getting better at a *stunning rate*, and as we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the U.S., I wanted to offer you some convincing details and data.
My amazing team (for whom I am very grateful) has put together an Evidence of Abundance ebook with those charts and data.
Consider it “conversational capital” for your dinner table conversations or some inspirational reading for your travels. 
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for the opportunity to inspire abundance-minded leaders like you... and that I get to spend every day coaching exponential entrepreneurs tirelessly working to solve the world’s greatest challenges.
Abundantly yours,
© PHD Ventures, 800 Corporate Pointe, Culver City, California, 90230, United States

Friday, November 17, 2017

Organization and Advocacy

While community organization usually results in political advocacy and while political advocacy usually requires organization, confusing the two can hurt both. Advocacy centers on policy. Organization centers on power. We can secure a victory on policy and lose one on extending power. And a failure on policy can lead to increased power towards even better outcomes.

Power is a political concept defined by Hannah Arendt as “the ability to act in concert.” The “in concert” is essential to the definition though often neglected by my organizer colleagues. They often say that there are two kinds of power: organized money and organized people. I disagree. Power is people acting together. People with money do indeed have influence and often finance the ability to seduce or coerce. But that is force not power. And people with money can support organizing. No one, not even the biggest, the brightest, the strongest, the richest, and even with the most authority, has power alone. True power is shared power.

When I was a young seminarian volunteering In Chicago’s Near West Side, I was mentored by a Catholic priest, Monsignor Jack Egan, who is still to me the ideal for a religious leader. Once, some poor black folk asked him to urge the alderman to make their garbage get picked up more regularly. They were not Catholic but they knew of the tight connection between the Catholic Church and Mayor Daley’s political machine. Father Egan told them, no, he would not intercede with the alderman on their behalf. But, he said, he would go with them to meet the alderman; but they had to demand as residents, voters, and taxpayers that the garbage be picked up regularly. And they had to persist acting if the alderman refused or didn’t follow through.

What Egan knew is that the real issue in the neighborhood was lack of power. If he solved problems for people, they stayed powerless. But if they organized on their own initiative and their own issues, they would have power and the respect that goes with it. Those who advocate for poor people usually leave them poorer—even if they get more services and income. To advocate means to call or speak for another. Organizing is challenging people to speak for themselves and to build their own institutions to negotiate with landlords, politicians, clergy, agencies, including partners and associates, with respect as equals.

Power for what, you ask. Sure, power for better conditions, lower rents, safety, and services. But political power, acting in concert, is its own end—the fulfilment of human dignity. Personal and political power can only be achieved by acting in concert with others, that is, participating in what Martin Luther King called the Beloved Community--a community with purpose and power, a community whose purpose is power.
The Gaithersburg Beloved Community Initiative (GBCI) situated at Asbury Methodist Village (AMV) is a free congregation of persons who are building their own ability to act in concert. The GBCI supports the building of beloved community at AMV and in the communities in which they walk, work, and worship. To promote the organization of the kids, parents, and teachers at local schools like South Lake Elementary and the residents in housing complexes like Cider Mill Apartments so they have the power to improve their housing, education, workplace, and other communities is why GBCI exists. Power is strengthened by relationships to supporting organizations and their leaders—city and county officials, the police, business and religious organizations, and other voluntary associations. And GBCI helps make those connections.
But the initiative and leadership stays with the people moving from powerlessness to power.
Community power is political and leads to policies, strategies for change that will improve a community’s institutions. But GBCI is nonpartisan and not involved in electoral politics. It will work with all who share its mission for the happiness of shared power, that is, the building of beloved community.

rollie smith 11-17-2017