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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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Faith and Politics (Again)

This Trumpian age is a tremendous challenge for us progressives. I find us encountering a polarization, confusion, and cynicism that is unparalleled in my 80 years. And as a progressive, I try to see it as an opportunity for unity, clarification, and hope. And I choose to take the steps to make it so. That's what I mean by faith.

Faith is a condition for politics. In other words, without faith no politics, i.e. no space of freedom and shared power. No time of institutional memory and reform.

Faith and its accompanying virtues, hope and charity, which are all dimensions of the same existential drive towards actualization, intends, inspires, institutions, and culminates in the space of freedom and shared power and in the time of communal memory and innovation that is politics in its purest form.

Love is commitment to the present and to presence that recollects the past and intends a common future. Hope is commitment to that common future. Faith is commitment to a shared history that brought us here together. Thus faith is a commitment to tradition, the great ideas, science, evolution, and creation. It is an embrace of who we are with all our limits and potential. And where we are and with whom we are. Faith alone will save us--that is, will bring us to act together for our common good.

Faith embodies itself in principles, beliefs, and ideas.  These express but can also terminate or "statisfy" faith which, unlike the belief systems it creates, is dynamic and transcends all its expressions. True belief is faith stuck. Faith is de-idolization of its beliefs.

We are now in a situation in which beliefs regarding our "exceptional" nation, our "free-market, trickle -down" economy, and our "straight, Euro-centered" cultural identity are held religiously, as eternal and absolute. Such religiously held beliefs--idols of nation, economy, and culture--destroy politics, a dynamic process opening space where all persons share power and a time that reaches beyond itself.

But as a progressive, I take this as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to extended community, to continued clarification, and to hope. I acknowledge the evidence for this happy outcome is not here in this Trumpian Age. Unless we choose to see it. Faith is that way.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Sixth Sense

The Sixth Sense

From ancient times, humans have categorized our experiences by the five senses connected to the organs and orifices in which our bodies take in and relate to our environment. Sight through eyes, hearing through ears, smelling through nostrils, taste through mouth, touch through skin teach us to interact with our environment through pain and pleasure. We learn to shield our eyes before they are fried by the sun, to spit out what we eat that is poisonous, to shun rank smells, and to avoid touching fire. And we are attracted to the sight of an apple, the touch of a mate, the taste of honey, the smell of flowers, the sound of flowing water.

There is a 6th sense that integrates these five sense experiences to help us seek pleasure and avoid pain as we come to terms with our environment. The 6th sense is a whole-body experience which combines smells, tastes, sights, sounds and touch into things outside oneself through some symbolic designation. This whole-body experience provides a sense of self and other selves interacting in a common world. It accompanies our behavior of encountering and naming things in the world which appear as not me, not us, but as objects apart.

We call this 6th sense mind, consciousness, and spirit. In this sense of ourselves as linked with other selves in a world, we experience the passing of time, including achievement and dissolution, the sense of adventure. We experience space, a distance and a proximity to others and to things, the sense of direction. And we experience individual selves connected to other selves, the sense of community. A sense of adventure, of direction, and of community might be considered additional senses. Does a bird feel the magnetic pull of the earth to guide it south in winter? How does the dance of the bee describe where it found nectar for the queen?

However, I prefer to understand these additional senses in humanity as part of the consciousness that accompanies human speech and other symbolic behavior. As is the sense of an ideal that pushes and pulls us beyond who and what we are: the sense of transcendence.

There are limits to our senses. And so, we have built telescopes and microscopes to extend our sight.  We have manufactured devices to reach the light spectrum our eyes cannot see and the sound waves our ears cannot hear. Moreover, we have discerned the gravity waves of exploding black holes, the fundamental particles of matter and energy, and the beginning of the universe itself. It is our sixth sense that accompanies our ability to imagine, to think, and to test that has made this possible. Consciousness attends our exploration of and relationship to all the realities we discover. Material objects are embodied in spiritual intersubjectivity that we intuit directly in our acts of naming things.

Matter and spirit are inextricably linked. The duality of matter and spirit is a figment of our imagination that often leads to fallacies of thought and faults in behavior. But it is an important figment because it also aids us to appreciate the inner and outer dimensions of all there is including ourselves. 

All spirit (mind, consciousness) is a product of matter. Neuroscience explains consciousness by the neural loops and synapses of our brains. Therefore, there is no spirit without matter. But also, there is no matter without spirit.  Without mind and symbolic thinking or language, we would have no sense, no word, no concept of matter. 

The total Universe is Matter and Spirit. The spirit of the universe emerges from the material interaction of things in the universe. Our very existence proves the capacity of matter to produce spirit. And spirit is matter with the capacity to experience itself. Without that capacity, there is no matter--no energy, no motion. 

To discern spirit, we plunge into matter. We only grow our souls when we submerge ourselves in matter. To discover matter we employ mind. Soul is the essence of Matter. The duality of spirit and matter, although an existential tension we feel, is an illusion.

Nevertheless, the fictional duality between spirit and matter grounds the actual duality between good and evil.

The universe is on an adventure and so are we. We are becoming spirit through the interaction of elements, things, and selves. Our growing interconnection, our desire for community, our drive towards the right order of justice, to inclusion and equality, and to power through concerted action is the movement of syntropy that combats the inevitable second law of thermodynamics towards entropy. As matter becomes spirit through our interaction, through our collaboration, and especially through our shared action, matter and spirit become one. 

When we opt out of the adventure, when we break community, when we deny universality by settling for self-interest, tribal behavior, and nationalism that do not transcend the boundaries, we give force to the inclinations of dissolution and fragmentation. That is evil--the break of matter and spirit that destroys them both and negates the universe.