I original drafted this post prior to the incidents in St. Louis, Louisiana and Dallas that rocked our nation last week…
As I reflect on this 4th of July celebration, I am overwhelmed with the realization that as a “people,” we have lost touch with the ingredients that actually made this an amazing country. The country I have loved from my earliest days. The country I swore an oath to defend against all enemies foreign and domestic. The country that is supposed to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, America, where anything is possible.
Well, I think its fair to say that we’ve totally screwed that up and if we don’t fix it now, we are likely to experience continued civil unrest, increased violence and turmoil until we implode.
At the root of our current troubles is the fact that most of Americans forget that we were all once immigrants (except Native American Indians who were the first to get screwed). Regardless of our race or religion, the inhabitants of the United States all came from somewhere else. For everyone, it was a difficult journey to get here. And then it took us about a century and a half of settling and building this country to establish our sense of identity as a nation. In the middle, our nation was almost destroyed by slavery and racial inequality. Then it was our unity through World War I and World War II that made this the greatest country in the world. Every man, woman and child was committed to the cause as an American. It was this indomitable spirit that ultimately lead us to the moon. Since then, I think we’ve lost our way…
First, we have very much lost our sense of community. While some of us are part of micro-communities (church, school, sports), most of us are not active members of our broader community. Most citizen have some level of fear over the police and government regulation. The motto “to protect and serve” seems to be a long way from the current relationship between the people and the police in certain communities. Furthermore, most people don’t know many of their neighbors or have a relationship with the people in their community that help make sure things work – we take everything for granted. In the age of selfies, Snapchat and Facebook, we are less connected to people in the real world. We need to remember that in the past, our strength and power came from our unity and community. We need to find common ground on how we should live as Americans.
Second, we seem to lack common values. While we seem to all argue for our various needs – right to bear arms, abortion, gay marriage – we don’t seem to first argue that all Americans should have food, water, shelter and safety. We’ve have become so polarized on political issues and government regulations, that we’ve actually lost touch with the freedoms that were the basis for our way of life. When I go to small towns, while I still see the white picket fence, I can’t seem to find the children riding their bikes and playing in the parks. Now everything is supervised and regulated – even a kid riding his bike to his friends house.
Third, we have lost our way as a leader and role model. Our public figures and political leaders consistently reveal their flaws of integrity and judgement. We have lost much of our influence as a country that represented freedom and opportunity. In the past, America was respected for our commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Now the world largely views us as an unintelligent country of overweight, entitled people with a broken health care system, excessive gun violence, unstable race relations, and an ineffective government.
Fourth, is greed. We have gone from capitalists focused on innovation and investing, to a nation driven by corporate profits, increasing the wealth of the wealthiest, and consuming more and more and more. Our number one advertisers on television are pharmaceutical companies promoting drugs. We’ve seen the death of almost all the homegrown industries that were pioneered in America. We’ve sacrificed our independence in order to increase profits through outsourcing and lower standards. China is kicking our ass and Russia does whatever they want – because both of them can. What we need to realize is that true capitalism needs to understand sustainability. We must be able to sustain our way of life and that means reevaluating the entire system and how we live together.
But this doesn’t mean that all is lost. It means that we need to take a good long look in the mirror and decide where we want to be in the next 20 years.
So where do we start?
I think we need to first take a step back and look at the bigger picture. As Americans, we’ve always thought of ourselves as pioneers and ultimately world leaders. And any great leader will pause from time to time and reflect on the good and the bad.
Right now many people feel like all is lost and we are doomed. I feel that way some days.
But we also need to see all the good that’s happened in the world. In general, everyone’s quality of life has improved, as has overall life expectancy. But we are still plagued with hate and violence.
So, what if we started the conversation with the goal of rebuilding this nation and world to live together in peace where all human beings have food, water, shelter, security, community and love.
Does this sound impossible?
Every day the men and women in the military live this way. They are a community, with a set of common values aimed at protecting our country and way of life. The members of the military want peace more than any other citizen. Military commanders act as role models and leaders – Washington, Grant, Eisenhower and even Jimmy Carter went on to lead our country. Every soldier knows they are a member of a specific unit while part of the larger military community. Every soldier has a job. Every soldier plays a different role in providing food, water, shelter and security to their community.
And when these men and women are in harms way, their community becomes even tighter. They become more disciplined over protecting key resources like food and water. Security is their number one priority. And there is a common bond – a genuine love for your brothers and sisters in arms – who you need to survive.
And in this community there is no greed. Every soldier gets the same pay based on their job, the number of years of service and their rank. So profits and capitalism don’t impact the dynamic.
Now, I am not saying that we need to live like we are all in the military. But what if all acknowledged that at the root of our existence we are all tribal. We love, we laugh, we dance, we sing, we make babies, we smile, we cry but ultimately we all have a will to survive.
In the military, I was an Infantry Officer, Airborne Ranger and ultimately a Division Civil Affairs officer. While I spent the majority of my career training to go to war, it was my time as the Civil Affairs officer where I learned how to interact with different communities to reach a peaceful co-existence without ever using a weapon or spilling a drop of blood. The majority of my success was having a basic understanding that every community and tribe needs food, water, shelter, and safety.
For those of you that have attended Burning Man, the organizers have realized that we can police our own community using UNARMED individuals from the community who come to handle any issues or complaints. 99% of the time they resolve the issue on the spot. 1% of the time they call the next level of ARMED sheriffs and BLM officers. I don’t think an ARMED officer has ever killed a participant in a place where the majority of the community is intoxicated on alcohol and drugs.
Maybe, this all sounds too much or requires us to step to far outside the bounds of our current reality.
But the inevitable future is one where most people do not work and are subsidized. So we need to figure out how to make sure everyone has the most basic, tribal needs of food, water, shelter and safety.
If you think this is silly, then please explain what we do over the next 20 years when the majority of American jobs become obsolete. Currently, the number one source of employment for males in the United States is driving or driving related. Driverless cars, Hyperloop, and drones will eliminate most if not all of these jobs within the next few decades. This will greatly challenge our ideals of capitalism. This will greatly challenge our current system of taxation. It will require that we re-imagine the way we live, the way we co-exist and the meaning of life.