As We Accelerate Towards the Cliff: Can’t Help Thinking We Should Be Frightened About Tomorrow

Isn’t the evidence mounting that, as a society, we are accelerating right towards a cliff? It seems to me that the cliff is getting closer and soon we’ll be hurtling over the cliff into an epic disaster — I’m thinking within 30 years or even much sooner — unless there is severe correction in our course.

On his list of threats to our future, John McCain puts the threat of Islamic terrorism at the top. If president, as a strategy to meet this threat, McCain evidently would put a big priority of spending more money to further build up the military. It’s good that McCain evidently has a list of threats to our future, but the whole topic deserves in-depth discussion. Isn’t a never ending expansion of the already gigantic military industrial complex, as a response to Islamic terrorism, itself a threat to our future?

A CEO should have an understanding of the threats to his or her company’s future and should have an understanding of his or her company’s opportunities as well. Anyone who is seeking to be president of the United States should be able to give thoughtful answers to these questions:

  • What are the biggest opportunities, as a nation, we should develop to best fulfill our promise and potential?
  • What are the biggest problems we must solve if, as a nation, we are to fulfill our promise and potential?
  • What are the likely consequences, if we do not solve these problems?
  • What is your strategy for developing opportunities that will make our future better and what is your strategy for solving the problems that threaten our future?

Political debate should focus on the future. We need a public discussion about the future with a level of honesty well beyond what our democracy now allows. Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, told on “Meet the Press” that the lobby of the CIA has inscribed on one wall a powerful scripture: “The truth shall set you free.” Exactly. Where do we sign up for some truth? Our political process is focused on winning elections, not on educating the public nor on stimulating insight. Truth is not in the interest of those who are unfairly benefiting from the system; the forces of misinformation are relentless, well funded, and incredibly strong. Any person who expects to become an effective president in this dangerous time has an obligation to elevate the discussion and to elevate the consciousness of voters by tackling the truth about difficult and troubling issues. Honesty is a requirement for effective leadership.

On my list of threats to our future, at the top, I do not put Islamic terrorism. Certainly Islamic terrorism is a threat, but I think there is an answer to this threat and the answer is found in the application of wise and effective leadership. The question is: where is the needed leadership? Our biggest threat to the future, it seems to me, is the threat that our democracy will be incapable of producing the wise and effective leadership it desperately needs. As it stands now, our democracy is corrupt and weak. We do not have a government that is of the people and we certainly do not have a government that is for the people. Our democracy is not working as it should. Antidemocratic forces are running our government and, the problem is, these forces have no long term vision, no interest in the general good, no capacity to produce the leadership needed to meet the challenges of the future.

The election and administration of George W. Bush is an illustration of how destructive leadership comes from a failed democracy. Bush is a warning of the even more despicable leadership that will come unless we change the path we are on.

Solving the problems that threaten our future will not be easy. We need a strong democracy if we are to produce the quality of leadership and the quality of ideas needed to meet our future. (I developed that thought here: “Our Democracy Must Be Revived — If We Hope To Achieve The Dreams of Our Wisest and Best.”)

The fact is, we should be frightened about the challenges facing us; but, we should not so much fear Islamic terrorism, global warming, energy depletion or economic malaise as we should fear the weakness of our democracy. We need to focus on how to make our democracy effective. Understanding that we are accelerating towards a cliff might speed the focusing process. There is much to fear, but, we should not fear fear. We should embrace fear, promulgate an understanding of legitimate fear —  as the beginning of wisdom and as the motivation for positive change.

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2 Responses to As We Accelerate Towards the Cliff: Can’t Help Thinking We Should Be Frightened About Tomorrow

  1. Stan Hirtle says:

    “The CIA has inscribed on one wall a powerful scripture: “The truth shall set you free.” ” They’re kidding, right? That’s right up there with “Arbeit Macht Frei” and “Peace is our Profession.” But where is truth welcome when it is incovenient to the agenda of the powerful?
    Actually one of the problems we face is the CIA model of covert violence as the way power is exercised. That’s the antithesis of democracy. These middle east occupations are becoming the model for the tyranny of the future. We are seeing two crises, the War in Iraq and the foreclosure explosion/financial meltdown, where it seems that people are powerless to act. What levers of power are there people can pull and how can they organize themselves to pull them? Part of this is that the Bush conservatives are still in office. However we must wonder how much different it will be after the election, what offices are up for changing and what private institutions of power will remain unchanged.
    And how big a deal is “wise and effective leadership” compared to what he or she is leading? Presidents do not lead social movements. They follow them, steer them and try to stay on top of the bucking bronco whereever it is going. They help put together administrations and try to control them. Sure we would like some great leadership (there really hasn’t been any in our lifetimes. Maybe we are due from the current crop of presidential candidates) but we may first of all need some better and more effective followers, able to analyze, improve, change or maybe replace social institutions that we have now.
    America’s huge investment in violence has proven as Eisenhower warned. It seems the models for a US dominated world have been universal free trade versus military empire. Meanwhile problems with the environment, limited resources such as fossil fuels and their climate change aftermath pose the most significant challenges for the future of humankind.
    Religious clashes between Islam and Christianity are overstated, as both faiths contain an ample supply of opportunities for people to live together in peace, justice and fulfillment. Neither faith has been able to prevent its vast raw materials from empowering rather than preventing violence, torture and murder, and from calling on God to bless our side and destroy theirs. In many ways these religions seem to be a veneer on cultures with well established dark sides operating below the surface. War and terrorism are remarkably similar except for the trappings. Violence produces more violence, and more ways to ignore or discount the humanity of those who stand in the way. Of course we are all capable of violence and vulnerable to fears of the “other” who would do likewise to us. So peacemaking needs the investment that we are now putting into war. Supposing we sent 150,000 peacemakers to Iraq and spent the money for war materials on building community infrastructure and institutions. That would be a dangerous undertaking for those involved, but could it be any less fruitful than what is happening now?

  2. Mike Bock says:

    Stan, Thanks for your thoughts. You write, “Sure we would like some great leadership (there really hasn’t been any in our lifetimes. Maybe we are due from the current crop of presidential candidates) but we may first of all need some better and more effective followers, able to analyze, improve, change or maybe replace social institutions that we have now.”

    What constitutes leadership is a great question. Everyone has some leadership capacity, and what you are describing as effective following, could instead be described as individual leadership. If our democracy was working as it should, the leadership of ordinary citizens would be developed and cumulatively would have a big and positive impact on our society. The leadership of ordinary citizens is at the heart of grassroots democracy and such leadership would be the foundation that would produce a marked improvement in the quality, capacity and values of of elected officials.

    Countries that are totalitarian design themselves to effectively quash leadership, independent thinking, personal iinitiative. What should be alarming to Americans is that our country’s attitude toward authentic personal leadership often aligns with the attitudes of totalitarian states. Totalitarian states see the purpose of a public school systems, for example, as securing and advance totalitarian values and attitudes within students. American public schools advance attitudes and values about leadership that correspond to totalitarian values and in many ways parallels the attitudes found in totalitarian countries, say, North Korea.

    Totalitarian states often make a big deal about the fact that they have elections with incredibly high voter turn-out. Totalitarian states are all about putting on a good show, but when you analyze how democracy is actually practiced here in Montgomery County — gerrymandered districts, party suppression of competition, advancement of party insiders to elected office without opposition, the impact of money on campaigns — you may say that, although we have the capacity for democracy, the way our democracy is actually practiced, to a great degree, is a sham. And what we see in Montgomery County, I’m sure, is only a hint of the corruption in the nation’s system as a whole.

    My point is that, if, as a nation, we are to successfully meet the challenges to our future, we need to vitalize our democracy. If we had had a stronger democracy, Bush’s march to war would have been stopped and more creative approaches to problem solving the Islamic terrorist threat would have been advanced. But there are even greater challenges coming at us in the near future and I’m not kidding about the consequences of not meeting these challenges. Societies and nations do go off the cliff and it seems to me that, without intervention, we will continue to accelerate in that direction.

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