Time for Women to Roar!

Calling for a female rebellion

As American cities and the planet burn under fires of hate and plunder, I see no other way out but to call for a female revolt. We men have been at the wheel for eons and have brought the world to the brink. It’s time for women to take over, at least for now.

The idea of a female rebellion is not new. Greek playwright Aristophanes proposed such a radical solution in 411 BCE in “Lysistrata,” an account of one woman’s extraordinary mission to end the Peloponnesian War by convincing the women of Greece to withhold sexual privileges from their husbands as a means of forcing the men to negotiate a peace. They play ends with the signing of a peace treaty amid plenty of painful erections.

In the late 19th century, American women revolted against male irresponsibility by mobilizing nearly 200 thousand into the Women’s Christian Temperance Union’s campaign to close the saloons and outlaw booze. The American family was under threat, and women had had enough.

A true woman is serene until her den is threatened, and then she fights like a lioness to defend it. Now is the time for real women to roar. — Washington Irving

Until very recently, I still harbored the illusion that the sexes could reconcile and return to the harmony and cooperation which reigned for thousands of years during our egalitarian life as hunter-gatherers. Now, I’m not so sure. The growing rise to power of male autocrats, cheered by legions of groveling ‘men’ who have lost their individual power is threatening the den of the world on a social and planetary scale.

These slavish legions of weak men, said Hannah Arendt in her Theory of Totalitarianism, are the product of a specific conjuncture. They constitute the detritus of all social strata which have lost their former social identity and emotional bearings as a result of abrupt political, geopolitical, and economic dislocation. They compose individuals who live on the periphery of all social and political involvements. Bereft of power, organizational affiliation, inexperienced in conventional politics, and lacking conviction, these men offer virgin territory for the totalitarian movements to harvest.

At the end of the First World War, British poet WB Yeats saw the writing on the wall and wrote this in ‘The Second Coming’:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.

Twenty years after Yeats prophecy, men were back in the sandbox with their guns and bombs and plunged the world into another bloody episode of anarchy and carnage where 85 million people lost their lives.

Humanity may have left behind the days of world conflagrations but look closely and you’ll see spreading fires of unrest, discontent, strife and looming chaos, against the backdrop of planetary collapse. The Third Coming? I say it’s time for women to roar and save the den.

As for the men, American statesman Frederick Douglass’ once said that there are days when it seems most adult men are beyond repair, and from the look of it, I’m afraid he’s right, but I refuse to give up on the young. So, while women heed my call to revolt and take over the wheel, I will assume my rightful place as a male elder of the human tribe and help initiate the coming generation of men.

Besides an urgent preoccupation with the state of the world, my effort is a way to ‘pay-it forward’ on behalf of my father. Had not it been for his fortune, he would’ve been a Nazi, indoctrinated in a hateful ideology conceived by a man who felt small and powerless and who stoked the fire of racism and hate festering inside the vast majority of German men who shared his sense of despair after their country’s humiliating defeat in World War I.

The most dangerous man is not one with power but one who feels powerless. — Dr. Michael Gurian, author of ‘Saving our Sons’

The loss of power, social identity, and emotional bearings as a result of political, geopolitical, and economic dislocation which Hannah Arendt said were the underpinnings of male discontent, will only get worse. If we now have what many call a “boy crisis” on our hands, we’ll soon face a full-blown catastrophe if we don’t properly guide the young.

Besides helping boys become critical thinkers, teaching them how to harness the power of rage, and confront their innate biases so that natural prejudice doesn’t turn to racial violence, I begin my book with the universal story which gave origin to us all… before race, borders, nations, and diving ideological lines. “We’re all made of stardust,” said astronomer Carl Sagan.

It was not until the Agricultural Revolution, 14,000 years ago, that the distancing between the male and female worldview began to widen; between egalitarianism and male domination. A distancing which grew wider when men began to tell themselves stories to justify their ascendancy. By the time of the Mycenaean Bronze Age civilization, around 1600–1100 BCE, the rule of men was firmly established.

To make sense of this significant shift and it’s ruinous consequences, I take boys on a journey back in time…

Minoan women
‘Ladies in Blue’ – Minoan Civilization fresco

Once we settled and built permanent houses, we had room to start accumulating and storing goods, mostly our grain crops and animals and began to worry about stuff. Forgetting how long we had lived and thrived from the land, we worried about whether we had enough food for the future. Before, if we didn’t find food in one place, we just moved. But now, we were stuck in place and depended more on the weather for our survival.

More food meant even more people, so populations began to explode. BOOM!

Larger cities were built to make room for growing populations. By the late 13th and early 14th centuries we started drawing lines on maps and calling them “borders,” which pretty much are imaginary divisions between skin colors, languages, or ways of looking at the world. They are like the outlines in children’s coloring books, yet children, as we all know, are masters at coloring outside the lines. We adults have much to learn from you kids.

Some people now had more than others, so fights broke out. We then started raiding other cities for their food and land. Battles broke out. Then all-out wars. BOOM! KABOOM!

Our growing brains were getting us in trouble. Our late cousins, the chimpanzees, must have been scratching their heads wondering what the heck was wrong with us.

People were not only fighting for food and territory; they also fought over ideas.

To explain this, I’ll tell you the story of two groups of people with very different ideas. It’s a true story, with some embellishments to make it easier to understand.

One group lived on an island called Crete, in ancient Greece, about 3000 years ago. They were the Minoans. I call them ‘Minnows,’ like little fish. The others lived in the mainland, two hundred miles from the Minnows. These were the Mycenaeans. I call them ‘Myce,’ like those furry beasties who scurry across kitchens making old ladies scream and jump on stools holding brooms.

The Myce had come from higher up the Eurasian continent. They were nomadic, which means they were always on the move. They herded cattle, which was their primary food source. They had also learned to tame wild horses. When their previous territory became cooler and drier because of climate change, they spread south and settled in Mycenae, two hundred miles from the Minnows.

Hunter-gatherers had first showed up in this area about twenty thousand years before. Over the next twelve thousand years, the sea level gradually rose, and large game animals were no longer available, so hunter-gatherer populations came to depend increasingly on plants for their survival and the problem became to develop a reliable supply. Girls were really good at this. After all, women in hunter-gatherer societies had developed the greatest knowledge of plants because they were the principal gatherers of this food. It has been estimated that men and women contributed about the same amount of food, in terms of calories, to early hunter-gatherer groups. This is starting to happen again, with both Moms and Dads working to provide for their families.

Archaeological evidence suggests that Minoan society was especially prosperous, peaceful, and happy. It was also a society in which women were as important as men. After all, they saved our butts when large animals became scarce. In the palaces of Knossos, the most important Minnow city in Crete, archaeologists found paintings on walls that show women holding high positions in Minnow society.

Meanwhile, over at Mycenae, the city of the Myce…

There, archaeologists uncovered a very different story, one of a warrior culture ruled by powerful commanders who made themselves rich by conducting raiding expeditions near and far, as well as by exploiting local farmers.

The main differences between the Myce and the Minnows were:

  1. They spoke different languages.
  2. Minnows were far more artistic.
  3. The Myce made burnt offerings to their gods; the Minnows did not. Burnt offerings consist of taking a poor animal that’s happily munching on grass, and then killing and burning it over an open fire to ask an imaginary being up in the sky for help. Sometimes they weren’t even nice enough to kill the animal before throwing it into the flames.
  4. Palaces in Myceland were heavily fortified. Those in Minnowland were not.
  5. Weapons were common in Myce, not on Mino.
  6. Minnow society granted women higher status. Myce, by contrast, were patriarchal — men held all the power and women were excluded from it.
  7. Goddesses played a greater role in Minnowland as evidenced by the large number of female figurines and paintings found around the ancient city of Knossos. In contrast, the most important and powerful God of the Myce was ‘Sky Father,’ later called ‘Zeus’ in Greek mythology; the bearded guy who throws thunderbolts at people he doesn’t like and is constantly unfaithful to his wife.
  8. Before the Myce were able to overtake the Minnows, a massive volcano eruption and tsunami — one that may have inspired the myth of the lost city of Atlantis — crushed the Minoan Civilization.

The Myce and their stories took over.

And they were not good stories.

Listen to some of them:

Humans! Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground. [Genesis 1]

Since women give birth to babies like the Earth gives birth to plants out of seeds, it means women are the same as the Earth. But since sometimes the Earth goes dry and doesn’t produce plants, the Earth is evil. If Earth is the same as Woman, then women are evil too. The Earth sometimes also acts all crazy with storms, floods, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, ice ages, and hurricanes. Since the Earth is like a girl, then girls are scary crazy too. [From the Babylonian Creation Myth and the Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone]

When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she will not be freed at the end of six years as men are. [Exodus 21:7–11]

Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. [Isaiah 13:1]

Go and strike and destroy all that your enemies have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey! [Samuel 15:3]

Slaves! Submit yourselves to your masters with respect, not only to the good and gentle masters but also to the cruel ones.[Peter 2:18]

A prophet should not have prisoners of war until he has made a great slaughter in the land. [The Qur’an Verse 8:67]

Do not permit a woman to teach or boss over a man; she must be quiet. [Timothy 2:12]

If the wife of a man who is living in her husband’s house, has persisted in going out, has acted the fool, has waster her house, has belittled her husband, he shall prosecute her. If her husband has said, “I divorce her,” she shall go her way; he shall give her nothing as her price of divorce. If her husband has said “I will not divorce her” he may take another woman to wife; the wife shall live as a slave in her husband’s house. [Code of Hammurabi c. 1700 BCE]

An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. [Exodus 21:24]

Boy, oh boy…

Subdue and dominate our Earth and rule over everything; girls are evil and crazy; sell your daughter in slavery, dash the children of your enemies against rocks, slaughter away, keep women quiet… these stories make my blood curl. I feel like that old lady who stands on top of a stool with a broom in her hand trying to squash nasty mice.

What’s crazy is that many have listened to these stories and done exactly what these stories have told them to do. It makes me want to go back to our life as hunter-gatherers.

But we can’t go back.

So why not come up with better stories? Just like Abraham Lincoln did to end slavery. Or like Rachel Carson when writing Silent Spring which started the modern environmental movement. Or Gandhi, who said that if we all started poking people’s eyes because they poked ours, by and by the whole world would be blind. Stories like Buddha’s Second Noble Truth which says that people suffer because they crave stuff they don’t need, believe stupid stories, and because of their hatred and destructive urges.

Buddha started his life as a spoiled brat shielded from the outside world. Before he became known as ‘The Buddha,’ his name was Siddhartha Gautama. He was a prince, living in a luxurious palace with everything a boy could want. His father, the king, made sure he never suffered nor stepped foot beyond the palace walls. He did not want his son to go out into the world and see sick people, old people, or dead people. Only beautiful, young, and healthy people were allowed in the palace.

When he was about 16, Siddhartha married Yaśodharā who gave birth to their son, Rāhula. But even though Siddhartha had everything he wanted, something bugged him. He wanted to go beyond the palace walls and see the world for himself. One day, he ordered his charioteer to take him out into the city. On the road, they encountered a poor person, an old person, and a corpse. As they returned to the palace, Siddhartha passed a wandering monk wearing a simple robe. Siddhartha decided to become a monk, and left the palace, and his wife and son, in search for the answer to the problem of suffering in the world. Once he figured out what he thought was the cure for suffering, he became ‘The Buddha,’ for which the practice of Buddhism is known. Today, there are over 500 million people in the world who practice his teachings.

People like Buddha, Abraham Lincoln, Rachel Carson, Gandhi, and Jesus were heroic people. They were not locusts, like the Myce, but bees, like Minnows, taking care of the garden… trying to erase the vile and destructive ideas that originally spun out of the heads of the Myce. They came up with positive stories which enhance the wonderful unfolding story of our universe that began 13 Billion years ago.

That’s the purpose of this book. To write a better story and guide you on the path of a hero to grow to become a bee.

So now that you know where you come from, where you are, and have heard some of the stories — good and bad — that humans tell each other, you are ready to be trained in the Life Forces you will need to start your own adventure in life…


My call for a female revolt is not one of violence but leadership; a call for women to wrest the reins of power from the many weak and ignoble men who seem hellbent on maintaining the status-quo. To our luck, a growing number of inspiring women across the world have begun to do just that.

While their legions grow, I’ll keep working to ensure that the next generation of men rises to the occasion and joins its female counterpart — as comrades once again — for the urgent work ahead.


Jeffrey Erkelens is the creator of ‘The Hero in You,’ a book for boys (10–13) meant to guide them toward an evolved expression of manhood and help them develop the character strengths needed to become caring and passionate men of noble purpose. Sign up here to receive updates on the book’s upcoming publication.

Related content:

Understanding Prejudice – Teaching Boys to Confront their Innate Biases

Critical Thinking in a Crazy World

Warriors Wanted to Save the World!

Bread and Circuses

Let the hunger games begin!

“People are like chickens. It doesn’t matter how much pain you inflict on them, the moment you offer them what they need, they will still follow you and turn to you for their survival.” — Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin

In 1935, Stalin invited his senior advisors and some media henchmen to a meeting with the intent to make a point. When everyone had gathered at a barnyard, he called for a live chicken and forcefully seized it by the neck with one hand, and, with the other, began to rip the chicken’s feathers in handfuls. The poor bird squawked under the torment, but Stalin kept plucking away. Unfazed by the signs of disgust on the faces of those too afraid to stop the tyrant, Stalin continued until the chicken was completely unfeathered.

He then put the bird down by a small heap of grain and stood up to finish the last act while the people observed the chicken trudge towards the grain. As the chicken started pecking, Stalin put his hand into his jacket pocket and pulled out another fistful of grain, laying it out in front of the wounded bird. To the utter surprise of the transfixed spectators, the chicken managed a weak-kneed stagger back to Stalin and started to peck the fresh grain right out of the hand which just seconds before had inflicted such unbearable pain. Stalin had made his point — loud and clear.

For who can rule men if not he who holds their conscience and their bread in his hands? Give bread, and man will worship thee, for nothing is more certain than bread. — The Grand Inquisitor in ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Having just received my Covid-19 relief check, I feel eerily whisked back to the times of the Roman Empire.

In the late first century AD, Roman poet Juvenal coined the phrase “Bread and Circuses,” which, in a political context, means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction, or by satisfying the most immediate or base needs of a populace by offering a palliative — food (bread) or entertainment (gladiator games). This historical precedent partly inspired ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy by author Suzanne Collins.

“The evil was not in the bread and circuses, per se,” said Roman philosopher Cicero, “but in people’s willingness to sell their rights as free men for full bellies and the excitement of the games which would serve to distract them from the other human hungers which bread and circuses can never appease.”

While the United States mourns the growing loss of so many of its brothers and sisters and many face food insecurity, its would-be emperor tosses chunks of red meat to his most slavish and fanatical minions to secure a second term in November.

And it’s not just money.

In a circus-like example with surreal parallels with Rome’s gladiator games, the Trump administration recently announced plans to open up an additional 2.3 million acres of wildlife refuges to hunting and fishing.

In praise, his henchmen hailed the proposal in stirring words:

“America’s hunters and anglers now have something significant to look forward to in the fall as we plan to open and expand hunting and fishing opportunities across more acreage nationwide than the entire state of Delaware.” — U.S. Secretary of the Interior David L. Bernhardt

“Once the Trump Administration’s effort to eliminate the threat of COVID-19 has been successful, there will be no better way to celebrate than to get out and enjoy increased access for hunting and fishing on our public lands.” — US Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith.

“This is a truly historic expansion and wonderful news. On behalf of NRA’s 5 million members, we wholeheartedly thank Secretary Bernhardt and Director Skipwith.” — Erica Tergenson, Director, National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action.

To be clear, I have nothing against hunting and fishing. In fact, I know many a hunter and angler who are staunch conservationists and better stewards of the wild than treehuggers. I am here, merely prosecuting the deceitful intent, not the policy.

Other examples of ‘Bread and Circuses’ are the easing of gas-mileage standards hard-won by the Obama administration, waiving EPA regulations, and Trump’s insistence on bailing out the oil industry from its own folly.

The president is not only the leader of a party, he is the president of the whole people. He must interpret the conscience of America [and] guide his conduct by the idealism of our people. — President Herbert Hoover

A people whose conscience places profit over principle makes easy pickings for demagogues and turn elections into nothing more than a spineless, desperate act to protect our toys, circuses, and wallets.

Come November, we will either prove ourselves but slavish, plucked chickens, or prove Jesus was right in saying “man does not live by bread alone.”


Related articles:

Beware of Silver-Tongued Villains
Choose Your President Like You’d Choose a Governess
Hail Caesar!
Requiem for a Once Great Nation

Hail Caesar!

Is America sliding toward dictatorship?

In response to my article ‘Requiem For a Once Great Nation,’ some people called me a scaremonger for suggesting the American Republic could break apart.

“It can’t happen here!”

I’m sure the citizens of the Roman Republic in 44 BC, those of the Italian Republic in 1804 and Germany’s Weimar Republic of the 1930s thought the same.

All that was needed to tear those republics apart was a little anarchy and a self-proclaimed “savior.”

Rome had emperor Julius Caesar, Italy was “rescued” by Napoleon Bonaparte, and Hitler promised to restore Germany to its previous glory. In all three cases, the result was greater anarchy and bloodshed.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” — George Santayana

The American Republic is particularly vulnerable because its citizens no longer share a common story nor believe in the ideals which underpinned its foundation. Most don’t even know what those ideals are or what they stand for. Not even the military, it seems. Former Navy pilot Ken Harbaugh recently said that when he joined the Navy, he swore to support and defend the Constitution. But not once, in all of his training, did he receive meaningful instruction on the document to which he had pledged his life.

In ‘The Irony of Democracy,’ its authors state that “if the survival of the U.S. system depended on the active, informed, and enlightened citizenry, [it] would have disappeared long ago, for the many are apathetic and ill-informed about politics and exhibit a surprisingly weak commitment to democratic values.”

As it stands, the vast majority of Americans now get their ‘facts’ and ‘enlightenment’ through the venomous drip feed of caustic propaganda which masks itself under the deceptive guise of news. Like tarantula hawk wasps, our current-day peddlers of deception find the country asleep and deposit their lies in the minds of its citizens which slowly devour their capacity for independent thinking.

Writing for The Atlantic, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld report the pernicious effects:

“Many progressives have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is [now considered] an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty, an engine of discrimination. Property rights, a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that a diverse and inclusive society is more important than protecting free speech. Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is essential, compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

From the [extreme] right, there have been calls to define America’s national identity in racial, ethnic, or religious terms, whether as white, European, or Judeo-Christian. President Trump routinely calls the [press] “the enemy of the American people.” In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press to criticize politicians was very important to maintaining a strong democracy.”

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” warned Abraham Lincoln.

No clearer proof of how far the nation has come apart than during — and right after — the recent impeachment trial. There were no victors, in my view. Just one more collective step down a dangerous slope to mayhem and authoritarianism.

So how vulnerable is American democracy?

In ‘How Democracies Die,’ authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt say “extremist demagogues emerge from time to time in all societies, even in healthy democracies. An essential test of this kind of vulnerability isn’t whether such figures emerge, but whether political leaders, and especially political parties, work to prevent them from gaining power. When established parties opportunistically invite extremists into their ranks, they imperil democracy.”

“Once a would-be authoritarian makes it to power, democracies face a second critical test: Will the autocratic leader subvert democratic institutions or be constrained by them? Institutions alone are not enough to rein in elected autocrats. Constitutions must be defended — by political parties and organized citizens, but also by democratic norms, or unwritten rules of toleration and restraint. Without robust norms, constitutional checks and balances do not serve as the bulwarks of democracy we imagine them to be. Instead, institutions become political weapons, wielded forcefully by those who control them against those who do not. This is how elected autocrats subvert democracy — packing and “weaponizing” the courts and other neutral agencies, buying off the media and the private sector (or bullying them into silence), and rewriting the rules of politics to permanently disadvantage their rivals. The tragic paradox of the electoral route to authoritarianism is that democracy’s enemies use the very institutions of democracy — gradually, subtly, and even legally — to kill it.

If, 25 years ago, someone had described to you a country where candidates threatened to lock up their rivals, political opponents accused the government of election fraud, and parties used their legislative majorities to impeach presidents and steal Supreme Court seats, you might have thought of Ecuador or Romania. It wouldn’t have been the United States of America. — From ‘How Democracies Die.’

In the face of disorder and no common ground on which to stand, people panic and cower behind intolerant fortresses of tribalism making them easy prey for silver-tongued demagogues who promise to restore order and bring about a new era.

Caesar did it, so did Napoleon and Hitler.

Afraid, paranoid, stoked by hatred and willfully ignorant and powerless, millions saw these individuals as saviors and handed them absolute power.

The rest, as the say, is history.

But it can’t happen here, can it?

Requiem For a Once Great Nation

The end of the American experience.

There’s an ominous whiff of civil war in the air.

With 400 million firearms in the hands of U.S. civilians, it promises to be a magnificent spectacle.

Trump’s childish refusal to shake Pelosi’s hand at the start of his State of the Union address and Pelosi’s pathetic tear-up of his speech said it all. They might’ve just as well have burned the U.S. Constitution.

Gotta hand it to you, America. After your circus performance during the Kavanaugh hearings, I did not think you could outdo yourself in clowning and chicanery. You have sunk to new lows, indeed.

As I watched the SOTU address, these warnings from the founding fathers echoed in my mind:

A house divided against itself, cannot stand. — Abraham Lincoln

Political parties are “the most fatal disease” of popular governments. — Alexander Hamilton

One of the functions of a “well-constructed Union” should be “its tendency to break and control the violence of faction. — James Madison

When Washington stepped aside as president in 1796, he memorably warned in his farewell address of the divisive influence of factions on the workings of democracy: “The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party,” he said, “are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

“[Washington] stayed on for a second term only to keep [the] two parties from warring with each other,” says Willard Sterne Randall, professor emeritus of history at Champlain College and biographer of six of the Founding Fathers. “He was afraid of what he called ‘disunion.’ That if the parties flourished and kept fighting each other, the Union would break up.”

By that time, however, the damage had been done. After the highly contentious election of 1796, when John Adams narrowly defeated Jefferson, the new president moved to squash opposition by making it a federal crime to criticize the president or his administration’s policies. Jefferson struck back after toppling Adams four years later when Democratic-Republicans won control of both Congress and the presidency. “He fired half of all federal employees — the top half,” Randall explains. “He kept only the clerks and the customs agents, destroying [Adams’] Federalist Party and making it impossible to rebuild.”

While the Federalists would never win another presidential election, and disappeared for good after the War of 1812, the two-party system revived itself in the 1830s with the rise of Andrew Jackson’s Democratic Party, and firmly solidified in the 1850s after the founding of the Republican Party. Though the parties’ identities and regional identifications would shift greatly over time, the two-party system we know today had fallen into place by 1860 — even as the nation stood poised on the brink of the very civil war that Washington and the other Founding Fathers had desperately wanted to avoid.

620,000 Americans died in the Civil War of the 1860s. Brothers pitted against brothers in bloody carnage. I wonder what the body count will be this time around.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. — Thomas Jefferson

I’m afraid, though, that the Civil War of the 2020s will not serve to refresh the tree of liberty nor give the American empire a new lease on life. Having long made a mockery of the nation’s motto, “Out of many, One” and trampled upon the ideals which gave it birth, the predictable outcome is a warring patchwork of ideological enclaves: The Republic of California, The Republic of Texas, The New Southern Confederacy…

Upon leaving the constitutional convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin told a curious passerby that the Framers had produced “a republic, if you can keep it.”

Writing for The Atlantic, Adam J. White, Resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute asks: “What does it take to “keep a republic”?

“Nearly two and a half centuries into this experiment in self-governance, he says, “Americans tend to think that they keep their republic by relying on constitutional structure: separated powers, federalism, checks and balances. But constitutional structure, like any structure, does not maintain itself. Each generation has to maintain its institutions and repair any damage that its predecessors inflicted or allowed. This task begins with civic education, so that Americans know how their government works, and thus what to expect from their constitutional institutions.”

“Yet civic education alone, though necessary, is not sufficient. For civic education to take root and produce its desired fruit, the people themselves must have certain qualities of self-restraint, goodwill, and moderation. Because those virtues are necessary for the functioning of a constitutional republic, they are often called civic virtue, or republican virtue.”

What we are witnessing today in our elected officials is a total absence of republican virtue, without which, the house cannot stand.

When the war breaks out, I’ll just need someone to tell me who to shoot: the crazies in red uniform or the loonies in blue. Better yet, as the lights dim, the curtain closes, and the house falls, I should perhaps use my writing talent to chronicle the tragic denouement inspired by these words uttered by writer Henry Miller: “Rome has to burn in order for a guy like me to sing.”

R.I.P. America.


Read these companion articles:

Choose Your President Like You’d Choose a Governess

Making America Whole Again

 

Everyone’s Doing It

So it must be okay

In the face of new and more damning evidence in the impeachment trial against the Trump administration, I’ve begun to hear exculpatory comments from a few of his staunch supporters, like, “Every president has used the power of the office for personal gain; what’s the big deal?” or “Democrats are a bunch of hypocrites! Once in power, they all do the same thing,” or “Don’t tell me the Clintons didn’t use the presidency to line their pockets or help them get re-elected!”

It seems character no longer matters in these United States.

Raised in a third-world country under military dictatorships for most of my adult life, I know well how corruption works. I also know how it slowly infects every sector of society until turning it into a cesspool. I just thought America was different.

“Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.” — George Washington

It appears the little voice of conscience is dead in America too.

Give a little whistle,” said Jiminy Cricket to Pinocchio.

Take the straight and narrow path

And if you start to slide

Give a little whistle

Give a little whistle

And always let your conscience be your guide.”

So here’s my whistle: Children are listening and watching what adults say and do, and they are masters at imitation.

It should surprise no one that according to a recent survey on the moral attitudes of young people conducted by the Josephson Institute of Ethics, 45% of boys agreed that “a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to succeed,” and that twice as many boys as girls agreed, or strongly agreed, that “it’s not cheating if everyone is doing it.”

Since I agree with American statesman Frederick Douglass that it is easier to grow strong children than repair broken men, my focus is on the youth in America, particularly its boys.

In thirty years of working with children,” says Dr. Michael Gurian, author of Saving our Sons, “I have never been more worried than right now for our sons. Nearly every problem we face in our civilization intersects in some way with the state of boyhood in America.”

I share Michael’s concern, and it seems many do so as well.

As a preface to their comprehensive and brilliant handbook on character strengths and virtues, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman say their project coincides with heightened societal concern about good character.

“After a detour through the hedonism of the 1960s, the narcissism of the 1970s, the materialism of the 1980s, and the apathy of the 1990s, most everyone today seems to believe that character is important after all and that the United States is facing a character crisis on many fronts, from the playground to the classroom to the sports arena to the Hollywood screen to business corporations to politics. According to a survey by Public Agenda, adults in the United States cited “not learning values” as the most important problem facing today’s youth.”

Strengths of character, the authors suggest, provide the the stability and generality of a life well lived.

“The good life reflects choice and will. Quality life does not simply happen because the Ten Commandments hang on a classroom wall or because children are taught a mantra about just saying no. What makes life worth living is not ephemeral. It does not result from the momentary tickling of our sensory receptors by chocolate, alcohol, or Caribbean vacations. The good life is lived over time and across situations, and an examination of the good life in terms of positive traits is [essential]. Strengths of character provide the needed explanation for the stability and generality of a life well lived.”

They also underpin democracy, the rule of law, civic discourse, and the conscience of a nation.

In ‘Forgotten Purpose: Civics Education in Public Schools,’ educator Amanda Litinov says, “one of the primary reasons our nation’s founders envisioned a vast public education system was to prepare youth to be active participants in our system of self-government. The responsibilities of each citizen were assumed to go far beyond casting a vote; protecting the common good would require developing students’ critical thinking and debate skills, along with strong civic virtues.”

“Until the 1960s,” Litinov adds, “it was common for American high school students to have three separate courses in civics and government. But civics offerings were slashed as the curriculum narrowed over the ensuing decades and lost further ground to ‘core subjects’ under the NCLB-era standardized testing regime.”

Civic knowledge and public engagement is at an all-time low, reports the Center for American Progress. A 2016 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government, which was a significant decline from previous years. Not surprisingly, public trust in government is at only 18 percent and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996. Without an understanding of the structure of government; rights and responsibilities; and methods of public engagement, civic literacy and voter apathy will continue to plague American democracy.

While knowledge and understanding is essential to democracy, I argue that they are no substitute for virtue and strengths of character.

“A good moral character is the first essential in a man. It is therefore highly important that you should endeavor not only to be learned but virtuous.” — Letter from George Washington to George Steptoe, December 1790

Pressured regularly by Alexander Hamilton to participate in the first presidential election, and worried Americans would view him with distrust and think he simply desired power, Washington wrote this to Hamilton: “Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles: the character of an honest man.”

In its rapid plunge into the cesspool of moral relativism, the United States seems no longer willing or interested in forging its boys into virtuous men of character, like Washington. It also doesn’t seem much bothered by the blatant disregard for decency, honesty, and decorum of its elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

So I’m giving a little whistle.

Either listen, and act, or prepare yourselves to witness your once-proudful country being taken over by villains and their legions of lily-livered and unscrupulous sycophants.

Choose Your President Like You’d Choose a Governess

America’s choice 2020

Governess: a woman employed to teach children in a private household.

President: a term deriving from the Latin prae, before, and sedere, to sit. Thus, “to sit before.” A public sitter, if you will; a head of state or symbolic embodiment of a nation. A man, or woman, who sets the moral tone for a country. By no definition a redeemer or savior, and certainly no silver-tongue demagogue who promises to single-handedly restore a nation’s power and glory. Germany once elected a guy like that. Didn’t work out too well.

So what exactly does a president do?

Although constitutionally ambiguous, the presidency of the United States is inherently dual in character. The president serves as the nation’s head of state and as its chief administrator.

Under Article II of the Constitution, the president’s administrative duties are limited to:

1. Serve as commander in chief of the armed forces.

2. Grant reprieves and pardons for federal offenses (except impeachment).

3. Ensure laws are faithfully executed.

4. With consent of the Senate, nominate and appoint ambassadors, public ministers and consuls, judges of the Supreme Court, and all other officers of the United States.

5. Make treaties, by, and with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Note these duties do not include issuing laws, creating jobs, fueling stock markets, declaring wars, or imposing immigration, monetary, industrial, and environmental policy. Having freed the colonies from the yoke of monarchy, the founding fathers made damn sure not to grant their leader overreaching powers.

The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. — Excerpt from the ‘Declaration of Independence’

The constitutional constraints on presidential power thus gave immediate rise to the practice of issuing executive orders to achieve policy goals, manage the executive branch, or outline a view intended to influence the behavior of private citizens. Bear in mind the U.S. Constitution does not define these presidential instruments nor explicitly vests the president with the authority to issue them.

One of the first executive proclamations was George Washington’s call for a Thanksgiving holiday, something I suspect most of us are grateful for.

However, there have been others who have used the ambiguous characterization of executive power to issue directives contravening the Constitution and/or Bill of Rights. Such was Roosevelt’s 1942 directive ordering the removal and internment of all Japanese-Americans on the West Coast following the attack on Pearl Harbor. Over one hundred thousand people — 70,000 of whom were American by birth — were imprisoned in a network of camps across the Southwest. The government made no charges against them nor could they appeal their incarceration. All lost personal liberties; most lost their homes and property.

The 5th Amendment states no person shall be deprived of liberty without due process of law.

Desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures, I get it. I also get that Congress and the Supreme Court backed Roosevelt’s draconian order, making it lawful.

My precise point is that the founding fathers could not cross all the t’s nor dot all the i’s while writing up the instructions on what a president can and cannot do. They could not foresee all the exceptional circumstances which a changing world would bring about. To wit, the assassination of foreign nationals, like the Jan 3rd drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani.

“No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in assassination.” — Executive Order 12333 issued by President Ronald Reagan.

“What constitutes assassination, however, is left undefined, writes Scott R. Anderson for Lawfare. “Subsequent presidential administrations have reportedly interpreted it to mean unlawful killings, which would not necessarily [include] targeting decisions during armed conflicts. Notably, while most of these interpretations are not public, we know that the Obama administration concluded that killings in self-defense are not assassinations in the context of drone strikes against al-Qaeda-affiliated targets in Yemen — a conclusion that likely bears on the decision to kill Soleimani.”

Things are certainly more complicated than they were in 1787. Leading the most powerful country on earth in an increasingly messy and complex world, is, well, messy.

Think back, for example, to the Cold War (1947–1991) between the United States and the Soviet Union. A time when the U.S. was in the grip of mass hysteria about the spread of communism across the world. Any foreign leader who dared espouse progressive ideals was labeled red and a potential enemy of U.S. interests.

In 1954, President Eisenhower directed the CIA to launch a covert operation in my country that toppled a popularly-elected, progressive president, ushering-in a civil war lasting over thirty years that cost the lives of close to two hundred thousand people and forced me into exile.

Depending on which side you were on, the event was either justified to contain the spread of communism, or an unconscionable overreach of American presidential power that left a shameful stain on the country’s moral fabric and snuffed my country’s democratic aspirations. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover that the true motive behind the CIA-led coup was to protect the interests and profits of corporate America.

Eisenhower made a mockery of the principles of liberty and self-determination upon which the United States was founded. A president faithful to his vow to preserve, protect, and defend those principles upon taking office would’ve never given the order to oust a democratically-elected government in a foreign country. “Do as I say and not as I do” is a sure way to sow distrust, cynicism, and anger, at home and abroad. By the same token, “profit over principle” is a slippery road to a nation’s moral bankruptcy.

Don’t misjudge me. I am not that naive to think that everything is black or white. Geopolitics is a messy affair which often forces a leader to do what’s necessary and expedient even if it forces him or her to temporarily compromise on what is right. It is precisely when a dilemma arises where the end justifies the means that a nation needs a decisive and pragmatic leader but with a steady moral compass. Experience can be hired. A moral compass, however, cannot be purchased.

Which brings me to the governess.

In Victorian England, the governess was not hired to manage a household or to cook or clean. Her primary function was to educate children.

Depending on the age of her pupils, the governess could find herself teaching ‘the three Rs’ (reading, writing and arithmetic) to the youngest, while coaching the older in French conversation, history and geography. If her pupils were teen girls, the governess was expected to instruct them in drawing, playing piano, dancing, and deportment, i.e., how to conduct oneself properly. The governess might also be in charge of small boys up to the age of eight, before they were sent away to school.

The governess was expected to look after her pupils’ moral education too. As well as reading the Bible and leading them in prayer, she was to set a good example of moral behavior. For that reason, employers put great emphasis on hiring a governess who shared their beliefs.

If you were choosing a governess for your children, what would you focus on? Her superb writing skills and knowledge of the world, or her moral character? If forced to choose, say, between a math wizard, previously convicted of child molestation, and a dunce with high moral standards, a clean record and impeccable references, whom would you entrust to guide and edify your children?

How about this guy for president of the United States?

· Four terms in a state legislature, one fairly disappointing term in the House of Representatives, and two unsuccessful attempts to win election to the United States Senate.

· No administrative experience. Never been a cabinet member, a governor, or even mayor of his hometown.

· Has filed for bankruptcy several times.

· Has never been abroad and knows no foreign languages. His education, he admits, is imperfect. The total time he spent in elementary school was less than one year. Not a great reader. Never finished a novel.

· By his own admission, the humblest of all individuals; a man without a name. Perhaps, he says, without a reason why he should even have a name.

His name was Abraham Lincoln, and while far from perfect, is considered one the great presidents by scholars and historians. Good luck trying to find the “perfect” candidate. We are all a little stained. Perfection often precludes the possible, and in my ledger, if forced to choose, values trump experience.

Of course experience is welcome, but not at the expense of virtuous and wise leadership, especially in a Republic, like the United States, with its sound system of checks and balances and judicious — albeit partly ambiguous — limitations on presidential power. Focus on experience when choosing your state’s representatives, governors, mayors, and city council members — the people charged with getting things done — but not when choosing your president.

The president is not only the leader of a party, he is the president of the whole people. He must interpret the conscience of America. He must guide his conduct by the idealism of our people. — President Herbert Hoover

Come November, Americans will choose their next head of state. The man or woman who will become the symbolic embodiment of their nation’s conscience. They will do so at a time when their country, its rule of law and the ideals for which it stands are being torn asunder amid a messy world that seems poised on the brink. Not a good time to focus on rigid ideologies or vote one’s pocketbook, in my mind. Not a good time either to allow fear, hatred, bigotry, or prejudice to mark the ballot. Default to any of these and you’ll soon end up with a tyrant.

When choosing, I suggest you check your emotions at the entrance of the polling station and walk clear-headed into the booth. Then, elect the person to whom you would entrust your children in your absence and further base that choice on the ideals which once made the United States the world’s beacon of hope and shining city upon the hill.


Read this related piece: Making America Whole Again

 

 

Beware of Silver-Tongued Villains

A wise warning from an old baboon.

“Stick with me and you’ll never go hungry again!”

With that promise, Scar rallies a pack of bloodthirsty hyenas, topples the Lion King from power, upsets the Prideland’s order and turns it into a wasteland.

This is not the stuff of Disney movies alone. History is filled with such ruinous examples which we are doomed to repeat if we don’t learn from its lessons, as cautioned philosopher George Santayana.

The world has paid a heavy price for falling for the empty promises, demagoguery, and calls for unity and identity on the basis of race, blood, and soil, thundered by silver-tongued villains.

“The main plank in the National Socialist program is to abolish the liberalist concept of the individual and the Marxist concept of humanity and to substitute therefore the folk community, rooted in the soil, and bound together by the bond of its common blood.” — Adolf Hitler 1930s

Fifteen years before Hitler’s rise to power, Irish poet W.B.Yeats saw the writing on the wall and wrote his prophecy in ‘The Second Coming’:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

And everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity.”

By the time Yeats penned those words, Italian strongman Benito Mussolini had unleashed the scourge of fascism onto the world by hypnotizing his compatriots with his passionate intensity.

Back in the Prideland, while Scar and his slavish minions unleash their anarchy, the hoped-for savior, Simba, lacking all conviction, wastes his days singing ‘Hakuna Matata’ with his feckless buddies, Timon and Pumbaa.

By luck, Simba finds Rafiki, the old and wise baboon.

 

When Simba tells Rafiki that his father, Mufasa, is dead, the wise baboon says, “I know your father… he’s alive, and I’ll show him to you. Follow old Rafiki… he knows the way!”

Rafiki leads Simba to the edge of a waterhole and makes him look at his reflection. Simba looks hard, sighs, and says, “That’s not my father, it’s just my reflection.”

The wise baboon stirs the water’s surface with his finger and says, “Nooo, look harder… you’ll see he lives in you!” When Simba takes a second look, he sees Mufasa’s face, then hears his voice coming from above. Simba looks up and sees the ghost of his father breaking through a dense cloud.

“You have forgotten who you are,” says Mufasa in a deep voice. “Look inside yourself, Simba, you are more than what you have become.”

Like Simba, the American people have forgotten who they are.

Once a nation held together by a shared story under the motto “Out of many, one,” it is rapidly becoming a splintered patchwork of squabbling tribes laying waste to the ideals which their forefathers brought forth to give birth to the greatest country on earth; a country that appears to have forgotten Lincoln’s warning that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

“Divide and Conquer” has been a tool of tyrants since the dawn of time, along with their keen understanding and cunning manipulation of people’s fears, anger, greed, prejudices, ignorance, and insecurities. Most often, these scoundrels are not interested in the wellbeing of the people but consider them as halfwit pawns in their megalomaniac quest for absolute power and control.

“I never thought hyenas essential. They’re crude and unspeakably plain. But maybe they’ve a glimmer of potential if allied to my vision and brain.” — Scar

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” as Yeats said, so long as a group lacks a unifying story.

Rafiki had to remind Simba of his roots and his father’s legacy to wake him up from his self-centered existence. Armed with renewed courage and conviction, Simba returned to reclaim the Prideland and assumed his rightful place.

Americans have lost their center. They either ignore, or disdain the legacy of their forefathers. Like Simba, they stand aloof while the ideals enshrined in their Constitution are increasingly desecrated. Profit over principle is now the people’s maxim. Lacking a higher conviction, they stand on loose sediment. Thus unanchored, the American people are bewildered and afraid; easy prey for crowd-pleasers and opportunists — the Scars and hyenas of this world.

To Scar’s rallying cry of, ‘Stick with me and you’ll never go hungry again!’ I counter with Jesus’ warning: ‘For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world but lose his soul?

Wake up America! The soul of your country is in peril. Look inside yourself, you’re more than what you’ve become.

Wake up, before your once, proudful land becomes a wasteland.

Making America Whole Again

This band aid might work.

Tattered American Flag

Back in September of last year, I claimed Americans had lost sight of the ideals that once held the country together and were dangerously fracturing into warring tribes. I went on to suggest that the demise of old ideas is not necessarily a bad thing if we replace them with better ones. Caught up in my stubborn idealism, I went as far as proposing a new narrative for humankind, one transcending country, race, and religion.

I was right, wrong, somewhat right, and ahead of my time.

Right, because I maintain Americans have lost sight of their shared ideals. In fact, I suspect most don’t even know what those are.

Wrong, in claiming the country is fracturing. It just feels that way. I have since confirmed that the noisy extremes are the reason why. Between progressive activists (8% of the population) and devoted conservatives (6%), there is an “exhausted majority” desperate to have these extremists shut the hell up. It is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease and the loudmouths that dominate airtime. Those who compromise and calmly propose working solutions are drowned out by their rage.

Somewhat right, in calling for better ideas, but wrong in saying that the demise of old ones is not necessarily a bad thing. I was guilty of suggesting we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

That baby is the glue that once held this nation together: The Constitution.

A set of simple, revolutionary ideas which forged a national identity out of a group of people who looked different, spoke different languages, and practiced religion in varied ways — a true melting pot. There is a good reason the preamble to the Constitution begins with the words: “We the People” and the country’s motto is ‘E pluribus unum’ — Out of many, one.

I know, I know… Jefferson was a slave owner, women and African-Americans were denied the right to vote, and most, if not all of the 39 delegates who signed the Constitution were white men of property. It is the principle I am praising here, like I would still praise love even if some cheat.

Let us never forget that the American Revolution and its promise was won on the backs of both men and women, black, white, brown and red, enslaved and free, privileged and unfortunate. The Founders just knew how to write better, and in 7591 words — about thirty four pages including twenty seven amendments — they gave us a blueprint for how to keep the fabric from unraveling:

Federal Republic: a federation of states with a central government devoid of a monarchy or hereditary aristocracy.

Separation of Powers: checks and balances between the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches.

Rule of Law.

Civil rights: to property, religion, speech, press, assembly, petition, voting, citizenship by birth, and to bear arms (no cherry-picking allowed).

Federal Taxation (if you don’t like this one, move to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait which have none).

Simple, although imperfect, like all foundational documents, with room for improvement.

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. — Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson was in favor of revisiting the Constitution every twenty years or so.

It was last tweaked in 1992.

I say time’s up.

I’d start with clarifying freedom of speech, which some believe gives them license to say whatever is on their mind regardless of the consequences. I’d then propose amending the right to bear arms to keep them away from the mentally ill and add health care as another right.

Still, as it currently stands, the Constitution is the only glue that can keep this country together. Not race, religion, or political or economic ideology.

The extremes, however, are determined to tear it up.

In their article for The Atlantic, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld report troubling trends:

“Many progressives have turned against what were once sacrosanct American principles. Freedom of speech is [now considered by them] an instrument of the dehumanization of women and minorities. Religious liberty, an engine of discrimination. Property rights, a shield for structural injustice and white supremacy. In a recent poll, two-thirds of college-age Democrats said that a diverse and inclusive society is more important than protecting free speech. Only 30 percent of Americans born in the 1980s believe that living in a democracy is essential, compared with 72 percent of Americans born in the 1930s.

From the [extreme] right, there have been calls to define America’s national identity in racial, ethnic, or religious terms, whether as white, European, or Judeo-Christian. President Trump routinely calls the [press] “the enemy of the American people.” In a 2017 survey by the Pew Research Center, less than half of Republicans said that the freedom of the press to criticize politicians was very important to maintaining a strong democracy in the United States.”

And not too long ago, Trump announced his plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order.

This is flag-burning at its worst, and those in the exhausted majority better do something before it’s too late.

Like deciding if they share the Constitution’s core principles. If so, they must recommit to their defense as they would defend their house and family if attacked by barbarians. Otherwise move.

Like kicking out the barbarians by voting for people whose express priority is defending those principles regardless of party affiliation.

Like advocating for changes to the Constitution they believe are necessary to adapt to the times.

Or calling for the return of civics education at public schools focused on those principles.

How about petitioning the Department of Homeland Security to make fundamental changes in the Naturalization Test, prioritizing knowledge of the principles which gave birth to the country, instead of asking inane questions like “What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?”

And, finally, let us stop wasting our precious time and brains listening to the loudmouths on both extremes and start thinking for ourselves!

As for the extremes, Chua and Rubenfeld say “the right needs to recognize that making good on the Constitution’s promises requires much more than flag-waving. For its part, the left needs to rethink its scorched-earth approach to American history and ideals. Exposing injustice, past and present, is important, but there’s a world of difference between saying America has repeatedly failed to live up to its constitutional principles and saying those principles are lies or smoke screens for oppression.”  


The Bison was the glue that held American Indians together. Once gone, their culture unraveled.

History appears to be repeating itself in 21st Century America.

I still hope that, one day, humanity will come together under one flag, and that’s where I am ahead of my time. But I’m afraid the time has not yet come and might require an existential threat for it to happen.

 

For now, groups who wish to remain cohesive require local glue — a set of norms, traditions, institutions, and ideals, sacralized, shared and defended against those who wish to break them apart.

For the United States, that glue is “constitutional patriotism.”

Such lofty idea, however, will remain pie-in-the-sky if not preceded by civility. And the first step towards civility is for us to get off our self-righteous horses and sit together with our proclaimed “enemies” and listen.

Not everyone who doesn’t think like you is a bloodthirsty zombie or an idiot…ok, some probably are.

Moral indignation is the standard strategy for endowing the idiot with dignity. — Alain de Botton

When I said before we should stop listening to the loudmouths on both extremes and think for ourselves, I was referring only to those whose opinions are so calcified they border on fanaticism, which is just an overcompensation for doubt as psychologist Carl Jung suggested. For if these jokers were truly convinced of their ideas, there’d be no need to shout.

Is there an art to listening?

There is, and, to me, it starts with humility (Dubito ergo sum) and intellectual integrity. Nothing is more difficult, said economist E.F. Schumacher, than to become critically aware of the presuppositions of one’s thought.

True listening, says radio host Celeste Headlee, begins with presence. “Don’t be half-in and half-out of a conversation,” she recommends in her instructive Ted Talk in which she lists these other tips for a rewarding conversation:

  • Set yourself aside. If you want to pontificate, write a blog. Enter each conversation assuming you have something to learn. Be curious. Bill Nye rightly said “everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.”
  • Use open-ended questions.
  • If you don’t know, say so.
  • Don’t equate your experiences with them.
  • Keep your mind open and your mouth shut. If your mouth is open, you are not listening. “Most of us don’t listen with the intent to understand,” said Steven Covey, “we listen with the intent to reply.”

Judging from the ongoing Democratic debates, it is progressives, in my opinion, who most need to learn how to listen, particularly to rural white America. Once they do, they need to speak to its gut, not just its frontal brain lobe (conservatives are masters at this). While they must be honest in letting this large electorate know the country they fear lost will never return (because it never really existed), I believe most would rally behind a commitment to the Republic’s collective interest, i.e., “We the people,” instead of a warring patchwork of ‘Us-versus-Them.’

There is enough credible research out there proving that exalting differences among groups of people only serves to create prejudice, but I am not suggesting we suppress the rich cultural expressions the United States is fortunate to have. That would only leave a bland, white canvas. I’m suggesting we invert our identity markers and start calling ourselves: American-Africans, American-Hispanics, American-Muslims, American-Asians, etc.

I’m proposing the canvas be placed before the paint.

That canvas is the Constitution.

Get yourself a copy.


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