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Reflections 1: Money, Empathy, Empire

October 28, 2017

"Please Pray God vs Satan War," Florence OR

 

I've been on the road for about two weeks now, a slithering black course across easy eastern forests, rolling mid-west and the northern boreal, plains and prairie, and ultimately the pacific line. It has been a joy to experience seventeen interviews so far - energetic and incredibly thoughtful queries into the heartbeat of our democratic aspiration. Several clear themes are emerging, which are:

  1. Democracy is failing - near universally, we all share concerns about the fundamental health of our institutions and practices of democracy. 

  2. Money in politics is corrosive - of citizen voice, of the institutions of democracy, and ultimately of agendas and governing.

  3. We must regain empathy - economics, technology, and polarizing politics have eroded our capacity to see one another as loving, dreaming beings, especially where differences preside.

  4. Local is hopeful - many of us have direct experience and an appreciation for local democratic engagement, whether through elected office, volunteering, or direct action.

  5. Economics drive politics - economic hardship and their accompanying uncertainty and anxiety are a constraint on inclusive, expansive democratic thought when everything and everyone "other" presents threats or risks.

 Shipyard, Coos OR

 

As I've been driving, talking and reading along the way, several streams that I'd like to chase up are crystallizing, which include:

  1.  Three challenges of the west: water, housing and transportation will drive the success of these cities in the next 15-25 years.

  2. Un-affordability is driving both profound alienation from government, and is it driving a rich movement of social innovation and experimentation.

  3. The urban-rural gap is also one of local and global connectivity, and it is driving a polarization of expectations.

  4. The possible return, re-discovery or revitalization of utopian social experiments is likely to grow as economic livelihoods diminish.

  5. Money is politics appears to be an equalizer of political dissatisfaction - its common ground for members of all political persuasions.

  6. The California Trail is a remarkable and singular kind of national monument that exists beneath our noses, largely un-tended.

 

Here's a great quote that I pulled from Robert Kaplan's Earning the Rockies:

 

The weakness of global culture is that, having psychologically disconnected itself from any specific homeland, it has no terrain to defend or to fight for, and therefore no anchoring beliefs beyond the latest fashion or media craze.

 

One thing that I believe we're seeing is a two-fold sensitivity with democratic implications: its on the one hand a reaction against our hard-earned status as an empire and on the other a return of our attention to the local and local histories. Perhaps this commercial interest in and widening nostalgia for historic places, ideas and traditions will push back against the totalizing forces of globalization and produce a new kind of national identity, enlivened again by local narratives and a national unity of aspiration. 

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