Aici lo tems s’en , va res l’Eternitat.”
<here, in this place, time moves away toward eternity>
“This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper. “
<“The Hollow Men”>
“Has it been in your experience that one’s affairs are always in order and that all life’s conundrums will eventually be made clear?”
It is always interesting to read a historical book <What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe> and look at what is happening in today’s world.
Historical note on the title of the book.
The first telegraph message, sent by inventor Samuel F.B. Morse on May 24, 1844, over an experimental line from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, was “What hath God wrought?”
At over 900 pages and pretty academic in its detail and narrative … this book is not for the faint of heart <but very interesting if you can wade through it>. The book is heavy on political history and the role politics & government played, and didn’t play, in the transformation of American society.
Simplistically you see that government has always been functionally dysfunctional constantly lurching through the decisions a country needs to make as it struggles with private versus public, growth and the well-being of its citizens <all within a Constitutional construct>.
In addition … in looking at that one particularly period of history we see everything was magnified, or amplified, by developments in communications <mails, newspaper, books, and telegraph> and mobility/transportation <trains, steamboats, canals, and roads>.
Isn’t that what technology & the internet is doing today?
And that magnification created the same issues we seem to discuss today:
– In 1846 Philip Hone wondered if the rapid pace of change threatened cherished values …
“everything goes fast nowadays, even the winds have begun to improve upon the speed with they have hitherto maintained; everything goes ahead but good manners and sound principles.”
They discussed the delicate balance of empowerment and responsibility within the citizenship … the power of government to enable individualism all the while encouraging the citizenship to use their liberty & freedoms to seek improvement.
– John Quincy Adams stated …
“Liberty is power and the citizens have a responsibility to use their freedom.
The spirit of improvement is abroad upon the earth. Let not foreign nations with less liberty exceed us in ‘pubic improvement’ … to do so would ‘cast away the bounties of providence’ and doom what should become the world’s most powerful nation ‘to perpetual inferiority.’
Even in religious environments ‘responsible capitalism’ was discussed:
– As the author points out … even in 1826 preachers were teaching …
“work hard, be thrifty, save your money, don’t go into debt, be honest in business dealings, don’t screw down the wages of those who work for you to the lowest possible level, if you manage a surplus be faithful stewards of your bounty and generous to causes.“
All the foundation things of capitalism done the right way and economic growth without sacrificing values to a better society.
The book does a nice job reminding everyone of the challenges any government faces.
“… it rarely forces one to act but it constantly opposes itself to one’s action; it does not destroy it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize , it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes and finally reduces the nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.”
Mostly, as I read about a country’s transformation, I was reminded that change is never easy and in the midst of progress you do right things and wrong things and there are consequences for all <and you inevitably have an opportunity to ‘wrong the rights & right the wrongs’>.
It reminded me that we all adapt.
Countries also. Just look at capitalism.
America developed a prosperous example for capitalism and ultimately exported the example. Other countries then adapted the idea creating a customized capitalism to accommodate their needs, wants and desires <which, by the way, may not match America’s>.
America exported capitalism …. not values or rights <or democracy>.
Economics is what inevitably changed behavior because as country leaders desired people to be more productive <so they could be more competitive globally> they inevitably had to give them more rights, liberties and avenues to do so.
This means that the expansion of rights was driven by economics … and only curbed by that particular country’s government ideology <or the country’s overall culture>.
I mention that because we Americans tend to look outwards with a sense of righteousness … and the outside world states unequivocally … I do not want to be exactly like you.
I struggle to understand why we in America don’t get this.
Our book stores and amazon are strewn with self-help books shouting “being yourself … don’t be someone else!” … “learn from the best but be nobody but yourself.’
In other words … learn the shared learning and implement as an individual.
Are countries really any different? Why wouldn’t we expect another country to want to maintain its own character and way of doing things?
The book reminded me how grumpy I get with people who continuously claim <loudly> that America is declining <i.e., going into the shithole>.
I never really thought of us as a country of whiners, pessimists and blamers <finger pointers>.
Context and perspective … the book once again reminded me of this from a historical perspective.
The book reminded me that in the 19th century there was a relatively balanced global power <hmmmmmmmmmmm … kind of like where we may be heading today?>. Oh, and yes, there was a ‘global economy’ at that time.
And the 21st century began with an extraordinary imbalance in world power.
The United States was the only country able to project military force globally, it represented more than a quarter of the world economy and had the world’s leading “soft-power resources” in its universities and entertainment industry.
America didn’t purposefully build the imbalance … the imbalance was opportunistic and reflective of contextual situations.
What that means is that no one truly knows much about social engineering and how to “build nations.”
The transformation of America in the 1800’s certainly reminded me of that.
At times it appears like America reached its strength position despite itself.
Therefore … if we cannot be sure how to ‘build a nation’ or have some formula to improve the world hubris is dangerous. It certainly seems like what is required is a careful understanding of the context of change.
Here is what I know <and believe>.
Anyone, and any country, will be successful if it finds its pride cloaked in humility <not hubris>.
I cannot remember where I found this quote but it seems to highlight what Americans should avoid at all costs <domestically as well as internationally>:
“Sweep in as if emissaries of light bringing salvation to the natives living in a dark forest. You think you are heroes because people ask for your help and advice. You think that worth works for you will automatically work for everyone else. Your teeth are whiter and your clothes are better and suddenly that permits you to be the ultimate arbiters of public morality.
You assume America, and capitalism, is the ultimate model and you end up judging everything simply by how close it comes to your own ideal. You begin to think you have carte blanche to remake whatever you want to remake in your own image.”
Speaking of humility.
We, everyone in a country leadership role, lurch back and forth between what is right and what is wrong all the while every step taken on a path with a sign that says “what is best for the country & people this way.’
And each step nowadays seems to be burdened by this word ‘compromise.’
Compromise implies ‘giving up something that is right or the best.’
It seems like it would be better to recognize that there is no one right way and no one right answer in heading down this path … all head down the path … it is just an argument over what shoes I want to wear that particular day.
It seems like maybe those spewing forth the idea that the other’s ideas are stupid and the path to greatness is ‘this way’ …and it is the only way … could drink from the cup of humility and accept that our past has certainly taught us that there is no one way nor right way.
Our past is strewn with greatness intermingled with some dark aspects.
Greatness doesn’t reside in our actions or accomplishments … it resides in one’s belief in hope & the future. Greatness resides in the ability to keep an eye on the horizon and the ability to put one foot in front of the other, sometimes not knowing where your foot will exactly land, on this path of ‘better.’
Ralph Waldo Emerson … “America is a country of the future. It is a country of beginnings, of projects, of vast designs and expectations.”
Daniel Walker Howe writes on page 853 … “Americans live by hope for the future but their conflicting hopes for their country and their own lives provoke dissension.
Americans are constantly proposing new ideas and then wrangling over them.”
America is, and always has been, a country of the future.
America will, and always has, wrangled over ideas and hopes.
We always have and always will.
The moment we accept that, and embrace that, we accept dissension and accept that sometimes we will get it right … and sometimes we will get it wrong … because … well … while maybe being a great nation we are inevitably a great big group of people trying to do the best they can without having any specific formula for what to do.
That’s why I hack my way through 900 page history books … to gain and maintain some perspective.
Sometimes I learn something.
But mostly it gives me some perspective on what is happening today.
One last random thought.
I am not a speechwriter nor am I politician <most likely not qualified for either> … but … it slightly puzzles me that we don’t hear more Ralph Waldo Emerson or Adams or … well … many of the great American philosophical thinkers of the mid 1800’s quoted or used to make a point.
They had the ability to capture the American spirit, the American desire to ‘do things’, the American power of individualism and the American belief that government supports to ‘better.’
But, hey, that’s me.
And if they did … well … then I couldn’t use all their great words and I wouldn’t have a blog.