Think of this as Volume 12, Number 25 of A-Clue.com, the online newsletter I've written since 1997. Enjoy.
Last week I talked about why America will win the future.
Now I want to talk about how to do that, and our responsibility for making that happen.
America will continue to lead because of the hard work we have all done in the last generation, not so much in Washington but in our lives and communities.
All the many movements of the last generation -- the womens' movement, the gay rights movement, the civil rights movement, the fight for rights for the disabled and ethnic minorities, the environmental movement -- all of what I have called the AntiThesis to the Nixon Thesis, or the outright rejection of that thesis -- all have had an impact.
All of them have taken us further down the road of progress than most other societies have even contemplated going, and what came to me most clearly during my recent trip was that elites elsewhere recognize that progress, and envy it.
What they have given our society is flexibility, mobility, an ability to adapt to change unparalleled in human history. The ruins of failed societies all around the world attest to this. Change is the hardest work a society can undertake. No society has succeeded at it like ours, and none has done more to unite people worldwide around the idea that change is both good and necessary.
The clearest proof is living in the White House right now. But we can't rest on that laurel. Here is what we must do:
Set high goals
Learn what real leadership means
Embrace the change process
Let me take these one at a time:
Set high goals
To me this is the Obama Administration's most conspicuous failure to date. The goals this President has laid before us seem immense because the problems before us are immense. The Bush Excess has left us with two wars, a mounting debt, a burning planet, and government processes seemingly incapable of addressing any of it.
But these are alligators. They are not the swamp.
No matter how intractable our health care problems may appear, they are in the end arguments over doling out resources we know will exist. The President's energy goals are, in terms of the real problem, vague and even modest. Ending wars can be simple once you have the will to stop killing, and lack the resources to continue.
The Cold War gave us a template for the kind of goal-setting I'm talking about. The aim of the Space Race was not so much to put a Man on the Moon as to perfect rocketry and force technology change on our military-industrial complex. It did both, but it was the image of Armstrong on the Moon, saluting the flag, which animated a generation of scientists, engineers, and students.
Perhaps the reason President Obama has not yet made a speech saying, in effect, "Mars, Bitches" is because we lack that intractable, imaginary enemy. The military struggles we face cannot be won with technology. Our brave fighting forces already look like Imperial Storm Troopers on Tatooine. They are not the droids we are looking for.
We have met the new enemy, and he is us (as Pogo would have said). The technology of the previous era has put us on an unsustainable path. We need a host of new technologies to move forward. And these technologies are best developed through a big goal -- a Martian Chronicle.
Think about it. What gets us into space but hydrogen fuel. The processes destroying our planet could, if properly delivered, make Mars habitable. But getting from here to there requires we do other things -- a space elevator, for instance -- that now appear impossible. They only become possible when we set impossible goals.
The same holds for the War Against Oil. Here we've set a goal, but it's way too modest, and doesn't identify the real enemy. Oil is the real enemy, hydrocarbons of all sorts. Unless we see hydrocarbons as the enemy we'll lose the focus and the plot -- we're already doing it. This is where Presidential leadership is necessary, because it's where American leadership is necessary.
Learn what real leadership means
We have seen this decade what leadership is not. It's not pointing in a direction and yelling charge. It's not ordering people about. It's not calling people "evil-doers," and no goal this President sets will mean anything unless we can exercise real leadership.
Leadership in this case means just what it does on any playing field. It means taking responsibility and doing right. You can't say, follow me. You have to show your teammates proper behavior at all times. In baseball it means running out ground balls, in basketball it means taking charges and making the extra pass. These are the values we have always instilled in young people through sports, but these lessons also hold for our society.
Each one of us is an example to someone, or can be. Each one of us has the chance, every day, to show leadership, not by ordering one another about, but by setting a good example, and going the extra mile to do what we know is right.
Our society's leaders can encourage this by connecting the dots, by linking the small things we can do as individuals to the larger goals before us. They can also do it by acting in a modest manner, by pointing out the larger goals and proceeding toward them. Don't argue about what others are doing about global warming. Proceed with the War Against Oil and show there's money in it.
Embrace the change process
This may be the most difficult. Change is hard. Very hard. It's hard for individuals, for groups, for society. We have seen just how hard it is in the generation just ended.
Right now, we are at the start of the Second War on Terror. The recent killings of prominent people and in prominent places are a giant primal scream from those on the Right to stop changing, to reverse course, to revert to some imagined happy place. It is undertaken by people who feel themselves losing, being ground under, by the change process.
Yet we must do more than win this fight on the ground. We must win it in our own hearts and minds. We must embrace, all of us, the process of change, as a necessary precondition to the continuance of life on Earth.
The society created by the 20th century was, for some, a virtual paradise, but it was and is unsustainable. We can't grant it to the rest of the world without destroying all human life. And we can't deny prosperity to the rest of the world either, because to attempt it is to launch a global civil war.
What I found on my trip abroad was societies locked in various iterations of the past. All are moving forward toward where we are now. So we have an obligation, if mankind is to live, to move forward ourselves, into a more sustainable life, into a more organized life, into a life that is more accepting of difference and change than anything we have known before.
We must keep evolving so that others might survive. And we need to do this proudly, heads held high, confident, and filled with belief that tomorrow is going to be better, not just for ourselves and our children but for all mankind. And that this future depends on us.
Because it does. Either we make the future happen or, someday, archeologists will be digging at our ruins and wondering what happened to that global civilization which rose, and fell, in their distant past.