Saturday, January 22, 2011


As I listen to global and local leaders evaluating problems and proposing solutions, I am arrested by the contradictory rhetoric in our public discourse. My friends on the Left tout "structural issues" such as "capitalism/colonialism" and "poverty" as "root causes" for anarchy and violence, including Islamic militancy. On the Right, I hear shrill calls for "personal responsibility" and "traditional values" and passionate calls for an end to the globalism and socialism infecting our institutions.

Behind all the debates is an issue that our late-modern mindsets wrestle with: who is responsible? Am I supposed to apologize for the Manifest Destiny ideology of the 19th century that destroyed our indigenous nations (including my own Cherokee ancestors)? Are Sarah Palin's old political ads a direct cause of murder in Arizona? The middle-class, English-bred suicide bomber in London - was he oppressed by capitalism? Why is it that a majority of poor people around the world are religious and do not kill each other? When the Right blames "government" aren't they implying that our choices as voters have been unwise? When the Left screams for "fairness" on the radio, aren't they admitting that they cannot communicate as well and have failed to win the hearts of the many in our nation?

All of these question beg the real issue - we are confused about the nature of personal and social responsibility. All the political posturing in the world will not reduce deficits, stimulate wealth creation, awaken personal accountability and refocus us on the things that matter. All the calls for traditional values, however well-intentioned (and I agree with most of these values), will not extricate single moms from the consequences of unfaithful ex-spouses.

The answer is to move beyond the either/or fallacy of our sound bites and affirm the both/and realities. Human beings are depraved and dignified, capable of absurd evils and altruistic efforts. We are sinners and saints, unique creatures and swayed by the mob. We can transcend our differences and we often retreat behind our worst prejudices. We are a paradox to ourselves. As a Biblical Christian, I believe that these attributes are the result of our unique creation in the image of God and our corrupt, fallen nature and rebellious decisions. Such theological reflection is for another space. In this essay I want to offer ways that people of all faiths or none can forge a better future by living with the tension of personal and social responsibility and historical and existential contexts for our issues.

Here are some concrete proposals that require a both/and approach:
  • Global poverty is personal and structural, philosophical and political. Powerful people and systems DO conspire to keep entire nations serving the greed of multinational corporations who care little for compassion, freedom and opportunity. At the same time, affirming a strong work ethic, the value of private property, strong familial loyalty and sexual restraint does make a difference in transforming entire regions.
  • America's slavery to the global bankers can end quickly, if we will take our medicine and like our parents in WWII, accept serious short-term sacrifices to ensure long-term liberty. An immediate 10% cut in all spending, the end of tax-funded public pensions and serious business acumen applied to all aspects of federal and state government will move us forward. No one has to starve and no veteran need be without help. Creating wealth is the way forward, not overtaxing the productive.
  • Public education requires as end to parental abdication. Almost all families can send kids to school with a bowl of oatmeal inside, a peanut butter sandwich in hand, adequate sleep and a clean body in clean clothes. The cable may need to go and life may be simple, but children ready to learn and parents alert to the content of that learning will keep educators accountable and focused. Our children need less "global citizenship" and more math, reading and science.
  • "Civil" public speech will never be perfectly attained, but we can make progress if our "public servants" hold themselves accountable to live within their budgets, stop their ad hominem attacks and form private/public coalitions to solve real problems. The brainpower, resources and will are waiting to be synergized.
We do not choose our DNA or early geography; but we can make the most of daily opportunities. We cannot control the foolish decisions of others; however, we can act reflectively, even in the opposite ways of those who have hurt us. We can live simply so others may simply live. We can choose fidelity to our spouses and integrity in our private and public lives.

We are responsible. Let's take the power of this and start creating a better future today.