What Keeps Me Up At Night…

Why have a blog if you can’t share your nightmares?

As I see it, we live in a time of paradigm shift, characterized by a rapidly morphing information environment, a reversion to tribalism, deepening economic insecurities, widespread civic illiteracy, and growing recognition of the inadequacies of current legal and political structures.

All of these elements of our contemporary reality challenge our existing worldviews.

Humanity has gone through similar “shifts” before, but with the possible exception of the nuclear arms race, we have not previously faced the very real possibility that our behavior will cause large portions of the planet to become uninhabitable, or that social order will collapse—with consequences we can only imagine.

The 2016 election exposed significant fault-lines in American society and forced us to confront the erosion of our democratic institutions. The problems have been there, and been accelerating, for some time.

A splintered and constantly morphing media has dramatically exacerbated the problems inherent in democratic decision-making. The current media environment enables/encourages confirmation bias, is rife with spin, “fake news” and propaganda, and  is widely distrusted. The widening gap between the rich and the rest feeds suspicion of government decision-making, and Citizens United and its progeny increased recognition of—and cynicism about– the power wielded by corporate America through lobbying, political contributions and influence-peddling.

In order for democracy to function, there must be widespread trust in the integrity of electoral contests. The fundamental idea is a fair fight, a contest of competing ideas, with the winner legitimized and authorized to carry out his/her agenda. Increasingly, democratic norms have been replaced by bare-knuckled power plays and widening public recognition of the ways in which partisans game the system.

As a result, citizens’ trust in government and other social institutions has dangerously eroded. Without that trust—without belief in an American “we,” an overarching polity to which all citizens belong and in which all citizens are valued—tribalism thrives. Especially in times of rapid social change, racial resentments grow. The divide between urban and rural Americans widens, as does the gap between various “elites” and others. Economic insecurity and social dysfunction are exacerbated by the absence of an adequate social safety net, adding to resentment of both government and “the Other.

Making matters worse, in the midst of these wrenching changes, Americans elected someone incapable of recognizing or dealing with them.

Citizens in21st Century America are facing a globalized, technocratic, increasingly complex world that poses previously unprecedented challenges to the goal of e pluribus unum (not to mention human understanding and survival). The existential question we face: Can we create a genuine “us” out of so many different/diverse “I’s” and “we’s”? Can we use the law and legal system to create a supportive, nourishing culture that remains true to the Enlightenment’s essential insights, while modifying those we no longer consider so essential? If so, how?

How do we overcome the multiple challenges to the rule of law and a functioning democratic system? Those challenges tend to fall into three (interrelated and sometimes overlapping) categories: Ignorance (defined as lack of essential information, not stupidity); Inequality (poverty, consumer culture, civic inequality, globalization, power and informational asymmetries among others) and Tribalism (“us versus them”—racism, sexism, religion, urban/rural divide, etc.)

As an old lawyer once told me, there’s only one question, and that’s “what do we do?”

In the wake of the election, there’s been a lot of understandable hand-wringing. Comments on this blog, on Facebook and elsewhere have emphasized the need to act. Most of us don’t need that reminder; what we need is specifics: what do we do? How do we do it? 

The most obvious answer and most immediate imperative is political: we need to change Congress in 2018. But we also need to fashion concrete answers to the questions raised by social change and  threatening political realities. If we can’t find those answers and then act on them, humanity’s prospects don’t look so good.

And I don’t sleep so well.


  1. ” what do we do? How do we do it? ”

    “…we need to change Congress in 2018.”

    Long ago I read a quote, “If you know the question, you have the answer.” Not always true; but Sheila reminded us of our answer with these two comments on the blog today. It sounds simple but, the election, as screwed up as it was, appeared to have the answer as to who would make the best leader and look where we are today…in a position where nuclear weapons are pointed at us from enemies and allies of many decades turning from us as a world leader. Changing Congress is the first step in that journey to recovering sanity in our entire government administration and process which has made no progress.

    Someone posted on Facebook that beautiful musical production from the 1980’s; “We Are The World”. Part of the film clip was of Whitney Houston and Willie Nelson harmonizing together among the many musical greats of that era. Who, in the music world, could be more different? The old term, “Politicians make strange bedfellows.” resounds through the White House today with Trump’s collection of misfits and highly-placed Trump family members but it produces no beauty, no harmony, only cacophonous discord keeping all of us awake at night.

    Another Facebook post this morning reported Trump, when leaning of a member of our military receiving a Purple Heart, took over without invitation to the ceremony by stating, “I want to do this myself.” After pinning the Purple heart on the wheelchair bound man’s collar he stated, “Congratulations, tremendous!” The man lost the lower part of one leg and Trump believes he deserves “congratulations” and the loss of his lower leg is “tremendous”. Well; Trump’s Purple Heart was handed to him by a supporter, no loss to himself, especially no loss of self-respect which he lacks.

    Congress ruled most of President Obama’s administration and two terms in the presidency; not even 100 days later we are looking for ways to force them to rule this fool…it needs to begin before 2018 if we are to be saved from destruction…either from within or outside our borders.

  2. My faith tells me that in this life I can expect troubles. It also tells me to be prepared to stand up for what is good and right. And it tells me not to be anxious, but rather to be confident that goodness and love overcomes. These days are simply times to stand up, work, and practice my faith. Without them I suspect I would become spiritually lazy. Now, instead, my resolve grows to make the future of my children and grandchildren safe and secure from the selfish stupidity and hate that is at work now. As MLK sang…We SHALL overcome. Amen.

  3. Citizens United created a virtual toy store for corporations to buy their politicians. We have Terre Haute attorney Jim Bopp to thank for Citizens United and he has been working diligently on bringing another case to court that would allow even more hidden money to influence elections. Here is a link to an article that describes his current case: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/06/supreme-court-scotus-citizens-united-money-campaigns-political-new-fec-next-law-suit-213980#ixzz4CXao9yT2

    Yes, the answer to our troubles is to elect different members to Congress, but how in the world can we do that when the Rs have built completely safe districts via gerrymandering and through massive war chests that they share with each other to defeat any democratic challenger that tries to win an election?

  4. Bill Nye, a prominent engineer and TV personality, told the Guardian.

    “Objective truths have become set aside and diminished and lawmakers are acting like a strong belief in something is as valid as careful peer review.”

  5. Shelia’s commentary today is well taken. Many of us have recognized a real danger to human survival on our present tack and, in my opinion, our downfall as a species if it happens might be attributable not to atomic war or environmental destruction but rather by loss of social cohesion, a condition about which I have sometimes blogged. Such a loss goes beyond mere tribalism; it suggests individualism beyond any threads of care for one’s fellow humans or institutions marked by our mores and folkways, any sense of empathy or other caring for any grouping of other humans, a return not to a primative society but to a situation where there is no society to return to, having been destroyed, a pure freedom to which libertarians ignorantly claim to aspire as human entropy arrives earlier than expected, a form of pure narcissism that would make Trump look like a Gandhi or Saint Francis of Assisi by comparison.

    Shelia’s outline of what is happening which give rise to her fears is (in accord with my view of loss of social cohesion) symptomatic of the coming dissolution of society unless stopped. It may not take a thermonuclear war or air that cannot be breathed to do us in; our disappearance from the living may rather be because we are at one another’s throats due to the success of present day politicians and moneychangers in stoking our passions for a world in which it is “every man for himself” as the order of the day and where “we’re all in this together” is artificial, politically motivated, and a drag on individual expression and initiative.

    How to survive? Less greed and more empathy. How to provide for such a survivalist plan to restore social stability? The process, perhaps unfortunately, is political. My best guess at this point in history is to elect those who offer a broader view of a society’s future than mere aggregation of assets, the foundation of greed. Can’t be done? How do we know? Let’s try it.

  6. Pete Seeger asked, “When will they ever learn?” As a teen-aged baby boomer, I listened to Peter, Paul, and Mary as they sang, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” and believed my generation would be the one that learned. How could we not? We were protesting war and racial injustice. We demonstrated for women’s rights. We were the best educated generation ever. We started from the highest socio-economic level in history.

    Turns out, I am the world’s worst prognosticator. My generation has laid waste to everything with intrinsic value. 45 is one of us. Instead of elevating the best principles of the Enlightenment, we have elevated greed and Narcissism. We have created a public school system that only functions in the wealthiest communities. We decided it was okay to kill off the unions and leave working people powerless. We decided we didn’t want to pay any taxes for needs that weren’t our own. Finally, we decided that ignorance is okay with us.

    The best thing we can do is give support to the new generation to avoid those mistakes. We need to help them run for office. We need to get out and vote for anyone who will help to change this world we have created. Maybe they will be the generation who learns.

  7. We’re in our “First Illness”.
    This term comes from the history of ancient Egypt. Three kingdoms. They were prosperous and orderly. Then, each one would go downhill and collapse for a few centuries before a strong pharaoh came along and rebuilt the kingdom. This period of collapse and economic disorder is called an “illness”.
    When the third kingdom collapsed, there was no illness — Egypt died — and Rome took over.
    I do not call the Civil War an illness. It was a problem that was unsettled from the Revolutionary War, and the issue of slavery was settled by it.
    But, the social problems of race continued, and have now caused our illness.

  8. There will always be change…..and there will always be a ‘next’…

    What comes after?

    What comes after a democratic republic ?

  9. Meanwhile, while we are indeed floating along in a sea of conflict and chaos, the world keeps moving on without us being fully engaged in a coherent way as we have to be. It’s not going to wait for us to sort ourselves out. We run the risk of turning ourselves into “an also ran” given the idiotic and self-defeating choices that have been made in regard to the leadership of this country. It is a sad and disheartening spectacle to see and contemplate indeed.

  10. The current administration is not experienced or competent or honest enough to avoid collapse. It will be very painful and is completely unavoidable.

    That puts us like Germany in the 30s. Their “solution” could be replicated here.

    What we have to be prepared for is those times not these times which are very temporary.

    To me the question is how do we prepare?

  11. I’m thinking that we need short term, medium term and long term goals. None of us can do it all
    Short term could be learning all we can about how our grandparents did things. We could also decide one or two main issues that concern us and find others with similar views. We can meet and write letters to legislators. At same time we can work to get better people in office. Long term we can protect changes we’ve made and. build on it, and continue growing
    groups. I’m concerned about divisions in Democrats. We have to have a critical mass for elections.

  12. Marge; I have had a thought that keeps popping up in my mind not much different than yours. I am considering asking if the local commenters on the blog here in Indianapolis are interested in selecting any of the many issues we have to protest, pick a meeting place and march or rally together as a group. Just askin’

  13. Here’s a clue….


    An excerpt:

    “Yet, let me offer a backhanded defense of the Clinton campaign: too much is being made of the failure of one candidate, and the alleged influence of foreign powers, because the demise of the Democratic party has been in the making for many years. One campaign did not hand the Republican Party two-thirds of the state legislatures, a solid majority in the House and control of the Senate before losing the White House. You had to screw up for a very long time to amass that track record.”

  14. Meh, who cares? We are all going to die soon. Eventually the earth will die, and the universe will become a dead sea of matter. Life itself has no future.

    So here you are. You are an animal. If you are reading this, you probably possess enough intelligence to understand the difference between the vast majority of humans who are in fact no different than animals in their behavior, and those few who have transcended that state. You can’t run away from the animals — they will hunt you down. How do you exist in animal culture as a born predator that has developed guilt?

  15. On once sitting through an afternoon in a criminal courtroom to provide moral support to a friend, the sentencing cases that came before the judge were one body blow after another. The crimes for which jail-suited prisoners were sentenced were a constant stream of evil and violence. A friend who was the court reporter was a church acquaintance. I asked her afterward how she dealt with the constant revelations of depravity. She said that’s why her faith and church were so important to her.

    While it’s always been evident, I’ve noticed lately what seems to be our pastors’ increased emphasis on goodness and tolerance. Our church members also are gifts of goodness involved in so many quiet ways to care about and for others including those close and far whose circumstances, skin color, and religions are different from our own. To borrow a phrase from George H. W. Bush, our church shines a ‘thousand points of light’ on the darkness to create a community of caring purpose. So do you Sheila.

  16. It’s not a paradigm shift, it’s a paradigm collapse. And it was not unexpected.

    Anyone familiar with Alasdair MacIntyre’s book, After Virtue, will recognize the inherent failures of the prevailing ideologies and their institutional representations as inevitable. The fall of the Roman Empire did not occur in a day, or even a year. Rome was sacked many times before the fantasy died. The kleptocracy we are witnessing is visible because we have the technology to share information easily and there are many people reporting on it, despite attempts to hide that information.

    Our institutional flaws may prove fatal to a large section of the population. Not only have our institutions become increasingly unresponsive to popular demands (see http://www.represent.us), they are corrupt and dysfunctional as organizations. Our institutions are rotting from the inside out. The malaise is not restricted to government, where it is most obvious, but extends into the public nonprofit, philanthropic, and even the private sector, where it steals initiative and improved productivity from the economy. The problem is more than a cultural attachment to tribal ideologies. It’s exacerbated by the structures we have in place, which were designed to produce a bias – for slave-owners in another era – that serve corporations and wealthy interests in today’s environment.

    In government, the long-ignored problems of gerrymandering, the electoral college, and the revolving doors of corruption were made even more damaging with Citizens United, but our problem is much deeper – we don’t teach people how to participate in effective political action. That’s taboo for a reason. The ruling class will not allow it and, to the extent that they can, they prohibit it.

    I think Marge is right, we need to focus on small things to chip away at these problems or we’ll lose ourselves in the enormity of the problem. MacIntyre, for his part, seems intent on turning his back on the large issues and taking some variant of the “Benedict option,” which is yet another dead end.

    By the way, I think that you would find Greg Steven’s writing interesting:

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