Looking For Omens

As regular readers of this blog know, my daily posts tend to focus on the multiple problems/challenges Americans face today, especially–but not exclusively– the mounting deficiencies of our governing institutions.

Although I almost never “weigh in” on the conversations conducted by those who comment here, I am well aware (and really, quite flattered) that there are a number of very bright, knowledgable people among those who post those comments.( I also know that I have some equally thoughtful readers who rarely or never comment.)

This is a request to all of you–“lurkers” and commenters alike.

I am looking for evidence of a coming “paradigm shift”–signs that America’s culture is on the cusp of significant change for the better. Those signs, those omens, are there–even if they are less prominent, less noted, than a casual reading of the daily news might suggest. Think, for example, of the explosion in civic engagement in the wake of Trump’s election. Think of the sea change in attitudes about the LGBTQ community. Think about the growing numbers of women refusing to remain personally or politically submissive.

Think about what survey research tells us about the attitudes of the younger generation. I often say that I would turn the country over to my students in a heartbeat–they are inclusive, they care about their communities and they care about fundamental social fairness.

I’m currently working on a book, and I am looking for harbingers of positive change, for signs that we may be about to turn yet another social corner and create a better version of ourselves. If we can take our eyes off the train wreck in Washington, the economic threat posed by automation, the alternate realities facilitated by a constantly morphing and fragmenting media environment– if we can tear ourselves away from obsessing over these and other immediate social and political problems (not to mention the multiple, overwhelming threats posed by climate change) and make ourselves take the long view, I am convinced that there are many signs of human progress.

I want to know what you, my readers, see as promising indicators for the future. What are the data points that should give us some comfort and hope?


  1. The articulate, passionate, savvy students from Florida’s Parkland High School have been SO impressive in their comments to the public, the Florida legislature, the President, the media, and to the NRA. There is hope for America.

  2. the election of a wall street failure,probably will show what America gets when you hire,er,con,er,buy a non politician to the office of the president of the U.S. though the right believes this to be the best idea ever,its been paved with blisters. the sights unseen yet,to be a future movie,or a very dull book. after watching dump er,trump hire non washington people to run his office,so he can sit back and show his true colors,while watching headline news,and swilling cokes,and wearing out his ,whatever he has now,twittin a bunch of garbage. if one is to believe that the FBI investigation is new,on trump himself,think again,its been an ongoing affair for decades,(read james henrys,theamericanintrests.com about trump and kushners money laundering) seems a delightful look at how not to deal with russians,,,,anywhere.. liars will be liars,and some even believe in no guillt,or will be too big too,fail..(thats CEO talk,for the ones too big to fail,yea right) we have given America and its highest office,a blackeye in the face of the world. omen,we reap what we sow buddy..

  3. I am not sure if I’m seeing a cultural sift as we saw in the 60’s or are we now in a war to find where we are as a society. I think there is a struggle going on and my fear is around the fact that we as a society are so split in our thinking and philosophy that we cannot hear each other. To move forward there has to be a meeting of thought and action. I don’t think we are there yet. Those in my generation (60’s) are having anxiety about the technology changes and how we are communicating to each other. We are being pulled in by the younger generations who now live in a global environment not a world bound by boundaries. A philosopher in the 60’s said that the human race was in its teenage years and could either grow in to adulthood or destroy itself. Ironically, I think we are still there. Some gains in acceptance but still trying to figure out who we really are as a global people.

  4. I agree with you, Nancy. What’s even more impressive might be the fact the media covered their passionate pleas for change and their disappointment when the conservative Florida legislators ignored their pleas.

    The entire 2016 campaign was a catalyst for change as well. Bernie Sanders campaign specifically. His campaign was funded by individuals – not corporations and billionaires. Noam Chomsky made note of this historical event. The corporate owned media ignored it.

    All of these moments are catalysts for change which is coming at a rapid pace despite the efforts of our government to oppress them in this country and across the world.

    We can’t ignore the Eastern countries. Even their culture will become more relevant on the world as China takes the lead. On the world’s stage, major shifts are occurring. When you consider how China is withdrawing from buying our debt and the petrodollar, even bigger changes are coming.

    Meanwhile, our government and their lapdog media paint the story that ALL these shifts are due to 13 Russians spending $46,000 on FB ads to drum up political discord…”All is well, all is well.”

    The only reason I wanted Trump to win is that his victory would act as a major catalyst for change. Like pouring lighter fluid or gas on smoldering flames.

    After the first year, it’s worked better than I could have imagined. U.S. citizens are slowly getting a taste of authoritarianism which comes from the right as those in control try to stay in power. Censorship, surveillance, stripping of rights, more corporate control, etc., etc. Reactionary “leadership”.

    Sadly, the only ones missing this are those brainwashed Boomers who sit in front of their television because they’re scared of Smart Phone technology. They still expect to be “informed” like the good ole days…

    Sheila, this a hundred times, “I often say that I would turn the country over to my students in a heartbeat–they are inclusive, they care about their communities and they care about fundamental social fairness.”

    Why do you think the Koch’s have invested in over 150 colleges across the country, including Ball State University. Speaking of, once HB 1315 comes out of committee, our public school district will be turned over to Ball State, ground zero for privatization. 😉

    They know our young people are the key as Boomers die off. They need to indoctrinate the next breed of social conservatives or risk losing everything to democratic socialism.

  5. What I see is an awakening of the people to the hypocrisy of our institutions. Women have been at the forefront of this awakening that began with the election of Trump, but they are now being joined by a large segment of our youth. Will there be a “paradigm shift”? I don’t know, but I am hopeful.

  6. Omen #1: Most of the Boomer generation, also known as the Me Generation and largely responsible for the mess were in today, will be dead in the next 20 years.

  7. Just how long should it take for a paradigm to shift? We are still in the early stages of the post-industrial age. That’s why it seems we take two steps forward and one step back. Although I must admit the last two steps forward (Obama aftter “W”) was followed by a great leap backward. That leap exposed much of the ugliness of our society. We are now “woke” and we must stay that way, The women and the children will lead the way.

    One comment off point, if I may. Raising the age at which one may buy an assault weapon signals that we don’t want any more school shootings, but we’re okay with Pulse and Las Vegas.

  8. I am vacationing in a southern town that is adjacent to a blue area in an otherwise red state. Nothing here gives me hope.

  9. I have long thought that people that who bought into Trump’s MAGA movement were really hearing, “make American Great again for ME”. It seemed so desperately self-centered in its scope and effect. This last week a new generation of young ones have called “bullshit” on everyone by standing up to protect the NEXT school, not their school. There movement is not about themselves, its about everyone. Despite having been told repeatedly that these ‘active shooter’ scenarios are a new way of life, they are saying, NO, we can do better and we must do better. And they even go further because they are also saying that if you adults won’t do anything then get the fuck out of our way because we will. I don’t think they will stop, I hope they don’t because it will make a difference. The fact that I have this hope is a good omen… but there I go again, making it about me.

  10. As a Baby-Boomer with two children in or near their early 30s, I am seeing them move from an indifference toward politics and the condition of their communities toward activism. They both condemn the Boomer generation for screwing things up very badly (a sentiment with which I agree, wholeheartedly) and are now realizing they cannot count on us to fix things. It will be up to them and those close to them in age to do the hard work to heal the rifts in society. The only questions are where to start and what steps can an individual take to make a difference?

  11. Thank you for reminding us that we need to look for the gems in the muck and slime. I think one of the most hopeful signs I see it the vast number of people nationwide involved in local efforts to defend and protect immigrants and refusing to accept incarceration centers in their communities. And the huge movement to protect abused and abandoned animals. My hope is that same passion to save animals grows to include our abused and abandoned poor children in our midst.

  12. I agree w Nancy. The news footage I watched last night was remarkable: these high school kids are asking the political leaders where their loyalties lie with respect to the problem of guns used for mass killings. Trump, as usual, siad almost nothing substantive and placed the burden on congress to act. Congress has failed to act for a decade as a result of the ownership agreement they have with the NRA. I enjoyed watching Marco Rubio squirm as that 18-year old asked if he would refuse money from the NRA.

    That is a major change that will embolden other kids (future leaders) to speak up in defense of democracy and gives me hope that, while on the ropes, our democracy is still breathing. You know it’s actions like these that just might defang Citizens United.

  13. Well, speaking as a boomer and a woman, I’m definitely not someone who caused this mess. All I’ve done is work hard, and yes, I could have been more of an activist and a feminist. Blame the boomers who had the power – this country could still be great if lawmakers cared about people outside their own group and if business owners and corporations cared about their employees.

    Everything would change if women (and men who empathize and understand poverty and alienation and basic humanity) were in charge.

    Let us vote them in.

  14. I see no omens of change in the foreseeable future. When we begin to talk about reconciliation, ALL of us talk about it, we’ll turn out backs on the hate fostered by the uncontrol of the media that resulted in hate radio and TV.
    We’ll always have them, and they will always influence the society as a whole, as long as we let them. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are still at it, aren’t they? Only when they are removed from the public airwaves will a hint of reconciliation come. Until then? Omens aren’t reality — they are just guesses, and I don’t see any positive guesses . . . anywhere.

  15. I have always maintained that Newton’s observation that “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction” had application to the social as well as the hard sciences. If that means of measurement is accurate, and if we are in the latter day stages of capitalism (since little remains for capitalists to plunder), then I think the reaction when millennials take over will be a political economy to the left of Noam and Bernie where today’s European social democracies would be considered to be right wing (since it’s all relative).

    I think automation will be a huge factor in our future and though I can imagine all sorts of difficulty in making it work for humans, my retired librarian niece insists that automation will make a far better world for humanity. I have read some of Asimov’s positive renderings of our future but remain unconvinced and think it will take brighter people than I am (and they are legion) to work out the politics and economics of the coming transition in automated productivity and distribution.

    In looking in the ideological mirror, it has occurred to me that perhaps I am, like many, fearful of change. We all like predictability and the sense that we are in charge of our future, even when as now the nature of change is itself changing. I wish I could lay out some positives in response to Sheila’s request today, but knowing we are in an accelerating information age and not knowing where we will land, if we land, I have little to offer other than my good wishes for the race, and in this connection, I observe that our success depends upon circumstance and environment since, after all and as a for instance, but for the advent of the Industrial Revolution there would have been no Marx to complain of its excesses. I can only hope my niece is right with her positive assessment of our entrance into this brave new world.

  16. I have seen a change in the way people engaged with politics. I have found myself paying more attention to the state of affairs because, as a member of the LGBT community I have to fight for my acceptance in a world that has turned against its younger members. To watch this administration dismantle any concept of equality is to galvanize those of us who know we have to fight. On guns we have watched the youngest of us have to speak out to be heard because our legislators can’t or won’t do what needs to be done for the good of us. With the racism of this presidency being so out in the open it forces all of us to examine our relationship with our brothers and sisters who have suffered one indignant insult after another. Together, I think all of these things are driving us to be more involved and aware of the environment that is our politics. So long as those whose voices have been ignored can make it safely through these years of the Trump presidency they need and desire will drive marginalized communities to fight for their rights to be heard and accepted. Here’s to making it through these years…

  17. I don’t usually watch the news but yesterday I was glued to the couch watching these kids and parents of the mass terror talk about it. It was inspiring to hear these people talk about their pain and their hopes for this country to shut down this terror. I think it was historic for them to be in the white house and on CNN’s town hall to present this to the world. It was riveting. If those people represent the voting public in FL, I have hope for the midterms in November. It seemed everyone was a progressive thinker and Rubio had to eat mud on that stage. I hope that everyone that saw it is as inspired as I am and I hope that if you didn’t see it, you will make an effort to watch it online. It was amazing and I’m hopeful that the tide has shifted. I feel it. People are mad as hell and they are NOT going to take it anymore.

  18. I get the Facebook feed from the Yale center for climate change communication. While a lot they put out is dire, they also post positive developments. It’s so compelling I’m now convinced that Nothing can stop the shift to green energy. It’s happening much faster than than anyone expected. Most of the developing world will now skip over trying to build expensive electrical grids, and jump right to renewables, just as they skipped land lines for cellular. The tide turned in 2015, and now it’s clear: when a town in Texas switches to solar because it’s cheaper, The Sustainability Revolution cannot be stopped.

  19. From 2006 to 2016 I traveled Indiana in search of sustainability models (you could call them evidence of a paradigm shift) that Indiana would celebrate as part of its Bicentennial Legacy. These “Green Lights” were highlighted in nine Regional Legacy Celebrations, inducted into the Bicentennial Green Lights Hall of Fame and featured in a book called “Explore Sustainable Indiana.” Copies of this book can be found in every branch library in Indianapolis.

  20. The Children have spoken, but are the Adults really listening ?

    Dear Trumpy; Teachers are educators, Not gun slingers …

  21. I have always been a very proud American, maybe to a fault. That peaked between 2008 and 2016. Now that I have experienced how good and bad we can be I am a realistic American. That’s an improvement because I realize that what I was proud of was not a given but a choice.

    We could choose to lead the world again. We could choose to be a Mecca for education. We could choose to be the melting pot. We could choose to empower improving lives for everyone. We could choose to tear down walls between cultures. We could find the biggest contribution everyone can make regardless of gender, race, religion, sexual preference, or, and this is the hardest one, political party.

    We can. We will. These few years will be the rebirth, not death, of America.

    We will earn it.

  22. Nancy Papas started off today’s comments by praising the articulate, passionate, savvy students from Florida’s Parkland High School. I second the motion.

    I also want to praise the school’s faculty and administration for encouraging the students to explain to the nation what really should be done.

    It makes one feel as though members of the NRA will eventually discover that there’s a lot of power in the well-spoken, compassionate word.

  23. Omens positive
    1) the large number of active Indivisible groups across the country are making an impact from the ground up.
    2) the #metoo movement is causing discussion and perhaps hesitation of old attitudes toward women
    3) the student voice demanding a safer school atmosphere is being heard where the tears and pleas from parents and families of previous victims of gun violence have been given lip service only.
    4) there are more hybrid vechicles on the road, a plus for the environment.

  24. Very interesting responses… Some are still blaming or trashing the same old things like the media and existing politicians. Robotics have been with us since the invention of the plow. Not to worry, job seekers. All you need is a high-quality education. Oh. Oops. A great positive will be the disappearance of Betsy DeVos from public office. And the realization is FINALLY happening that we need to treat our teachers like real professionals and pay them as such.

    Yes, the kids in Florida are leading by example and shaming the mentally un-agile adults passing themselves off as politicians. Yes, they will vote. Yes, they will shift the conversation, both socially and politically in the very near future.

    Yes, the sustainable energy industry will continue to expand; Europe and Asia are leading the world toward the goal of being free from fossil fuels. We, on the other hand, still have a government held hostage by big oil. It’s not the right-wing screamers on TV that are as much the problem as the graft and corruption of our politicians by MONEY.

  25. Outside of my Indianapolis tour service company, there is the typical ballyhoo of namecalling, throwing about of one’s weight (power), scandals, and political positioning.

    However, within the realm of global forces, i.e., national and international visitors, I have witnessed hopeful signs of our world becoming increasingly connected and so, smaller. An expanding flow of guests of every gender and age from each continent and a vast number of foreign nations are making their way through, and to, this “crossroads of America”. These individuals, families and small groups want to know more about us—how we live, work, play, worship. We are being examined for our choice of foods, sports, arts and leaders.

    I believe our brightest future lies in the ages-old tradition of Hoosier hospitality. From its origins of integrity and authenticity, our unique custom can best serve as an all-inclusive, rather than exclusive, practice, as it passes on to new generations.

    If we can be as inviting to a sari-dressed or hijab-wearing woman, as generous in our welcome of darker skinned people as we are of those with lighter skin, and as understanding of those whose native language is not our own, then we can honestly say we are turning towards a new paradigm and perhaps a transformation of ourselves and our world.

    To quote 5-Man Electrical Band, “Signs, signs, Everywhere a sign”. Everyone can do something.

  26. In recent years we had the Occupy Movement. Unfortunately, the Occupy Movement was a third rail for our political establishment. Bernie was a huge breath of fresh air, especially all the campaign contributions he received from regular people not millionaires or Super Pacs.

    The other piece that has encouraged me is the way the Sanders Campaign was able to utilize social media. The Corporate McMega-Media was having a love fest with Trump, Bernie hardly received any air time.

    Now we see the Woman’s March and the MARCH FOR OUR LIVES – Campaign, which has taken advantage of the Social Media. There is a MARCH FOR OUR LIVES – Indianapolis MAR 24. Here is a link: https://www.facebook.com/events/806086529579720/

    I am very disappointed that more Democrats are not rallying to a ban on assault weapons and devices that convert a semi-automatic assault rifle into an automatic.

  27. Needville ISD will not allow a student demonstration during school hours for any type of protest or awareness,” Superintendent Curtis Rhodes, of Needville, Texas, wrote in a now-deleted Facebook post, threatening a three-day suspension.
    LOCK HIM UP for threatening to stifle student protest from which we have reaped glorious social and political benefits.
    Voters in Texas and across the USA will flood to the polls in November. That’ll fix Supt Rhodes and his coven of GOP politicians sworn to nurse a killing industry of guns and bullets at the expense of children’s lives and liberty guaranteed by the US Constitution.

  28. Gerald: I still think is much to be gained from using one’s hands and brains to problem -solve and create. I hate the idea of automation.

  29. ALG: I was so sad yet inspired by your post from a day or two ago. Your mother may not have been the greatest, but look who she raised! You, a terrific woman who does not mince words…and she keeps her posts short, too, the writer added! 😉

    You and others here have noted with astounding pride that students from Parkland, Columbine, and around the country, along with their parents, have found boldness within themselves that they didn’t realize they had. I sense that the movement is growing rather than shrinking. Trump and his ilk, along with the sad bunch at the NRA, are now realizing that there’s a real fight going on here. The kids and their parents are showing so much strength. Rubio withered on his pitiful little vine. Keep it up, kids! And keep it up, Aging Little Girl!

    Thanks, Sheila, for this blog, or we all would have lost our minds by now!

  30. On the plus side:
    The expanding population of skeptics, agnostics and atheists.

    The ability to better index academic research and scientific studies in a way that quick searches, smart gatherings of related data and quick evidence of missing data by sound researchers are enabled on the Internet.

    The aphorism from my favorite art professor, Stuart Van Orden, is coming true as a national phenomenon: “Only those who are not busy doing what everyone else is busy about can be busy about what nothing ever gets done about.” I am referencing the increase in do-at-home jobs enabled by computers. The same development enables more and more part-time jobs that pay as well as full-time jobs, and which can be done from a home in the mountains of, say, Montana. More people than ever now have the opportunity to work on projects that, not so long ago, their work schedule prevented. On the far end of that is the increase in lifespan, which means an increase in creative time after retirement.

    The negative side:
    Mandatory retirement removing millions of great, productive people from important work at the zenith of their skills.

    The massive decrease in respect for the wisdom and judgement of older people.

    The growing shortage of resources, especially fresh water. My geology professor sixty years ago predicted that fresh safe water would soon become so rare that in some countries it will be used as legal tender.

    The steady increase in effective capacity of new weapons of mass destruction. We may adhere to treaties limiting the stockpiles we have of current WMDs, but our leader’s obligations to prevent being attacked drives science toward more esoteric and powerful devices.

    One neutral factor that bears investigation:
    How-to books and Self-help books are a crystal ball into the future of societal attitudes. They bombard us with “solutions” based on “new strategies” that promise success and happiness. Millions of people read them and are profoundly affected by them. They popularize philosophies that if coming from ivory towers of academia would confuse and disgust us. They are responsible for the Me-First generation, the bent toward permissive parenting and several more characteristics our society exhibits now, and that section of the book store and library and Internet will be responsible for what society has to show for itself fifty years from now.

    Wikipedia: a powerful tool, its affect to be determined by all of the above.

  31. Betty: My Mother taught me a lot more in my adult years than in my childhood. She worked hard in a factory and it about killed her. After Dad died she had three teens on her hands at home. Can you imagine? Thanks so much for your kind words. I really am inspired by these kids and they are going to vote.

  32. At a very ground floor level, the appearance of signs welcoming people no matter where they are from or what language they speak, the Save Yellowwood movement, the organization of Women4Change Indiana, the Vote By Mail Indiana movement, the continued and active Common Cause Indiana, League of Women Voters Indiana leadership in promoting fairness and equal access to voting, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood of Kentucky and Indiana for their willingness to speak for the voiceless and powerless in the face of suppression, the Black Lives Matter Indiana groups pushing for recognition of years of injustice and killing that need to stop.
    The students in Florida and around the country may not all be able to vote yet, but they will become activist for candidates who are willing and believe in their cause. It may take another generation to undo the damage of this administration if we all live long enough to see it.

  33. This is a teachable moment in history and the majority are finally feeling emboldened to step up, think and engage.

    The majority are common, everyday people. Together – Common is numbers. Together – Common is politically powerful.

    Common Sense. Common Ground. Common Good.

    And Compromise is not a dirty word. It’s a necessity.

  34. The speed with which several large corporations severed their ties with the NRA once those ties were publicized.

  35. I’m pretty excited about Sunday alcohol sales in Indy. Not specifically because I imbibe, but because it hopefully means policy makers are beginning to listen to the will of the people in this state.. rather than same old business as usual because they’re afraid of change.

    Along the same vein, I cannot wait for the day we decriminalize drugs across the board. The number of states who’re experimenting with legalizing marijuana.. I hope that other states in revenue trouble will take a long hard look at the economic successes.

    If that goes well.. next up, prison reform. Once we stop ruining people’s lives for drug use, imagine all the money we’ll save.. all the families kept whole.. all the young minds free to discover solutions to society’s ills.

    It’s a lot to ask for, but isn’t hope a miraculous thing?

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