Where Do We Place The Lever?

I was going through some files recently, and came across Governing essay from last September that echoed my own growing despair over what the author called “the situation.” He’d been invited to a conference that was ostensibly about the future of the Badlands, but during the telephoned invitation, it was suggested that they would also discuss “the situation.”

That phrase triggered his inquiry.

For the rest of the evening, I tried to determine what might be meant by “the situation.” I know, I could simply have picked up the phone and asked a few questions, but I thought it was an interesting exercise. It’s easy enough to get started. America seems to be disintegrating. Our national political system seems to be paralyzed. There is a great deal of anger and distrust awash in the land. Each of the two main tribes (the Right and the Left) declares that the other one is a clear and present danger to the future of civilization. Some tens of millions of people continue to argue, and perhaps believe, that the 2020 election was stolen. We cannot even agree on basic public health measures in the face of the worst global pandemic in more than 100 years.

If–as he assumed–these and other crises we face are what was meant by “the situation,” what could be accomplished in that discussion? As he noted, it’s a lot easier to diagnose “the situation” than to identify a prescription.

More civility? A great and inspiring leader with the idealism of Barack Obama and the oomph of Theodore Roosevelt? Some self-restraint by the 24-7 cable media? A return to the Fairness Doctrine? I can hear one participant saying we’d be just fine if we could only get back to the intentions of the Founding Fathers; and another urging the progressives to terminate the filibuster and pass rafts of reform legislation along the lines of the New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. One person would argue that we must abolish the Electoral College, another that we should pack the Supreme Court.

The fact that his imagined conversation was self-evidently inadequate to the challenge mirrors much of the conversation on this blog: there’s general agreement that America’s society is in crisis and its governance is in thrall to a minority composed of frightened, uninformed  and frequently deranged citizens–but there is no such agreement when it comes to the really important question: what must we do?

The author illustrated the dilemma by quoting Archimedes, who said, “show me where to put the lever and I will move the world.” The question, as he noted, is: where do we put the lever?

After citing research showing that that 43 million Americans (about one in nine) are illiterate, he makes a point that I endlessly repeat:

If American citizens don’t know the difference between an impeachment and an impeachment trial, if they don’t know the difference between an emolument and an embolism, if they don’t understand the constitutional function of the Supreme Court, if they think Obamacare is socialism but Medicare a sacred American right, how can we expect to keep the republic alive? In a letter to Charles Yancey in 1816, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be.”

Ignorance, of course, isn’t the only threat to democracy and stability. The vast and growing divide between the rich and the rest is a clear danger. The author writes that the inability of our government to address climate change is another–and he wrote this essay before the Supreme Court further hobbled government’s ability to do so. He acknowledges the ongoing legacy of slavery, and the racism that is an all-too-obvious motivation of the MAGA crowds. He gives a nod to Eisenhower”s warning about the dangers of an unrestrained military-industrial complex.

Unsurprisingly, the author of the essay doesn’t answer his own question. Instead, he argues (feebly) for a “spiritual renaissance.” I think the reason I haven’t previously written about this particular essay is my instinctive aversion to that cop-out. This often-encountered longing for a “renaissance” rests on a very dubious belief that Americans were once more “spiritual”–a belief uncomfortably close to the “we were once a Christian nation” fantasy. In any event, he is silent on the rather significant question of how the desired increase in spirituality is to be obtained.

So here we are–like doctors who can describe the disease but have no magic potion with which to treat it. We’re left with what is, admittedly, a very good question: where do we put Archimedes’ lever?

It’s a question that suggests another: are our problems far too numerous for a lever even to work?


  1. No. Pogo did not hide the lever to spare US from total frustration. I remember a word game played in a dorm room of real words rarely used with record breaking syllables. The winner was disestablishmentarianism. The debate began. Things just do not work … not even levers … in the state of disestablishmentarianism … just MAGA for short.

  2. Here I go again. IMHO we’re already past the tipping point. Empires fall apart around the 250 YO mark and we’re right there. The GOP has turned Fascist in many ways. The “Christian” Nationalists are anything but Christian. The Christ must be having a fit with the misuse of his name. Yes I’ve given up and moved out of the country. I’ve seen warfare and do not wish to do so again, especially on American soil. Besides I’m 67 and have too many issues to be worth much in a military with my bad back and Type II Diabetes thanks to the US Navy.

    To those who stay and fight the good fight I say may God be with you.

  3. The lever we need is the lever we pull when we vote. More of us need to vote. Australia requires its citizens to vote. If 70 or 80% of us voted what we voted for would carry more weight. Repealing the 2nd Amendment is a bridge too far but an assault weapons ban isn’t. As long as there are more guns than people there will always be the sentiment of “Don’t Tread On Me”. The Constitution isn’t holy writ it is a tool to govern 330 million very diverse people. We need to start reforming some aspects of the way we govern. And lastly we need to start thinking serious about making changes to the way we do business. You can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. The Market rules everything in this world and in your lives

  4. The search for god leads you back to yourself. All the masters are saying the same thing. What we seek externally is already hidden inside. That is the great awakening. We are all connected, and so is the planet. The new photos from space should drive this point home for every human.

    Knowing that we are all connected to this ecosystem, what could be more important than driving the lever at saving ourselves by saving our planet.

    Any decision that goes contrary to this motive must be abandoned. All the systems like food, energy, military, pharmaceutical, chemical, etc. must be altered to be sustainable.

    No more “profit-driven” motives. Our planet is finite, so infinite growth isn’t sustainable. It means all the countries must work together versus compete for dominance. We don’t dominate others, we serve each other, the planet, and the species on this planet. This wisdom has been passed down by all religious masters.

    The spending on nuclear weapons for destruction must be diverted to clean energy sources to sustain life.

    We need global planning within our sustainable resources. We need to look at all our citizens as brothers and sisters – not the enemy.

    The lever is the awakening to the realization that we are all one. If anyone hurts, we all hurt.

    Climate first. All things will fall into place with this realization.

  5. In an increasingly smaller and smaller world, divisions are going to become more self-evident than ever before. Divisions between countries, divisions between ethnicities, divisions between religious beliefs, and without a doubt, a huge manifestation of self-righteousness.

    When Faith wanes, what is the recourse? Spiritual religiosity has been cast adrift! Faith has been redirected towards politics! Politics has become an enigma, and that is being generous.

    It does not function, because those who desire to oppress, tirelessly work to undermine basic human decency! Lack of Human decency leads to the question, what are the”Rights Of Man…”? Read the book by Thomas Paine, “Rights of Man” as he discusses the French declaration of revolution by the same name. What happens when the political realm does not safeguard its citizens natural rights? Is revolution permissible? Short answer, Yes! I think a more orderly declaration of Martial law would be better than a revolution! But, many believe, even that is the wrong tack.

    So, when you lose your faith and spirituality and you lose your faith in the political realm, what is left? Self-reliance? Well, one man’s self-reliant desire will probably infringe upon someone else’s. It’s an anarchists dream scenario.

    So as men tear down to acquire power, Civil Society burns. Fingers point and fists fly! Why? Why work against a unified self-interest? Because of ignorance and the lack of any sort of Faith whatsoever for anything. Self determination? What is that? So many are clueless, and so many feign any sort of intellect, compassion, empathy, concern, or love of neighbor, equal rights. . “Jus Cogens” is nowhere to be found!

    Without this binding force, “Erga Omnes” is useless, it is non-existent, no binding recourse, no self-determination!

    So, the circular firing squad continues to operate at an accelerated pace. No natural agreement!

    The apostle Paul said to the Galatian congregation in Galatia, “each man bear his own load” and Jesus Christ himself mentioned in Matthew, “his yoke is kindly and his load is light.”

    What did that mean? Well, using ‘The Love of Neighbor,’ the load a person bears should take into consideration those around him. And, it is absolutely acceptable to help someone bear up under their load. Galatians 6:5. As humans, we are all yoked together in one form or another. It isn’t like we can jump on a ship and go somewhere else? They’ve done that already, did it work?

    When men become lazy, and by men I mean mankind, they look to be told what to believe, they are told that religion is ridiculous, now they’re being told that politics is ridiculous, and corrupt. So, what is there to believe in? What to believe? What to believe indeed!

    Instead of delving deep into the source of the problems, we dismiss remedies that are available. Religion required a certain amount of belief in something greater than self, without a belief in something greater than self, how can anything function? Because there is nothing greater than you! So, religion doesn’t function, neither do politics! Everything is based on the Me’ist worship of self.

    We are all free moral agents, able to make our own decisions, right or wrong! And that’s the test! Are you going to choose a love of self “Me’ist?” Or demonstrate a greater love for your fellow man?

    Mankind has manipulated religion to divide people rather than unite humanity. And folks just keep going right along with the program! Like I said earlier, it is easier to be told what to believe than to verify what people are telling you! Until individuals wise up, civilization will continue to slide towards Oblivion, without a doubt, it’s rapidly approaching!

  6. Prof K suggested:
    More civility? A great and inspiring leader with the idealism of Barack Obama and the oomph of Theodore Roosevelt? Some self-restraint by the 24-7 cable media? A return to the Fairness Doctrine?
    These all seem within the realm of the possible. I worry about a great and inspiring leader but I also long for a north star to follow that makes sense. Perhaps at some point the money folks will quit funding cable crazy news that causes so much of our problems, but not today.

  7. I find it curious that the author never mentions what was actually meant by “the situation.” That answer might have shed some light on the questions he raised. I hope that it was just never addressed because otherwise he’s purposefully being opaque, and that would make me suspect his motives.

    His “spiritual” solution was feeble indeed. To all the believers out there, I feel I must explain a little bit about how many of us nonbelievers feel. We are (largely) convinced that this life is the only one we have. There are no redemptions, no do-overs. So, the lack of religion, rather than leading to a feeling of “emptiness” (as the author suggested), leads to the understanding that this life is incredibly precious, and means everything, quite literally. Personally, this fundamentally informs my approach to dealing with all the inhabitants of this beautiful little world.

  8. Stan; during your proudly proclaimed desertion of America, are you maintaining your American citizenship? If so; you haven’t entirely left us, and you are maintaining the protection of that citizenship to desert wherever you have traveled to elsewhere for a respite from the continuing Trumpism chaos we are still here fighting FOR you.

    Todd; maybe YOUR search for God leads back to YOUR self as you consider yourself to be above those of us who are taking what action we can to deal with our current “situation”. To quote Stephen King about what we are doing, “All we can do is all we can do. If it isn’t enough, it will have to be enough.” We are not trying to please you and meet your self-appointed standards.

    john p sorg; my “loss of faith” is not about God and is not religious or spiritual, it is in the failing of humanity surrounding us today.

    The “stolen” elections of Bush II and Trump are facts of life; I still viewed and grudgingly accepted Bush II as President of the United States and lived with it till it ended, knowing there would be an end to Bush. Not so with Trump; and faith in God, religion or spirituality has nothing to do with him or his White Nationalist MAGA followers. Faith in God, religion or spirituality has nothing to do with the criminal element within our government who apparently cannot be stopped by praying or discussing the situation. We cannot resolve the situation en masse; the problems need to be attacked individually, one at a time by those best suited to carry out the attacks. The Mueller Reports has gotten lost; the January 6th Committee cannot file criminal charges but are investigating in depth for evidence to give to those who can file criminal charges. President Biden is being blamed for every problem left by Trump and the deeper problems they created. Trump remains an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the Mueller Report and the January 6th Committee is seeking evidence to lead to his indictment.

    All we can to at this point is to encourage others to join us on November 8th to pull more levers than Trump’s White Nationalist MAGA followers. They appear to be outmoneying us again and it always gets down to Follow The Money! It doesn’t take a full wallet or bank account to vote; it takes determination and faith that we are strong enough to stop the situation before we become the next Ukraine.

    The world is watching us and waiting to see “Where Do We Place The Levers”; the outcome here effects the world, a heavy responsibility we have always been up to meeting.

  9. spir·it·u·al
    adjective: spiritual

    1. relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things.
    “I’m responsible for his spiritual welfare”

    2. relating to religion or religious belief.

    It would seem that Professor K and several commenters have skipped over the primary definition of the word and assumed the author meant a return to some non-existent previous Christian version of the country.

    I can buy into his suggestion completely if he was referring to the primary non religious meaning of the word. Our society and its economy have been based on crass materialism since mass-production was invented, but especially after WWII and network television became pervasive. Thirty short years after that hyper-individualism took hold and ushered in the era of trickle-down Reaganomics, leading us to stagnant and even declining real wages, and triggered growing disparity in equality of incomes and wealth. The emergence of the internet, software-driven automation, and social media put the disparity on an exponential trajectory to an unsustainable result that is now nationally existential.

    The answer for many? Put the trip to DisneyWorld on multiple credit cards and pay 18% on balances that never get paid off. What an exhausting way to live. And so 50 years later, “Everything’s amazing and nobody’s happy” as comedian Louis CK once quipped.

    In the 60’s Joni Mitchell called us to get back to the garden. Some did but it was a very small % of Americans who chose an alternative lifestyle to the rat-race we call being a striving middle-class American.

    Perhaps we need to try that one more time with more meaning and way bigger numbers. Tune in and drop out. Forget the “turn on” part – that’s what destroyed the movement in the 70’s.

  10. “[T]he really important question: what must we do?”

    The answer remains clear to me.

    First, identify the “Root Cause.” This dates back millennia to well-established human nature: the desire for certainty (safety, stability) vs. the desire for freedom (you ain’t the boss of me).

    The single-point of leverage that will save America? … There’s a history and a method to my madness …


  11. Yes, we are all connected to, and part of everything; well put!
    But, with this rather mind-blowing statistic in mind, that 43 million of us are illiterate, (in the “Great” US ofA) voting does not seem
    to be the lever. Again, I remind all that that is why DT said that he loves the “Uneducated!”
    And,yes, the concept of a “spiritual renaissance” wrinkles. In fact it is just the sort of phrase the St.Reagan voiced, before inviting
    the Falwell, and fellow travelers into the White House, and we know where that has brought us!
    I think that Biden, and the Dem leadership, if they grow some cojones, would be the most easily available, and hopefully, impactful
    lever, if they used those cojones to go out and use the TR “Bully Pulpit” to rouse the citizenry enough to elect some even few more
    Dem. senators, and then make Manchin/Sinema irrelevant…even if either, or both, switch parties.

  12. MAGA is as good a symbol as there is as a synonym for “the situation”. It’s the second “A” that’s most meaningful. It implies that there was great, it went away, and MAGA will restore it.

    When was the previous great? When did it go away and why? Has anything in the world changed since then that requires adaptation?

    Or is it just a flag? An abstraction, a meaningless symbol synonymous with a tribe?

    My impression is that it is a flag for a tribe without goals that can be revealed or discussed or debated. It is naked aggression against everything, not for anything. It’s the destruction of what is, so that something else will have to be rebuilt in its place, design to follow demolition.

    Or is it demolition of the Federal, and return to independent tiny countries each with its own law and order?

  13. It’s not the lever that’s deficient, rather the wielder, who either cannot find the spot or doesn’t know which way to push. Archimedes conveniently forgot to mention the fulcrum he would also need.

    There are times when I think I won’t live to see a turnaround and other times when I have hope that the young will figure it out. They only need to learn patience and understand that, just because your way is blocked your journey isn’t over. Find a new path and keep moving forward.

  14. PS:
    As described in detail, in “The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity,” by David Wengrow, and David Graeber, there is more than one way to envision the
    format upon which a society can be organized. And, human history is replete with examples of alternative ways to do so.
    Where is the lever?
    Maybe Ferdinand has an answer:
    It appears to fit in with “Teach the Children Well,” by C,S,N &Y.

  15. The lever of shared values may be beyond reach between the slow erosion of organized (non-political) religion, especially among young people and the relentless upbeat of “Meism” and 24hr entertainment “curated for me” and “my brand”.

    The real lever may be…”shared fear” – fear of climate change doesn’t seem to be doing it. Perhaps, fear of authoritarianism….hinted at by recent SCOTUS decisions. Too bad the DEMs don’t ride this hard.

    Want a pic of future education, starting in Texas/Florida…Per today’s New York Times: “Starting in first grade, students across Russia will soon sit through weekly classes featuring war movies and virtual tours through Crimea. They will be given a steady dose of lectures on topics like “the geopolitical situation” and “traditional values.” In addition to a regular flag-raising ceremony, they will be introduced to lessons celebrating Russia’s “rebirth” under President Vladimir V. Putin.

    And, according to legislation signed into law by Mr. Putin on Thursday, all Russian children will be encouraged to join a new patriotic youth movement in the likeness of the Soviet Union’s red-cravatted “Pioneers” — presided over by the president himself.”

  16. Lester,

    It looks like Vladimir has been admiring his own pictures! He is a little creep that wants to be a big creep! Just like his buddy in Germany from the 20s and 30s, he’s a little man with a Napoleon complex that has visions of ruling the world! But isn’t that the way of all autocrats? They want to be something more than what they actually are. Just like our own baby autocrat, they are really cowards. Insecure and narcissistic! They want to be gods of their own self-made realms with their own self-proclaimed laws and their self-proclaimed orders! There are always followers! These are the ones who are always complaining, they always have a grievance for their lot in life. Instead of working together to pull themselves up out of whatever rat hole their life has become, they will blame everyone else but the one they see in the mirror.

    I went into the Trump store when I was in Gatlinburg tennessee, it was one of the most bizarre and disturbing things I’ve really seen, and I’ve seen a lot. There were actually alters inside of the store for Donald Trump! People walking around in the store were talking about where he was going to speak next, and how could they afford to get there, and how could they afford to buy all these nifty little knick knacks to help him build his War chest.

    The point is, they are all the same! They flock to self-aggrandized narcissistic cowards that use their position to swat at all of those faces laughing at them with a jackboot! Was MacArthur wrong pointing out that China and Russia were going to be a huge issue? They ran him out of Dodge because he wanted to take out China and Russia both. Now, did he have some sort of foresight? Obviously he did. Is there anyone involved in this government right now that has foresight? Absolutely not. Remember the phrase fight fire with fire? Well, the current administration has that fire to fight fire with, but they’re just way to puckered to not be paralyzed with fear. When someone’s rants and raves make you poop your pants, well, that’s pretty weak!

  17. Christopher … I appreciate your tenacity to offer up something specific, something immediate, something that involves people into action. I took time to read your hyperlink from your Spirit Bear Newsletter.

    You offer up new language and specific ideas that suggest a possible path forward the next 30 years …. well beyond my lifetime …. but no more the time it took the more radical elements of the Republican Party to methodically and strategically do their bidding since the 70’s of the last century.

    Thank you for your constructive contribution to this important discussion.

  18. If producing fossil fuel is a source for climate warming,I guess Biden’s fistbump with MBS was nothing more than narcissistic postuirng? Nevermind the request for MORE oil!

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