Are We the Last Americans?

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Sometimes nightmares end well. 

Sometimes they don’t.

Salon carries a depressing story for the lower 48 of North America. Author Alfred McCoy writes:

Despite the aura of omnipotence most empires project, a look at their history should remind us that they are fragile organisms. So delicate is their ecology of power that, when things start to go truly bad, empires regularly unravel with unholy speed: just a year for Portugal, two years for the Soviet Union, eight years for France, 11 years for the Ottomans, 17 years for Great Britain, and, in all likelihood, 22 years for the United States, counting from the crucial year 2003.

He proceeds to examine four scenarios that would turn the USA into a minor nation by the year 2025.

Is McCoy right?

He could be.  If our purpose is or becomes imperialism, then we are doomed. Deservedly so. Empires fall because they are unsustainable, to coin a phrase. Imperialism relies on continued spread of power.  Once there’s no place left to conquer—or the supply lines stretch too thin—the house of cards collapses.  Quickly, as McCoy points out.

On the other hand, if our purpose as a people is to protect life, defend and advance the cause of liberty, and to allow just men and women the unbounded opportunity to pursue happiness according to their will, then the disaster scenarios Professor McCoy details will be avoided.

The reason the Tea Party ideals continue to grow and spread is because those ideals begin with the people.  A government that serves the people who formed it and sustain it will be too weak to become an empire.  A government that lords over its people has already become worse than empire; it has become a tyranny.

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if
persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the
courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is
thus with what you show me!”

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

                                                       —Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol


No other nation was founded on a belief in such a profound truths as was this nation.  Our beliefs, brought to life through the Constitution and sustained by an informed electorate, produced wealth beyond our imagination. But that wealth and our power are by-products of the America Ideal, not its end.

Let’s make McCoy’s wonderfully chilling article serve us the way the Ghost of Christmas Yet to come served Scrooge. Let’s return our government and our people to those founding principles before it’s too late.

The Tea Party’s Real Purpose Is . . .

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We talk about liberty, limited government, freedom, Constitutional principles, and the like. Those are all relevant to the purposes of the conservative grassroots movement.  But are they ends?  Or are they just means?

I believe they are means.  In the founders’ writings we find clues to the end, even they don’t state it explicitly.  Jefferson did.  Jay came close.  And Adams implicitly understood that end. 


Let me ask this: what’s the point of all the work we did in the past two years?  I mean, some of us lost friends, homes, financial security, jobs, and family relationships over this tea party thing.  Some of us switched careers. 

Why?  Why go through this?

If the end is good government, then by what yardstick do we measure “good government?” And what sane person would put himself out for a better government in Washington?

In the end, we are doing this for ourselves as individuals and for our family and community.  We are doing this to improve our own lives, and with ours, everyone’s.  But, again, to what end?  How do we measure better lives?

The answer is in the Declaration and in dozens (if not hundreds) of writings from around the time of the American Revolution.  It involves a state of mind and a state of being, not a station or a title.

Find for that end, pursue that end, and demand that government permit you to pursue that end.  You’ll end up fighting for precisely what the Tea Party came about to promote. But you’ll recognize those things as means, not ends. 

Finally, let me put it this way: if all of our stated objectives are met and we’re still miserable, we will have failed. 

Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.

2 Ways to Make Christmas Season Happier

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Is it better to give or to receive?

Before you answer, let’s look at some of the science behind giving. Then let’s look a little deeper.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson studies the psychology of happiness. About a decade ago, Dr. Fredrickson announced a formula for creating an “upward spiral” of happiness.  In other words, she identified what it takes to have happiness breed happiness.  The formula applies to individuals, families, groups, and even companies.

The baseline formula requires three good experiences to every bad experience.  If three-fourths of your interactions with a spouse are positive, your marriage will last. If less, it will fail.  If your best employees have more than three positive experiences at work for every bad experience, they will stay. Otherwise, they will leave.  Same for your customers.

Once you’ve established that baseline, there are things you can do start the upward spiral.  Yes, you can intentionally drive up the happiness index in your life.  First, though, let’s look at a simple way to get to that 3 to 1 baseline.

Writing down three things you’re grateful for every day, and an account for who or what is responsible, will elevate your happiness, according to several studies.  I heard about these studies from Dr. Shawn Achor who led positive psychology studies at Harvard until very recently.  If you’d like to use a convenient online journal for this, try  It even lets you share your gratitude with the world on facebook or twitter if you choose.

The reason writing down gratitudes works to elevate your happiness is because it forces you to be on the lookout for positive experiences.  In other words, there are good things happening to you or around you all the time, but culture and work and school have trained us to ignore good things and look for problems to fix or complain about. 

Write down three things you’re grateful for five days a week for three weeks.  See if you don’t start noticing more and more positive things in your life.

This practice alone, though, probably won’t kick off the upward spiral.  That’s because being kind to others is far more powerful than having kindness done to us.  What’s more important than doing good works, though, is acknowledging them. 

The next step in the upward spiral, then, is to add two acts of kindness to your gratitude journal.  These are two acts of kindness you did for others that day. 

You can see what’s happening here, can’t you?  The gratitude exercises forces you to stop and take note of the good things in your life without ignoring the problems.  The kindness journaling requires that you actually perform two acts of kindness at least five days a week.  (If you want to be a self-serving jerk on weekends, go right ahead.)

The whole exercise takes about three minutes a day.  If you start today and continue these exercises through Christmas, the positive effects will last to Independence Day 2011. That’s according to research that has been replicated by Dr. Martin Seligman of Pennsylvania University’s Positive Psychology department. 

Finally, one of my gratitudes today:  I am thankful that you read my blog and will try this fun and happy exercise. 

Merry Christmas!

Man’s Waning Days?

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It’s easy to wonder whether humanity has simply grown weary of life.

These are mostly American issues, but we are are smart to remember that the USA is one nation among many. Our problems, as Rick Blaine might say, don’t amount to a hill of beans when the whole world is collapsing around us.

Walter Russell Mead’s blog post (h/t reminds us that we are not witnessing a normal business cycle

There are times when the ideas of the world’s rulers and the institutions through which they govern are adequate to the needs of the era, and there are times–like the present–when they are not.  It is not just the Obama administration that seems mentally and even culturally unprepared to understand much less to guide the events now sweeping through the world.  In Brussels, Beijing, Moscow, Tokyo and Delhi — to say nothing of Washington –  leaders seem equally clueless, equally committed to outmoded, inaccurate approaches to the issues of our time.


Mr. Mead’s analysis is far more important than the Wikileaks.  The unconscionable, but unspectacular, information found in the document dump by the degenerate international fugitive Julian Assange is a symptom of civilization’s unraveling, not a cause.

The world needs leaders. America’s special place on the world stage demands we send forth a special leader—one who rises above the others, but who does so humbly. America’s blessing bring burdens of world leadership, not the privilege of world domination.

Our next president must enter office with the tacit understand of our greatness, and an open-eyed acceptance of risks.  It’s not exaggeration to say the world is on the brink of a new dark age.  We are one rogue nuke away from an unthinkable regression. While that would delight the environmentalist left, it cause massive human death. It would threaten many species, not just our own.  Desperate, dying people couldn’t care less about nature. They care about living.

As we pause for Advent and the new year, think about whom you would trust to lead in such precarious times.  Who can guide, not just America, but the world between the threats civilization face?

Ronald Reagan is dead. Margaret Thatcher is elderly. The cast of the G20 are pygmies posing as serious men and women. The next great American leader, if one remains, must rise from among us.

Choose carefully.  But choose.  Don’t let the pygmy farmers choose for you.

Our Disordered Society

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Drudge’s headlines about Black Friday 2010 raise disturbing questions about America’s purpose as a nation.

28Nov10 085

We degrade ourselves for deals on crap some puppet-master tells us we cannot live without. In the name of Christ’s birth, we reveal ourselves with headlines like “Craze shoppers stampede,” “Marine stabbed,” “Shopper arrested after packing gun,” “Mall food court placed on lockdown,” “Shopper arrested…raging,” “Police called after thousands rush,” “Woman busted.”

We rush Toys-R-Us doors–angry, armed, and belligerent–because our society is grossly disordered.  And society is nothing but us. 

That should give us all pause.

Let’s stand down from politics for a bit.  Between now and Christmas, let’s examine our relationship to stuff.  In Zen Conservatism I wrote about the dangers of accumulating crap. Physical, emotional, mental, whatever. We need a break.

Let’s set a goal for ourselves and our society: that Black Friday 2011 be a day of happiness and joy. 

What’s Left?

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Exit polling tells the story.  About 60 percent of voters agree with the tea party core principles of government constrained by a constitution and government transparency.  Well over half of voters agree with specific measures advanced in the Contract From America, including:

1.  Balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

2. Elimination of earmarks until the budget is balanced, and then requiring a 2/3 vote.

3.  Audit the entire damn government, including the Fed.

4.  Require super-majorities in both houses of Congress to increase any federal tax or fee.

5.  Require Congress to specifically cite an enumerated power for each provision of legislation.

While it would be easy for the tea party to take credit for this attitude, it would also be untrue.  The tea party didn’t mold public opinion; it simply gives the public permission to speak.  On the steps of the Arch in February 2009, at the first St. Louis tea party, countless people thanked me for giving them permission to speak their minds.  As if it were mine to give.

As we’ve seen, the left, the ruling class, the academic and media elite, sneer at we who endeavor to run our own lives.  Katie Couric, queen of the elite, calls us “the great unwashed.”  The elite worked hard for years—in schools, in movies, books, and television—to convince us their our opinions were worse than useless.  They told us that the founding principles of America were not just wrong, but evil. 

While we knew better, we were reluctant to speak up.  The cool kids went along with the elitists.  After all, who doesn’t want to be elite?  So we bit our tongues and toiled on, hoping that the elitists would tire and leave us alone.

Instead, the elitists became emboldened and tried to “fundamentally transform” America. That served as a wake-up call to millions.  The tea parties happened. We learned that we were not alone. By the end of the summer of 2009, we learned that most people still believe in our founding principles, specifically that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

What was left but to assert our beliefs on election day.

What’s left is not some magical transformation, but a simple, steady application of our power. We build stronger coalitions, we invite more people into our world, and we slowly reclaim the rights and privileges taken away without our consent. That’s about as reasonable and mainstream as you can get.