Book Six Synopsis

Book Six Synopsis

Series Overview | Dead Serious and Light-Hearted | Grading on the Curve
A Reasoned Case for Optimism | No Dog in the Fight | The Brilliance of Many

No Dog in the Fight
The Ten Changes Necessary for the Remaking of American Life

          No Dog in the Fight – The Ten Changes Necessary for the Remaking of American Life is the sixth book in The Chance of a Lifetime …  series. It addresses the need for America to once again embrace the need for “change” – an admittedly over-worked word. This book reminds us that change has been an integral and inevitable part of American history. Fortunately, we are good at it.

Drawing heavily from contemporary American history and resting upon the premise that many of the necessary changes need to first come from the American people and not its leaders or its institution , the ten changes needed remake American life are identified.

This book builds upon an understanding of the American condition as set forth in Book Four (Grading on the Curve) and the many reasons for optimism as set forth in Book Five (A Reasoned Case for Optimism). America remains bountiful, but this book does not shy away from the fact that many aspects of American life have changed. In certain respects we are in trouble, and we live in a confusing age of both opportunity and danger.

I started writing these books over five years ago. In that time, many things have changed. Our economy has been battered by greed and incompetence. New, but disappointing, crops of politicians have been elected. Both our electoral and our political systems remain largely dysfunctional. Discontentment has become widespread and fears have multiplied. Our government is broke; wars continue; BP leaked; tempers flair, tsunamis and twisters are everywhere, and just for somebody’s good measure, there was a hurricane in Vermont, an earthquake in Ohio, and more tornadoes than we can count.

The physical condition of our country has deteriorated as well. Materialism and self-centrism remain powerful influences. Accurate information is hard too find. Many believe that our allocations of income, wealth, and opportunity are far too disparate, and that our senses of reason, ethics, accountability, and community have diminished.

Possibly worse of all, there has been a calcification of American thought. Positions are taken. Alliances are forged. Do-or-die teams are chosen. Ideology is blindly honored, intolerance is rewarded, and compromise is too often seen as a sign of concession and weakness. We have even allowed the media to color our states red, blue and an occasional purple.

This is certainly not the first time that America has been in trouble. However,  two aspects of contemporary America situation are especially troubling.

First, more than ever America’s issues are numerous, complex, and inter-related. Many of our issues can best, if not only, be resolved with the concurrent resolution of other issues. For example, the issues of our educational system cannot be easily separated from matters of funding, priorities, curricula, parenting, community, and even culture. The issues of crime are closely entwined with the issues of race, education, employment opportunity, the administration of justice, community, and the containment of drugs. Personal accountability relates closely to our senses of personal and even situational ethics, and our legal code is far too frequently (and conveniently) used in place of any higher and more honorable code of ethics and behavior.

Secondly, our economic system has become more closed, and our political systems has become gridlocked. Avenues for opportunity and reward still exist in our economic system, but our political leaders and their parties have been compromised by the money and favor, and our electoral process has been compromised, if not hijacked, by the deep entrenchment of advisers and consultants and by the heavy overlay tools of marketing, advertising and public relations.

But despite the long lead-in, this is not a declinist book. To the contrary, this is a book about restoring our national conversation so that people can once again listen and can again hear rather than talking passed or over one another.

And the good news is that America’s real problems are neither inevitable nor intractable.

This book starts by distinguishing between “surface issues” and “fundamental issues.” This distinguishing is important, but it is also a difficult. First, hard delineations are difficult to make, and there is a constant temptation to view them merely as distinctions between the press of long-term vs short-term issues. Secondly, societies routinely deal with them simultaneously even though at any given moment one set of issues seems to dominate. Nevertheless, the distinctions between surface issues and fundamental issues are real, substantial, and important.

Even though surface issues are a part of all economic, political  and social activity, they have their own characteristics, and the use of the word ”surface” is not meant to be dismissive. There is no intended suggestion of unimportance. To the contrary, surface issues include matters of great importance. However, while they deserve our careful and constant attention, they involve matters largely matters of operation and response. They involve issues which are addressed routinely and in the ordinary course of our institutions. Matters of operation may include the actions of our legislative bodies, the management of our nation’s schools, the containment of our nation’s debt, the administration of justice, the placement and protection of our armed forces, and even the election of our next President. Matters of response are slightly different. They normally involve issues created by specific events or triggered by the actions of others or the forces of nature — the horrifics of 9/11, the catastrophes of Hurricanes Katrina, and the occurrence of the Arab Spring.

Fundamental issues are wholly different. Even though they lie at the very bedrock of a society, they are easily and oftentimes imprudently delegated, dismissed, overlooked, or postponed for another day. They are easily lost in the shuffle and only indirectly break through to the headlines. But they subtly affect 00 almost control — our ability to function well, honorably, and stably as a society. Their resolution relates directly to surface issues because, for example, the resolution of our fundamental issues affects our ability to better understand such issues; to more wisely select our leaders, to improve the functioning of our society, and to more fairly allocate our nation’s income, wealth, and opportunity. But they do far more.

By addressing our fundamental issues, we can more ably distinguish between truth and hyperbole; better parent and educate our children; be more cautious in our deference to experts; and contain our inclinations towards hedonism, materialism, and narcissism. Recognizing and addressing certain fundamental issues can help us as a society to better understand the roles and the importance of community; to require a stronger sense of ethics and demand more accountability in the lives of our citizens and in the actions of our economic and political leaders; to understand both the uses and limitations of our history; and to possess confidence, exhibit humility, contain arrogance, and exercise grace.

The concept of fundamental issues is not about rules of discourse. The concept is not offered as some variant self-help, back-to-basics, aspirational dream for a return to some by-gone day. Paraphrasing from the great title of David Satter’s recent book, all of those things were a long time ago – and they never happened anyway.

Instead, recognizing and addressing our fundamental issues lie at the core – or at least the extent — of our success. In our own self-interest, to address them because, almost surprisingly, they will rarely be addressed by our institutions. They must be addressed by us because fundamental issues rarely create that sense of firestorm immediacy which is necessary to attract the true attention and efforts of our leaders. Until we take both action and leadership, they will remain merely the stuff of stump speeches. For example, three of our last four Presidents vowed to be the Education President. None were. Instead, the issues of education, like the other fundamental issues addressed in this book, were left to be addressed later; on another day; by another Mayor; Governor, Congress; or President. The truth is, these matters, like so many others, are left to parents to address, for lonely and isolated children to endure, for under-employed and under- or mis-educated workers to ponder, and on and on .

Now, things are different. The luxury of deferral is no longer available. We can no longer fake it. Our country is in trouble, and neither the writings of denialism nor the incantations of exceptionalism will be enough. Similarly, allocating blame is a fine parlor game of distraction, but it is largely irrelevant to our finding of solutions.

Now, things are different. Addressing our fundamental issues is now a pre-condition to the very safety and the re-making of American life. Recognizing and addressing our fundamental issues is not just an idea – it is the path home.

Drawing heavily upon an examination of the last approximately 55 years of American history – 1957 to 2014, this book identifies the ten fundamental changes which we must make. In some instances, the changes are necessary to correct actions which we, individually or as a society have made. In other instances, the changes are necessary to correct actions, habits, or patterns of behavior which have proven, upon reflection, to be simply erroneous, misguided, and wrong. The last set of changes are those which are necessary due to the growth, diversification, or technological evolution of our nation.

I have tried in this book to root out certain truths by squeezing them, methodically, from the writings and wisdom of others, from the data and information available to us, and from an analysis of recent American history – or, more precisely, from America’s many recent histories – its social, cultural, political, economic, and military histories. The ten changes which are recommended are humbly offered as a possible basis from which to re-start a renewed and civil American conversation and as a framework for the re-molding of a new national agenda reflecting the broad needs of our peoples rather than the carnivourous  needs of its current institutions and the circling, well-vested, but far too narrow, interests of ever-smaller groups of Americans.

As discussed in the Book Three synopsis, I took the liberty in Dead Serious and Light-Hearted to try to introduce myself. I admitted that I remain tethered to my own past and that I cannot claim to be without bias or, the more gentle word, perspective. I cannot claim to be a distant observer, but as suggested by the title, No Dog in the Fight, the roots of those biases — the lingering remnants of my upbringing. — come from my life’s experiences. They are not used with the intention of advancing or concealing any subtle agenda.

Possibly my absence of agenda may be assured, in some small part, by the fact that I am no longer a young man. I have no parents to please. They are long deceased. I have no woman or family to impress. My wife and son, bless them, long ago decided to love me and to accept my many faults. I have no assets needing of protection; no scores still to settle; and no career to advance. Possibly most importantly, I understand (and begrudgingly accept) that the subjects, ideas and proposals discussed in these books will be adopted or rejected long after I am dead.

Thus, I have no dog in the fight. I hold no agenda other than, like you and so many others, caring for and still believing in this country. This book offers one path home; one possible beginning for the needed re-making of American life.