Feedback and Critical Commentary
The following are excerpts from initial responses of colleagues who reviewed this paper on "Renewing the American Experiment" or earlier drafts. Some responses to earlier drafts have been incorporated into this draft. These ideas served as the foundation for The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community.
John Robbins, author, Diet for a New America and The Food Revolution
The effort to renew the American Experiment is dear to my heart, as it is to yours. Every day I see people seeking, sometimes blindly, sometimes with extraordinary sophistication, to forward this cause. I’ve sometimes called it the deeper American dream, contrasting it with the more superficial dream of making money for its own sake. I believe that someday we will understand that our true purpose is not unlimited consumption, but unlimited compassion.
Vicki Robin, president, New Road Map Foundation
There are two dimensions I think about that are implied but not explicit in your essay...
1. conservatives might not consider America an experiment - I think there is a structure to "our" story of delight in continuous learning and growth, that this is the nature of the life well lived whereas the structure in the conservative story is of a universe delivered whole by the divine with embedded moral laws and the life well lived is a life that adheres to the highest moral standards required by the Creator. It's a big difference - dynamism versus order. These of course are the two forces of the universe.
2. Both stories talk about freedom yet see it so differently! Actually, it's a question of what do you control and what do you allow to organize itself. It would be interesting to ask a set of freedom questions - what must we control as a society in order to have the maximum freedom for us as citizens? We all share a love of expansiveness, we all share a willingness to limit that which will harm what we hold dear, but where any one of us would place those fences is very different.
Betsy Toll, Living Earth: Gatherings for Deep Change, Portland, Oregon, www.LivingEarthGatherings.org
The reality of vulnerability, helplessness, lack of skill and knowledge with which we each begin our lives positions us as totally dependent on and at the mercy of those large figures of authority and power in our lives; their superior position, and our complete dependence on them, is beyond question. It is, one could say, God’s design. [Read full comment]
Lee Drutman, Communications Director, Citizen Works
My reading of intellectual history is that the elite class has always tried to create a set of myths that justify and enhance its position in society — The divine right of kings, social Darwinism, etc. But at times, these myths have been exposed as frauds, and when they have, revolutions in society have taken place. [Read full comment]
Kim Corrigan, Education Outreach, Positive Futures Network, Bainbridge Island, WA
It's clear that the right/elite has harnessed the power of story (as "truth") to carry their agenda forward in almost all aspects of our working democracy (legislative, executive and judicial). I think it's difficult, however, to educate by playing with moral fire, so to speak, even if the right is wrong. The partisan nature of the paper cannot be denied even with disclaimers about the role of democrats in our current quagmires. And although I found myself nodding my head in total agreement throughout much of the piece, I couldn't help asking, how can we broaden this from an indictment of the elite to an indictment of conventional wisdom?
If our goal is to change people's minds and hearts about the fundamental stories that we've been taught and we take as givens (i.e.: tax cuts = jobs, big military = security, etc.) then we need to show that these stories are false. I do not think that it's enough to learn to tell our stories better. We can educate people about living differently NOT simply because it's better, healthier or kinder, but because it works. Seen in this light, our positive solutions are not "alternatives", in fact, but rather they are the only way that will really work in the long run.
John Cavanagh, Executive Director, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington, DC
We have a values choice: we can have a WalMart economy with everyday low prices but it comes at the price of decency and fairness. It is screwing workers here and abroad and it is destroying communities. We can afford to pay a bit more for the values of community, fairness, and decency. [Read full comment]
Ellison Horne, Celebrating Solutions!, San Francisco
I would add the means to communicate the stories is just as essential. We recently developed new language for the Solutions project that ties in perfectly with your powerful insights about the need for new stories. [Read full comment]
Tom Ambrogi, retired theologian/professor and advocate on political and economic issues, Claremont, CA:
There’s a freshness to the analysis that can be very attractive to thoughtful progressives. It really could energize the whole new dialogue which you suggest and which I find both urgent and exciting. [Read full comment}
Raffi, troubadour, entrepreneur, and founder of the Child Honoring initiative.
As you note, the dilemma you’re describing is not a partisan issue; Clinton’s embrace of NAFTA, near criminalization of poverty, WTO attest to that; the Democrats contributed to the circumvention of democracy via int’l trade agreements. I wonder if the non partisan (systemic) aspect of this needs more emphasis, i.e., this is a systemic problem needing systemic solution. [Read full comment]
Richard Conlin, Seattle City Council Member and Board Member of the Positive Futures Network
I think you are exactly right about the importance of the story and how it has been seized on to persuade people to go along with things that they would otherwise not embrace. I would particularly look to the issue of what is prosperity as the key, because I think that most Americans, while they worry about some of the other thing, are fundamentally level-headed and capable of taking many things in stride as long as they feel secure in their households and communities (and I don't think most Americans see terrorism as personally threatening -- but they do see medical costs and the weird medical care system, the deterioration of the schools, etc., as personally threatening).
Therefore, I see this as the central myth to challenge, and I think that it is also the myth that ultimately embraces so many of our other values that the challenge is also unifying. But it is relentlessly pushed, and we must have very credible counter-arguments.
Rich Lang, Pastor, Trinity United Methodist Church, Seattle, WA
HOME RUN !!!!! Wonderfully written ... clear, concise and a great challenge for the reader to continue. I think you are accurate concerning the 'elite sacred story' and I, of course, applaud you for what I think is the REAL CHALLENGE facing progressive people ... the articulation of a New Story. It is so very frustrating that "the left" is so profoundly captured by individualism. Your questions will make for fruitful conversation.
One footnote to the elite sacred story .... are you familiar with Leo Strauss??? Many of the neo-cons are "pro religion" yet are (within their own personal lives) disconnected from faith communities (cf: Ronald Reagan). They are also apostate from the Civil Religion of the American Story which has a bias toward democracy (in theory at least).
Leonard J. Duhl, MD, Professor of Public Health and Urban Planning and Director of International Healthy Cities Foundation <www.healthcities.org>
You deal with most all the issues I have been concerned about, and come up with beginning answers. We need some strategies and tactics to proceed and reach more Americans.
Evelyn Messinger, Executive Director, Internews Interactive <www.citizenschannel.org>
I was surprised and pleased that you've articulated a concept I've been fiddling with for over a year, in light of the coming election. As you've written, we had better begin generating the positive stories ASAP. I lay this task on the Democratic Party, as this seems the only way to escape the course Bush has set the country on.
Jeffrey T. S. MacDonagh, Socially Responsible Investor
One general concern I had with the paper (perhaps intentional on your part?) was that it focused overwhelmingly on outlining this "neo-royalist elitism," which left very little room for making the case that progressives need "stories" of their own to compete with the elites. [Read full comment]
Posted February 17, 2004