“So what can I, personally, do about this mess?”

That’s a question I’m being asked more and more, as the dismally partisan, sectarian and one-sided impeachment proceedings play out in Congress;  as crisis after crisis (our all-too-porous borders, homelessness, the economy, etc.) grabs the headlines;  as people feel more and more powerless to actually change the rot that they see all around them in our society.  “What can I, personally, do to change it?”

I think there are several things one can do:  but they all have to begin with accepting the situation as it is, and ourselves as we are.  It’s no good saying, “Things should be this way” when they’re not.  It’s no good saying, “I won’t stand for that!” when the cold, hard reality is that you have no choice but to stand for that, because it’s out of your control.  It’s all very well to talk wildly about shooting those who won’t change/move/adapt/adjust/comply/whatever, but the reality is that they’ll shoot back;  the legal system will come after you as the perpetrator of a crime;  and your facile, simplistic “solution” isn’t worth the air you’ve just wasted on expressing it.

Reality, folks.  We’ve got to be rooted in and founded on reality if we’re to make a difference . . . and far too many people today are not.

I submit the first step is for each of us to accept that I, as an individual, am flawed.  I don’t have everything right;  I’m not the shining example I present myself as being;  I have feet of clay.  We can approach this in the light of an ethical or moral framework, or a religious one, or a philosophical perspective – whatever background we choose.  Whatever that may be, we have to come to the realization that the problem begins with me.  I have to get myself at least basically in order, before I can expect to help others do the same with the problem(s) confronting us.

The second step is to accept that not all problems are within our power to solve.  Reinhold Niebuhr’s so-called ‘Serenity Prayer‘ reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;  courage to change the things I can;  and wisdom to know the difference.”  That’s a good start.  Many of the problems our society faces cannot be solved by any one person, or even by a decent-sized group of people.  Many of them are caused and/or worsened by people with opposing ideologies, facing off over an issue and refusing to compromise.

The southern border is a good example.  Those who value law and order (including yours truly) protest their wholesale violation on the border.  Those who prioritize humanitarian considerations over law and order regard the law-and-order crowd as evil, hate-filled, unfeeling, uncaring.  That’s not about to change, and no matter how much we may try to impose a solution from one perspective or the other, there will always be those who try to undermine our “solution” and/or replace it with their own version – which we’ll do our best to undermine in our turn.  Homelessness, drug addiction, the right to keep and bear arms, whatever problem you like – the same dilemma arises.  The irresistible force meets the immovable object, and neither will give way.

So what do we do about such issues?  I submit there are four practical things any individual can do:

  1. Educate oneself about the issues involved, and make sure one has an accurate and sufficiently detailed understanding of the reality of the situation.  “Going off half-cocked” doesn’t only apply to firearms.
  2. Ally oneself with those of like mind, and seek to be a leavening, uplifting influence in that alliance.  Look to raise everyone’s understanding to the highest common factor, rather than let it degenerate to the lowest common denominator.  Individuals and groups should strive to be better balanced, better educated, better intentioned, and better qualified than their opposition.
  3. Seek to educate, rather than intimidate or dominate.  Sure, there will be those on both sides who use histrionics, emotion and pressure to try to get their way;  but there will also be those who are open to persuasion.  Seek them out.  Look for opportunities to present the facts of the matter, rather than one’s opinion, and let those facts speak for themselves.  (And, when they present the facts as they see them, don’t dismiss them out of hand.  Who knows?  They might have at least some right on their side, too!)
  4. Stand firm on the essential principles underlying the issue, but compromise in less important matters where necessary.  This means being flexible in areas where that can be done without violating those issues.  You want strict law and order enforced at the border?  OK – but what about helping genuine refugees?  They’re out there.  What about temporary worker visas, to help farmers get in their crops, something they say they can’t do without migrant labor?  To get what we want in one area, we’ll have to compromise in others.  Why not do that?

I can already hear some of my readers complaining, “But, Peter, you’re being utopian!  The real world isn’t like that!  We’ve tried all that, and it hasn’t worked – so it’s time to get as hard-line as our opponents, and stop them in their tracks!”  To that I can only answer, “Are you sure you’ve tried that?”  I’ve seen plenty of intransigence, aggression, power plays and demagoguery from individuals and groups on both sides.  We’re too prone to jump to absolutes.  “If you’re not for us, you’re against us!”  “If you won’t take up arms to defend these absolutes, you’re no friend of freedom!”

How many of you remember this famous statement?

“I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.”

Who defines “extremism”, “liberty”, “vice”,  “moderation”, “justice” and “virtue”?  If we arrogate to ourselves the right to define such things, what if our opponents do the same?

Finally, let me say that my biggest fear is those who too quickly jump to conclusions, or are too ready to “go to the mattresses” and fight it out.  Friends, I’ve seen the result of that in at least seven nations.  I was there in the middle of it in three of them, and I saw the aftermath in four of them.  I daresay I’ve seen, with my own two eyes, literally thousands of dead bodies, maimed victims, physically and mentally injured and scarred survivors.  When extremes collide, there may be a ‘victor’, but both sides in an internal conflict are usually so deeply wounded by their clash that the nation as a whole never recovers, or takes generations to do so.  Examples:

  • I said in 1994, when South Africa held its first truly democratic election, that it would take at least two generations for that country to work through the problems apartheid left behind, and heal from those wounds.  It’s now just entered the second of those generations – and it’s a mess.  I see no reason to change my forecast.
  • In Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of Tutsi tribespeople were slaughtered by Hutus (also in 1994), the country is still torn by the hatred and dissent engendered by the massacres.  Hundreds of thousands of its citizens still live in refugee camps in the Congo, rather than return home.
  • Look at East and West Germany, now united, but with a distinct regional identity where the two former countries had been – and residual bitterness in the East about the way in which the more affluent West “took over”.
  • For that matter, look at those who perpetuate the “Lost Cause” myth about the American Civil War, and still try to insist that slavery was not the prime cause of that conflict.  There are so many facts and historical references that the truth is incontrovertible – but they still try to argue.  They won’t give up their dream of what they think Southern society was like.

There are some things on which I will take a firmly principled stand.  For example, I will not submit to anyone seeking to take away my right to keep and bear arms.  That’s not negotiable.  However, as the Supreme Court has pointed out more than once, regulation of such a right is entirely legal, so long as it doesn’t become so draconian as to infringe on the right itself.  That’s a gray area, and I’ll do well to remember that, and not jump to absolutist conclusions (or actions) unless and until that’s fully justified.  The same goes for all the rest of the Bill of Rights, and for the fundamental moral code I have chosen to follow.  I will not allow someone to force me to violate that, even if they pass a law to that effect;  and, yes, that’s a position I will defend by any means necessary.  However, I have to accept that those who disagree with me also have the same right to their own positions.  I can’t impose mine on them, and they can’t impose theirs on me.  It’s a two-way street.

During my active days as a pastor, I was often asked to counsel couples having difficulties in their marriage.  A frequent complaint from one or both parties was, “I’m not getting what I expected/needed/wanted out of my marriage.”  My instant response was always, “Well, what are you putting into your marriage?”  The Biblical standards are tried and tested.  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  “As you sow, so shall you reap.”

One can’t help but notice that most political discourse these days seems to ignore those basic human realities.  That’s tragic in many ways . . . but we don’t have to let the intransigence of others define our response.  We can, and should, try to be better than that.  If we behave no better than those whose behavior we despise, what does that say about us?  So, when it comes to political discourse, what are we putting into the debate?  If our remarks, attitudes and actions are as hard-line, inflammatory and extremist as the worst of our political foes, how can we claim the moral high ground?  We’ve made ourselves no better than they are.

Tragically, the pressures on our overcrowded, debt-ridden, pressurized society are leading to more and more rigidity and extremism on all sides.  The acronym TINVOWOOT is heard more and more often, and many have already made the decision to resist, rather than try to contribute to a democratic solution.  I fear the consequences of such radicalization, because I’ve seen them before:  and therefore I’ll work as hard as I can to be a voice of reason, as long as that’s possible.  I have little confidence that those of us trying to do that will succeed in changing anyone’s mind . . . but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to try.

I’m sure I haven’t satisfied many of my readers with this essay.  I’m sorry about that;  but I can only give you my perspective on life, the universe and everything, as conditioned by many years of (sometimes pretty brutal) experience, and my moral outlook.  I hope it gives you food for thought, if nothing else.



  1. good Christian response. Liked it. Folks who think a civil war would solve things have failed to look at such conflicts do not solve any issue unless:

    1) the war is between proxy armies that represent élite battles. The common folks have little stake in it (like the English civil war (1649) or the war of the roses (1470s or the barons revolt (1215))

    2) one side is utterly destroyed (physically)

    3) one sides morality,(or at least their own perception of their morality) is destroyed in the conflict.

    Else you end up with a long simmering conflict that is multigenerational.

    a few examples:

    UK take over of Canada in 1759, the defeated French still are not all that happy with the result, 260 years (13 generations) later.

    The 1795 take over of Poland: eliminated as a nation for 121 years, they never gave up their identity and fundamental wish to rule themselves.

  2. I, for one, find your essay entirely satisfactory. Well done. I don’t agree with every jot and tittle, but I don’t EXPECT to.

  3. You left S Africa. That is how you solved your issue.

    As to the "Lost Cause Myth." There were no other issues? Slavery was the hot issue but what were the political/Constitutional under pining the issue? have you read Lincoln's 1st Inaugural Speech? What was the Corwin Amendment, referenced in the speech? What were the 2 main goals in the speech?

    1. 1)I have.
      2)I assume you mean, "I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution–which amendment, however, I have not seen–has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable."

      3) Preservation of the union, first and foremost, and the lack of need of violence to settle issues such as whether slavery should be protected or illegal in the territories (not existing states).

      BTW, do you disagree that slavery was the prime, but not only issue? Because that's what Peter actually wrote. Tariffs were also a bone of contention, but unlike slavery, apparently not important enough to specifically mention in any of the articles of secession, quite unlike slavery.

  4. I've come to the conclusion that this is fundamentally a spiritual battle. At the risk of oversimplifying, the solution to many of the ills that plague our society begins with going back to church. We live in a society that doesn't do justly, love mercy, or walk humbly with God. The leftists say we need a Revolution. They are wrong. The right wing says we need the Republic back. I used to agree with them, but I've concluded since that it's more complicated than that. We need revival, and the restoration of Christendom. Conservatism that only fights a delaying action against the debauchery and dissipation of "progress" is not nearly good enough. We must have Christendom back. That begins at church, and therefore simultaneouls at home, because the family is the nucleus of the Church.

  5. @Jaime: As I've said more than once in the past, I left South Africa because I was burned out after 18 years of rolling civil unrest, and burying 27 dead friends. It wasn't for political reasons: it was because if I stayed, I reckoned I'd be dead of the stress within another year or two. I think I can place much of the blame for my present heart problems on those years.

  6. I have to take issue with your assessment of the American Civil War.

    You are correct that for the Planter class, secession was about slavery.
    But the Planter class only comprised a few percentage points of the population.
    If that.
    (But of course politicians curried favor from the individuals with the most money and prestigious surnames.)

    For the merchant class, it was about tariffs and excise duties. The taxes levied against cotton and tobacco comprised around 90% (+/- 5% depending on source) of the federal government's income. They comprised a much larger percentage of society, and legitimately felt a lot of hostility towards the federal government, and antipathy towards the states they saw as freeloading. But about slavery, they really didn't much care.

    When you start talking about the yeoman and artisan classes it starts getting complicated, but (outside of certain regions) secession was broadly popular. You wouldn't, for example, expect a blacksmith to be a fan of the industrial revolution and mass-produced metalwork. Or a farmer to be a fan of the centralization and urbanization taking place outside of Dixie. Slavery wasn't really much of an issue to them. Greatly oversimplifying, they saw their way of life as under external threat, and they did not le it.

    Then you hit the lower classes, where things get positively messy. In *very* general terms, they had to compete against the "free" labor of slaves to earn their livelihood, but they also gained relative status from the plight of the slaves. They did actually care about slavery, but it was an ambivalent sort of caring. Especially since debt forcing men into terms of indenture was a large and obvious potential threat to them. Especially so, if the Planters suddenly found a significant part of their workforce gone.

    Fire-Eaters were common in all classes (except maybe the lowest, but it's really hard to say for sure in that respect).
    Secession was supported by most of the population.
    But to most, slavery was a fringe issue that did not directly affect them.

    Was slavery a central motivation for Jefferson Davis? Absolutely.
    Was it for Robert Toombs? Eh… Maybe? Possibly? Perhaps?
    Was it for Patrick Cleburne? Definitely not.
    Your average butternut wearing Jonny Reb? No.

  7. Folks, please, let's not get side-tracked into arguments about the causes and consequences of the American Civil War. That was a small side issue in the overall essay above.

    1. Small side issues presented as supporting evidence are open to argument.

      I'll cheerfully cede that "The Lost Cause" is misleading to the point of being a lie.
      But for most of the population, that myth was significantly less false than your "incontrovertible" alternative narrative.

      The antebellum South was semi-feudal and honor-based. It was not paradise, nor even particularly pleasant.
      That said, neither were the people of the Confederacy notably evil and depraved. They were not some monolithic caricature of evil.
      The people of the Confederacy were individual people, and they largely supported secession for their own individual reasons.
      For some, this included slavery. For most, it was other considerations, including the idealism of the soon-to-be "Lost Cause".
      The simple fact is that most people in the Confederacy didn't own slaves, and didn't receive much benefit from the "peculiar institution".

  8. When in the course of human events does it become necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another?

  9. "Our opponents" have certainly defined extremism, liberty, vice, moderation, virtue, etc.

    The question posed as "If we define it, what happens when our opponents do?" had been answered.

    The moral judgment of "We should not define it otherwise our opponents will have a moral position to define it themselves" is to cede that you have no standing to make a moral statement or have the higher moral ground.

    Therefore, the opponents defined the terms and have (apparently) the higher moral ground.

    Those positions are in fact evil, and evidence to that fact has been rapidly accumulating. There will be a destructive cycle, as has been the case in all of human history.

    A question should therefore be asked: If "we" had defined those terms and stood firm in them, would the current situation exist?

  10. Sounds like what your describing is what the Tea Party was.

    Which both political parties united to successfully destroy.

    Which lead to Trump.

    Living in So California, I'm very negative about the economic future here. The continued ideological brainwashing in the public K-12 and Elite Schools, scares me. The Resistance is a natural outgrowth of that. From what I can see, Trump is nibbling around the edges on this culture war.

    On South Africa, my SWAG, it's gone back to Tribalism with all the corruption that destroys economies, with a bit of socialism tossed in. It's a cultural issue, and culture is very powerful and hard to change.

    I don't see much hope, unfortunately.

  11. JaimeInTexas – I think keeping slavery in states that had it slavery was a big part of the problems that led to the US civil war, the North with the Corwin Amendment you mentioned was willing to surrender on the existence of slavery issue. They would not promise to allow the expansion of slavery to new states though.

    Even with the "keep what you have" deal on the table the South still seceded so there had to be other issues or the South was incredibly foolish.

    1. so there had to be other issues or the South was incredibly foolish.
      Don't forget the unifying power of 'and'. That's a distinct possibility (one I find likely).

  12. The situation is very simple.
    1. Our opponents mean to exterminate us and our culture.
    2. Our opponents use "legal" means through the current corrupt government bureaucracy to accomplish #1.
    3. We will never be able to win another election once the Democrats get a few million more immigrants into our country using #2.
    4. The Republicans work hand in hand with the Democrats to accomplish #3.
    5. There is no voting our way out of this.
    6. This ends in the utter destruction of our culture and our lives.
    7. "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose."

    When I say there will be a civil war, tens of millions will die, and more will be displaced, that is not an aspiration. It is a prediction. And it is the best case scenario for the long term health of our nation. We are expendable, as long as our children and our culture survives and thrives.

  13. Mr. Grant,

    You ask "…how can we claim the moral high ground?"

    First, since it (moral high ground) is something you are positing as a "good" thing to do, you must define your terms. It is not possible to use a lever without a fulcrum, and there is no such thing as "moral" absent a hard and fast immutable standard upon which "moral" and every other appeal to right and wrong must be measured against.

    The shorter version is "by whose/what standard"?

    Any attempt at reason must first start with presuppositional positions. Either their is such a thing as objective good and evil, or there is not. If there is not, all arguments are moot.

    If good and evil exists, It cannot be cultural, local or subjective. If it exists is objective, universal, immutable and creational. Without said attributes, it cannot have any genuine authority to dictate a "should" or should not".

    You cannot have it both ways; either there is a standard that applies to all, or their is no standard whatsoever.

    1. Yes, I'm afraid Peter's moral high ground would just be taken as proof of just what an odious person he is in the eyes of too many on the left. Not all, or even most if one is able to engage them for very long, but I'm getting a bit depressed about that based upon personal experiences. 🙁

  14. I'd like to propose a value which you implied, but didn't spell out: Empathy.

    What I'm going to say applies to all sides–Left, Right, Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian. We demonize the opposition. It's not something that only one side is doing. Liberals are libtards, snowflakes, and communists. Conservatives are racists, homophobes, and fascists. Most of us understand that this isn't true, but we've become so polarized that we are beginning to lose sight of the fact that "They" are human beings–fellow souls. If we can't put ourselves in each others' places and see their values, we can't reach an accord.

    Note that I don't say a compromise. I'm a 2nd Amendment voter, and I don't want to lose any more rights. As a Californian I get that far better than most. But my support of gun rights doesn't mean I'm callous or in favor of the mass shootings we see in schools There isn't anyone I know who supports MORE school shootings. One side might blame toxic masculinity and racial hatred, while the other decries the loss of traditional values, but most reasonable people understand that a change or loss of cultural/ethical values is at the base. We agree on the root problem, if not the specifics or the solutions.

    "Love thy neighbor as thyself". Empathy. Understand that people are complex and multilayered. I used to be an antigun liberal. I also used to be more religious and traditional. The usual Left vs Right rhetoric would say that conservatives are G-d fearing and liberals are atheists (or polythists). Here I am, neither. Most liberal Jews can understand why a religious or cultural minority believes disarmament could lead to genocide. Most conservative Christians can understand why gun prohibition might seem a viable solution–after all, it works in Europe! But without empathy, without understanding why "They" think that way, and without acknowledging that their fears are legitimate (which is not the same as true)–without that, it's easy to turn the Other into one dimensional caricatures of people.

    I acknowledge we aren't going to get everybody. Antifa and the Minutemen aren't just extreme opposites of each other, but extremists; neither envisions an America at all like what the Founders wanted, and not one where dissent can exist. But if the rest of us can realize that we are all human and deserving of respect, then there is hope for the fractiously-designed Republic we all share.

  15. Peter,

    The elite pedophiles and looters that currently control this world are bound and determined to genocide the majority of the world's population. Or destroy it through absolute apathetic ineptness. And there's no other nation left to flee to…

    And you want to invite them or their brainwashed minions for a spot of tea and a nice chat and expect a change of heart or rational discussion? While they mutilate and kill children? While they slowly shut down any dissent? While they steal elections?

  16. Everything follows its own course: "suchness" or "thusness" describes the state of appropriateness to its time, place and circumstance of every detail in all the multiverses. This does not negate the need or utility of self-effort. But such effort is free of shackles when it is undertaken without emotional attachment to expectations for the outcome, yet with rational planning for anticipated results.

  17. Peter,

    Nice wish. While you're up, I'd like the winning Powerball number, world peace, and a pony.

    Sane people don't want to "go to the mattresses", but anyone with a lick of sense can tell we're going there, like it or not, and probably sooner (i.e. within our own lifetimes) rather than later.
    {For reference, Venezuela had a thriving economy and was a leading oil exporter just 20 years ago. Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East in 1974. Things change, and frequently for the worse, when babies get ahold of hand grenades.}

    Knowing that means that touchy feely solutions are roughly akin to Christians being thrown to the beasts in the Coliseum resolving to taste very bad.

    The Christians don't win.
    And the lions don't care.

    Trying that "get over it, resolve yourself, and learn to deal with it" crap for fifty years, in this country, has gotten us to exactly the point we are. Nobody drew a line for all that time, and the culture, the society, civilization itself, just kept sliding into the black hole.

    Because what cannot continue, will not.

    Society is on a freight train to a bloodbath.
    The quickest way to end that would be to surrender up front.
    But quick isn't the same as best.

  18. give them an inch and they'll take a mile.

    I think there are standards but you have to fight for them

    We stopped fighting and laid down our arms.

    Not because they call as white supremicists, but in spite of it. We are aging out and we'll go on to our distant reward but we no longer give a crap about the next generation because they manifestly don't care about ours.

    What we had was something we all believed in. Nowadays, almost nobody believes in it.

    Nowadays the pussies want socialism. They haven't actually lived it. They will. As they combine to ban guns and shed the 2nd amendment it will be amusing to see them dying on knives of their fellow muslim travelers. Stay woke.

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