The Soul of America

Jun 10, 2020

Or, listen on Spotify

On the one hand, the U.S. Constitution separates church and state, but on the other, our inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is "endowed by the Creator." In this episode, Jeff muses on the spirituality of the founding fathers and how our politics has frequently strayed away from those values. What would a modern political platform look like if we built it on the basis of universal spiritual principles?

Jeff: There is much written in personal development about rediscovering our original nature, finding our infinite soul, going back to that place where there is only love and compassion and empathy.

Jeff: And recently I've started thinking about that in a more national and sociopolitical context where like the individual, our nation, America, also has an infinite soul and original nature. These were the inspired ideals of our founders as they birthed this country, inspired by notions of the Enlightenment Era and really repudiating a caste system in Europe where for hundreds of years you were either born into serfdom or you were the 0.01% born into the monarchy or the oligarchy and there you stayed.

Jeff: America was this experiment in repudiating that system where in our founding, in our greatest piece of American literature, you have this notion of equality, that all men are created equal, endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, amongst them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In essence, if you were willing to put in a hard day's work that you and your family could get ahead.

Jeff: And it's been the role of government to kind of broker this sort of relationship between the common good, between recognizing our common destiny and humanity and the individual freedoms of people to work hard and to get ahead.

Jeff: What you've seen is what I sort of refer to as kind of this messy history of democracy where we've been trying to square these very inspired and spiritual, spiritually inspired ideals with the reality of the human condition where you could have equality as the centerpiece of the country and then still only recognize African-Americans as three-fifths of a person and to have slavery. Yet then to have abolition and then to have Jim Crow. And then to have Brown versus Board of Ed and desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act.

Jeff: And the struggle continues today with I would say a jagged, messy history of self-correction. You can also look at women who were once denied the right to vote and the right to own property. And then of course there was the suffrage movement. And there have been other similar moments for gay rights and other minority groups, which essentially have been these principled fights to greater align with our original nature, with our infinite soul, to return to that place of love and compassion and empathy.

Jeff: I specifically look kind of at the '30s, which was a point at which America could have essentially imploded and we could've ... and capitalism could have essentially kind of gone away with nationalized banks. But instead, we found a new deal. And that promised a chicken in every pot, but more literally created protections for farmers and for unions and established social security and established pretty high income tax marginal rates.

Jeff: But essentially I think recognized that as a country, we need to provide a safety net to dull the sharper edges of capitalism, because we recognize that we do have a common destiny and we do share a common humanity, and that out of many we are one. And coming out of the Depression and the war, we brought millions and millions of GIs back and educated them. And there was a middle class that was born.

Jeff: And with that middle class there was significant urban flight and we moved out into the suburbs and literally built, literally and metaphorically built picket fences around our life. And this was sort of what the beginning of individual materialism that has characterized the last 70 years of American history where we began to separate ourselves from each other.

Jeff: Now in the '60s connected to a lot of political upheaval, and again, sort of the recognition again of the common good of if someone else can't vote, then I can't vote, or if someone else can't read, then that's not good for my family either. This idea that we're going to take to the streets and ensure rights for all people, or to stop a war that was unjust.

Jeff: And during that time there was a tremendous amount of experimentation around this notion of sort of common living and shared resources, shared duties, the idea of coming back together, of breaking down those picket fences and living together, and cooking together, and growing food together, and helping with each other's children, and helping mothers birth and our elderly die in dignity with family and loved ones.

Jeff: And these were again sometimes very messy experiments in sharing and in community. But that wave flattened out, and what you saw then kind of in the '70s and since has been an era of unprecedented individualism and materialism, so much to the point right now where again, you have pretty much all of the country's wealth concentrated in the top 10% and an ungodly amount, a disproportionate amount in the top 0.01%.

Jeff: Of course, that was the system that our founding fathers tried to depend. We're in a society that not only lacks kind of social mobility for a lot of people, but also has become so socially polarized where we're sorted into our own little bunkers where of like-minded folks and we just hear what we want to hear. And that is perpetuated through artificial intelligence and then social media.

Jeff: But there are little hints of, once again, I think connecting around the notion of the common good, of our common humanity. And in some ways they're commercial. What we've seen with companies like Uber or Bird or Lyft or Airbnb, we work, we live is the kind of proclivities of the millennials to kind of shun kind of personal capitalism. Now a lot of it is still personally focused, but more and more there is this notion of shared resources are okay. They're not just better for myself, but they're probably better for the environment, and I don't have to own everything. In fact, I'd rather experience things and connect than have the responsibilities of a car or a house or my own office, et cetera.

Jeff: So I think there's some interesting trends there. And then of course in the last couple of years since the Trump Administration, when we've seen kind of voices get emboldened where racism and homophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric is not just asymptomatic, it's symptomatic. Again, that has given birth to voices and action where for the first time in generations you see millions of people mobilizing to the streets, whether that's for the Women's March or March For Our Lives or the more recent immigrant march. And I think, for me this gives me a tremendous amount of hope. And it's very influential right now in what I do every day and how important I think it is for people to connect.

Jeff: In fact, I think that the future of our ability to kind of live on this planet as humans will solely depend on whether or not we can connect with each other, where we can disagree without being disagreeable and that at times we can rally around our common humanity and our common destiny. And if we are inable to do that, then we'll not be able to solve some of the most salient issues of our time like global warming or income inequality or healthcare.

Jeff: So this has been such a big part of the inspiration around commune, around socializing ideas that are old and true to solve some of our problems that are modern. But also creating systems for people to connect around shared passions and interests. And not just like-minded people, people in other groups, and hopefully form bonds and find ways to step on that bridge and build relationships even if with people in their own ingroups and their outgroups.

Jeff: So I am extremely hopeful that this next era of American history can be one that's most closely tied to our infinite soul, to our original nature, to the place of love from which this country was born.

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