A Founding Father Reincarnates

What If?

Consider this post to be metaphorical rather than something we are proposing is possible. Of course, neither is it impossible, based on the current state of science.

Picture a day like all days, one day in the near future, say around the start of election season.

Out of the blue, there on television, as you flip the channels in your living room, is what looks like an actor made up to look just like George Washington, sitting there talking to a well-known TV journalist.

You take it off mute just for a moment out of curiosity.

The journalist is asking, “Mr. President,” (your eyebrows raise as this is a serious journalist looking serious so perhaps this is not a Saturday Night Live rerun you missed) “why have you waited so long? The USA has been in trouble for quite some time now and many of us are suffering more than we like to admit.”

“Had to pick the time of course,” Washington says. “It had to be a time where one of us could make the difference,” apparently referring to the Founding Fathers. “This is the right time because there is no choice anymore. We stand a good chance now and if it does not work then all has been in vain.”

“You’re speaking of the national debt I assume sir?”

“More than the current trillion or so of debt — what about the going-forward annual shortfall, the budget deficit?” Washington asks “We are looking at tens of trillions over the next decade even if we arrest the course and set things straight. It’s got to get worse before it gets better. That’s the hard part. Americans don’t like hearing about that.”

“Sir, can you tell us what you would do?”

“Yes sir I can, that’s exactly why I’m here. Without stringing it out, first we have to stop blaming and start thinking of new out-of-the-box creative ideas for the underlying problems. These ideas need to be studied carefully without rejecting any out of hand based on opinion alone — what has happened before, factually, if something like this has been tried, computer simulations, even in-market tests in small areas. Secondly we have to work out the economics carefully in advance so that we speed up the inflection point where we start to see the debt being paid down and the people getting back some fairly basic amenities like jobs and good schools.”

“Is that it?” The journalist actually blushes at what he’s just blurted. “I’m sorry sir, I do not mean any disrespect. But surely it’s going to be a lot more complicated than that?”

“I thought you fellows invented sound bites?” Washington quips and smiles for only a second then his face turns serious again. “Of course it’s complicated. I’m just trying to lay the keel first. If we don’t know the main ideas we will never get the details right either. The key is to be objective and to have solidarity with one another, and to think out of the box, because none of the ideas we have generated thus far are going to do the job, and we all know it.”

“In the green room you seemed to be making solidarity the overarching principle,” the journalist commented.

“It is. Think about the word ‘union’ and its derivative ‘united’. The United States of America. Closet mystics that we all were, we dreamed secretly that one day there would be a United States of Earth. Just as the Temple at Jerusalem was to be a temple of all religions, The USA was to be a land to serve the whole world; to be the seed crystal from which Unity would ripple out.

“Now,” Washington goes on, “all we see on television is that the two parties are at each other’s throats. Of course, that would be the first stage after denial — anger. But as we often said back in the day, we’re just wasting time now trying to blame it on somebody else. Let’s get on with the solution. Every day we waste time this way we are investing in future suffering.”

The journalist interrupts “But sir, isn’t part of the solution to find the guilty?”

“‘Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone’, as Jesus wisely said,” Washington gently notes. “We are all a little guilty aren’t we? There is a grey area between tax shelters and gaming the system. Once you see that you have even a little bit of ‘taking advantage’ in your own behavior, how can you continue to be so mad at those who were sucked even further into this direction by a system that was fundamentally not thinking out the details clearly enough.”

“Sir, I don’t understand.”

“The system was designed to be perfect, to operate perfectly, with checks and balances and a built-in self-learning method called the legislature. The only thing we didn’t think deeply enough about was how ignoble motivations could derail our ideas. There weren’t a lot of ignoble emotions among us back at our nation’s dawn. We were as babes in the woods in that terrain. We didn’t foresee how the system could be made to operate poorly to the extent that individuals were seduced by ego, power, money and sex. We could have built in even more creative controls if we had those insights back then. But it is not too late now. We can fix the dream machine so that it works perfectly —” Washington cuts himself off. “Well, this is Earth not heaven so I won’t say ‘perfectly’. Let’s settle for a perpetually balanced budget and a land of comity and brotherhood/sisterhood.”*

“How do we get there, sir?”

“Lay aside the blame and start thinking creatively. Stop rehashing the same old ideas in different garb. We are afraid to do so in the atmosphere that pulls down anyone who has a word out of place, we interrupt constantly, and this is the first signal that we have all lost respect for each other and therefore for ourselves and everything else. But bravely expressing the ideas you have — even when you are unsure of them — is the way to fill the idea marketplace with grist for the mill. Perhaps your lame sounding idea can provoke a new line of thought. Speaking your mind out was one of the freedoms, the innate rights we see in all people, the core of Democracy. If we hesitate to speak out because of the current atmosphere, then everything has gone to hell in a handbasket at the core already; the rest of the fruit will go next unless we change the core.”

“Surely sir there are some among us who deserve to go to jail, or at least be taken out of their power seats, or they will continue to ruin us?” the journalist doggedly persists.

“Stop picturing good guys and bad guys,” Washington says. “We need to all get past these conventional mind traps. We need to get into unconventional ways of seeing situations. Out of the box. Instead of seeing good and bad people, just try on for size another way of looking at it, keeping an open mind. I know, this is very difficult — that’s what got us into this pickle. Picture the tendency to bad behavior to be like a mind virus. What it is in reality is not the point now. First we have to stop the bleeding before we give the patient a nose job. We are action oriented, and whatever way of looking at things that helps us think our way to effective solutions will have been a useful fiction for its time. Later, scientists can pick it apart and explain to us the details of how we got ourselves into this mess and out of it, teaching us things that will help Life in the future. For now, let’s experimentally employ any mind tricks available to see if they can help us.”

“Sir, help me visualize how you’d like to see this turning around.”

“All I can do is what I just recommended to all of us. I will share with you my first crazy ideas about how this is going to play out and how the American people are essentially so smart that despite slowing ourselves down with silliness we will get to the balanced and prosperous state we want. Don’t judge the ideas —” Washington turns to the camera and speaks to the people directly — “just ask yourselves ‘ok that doesn’t work but is there some variation on the idea that could work? What needs to happen beforehand in order to change the underlying conditions that would prevent George Washington’s first cut from working?’

“I see,” Washington says, turning back from the camera to talk to the journalist — and then he looks a little to the left of the man and seems to be staring into the future. “We have to cut the budget in the most obviously off-kilter categories first — and yet we have to make such cuts in ways that vastly jack up the efficiency and effectiveness of the remaining dollars in the categories we’ve reduced. Probably working with for-profits in win/win ways — like the highly successful Boxtops for Education program launched by General Mills in 1996, which has so far raised $400 million for America’s schools. This is just one of many successful partnerships between for-profits and the public sector — and we need more, utilizing advertising sponsorships, cause marketing, affinity clubs, social media.

“First and foremost we cannot default on Social Security. To make up the gap, in addition to budget cuts, we will need to tax not only the income but also the accumulated wealth of the rich. I would prefer them to come forward and volunteer that money philanthropically — perhaps we can make that work instead, or some combination. Doctors among the rich might find this the appropriate time to voluntarily lower their rates. We need to inspect the profiteering of companies and individuals, and do this objectively, respectfully, and efficiently — which calls to mind applications of the Internet as one of the sources of efficiency we need. Where government has become inefficiently bureaucratic and there are rules we have made that prevent bureaucrats from layoffs, or that provide excessive perks to public servants, we need to fix those rules. We are going to have to find ways to move people out of jobs and into other jobs, about which more in a moment.

“We’re going to have to encourage more barter trade within the USA. People out of work will need ways to log on and indicate the kinds of work they can do and we’ll have to do a combo Craigslist and MatchMakers, preferably in partnership between the public and private sectors, in order to help connect people and jobs.

“Work programs to put everyone back to work have to in some form be part of this. Bridges and dams need to be rebuilt. Where necessary, perhaps we can find empty real estate to house those in the work programs. We have big-hearted people here in America and we can encourage patriotism in the form of greater charity towards the needy, especially those heroic individuals joining work programs, a true form of community service; I have every confidence that most of us will respond to such a call. Beyond work programs, there is the need to upgrade skill sets. I must add that your current leaders have been generous in this regard to those on the Unemployment rolls — but this effort needs to extend to all who need and are willing to upgrade their skills. I see us helping private corporations to work together to create a computer code whose interface to the programmer is like a kinetic video game, so that everyone in the USA can become a computer programmer if they so desire — because there is no end of work for those people. Because belt tightening is not the future I want for our baby — this noble experiment we are all still caretaking and guiding and leading — we must as a nation find ways to generate huge wealth together — like this all-programmers project, for example.

“There are other ways to generate wealth that require out-of-the-box thinking. There is an organization that today is thriving and largely insulated from the recession — crime. It makes most of its money by catering to illegal pastimes that, while unsavory, do not harm anyone other than the person indulging, for the most part. By decriminalizing drugs, prostitution and gambling, the government can make those pastimes safer for the indulgers, can offer options to the indulgers that will gradually take some of them into more positive uses of time and thereby reduce collateral damage, and we can generate the dollars we need to provide for the elderly and the needy, and to rebuild the infrastructure, especially education. This will also take funds away from the crime/terrorism sector. Again, making these things legal gives us more exposure and opportunity to suggest other job opportunities for prostitutes, bookies and dealers as well as suggesting other options to their customers.”

Washington smiles to himself as if over an old memory. “We used to kid Tom — Mr. Jefferson — about his soapbox. Of course, we all believed in Democracy out of an innate trust in the wisdom of the people — otherwise it would be insane to contemplate putting one’s life in their hands. We assumed that public education would be well cared for. This is what gave us courage to trust the people. What we think of as education includes deep thinking about life, and connecting to the inner knowing of the spirit dimension. This never actually came to pass in our schools, and for good reason: we separated Church and State. What we didn’t think enough about was how the Spirit side of the equation was going to stay opened up. Of course, we never foresaw how the accelerating grind of life was going to alter that feeling of connectedness. Today’s people do not realize how different it all was then. It was something you felt at all times. You didn’t know what it was, or Is — God, or something else? But it was there. Today you can’t feel that as we did then. You are simply moving too fast.”

“You and the other Founders must be very sad,” the journalist sympathizes, realizing how in love with America this man is.

Washington shakes his head. “We see education as the main solution direction. All we are is a group of people in a piece of land. The land is a vast resource, but just a small fraction of the potential value stored up in the people. Optimized, the people become as God On Earth — full of wisdom and bonhomie, grace and culture. Optimized means that education is the main force for Good that exists in the world. When I say ‘education’ — from the Latin educare, to draw out something that is in there, not to pump anything in — this is up to more than just the schools and churches. It is also up to the media, corporate climates, climates within every organization — every organization in America must be fired up with the zeal to optimize its people in a well-rounded way. They have no mandate to exclude the spiritual — we must all be willing to talk about the spiritual dimension again without fearing that it is sure to divide us; we can find common ground because it is there waiting for us. One of the first lessons must be forgiveness: we must stop wasting time pointing fingers. Let us declare a National Amnesty on those who have taken too much for themselves just because everyone else was doing it.

“Verily sir, I tell you that if we do not stop this disunity at once, the greatest hope for humanity will be literally torn in shreds,” Washington says darkly but then instantly brightens, “This is where we were a couple of times before,” he says, “and those were times we showed what America is made of. We rose above our ordinary levels of performance and made idealism practical. That is who we are: practical idealists. This is one of those times where our ability to be heroes must prevail — not just for glory, power, money and sex, but because it is innate, it is who we are, it is our nature to be heroes.”

This is one way a Founder might look at it.

Best to all,

Bill

 

*Here I would respectfully differ from Washington and say that given sufficient centuries it can be heaven-like here on Earth. That is a spiritual viewpoint and I would not impose it on anyone.

4 thoughts on “A Founding Father Reincarnates

  1. Larry Burns

    Well ‘framed’ (pun intended) … the notion of joining together to seek solutions is in fact a long term characteristic of America. Generally it has taken a crisis or extraordinary leader to rally the people to such a cause.

    Today we are beset with a constant barrage of distractions making it challenging to contemplate the possible. We must dodge the media’s propensity for “SQUIRREL” behavior (apologies to the makers of UP) while permitting ourselves to on occasion slow down and neither action is perceived as a strength today. So much data, so much information both good and “mis”, and yet so rarely knowledge appears or even its eventual outcome, with enough time, of actual wisdom.

    One thing your Mr Washington failed to touch on, and I would not expect it given the context within which he lived, is what I believe is an increasingly obvious truth – that things in our physical world are not ‘limitless”. That is in conflict in some ways with the classic “American Dream” but not really to my simple mind. When humans are asked to act within boundaries it often sparks enormous creativity – witness the arts, a movie can only be so long, a haiku must maintain a structure, a poem, even a 30 second spot, etc. All these have “limits” and yet ……

    So, why add this to the conversation? There are some issues being wrestled with today that do need to have the reality of these simple truths included. I need not list them …

    However, one thing that I do believe is that for all practical purposes limitless IS the human capacity for creativity, energy and faith in overcoming whatever problem needs to be addressed. So … with unity let us join as one nation to get along with making the planet a better place for my potential grandchildren to inhabit.

    Thanks for the chance to express …

    Reply
  2. Jim Nail

    Hi Bill!
    I’m loving following your insights.
    On this point, I think John Adams would have more to say than George Washington. I just finished Passionate Sage by Joseph Ellis and Adams had quite a deep understanding of human nature and prescient about where it would lead the country. For example, he believed that people’s innate “passions” and “desire for distinction” would inevitably lead to economic inequality, which would vest this new “aristocracy” with disproportionate political power. His prescription was not to limit government (Jefferson’s philosophy) but to use government as a check and balance against this power; Adams believed that the “wisdom of the people” was a naive view of human nature which, by ignoring the potential for this new aristocracy, would enable them to control the country behind the scenes. (Similarly, he was skeptical of Adam Smiths’ Invisible Hand). Given the last few years, I would say Adams was right!

    Reply
  3. Yana Lambert

    A note from Abigail…

    “Take heart, George — it hasn’t always been as bad as it is today. In fact, the USA has accomplished quite a bit in the 200+ years since you and the other Founding Fathers (don’t forget the Founding Mothers — behind every good man…) crafted our Democracy that is still the envy of the world. We came together as Americans to defeat slavery. We built a transcontinental railroad in the 1800s and an interstate highway system in the mid-1900s to unite the peoples of our now 50 states; we created great public works programs to help the American people survive the Great Depression, and at other challenging times in our nation’s history. Just a few reminders of our ability to work together for the good of all.

    “I’d also like to point to a more recent time in history, where the American financial house was in good order: under President Clinton, we managed to balance the budget — amidst a vitriolic Congress hell-bent on focusing on nothing more than the weaknesses of the man’s flesh (weaknesses I would acknowledge that have been part of man’s nature since time immemorial) — and left a substantial surplus in the Treasury. And most of the American people had gainful employment or at least the opportunity to find a suitable job on American shores.

    “Then came the turning of the millennium, which is when all hell broke loose in America’s financial house. Ignoring the lessons of history, the leaders set about emptying the coffers of the US Treasury into the pockets of those who needed it least, under the guise that these folks would create jobs for those Americans unlucky enough not to have a job. Eleven years later, the evidence points to quite the contrary: these same super-rich folks wanted even more, and so shipped American jobs overseas to places where Democracy doesn’t provide for the safety and well-being of its workers or the environment, places where these folks could make even more money. Their response to the escalating unemployment rate was, in short, ‘Let them eat cake.’ We all know where this led, and a good thing it did, as the French people rose up to fight for themselves.

    “Worse yet, the ‘Haves’ would have you believe that it’s those needy unemployed people who are draining the US Treasury. Have you taken a look at how much of America’s tax revenues go to building bombs and fighter planes and submarines that the Pentagon acknowledges are not needed? I would ask you to consider this one simple fix to the current tax system: give taxpayers the choice of how to distribute their tax dollars. A simple checkbox on their tax return: ‘Use my taxes to help rebuild America’s infrastructure and thereby employ those in need’ or ‘Use my taxes to build more bombs and fighter planes and submarines.’ My faith in the American people suggests most will select the first checkbox.

    “Keep the faith, George. America will prevail as she always has.”

    Dutifully yours,
    Abigail Adams

    Reply

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