I want my government and the people around me to make rational decisions based on science, not judgments based on belief, morality, or stereotypes. However, this is not the world I see when I turn on the news. The recent attacks on freedom through those pledged to ISIS – the Orlando nightclub massacre, the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino shooting – people unwilling or unable to think rationally about their actions have perpetrated all these. They have committed atrocities in the name of a religion, a group, or cause without contemplating the simple question of “Why?”. The most recent attack on Western values was committed by someone that grew up as a part of the culture. Omar Mateen was born in the United States and worked as a prison guard and security officer, jobs that require some commitment to protecting people, yet he was able to put that aside for the hate he felt towards a group of people. There is no rationality to that decision, only blind ignorance. There is no place for such ignorance in a rationale society, yet it persists in our country and around the world.
In the United States of America, we stand on doctrine that government is for the people, by the people, but have we spent time ensuring that those people act rationally? We have all had a hand in creating an environment where people do what they are told without thought. The best example of values and principles of a culture can be easily seen in the interaction with children. Children are nearly blank canvasses with which those around them instill values, knowledge, and expectations. However, we do not drive our children towards a future where they are taught to question those lessons. We stamp the question of “Why?” out of our children through our callous, lazy, and stupid answer: “Because I said so.” How can we expect our children to grow to adulthood and be able to question the rhetoric around them, preventing them from being drawn into hate speech, if we do not teach them to think critically? Perhaps our children would be better off in the hands of Siri, Alexa, or OK Google – those willing to respond with the answer to their best of their knowledge regardless of how many times it has been asked before, how tired they are, or how irritated they may be. If we don’t begin to take our role as parents, mentors, and thought leaders responsibly, the future may be better off in robotic hands.
The idea that it is OK to kill because someone else feels, thinks and loves differently than you.
It starts with a belief that those you judge with hate deserve the worst, to be banished to some place like hell, and it ends with an irrational decision to end the life of someone you never took the time to know or truly understand. Sunday was another sad day in a long history of sad days where we were again reminded that the world we live in creates, promotes and even incentivizes this kind of thinking. Monday was another reminder that no matter how many times this happens, we never seem to address the actual problem causing it all.
We expect our laws and morals to keep society in line, but terrorist organizations like ISIS remind us that is not the case. As long as an irrational thought can be ingrained inside someone’s head, humanity remains vulnerable to horrific acts of violence. The issue plaguing our nation and the world isn’t gun control, LBGT equality, or even ISIS, although all these issues matter. The issue is that we live in a world where it is OK for people to think and act irrationally. As long as we allow our laws, our morals, and our cultures to accept irrational thinking, people will use technology to hurt people. Irrational actors will use their words to disenfranchise and deny those different from them certain rights, and they will organize to collectively recruit others into their own irrational ideologies, regardless of the future impacts.
These events of terror hurt us all because the actions of these individuals don’t make sense to anyone but those with the same misguided beliefs. We all find ourselves asking, “WHY?”
Why did the Nazi’s systematically kill Jewish people? Why did the followers of Charles Manson carry out those horrific acts? Why did Dylan Roof kill innocent people at church? Why did Omar Mateen kill 49 people in a nightclub in Orlando? There isn’t a rational answer for why these things occur and that is the point—these acts are justified using irrational thinking. When we create a world where irrational thinking is acceptable, we create a world where these kinds of things can and will happen because irrational people do irrational things.
My heart hurts for all those directly impacted by the events in Orlando this weekend, but my heart also hurts for those in the future, destined to be hurt in equally painful ways because we have failed to learn from our past. Yes, there are immediate actions we need to take to remedy the symptoms of this irrational disease, but treating the symptoms only buys us time to deal with the cause. You can’t cure a disease by treating the symptoms. The discussions centered on the Orlando shooting are focusing on the symptoms of a much greater cause, one that starts in places like our Constitution, our family traditions, and even our religious text.
So how do we fix this? Maybe one place to start is with our thought leaders, like parents, educators, celebrities, and world leaders. If this group of influential people, of which we are all a part of, committed themselves to promoting science and rational thought in every one of our choices, no matter how annoying it might be to think things through, perhaps we could minimize the irrational acts. We currently live in a world where you can act irrationally in one setting, but not another, creating confusion and hypocrisy in our everyday lives. If you truly believe that those in hell exist forever, why should it be any less damning to wish someone to the worst place imaginable than to kill them? Both are irrational and both are bad for society.
It is time for something bold, something that signals to the world we are committed to finding a cure for all the unnecessary, irrational violence and hate in this world. Maybe it is finally time to listen to our founding fathers and revisit the very nature of our Constitution-the doctrine we’ve all agreed is something that should reflect the ideologies of the people, work for the people and be by the people. Let’s challenge our lawmakers to hold a Constitutional Convention, a meeting where we rethink the American way of life. Let’s write a doctrine where the rights of individuals are not guaranteed by beliefs, but on rational decisions good for everyone. Let’s make it so no law or regulation can be written without thinking it through rationally. Let’s help lead the world to a better state by showing it a place where ideas like freedom of speech and the right to bear arms can exist without the fear that people will use those rights to convince others to do irrational things or resort to deadly acts of violence when they have irrational motivations.
Let’s unlock the true potential of freedom and create a rational world, a world where terror literally has no fertile place to grow.
Washington is broken. We hear this all the time for the pundits, the average American, and even those that run Washington. Part of what is broken is the way in which we hire (and fire) federal employees. In a time where we have a highly educated population and silicon valley is paying high salaries for talented IT professionals, our federal government is almost incapable of hiring the best and the brightest to make our country run efficiently and effectively. USAJobs is the online application where federal jobs are posted and the avenue for which prospective employees submit materials. However, who in their right mind spends 6 months to a year waiting around to hear about an interview? Why do we have programs like the AAAS fellowship, geared towards bring scientists and engineers into government, yet most agencies provide no easy way for agencies to keep these fellows on after their term is over without jumping. Can you imagine any Fortune 500 company unable to hire talent immediately? You can’t because it would never be tolerated. The other side of the equation also means its almost impossible to fire a federal employee. Often, rather than firing employees that aren’t working out, they are promoted to a position in a different office so the manager can make them someone else’s problem.
We should create a system by which federal employees can easily be hired and fired so that we can begin to make Washington work for the American people.
In the past, we have created bureaucracy, protocols, rules, laws, and systems to appease the masses and control the majority of a problem. We no longer live in a world where we need to treat everyone as a majority. Rather, we live in a world where we can communicate our specific needs, desires, and situation to our leaders and government through the data we continually create. We have wearable devices that can share our current heart rate and there are refrigerators that can create a shopping list for us. There are many other pieces of information we could program such devices to share with those around us providing services and assistance. Why should we continue to live in a society that makes general rules as needed for the lowest denominator or majority of the population? As the information age continues, we have the opportunity to create a society where individual attention is a real possibility. If we choose, we can create a governance structure that takes advantage of this data sharing to provide services tailored to individual needs. We should embrace the data revolution to make all our lives better, more individualized, and to create more effective, efficient government services.
The American Dream is an idea, an idea that has driven this country and inspired the world for almost 300 years. This dream was rooted in our Declaration of Independence with the words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.
As this country has evolved, so to this dream. This dream is about finding comfort in the idea that we live in a country where there is opportunity for all and regardless of your race, creed, sex, class or the family you were born into, through hard work and determination you can create the life you want. However, for many, the American Dream is beginning to feel like the American Nightmare, a sick illusion of hope in a world full of fear, hostility and inequality relative to times past. Just as James Truslow Adams inspired a nation coming out of the Great Depression in his book Epic of America by first coining and describing the American Dream, our nation today, one coming out of its own era of financial despair, needs a reimagining of the American Dream.
The generation that emerged following the first references to the American Dream was the generation that helped save the world from the evil that prompted WWII. This generations’ ethos was all about hard work, it was about survival, it was about creating a better future for their children, and their attitudes are what came to define the American Dream. Overtime, this generations children evolved the dream to include a greater emphasis on the pursuit of happiness. Happiness was not necessarily hard work, it was also about working the jobs you wanted and having time to enjoy the efforts of your labor with the ones you loved most. As the country continued to mature, this third generation of the post-Great Depression American Dream became the first to truly reap the rewards of the sacrifices of the first generation; the world they lived in was evidence of the success of their grandparents. This generation of people was promised the American Dream was finally the American Reality.
Unfortunately, the combination of the devastating effects of 9/11 on the American psyche and the Financial Crisis of 2008 on the American wallet has challenged the ethos of our time and exposed parts of the American Dream, which have turned out to be false. The wealth gap in this country continues to grow, hateful speech is becoming more of the norm, and graduated students are entering the job market with university degrees only to find a genuine lack of opportunity compounded with a mountain of student debt. Hard work no longer seems to be paying off. While this reality is still greater than many other parts of the world, it represents at minimum the flattening of the trend President Franklin Roosevelt always said should be upwards in his last Inaugural Address in 1945:
"Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights — then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward. The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend."
It is time we reimagine the American Dream. It is time we generate a new idea, a new hope, a new vision for the future that will inspire this nation once again and give new meaning to our purpose. In a world dominated by the advancements of science & technology (S&T) the definition of hard work looks much different from the days it was synonymous with long hours on the farm or at the factory. This new American Dream should anticipate the future that will be arriving, one where we can communicate with our thoughts, have robots do our chores and free ourselves from the limits of our genes.
This new American Dream should be about making the pursuit of happiness easier. This is a dream where people don’t have to work harder to move up, they have to work smarter, they have to work more creatively, they have to take advantage of the world that has been gifted to them and imagine it to the future. This American Dream should be about providing everyone with the ability to do this, giving everyone access to things like the Internet and creating new jobs that seek out the human imagination. It should be about developing a society where we reward our creativity and ability to dream up the futures no one else can envision.
The future of the American Dream should be that no matter who you are, you live in a place where your imagination can come true, where opportunity exists to let your bold ideas grow into things that will change the world. This is a world where opportunity still knocks even if you fail. It is a world about the future and it will take all of us to make sure this new American Dream becomes reality.