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Here are some of the feisty letters and e-mails that appeared in the print version of Radical Middle Newsletter from 2002 through 2004. They're arranged in reverse chronological order.
To send YOUR OWN e-mail to the editor, just click on E-Mail the Editor.
Your article “Five Books That Would Make a Radical Middle Revolution” (October 2004) drives me right up the wall.
Go back and read this stuff. It’s extremely -- and purposefully -- vague about just who is to effect these radical middle miracles. “Guarantee a fair start in life for every American.” “Guaranteed minimum standard of living.” “A fully funded Third Way.” Etc., etc.
If you really want an honest dialogue, then force yourself to say: “Therefore, the federal government should confiscate resources from the American people, filter them through its bureaucracy, and distribute what’s left to guarantee a governmentally established minimum standard of living to all.”
That’s an honest and forthright proposition. Now let’s dialogue.
I thought you'd like to know that I’m assigning your article "Five Books" to my English 102 students this fall.
The course is devoted to studying the rhetorical strategies commonly used in current and past American political speech. Students will then write and design materials to inform young voters.
PARALYSIS BY POLARIZATION
You were correct in your article “At Last, A Movement That Would Have Us Listen To and Learn From Each Other” (July/August 2004). America is suffering a slow and terrible illness -- paralysis by polarization. It is as if our society has split evenly into parallel realities, living side by side in different worlds, unwilling to converge.
A democracy recognizes that there are intelligent people supporting each side of every issue. Every truth has an answering truth. There exists no issue facing us truly as simple as a choice between two absolutes: “good versus evil,” “right versus wrong,” “for us or against us.”
It is only by listening that one permits the possibility of being listened to.
Facing an uncertain future, we Americans must not confuse security with peace. Authentic peace is attainable only by searching for common ground and by discovering common interests, as the Fetzer Institute group was doing in your article. The time available to reverse our polarization and restore our national health is not infinite, however.
Thank you. Keep up the peace!
Dr. Todd Huffman
ACCESSIBLE AND "THERAPEUTIC"
Your article on legal reform was right on point ("Law Reform as if People Mattered,” April 2004). One additional area in need of reform is legal writing. Judicial opinions, documents, and statutes abound with 100-word sentences, passive voice, and indecipherable language.
Some judges, law professors, and lawyers are trying to change legal writing [the writer of this letter is himself author of a wonderful book called The Legal Writer: 40 Rules for the Art of Legal Writing (2003), already in its second edition - ed.]. If the law affects people, shouldn’t they be able to understand it?
I tell lawyers that the most underused punctuation mark is the period -- it’s that key down at the bottom right. Even lawyers are allowed to use it.
Judge Mark P. Painter
As someone whose work on "therapeutic jurisprudence" was mentioned in your law reform article, I wanted to call to your attention the fact that Canada's National Judicial Institute has just published an important therapeutic jurisprudence / judicial problem-solving manual.
It is short, meaty, very readable, and ought to be of great value internationally.
The manual is freely available online and, according to the publisher, non-commercial reproduction is encouraged.
To access it, go the the Judicial Institute's website and click on “education” and then “publications,” and finally on the title of the manual itself, "Judging for the 21st Century: A Problem-Solving Approach" (2005).
David B. Wexler
IT AIN'T TEACH' BABE
I found your article “What Our Schools Need Now: Great Teachers, Great Teachers, Great Teachers” (November 2003) to be myopic and naive.
Our students are failing basic competencies primarily as a result of the media saturated, hyper-stimulating, and materialistic environment they live in -- not because of any shortcomings of teachers.
For the unfortunate majority of children allowed to marinate in this environment, we are quite literally ham-stringing the complex neurological/biological processes that must occur in them. These children are damaged goods before they get to grade one, and the damage continues to accrue until they are finally ejected from high school.
Given a classroom full of such children, even the most dedicated, intelligent, creative and talented teachers are today reduced to being crowd controllers and “entertainment coordinators” -- at least until they get burned out and quit in disgust.
Re: your article about schools needing great teachers, I certainly think that is always true. However, one of the best ways to make great teachers is to get the community involved in supporting them. That way the stress can be taken off them for a while and most of them can do what they wanted to do upon entering teaching, which is to reach the children.
This approach involves building community with the parents and community people, and empowering the schools with funds specifically designated to do this.
Barnett J. Weiss, C.S.W.
Your article on Great Teachers fails to mention the fundamental irrationality of our education system -- the absurd insistence that elected bodies of amateurs are the appropriate instrument of control.
Real professions, such as law and medicine, wouldn’t dream of leaving the control of the profession in the hands of amateurs.
Rev. Dwight Brown
You rightly identify two elements conducive to great teachers -- strong backing of teachers by administrators, and teacher pay based on ability and performance. But you completely overlooked the elephant in the living room: Teacher unions.
The union bargaining process aggressively pits teachers against administrators, and the unions steadfastly oppose anything resembling merit pay. Why should anybody be surprised at the dearth of great teachers in unionized public schools.
I agree with you that teachers are important, but not because of their knowledge of subject matter (that is only mildly important). We need teachers who care about PEOPLE. And who want to help people learn whatever THEY want to learn, in their own way.
Edryce Reynolds, Ed.D.
Your article fails to address the most fundamental problem -- the philosophical assumptions upon which the entire educational system, and in particular the curriculum, is presented.
The standard curriculum is still structured and presented to reflect the reductionist, mechanistic, technological philosophy or paradigm of thinking that was emerging 100 years ago. Moreover, students are still expected to sit quietly and patiently and learn (memorize) facts in subject areas that are presented as discrete bodies of knowledge with little perceived relevance to the real world of students.
I have been working with teachers for over 30 years, and my work has made it clear that what is needed more than anything else is a curriculum that is integrated, interesting, provocative, substantive, rigorous, and relevant to the real-life questions and concerns of students.
Edward T. Clark, Jr., Ph.D.
In your education issue you suggest that class size doesn’t matter. I can tell you from personal experience that class size made a huge difference in my elementary education.
I spent two years in classes of around 30, and four years in classes of around 15. In the smaller classes, we had much more of a relationship with the teacher, which was highly motivating for me.
All the ideas on education you discuss as new are very tired and aren’t going to work. Here are a few different ideas:
1. The unit of change is the individual school, not whole school systems and not individual teachers. If there is a strong principal, and if decently good teachers work in partnership with parents, individual schools can produce remarkable results.
2. We need to distinguish between the school systems in the 150 or so largest cities in the country and the thousands of school districts in the rest of the country. Many small towns, small cities, and suburban communities have remarkably effective schools.
3. Teaching is, in fact, intellectually debilitating. It is inherently not intellectually challenging to teach children and young adults. Intelligent adults need to renew themselves every few years by getting out of teaching and into jobs where they interact with other adults.
4. It is never going to be viable to pay teachers a lot more money and therefore attract the top students into teaching. Look at the numbers. Salaries represent something like 85% of the budget of school systems as it is.
5. We cannot ignore the incredible density of information in the culture at large today. My 16-year-old daughter is inundated with high-quality information -- books, magazines, television, radio, music. . . . Yet schools cram 25 kids in small classrooms with a single teacher and a textbook and they think that’s where the kids get educated!
Hope these ideas are helpful.
Jerry L. Fletcher, Ed.D.
Dear Readers: Thanks for your thoughtful letters! But I shall stubbornly continue to cling to my views. If this society nurtured -- and then properly paid and defended -- a million K-12 teachers who were confident enough to develop their own heartfelt teaching styles (from superstrict to supercool), ambitious enough to design their own lesson plans, caring enough to bond with every child in their classrooms, and empowered enough to discipline and exclude the rotten apples, then everything else would fall into place. Surely we have the "human resources" to pull this off.
UNIVERSAL AND PREVENTIVE
I started filling out my renewal card halfway through your health article (“Universal, Preventive, ‘Integrative,’ and Cost-Effective Health Care Is Within Our Grasp!,” September 2003). It gave me hope that there is an opening for an important revision of the system rather than more unsuccessful tinkering.
Your article on universal health care, while worth consideration, is a little off base -- primarily because of your hostility to Canadian-style “single payer.”
With single payer, the federal government doesn’t have to “take over another 15% of the economy,” as you claim. The Canadian system is primarily administered at the province level, with a minimal bureaucracy.
Tax bills would go up. But that’s because we’d be getting more for our money and covering everyone.
Your article on health care was totally correct -- perhaps the most insightful words I’ve read on the subject.
I have worked in the health insurance industry for 25 years, have attended many seminars and read many position papers, etc. I’ve also been a passionate believer in what used to be called alternative medicine (despite knowing that some “alternative” modalities are pure kaka).
Maybe I’m biased by something called job security, but I’ve never been impressed by the Left’s simplistic argument for a single-payer system. They attack the high administrative costs of the current, private-insurance-oriented system, but all the savings they claim they’d achieve under single-payer -- by putting people like me out on the streets -- would then be eaten up by just ONE year’s medical cost inflation. So let’s fight the real enemy -- the true factors you identified -- that have been driving up costs.
I am afraid I do not see any solutions to the health care crisis until we drastically change the WAY doctors (and other health care providers) practice medicine.
Unless natural healing methods, such as homeopathic medicine and acupuncture, become an integral part of primary care, we will be stuck with medical care that suppresses symptoms and doesn’t truly cure.
Dana Ullman, M.P.H.
I enjoyed your health care article very much. I think you hit the important pieces, except one -- and long-term it will be the most important. That is the need to consciously limit care.
However uncomfortable that thought may make us feel, ultimately it will be required for cost containment.
We already in effect ration care -- we make it extremely difficult for people who can’t afford care to get it. But that is very different from making the conscious choice to withhold care.
Limiting care demands in effect the conscious choosing of death -- at least in the sense of withholding care that might delay death’s arrival. Limiting care requires a maturity in our relationship with death not before necessary.
Addressing this challenge may not be as immediately inspiring as modern medicine’s heroic imagery (all those dramatic technical advances, etc.). But, over time, confronting limits should result in increasingly effective and humane health care. Because of the sophistication and maturity the new health care picture will demand of us, it is in its own way even more heroic than the old.
Charles Johnson, M.D.
THE LONG VIEW
Many thanks for the kind words about the World History Association, Journal of World History, and the world history movement (“From Blinded by the Present to Hot-Wired to the Past and Future,” June 2003).
Radical Middle is a new publication and new concept for me, but on the basis of limited exposure, my sense is that world history is very much a radical middle kind of project.
Prof. Jerry H. Bentley
Your article on the new World History is the best-written I’ve seen. However, a couple of minor corrections are due. They’re only dates, but I’m a historian.
The Advanced Placement World History Course officially started in the fall of 2001 (not 2000), and the first exam was in 2002 (not 2001).
I am sorry you have fallen into the usual pattern of treating world history simply as a teaching field or for “synthesis,” rather than as a research field.
Also, I am far too old to be labeled a “young turk” by anybody’s calendar!
Prof. Pat Manning
Your article on past and future is important. To an extent greater than most would surmise, the future inexorably is shaped by past events. Historical momentum so strongly grips the present that many forecasters look to the past to acquire a sense of the future.
The trends of today are replete with forerunner events that portend what tomorrow holds. We can foretell the future -- if only we look carefully and comprehensively to the past.
Graham T.T. Molitor
RACE AND NATURE
Once again I appreciate your promoting a radical middle ground on important growing edges of our culture’s development -- this time with “Race Conscious Gruel v. Amer’c’n Gumbo: Letter to My Afroamerican Nephew” (May 2003) and “From Nature on a Pedestal to Nature as a Slightly Ditzy Companion” (April 2003).
I’ve copied the first one for discussion with our only African American staff person, a young, gifted, and energetic Baptist pastor committed to redemptive race relations in our community. The second one caught me between the eyes and I’ve ordered both of Esty’s books.
Rev. Daniel Jungkuntz
Re your radical middle critique of nature-on-a-pedestal, here is another radical middle definition:
“Envirosense” -- an awareness of the symbiotic interactions that influence biological and cultural systems. Also, a comprehension of the organic character and ecological principles governing both biological and cultural environments.
Dear Mr. Hudson: I like the first part of your definition, but the second concedes too much to the deep ecologists.
If nature is “discordant,” as Prof. Botkin and the other radical middle environmentalists say, then grand reassuring terms like “organic” and “ecological” need to be redefined. Prof. Botkin sees nature as much less regular and predictable (and goody-goody) than such terms currently imply. That’s why I called nature “ditzy” and why -- as Gregg Easterbrook eloquently points out -- at this point nature may need us as much as (well, ahem, almost as much as) we need her.
The human environment is, alas, just as discordant. Great historians like Arnold Toynbee spent their entire lives trying to decipher something like organic and ecological principles in the rise and fall of civilizations, and we rightly (albeit too unappreciatively) laugh at them now.
Moral: Ecological “laws” won’t save us. Only human ingenuity and passion can (informed of course by natural and social science and awareness of the past and of possible futures, and leavened by spiritual depth). Organic-ecological rhetoric can even be dangerous to our political health -- as, for example, when it substitutes politically charged analogies from biology or physics for fact-based political debate.
I found the story on race really good. It said things I wanted said, and I would like to include it among the resources we are collecting for the Race Matters website -- our effort here in Palm Beach County for purposes of racial reconciliation.
Your article on race shows that individual responsibility is still appropriate, and will continue to be until the notion of a white supremacist culture is history.
In your article on race, and in other articles in Radical Middle, you use yourself, at a younger age, as the “whipping boy” -- as the symbol for all those with “hyperalienated attitudes” whom you now (as the battle-scarred veteran of decades of protest) are trying to wise up.
I wince when I see you oversimplify yourself.
You came to see me in Miami in the 1970s. You arrived on a Greyhound bus [with long hair & in clothes from Goodwill - ed]. You were touring the U.S. visiting Fellow Travelers. Helping create a network for the transformation.
Do you remember why you came on a bus? Why you hung out with us at the Environmental Demonstration Center for a few days?
I am here to remind you that in the 1970s you had a maturity that I, and many of your older colleagues, admired. You stirred the pot for us for a few days. Then you were gone, and you probably never realized that some of your youthful wisdom rubbed off on us.
I, for one, am glad that when you were a “boy” some battle-scarred veteran didn’t wise you up. Otherwise, you might have wasted the decades during which you stuck it out on the battlefront. And I would never have met you.
My intention is not to denigrate the thoughtful perspective you give us from the “radical middle.” I accept you are on a different battlefront now. It’s just that I don’t want you messing around with the young Mark Satin I knew, merely to make a rhetorical point.
Prof. McGregor Smith, Jr.
Dear Prof. Smith: Thank you for your wonderful letter! I’ll treasure it always.
However, when Socrates told us -- correctly, I think -- that the unexamined life is not worth living, he did not mean we should look back, give ourselves a thumbs-up, and say “Wow.” He meant we should depthfully examine our motives and fearlessly ask whether we lived up to the terms of our Contract.
It would be easy for me to present my behavior as an angry young (and not-so-young) man in a romantic light. But I owe my subscribers, and my soul, a fuller accounting. Truth -- not Beauty -- rules these pages. My motives were less pure and far more complicated than you imagine, and I suspect I’d have done more good back then had I followed my advice to my nephew in the article.
And even if I hadn’t followed that “battle-scarred” advice, at least I’d have understood that the moral choice I thought we were facing back then (join the Corrupt & Evil System or rebel against it) was much too starkly drawn.
Your current issue (“The Cool Diffidence and Passionate Realism of the Rising Generation,” March 2003) hits the nail right on the head. My children are 23 and 31. They and their friends are intelligent and engaged with the world around them. They are neither idealists nor cynics.
Where did you FIND those Gen-Xers featured in your “Cool Diffidence” article? The Banana Republic in the mall?! Doctors, lawyers, investment bankers . . . do you really believe such folks are indicative of my demographic?
What about the temp workers, unemployed former dot-commers, and struggling artists that make up my circle of friends? I believe we’re far more typical, and I don’t find that unfortunate in the least.
Your subjects came off as narcissistic, condescending, and just plain DULL. I’d much prefer the company of folks like my friend Louie, a delivery driver with a Master’s in English who would rather work a meaningless but carefree job so he can take a few months off to travel each year. He doesn’t want to die of a heart attack from stress and overwork like his dad did.
I very much enjoyed your article on my generation and appreciated you including me in it. I do feel, though, that a reader could come away with the wrong impression about my position with respect to President George W. Bush.
For the record, I am a proud and very strong supporter of the President. I campaigned for him both in an official capacity and as a volunteer as far back as October 1999 as well as in Florida during the recount. I continue to be enthusiastic about George W. Bush as both a person and our President.
Greatly enjoyed your piece on Gen-X. Found myself wondering if perhaps the apparent lack of fire in the belly (so to speak) might have something to do with the fact that we’ve now raised an entire generation that had little exposure to anything other than the neoliberal model -- what I call the “Washington-Wall Street Consensus” -- so they lack a framework to evaluate what’s amiss.
Congratulations on a great project -- your Congressional Scorecard (“Congress’ Top Visionaries: Reps. Filner and Frank and Sen. Tim Johnson,” January / February 2003).
You are slowly carving out a new ethically-based vision for political alignment.
I am one of your biggest fans. But you’ve just thrown me a “curve.” Your Congressional Scorecard lists Rep. Cynthia McKinney as one of the top visionaries in politics.
I can understand why she rates in this manner, because of the criteria you used. But that woman is an embarrassment not only to her party but to our country.
I know she was not re-elected (thank God), but the fact that she came out so highly rated on your Scorecard tells me that more than scores must be used to identify true visionaries with something worthy to offer.
Scores help establish a “playing field” but, once so rated, we must go beyond the score. What really are that person’s beliefs, motivations, speeches, accomplishments, and -- very importantly -- who is funding them?
You should have red-flagged yourself when you saw that all of the office holders who were represented at the top of your Scorecard were Democrats.
That tells me what you really are is a Neo-liberal rather than what I think you most want to be, a Radical Centrist.
It is simply a fact that, on some issues, many Neo-conservatives could easily be considered to be in the Radical Centrist camp. Yet you came up with some new version of an ADA ratings list. Who needs that?
From my perspective, two items in your Scorecard represent “thoughtless idealism,” which you are quick to condemn in others.
Simply in technical terms, how can you define nuclear power as a “legitimate renewable energy source”? Solar energy is renewable because the sun rises every morning; wind energy, because the wind blows. Uranium is not renewable. You have to mine it, like coal; and breeder reactors are a whole different nightmare.
And the PATRIOT Act is “an imperfect but essential first step”? True -- an essential first step if you’re devoted to shredding the Bill of Rights and establishing a police state. I personally feel less safe since the act’s passage, and I work in Manhattan.
BACK TO SCHOOL?
Re “Professional Schools, Not Radical Groups, Are Our Social Change Incubators Now” (October 2002):
I have young progressive lawyer friends and a couple of friends in alternative medicine. On an individual basis, they are making change, but I believe that much more structural and fundamental change is necessary.
Roland W. James
Radical Middle is always refreshing and inspiring to me. I was so much pleased with the article on professional schools. Pleased, in a way that inspired some positive and practical thoughts in me.
I am a third-year law student, at the University of Banja Luka. Thus I am exactly on the cross-roads, between choosing to stay out of a corrupted society -- and choosing to finish law school and trying to do something on the “inside” that will help bring necessary changes.
Thanks to your article, I realized I need to make a conscious decision.
Your point about activists rejecting the notion of “success” as naive, easily-led-around kids and then destroying their chances for upward mobility later in life was well-taken. i was one of those.
When i turned 40 i tried to backtrack, took out student loans and went to university, Marquette U in Milwaukee and graduate school at Idaho State U.
Now i am underemployed with a huge student loan debt. At 53 with a bad hip and absurdly inadequate medical insurance, i doubt the resources are out there to dig me out of the hole i’ve put myself in.
Your article “Goodbye, Victim Feminists & Soft Men! Hello, Equity Feminists and Standup Guys" (July / August 2002) is extraordinary -- excruciatingly honest, phenomenally informative, bitter and wise and sad and deep, all at once. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything quite like it.
“Radical middle” is a misnomer. "Goodbye, Victim Feminists" celebrates radical individualism, or the age of the obsessive self. It shows how our “liberation” can destroy intimacy between male and female.
The true middle is the selflessness all the great faiths ask for. We’ll move back to that once the global economy begins to stumble.
Loved your recent issue on feminism. You are fabulous when you find a way to personalize your writing while essentially doing an extensive literature and experiential review of a topic.
The feminist movement began when women got together to talk about their experiences -- and we discovered we were all having the same experiences. Discrimination is so universal and familiar in its characteristics, it can be instantly recognized.
Feminism today has no basis in experience. “Equity feminism” and “girlie feminism,” which you praise at length, are merely attitudes, and the same goes for “standup masculinity.” It is all about front with no substance.
The active social cancer today is ageism. The millions of people affected by it are starting to talk about their experiences, which means a movement is about to be launched.
A good radical talks about the active social pathologies in his society, not moribund ones as you are doing.
Geri A. Mellgren-Kerwin
Your issue analyzing the evolution of the women’s and men’s movements was thorough and enjoyable. My one caveat is that those pioneering “victim” feminists, with their angry images of women as unconscious victims of an entrenched oppressive system, were the essential ingredients that produced a necessary revolution.
They deserve a great deal more respect and appreciation than you give them. They described and shook up the status quo, galvanized women and men, and made possible the more humane contemporary developments you enumerate so well.
Marianne Preger-Simon, Ed.D.
Speaking from the heart is a hard thing to do, especially when everything gets filtered by the brain. But you did a great job.
I also have to tell you that I was just finishing the issue, and as I turned to the last page, I saw the front cover briefly, and I initially misread the name of the newsletter as “Radical Midlife.” I guess this is a projection of my life (and yours).
My wife and I both found your "Victim Feminists" article to be creatively and compellingly written. This is very rare for these topics, which are often written in the most lifeless prose.
However, you might have given more emphasis to the fact that “victim feminists” played a galvanizing role in the 1970s and after. And I believe “soft men” played a similar role in changing the way boys are raised, and in lots of other good ways.
I love your history and analysis of feminism and the men’s movement -- especially since this is where my attention is focused now.
Coming as I do from a new age / tantric / psycho-spiritual place (as opposed to a more traditionally political place), I am touched. And affirmed in my perception that creating harmony between and within men and women is a top priority for cultural transformation.
Deborah Taj Anapol
"Goodbye, Victim Feminists" was very enlightening to a 76 year old!
I am thankful for any rapprochements and the abandoning of some of our crazier old reactions. But (1) you only discussed the adult white middle-class-and-up. And (2) you failed to discuss the continuing physical, emotional, and sexual harassment by men, primarily against women (but also against gays, “sissies,” “nerds,” etc.).
There are police who rape women. There were the high school football heroes who not only raped the retarded girl but were generally defended by the community. There is Chandra Levy.
These specifics suggest this is still much more of a man’s world -- irrespective of how powerless a given man feels.
And I think it’s here that much of the old irrational came from, the “victim feminism,” as you call it -- women who knew they were fighting for something, but had mostly only individual males to push against. And men feeling guilty and trying (as you so painfully describe) to get rid of their offending maleness without a clue about why or how.
Joen Fagan, Ph.D.
Can you believe it took me more than two hours one evening to read "Goodbye, Victim Feminists"? The male / female relationships focus took me time tripping, as I imagine it did many others who remembered their own versions of what you were describing.
It seems to me that quite a few “standup men” and “equity feminists” are single, though, at least of our generation.
When I received "We Need To Alter the Culture at Places Like Enron" (June 2002) I thought, “Oh, no -- I can’t read one more article about Enron!” But the corporate scandals kept coming and I finally read it, and I just want to tell you how remarkable an article it is.
It’s the only article I’ve seen that presents a truly holistic approach to -- not just Enron -- but to corporate reform in general. It’s the only article I’ve seen on the subject that draws on thinking from consultants and “insiders” and activists. It’s the only article I’ve seen outside the business press that’s extremely critical of corporate America and is by someone I could imagine actually working in the business community.
Why on Earth aren’t the foundations supporting you? If you had money to promote your product, it could be a real force in the national political debate.
Dear Bill: Thanks for your letter -- it’s great to feel understood! Regarding foundation support, I’m afraid I’m what NBA scouts refer to as a “‘tweener,” a veritable Marcus Fizer of print journalism. That is, I’m not enough of a Good Soldier or True Believer or camp follower to appeal to the ideologically driven foundations (see John Steiner / Social Venture Network letter below), and I’m not invested in the status quo enough to appeal to mainstream foundations.
Maybe some foundation or investor will eventually be attracted by my ‘tweener status -- which is to say, my integrity -- but I can do without. I love what I do, I’m proud that enough real people appreciate what I do to cover my “salary” and expenses via subscriptions and Holiday donations, and my life wouldn’t change in any fundamental way if I were reaching millions of readers, tho’ I suppose I’d be a bigger hit at certain parties.
"Places Like Enron" finds the editor lamenting the fact that critics of the corporation appear to lack “any real affection” for it, and this and other defects in their criticism has been occuring [sic] “for as long as I can remember” (how long can that be?).
Well then! This is radical middle? Boy, I can just see the Enron’s [sic] of America falling into a cold sweat as they anticipate the onslaught of “culturally relevant” reforms that will set them straight.
I’m sorry, but for me I will look to the ideals of the radicals of of our past (and that takes us well back before the 1960s).
Norman B. Thu
I have to confess that I am part of a corporate downsizing effort at IBM. This gives me cause for extreme prejudice regarding our nation’s corporate and political leadership.
On the other hand, discussion of the Radical Center gives me some hope and maybe thoughts of a new direction.
William Brickey, Jr.
I’m all for altering corporate culture. But in your list of players whose attitudes need to change, you seem to have omitted shareholders!
I see clearly that you have no position at all on anything, but just a compulsive-obsessive need to provoke people.
No one on this planet, except for the odd saint, is truly “beyond” left and right. That’s a holdover illusion from your New Age days. I shared it too, which led to my getting exploited by New Age scum.
Re "Places Like Enron," I mostly agree with the “visionary realists.” As a matter of fact, I believe that the corporate world can be the best leader of cultural transformation since it is -- for better or worse -- the most pervasive in our lives.
Unfortunately, “corporate culture” is only a subculture. No matter how brilliant the consultants are, corporate culture cannot stand on its own but directly reflects our general culture.
Your criticisms of corporate culture are therefore unfair in that they imply we have a generally ethical culture that is so much better than the corporate culture.
Even the top executives bring with them the ethics they had before getting into positions of power. And even the laws you proposed won’t pass until there has been an adequate amount of change in the general culture.
I am curious why you need to put people down and thereby practice one-upsmanship. Your put-down of time dollars and the whole Social Venture Network (SVN) agenda at the beginning of your Enron piece was certainly unnecessary. There is good stuff in that document and it’s not trying to give a complete response to the current situation.
I think you are too often caught up in being right, in carving out your “radical middle.” Hell, we need ALL of us -- all of us who want to make this a better planet. Moreover, I find you at least disliking those who are certainly more your allies than your enemies. What gives?
Dear John: Thanks for your honesty, but what in the world are you talking about? I am a political journalist. Part of my job is to stimulate readers by offering pointed information, provocative ideas, and strong opinions. Here in D.C., everyone will tell you Radical Middle is as a lamb compared to The New Republic, The Nation, The Weekly Standard, etc., etc. I regularly criticize AND regularly praise ideas taken from everywhere on the political spectrum -- not a bad way for some of us to connect with “all of us.”
And for the record, I did not gratuitously “put down” the SVN agenda. I deftly criticized it, and I stand by my criticism. The SVN -- a network of concerned investors -- should be bringing the wonderful kinds of people I discussed in the rest of my Enron article to the world’s attention. Instead, Mark Satin is bringing them to his readers’ attention, and the SVN is bringing Mark Satin’s counter-cultural agenda circa 1976 to the world’s attention. Go figure.//////////
“Nine Ways of Looking at the Next Great Social Change Movement” (May 2002) broadened my horizons. Synthesizing truths from eight perspectives is a BIG challenge!
Your article should more properly be worded, “Nine Ways of Looking FOR the Next Great Social Movement.” The current title reflects a deterministic view of the world: i.e., there WILL be a Next Great Social Change Movement; the only question is, which of the nine will it be? But the non-determinist would be looking at your list for those books that are sufficiently persuasive to trigger the next great social change movement.
As a generalist futurist, I think the majority of your books, including those I agree with, are too simplistic to be predictors of the future.
Too often, they argue by assertion rather than from facts. Most are patently ideologic and attribute motivation to institutions or classes of people without offering any evidence of such motivation. Such facts as are offered are “convenient” to the authors’ arguments, while equally-available data that contravene their arguments are ignored.
These treatises may give you ample material for trenchant dissection and criticism in an eight-page issue of Radical Middle, but they remain wholly unsatisfactory as paradigms for the future.
In spite of this, I remain an enthusiastic reader of Radical Middle because I believe such a paradigm is needed.
David Pearce Snyder
Thank you very much for making reference in "Nine Ways" to the “next generation” environmentalism that we have been pushing from Yale for the past five years. It is great to see the ongoing impact that our efforts are having.
Daniel C. Esty
Marvelous lexicon in "Nine Ways" -- you’ve covered the spectrum! There are, however, two somewhat obscure writers whose recent work I personally think might be added to your overview.
The first is William Van Dusen Wishard. His Between Two Ages (2000) offers an eagle-eye view of how cultural, technological, and spiritual tectonic plats of life have been clashing and reshaping our lives.
The other is Sohail Inayatullah. His presentation of Indian political philosopher P. R. Sarkar, Understanding Sarkar (2001), piques realization of the self-centered and smug arrogance that often underpins Western views, and leaves readers “understanding” that no one viewpoint is entirely correct.
I greatly admire your tenacity -- your coverage and commentary provide a bright beacon of hope.
Just came across your "Nine Ways" article and thought you might be interested in a book I just edited, Managing Global Issues: Lessons Learned (2001). I suspect you’ll notice a radically moderate bent to our conclusions.
P. J. Simmons
Although you praised Ted Halstead and Michael Lind’s book The Radical Center in "Nine Ways," you also criticized it for saying little on environmental issues and nothing on globalism.
[Having now read the book,] I agree with you on the the environmental issue. It is hard to understand the avoidance of it by the authors.
The avoidance of globalism is perhaps more understandable -- in The Next American Nation (1995), Lind argued strongly for a “social tariff” to end unfair foreign competition, and that concept clearly goes against the grain of globalism. It is possible that a real division exists between the authors on this subject.
Regarding the supposed lack of emotional punch of the book, it is true that the book is somewhat rhetorically dry. However, the book’s intellectual content more than makes up for any perceived lack of emotion.
Thanks for your reference to me in "Nine Ways" [when reading Sirianni and Friedman’s Civic Innovation in America, you’ll “find yourself cheering for unsung heroes like Len Duhl, the National Institutes for Mental Health bureaucrat who somehow managed to draft the original Model Cities proposal”].
It is interesting that these many years later people are rediscovering some of the ways I worked and some of the things I stood for. Recently in Poverty Knowledge: Social Science, Social Policy, and the Poor in 20th-Century U.S. History (2001), Alice O’Connor made important references -- another great book for you to look at.
SEE YOU AT THE BARRICADES!
In your article “Bring Back the Draft -- for Everyone! -- and Offer Community and Military Options” (March 2002), you advocate that the coercive might of the U.S. government be employed to force every 18-year-old to do the government’s bidding for a year or two, or else go to the draft evasion Gulag. This, you aver, not only makes economic sense, but also produces “moral gains.”
Sure it does, if you share Stalin’s conception of morality.
You neglected to include the need to repeal the 13th Amendment. That would be necessary before your tyrant government could impose indentured servitude on our young people.
You might as well repeal the 2nd Amendment too, because when your government press gangs go out to drag off the refuseniks, you won’t want young people to be armed.
I could go on, but I’ll see you at the barricades.
GENERAL ASSESS-MINTS, 2002-04
I heard you on the radio last night. You handled yourself well, which is hard to do. Congratulations.
One caveat, though. You point out the evils of polarization. And you say you don’t want to claim only a mushy compromise in the middle. Okay. But when you say you build your position by taking the best of each extreme, I think you shortchange yourself.
Your best and most unique contribution is still summarized by the phrase “new options.” You dig out a lot of freelancers, think-tankers, professors, and government aides who have something new and different to add. On any issue, you present a dozen or so of such people, and quote and analyze their ideas. That’s the hard work others don’t do. That makes you a synthesizer -- in fact, a creator -- whereas most others at the middle are just negotiators.
Nobody has been able to “negotiate” a position between Sharon and Arafat. What is needed is a Satin to dig up and present some wholly new approaches -- some “new options.”
I stumbled onto you when I found your newsletter among the groups represented on the Project Vote Smart webpage. I was most excited to find I am not alone in my views!
You capture not only a great deal of my ideology, but how I package that ideology. Almost four years ago I independently coined the term “Moderate Revolution” to describe my ideal political movement. The gist of what I was getting at I see on your pages.
So! This is where all my “old friends” -- Mark Satin, Barbara Marx Hubbard, Marilyn Ferguson, ad nauseam -- are hanging out.
Change the name to “radical middle,” assign such terms as “planetary citizens” to your flakier factions, and then do your Earnest Political Work in the mode of “crisis = opportunity.” Keeps you in the news here and, even more effectively, in Europe.
Constance E. Cumbey
I feel a certain connection to what you have published.
I am clearly in the middle, and as such am fed up with the polarity of the extremes our government is being run by. I am a veteran of the Marines, a VERY proud American, a husband, and a father of two amazing children. I simply could not take it anymore, so last fall I decided to stop being an “armchair politician” and run for the U.S. Congress.
I am not rich, I am not a politician, and my platform is, in my opinion, one of moderation and common sense. I am pleased to say that the platform was published before I knew about your book or newsletter.
I am looking for any financial or volunteer support I can get for my campaign -- 15th Michigan Congressional district, southeastern corner of the state.
Hans C. Masing
I am a physicist who for the last decade has been working on ways to live more softly on the earth (a decade of 7,000-mile-a-year bicycle commutes, studying Timber Framing, beginning the construction of a solar homestead, etc.). I just discovered your newsletter and thought I would send along a word of thanks.
It has been exhausting hearing cold hearted right wing morons on talk radio, and similarly frustrating hearing left wingers describe solutions to people’s problems which I know to be pipe dreams.
I find my small CNC mill [computer-numerical-controlled machine tool - ed.] to be as much a gift of the earth as I do a dried mullen stalk which I use to create fires without matches.
I often feel I’m moving “sideways” rather than right or left.
Why do you need to so sharply distance yourself from ideas and your colleagues in the past? Again and again in your newsletter you make your points at the gratuitous expense of old friends [e.g., “Some young activists are like I was in the 1970s. Egged on by pied pipers like David Korten and Vicki Robin, they’ve concluded that mainstream institutions are so debilitating or corrupt that we’re better off avoiding them as much as possible”].
Your efforts to silence through sarcasm the voices of one sector (which happens to be your roots) feel strangely fundamentalistic to me, and not radical middle at all.
By and large, I do enjoy your newsletter. I believe the tone has changed in recent years in a way I very much like -- become sweeter and less polarized and polarizing.
Some time ago, I started noticing I wasn’t wincing any more as I read it, as I remember doing at least occasionally earlier. I remember I was really up in arms a few years ago when you spoke of Vicki Robin [co-author of Your Money or Your Life, 1992] as a “pied piper.”
Now I believe that what you say vis-a-vis those whose views may differ from yours is friendlier and more nuanced. Since I see so much to like in the person who shines through your newsletter, I love seeing this change in you.
Margaret A. Boydstun
Congratulations on Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now [Westview / Perseus, 2004] and on the attention it is generating. Keep in touch and keep making us proud.
FOR LETTERS PRIOR TO 2002, GO HERE.
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