Conservatives see an asteroid, fail miserably at articulating it. Liberals snottily ridicule their inartful warning, don’t even bother to look up. Meanwhile… asteroid is getting closer.

Welcome to the usual tribal dance.   You know, the dance we’re so busy with that we’re not noticing that “asteroids” are approaching earth and we’d better roll up our sleeves, cross the partisan divide and work on diverting them.

Conservatives – particularly well-equipped to see threats to the moral communities and social structures that make our highly improbable civil society possible – are sounding the alarm on one of the Asteroids Club’s four inaugural “asteroids” – breakdown of the family. Maybe they’ve stopped keeping company with liberal friends who might gently tell them their argument (made by a panel of men, sheesh) is coming off just slightly lunkheaded… Comments like Erik Erickson’s “having moms as the primary breadwinner is bad for kids and bad for marriage” and “when you look at biology… males are the dominant role.”

If the Fox panel’s goal was to communicate their alarm to others who aren’t seeing the problem, they didn’t get it done – more likely, they may have set recognition of this asteroid back a year or two. Arguments get weak and mushy when the only practice you have making them is to people who already agree with you. These guys would have been bounced from a first grade debate team.

Predictably, the asteroid zooms right past liberal ears.  They’re covering it as a cause for action over at the liberal Media Matters for America media watch organization. Thread comments include the usual culture war fare like “strong women scare them to death.” When we’re in full tribal mode, no one seems willing to ignore the brain dead commentary and linger a moment on the underlying numbers.

Morality binds and blinds.

Here’s what they might have said:  the marriage rate has plunged to an all-time low.  7 of 10 black children are being raised in a single parent household, 5 in 10 hispanic children and 3 of 10 white children. Marriage is the structure around which civil society has been built and children have been raised – it’s the fundamental cooperative relationship in society – so we’ve got to stop and look at the potential damage this is doing to families and children.  

Here’s what they did say that critics aren’t paying any attention to: “systemically something is going terribly wrong in our society and it’s hurting our children” “we as people in a smart society have lost the ability to have complimentary relationships and it’s tearing us apart.”

We suggest you might want to ignore the circus and look up.

The Club of Honest Whigs

We were delighted to recently meet Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha, co-authors of The Start-Up of You. Apart from offering superb career advice (after I finished reading it, I shared my copy with my young adult daughter), it included an astute understanding of civics. Here’s just one story that caught our attention – and something we could use a lot more of: Ben Franklin’s “The Club of Honest Whigs.” Reid and Ben write:

In 1765 Joseph Priestley, a young amateur scientist and minister was running experiments in his makeshift laboratory in the English countryside. He was exceptionally bright but isolated from any peers, until one December day when he traveled into London to attend the Club of Honest Whigs. The brainchild of Benjamin Franklin, the club was like an eighteenth-century version of the networking groups that exist today. Franklin who was in England promoting the interest of the American colonies, convened his big thinking friends at the London Coffee House on alternating Thursdays. Their conversations on science, theology, politics, and other topics of the day were freewheeling and reflected the coffeehouse setting. Priestly attended to get feedback on a book idea about scientists’ progress on understanding electricity. He got much more than feedback. Franklin and his friends swelled in support of Priestly: they offered to open their private scientific libraries to him. They offered to review drafts of his manuscript. They offered their friendship and encouragement. Crucially, Priestly reciprocated all the way; he was committed to circulating his ideas and discoveries through his social network, thereby strengthening the interpersonal bonds, refining the ideas themselves, and increasing the likelihood that his new connections would help him exploit whatever opportunities were found.

In short, Priestley’s night at the coffeehouse dramatically altered the trajectory of his career. (According to author Steven Johnson in his book the invention of air, Priestley went from semi-isolation to plugging into “an existing network of relationships and collaborations that the coffeehouse environment facilitated.) He went on to have an illustrious scientific and writing career, famously discovering the existence of oxygen. The London coffee house went on to become “a central hub of innovation in British society.”

Find a longer quote from The Start-up of You by clicking here.