Tocqueville on America’s equality

“Nothing struck me more forcefully than the general equality of conditions among her people.”

We like the Asteroids Club so much in Tallahassee, we’re having a whole year of asteroid-deflecting dinners!

Read all about what we’re up to in Tallahassee HERE. Contact us about hosting your own Asteroids Club event!

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“Plutocrats:” America’s egalitarian roots

From Chrystia Freeland’s “Plutocrats:”

‘The master and his apprentice worked side by side. The latter living with the master and therefore subject to the same conditions. When these apprentices rose to be masters there was little or no change in their way of life. There was, substantially, social equality – and even political equality – for those engaged in industrial pursuits had little or no voice in the state. Before the industrial revolution, we were all pretty equal. But that changed with the first gilded age.

‘ “Today,” according to Andrew Carnegie, “we assemble thousands of operatives in the factory and in the mine of whom the employer can know little or nothing, and to whom he is little better than a myth. All intercourse between them is at an end. Rigid castes are formed and as usual mutual ignorance breeds mutual distrust.

‘That shift was particularly profound in America, one reason that even today the national mythology doesn’t entirely accept the existence of those rigid castes of industrial society.’

This just in: Keep one eye on the sky beginning October 1 (the Air Force won’t be…)

Sequestration Asteroid

From Fox News:

“The Air Force says it can no longer afford to scan the sky for extraterrestrial threats that could doom the planet, all because of the sequester cuts Washington forced on itself when it failed to rein in the exploding national deficit. Called the Air Force Space Surveillance System, it’s “critical” to defense, the Air Force has said. By October 1, they’ll have to pull the plug.”

Apparently the extraterrestrial threats include about 1,000 asteroids large enough to “potentially unleash global catastrophic devastation to the planet upon impact.”

Kind of a big deal, yes? From this bit of asteroid news you probably shouldn’t expect much of a reaction from our elected officials. Last spring, when one asteroid actually did hit earth and one closely missed us on the same day, Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL) asked NASA chief Charles Bolden what NASA would do if a large asteroid was expected to collide with earth in three weeks.

“The answer to you is, ‘if it’s coming in three weeks, pray.’ The reason I can’t do anything in the next three weeks is because for decades we have put it off.”

So break out the space suits, America, and give Bruce Willis and Ben Affleck a heads up. Looks like we’re on our own again.

Possibly too true to be funny?

asteroids social media cartoon

Cartoon courtesy of

Asteroid lights up the sky in South America. Join the Asteroids Club.

Open hearts, open minds

“Our task as citizens whether we are leaders in government or business – or spreading the word – is to spend our days with open hearts and open minds. To seek out the truth that exists in an opposing view and to find the common ground that allows for us as a nation, as a people, to take real and meaningful action. And we have to do that humbly – for no one can know the full and encompassing mind of God. And we have to do it everyday, not just at a prayer breakfast.” — President Barack Obama, at this year’s National Prayer Breakfast

Steve Seibert writing in the Tallahassee Democrat: We can seek a common ground

seibert_steveHow do we find common ground in these contentious times of partisan gridlock? I respectfully offer the following principles to help us bridge the great divides of our time.

One: Seek to understand the moral positions of others.

Americans are a diverse people with fundamentally different moral foundations. Recent psychological studies show we are born with a predisposition for being conservative or liberal, and no amount of yelling at each other on a cable network will change that.

Some of us hold as sacred the care for victims of oppression; some are dedicated to preserving the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community; others are most concerned with the protection of individual liberty. Most of us share a concern about all these values, but feel more intensely about some than others.

And it has always been so.

We have always held competing political and moral priorities.

For almost three centuries, as David Brooks so clearly explains, we have engaged in a series of long arguments about how to promote the American dream arguments that pit equality against achievement, centralization against decentralization, order and community against liberty and individualism.

Acknowledging that what others believe is as sacred to them as what we believe is sacred to us is essential to getting past the gridlock.

Morality binds and blinds, writes Jonathan Haidt, a professor of psychology at the NYU School of Business. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.

Haidt believes a balanced mix of moral foundations creates healthy communities.

He argues all are needed. A society that has no respect for tradition and authority will not last. But nor will a society that ignores fairness and caring. The challenge is to show the empathy and respect a free and diverse people owes one to another.

Two: Distinguish between what is a difference of opinion and a difference of principle.

Most disputes involve the former. Someone has broken a promise or violated our expectations or just behaved badly.

We dont understand certain patterns of behavior and conclude the person is just bad.

We demonize what we dont understand, and we demonize more than we should.

With some tolerance, most differences of opinion can be resolved.

A difference of fundamental principle, however, may not be appropriate for compromise. There is a time to stand on pure principle; it is just not all the time.

Three: State your presumptions.

Presumptions are what we believe to be true based on the information we have. We presume many things about each other, about the world around us and about ourselves, much of which might not be true.

Several years ago, I had an unsettling conversation with a friend. He is African-American and I am not. Race was the subject, and our perspectives on some key issues were painfully at odds. A couple of nights later, I tuned in to a program on the History Channel. It was about a black teenager who was beaten beyond recognition and then lynched, in a residential neighborhood of Mobile, in 1981.

That is what my friend was talking about. I was presuming a shared sense of history, of law and life experiences. I do not need to agree with all his political views, but I show neither humility nor respect if I fail to acknowledge his reality, his moral foundations and the presumptions that underlie his view of life.

Four: Be humble.

No single personal characteristic is more needed today, nor more absent in our public dialogue, than humility. Humility is a willingness to listen respectfully to others and to question our own certainty. It involves the courage to compromise.

When is the last time you heard a leader from one party say to another from the opposing party, That is a thoughtful position, and I agree with you, or This is a complex issue, and I dont have all the answers. How refreshing and healing that would be; and accurate, because one side to a debate is never endowed with perfect knowledge.

We should strive to be a humble nation, confident but not boastful. Our greatest leaders have always recognized this. In his second inaugural address, Abraham Lincoln did not celebrate the bloody victory over the Confederacy with words of pride and glory, but instead asked a nation at war to put aside its differences with malice toward none; with charity for all.

Certainly leaders need to be smart and articulate and politically adept. But right now, I would prefer they be competent and a little less certain of how right they always are.

Will that get us past todays debilitating partisan gridlock?

Know that for some there is no interest in finding common ground. But for the rest of us: Recognize our differences. Question your own perfect knowledge. Determine if the conflict is really fundamental. Articulate presumptions and then test them. Be humble.

Steven Merritt Seibert is a lawyer, mediator and strategy consultant. He has been secretary of the Florida Department of Community Affairs and a Pinellas County Commissioner. Steve is a board member of the Village Square and a co-founder of the Asteroids Club. Contact him at

On conspiracy theories

“People on both sides tend to believe that there is a conspiracy, that there is a stolen election because they dont know anyone who votes for the other party. Both sides are pretty homogeneous. Democrats tend to congregate with Democrats; Republicans with Republicans. We dont know anyone who voted for the other guy. And as a result we dont know how this possibly could have happened.”

–Dan Cassino of Fairleigh Dickinson University, on MSNBCs Hardball

President Obama’s inaugural address transcript

Read the entire transcript here.

“For now decisions are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect. We must act, knowing that todays victories will be only partial, and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years, and forty years, and four hundred years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”