Connecting to the Principles, Part 1

The “Connected Age” is a major factor in the work we propose to discuss in Fulfilling the American Promise in the Connected Age. Perhaps that seems to be a tautology, but in the world of Facebook, ubiquitous blogging and personalized content provided through the web or cable TV, the “connected” part of our world is becoming like the air we breathe. Most of us no longer even think about it until we lose our network connection or stay in the rare hotel that inexplicably doesn’t offer Internet access!

In a way, we could have proposed the title of our work to be simply “Fulfilling the American Promise” but that could have deemphasized the role connectivity plays in American society today. A simple title like that could even overlook the power of the connected age in linking and separating us all at the same time. That connectivity is just too big a part of our lives to ignore even if it is like air these days.

The next few posts will explore some of the effects the connected age has had on America over the years, with an emphasis on how it’s shaped the Center of America and influenced the fulfillment of the American Promise in the time in which we live. We want to build on the discussion of connectivity, the Center and the Promise around the FAPITCA Principles we published last week.

Given that we defined the “Connected Age” in the Principles as a “‘change agent’ environment that can either strengthen or weaken our democracy,” we better talk about the nature of a “change agent” more in the next few posts and what we mean by strengthening or weakening us. We also wrote that the Center “must leverage the technologies of the ‘connected age’ to connect and bind us rather that divide us.” That probably demands some more discussion, as well. Finally, we talked about the complementary relationships between competition and compromise in American capitalism, as well as the need for diversity, but didn’t relate any of that to the connected age. In the next posts, we’ll better define what we mean since the connected age empowers complementary action so deeply.

So, that’s where we’re headed…

For this time, and to further lay the foundation for the discussion of the connected age as a part of FAPITCA, we’ll point to one historical instance of a great environment for the sharing of technology and knowledge that preceded even the Renaissance in Europe. This example comes from a dear friend of Carl’s, Dr. Harold Morowitz, The Robinson Professor of Biology at George Mason University. Harold’s example speaks to a time of diversity and sharing of thought in history that should help us all see things a little differently in America today. We should see that success in environments such as our own current political setting is possible if only we open our ears and minds to listen to other ideas and seek to preserve equal access to opportunity to share, learn and grow.

Harold reminded Carl about the House of Wisdom in Baghdad around the early to mid-800s (AD). While we no longer have our world history books from college to provide authoritative citations and quotes, there is enough cross-linked information on the web to help (there’s that “connected age” stuff again!). We recalled that Baghdad was a cultural and economic center on the Silk Road during that age. It was common to trade and share ideas and even religious perspectives to help enlighten all who would invest the time to listen and participate in two-way conversations.

According to one very accessible history site (Go Social Studies Go), this period was a “great time of learning and discovery (that) came from Christians, Zoroastrians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, as well as Muslims.” In other words, people from every major spiritual belief came together to share ideas and to talk to each other, and more importantly to learn from each other.

While Europe was mired in the Dark Ages, fighting tribal wars and being subjected to political-religious dogma that challenged the value of objective knowledge (sound familiar?), The House of Wisdom and similar institutions were preserving spiritual and scientific insights that had been revealed and documented up to that time. Historians have argued that the Middle East world of that time preserved science for the West until Europe entered The Renaissance and objectivity about the value of knowledge returned.

We won’t debate the historical facts or sources right now, but we will draw a couple of conclusions as we look forward to the next posts. A spirit of collaboration and sharing go a long ways towards preserving and advancing objective knowledge. Connectivity, even as demonstrated as a hub of trade along the Silk Route of ancient times, can be a great force for moving people forward…this in spite of the competition among spiritual beliefs such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and the other faiths of the day.

The proverbial observer from another planet could not be blamed for confusing the current battles in our governing bodies in America with the religious-based wars to which humans have subjected themselves throughout the “modern” ages of the last 3,000 years or so. People on each side talked past each other, created specialized vocabularies to restrict ideas and objectivity, pushed to the limits of (and beyond) the existing law to achieve their narrow purposes and most of all, did these things in the name of a belief system in which only they could be right and everyone else wrong.

Americans in the Center are smarter than that. Some of them may believe differently than others, particularly in spiritual matters, but they all believe in America and her future. That’s the power and focus we want to achieve with FAPITCA. The edges are free to believe as they wish, but they are only a constructive part of the American community to the extent they acknowledge this same freedom for their fellow Americans. There are other nations less appreciative of this freedom if people at the edges find the American level of freedom intolerable. The narrative embraced by the Center celebrates this freedom and objectivity.

As the Center starts to find its voice again, perhaps America will discover the danger of hyper-personalized and edge-based news channels. Perhaps they will begin to hear and appreciate the perspectives of others as a part of what makes the Center strong and resilient. Moreover, perhaps they can even facilitate the emergence of a new “Renaissance (in the connected age).”

Originally posted by Carl and Chuck Hunt, 2/25/2014

Editor’s note: Harold Morowitz teaches a class in Biological Themes in Literature this semester at George Mason University and one of the class topics has been the Melville classic Moby Dick. Harold suggested that the leaders of the most extreme parts of the “right” and “left” of America today may from time-to-time resemble their own versions of Captain Ahab, willing to defeat the other side’s “White Whale” at all costs. H’mmm! Many thanks to Harold for his wonderful, objective insights!

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