Let's not mince words. America is a bit fucked right now.
We're caught in a downward spiral. Our political and cultural systems are so poisoned with toxic incentives that, unless we intervene, we're bound to keep pulling apart and escalating tensions. It’s hard to see a way out.
But I still have hope. And I see a path forward.
In fact, I believe if we do a good job here at Citizen Within, we can play a vital role in healing this nation.
Here’s a quick overview of the my thesis for how it might work.
Big idea 1: Change starts from within
We can’t heal our nation, or our world, until we heal ourselves.
In the United States—and in much of the world I’m guessing—we’re witnessing profound economic, cultural, and political transitions, much of it fueled by digital technology.
And though there’s upside to this innovation, many of our core human needs—connection, intimacy, purpose—are no longer being being met.
We live in the richest, most prosperous society the world has ever known. But we’re starving for the things that matter most.
Tie that into ongoing crises of mental and physical health, and it’s clear that despite our abundance of material wealth, our society is falling short in many crucial ways.
These emotional deficits manifest in all sorts of toxic, cunning ways.
For instance, we're more likely gravitate toward media that makes us feel good by appealing to our worst tribal impulses. Media that makes us feel part of a team. That gives us a shared enemy. And for brief moments, we feel less alone. We feel the flicker of purpose, camaraderie, hope.
But it’s all a mirage. A cheap facsimile of the real thing. And until those inner voids are filled, we’ll continue down the road to oblivion.
At some point, I’ll write about the darkest period in my life, and how I found solace in certain corners of YouTube. Of how I found myself becoming—for lack of a better word—“radicalized.”
It wasn’t until I started improving my physical and mental health, growing my business, and ending a bad relationship that things got better, and I saw this toxic ecosystem for what it was.
I had to heal myself before I could escape the grasp of shitty ideology.
Radical movements and ideologies feast on broken souls. And our current systems are churning out broken, dispirited people at an alarming rate.
But it’s not hopeless.
These destructive ideologies lose their power when individuals opt out, one by one. And individuals opt out when their lives are in order, they have healthy relationships, prospects for the future, and all that jazz.
So that’s the first idea. Make yourself whole, so that you can break free from toxic systems, and steel yourself for the challenge ahead.
Big idea 2: Embracing the challenge of citizenship
What the hell does it even mean to be a “citizen” in this fragmented, digital world of ours? With institutions crumbling, and America splitting into two seemingly irreconcilable camps, the question of what “citizenship” means is a tough one.
But I think there’s a simple answer.
Citizenship means defining the values that are collectively sacred, then upholding them as an individual—especially when it’s difficult.
Again, we live in an era where all the incentives of our political and cultural systems reward selfishness, cynicism, and increased polarization.
These days, tearing people down is celebrated, and rewarded with status. Politicians are rewarded giving life to conspiracy. Civic organizations are pressured to take a side in the culture war, values be damned.
The job of a citizen is to understand the values they’re upholding, and then to stand firm even when it’s inconvenient, even when there’s reward for giving in, and even when there’s something at stake.
The job of a citizen is to protect the idea of America, even when all the incentives in their social systems reward looking the other way.
It’s challenging. It’s thankless. And sometimes, it’s dangerous.
But if all of us just keep going with the flow, and not standing up for what’s right, America as a nation, and as an idea, will soon be a thing of the past.
The only thing standing in the way of that is citizens, holding the line.
So a big focus of Citizen Within will be exploring those sacred values that underpin America. That way, we’ll know what we’re fighting for, and what we stand to lose.
Big idea 3: The calvary isn’t coming
I hate to be the one to break the news. But no law, politician, celebrity, billionaire, or non-profit is going to save us.
We can’t expect our problems to be solved from the top down. That approach leads to complacency. And complacency will only hasten our decline.
Instead, we need to engineer a solution that works from the ground up. We need individual citizens, across the country, to take matters into their own hands.
A ground-up movement focuses on individuals freeing themselves from toxic ideologies one by one, living as responsible citizens, then demonstrating that better way to their loved ones, friends, and local communities.
It’s about being a servant leader in your home, with your neighbors, and even in the digital communities you frequent. It's not about telling people that citizenship is the righteous path, but showing them.
By and large, we can’t change people’s minds. We can’t debate the radical left or extremist right out of their bad ideas. You can’t undermine conspiracy thinking with logic. That’s not how it works.
But we can love people unconditionally, even when we find their ideas repugnant. And we can demonstrate better ways of living, and always keep the door open when they’re ready to change. (And unhappy people are always looking for doorways to escape pain.)
You might be thinking that this is an arduous, uncertain process. And you’d be right.
It’s a slow game. And it’s a long game. But it’s one that allows us to lead lives of integrity and meaning, and positively influence the people we meet along the way.
And though it may take years, or decades, I believe that we’ll hit a tipping point where there are enough active, engaged citizens that our country, and our future, will be in better hands.
There’s a Margaret Mead quote that gets tossed around a bunch.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
It’s overused. But it’s true. And it encapsulates the entire mission of this place.
The only thing that will save America is citizens who are willing to do the hard work of persevering it. And the only way to create more citizens is to become one ourselves, and then lead others along the path.
So that’s the core work we’ll be doing on Citizen Within.
Healing ourselves, embracing citizenship, and becoming leaders in our homes and communities.
I’m committed to walking that path, and documenting my journey here.
Care to join me?
-Rob Hardy, January 11, 2021 - Tucson, AZ