Like so many other Americans, I am a product of people who came to this country in search of a better life. Three of my grandparents were of Anglo-Saxon descent, and one was of German descent. My Anglo-Saxon ancestors came to America in the 17th and 18th centuries; my German ancestors arrived in the 19th century. And like so many other Americans, life improved for each generation of my ancestors throughout our country’s history. Sadly, this has not been the case for the current generation, as our nation no longer exhibits the vitality and promise that it did in prior decades.
Many American children live with one parent, grow up in poverty, and receive a poor education. Many families cannot access or afford proper healthcare. When adjusted for inflation, most American incomes stagnated for 28 years. Our country has unprecedented levels of debt. Unknown numbers of criminals, terrorists, and unvaccinated people enter the country illegally each year. Immigrant assimilation is no longer a priority, and a common language and culture no longer unify us. Inequality increases, as social mobility declines. Identity politics and polarizing policies, news, and speech divide us. Dysfunctional federal and state governments fail us.
If these challenges were not enough, we degrade our ecosystems and spew billions of tons of climate-altering carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year. Radical Islam and terrorists threaten us. China and Russia expand their geographic influence and footprint. The maniacal, repressive regimes of Iran and North Korea oppress their people and threaten us. Why are our challenges mounting, and why are we no longer ascending.
In 1978, at age 19, I participated in an economic development field study of Guatemala, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Columbia. In Columbia, we visited a family that was living in a one-room home which had a dirt floor and was fly-infested. The parents and seven children slept on mats. A year later, I participated in an agricultural field study of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The contrasts between life in Upstate New York and many of these countries shocked me and made me ponder why some populations prosper while others merely subsist.
International economic and cultural differences were not the only ones that I experienced during my college years. I ran into our country’s great cultural divide. Raised in rural America, I was given a strong Protestant faith and many accompanying perspectives and practices. In college, I found that most professors had little use for them.
After completing my undergraduate education in 1980, I again traveled behind the Iron Curtain to Poland where I taught English composition to scientists. I chose Poland because of the great political and economic unrest in the country and its many cultural contrasts to the United States. Poland was ethnically and religiously homogenous, Communist, and poor. Men and women with full-time jobs had to queue up for 15 to 20 hours a week just to purchase their food and household supplies. They lived in small apartments and remained poor no matter how hard they worked. The Polish government prohibited travel to Western countries and censored their communications, news, books, and periodicals.
Two years before my arrival, Karol Wojtyła, the charismatic cardinal from Kraków, became Pope John Paul II. His election gave the Poles tremendous confidence. While I was there, most Poles went on strike and gathered in the churches to protest their lack of freedom, living standards, and the Soviet occupation. All my students were members of Solidarity, the first independent labor union in a Soviet-bloc country. President Reagan and Prime Minister Thatcher supported the Poles’ strikes and protests. Lech Wałesa, the leader of Solidarity, Pope John Paul II, and Cardinal Wyszyński, the Roman Catholic Primate of Poland, orchestrated the movement.
Cosmos and Dragons of Eden by Carl Sagan were two of the several books I had brought with me. They described the evolution of the universe and human intelligence. I reflected on these books, my previous three years of reading and traveling, and all that I had learned at Purdue, and reading and traveling the previous three years. The better acquainted I became with the scientific explanations of the universe and life, the more I realized that my childhood faith rested on incredulous, unsubstantiated stories that conveniently dismissed scientific perspectives which better explained the origin of the universe and life. Awestruck with the cosmos and science, and skeptical of my religious tenets, I came to favor scientific thought over my faith-based beliefs and begrudgingly underwent the religious-to-secular transformation that millions of other people have undergone.
By age 26, I had traveled to 45 states and 26 countries. I had lived in two states and two countries and completed my B.S., M.S., and the courses for a Ph.D. I had read some 200 of the world’s most thought-provoking books. I had confronted our cultural divide, embraced evidence-based knowledge, and detected the primary question that would preoccupy me for years.
Through my exposure to various cultures and thoughts, I encountered many conflicting perspectives and practices. As someone who is inquisitive, contemplative, and who values intellectual consistency, these conflicts did not sit well with me. They forced me to evaluate many of my childhood paradigms and grapple with many questions, such as:
How did the universe and life arise?
What are the implications of the narratives of science?
What is universal to human life and what is unique to a group, locale, or country?
Why did our country’s founders distrust concentrations of power?
What works best—authoritarianism or democracy, nationalism or federalism, capitalism or socialism?
What fueled the extraordinary rise of the English Common-wealth countries, the United States, Western Europe, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore?
What enables large middle classes to flourish?
How do we prevent recessions, depressions, and inflation?
When are conservative and when are liberal approaches most advantageous?
Why are the results of many public policies antithetical to their authors’ intentions?
Why do people make so many decisions that inflict future suffering on themselves?
Despite my shattered paradigms and many questions, I functioned reasonably well, pursuing truth wherever it took me, being considerate of others and drawing on the habits of my youth. However, when my wife placed our son in my arms, I experienced a bit of a crisis. He came with no instruction book. What was I going to teach him? Given the perspectives and knowledge our civilization gained over the last five hundred years, what does a child need to learn? What fosters our health, effectiveness, longevity, civility, and happiness? How do we adapt our lifestyles to live responsibly and do no harm?
These questions and our faith-versus-science, right-versus-left cultural divide have haunted me for years because they separate our families, communities, and citizens. They diminish our effectiveness, social cohesiveness, and children’s futures. Having spent time on both sides of these divides and having friends who are conservative, liberal, of faith, or without faith, I have felt and been saddened by the distrust and animosity the groups have for one another.
The great irony of the divide is that each side has things the other lacks. Conservatives and people of faith maintain an empowering culture and understand that doing the right thing yields positive effects. Liberals and people of science build an empowering knowledge base and recognize that life is what we make of it.
For many years, I pondered these questions, the divides, and the insights and positions of faith communities, scientists, conservatives, and progressives. I raised my family, built three businesses, and sat on numerous local, state, and national boards. I read hundreds of books, traveled to many more states and countries, attended educational programs, and ran for Congress.
Eventually, I realized that most of us lack the interest and maturity to comprehend the evolution of the universe and life and their implications while we are in high school. And unless we study the physical and biological sciences in college, we generally never fully grasp them. This is unfortunate because if we take the time to understand these perspectives and integrate them into our thinking, we can improve our effectiveness and lives immeasurably.
This book is about the perspectives and practices that enable a population to flourish. Section I examines how Americans, Singaporeans, and the Swiss are doing, and why Americans no longer ascend. Section II discusses nine perspectives that come from an understanding the of evolution of the universe and life—Truth, Causality, Scale, Evolution, Fitness, Human Nature, Culture, Periodic Disaster, and Eco-Dependency. Sections III-VIII introduce Winning Practices of Individuals, Groups, Families, Education, Enterprise, and Government.
After years of assaults on culture and major institutions, our country is at a critical crossroads. In more credibly explaining our context, origin, and nature, scientists undermined the Judeo-Christian worldview and many of its tenets. In changing how we elect U.S. Senators in 1913 and reinterpreting the “General Welfare” clause of the Constitution in the 1930s, progressives broke crucial restraints on government. Reacting to their historical mistreatment, separation, and ongoing discrimination, many African Americans embrace an oppressor-oppressed, anti-Caucasian counterculture, and lacking English proficiency and legal status, many Hispanics do not assimilate.
Without unifying leadership and culture, we fight among ourselves, lurch left, lurch right, and stagnate. A right-leaning coalition values the Constitution, rule of law, limited federal government, a strong defense, free enterprise, legal immigration, intact families, charter schools, work, and economic ascendance. A left-leaning coalition values unions, public education and healthcare, improved opportunities for women and minorities, the redistribution of wealth, larger government and more regulation, the legal and illegal admission of people into the country, the environment, and the advancement of social justice. The prevalence of Winning Perspectives and Practices decreases in our population, and the prevalence of losing perspectives and practices increases.
The path forward is unclear to many people. Ignorance, opposing ideologies, and vested interests hinder us. Our past success, accumulated wealth, and tremendous capacity to borrow enable us to ignore our problems and to be foolish for a long time.
The Winning Perspectives and Practices presented in this book are a synthesis of many of the world’s most empowering perspectives and practices. They serve everyone’s interests in the long term. Health, prosperity, diminished heartache, great accomplishment, and full lives await those who understand, employ, and improve them.