Notes on “Uncommon Sense: A Common Citizen’s Guide to Rebuilding America” by Stephen Palmer

It’s funny the things I find and how they are connected. I didn’t realize that the author was a part of the “leadership education” ideas and Oliver DeMille.

Let me start by saying I enjoyed the book. It isn’t a difficult book to read. It took me about a week, but it is inspiring. It’s encouraging to read something that tells people to educate themselves instead of make someone else do something for you.

Chapter 1 – Education Before Activism

“turning inward is the beginning of wisdom”

To change the world, we must first change ourselves. We need to understand ourselves, our families, and then our communities before we can affect change in the wider world. My note in the book here was “to throw off one tyrant now would only end in a new tyrant taking it’s place” because we don’t know ourselves.

He also quotes from Confucius.

At the end of the chapter I wrote, “This is exactly what I need to hear right now. I’ve started to lose focus lately.” More to the point, I’ve begun to wonder what was the mission I set out to do in the first place. Like walking into the kitchen and forgetting what you came in for, I’ve lost sight of the reasons I was reading.

Chapter 2 – America’s Leverage Point

“We the People can have profound impact on our colossal challenges by shifting our focus and our approach.” Sometimes I wonder if that is true. I know I can have a much bigger effect on my own life and those around me if I change my focus, but is that true of a bigger picture?

“Is it easier to change the massive public education bureaucracy, or to simply take responsibility for your own education and that of your children?” And I’d add “encourage others to do the same.”

“Government is an effect, not a cause.” Yep. We have a big problem here in the US, not because government isn’t doing things the right way, but because we have let it go for so long. We’ve become ripe for masters of one kind or another. It’s only cause and effect.

Chapter 5 – Becoming One Who Goes Before

This chapter went on about our Founding Fathers, pioneering and destroying tyrannical enemies. I’m not sure they all were really for that. Some of the leaders may have been thinking of a bigger picture, creating something new and amazing for future generations, but I believe most just wanted to be left alone to live their lives. The chapter idolizes leaders of that past as if they were god-like.

I did like this quote “It’s leaving things better than how we found them.” That’s something our family lives by. We try to leave every place, every day, better than when we found it.

“How will we be remembered by future generations?” I SO hope my great-grandchildren can read my journals, calendar, blogs, and notes. I wonder what they will think of them.

Chapter 6 – Vision:The Seed of America’s Rebirth

“Until individual vision is attained, national vision can only be imposed.” Ain’t that the truth?!

“The first step we must all take to improve America is to create a vision of our ideal selves and lives.”

Chapter 8 – An Army of White Knights

“In America, we’re about 300 million strong. And how many of us are sitting on our butts waiting for Barack Obama/Congress/corporations/institutions/whatever to save us?” So, so true. A perfect example is our dirt road. The county is supposed to grade it every few years. They don’t. So we complain and drive on it anyway. Why not just get together and fix ourselves?

“What if the “good” guys ran for political office, then did what was right regardless of what the people told them through polling data?” I doubt they would stay in office. I really don’t think there are enough thinking/educated citizens at this time to do this.

Chapter 10 – Who is to Blame?

“Who elects those 545 people? Who is truly responsible?” Well that pretty much sums it up.

Chapter 11 – William Tyndale and the Essence of Social Leadership

Jailed, strangled, and burned at the stake for what? He translated and published the Bible in English.

“…the essence of social leadership: the belief in the common man. It is the antithesis of all forms of aristocracy.” This is how I feel about ending mandatory public education. I believe in the common man. We may screw it up pretty royally, but that is our prerogative. Ultimately, freedom brings the best of what man can do.

“It’s one thing to have education available to us – it’s quite another to actually obtain that education.” You have pretty much all the information in the world available at your finger tips, practically free. Yet we do not use it. We really don’t even try. Are we overwhelmed? Don’t know where to start?

Chapter 12 – The Founding Fathers Weren’t that Great

“Yet I fear that too often this reverie translates into the subconscious, limiting feeling of, “I could never be like them. I could never know as much as them and do as much as them.” This is a feeling I get fairly often from a number of sources. Reading biographies, especially autobiographies and personal papers helps that feeling a lot. Most people who have changed the world probably felt the same about their heroes.

Sometimes I worry that I’m not passing on my love of books to my sons but then I think they are just too young to be interested in learning much from the distant past. Their eyes are on the future right now.

Chapter 13 – The Uncomfortable Mirror

“Our actions may be different from one another but we all act for the same reasons.”

“the purpose of studying history is to learn about ourselves as individual human beings.”

“technology does nothing to change human nature”

“…give(s) us unprecedented opportunities to bring more light, truth, and goodness into the world and to uplift humanity.” And the opposite as well. The internet is not evil. It is humanity magnified.

“We must study history in order that we might never deceive ourselves into believing that technology gives us the luxury of relaxation from our duties to maintain freedom.” The more I study history, the more I see how similar humans are throughout time.

“Socrates wisely said, “If you think by killing men you can prevent someone from censuring your evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest way is not to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves.” Yep. Look at the mobs of people destroying a person they do not agree with on social media. Does that make life better? Do we all think, wow that person obviously has done something terrible and I should avoid that. Or would it be more noble and beneficial to society to live better lives, be an example of greatness and peace, and leave others alone?

“You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightening about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.”

“Every individual was born for greatness.”

We each need to find that genius in us and use it to better the world around us. From engineering and invention, to parenting and pie making, it’s all genius and can be used.

My favorite from this chapter was, “Studying and applying history to our lives is like sculpture, which is, in the words of Irving Stone, ‘an art which, by removing all that is superfluous from the material under treatment, reduces it to that form designed in the artist’s mind.’” That’s what we are, the stone within which is a masterpiece.

Chapter 16 – The Good News

“At their core, depressions represent change, and education is the lasso for the wild steer of change.”

Economic depressions mean something in the world isn’t working anymore, the only thing that can turn it around is people that can change with it, the one’s with a real education.

“In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

Make ourselves “life long learners”.

Chapter 17 – Rockin’ to the Fourth Turning Blues

I’m not sure really believe in the philosophy of “The Fourth Turning” by Strauss and Howe.

“Find Your Core” I believe I’ve found this in my life and am in the beginning of making it work for me. Empowering others to home education without government oversight.

“Leadership education fosters innovation, ingenuity, adaptability, confidence, resilience and courage – the necessary attributes and skills needed in times of overwhelming change.”

Chapter 18 – Who’s Your Daddy?

“owners of the means of production”, I’m not sure what that means. Does he mean the US used to own most of the tools and factories and now we don’t? What do we own now? Does he mean to imply that producing physical goods are the only positive? Could service and technology advancement be the “production”?

“One can work for a corporation yet still be an entrepreneur – by thinking and acting like one.” He goes on about this a bit and I’d agree.

Chapter 19 – Everything is Risky

“The vast majority of us barely scratch the surface of our potential. Here’s why: We’re scared to death. We’re imprisoned by our own fears.” That’s me in a nutshell. And what am I afraid of? What if I fail? What if I look like a fool? What if I make a mistake?

Chapter 20 – The New Liberalism

“The proper role of a free enterprise-promoting government is to simply protect unalienable rights – not to favor one man over another through benefits and entitlements.” Or one company over another. We project ourselves as racists if we offer “help” to someone with a different skin color and it gets neither of us anywhere.

Oh here’s a novel idea! “Those of us who have little capital must employ our mental resources to create wealth.” You can’t force those who have to give to those who do not and expect everyone to keep working. Create a place where everyone knows for sure that they will get to keep what they create and you will have a strong economy.

Chapter 22 – Truth Doesn’t Pick Sides

“There is truth in every perspective.” I recently heard my youngest son tell us that he wanted to read something to see if there was any truth in it. There usually is and we can all learn something from reading and discussing all ideas. It seems that universities have lost that idea.

“As the Nobel prize winning physicist Niels Bohr said, “The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.”

“Author Roy H. Williams put it this way: “I’m suggesting you find the electricity that flows when two poles of a duality are brought into close proximity. Electricity is not a compromise. It’s an altogether third, new thing that emerges from two potentials.” Can you imagine if more people worked together like this?

“Freedom is ultimately cultural, not political.” And I believe we’ve killed what cultural freedom we had through 100 years of public school.

Chapter 24 – You Got the Right One, Baby?

“To change hearts and minds and win the freedom war requires us to be artful rather than forceful. In other words, passionate freedom-lovers must take a more right-brain approach to their struggle.”

Well, maybe. Or maybe there is no “freedom war” and we should leave people alone to do what they want to do, and insist that we are left alone to do what we want to do. Maybe living by example would bring more people to our way of thinking, than convincing them we are right.

Chapter 26 – Obama is Here to Stay

“American citizens (have begun) “valuing their privileges above their principles” to quote President Eisenhower” I really don’t think most people have any real set principles at all any more, that is our main problem.

Something I wrote in the margin: It doesn’t matter how much food and water you store to keep you through a disaster, if you lose your humanity by lack of moral preparedness.

Chapter 27 – Problem-Solvers: A New Political Deal

“The next time you’re asked about your political affiliation or leaning, say that you are a problem-solver.” Tom just said that a while back when we were talking about politics. But honestly I’m more interested in solving my own problems by my own means. Most people are still problem solvers. They just think the solution to any problem is a law, or taking money from one person and giving it to another.

Chapter 28 – The Deception of Consumption

“In a free market, our ability to consume is entirely dependent on our ability to produce value for others. Free markets award those who produce according to their level of production; were it not so we would have no incentive to produce.” And someone HAS to produce. We haven’t had a real free market in the US for a long time.

“Consumption removed from production leads to nothing but bankruptcy and insolvency.” But to most people today that would be someone else’s fault.

Chapter 31 – Obama’s Inconsistency: The Blindspot of Modern Liberalism

“It sounds nice, but there’s a fundamental difference between churches, communities, businesses and families and the government. The former institutions are based on voluntarism, while the latter is based on force.”

“one group of people imposing their subjective views and values upon others through the force of government. This is the classic intellectual tyrant fallacy – thinking that your values are the right ones, the values that can rightfully be imposed upon society.” And this goes for wealth redistribution as well. You may believe it be morally right to do so, but (as many liberals say) morality is subjective, right? And we shouldn’t base laws on value judgments. The problem people believe economics is a science not a philosophy, that it is not a value judgment at all but proven fact.

Chapter 33 – Reclaiming the Word “Progressive”

“Despite having good intentions an doing much actual good (e.g. Universal Suffrage), the hallmark of progressivism is the age-old, predictable, and worn-out belief that the People need benevolent caretakers to ensure their security and well-being.” Yep.

“Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington

“True progressivism is the novel and still-revolutionary idea that the proper role of government is to protect unalienable rights…the inspiring hope that mankind can progress through voluntary virtue, not forced and resentment-inducing wealth redistribution.”

Chapter 34 – The True Price We Pay For Civilization

“this insane notion that the price to pay for civilization is high taxes and being forced to pay for programs and policies that we object to”

Here’s something I can really get behind. “The price we pay for civilization is be civilized!” Seriously. It goes right along with “Veterans have paid the cost of freedom.” The cost of freedom is not war. The cost of civilization is not wasteful, ineffective wealth redistribution.

Chapter 25 – Libertarianism: The Threat and The Opportunity

I’m not going to quote this chapter. There was just too much. The bottom line is that I completely disagree with him about what Libertarianism is. He wants to steer the country in the “right direction” and that is a Christian direction to this author. He says that it “emphasizes individualism; downplays family, community, and religion”. I think he is sorely mistaken. As a libertarian I am interested in my self and by extension my family, community, and religion. I’m more interested in protecting those things as a member of community and I am not interested in handing over the protection of these things to a government. I’m not interested in forcing you, fellow citizen, to pay for my ideal and well-being.

He also says, “An overly individualistic society is a fragmented, unsustainable society, lacking in forms to perpetuate itself.” This is also utterly false. Human beings are naturally social creatures. Some more so than others. Each individual will, to some degree or another, live communally with others and they should be left alone to make these connections in the way they see fit, individually.

One more here (although I have a lot and I’m having a hard time putting it down on paper), “The foundation of libertarianism must be much more than wanting to be left alone; it must be based on a desire to serve, to contribute in meaningful and lasting ways to society.” Libertarianism is not “leave me alone”. It’s government control we want to be left alone by. We will make our own voluntary associations to take care of the community around us.

The things he talks about in this chapter will only bring us right back where we are now if we follow it.

Chapter 36 – The Truth About Conspiracies

“I do know that strong families and communities are the backbone of all free nations and that you and I must do all in our power to build them.” The first part, yes. We should be encouraging each other to build strong families and communities, voluntarily and by your own moral code and ethics. But the second part? “do all in our power to build them.”? What does that mean? If I believe you aren’t building a strong family, do I have the right to make you do so? Should I take those children from you and do what is right? Should I take your money by force and give it to those with less so that they have better opportunities to create a strong community? This is how we got here in the first place. This assumes that there is a right and wrong way to do something and that one group of people in the world that are doing things the right way, should be taking care to make sure the others do the same.

Chapter 37 – People Who Disagree With Us Aren’t Stupid

Whole chapter, great. Summed up in the title and I needed say more.

This book has a lot of truth in it. I agree with much of his sentiment, but some of his reasoning causes me to think he is idolizing the past and the founding generation a little too much. I believe there is much to learn from the past and doing things (especially the model of education) like they did. But there has been a lot of beneficial change in the past century that I think can make the world a better place. I believe humans are capable of taking care of themselves without an authority to rule us. We need to start encouraging others to take back the reigns and education themselves and their own children. We need to work together voluntarily to build communities. And we need to let people make their own decisions and fail if they must. Sometimes one person’s “fail” is another person’s “victory”. Don’t take it away just because you don’t see its purpose.


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