Hail to Dr. Hale!
I like what this guy is saying. Well argued. Check it out!
As Americans we love the adjective “noble.” We hate the noun – “nobility.” That’s because we have never yet created our own American meaning for the word. We’re still stuck with the old, wretched European concept of nobility. We have contempt for unearned privilege – as we should.
That does not mean true nobility does not exist. It seems the truly noble are those who have more adaptive, problem-solving capacity and resources than they require to manage their own personal lives and careers. They use that surplus capacity to step up and take on the really big problems that need solving. And they do that not by diminishing the bad effects of our current solutions – but by creating radically new solutions that make those bad effects go away. I say let’s reclaim and redefine the concept of nobility in American terms. If we do it right – we will recognize in our new definition the tough, resourceful, boot-strapping qualities we love about our national character, when we have been at our best.
A.H. Maslow proposed this very idea in one of his last books, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. He says a “low synergy” society is one in which it is against the interests of ordinary people for those which exceptional ability to emerge. That is what became of the old European nobility. But there have been brief times in human history when we created what Maslow called “high-synergy” societies – periods when it was very much in the best interests of ordinary people for those with exceptional ability to free themselves up enough to do their original, ingenious work. Think of Helen Keller and Abraham Lincoln. Both could have lived much more comfortable and lucrative lives. Instead they laid down their remarkable lives for the future – which became the present we all currently enjoy.
I don’t have any direct experience with inherited wealth, nor do my friends, colleagues and clients. We all came from modest lower middle class and middle class families. Yet over the past twenty years we have achieved enough financial freedom to control a significant chunk of our own time, attention and effort. We report to ourselves now. We can use our talents on projects we choose. So as such we are privileged, but we have earned it ourselves – no one handed it to us. The moral question then becomes – what is this privilege for? What will we spend our freedom on?
My reading of our founding generation is that they were much the same – self-made, upper-middle class merchants and professionals who in one lifetime achieved a surplus of discretionary time to spend on a cause they truly believed in. See Founding Brothers, by Joseph J. Ellis. They stood up, debated, organized and became a home-grown, legitimate nobility based in competency and service, a new nobility – which made the old nobility of Europe look silly and useless by comparison. And the world has never been the same.
Wilbur Wright did the exact same thing and gave us access to the heavens. He and Wilbur ran their bike shop well enough that they could purchase their own labor for months each year in order to do the theoretical and practical research needed to achieve flight. See To Conquer the Air by James Tobin.
I feel we stand at the crossroads between despair and greatness today. Once again we need a New Nobility – those who are truly noble in the old fashioned American “know how” sort of way – self-made originals who create a better future through courage and inventive reason. The old nobility were defined by where they came from. The New Nobility are defined by where they are headed – into a better future of their own making, a future that will benefit our kids and grandkids.
I lived overseas and still have many friends from other countries, who have told me this;
“Tim, the rest of the world still looks to America as the last best hope for the big breakthrough’s Western Civilization will need to renew itself and secure its future. You still have more opportunity and resources than any other country. What will you do with it?”
We can do this. We always have. We are a noble people.Uncategorized comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.