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Why the FIRST-Ideals Network was started

When FIRST began in the nineties, its main idea was to give Generation X a voice in how our country's resources were being handled, in the belief that these resources needed to be better managed, for the sake of our future. Today, that message seems more true, and more relevant, than ever.

We now have a major deficit, reaching record levels. There is a major trade imbalance, with imports far exceeding exports. We see the dollar reaching new lows. And our economy is increasingly dependent on foreign resources, labor, and capital.

Amidst all of this, our two major parties seem largely disconnected from some of the real issues, or from an idea of a common national effort, towards reaching common goals.

State of our current political discourse

Why is this? What caused this disconnection?

Basically, right now our two main parties seem to focus mainly on minute, divisive cultural issues, and on the things which divide us, rather than on the problems which truly face us, or on common efforts to solve them.

They do this in order to assure themselves a voter base, instead of taking on the real issues.

There are several reasons for this. However, one particular reason is notable, for our group's purposes.

The two parties' attitudes are still set, to a large degree, in an atmosphere which formed in the Sixties. It was during the Sixties that a view of politics as cultural warfare became prominent. This arose from many turbulent issues and controvirsies, such as Vietnam, the civil rights struggle, Watergate, etc.

There are several reasons that this is the prevailing tone. Part of it is due to the influence of the Baby Boomers, who came of age of this era. Part of it is simply because no new more positive or stronger attitude has been articulated enought to take its place.

This is why our politics focus on highlighting cultural differences, instead of solving problems. Also, this explains why the two parties continually harp on these cultural differences, exacerbating our divisions, rather than on discussing and tackling some of the problems which are currently staring us right in the face.

By the way, this is also why we hear so much talk of a "red-state/blue-state" divide. I'm skeptical about this; I don't think that there is now, nor has there ever been, such an irrevocable divide. A country which regained its unity in the wake of a massive Civil War, the problems of the Depression, or the upheavals of the Sixties, is hardly about to lose it now just because of some supposed cultural divide, especially in the midst of an era of our greatest global power and material comfort.

So I do not think that we have suddenly become divided; rather, we just have not been recently given many reasons to be united. What we do have, instead, are two parties who seem reluctant to tackle the real issues, and who, therefore, hover around the edges of political discourse, seeking to tap into this or that ideological issue, and toss it into the spotlight.

This explains a few things. It explains why the Republicans continually call for tax cuts, and lessening of government, in the face of mounting, empirical evidence that this is not working; and remain lackadaisical about massive deficits, a major trade imbalance, a declining dollar, and a bill which we are leaving for the next generation to pay.

It also explains why Democrats, in spite of all this, were unable to craft any real consensus for governing during the last election, or to find common ground with many voters, or to add any new states to their column.

Basically, Democrats believed that they could win simply by highlighting the flaws in Administration policy, and in its efforts to achieve certain goals, in Iraq and elsewhere. One thing which they did not seem to notice is the need to give a voters a sense of a real philosophy of governing, or an articulation of what we need to do, and who we need to be. Voters noticed the absence of this, and were not satisfied with just mere cultural buzzwords.

Also, Democrats did not realize that when they constantly impugned the motives and honesty of those who were leading our national efforts, it sounded to some voters like they were impugning the motives of our country itself. This may not be a fair assessment, or, on the other hand, maybe that's exactly what they wanted to do; either way, it's not a very good way to win elections, or even to seek common ground (which I assume we all still want to do, whether we're left-wing or right-wing).

A role for a new process

Regardless of one's views, this now brings us to the question of where we now stand, and where it leaves our group?

Basically, what we have is two parties, neither of which has laid out any real vision of what is needed to solve our problems, or what we all need to be ready to do, or to give up, in order to make that happen. And neither party now has the credibility, or consensus, to lay out such a vision, even if they tried (which they probably won't).

Where does that leave us? All this would be fine, if we were an economic superpower, humming along with a balanced budget, a trade surplus, a rising currency, and no dependence on foreign resources or capital. As you may have noticed, this is not the case.

So if, and when, people begin to actually realize this, they may begin to search for new ways to interact; new ways to exchange information, to create community, and to share resources and ideas.

When they do this, then this group, and other groups like it, may have a role to play. We can provide some of the building blocks for those who seek new ways to interact, and to share ideas.

We can start this process now, by discussing these issues here, and by spreading awareness of their importance in our communities, and of the need to address them. Hopefully, at some point, we can also share information about some things going on in our communities and in our companies, and on ways to make them better.

In fact, this process has already begun, in various places around the net, such as at websites like letstalkamerica, democracycampaign, ncdd, scn, and others. Thus, this process is starting to take on steam.

A role for Generation X

We can play a part in this effort. Furthermore, our group, and groups like it, might have a unique role to play in this effort. The reason for this is that we are Generation X.

Our generation is unique in several ways. We were the last generation to experience the Cold War. We were the first generation to truly experience and design the internet. We witnessed the end of the nuclear arms race, and the beginning of the Internet boom.

More importantly, and more relevantly, we were the only ones to witness a real transition from old-fashioned modes of interaction into a new web-enabled society.

What does this mean? It means that, for one thing, we know how to build a movement the old-fashioned way. We know what it is to proceed step by step, exploring new alliances, and building new consensuses. We know what it is to actually create new groups, and new ways of interacting, as opposed to simply having them handed to us, in some slickly-designed, multimedia package. This is what distinguishes us from the next generations after us.

(By the way, of course I don't mean to diminish the potential of any future leaders or future groups, from upcoming generations; I'm simply trying to talk about a general group dynamic here.)

We also know what it is to grow up in an era when there seem to be no major crises or questions, or anything which would hand us a ready-made group identity. We know what it means to have to create a new set of priorities and ideas, step by step. This distinguishes us from the baby-boomers.

This, of course, is the defining feature of Generation X, and in fact, is what created our name. The "X" refers to the lack of any major defining generational event; thus, we are like an X in the political equation.

Some new possibilities

Some call this our weakness; I call it a strength. In an era of declining national discourse, and of declining will to handle new national issues, it is valuable to have a group which is able to start from scratch, and to build a new set of ideas, from the ground up, with few pre-assumptions, by involving everyone who has positive ideas and solutions.

This is one common idea which groups like FIRST, and other contemporary groups of that era, began with. But I believe that some of these ideas which began as an exercise among college students, can have new meaning now in the face of new national challenges, and priorities.

More specifically, one doesn't know where any specific effort will end up. But it would be nice to think that some of the resources and information which we provide here, can eventually add to other efforts, further in the future, which will benefit from getting various ideas from different sources.

I hope that you feel similarly about some of these ideas and possibilities. I also hope you find some benefit from some of the resources and information which we provide here. Thanks very much for being part of this group. I look forward to further discussion of this in the future. Thanks.

The First-Ideals Network

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