On the Blogoshere, Grassroots Media, and the Citizen Journalist

“When the tongue or the pen is let loose in a frenzy of passion, it is the man and not the subject that becomes exhausted”
-Thomas Paine, Rights of Man

In many cases one thing the blogosphere lacks, other than not always having its facts straight, is civility.

The only thing new is the method of delivery.

American journalism went through its birth pangs along with the nation. We take for granted today the idea of “party politics” in our democracy, even as we either engage in or decry acrimony of the other party.

If Thomas Paine was the first American Blogger, then those that followed with their own sheets, newspapers, and pamphlets became, in the early years of American Democracy, the first blogoshere.

And it is still revolutionary.   

On Going to War for the Wrong Reasons, Fear, and Giving Up Our Character

“Character is to us, in our present circumstances, of more importance than interest.”
-Thomas Paine, the American Crisis

If our reasons for going to war are to protect and extend freedom and the ideals of our own founding, then it is in our interest to preserve the character of our nation.

Radical attempts to alter that character in the name of “national interest”, whether through executive fiat or public apathy, it is all but ceding victory – winning the battle but losing the war.

A war for oil is one of interest. A war for the ideal of human freedom is one of character. Lest we get confused which is which.

On Differing Beliefs, Intolerance, and What it Proves

“If I do not believe as you believe, it proves that you do not believe as I believe, and this is all that it proves.”

Despite all wars, hatreds, antagonisms, intolerance and abuse engendered to cure the “non-believers”, such action only serves to weaken the belief for which it is purported to serve.

On False Truths

“There is a general and striking difference between the genuine effects of truth itself, and the effects of falsehood believed to be truth. Truth is naturally benign; but false-hood believed to be truth is always furious. The former delights in serenity, is mild and persuasive, and seeks not the auxiliary aid of invention. The latter sticks at nothing. It has naturally no morals. Every lie is welcome that suits its purpose. It is the innate character of the thing to act in this manner, and the criterion by which it may be known, whether in politics or religion. When any thing is attempted to be supported by lying, it is presumptive evidence that the thing so supported is a lie also. The stock on which a lie can be grafted must be of the same species as the graft.”
-Thomas Paine, Letter to the People of the United States, FederalCity, Lovett’s Hotel, Nov. 26, 1802

The truth need not be coerced, forced, or threatened. The truth is not supported by manipulation, obfuscation, or deception. And the truth bears no allegiance to anything but itself.

If you have to force truth down too many people’s throats, then maybe it isn’t true.


On Bastille Day

“When the people fear the government, you have tyranny. When the government fears the people, you have freedom.”

Bastille Day can not pass without remembering the role Thomas Paine had in the French revolution. From Part II of Thomas Paine’s series of essays The Rights of Man, Paine wrote this in 1792, three years after the storming of the Bastille marking the beginning of the French revolution.

Fear remains the tool of the despot, the terrorist, the tyrant, and the oppressor.

Resisting fear is at once difficult and the first step toward freedom, for individuals and societies alike.

On Keeping an Open Mind

“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”

Perhaps it is not unusual for every generation to, in one way or another, have a crisis of conscious, of opposing idealogies, that is polarizing and divisive, the one side sure that the other is inspired by the devil.

It is the truly virtuous man that can set aside all prejudice and suspicion when considering another’s belief in direct opposition to his own. It is not easily done.

Paine lived to see the intrigue and vitriol rampant in the newly United States’ first administration. oversaw open political warfare and attempted character assassination between his Secretaries of Finance and State, Alexander and Thomas respectively. At odds were the ideas of Federalism (a strong central government) versus Republicanism (less centralized government, power to the states); exactly how it was thought best the new country should be run. But it went further than that. Between Hamilton and Jefferson, it got personal and ugly.

It was as if they believed in two different Gods.

And it didn’t get resolved. It is a debate that exists even now, and shows little sign of abating.

Religion and politics are not discussed in polite company, lest it get personal and ugly. For it follows that if one does, one will eventually come upon another that believes just the opposite, and never the twain shall meet.

It seems as if humanity is both inspired and cursed by religion and politics, it brings together a few against the many, invites dogma, fear, and violence; and is apparently essential, in some fundamental way, for human civilization to exist.

Perhaps within religion and politics lie the essential elements of humanity that haltingly propels civilization; ever stumbling forward.

Thomas Paine Celebrates 270 Years

Thomas Paine was born on January 29th, 1737 in Thetford England. He was born to modest circumstances, the son of Quaker craftsman who sewed whale bones into the stays of ladies corsets, Paine (the name was originally spelled “Pain” with the “e” added later) tried has hand at corset-making, starting at the age of twelve as his father’s apprentice.

At the age of twenty he took to the sea as a privateer. Two years later, in 1759, he opened his own stay-making shop. The next year he married a servant girl, and only a year after that both she and their child died in childbirth.

Paine struggled through the ensuing years. Trying his hand as a schoolteacher and later as a tax collector. In 1771 he married a grocer’s daughter. Three years later he was fired from his job, all his possessions were sold to pay off his debts, and his childless second marriage fell apart.

Paine’s life was going nowhere. So he did what all Englishmen did with nothing left. He sailed to America.

On the journey across the Atlantic he became sick with Typhus, arriving in Philadelphia in December of 1774 so ill that he had to be carried off the ship.

And thus was the inauspicious beginning in America of the man whose words inflamed and inspired a revolution.

“The cause of America is in great measure the cause of all mankind”

And so it was with these words and the resolve of a ragged yet determined Continental Army led by George Washington, who had Paine’s “The Crisis” (These are the times that try men’s souls…) read to his men before his surprise attack on a British outpost in the Winter of 1776, that the cause was established as one for all mankind.

Paine was a rough man. In his later years he was reviled by many of his more famous contemporaries, primarily due to his unwavering polemic against Christianity and any other sort of organized religion. Thomas Paine was a devout Deist, believing that God was found in nature and nowhere else, and that all the affectations and words prescribed to God was phony posturing. Another attempt to curb the innate freedom of Man.

He died destitute, lonely, and unkempt, and barely a handful of people mourned at his funeral.

Nonetheless, it is through his words that even today we are able to define the spirit of ’76 that galvanized a people and created a nation like no other ever seen on the face of the Earth.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Thomas Paine.

On the State of the Union Address and Governement Assembled

“That government is best which governs least.”

It is hard to imagine what Tom Paine might think should he be witness to the current state of our country and the world if he should see it today.

One thing he would find this year that is different from years past is a George Bush whose power has peaked and is now on the wane as he grapples with what is now generally believed to be an ill-conceived and now intractable war in Iraq, and the declining popularity in his overall presidency that goes along with it.

This is no more in evidence by the woman – Madam Speaker – sitting directly behind the president as he delivered his State of the Union Address to the assembled Congress last evening.

Many have claimed that in proceeding years and in his previous speeches to Congress, Bush has moved to push executive powers to unprecedented levels, even to the direct contradiction of our Constitution and in violation of the law. Many have further asserted that Congress has been bereft of their core responsibility of oversight, letting the president shape and mold a new, some would claim almost monarchical, presidency.

And with the word “monarchical”, we would surely raise the ire of Mr. Paine.

But as one Libertarian has reported, the sight and sound of a chastened president, a Congress no longer willing to blindly do the president’s bidding, and the gridlock in governance that this often produces, is nothing more than the sweet call of limited government; for when an over-reaching president is not balanced by a watchful and prudent Congress, then that government is not best. Not for the people and not for the future state of our Union.

After all the pronouncements, proposals, and rhetorical flourish echoed through the halls of Congress, perhaps this is what Tom Paine would take away if he had witnessed the State of the Union address last night.

The state of our Union will be strong only so long as all participants in the process do their job and uphold their obligation to the American People and the Constitution upon which any and all authority those in government derive their power.

On Leading Without Introspection

“Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you those honors, in which a savage can only be your rival and a bear your master”

Thomas Paine’s opening salvo in The Crisis, Number Five was aimed directly at Sir William Howe,who led the British forces on the American Continent in the spring of 1778.

Leadership requires bold action. A decisive commitment to carry out the actions necessary to secure – assuming that it is beneficent leadership – the peace and security of those that are led.

The very nature of leadership demands a dance along a fine line of reflection and action. One without the other is not leadership but merely ineffectual or simply intransigent.

To insist on clinging to a course of action without reflection or consideration is to invite disaster as well as new leadership – or, better put, leadership in the first place.

Would Tom Paine see such a situation today if he were alive to take pen to paper?

On Creating Your Own Reality

We have it in our power to begin the world over again.

lived during a truly remarkable time. The Age of and the Industrial surely meant a brave new world was not only possible, but was unfolding right before his eyes.
Paine penned words that helped inspire a revolution; words that ring true to this day.
We will examine the current events of the day, the culture and issues we face, and we’ll consider what Thomas Paine may have thought. In his own words, as if he was a modern day blogger. After all, when you consider it, Thomas Paine was indeed the first American Blogger
This exercise is one we started in July of 2006 with another project sponsored by WorldHistory.com. We continue it here. We welcome you to join us.