There is an opportunity for a resurgence of ethical individualism now, a philosophy that ultimately means this: we each own our future. There is no massive following for either party in the US and, indeed, a general distrust of institutions is alive and well globally. Between radicalism and the status quo we are thrown back on ourselves to be individuals of conscience. The rallying cry could be this: "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country!" These were Kennedy's undying inaugural words. (http://www.ushistory.org/documents/ask-not.htm)
In that same extraordinary speech Kennedy urges us to "...begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction." This was a plea to the communist world at that time (1961), but today many would understand it as an individual challenge. Peace Pilgrim, who in the '60's and 70's walked tens of thousands of miles for peace said this: "World peace will never be stable until enough of us find inner peace to stabilize it." (http://www.azquotes.com/author/11673-Peace_Pilgrim) This calls on the initiative of ethical individuals to transform inwardly.
The external side of that individual responsibility is memorialized in the famous Pug cartoon launched on the first Earth Day 1970: "We have met the enemy and he is us." (http://www.thisdayinquotes.com/2011/04/we-have-met-enemy-and-he-is-us.html) In other words we are responsible for the pollution that makes nature ugly and causes us to be sick. We caused it so we are responsible to clean it up. So we have done to a great extent, but read www.350.org to get today's facts: we are not cleaning up fast enough. It comes down to individual choices and initiatives that break through to new solutions.
This is true on a macro scale in the realm of economics. We have allowed our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, our sense of neighborhood to be usurped by the fear and greed of corporate interests. At the same time, strong individuals are forging new economic solutions to heal our world, building platforms without borders, in unlimited variation: individual initiatives unstuck from the status quo that could eventually create a better world.
Every person has a story about overcoming obstacles. Just learning to stand up on two feet defying gravity, to form sounds into speech, or even to think our own thoughts, are all miracles. We each may have been pushed down, shut up and/or brainwashed to some degree, and nevertheless learned to walk, to speak, to think and more. Three inspiring books speak to this human capacity to rise up despite all obstacles.
1) Arrival City, by Doug Saunders (https://www.amazon.com/Arrival-City-Largest-Migration-Reshaping/dp/0307388565) describes the courageous, intelligent and inspiring individuals who have massively moved from poverty stricken villages to make a better life for their children close to cities. How they are received in this mass migration is shaping our future. Chaotic and filthy shanty towns or refugee camps are not permanent answers, but neither are the massive modern housing projects void of trees, culture, or jobs, which seem to lead to the formation of aimless gangs and ripe recruits to violence. On the other hand, communities like Watts, where the riots destroyed everything, have evolved organically since then, without much interference or help, into cultural destinations. A migration from south of the border moved into Watts and made it their beautiful home, with good will, intelligence and imagination. We can learn from this.
2) Jorge Newbery's Burn Zone (https://www.amazon.com/Burn-Zones-Playing-Lifes-Hands-ebook/dp/B00XA2JE0C) describes the life of a radical entrepreneur willing to push through the "burn zone" to make a difference. Jorge took on troubled real estate properties and turned them around without gentrification. Gangs and pimps who had created fear and insecurity were put to work to clean up their own turf and get paid for it. But, as the book tells it, a natural disaster turned his social experiment into an inferno for his own reputation, and he lost everything but his dignity. And instead of giving in to massive debt he moved on:
Now, inspired to help families stay in their homes rather than lose them because of the "great recession", this unstoppable social entrepreneur decided to pull together funds from socially minded investors (including our firm) to bid on bundles of small home mortgages. Now his website www.ahpinvest has been approved for crowdfunding so any individual investor can help families stay in their homes if they can pay a small rent . Everyone wins.
3) Elena Panaritis maintains that the biggest obstacle to upward mobility in any economy is the lack of formal property ownership. Her book Prosperity Unbound: Building Property Markets with Trust (Palgrave Macmillan www.prosperityunbound.com), provides an overview of the methodology she developed to transform the system of land rights in Peru. A human model powered by individual determination transformed Peru, and though she is often overlooked, Elena was the driving force and the creative genius behind this transformation. Squatter ghettoes have become thriving communities.
So, at this election time, yes, we may look for inspiring leaders, but who will make peace, who will make change? It is us!