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Better or Different

Updated: Apr 4, 2023

If something is going in the wrong direction, the worst thing you can do is to “make it better.”

Ok, “Build Back Better” Is better than “MAGA,” but I think it misses the point. What’s the point? That’s the question.

How can we tell when we are moving in the right direction? The “we” here is the American

Empire. “Empire” may not be the right word, but it’s certainly closer to the truth than using the word “nation.” In a sense, when the 13 colonies (nations) joined together we could have said they formed an American Empire, something like the British Empire, only at the beginning of its domination of land and people. Now that we have military bases in 150 countries, control of territories from Guam to Puerto Rico, and are largely dominated by investors rather than citizens, naming us a “nation” is as nostalgic as naming a financial giant “Wells Fargo.”

The image of the Titanic does seem appropriate. We can change the chairs, maybe even improve the conditions in the boiler rooms, but it’s still heading toward destruction.

The fact is that we should not try to get back on course, we need to change course. Not all at once. The ship will sink. No, we need to change carefully and with resolve from a climate of injustice to a climate of justice—a climate created by care and empathy, and also by a rigorous dismantling of white supremacy and arrogance. Empathy is not enough. It may be necessary and make us feel better, but it will not make us feel different.

Perhaps the tragedy of the covid pandemic can help us here. White men, like myself, were and are not immune from the virus. We are all vulnerable. Trump’s arrogance toward the virus showcased the problem. All the families who have lost loved ones could show us the solution. The point here is to follow the lead of the vulnerable and those caring for them.

In her book, An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz points out that a central element of our war strategy from the Indian wars to the present has been to kill civilians. One can remember the massacres of Sand Creek and Wounded Knee, or dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the 2 million civilians that were killed in Vietnam, or the police’s treatment of civilians in the United States. If we think carefully, we now know that we are all civilians, and that some of have resources to help and protect others.

What’s the point? The point is that we could be different if we let civilians give us a hand in turning the ship toward a safe harbor.

39 views2 comments


Marvin T. Brown
Marvin T. Brown
Jan 28, 2021

Nancy, as you know, I have spend much of my life thinking about the necessary conditions for a good conversation. We both know about the conditions for a good dialogue--suspension of judgment, listening, questioning assumptions--and so on. In my current work, I am thinking more about who sets the conditions. I think it is civilians: vulnerable people who cannot protect themselves and rely on the rule of law. I think Trump was wrong when he said that both sides were right. Instead of the town hall meeting as the image for a good conversation, I would suggest the civilian review board.


Nancy Southern
Nancy Southern
Jan 28, 2021

I wish we could have a national conversation as to what a change in course could look like. Maybe that can emerge after Biden‘s administration restores the relationships and actions that were begun before Trump. But the question I continue to hold is how we bring enough people into that conversation including civilians, who both agree and disagree with the types of changes needed.

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