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The Thom Hartmann Reader

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Hartmann is perhaps best known for his fierce commitment to Jeffersonian democracy and his steadfast opposition to the corporatization of America. But in these pages you’ll also discover his Older and Younger Cultures hypothesis, which identifies the root cause of so many of our social and environmental ills. You’ll hear from Hartmann on how to keep our schools from treating children like assembly line products, why attention deficit disorder is not an affliction, what cloudy Germany can teach us about solar energy, and much more.

Fascinating as these essays are, they’re ultimately meant to inspire you to action. As Hartmann says at the end of every radio program, “Get out there, get active! Tag, you’re it!”

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The Radical Middle

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From ThomHartmann.com

THE FOUNDERS OF THIS NATION REPRESENTED THE FIRST RADIcal Middle. Back then they called it “being liberal.” As George Washington said, “As Mankind becomes more liberal, they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protections of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations of justice and liberality.”

They didn’t want King George or his military or corporate agents snooping in their houses, mails, or private matters; preventing them from organizing together and speaking out in public in protest of government actions; imprisoning them without access to attorneys, due process, or trials by juries of their peers; or reserving rights to himself that they felt should rest with the people or their elected representatives. (They ultimately wrote all of these in the Bill of Rights in our Constitution.)

They also didn’t want giant transnational corporations dominating their lives or their local economies. The Radical Middle has always believed in fairness and democracy and understood that completely unrestrained business activity and massive accumulations of wealth into a very few hands can endanger democratic institutions.

 

The Story of Carl

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From Screwed: The Undeclared War against the Middle Class

CARL LOVED BOOKS AND HE LOVED HISTORY. AFTER SPENDING two years in the army as part of the American occupation forces in Japan immediately after World War II, Carl was hoping to graduate from college and teach history—perhaps even at the university level—if he could hang on to the GI Bill and his day job long enough to get his PhD. But in 1950, when he’d been married just a few months, the surprise came that forced him to drop out of college: his wife was pregnant with their first child.

This was an era when husbands worked, wives tended the home, and being a good father and provider was one of the highest callings to which a man could aspire. Carl dropped out of school, kept his 9-to-5 job at a camera shop, and got a second job at a metal fabricating plant, working with molten metal from 7:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. For much of his wife’s pregnancy and his newborn son’s first year, he slept three hours a night and caught up on the weekends, but in the process he earned enough to get them an apartment and prepare for the costs of raising a family. Over the next 45 years, he continued to work in the steel and machine industry, in the later years as a bookkeeper/manager for a Michigan tool-and-die company as three more sons were born.

 

Democracy Is Inevitable

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From What Would Jefferson Do?: A Return to Democracy

IF DEMOCRACY IS THE NATURAL STATE OF ALL MAMMALS, INCLUDing humans, it must be something purely temporary that has prevented it for so much of the “civilized” period of the past few millennia (even though it has continued to exist throughout this time among tribal people). The force that slowed its inevitable emergence was a dysfunctional story in our culture, which led to thousands of years of the sanctioning of slavery, the oppression of women and minorities, and the deaths of hundreds of millions. It was the story that our essential nature is sinful.

Thomas Hobbes and others have assumed that we’d need a time machine to know how bad life really was 20,000 or 50,000 years ago. But there are still humans living essentially the same way that your ancestors and mine did, and if we look at their lives we find, by and large, that Hobbes was mistaken.

I remember vividly the first time I experienced this. I was sitting around a campfire with half a dozen or so men who were members of a southwestern Native American tribe. We’d just done a sweat, and after some of the heavy talk and ritual associated with that sacred ceremony the conversation gradually turned to “guy talk”: telling stories, making each other laugh, and poking fun.

 

An Informed and Educated Electorate

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From Rebooting the American Dream: 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country

If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be…. Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.

—THOMAS JEFFERSON

TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE, BASED IN WASHINGTON, DC, IS owned and run by my dear friend Ellen Ratner. Ellen is an experienced and accomplished journalist, and a large number of interns and young journalism school graduates get their feet wet in reporting by working with her.

In March 2010 I was in Washington for a meeting with a group of senators, and I needed a studio from which to do my radio and TV show. Ellen was gracious enough to offer me hers. I arrived as three of her interns were producing a panel-discussion type of TV show for web distribution at www.talkradionews.com in which they were discussing for their viewing audience their recent experiences on Capitol Hill.

 

Whatever Happened to Cannery Row?

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From Buzzflash.com

ARGUABLY, THERE’S NOTHING POLITICAL ABOUT JOHN STEINbeck’s novel Cannery Row. It chronicles the lives of some of the residents of Monterey, California, in the early twentieth century, before the great ecological disaster (mostly overfishing—it’s still debated) of the mid-1940s that wiped out the sardine harvest and threw the boom-town into bust. There’s Doc, the central focus of the novel, based on a close friend of Steinbeck’s, Edward F. Ricketts, one of America’s most famous marine biologists; and Mack, who’s always trying to do good and never quite making it; and an entire cast of characters who reflect the aura of America in the 1930s.

On the other hand, one could argue that the book is entirely political, today, because it shows us a slice of America before the Great Corporate Homogenizers got hold of us; before we walled ourselves into our highly mortgaged houses to stare for hours, alone, at our TVs, eating the mental gruel of multinational corporations; when the real American Dream was grounded in community, safety, friendship, and a healthy acceptance of eccentricity.

 

The Edison Gene

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From The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child

In the space of less than 40,000 years, ever more
closely packed cultural “revolutions” have taken
humanity from the status of a relatively rare large
mammal to something more like a geologic force.

—RICHARD G. KLEIN AND BLAKE EDGAR

I WAS IN INDIA IN 1993 TO HELP MANAGE A COMMUNITY FOR orphans and blind children on behalf of a German charity. During the monsoon season, the week of the big Hyderabad earthquake, I took an all-day train ride almost all the way across the subcontinent (from Bombay through Hyderabad to Rajahmundry) to visit an obscure town near the Bay of Bengal. In the train compartment with me were several Indian businessmen and a physician, and we had plenty of time to talk as the countryside flew by from sunrise to sunset.

Curious about how they viewed our children diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I asked, “Are you familiar with those types of people who seem to crave stimulation yet have a hard time staying with any one focus for a period of time? They may hop from career to career and sometimes even from relationship to relationship, never seeming to settle into one job or into a life with one person—but the whole time they remain incredibly creative and inventive.”

 

Older and Younger Cultures

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From The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now

The man who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization. And when native man left off this form of development, his humanization was retarded in growth.

—CHIEF LUTHER STANDING BEAR

IN MY EARLIER BOOKS ON ADD, I POINTED OUT HOW FROM THE earliest times humans were hunter-gatherers and that some of those behaviors that were survival skills for our ancestors are now problems in many modern schools and workplaces.

The picture that this model paints for some people is one of noble hunters who have been systematically tracked down and destroyed by the ignoble farmers.

While it’s true that there are now only a very few hunting societies left on the earth, as I delved deeper I came to realize that the real paradigm is deeper than just hunters and farmers.

While that does a fine job of explaining why some kids excel or fail in school, or why high-stimulation-seeking people are drawn to jobs like being an emergency medical technician while low-stimulation-seeking people are drawn to jobs like accounting, it misses a larger and more important point.

 

Framing

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Walking the Blues Away

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From Walking Your Blues Away: How to Heal the
Mind and Create Emotional Well-Being

Never trust a thought that didn’t come by walking.

—FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

THE HUMAN BODY IS A SELF-HEALING ORGANISM. WHEN YOU CUT your finger, it heals. If you break your leg, it heals. Even if part of you is cut out in surgery, the surgeon’s wound heals. We heal from bacterial and viral invasions, from injuries, and from all variety of traumas. The mechanisms for healing are built into us. Five million years of evolution, or the grace of God, or both, have made our bodies automatic healing machines. So why wouldn’t the same be true of our minds and emotions?

All of the traumas that we experience in life leave their wounds; if humankind hadn’t had ways of healing from those emotional and psychological blows, over time society would have become progressively less functional. Instead history shows us that people usually recover from even the most severe psychological wounds, often learning great lessons or gaining important insights in the recovery process.

 

Life in a Tipi

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From The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now

Every day people are straying away from
church and going back to God.

—LENNY BRUCE

MY BEST FRIEND THROUGH SCHOOL WAS CLARK STINSON. WE met when we were 13, and instead of pursuing the normal pastimes of teenagers we spent our time studying Sanskrit (we had an old study-guide book I found in my father’s library), reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and arguing minutiae of the Bible. Clark’s mother was interested in metaphysics and shared with us a book called Autobiography of a Yogi. Years later, when I went to Detroit with her and Clark to attend an initiation in Kriya yoga by Yogacharia Oliver Black, the oldest living disciple of Yogananda, I recognized Yogananda’s Kriya technique as identical to an ancient Coptic exercise that Kurt Stanley had taught us years earlier, called the Cobra Breath.

I introduced Clark to Master Stanley, and Clark and I began a serious study of spirituality. We were both in our late teens by then, and Clark had recently married. I was recovering from a painful breakup with a girlfriend, and we agreed that to do our spiritual work best we should seek isolation.

 

How to Raise a Fully Human Child

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From The Edison Gene: ADHD and the Gift of the Hunter Child

WHY HAVE SO MANY MODERN PEOPLE LOST ACCESS TO WHAT Albert Einstein called the “gift” of our intuitive minds and are thus less capable of critical and deep thought? Why is our society rich in intellectual rationality but seems too often to be lacking in compassion, insight, and understanding?

When we go back to developmental neurobiology, we discover that building a brain is somewhat parallel to building a computer. A computer system is made of obvious parts—the monitor, the power supply, the tower, and the keyboard—and the more sophisticated parts of the computer’s motherboard and its chips for audio, video, and processing function. There are its memory chips, which determine in speed and capacity via their interaction with the processor chip or “brain” of the computer the ability the computer will have. If the memory chips are too slow in their ability to handle data, no matter how fast or fancy the processor chip we build into it, the computer will never go faster or farther than the limits of the slower memory chips.

 

Starting Salem in New Hampshire

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From The Prophet’s Way: A Guide to Living in the Now

He who helps in the saving of others, saves himself as well.

—HARTMANN VON AUE

IN JULY AND AUGUST 1978, GOTTFRIED MüLLER’S CHILDREN’S orchestra came for four weeks to the United States and toured the halls he had requested and which Louise Sutermeister and I had set up and publicized; they also took a trip to Florida. I traveled with him and the kids, and in each city Herr Müller gave speeches to groups of invited guests.

In one city only two people showed up to hear him. He knocked himself out, giving a powerful and enthusiastic speech about Salem, the coming times, and the work he was doing. He was dramatic, dynamic, and moving.

Afterward I asked him why he’d gone to so much trouble for just two people; he could have just sat with them and talked.

“When only a few people show up, then you know it is the most important speech you must give,” he said. “Just as when a person donates only $1 to Salem, that is the most important donation.” It reminded me of the story Jesus told in the Bible about the widow who could afford to give only a few mites (pennies) and how her contribution was more important and spiritually powerful than those of the wealthy elite. Similarly, one person has often been at the pivot point of world changes. If that one person happened to be in an audience that had only a few people—or even only that one person—giving that speech may be the event that could eventually lead to the transformation of the world.

 

Younger-Culture Drugs of Control

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From The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight:
Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation

It is not heroin or cocaine that makes one an addict, it is the need to escape from a harsh reality. There are more television addicts, more baseball and football addicts, more movie addicts, and certainly more alcohol addicts in this country than there are narcotics addicts.

—SHIRLEY CHISHOLM (B. 1924)

POLITICIANS AND WRITERS OFTEN REFER TO OUR CURRENT ERA AS the Information Age. The average person alive today, they say, knows more than anybody at any time in the past. Through the Internet, encyclopedias on CDs and DVDs, and 700-channel television, the collective knowledge of the planet is available instantly to even the most ordinary of citizens, they say. It’s a wonderful thing, and we’re spectacularly well informed.

But is this really so?

If we are so well informed, why is it that when you ask most Americans simple questions about the history of the world, you get a blank look? How many of our children have read even one of Shakespeare’s plays all the way through? How many people know with any depth beyond the 15-second sound bites served up on the evening TV news the genesis and the significance of the wars in, for example, Afghanistan or the Congo? Or that the United States government is still stealing Indian lands in Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Wyoming, and a dozen other states?

 

The Secret of “Enough”

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From The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight:
Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation

For I have learned, in whatsoever state
I am, therewith to be content.

—SAINT PAUL, LETTER TO THE PHILIPPIANS, 4:11

FIRST, THE TRUTH.

If you are naked, cold, and hungry and somehow you get shelter, clothing, and food, you will feel better. Providing for these necessities creates a qualitative change in life and could even be said to, in some ways, produce “happiness.” You feel comfortable and safe. Your state of mind and emotional sense of well-being have improved as a result of these external changes, the result of your having acquired some stuff. Let’s refer to this as the “enough point.” It represents the point where a person has security, where their life and existence are not in danger.

Now, the lie or myth.

“If some stuff will make you happy, then twice as much stuff will make you twice as happy, 10 times as much will make you 10 times as happy, and so on into infinity.”

By this logic, the fabulously rich such as Prince Charles, Bill Gates, or King Fahd must live in a state of perpetual bliss. “Greed is good,” the oft-repeated mantra of the Reagan era, embodied the religious or moral way of expressing this myth. More is better. He who dies with the most toys wins.

 

The Atmosphere

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From Threshold: The Crisis of Western Culture

ON FEBRUARY 24, 2007, AN EXPEDITION ACROSS THE POLAR NORTH funded in part by the National Geographic Society and Sir Richard Branson set out on 78-day journey.1 Guided by local Inuit hunters and trackers, they found that the environment there was changing—warming—at about twice the rate of the more temperate and equatorial regions of the world. The result was multifold.

Landmarks—usually giant mountains of ice that had been known by the Inuit people (and even named and the subject of folklore) for tens of thousands of years—are moving, changing, and in many cases vanishing altogether. The open sea (which absorbs about 70 percent of the solar radiation that hits it) is quickly replacing polar ice (which reflects back out into space about 70 percent of the solar radiation that hits it). Animals never before seen in the region—finches, dolphins, and robins, for example—are moving farther north as their migratory patterns are pushed by global climate change, while animals that have lived in the region for tens of thousands of years (most notably the polar bear) are facing extinction, as there is no place “farther north” for them to go to find the environment to which millions of years of evolution have adapted them.

 

The Death of the Trees

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From The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight:
Waking Up to Personal and Global Transformation

The development of civilization and industry in general has always shown itself so active in the destruction of forests that everything that has been done for their conservation and production is completely insignificant in comparison.

—KARL MARX (1818–1883), DAS CAPITAL (1867)

WHEN I WAS IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, WE WERE TAUGHT THAT the oceans and the forests were the chief sources of oxygen for the planet. It turns out that, at least for those animals that breathe air, this is only partially correct. The oceans account for less than 8 percent of the atmosphere’s oxygen, and that is dropping rapidly: there are now millions of acres of ocean that are dying from the dumping of toxic wastes or changes in water temperature, and they therefore have become net consumers of oxygen.

Trees, it turns out, are the major source of recycled oxygen for the atmosphere. They are our planet’s lungs. A full-grown pine or hardwood tree has a leaf surface area that can run from 0.25 acre to more than 3 acres, depending on the species. Rain forest trees have leaf surface areas that run as high as 40 acres per tree. Throughout this enormous surface area, sunlight is used as an energy source to drive the conversion of carbon dioxide into oxygen and plant matter (using the C, which is carbon). Trees literally breathe in the CO2 through that enormous leaf area after we exhale it as biological waste, and they exhale oxygen as their own waste. Without trees our atmosphere would most likely become toxic to us; and because rain forest trees have such a massively larger leaf area than our common trees, the rain forests of the world provide much of the oxygen that you are breathing as you read this page.

 

Cool Our Fever

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From Rebooting the American Dream: 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country

We live in a democracy and policies represent our collective will. We cannot blame others. If we allow the planet to pass tipping points… it will be hard to explain our role to our children. We cannot claim… that “we didn’t know.”

—JIM HANSEN, DIRECTOR, NASA GODDARD
INSTITUTE FOR SPACE STUDIES1

I HAVE TAKEN THE FOUR-HOUR TRAIN RIDE FROM THE AIRPORT IN Frankfurt, Germany, to the Bavarian town of Stadtsteinach in the Frankenwald often enough to know it by heart. I look out the window and see the familiar sights—the towns, the rivers, the houses.

I have visited Stadtsteinach many times over the past 30 years, working with Salem International. At least once a year I’ve made it back to Germany, and we lived there for a year in the mid-1980s. During the past decade, as the train rolls along eastward from Frankfurt, I’ve seen a dramatic change in the scenery and the landscape. First there were just a few: purplish-blue reflections, almost like deep, still water, covering large parts of the south-facing roofs as I looked north out the window of the train. Solar panels.

 

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