St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Bisbee

St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church in Bisbee

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St. Patricks Catholic Church Stained Glass Window

St. Patricks Catholic Church Stained Glass Window

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The 4th of Gandhi’s Seven Social Sins: Commerce without Morality.

Several years ago, a movie was made called “The Corporation.”   It is a documentary film written by Joel Bakan, and directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott. The film examines the modern-day corporation.   It considers its legal status as a class of person and evaluates its behavior towards society and the world at large as a psychiatrist might evaluate an ordinary person. The films thesis is explored through numerous examples and interviews.  Bakan wrote the book, “The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” during the filming of the documentary.  I highly recommend this film.  I have shown it in many of my classes and used numerous excerpts from the film to illustrate key points about corporate behavior and the history of the corporate concept.  If you are interested in watching the film, you can do so on YouTube at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y888wVY5hzw

Most people do not realize it but the modern corporation and rules governing its behavior were not developed until the middle of the 19th century.  True, there were charters and rules governing businesses since the middle ages, but corporate law as we know it today is only about 150 or so years old.  The main point of the film is that despite not being human beings, corporations, as far as the law is concerned, have many of the same rights and responsibilities as people do.  Corporations can exercise human rights against individuals and the state,and they can themselves be responsible for human rights violations. 

However, while people have hearts, emotions, feelings and consciences, corporations do not.  While human behavior and codes of conduct have been developing since the Stone Age, the codes of conduct for corporations are practically non-existent.  Witness how Enron subverted their entire ethics process to allow the company to pursue almost unlimited degrees of immoral and unethical behavior.  In most corporations, the ethics statements are followed only when convenient and never if they conflict with the prime directive: “Make Money.”   Business schools may teach one class on ethics but seldom do students come away with any true sense that there must be an underlying morality to commerce.  Most students yawn their way through ethics since experience has already shown them that business ethics are expendable.  Noted economist Milton Friedman is famous for his criticism of business ethics and social responsibility for corporations.  According to Christine Travis, Friedman makes two key points in favor of his theory.  The first is that there is no uncontroversial morality.   Business owners are not ethicists and thus are not equipped to make ethical decisions.  Secondly, Friedman argues that maximizing long term self-interests will actually bring out the greater good.  (See Travis’s paper Philosophy: Summary and Explanation of Milton Friedman’s Stockholder Theory” for more depth on Friedman’s perspective.)

It is easy to see that Friedman’s theory has nuances which are valid but that there are gaps in his reasoning that allow too wide latitude of behavior.   If we argue that entrepreneurs, managers and business owners are not ethicists, we may as well allow that most people are not ethicists.  True, there is wide interpretation of what is moral and what is immoral but the same can be said for any system of morality and standards. Nevertheless, we would not want our children to grow up believing that because they were not ethicists they could discard any standards of behavior.  The proof of any theory may be in the pudding.  In this case, we can see the results of 100 years of corporate behavior and I suspect that the results do not portray business people in a very favorable light.  In fact, in terms of most admired and least admired professions, business people usually find themselves ranked among the “sleaziest professions.

20 Sleaziest Ways To Make a Living (http://scientificmarketingandadvertising.com/marketing-articles-least-admired-professions.html)

  1. Drug Dealer (0.61)
  2. Crime Boss (0.99)
  3. TV Evangelist (1.19)
  4. Prostitute (1.24)
  5. Street Peddler (1.45)
  6. Local Politician (1.52)
  7. Congressman (1.58)
  8. Car Salesman (1.59)
  9. Rock Star (1.72)
  10. Insurance Salesman (1.76)
  11. Union Leader (1.89)
  12. Wall Street Executive (1.92)
  13. Real Estate Agent (1.92)
  14. TV Executive (1.94)
  15. Oil Company Executive (1.94)
  16. Lawyer (1.97)
  17. Soap Opera Star (2.00)
  18. Movie Star (2.00)
  19. Broker (2.00)
  20. Prison Guard (2.02)

Real Estate Agent, Wall Street Executive, TV Executive and Oil Company Executive all rank in the list of twenty least admired professions.   If you go to the link above you can also find the 20 most admired professions. There is not one business occupation in the list of 20 most admired.  The article that this list is drawn from explores the question of “What can we learn from this list?”  The answers seems to support the thesis developed by Bakan that businesses do not have an incentive for morality and thus giving them “rights” as human beings poses a threat to our society. 

Let’s take a second to see what the Gandhi Institute says about Commerce without Morality: 

As in wealth without work we indulge in commerce without morality to make more money by any means possible. Price gouging, palming off inferior products, cheating and making false claims are a few of the obvious ways in which we indulge in commerce without morality. There are also thousands of other ways in which we do immoral or unethical business. When profit-making becomes the most important aspect of business, morals and ethics usually go overboard. We cut benefits and even salaries of employees. If possible we employ “slave” labor, like the sweat shops and migrant farm workers in New York and California where workers are thoroughly exploited. Profit supersedes the needs of people. When business is unable to deal with labor it begins to mechanize. Mechanization, it is claimed, increases efficiency, but in reality it is instituted simply to make more money. Alternate jobs may be created for a few. Others will fall by the wayside and languish. Who cares? People don’t matter, profits do. In more sophisticated language what we are really saying is that those who cannot keep up with the technological changes and exigencies of the times do not deserve to live–a concept on which Hitler built the Nazi Party. If society does not care for such people, can we blame them if they become criminals?

One of the key points that I glean from the Gandhi Institute is that Gandhi was against “Profit superseding the needs of people.”  Friedman would argue from the enlightened self-interest perspective that they are the same.  If the corporation takes care of profit, it takes care of people by creating jobs and value for the society.  The proof of value creation is evidenced by the fact that only corporations that make a profit survive.  People are free to choose where and what they spend their money on.  Thus if they support Corporation X over Corporation Y, it is because they perceive more value for their money in doing so.  This argument would have more merit if people had access to perfect information and were perfectly rationale.  However, since people are often deceived and given erroneous information and since Madison Avenue has built up numerous ways to convince people to spend money against their best interests, Friedman’s argument is perpetually, inevitable and indubitably doomed to failure. 

The primary force that protects human existence and all of humankind has been and always will be moral behavior. No amount of police, regulations, lawyers, prisons or inspectors will ever be enough to replace the moral force of human conscience and caring for other human beings.  Corporations have no incentives or mechanism to be kind to anyone unless it somehow provides a path to increased profits.  On the numerous occasions when this is not possible, profit trumps concern for employees, concern for the country, concern for the environment and concern the future of humanity.  The proof of what I am saying has been demonstrated time and time again.  You have only to pick up the morning paper to see yet another example of short-term corporate thinking and focus on greed above the well-being of any other factor.

Just to test my own hypothesis, I turned to CNN Money.  What did the headlines show today?  A list of The Top Twenty Most Profitable corporations in the world!  Would it surprise anyone to find that out of the top ten, there were four oil companies?   The price of gas keeps going up, but our dependency on the gasoline engine driven by the greed of the oil companies insures that there is still a steady stream of profits to the largest oil companies.  Whose well-being is being served by the outlandish incentives that continue to drive the oil industry?  Is the oil industry an example of “corporate morality?”  I doubt few would say yes to this question. 

To conclude, Gandhi believes that Commerce without Morality is a sin or social blunder.  I think it has shown itself to be an unmitigated social evil.  Our present laws do not provide an adequate solution to this problem.  A corporation is not a human being and should not be treated as a human being.  It is time we rethink the laws developed in the 19th century to govern corporate behavior.  It is time to put human well-being as the primary directive for all corporations and not the making of profit.  We cannot be blamed for putting the cart before the horse because we have never really attached the horse to the cart.  There is no mandate for a corporation to be either moral or ethical.  Any statements to the contrary are simply straws in the wind. When the accountants look at the ledgers, profit trumps every other card in the corporation.   Can you imagine if we simply judged people by the same standard?  Those people who made the most money were rated as the most well-adjusted and socially responsible people.  Is this what we want our culture and society to be remembered for?  Simply how much money we made!  I think our Founding Fathers would roll over in their graves at the thought. 

Ok, time for questions:

Do you think the Oil Industry is guided by a set of moral or ethical codes? Should it be?  Do you think corporations have an incentive for ethical behavior?  If so, I would love to hear your comments on this question either way.  Do you think we can change our corporate law to make them more responsible? Should we?  Why or why not?  Would you want the caption on your grave stone “I made a lot of money?”

Life is just beginning.

 

Jesus Starts a Facebook Page

Hi, I need to apologize.  I should be doing Gandhi’s third Social Sin but I got sidetracked by two recent news reports which have taken me down a different path for this blog.  I decided to do this blog on the subject of Jesus and Facebook.  I wonder what Jesus would do with Facebook if he were alive today?  I want to speculate a bit on what the current emphasis on social media would or could possibly do to enhance Jesus’s message and mission.  I will return to Gandhi next week. 

A few years ago, I remember seeing a science fiction movie wherein the value of a person in the future was directly related to how popular they were.  I cannot remember the name of the movie, so if you are familiar with it, I would appreciate your sending me a comment or email. I vaguely remember it being a Stallone movie but the only sci-fi movies I remember him in were Demolition Man and Judge Dredd and I do not think that either of these were the right movies.   In this future time, each citizen was given some sort of a number or code that showed how popular they were. The more popular they were the more successful and wealthy they were. Your value as a human being rested in your popularity regardless of how you may have achieved this popularity.  I have thought about this issue many times since then.  What once seemed like science-fiction now seems like daily reality.

Today we actually do value the worth of a person or their endeavors by how popular they are. Their popularity rating is based on a variety of measures.  How many followers do they have on Facebook?  How many hits do they get on their Blog?  How many calls do they get to be on game shows or other Hollywood Media?  How many books have they sold?  How many downloads did they get?  How many people did they kill?  Popularity sells newspapers, movie rights, stories, advertisements and TV space.  We have an entire set of people who are called celebrities who owe their lifestyles to some bizarre excuse for fame that the public has latched on.  Donald Trump, Lady Gaga, Psi, Kate Middleton, and dozens others routinely grace our newsstands and command maximum space in the media.  Wikipedia defines celebrity as:

A celebrity is a person who has a prominent profile and commands some degree of public fascination and influence in day-to-day media. The term is often synonymous with wealth (commonly denoted as a person with fame and fortune), implied with great popular appeal, prominence in a particular field, and is easily recognized by the general public.

Celebrities are the superstars of today’s world. Celebrities ban together at parties, galas, shindigs and anywhere the rich, successful or famous go to hang out. I noticed that during President Obama’s most recent White House Correspondents Dinner on April 27th that the audience was filled with not only news reporters but many of the rich and famous referred to as Hollywood’s A-List.  This A-List also included many of the politicians in this country since they were well represented at this dinner. It did not matter whether or not they supported Obama.  Right Wing, Left Wing, Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Liberal were all conspicuous at this dinner.  One can see Conan O’Brien, at the podium sharing some jokes at Bill O’Reilly’s expense on some of the videos posted on You-Tube.  For one brief night, Obama and O’Reilly had more in common than any of the common people (Are we B or C list?) on the face of the earth.  Regardless if the event is a Superbowl, Wimbledon Championship. PGA Major Event, or a funeral of some important dignitary, the “Celebrities” will all be invited.  Popularity is the coin of the realm today and the holy graile that we all seek. Today, it is more important to be famous and well known that it is to be kind, decent or good at least if you want to be a celebrity.

I noticed a Facebook posting on my web site from George Takei (AKA Sulu) of Star Trek fame.  He is now being hailed as a social media expert since his Facebook site has over four million followers and is one of the most popular sites on the Internet.  I had to admit to some curiosity so I went to check out his site to see what is behind his popularity. It seems his new found recognition is now translating into a renewed interest in his career and endeavors.  I will say that I was a big Star Trek fan and read most if not all of the bios of the lead actors from the series. I even went to the very first Star Trek convention in New York City.  I declined an invitation though to attend the second one.  I can only take nostalgia so far. I was most struck by the reported animosity between Takei and Captain Kirk.  It seems they did not get along too well off set although several other characters also found Shatner overbearing and egotistical. But then this seems to go with stardom.  Takei stuck to his guns though and was well liked by all members of the cast. 

Looking at Takei’s website, I was struck by the randomness of his site. Humor, short human interest stories, lots of pictures alluding to Star Trek and many liberal causes which Takei supports. I found it a fun and interesting site, but still left amazed that 4,000,000 people a week go to this site. To give you some perspective, when I started my www.timeparables.blogspot.com website it took me almost three years to go from 50 hits per month to nearly 3000 hits per month.  I confess, I routinely scrutinized the figures and sometimes felt obsessed with my “numbers.”  I did not want to fall into the trap of equating the value of what I had to say with the numbers of people who hit my site, but I found it hard not to feel bad on those days when I would publish what I thought was a very thought provoking blog and hardly anyone would logon.  Many times I felt disillusioned at the interest in my writings and was on the verge of stopping. Almost every time I got to this point, I would receive a comment or email indicating how much my blog meant to someone and how it had really made a difference in their life. I determined to keep writing as long as I had even one reader out there. I did not and still do not want to measure my value by my popularity but it’s not an easy task. 

One day a good friend of mine and I were in a coffee shop in Stillwater, Minnesota. We had both set down with our coffees and suddenly a man about our age appeared at the counter.  I could not help but think I knew him but I could not place where I knew him from.  I decided to go up to ask him.  I inquired whether we had met in the motorcycle club I belonged to and he said “No.”  I started to return to my seat but out of curiosity I persisted.  I said “Dam, you look very familiar, have we met someplace before?”  He again replied “No.”  I tried again.  “Are you in the movies or papers?”  “Yes”, he replied.  May I ask your name?  He answered “Sam Shepard.”   Suddenly, I was rather embarrassed and tongue tied. I admired many of his movies, writings and plays but did not know what to say.  I did not want him to think I was a celebrity seeker or one of the people who hound celebrities just to get their autograph or a piece of them.  I quickly ended the one-sided conversation with “Well, I like your movies, have a great day.”  That was the end of it. No further reply and Sam just walked off.

I realize there are many celebrity hunters out there. In fact, what would a celebrity be without a celebrity hunter? I also realize that many people who have achieved fame and recognition would rather not be celebrities. I suspect Sam was one of them.  An extremely accomplished actor, playwright and film director, he could stand on his own without “fame” or fortune.  However, fortune and fame does follow people who are very successful.  This is one of the payments for being able to do things that other people envy, admire or want to associate with.  Probably that is part of the reason we associate celebrity status with something desirable.  To become a celebrity means to become rich, famous and liked by millions.  We average people seldom see the downsides of celebrity status.  Thus, I am left to reflect on the curious juxtaposition of Jesus and Facebook.

If we can fast forward to Jesus of Nazareth to the 21st Century and imagine him having a Facebook site, how many followers would Jesus have today?  Let us assume for the sake of this hypothesis that Jesus was just starting out his ministry and was relatively unknown except for 12 rather flighty and fickle followers (AKA Disciples).  So Jesus puts up his Facebook site and starts posting parables and stories.  One story Jesus tells is as follows:  Matthew 18:23-34 — Unmerciful Servant

Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “The servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me, he begged, and I will pay back everything.’  The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.”

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.  His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’  But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.  Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.” 

What is the moral of this story?  There are many that could be derived from this parable.  Love others as you are loved?  Do unto others as you would have done unto you?  What goes around comes around?  Share kindness not unkindness.  Jesus taught with the use of such parables and today he is the most famous person in history with more followers than even Donald Trump.  However, if Jesus were alive today would he get hits on his website by posting such parables?  Or would Jesus have to “get” with the times and become more contemporary?   Would he get himself executed again by the civil authorities for preaching discontent and unrest?  Would Jesus be a Republican or a Democrat?  Would he be a Liberal or a Conservative?  My mind reels with all the questions that this fantasy of a 21st Century Jesus holds for me.

I suppose I am losing you at this point.  My good friend Carrie Classon keeps her postings to 600 words and I am almost at 2000.  I am not sure I have made my point yet.  The moral I have been trying to explore here is “When does celebrity become hollow and mindless?”  There is fame that comes from accomplishing something of worth and value to the human race. There is also fame that comes from trivial meaningless endeavors or worse destroying lives and ideas that hold value for others.  One type of fame should be admired but the other type should be denigrated. Unfortunately, it looks like the media and too many people today do not distinguish between the two types of fame.  I see many news pundits who make their living preaching hate and intolerance and not love and kindness.  I see talk shows, radio and TV with mindless sycophants talking much but saying little.  I see a vast wasteland of entertainment with putdowns and innuendos making fun of other people.  I see millions of watchers who feel they must live their lives vicariously through others because they don’t have the ability or opportunity to do otherwise. Is this the value of Fame?

I conclude with a poem by Emily Dickenson: 

Fame is a Fickle Food

Fame is a fickle food

Upon a shifting plate

Whose table once a

Guest but not

The second time is set.

Whose crumbs the crows inspect

And with ironic caw

Flap past it to the Farmer’s Corn –

Men eat of it and die.

Ok, time for questions:

Are we too concerned with being popular?  Do you think more people should look inward or worry more about what others think?  Do you worry too much about what others think?  What if you cared less?  What would your life be like?  Can someone be too popular?  Should popularity be a goal for anyone?  Why or Why not?

 Life is just beginning.

 

 

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