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”If you think I am off base, tell me why Obama ideas are not just old liberal solutions or why McCain isn’t McBush. I am more than willing to listen.”
We are so conditioned by the public media to put everyone in a neat little box so we can dismiss them as another one of “those” people. After my last blog about Exxon I received some emails accusing me of being some closet left-winger communist. Sorry. It’s just not true. I am a true blue American looking for leaders who have truly new ideas to lead us to be more than what we have become.
America’s promise has always been that we can determine the quality of our own life. Where we start in life does not determine where we finish.
We strive to be a society that promotes the key conditions to help us optimize our quality of life no matter what our circumstances. Doing that isn’t easy. It requires constantly balancing four distinct priorities: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality. If any one of these values are lost or even de-emphasized, our system is thrown out of balance. People lose confidence and our national mood sours. Today, lots of us are in a sour mood.
Maybe we’re nauseated because we’ve lost our balance. When leaders govern from the center, they do it from a balance point that gives all of us the best chance for life, liberty and happiness. That’s why, most of the time, leaders who advocate policies that respect all four values simultaneously make the most sense to the most of us.
But recently we have been out of whack. Way out. Politicians say the right things, but they don’t do them. More and more, it’s the people on the fringe who determine the debate and push the agenda because they either deliver the cash or the votes.
These days, the loudest voices shout from the lower Right or the lower Left. On the lower Right, the Right wing of the Republican Party, all we hear are the values of opportunity and freedom. Our ideals are reduced to the single notion that everyone should press their self-interest and leverage their advantages to the max. That’s America!
Their mantra insists only on low taxes and few regulations. Their ideal nation would have no capital gains taxes, would have open borders and would keep us neck-deep in maids, nannies and day laborers. Their prophetess is economic philosopher, Ayn Rand, who actually wrote a book entitled, The Virtue of Selfishness. Their high priest is Milton Friedman, who claimed, “The social responsibility of business is to make a profit. (Collins, David. (2004). Tylenol Revisited: Friedman and the current CSR debate. In David Collins (Ed.), Corporate integrity and accountability (p.20). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.) In their perfect world, economic and social Darwinism creates the best society. The strong, the smart, and the clever win. The lazy and stupid suffer through their own lack of effort. That’s the natural laws of cosmically ordained economics working. The market rules. The market is perfect. If you aren’t rich, well educated, healthy and well-connected, you are to blame. Period. If you want it to be different—get off your butt.
Lower Right thinking is how the wealthy justify their neglect of everyone else.
The lower Right also manipulates the millions of Americans with traditional religious values even as they privately ridicule them as intellectual hillbillies. These corrupt politicians, many with sordid personal lives and vulgar private opinions, tout their “religiously correct” views to radicalize their followers and pick their pockets with no intention of changing anything.
On the lower Left, we hear the weak voices of recycled liberalism. This whiny crowd focuses on protecting the weak instead of educating, empowering, and holding them responsible. It promotes freedom as the excuse to choose continuing irresponsibility as a viable way of life. Higher taxes, cumbersome regulations and more bureaucracy always seem to result from the ideas of the lower Left.
Lower Left thinking leads to everyone waiting in line, sharing equally in scarcity.
Today, the real American Dream has been hijacked. Not by terrorists, but by superficial ideals, the small ideas of powerful people, and the incompetence of our institutions. In the past we’ve tried to promote the American Dream by raising taxes and writing checks. But the “Great Society” wasn’t so great. More recently we decided to unleash business and challenge people to be on their own. As a result we’ve bankrupted the country, worn out our military, and strangled our middle class. Meanwhile, the Democrats have had a majority in congress for two years, and yet all they do is complain and wag their fingers. So the Democrats seem like sissies and the Republicans act like bullies.
The result is what we have. It’s not working. At least not for enough of us. Our problems aren’t caused by either lack of public welfare or a lack of personal responsibility. We don’t seem to have leaders who have any truly new ideas. The democrats want to make us cry and republicans want us to be afraid. We need to stand for something more.
By now I am sure I have offended everyone, but that’s how I see things.
If you think I am off base, tell me why Obama ideas are not just old liberal solutions or why McCain isn’t McBush. I am more than willing to listen.
Grand Theft Auto IV is a new videogame. It sold $500 million in its first week of release. It is the most financially successful piece of entertainment ever released in terms of first week sales. More than any Star Wars, Indiana Jones, or Lord of the Rings movies. And it’s just starting. Grand Theft Auto IV is an amazing example of evil-genius. It is a visual banquet of hauntingly realistic animation that is as visually arousing as it is morally repulsive. The game asks you to identify with a sympathetic anti-hero who achieves goals by stealing cars, hiring prostitutes, killing pedestrians, getting drunk and driving wild. Of course the makers of this technically brilliant glorification of self-destructive insanity say it’s all harmless fun. After all, what we watch and think about doesn’t really impact what we really do. And, me, sounding like some very un-cool grandpa only makes it more desirable to my cool-seeking grandchildren to play it. Yea, yea. I get it. But I can’t help it. My blood is boiling.
I speak to business leaders frequently about Corporate Social Responsibility. I sum things up with the proposition that we are responsible for the future we are co-creating. That all of us are responsible for fostering a “healthy planet with healthy people.” All of us. It’s an important message. Today we are constantly tempted to make a buck through “negative innovation.” This occurs when we willfully promote ideas that undermine people’s ability or motives to meet their own genuine needs. It is a high-tech form of toxic pollution. When we separate our economic life from our human responsibility to each other, we descend into predators. When we develop products that destroy our planet, exploit people, and degrade the dignity of our own children, we erode our own spiritual worth. Is it ethical to spend millions of dollars and use the magnificent talents of artists and computer programmers to seduce teenagers to immerse themselves in a world of human misery made to look desirable? Is that the best thing we can do with capital and talent? I’ve talked to people who create or promote predatory entertainment and they all say the same thing. “I am not responsible.” They always claim that entertainment reflects cultural norms rather than changes them. “It’s what people want.” But is this just superficial justification of selling the glorification of suffering?
Media’s biggest cultural impact comes from what it decides to broadcast, post, print, or sell. And very often that’s driven by what sells to the lowest common denominator. At the lowest level of human consciousness we simply seek stimulation. We are attracted to novelty like a bug to a porch light. That’s why the media makers are always pushing the envelope. You see, vulgarity is shocking only if it crosses the line of established limits. And shock is what’s needed to stimulate a young audience. Brain research confirms what all seasoned parents have known. Teenagers are constantly searching for high emotional stimulation for low effort. There is probably no one more susceptible to a jolt from the outrageous, then a 14 year-old. For instance, over the past 25 years MTV has become the monster of the global Grid. It is beamed to over 100 countries and is the icon of American pop culture. It’s owned by a huge media conglomerate. It’s our message to the world of what makes us happy. Silly, isn’t it. Relatively harmless, right?
Maybe not. MTV recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. One media analyst observed that MTV’s primary legacy has been to popularize a culture that celebrates violence, glorifies materialism and exploits women. In fact, MTV may have done more to degrade women than any other single force in recent history. That’s not all. MTV is a steady diet of self-absorption, angst about trivia and a celebration of the paraphernalia of image. It drives conformity and isolation simultaneously. MTV has been very busy creating the new normal for our culture, claiming it’s only what their audience wants. It doesn’t mention that its audience is our stimulus seeking, highly vulnerable children.
While there are still some psychologists who claim watching anti-social, criminal or degrading behavior doesn’t change people’s attitudes or choices, the preponderance of evidence is that it does. New research confirms our thinking actually alters our brain chemistry and our habitual emotional responses. Just like junk food, junk thinking eventually poisons us.
Never in history have humans created a society where vivid emotionally engaging depictions of violence and sexual exploitation surrounded us daily. And frankly no one knows for sure what the result will be. But common sense tells us it does not promote the values of civilization or the behavior of a species serious about their responsibilities to their own children. Isn’t it rather simply an evil way to make money?
Free speech is great and an essential right of every person. It also comes with a responsibility. Shouldn’t we be motivated to use our position, our talent and our technology to create messages that inspire rather than exploit? I guess it depends on what you are trying to accomplish. At the end of our lives will we be able to look in the mirror and say, “I did the most to create the greatest good I could?” Maybe it’s a question we should ask ourselves every day.
If you want to send Take 2, the makers of Grand Theft Auto IV, some feedback, email email@example.com.
Founder, American Dream Project
Expert on Corporate Social Responsibility
Many of you have responded to my blogs wondering what you or we can do about the issues presented. The answer is more than you may think. The people who most benefit from the status quo want you to feel that you can’t make a difference. It’s called learned helplessness. It’s a lie. No matter what you choose to do, how big or small, each of us matters. We are part of the tipping point for a better future. For instance, I donate a great amount of time teaching and speaking to students, non-profits and community groups about our individual leadership opportunities to help change our world right where we are. This is just one way I try to make my difference.
Last Monday I taught a class in Corporate Social Responsibility to a group of young executives at the University of California San Diego. On the subject of ethics I mentioned that 20th century U.S. culture descended into embracing the lowest level of classical ethics. The result is that our government now routinely enables large companies to sell us poisonous products. You see the bottom of the ethical barrel is the “Rule of Law.” It basically confirms that if something is legal, it’s ethical, even moral. But it’s often not. In fact when a country enshrines the “Rule of Law” as their standard of morality it unleashes a tidal wave of lobbyists corrupting lawmakers to make their special interest desires become legal. For instance, many of our antipollution laws are written so that it’s legal to pay a relatively inexpensive fine rather than clean up the brown field and stop polluting. As a citizen, this pygmy view of ethics puts us at increasing risk of being poisoned by the Frankenstein chemicals in common products and food. When our nation was founded we agreed that life, that is, its reasonable protection, was an “inalienable right,” a fundamental right. But lately our government has increasingly decided to sell its responsibility to provide for our safety to the highest bidder. The result is we still have cigarette companies figuring out how to make their death weed more addictive while they kill 400,000 Americans a year even as the FDA becomes a barrier to our children’s safety.
The latest ethical failure recently came to light when it was revealed that the FDA has ignored over 100 studies showing that BPA, a common chemical in plastic bottles and the lining of canned goods, pose a significant health risk to babies. Babies! Turns out sterilizing plastic bottles causes BPA molecules to get in milk that later stimulates breast.and prostate cancer. Canada has banned BPA plastic, and Japan banned its use in canned food 10 years ago. But in the land of the brave we’re on our own. Yes the chemical companies produced two studies showing the health risks were minimal and since we now have the best FDA money can buy, our safety regulators let it slide. It seems it’s not their responsibility to protect American babies. I wish I were making this up, but the Government Accounting Office just released a report stating that our Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency have been systematically compromised by government contractors and special (business) interests. Turns out over the past eight years these agencies, established to protect our health from the unrestrained gravity of greed, have been taken over by the industries they are supposed to regulate. So the cancer screening reviews of ten common chemicals that you and I are frequently exposed to in our households and consumer products have not been conducted due to internal restrictions on the scientists that you and I pay to protect our children (EPA Undermined on Health Dangers, Investigators Say).
Since the dawn of history merchants have railed against regulation. They always claim individuals right to choose is more sacred than health and safety rules. They always claim that regulation will cause economic collapse. English business tycoons in the 19th century claimed that capitalism would fail without child labor. Slavery was justified for 150 years as an economic necessity. And American carmakers in the 1960’s and 70’s said that government regulations mandating seatbelts and pollution control technology was completely unnecessary. “If the people choose, the market will dictate what is best for us” is always the cry. Using human choice and the marketplace as the mechanism for what is safe to sell is nothing more than a weak attempt to morally justify unrestrained self-interest.
I told the class that there is more to ethics than what’s “legal.” A higher level is the “Rule of Justice.” It’s based on the Golden Rule. It asks chemical company executives and scientists to ask themselves, “What kind of bottle do I want my children drinking from?” If we could just achieve that standard as our ideal we could restore integrity to our entire society. But the highest level of ethics is even more inspiring. It is call the “Rule of Love.” It challenges us to ask, “How much good can I do?” Imagine a world where that was the common question in a business meeting. It’s the concept of Greatest Total Value. What is the Greatest Total Value we can provide to our customers, employees, society? I have found the exciting result of asking this question is it unleashes people to think of previously unimagined value innovations. Innovations that lead to higher quality, less waste, and unique products and services.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with capitalism. It’s morally neutral. The problem is with us. Only humans can make our businesses and government moral. Are we really willing to poison our own babies rather than demand genuine moral leadership? We are better than this.
(Effective Regulation is one criterion of American Dream Project’s America’s New Agenda. To found out more and add your ideas, click here.)
Your single voice matters. It matters because you’re not alone. Your voice can be a part of a chorus, inaudible to you but very noisy to the world. Speak up. Most especially, go to Write Your Representative or Congress.org to get your Congressperson’s email address and write him or her in reasoned but passionate tones (For Congressional letter writing tips, click here). When enough of us do, they will listen. We are changing the world either by staying silent or by speaking out. I send emails to the Presidential candidates. Of course they respond with requests for donations, but no matter, I still express myself. Write someone today. It matters. If you agree with what I am saying, pass it on. This is not my day job. I am doing this for my grandchildren. We all need to do something because we can.
Will Marre, founder American Dream Project
To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.
In my early twenties I spent several winters on Hawaii’s North Shore. Many days I’d wake up to see 20-foot waves rise up battering the reefs with thousands of tons of energy. These waves are so powerful that every year unsuspecting tourists wading in the shallows in ankle deep water are knocked over, sucked into the sea and drowned. They think they are safe where they stand, but they’re not.
There are others who see the situation differently. Instead of standing on the shore, they paddle out. Positioning themselves correctly, they ride the face of a monster wave, close to 40 mph. They are having the thrill of their life just by being in the right place at that right time. When they are riding the wave, they are not exerting the energy; they are simply flowing with it.
That’s where we are today. We can stand on the beach and hope we don’t get knocked down, or we can paddle out and ride the waves of change.
In my recent blog, America’s Big Idea, I introduced the New American Agenda. Today I’m very pleased to announce the launch of a new page dedicated to this project that focuses on our civic social responsibility, engagement and participation. It is a platform dedicated to giving voice to each of us. Every single one. It’s a place where we can galvanize our ideas and demand better from our government. Out voices do matter, and together we can make a difference. We’re tired of business as usual that produces substandard education, catastrophic foreclosures, unequal access to healthcare, etc. We’ve waited long enough. It’s time for all of us to not only fight for ourselves, but to fight for our collective voices. It’s our duty to our common good. Our duty to each other. If we don’t speak out to form our own agenda, then we’re likely to get a recycled version of the same old thing. Broken promises. Poor leadership.
The first imperative on America’s New Agenda is Citizen Voice. Our constitution guarantees citizens the right to petition the government. And when the will of the public is galvanized our legislations listen. Our most effective presidents have been able to amplify our voices to overwhelm the petty voices of special interest or powerful fringe groups so that we could unite for the common good. When our voices are heard, citizens feel their engagement matters. When our voices are ignored, we feel frustrated and powerless. The most important element of citizen voice in a free democracy is open and equal access to our elected leaders. We should not have to make a political contribution or stand in line behind lobbyists who have. Lobbyists should not be able to get the prolonged attention of legislators in “educational” junkets or golf tournaments or private plane rides. Our leaders should not participate in secret meetings or allow lobbyists to draft legislation. We need an ethical system that creates a level playing field for every citizen. We need to speak out with emails, letters and group gatherings to make our voices heard. We need to make our agenda the national agenda.
Come to our site, America’s New Agenda. Let your voice be heard. We’ll never get more from our leaders than we demand. Don’t get depressed at the direction of the storm. Big waves are catastrophic only if you don’t see them coming. If you see them clearly, you can ride them. Surf’s up!
The American Dream Project
To visit American Dream Project’s homepage, click here.