Is This the Good Side of “When Only Money Matters”?

It didn’t take long for the media this past week to spread the controversial views of Republican Presidential candidate Donald – I’m the best thing to ever happen to America – Trump.  Almost immediately after making his racist remarks about Mexicans, his popularity shot up to number 2 in the Republican race for the White House.

donald-trumpTo a party with more candidates than Washington has lobbyists, Trump is thought of as a formidable contender who can revive its values and take back the White House. For those who know better, his is the most visible symptom of a political party that is struggling to define itself in a chaotic world that defies definition.

What is particularly damning to Mr. Trump is the immediate reaction from big corporations to disassociate themselves with him. First came the Miss Universe Pageant, then the NBC Network, and finally the big retailer Macy’s, and the  backlash is not over yet. No estimates are available yet on the impact that Mr. Trump’s views will have on his future earnings, but I would guess it would be in the tens if not the hundreds of millions. A very costly lesson on who the real power brokers are in American politics today.

Concurrent with the Trump debacle, corporations  also took a stand on the confederate flag controversy. Wal-Mart and Target immediately took the high moral road on this issue and stopped all sales of the flag.   Then Nascar, with a $3 Billion a year sponsorship on the line, announced that it, too will remove this symbol of racism from all its public places. These were all brave decisions that placed morality back at the heart of corporate decision-making, but was this the return of corporate moral responsibility or was it something else?

Confederate Flag NASCAR Auto Racing Since the 2008 financial crisis, big corporations have been the target of every disenfranchised group in the world. If you talk to a member of any of the Occupy Movements, what you hear is that all that matters to corporations is money. No caring for people, or the planet, and little room for making decisions based in morality.

So, what changed in the last few weeks? Did a moral revival of CEOs, their executive teams and Board of Directors take place while the world was falling to pieces? Did they suddenly discover that their values are those of a Utopian culture where there are zero tolerance policies for racist behavior, or did something else influence their decisions?

It could be that corporate America found its moral compass again, but before you light a candle for their bravery, consider this. We live in a world that is defined by the power of money. The richer a person is, the more admired and the funnier his or her jokes are. The relationship of power to money is at its highest since the period right before the fall of the Roman Empire.  Senators are bought and sold every day. Supreme Court judges hide behind the strict interpretation of the law to extend personhood rights to corporations. Moral men and women don’t get elected anymore because the function of the office they’re running for is no longer about morality and service.

670px-supreme_court_us_2009Meanwhile, if you’re a high school dropout, and you carry a sign that says, “I will preach your corporate gospel” you immediately get a PAC with tens of millions in its coffers which, of course, you have nothing to do with. You hire the best campaign manager money can buy. He puts you in a grown-up suit and off you go preaching to whoever listens about patriotic values and how America has lost its way . Sixteen months later, you’re elected and all is well with the world.

Now, do you still think it was the morality of those corporations that led them to disassociate themselves with The Donald and the confederate flag?  Or was it some game theory genius at corporate headquarters  who projected the hundreds of millions in losses if his bosses didn’t take immediate action? If I were a betting man, I’ll put my money on the latter. In a world where only money matters, morality in this case, just happened to be on the same side of money.

 

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The Fourth International Integral Theory Conference

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The Fourth International Integral Theory Conference will be taking place this summer July 16-19 on the Campus of Sonoma State  University in Northern California. Billed as one of the more significant Integral Theory conferences, the focus this year is on having a dialog  among  practitioners, supporters and students of the framework. According to the organizers,  this will be an opportunity for critical self reflection on the integral approach and on whether this  “superior” model should be used all the time in all situations .

Don Beck, Elza Maalouf and I will be participating in this open and inwardly- directed conversation hoping to understand and to also be understood.  In this spirit I ask the Spiral Dynamics integral  community to join us in the conversation.  You can find more information on the entire conference and pre-conference workshops here.

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It is no secret in the integral community that there exists a philosophical divide between Ken Wilber’s followers and Don Beck’s followers. After all,  this is a model that sought “to explain everything”, and therein lies the problem. Even  jokes about the nature of the divide or the deficiencies inherent in the practices of one model or the other often develop into bitter debates that rarely get resolved.

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There is, however, a new generation of thinkers who have acknowledged the contributions of their respective Gurus, but have moved on and began to chart their own ways by applying what they’ve learned in their respective professions. It is this new generation of Integralists-Functionalists who are tasked with finding the commonalities between the two schools. This is no longer a philosophical/intellectual/academic debate.  No blind Guru worship. The Beta Phase of the theory of everything is over. The bugs in the system have been identified. Now its time to update the software, indeed the entire operating system and gear it towards solving real world problems. Please join us.

 

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The Modern Revolution Is Dead. Long Live Slow and Painful Change

(First published in The Huffington Post on January 15, 2015)

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It all began with the rise of the Information Age and became clearly visible with the second election of Barack Obama. A young man with a hoodie, hipster beard, cool glasses and awesome earrings put together a technology team that guaranteed President Obama’s second term. Harper Reed’s genius crowd-sourcing of an American election made sure that hope and change was given another four-year chance at defining the future of American values. Another four years to bring the dreams of millions of young Americans to reality so we can live in peace and harmony. Or, at least a facsimile of what these values represent to a generation that relies on the virtual world to express its contempt for the real world. But alas, that wasn’t to be.

The young generation has seen the Obama Presidency take on a different trajectory than what the smartest game theorist would have projected. Their voices had been shut out of the political process, but have sadly remained under the delusion that all change comes from a click of a button; a painful lesson on the gap that exists between their world and that of generations before. The former drawing hope and inspiration from a possible future, the latter weighed down by history and the traditional power brokers imbedded in the dark shadows of the system.

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In a place thousands of miles away that is in desperate need for change, social media triggered the start of the Arab Spring. This felt right. The whole region was ripe for change. Dictatorships and autocratic regimes had no place in a world full of transparency and unbridled access to information. Smartphones were the new weapons that brought an end to Hosni Mubarak’s rein. Powerful scenes from Tahrir Square triggered President Obama to declare that what we were witnessing in Cairo was history in the making. The Facebook Revolution soon came to an end and ushered in the radical Muslim Brotherhood. A year after brutal and subversive leadership, the MB was overthrown by the Egyptian army, paving the way back to military rule. History was very short-lived. Another revolution by the Millennial Generation thwarted. Another attempt at radical change meets with a jolt of sobering reality. The result is more of the old as if the voices of the new never mattered.

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More recently, the killings of black men on the hands of white policemen triggered a media frenzy on the issue of civil rights and called for national marches on New York City and Washington. The activists reminded us of the days of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The topic trended for days and began to gather real support behind it. Then the media, suffering from attention deficit disorder, got bored and found interest in a fresh subject on the resumption of normal relationships of Cuba. The civil rights issue took a back seat to Senator Marco Rubio speaking about the suffering of the Cuban people under the regimes of the Castro brothers. Then, after a respite for the holidays, Charlie Hebdo happened, and it will remain a trending story for another week or until something more tragic comes along. And that too, will trend for its own 15 minutes of fame.

It is tragic that profound global events of this magnitude don’t result in meaningful and permanent change anymore. This is the new reality; suddenly everything is important and nothing ever gets resolved. What factors have caused society to become so ineffective in the face of rapid social change? The answer is not that we have run into a concrete wall that rendered our activism ineffective. It is the breaking down of all the traditional walls that skillfully coordinated and controlled the distribution of news that used to inspire us to seek social change in a constructive way. The Information Age has knocked these walls down and we are overwhelmed. What we have today is a chaotic, uncontrollable, democratic flood of information and no one to direct it. It is raw data, not honed knowledge that is informing us, and therein lies our problem.

To demonstrate my point, I often use the example of the tree falling in the forest. If no one hears it, does it really make a sound? Well, 30 years ago there were exactly three networks that could have reported on the fate of that tree, if they had enough reporters to send to the forest and if there was time in their half-hour a day news program to report on news of this type. This was real power that the media world will never see again. Today, with cellphone cameras making every person a citizen reporter, social media networks, the millions of bloggers and the thousands of 24/7 news outlets around the world, every tree in that forest has a hundred cameras on it with hi-def audio reporting its every vibration. Today, we drain ourselves emotionally every time a tree falls, leaving us with little energy for issues needing long-term perseverance. The millions of fallen trees that went unreported in the past, for better or for worse, were determined by the network elites to be the ones that drain us today. Before the information walls were knocked down, limiting the choices on what the media deemed important was crucial in building movements that forced the system to move forward. Today, we’re drowning in information, and very little seems to change.

Change has historically come in either revolutionary or evolutionary form. The former requires the weakening of the existing system by a stronger new system. The latter relies on the consciousness of leaders within the system to facilitate the change. Those realities haven’t changed much in the history of modern humanity. What has is transparency and social media have exposed the inherent pathologies in a closed system but have fallen short on providing the needed medicine for the cure, a lesson on the massive gap that exists between the aspiring values of the virtual world and those of the physical world.

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