A tweet by Umair Haque (@umairh) got me thinking about the psychology and sociology of greed. Mr. Haque is a blogger on the Harvard Business Review and author of The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business. His tweet was a disgusted response to an article in Rolling Stone magazine, The Real Housewives of Wall Street. The article points to increasing brazenness of Wall Street bankers as they skim off billions of dollars from U.S. federal bail out money. The appalling injustice can be summed up in the author’s description of the bail out program: "giving already stinking rich people gobs of money for no fucking reason at all."
Haque’s tweet asked, “Can someone please explain why Americans don't do anything about it?”
One response in particular hit a nerve: “A lot of people say "well, heck, in their position, I'd do the same."
Trying to understand alternative visions for government innovation, I was browsing through the blog at mises.org, a libertarian-oriented web site. I was inspired to respond to one post that took issue with Canada.
Ideological polarization, I would say, has been less prevalent in Canada than in the States. Yes, perhaps we're complacent about large benign government but, measured by many international metrics of personal well-being, Canadians can see that we're doing better than most, including Americans. And we take some pride in the fact that we have worked together, largely through government, to accomplish that.
Obviously, there's room for quibbling since many of our blessings come from natural resources and a giant protector and customer to the south. But the point is the giant is not invincible and now we are confronted with formidable, new natural and human challenges. Dismantling government, unions and other vehicles for cooperation in the face of those challenges just seems like naive and ineffective ideology.
The really disappointing thing I'm seeing in our current Conservative government is its willingness to arbitrarily abuse its power as if to say "See, this is why government is so bad." Just to make an ideological point. Meanwhile, fearful citizens watching Rome burn with climate change, pollution and global competition, are urged to take sides and dehumanize the enemy.
As a recovering socialist, I'm inclined to agree that government is not a panacea. But, if we're going to abandon it, I certainly want to replace it with something more effective and inspiring than "every man for himself." Sadly, though, instead of looking forward and nurturing new forms of government, businesses and social welfare, people withdraw into comfortable old ways of thinking: it`s either monolithic socialism or a dog-eat-dog free for all.
New technologies and ideas in systems thinking (and spirituality) are providing hope for the idea that our individual happiness and success will be in moving forward, not back.
I suspect, though, that reasonable people will not change their comfortable "us vs them" thinking until the global shit hits the fan. And then it will be too late. Our only hope is with unreasonable people who have the imagination, passion and courage to advocate new ways of thinking and working together.