On Wednesday, March 10, 2010 I was a guest lecturer at Atenisi University in the Kingdom of Tonga. Atenisi University is an enigma in every sense. Seldom have I met people more profoundly dedicated to the cause of freeing minds for deep inquiry. Seldom have I seen students more animated when a perspective blows its way to the island kingdom that sits on the first ray of dawn each day. Nowhere is the dawn more possible than the place where every day begins first.
Now, the next three paragraphs are weighty but I ask you to indulge me them as they reflect a theme that I’ll explain later. And yes, I know that taking what I’m trying to say to heart, may mean that you need to take a couple bites at the apple. Think of it as poetry if you must…
I gave three lectures at Atenisi. The first was in Philosophy, the second in the macro-economics integral to the French Revolution, and the third in Clinical Psychology.
I hypothesized that Pythagoras’ conviction of the essence of truth manifest in numbers may have been deeply influenced by Persian moral philosophy. His attempt to forge a new understanding of humanity’s consequence in the cosmic scale may have been inspired by the stories of Cyrus the Great who stands alone in our present understanding of history as a master of tolerance and social discourse. [It is plausible that Xenophon, a soldier and student of Socrates, chose to write the Cyropaedia because of its centrality to the evolution of Greek philosophy.] I went on to suggest that the Pythagoras known to students of mathematics and philosophy has been characterized primarily by “Truth is Number” as an apology for our modern obsession with numeric reductionism. In plain English – that the only thing that matters can be counted and the only thing worth counting is expressed, in its most generic form in money. How rare it is to hear about Pythagoras’ spiritual inspiration from Orpheus, that great mythical failure who inspired his men past the Rock of the Sirens not by debating the merits of being seduced but rather, simply playing a sweeter sound.
My proposition regarding the macro socioeconomic dynamics behind the French Revolution was rather blunt. I suggested that the revolution was not as much revolution as it was a coup d'état. My thesis was built around the observation that the combined rise of Central Banks (replacing Church and Crown treasuries) and limited liability corporations needed to galvanize a public to be distracted by the opulence of the monarchy. This public furor rallied a populace while the Corporate Banking interests assumed sovereignty – an act consummated during the Napoleonic Wars and, famously, with the functional privatization of the Bank of England following Waterloo. Few historians adequately address the fact that it was the ability to levy taxes that galvanized “revolutions” and, after the revolutions, the one thing that remained more intact than ever was – you guessed it, taxation. I suggested that the faux banking crisis of 2007-2009 is, in fact, the first substantial evidence that the coup has committed the fatal seduction of coups – when the robbing of the national treasury winds up involving stealing from yourself. Now, the only thing left for central banks to do is trade with each other as they’ve become entirely detached from their underlying national economies. In short, Act I of the French Revolution is over – on to Act deux!
And in Clinical Psychology – where the discussion was on Learning – I discussed my observations that what we call learning is more accurately described as consensus patterned behavior. Building the argument around the concept of Orderly Organic Synchronization (the process of building shared consensus views on observations and inputs which support socially acceptable narratives), I pointed out that most of what we do when we educate and train is to actually encode patterns that make communication within a subset of humanity efficient while explicitly isolating those who we deem “outsiders”. In its most egregious form, we suggest that language is a means of communication failing to realize that by selecting to encode in one language, we expressly identify our audience and subconsciously exclude those who encode using different encryption.
Off to an interview with the national news in Tonga and then an evening lecture on Poverty.
Now, aren’t you glad we’re through that? So, let’s click the lens back a notch and see what is behind what I’m saying in these three “parable” lectures. And what is the message that is communicated by linking what appear to be three disparate themes. Here goes.
I’ve written before about our collective, unimaginative system of denominating “wealth” and “poverty” based on a simplistic monetary metric. Those who “have” are those with monetary wealth and disposable access to consumption. Those who don’t have access to disposable monetary resources are “poor”. We rationalize our Orderly Organic Synchronization (learning) by reinforcing this message. We “know” (because is our synchronized, accepted belief) that if a country has a small GDP, it’s poor. If a country is being robbed of its minerals and resources by those with monetary power, it’s still poor. Isn’t it ironic that many of the world’s “poorest” nations actually have much-desired resources in abundance? And isn’t it convenient that, by focusing on their absence of monetary strength (labeled as “poor”), we co-opt them into letting their resources be exploited without consideration for people, the environment or the future. The Greek philosophers who gave us our concepts of “truth” and “substance” are misapplied when they are used to rationalize behavior that counts dollars but not trees, gold, clean soil, and fresh water.
A few months ago, I worked with courageous leaders in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea to notify the Toronto Stock Exchange that one of their listed companies (New Guinea Gold, TSX:NGG) was reporting revenues of gold sales to the public while failing to disclose or pay royalties for those sales under their obligations to the nation of Papua New Guinea. Further, the subsidiary shell corporation set up by NGG in which local landowners hold partial interest, was being charged accrued debt expenses without receiving any revenue. The company pressured the local media to renounce a newspaper report of its own securities filings. And TSX Compliance did nothing. You see, apparently, Canadian securities regulators only count what their listed companies report. And shareholders, drunk on gold fever, have no knowledge, interest, or will to know that their company is operating at the expense of a country.
Now we can sit back and rationalize that, after all, Papua New Guinea is a long way away and so oversight is impractical. However, it’s not so far away as to prevent Canadian investors from misappropriating the assets of a country. You see, you can take money from Papua New Guinea gold in Toronto, but you can’t take information.
I was recently asked by a French socialist academic if I really believed that ethical capitalism is possible. In a diatribe worthy of a wooden crate in 1917 in Moscow or Paris, I was informed that labor and resources are necessarily exploited in capitalism. Really? You can’t build common wealth by engaging productive people to a mutual benefit? You can’t open the aperture to accommodate that STAKEHOLDERS (including workers, managers, and shareholders) all need to benefit if the ecosystem is to be viable in the long term? Which leads me to the coup d’état.
If, as rational human beings coexisting on this planet, we share common aspirations for sufficient living conditions in which there is enough for all and even wealth for a subset, why is it that we’ve ignored the notion of Liberty and Fraternity – the rallying energy for the Greeks, the French, and yes, present? The answer is simple. Society has manifested a fear of those who control the coin of the realm. We seem to be incapable of considering that it is the hegemony of debt-based currency which is the cow to sacred to challenge. Is the bailout of reserve banks any different then Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake”? Is Toronto’s indifference to flagrant abuses of its own ethical and legal standards any different to the tyranny of willful ignorance that plagued Versailles?
We the People, in Order to Form a More Perfect Union can actually begin operating in Liberty and Fraternity without being forced or cajoled into these ideals. In fact, I think we only get there by actually living the way we’d like to see the bigger system operate.
Start with a simple exercise. Take a look at your retirement account or your stock portfolio. Examine the companies in which you hold equity. And then, take a quick look at the company’s last quarterly filing. See the locations in which they operate and then look at the news for those locations using the company’s name in your search. For example, type the terms “SAIC” and “Greek Olympics” into a search engine. You choose your companies and see what you see. You’ll find one where to maximize profit, a city has collapsed with a plant closure so you could get your investment profit. You’ll find one where the reason why a jurisdiction is selected is because they have “favorable environmental operating conditions” which is politically correct for the ability to pollute without consequence. You’ll find one that paid fines for bribing officials in procurement efforts. And when you find that company, sell the stock. But don’t just sell it. Go on and write a letter to the investor relations manager explaining that, as a shareholder, you will no longer support what they’re doing. Then, take the proceeds of that sale – your gain – and contribute it to a cause you believe in.
You see, when you build your retirement on a foundation that includes a passivity which authorizes bad behavior, you insure that the coup persists. As soon as you start living the way you wish the world would work, little by little, you’ll help turn the tide.
So, how do we get from Cyrus and Pythagoras, to the Bastille, to Psychology, to Papua New Guinea, to Toronto, to our retirement account? Actually, quite simply. If we want “things” to “change”, we must actually begin manifesting the world we wish to see. Waiting for someone else to begin, when that is the unifying consensus of everybody, means nothing will get done.
Which is why we don’t build pyramids. We don’t build pyramids because we don’t believe that it can be done or that those people in Egypt or Meso-America could have done it. However, I know how the pyramids were built. It started with someone starting. So… let’s get started. And, by the way, a bunch of you read this blog, think big thoughts, and then go on about wishing that something could happen. So why don’t you send this blog to 25 of your closest friends, get together, and figure out how to do the exercise suggested in this post together? You never know, you might actually change your world.
P.S. If you want, you can use your blog-inspired proceeds to help Atenisi University offer more scholarships to students in Tonga. This country, while fifth from the bottom of the global country “wealth” chart, has a university that offers full tuition waivers to any citizen. If you want to make a difference, get in touch and I’ll connect you with something worth doing. Their budget could use about $80,000 to open up a whole new program in Ethical Innovation Finance.