April 1 was no joking matter for me this year. At 12:01 AM I had the opportunity to put a real price tag on my value for stewardship - it's greater than $50 million dollars. In the monotony of unconsidered capitalism, I was asked to put in jeopardy the interests of investors in one of my enterprises for great personal advantage and benefit. It would have been 'good' for my interests as I would have been in more direct line to greater monetary benefit, more influence, and less headaches from the nuisance of governance that attends a world including many inconsiderate, passive shareholders. While some of you were reading my fresh blog post in the Pacific, I was pressing 'send' on an e-mail that said "No" to an offer of a lifetime.
"And so in war; if the campaign is in the summer the general must show himself greedy for his share of the sun and the heat, and in winter for the cold and the frost, and in all labours for toil and fatigue… the princely leader and the private soldier may be alike in body, but their sufferings are not the same: the pains of the leader are always lightened by the glory that is his and by the very consciousness that all his acts are done in the public eye."
When I said "No" to a massive capital partnership, I was not diminishing the value of provisions for our enterprise. In fact, I neither rejected the money nor the party offering to fund; rather, I was rejecting the form in which it was offered. To achieve what we seek to manifest, the utility of capital is a critical component of our endeavor. Without it, the market perceives risk where little actually exists. But the idea of dishonoring those who have provisioned our enterprise to this point for the excessive benefit of the latest to arrive on the scene is beyond the pale. And, quite frankly, illogical.
Imagine a world in which you are to be trusted with the resources of others. You will be held to public and private scrutiny - success or failure. You will be asked to apply yourself each day to the productive deployment of resources for greater returns. The only catch is to start out, you must disavow pledges - actual and implied - that you've made to those who, with similar expectations, merely had the curse of preceding the present beneficiaries. Gregory Bateson sought to disentangle this paradox in his effort to explain the roots of schizophrenic pathologies in what he referred to as the "double-bind".
"I want you to be loyal," pleads the new investor, "so I want you to abandon the returns expected by all those who came before."
"But if I'm prepared to be disloyal to those who came before, how can you expect my loyalty to persist for you?"
"What I will do is place golden handcuffs on you so that you are penalized for any act of future disloyalty," the new investor stipulates.
"Than you don't seek my loyalty - you seek my indenture for which one day I will loathe my condition and you."
What on earth could be salutary in this social dynamic? I was advised that the answer is the non-answer: "That's just how the system works."
Well, on April 1, 2013, that system stopped working, at least for one instance. I said, "No."
"Now some of his scholars showed such excellent aptitudes for deception and overreaching, and perhaps no lack of taste for common money-making, that they did not even spare their friends, but used their arts on them. And so an unwritten law was framed by which we still abide, bidding us teach our children as we teach our servants, simply and solely not to lie, and not to cheat, and not to covet, and if they did otherwise to punish them, hoping to make them humane and law-abiding citizens. But when they came to manhood…, the risk was over, and it would be time to teach them what is lawful against our enemies."
Cultivate values of accountability and stewardship, loyalty and integrity through life but to succeed, be prepared to apply them selectively! Is it any wonder that we see our system in the throes of collapse with integrity failings at both great and small? Is it any wonder that remarkable abuses of law and public trust go unprosecuted when those who take oaths to uphold and defend are blissfully suckling at the tit of the treacherous?
"Many have won the very wealth they prayed for and through it have found destruction."
There are many who seek some karmic or eschatological resolution for this consensus delusion of selective accountable stewardship. For them, I am afraid that you'll find ample evidence of perpetrators of ill intent who were enriched by their treachery and who die fully sated in the life that they led. Equally, paupers' graves are filled with principled folk who took the road of morality and died ignominiously. The ends-and-means justification question is a naïve catechism. It neither informs critical moral development nor does it resolve the shrouded reality. I cannot tell you that the decision I made on April Fools Day was astute or absurd.
Here's what I can tell you. For the past six days, my life has been surrounded with dozens of remarkable people - some in disbelief - who have seen a decision taken on principle and have rallied to the notion that there is path that does not require acquiescence. Exposed at the vanguard, I have been surrounded by allies and together we press on. Bring on the sun, the heat, the cold, the frost because our toil has been lightened!
(All quotes in italics are from Xenophon's Cyropaedia)