Sunday, January 29, 2017

Alternate Facts: I’m RIGHT…right?


Just a quick observation:  I’m deeply intrigued at the number of people who occupied Wall Street, protested the secrecy which shrouded the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and railed against Guantanamo who are now longing for the murderous call-it-terror-so-you-can-drone-execute-it regime of President Obama.  Giving him the aspirational Nobel Peace prize only to see the expansion of citizen surveillance, contracted murder by remote control, and other horrific acts of treachery hardly validates those who now lament the transparent inhumanity of the Trump Administration.  The America that Trump promised to “Make Great” is an America that is illiterate, Evangelical, and “believes” as their primary source of moral confidence.  When the Prince of Peace is white, white-robed, wearing the 70s hippy length hair or nailed to a cross – it’s no surprise that his sycophants will celebrate the denial of human rights to brown-skinned immigrants from Palestine who were trained in Egyptian schools!  Tragically, if you get this last line as a joke, you’re admitting a literacy that most of the Trump electorate will find too complex to grasp.

I grew up in a world of RIGHT.  There was a RIGHT way to think, act, live, engage in the world.  And RIGHT was curiously defined by the selective application of Biblical literalism… almost.  Never mind that the Bible itself was codified by the same church that declared modern-day Evangelicals heretics and burned them at the stake, drowned them in rivers, and subjected them to being drawn and quartered.  But “divine inspiration” – the same justification that fuels all modern fear-based inhumanity – somehow makes this group of white men sitting in the Mediterranean breezes RIGHT.  I could be told the “truth” at church on Sunday about imaginary rules made up by a zealot but would be punished for lying about what I saw or imagined.  RIGHT had to be enforced through violence, separation, and isolation. 

To say I didn’t fit in is the understatement.  I was advised against living the way I chose to live.  I was warned about the evils of associating with the WRONG people.  And off I went and did it anyway.  And against the backdrop of RIGHT, I’ve just crossed a WRONG chasm of my religious upbringing from which there’s no return.  I’ve spent the last year formalizing my several year estrangement and separation from my wife of nearly 30 years – a process now finally, mercifully completed.  Ironically, I am doing the “RIGHT” thing by doing the “WRONG” thing rightly!  Countless women have surrounded the woman I loved and have encouraged her to “stand up for herself” and not tolerate my behavior.  Ironically, none of these women – nor any but a few men – saw the life I gave in service to a person who I chose to love and protect.  What’s RIGHT is their indignation.  And now her friends have the facts they need to be RIGHT!  I’m the man that “left”.  That’s all her lawyer and her friends need to know despite her reported vain efforts to explain that they may not be integrating all the facts.  Whether it’s the perversion of divorce or the building of a wall on the Mexico border – the certitude that comes with RIGHT encourages the mindless acquiescence to a consensus of fear, pain, and separation.  No dialogue required – we “know” what is RIGHT.

Being RIGHT always comes at a cost.  By definition RIGHT dictates a duality in which someone or something “else” is “wrong”.  RIGHT is incapable of surviving on its own as it takes energy to maintain the vigilance around those who would challenge or the evidence that would contradict.  Not surprisingly, RIGHT invites conflict with others who hold their alternative views of RIGHT.  I’ve been intrigued at how many narratives of all-powerful divinities apparently need ardent zealots to keep their worship obsessions sated and their egos inflated enough to stay at their helium-induced remoteness.  And RIGHT conveniently obviates the need for that inefficiency called thoughtful conversation and dialogue.  RIGHT also extinguishes the impulse to gratitude.  Because with RIGHT comes its evil step-child, EXPECTATION.  When the “right thing to do” becomes the “expected thing”, callous neglect for humanity is just around the corner.

Donald Trump’s exercise of Executive Order is precisely what adherents to RIGHT desire.  It’s far easier to have dictatorial paternalism than to engage in the messiness of thoughtful inquiry.  However, like so many sociopaths before, Donald Trump is playing his hand too fast.  Because mobs of the RIGHT can get down-right vicious when they stop being pandered to by their overlord.  “Hail Messiah” can become “Crucify” in about 3 days, I think.  Abortion and immigration in one week?  Seriously!  This should have been a first 100-days gig – not a first week.   Because before long, President Trump is going to have to start doing things that are WRONG.  When is an ex-wife or girlfriend going to do the tell-all (maybe even including a salacious abortion story)?  Does anyone actually believe that a paid non-disparagement is anything other than the opening bid for a publisher?  And when he does, the knives that will be sharpened on his hate-filled friction may very well turn against him.  The half-life of RIGHT is only as long as it satiates the ravenous appetite for hatred, fear, and a sense of disempowered victimization.  But like every other parasite, RIGHT will consume its host and by the time the host knows it’s been had, it moves on leaving an empty shell behind. 

What does the notion of RIGHT have to do with the economy?  Well, the answer is quite simple.  Economies are built on the exchange of value and, at its core, or modern sense of economic value relies on “a willing buyer and willing seller being informed of all the facts.”  Now, to be certain, no one reading this blog has been fully informed.  We know, for example, if you are reading this on an Apple device (computer or iPhone) that the metals contained in your product may be sourced from areas of active genocide as Apple continues to enjoy the dubious commitment not to sign pledges to source metals ethically.  And frankly, if you are among my Apple-using friends, you probably don’t give a shit about that!  You can be informed and, even with the information, you don’t care that a 12-year-old is packing an AK-47 and learning to rape and maim so that you can have longer battery life and faster video!  You can watch Oliver Stone’s Snowden and be indifferent that Google and Facebook are overtly and covertly used by the CIA and countless clandestine organizations to map and target you as a potential threat as long as you get “free wi-fi” at Starbucks.  In the interest of saving a buck, you’re willing to shop at Walmart paying no heed to the carnage it has done to local community businesses.  And frankly, informing yourself would actually take effort, time, and discernment.  After all, how do you know what is RIGHT?  Am I right?

Let me propose an alternative narrative.  I’ve spent my life traveling the world connecting people who didn’t have the means or the opportunity to connect.  From the steppes of Mongolia to leprosy communities in Nepal, from volcanic ridges in Papua New Guinea to sweltering monsoons in India, from laboratories in Moscow to Presidential palaces in Iran, I’ve been able to carry perspective around the world and from that weave an elastic, resilient network of humanity.  Vodka bottles became greenhouses, torpedo tubes became essential oil distillation chambers, nuclear technologies were transformed into medical diagnostics not because it was the RIGHT thing to do.  It was the suitable thing to do in a fully informed context.  That fully-informed context could only be accessed by genuinely loving and respecting the divergence perspectives that make life interesting. 

What I found on that journey is that in every instance where my life has made an impact – it’s never been because I was RIGHT.  It’s because I was there and in fellowship with others who were also there.  Whether its Trump and his wall or a divorce lawyer and her defense of a woman against me – I’m equally un-phased.  Both survive when they’re fed fear.  Both thrive on “alternate facts”.  And neither can evidence a better world rendered by their actions.  Thankfully, I have been privileged to see the fruit borne of a different approach.  One that presumes that eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is just eating fruit!  Talking snakes and fiery sword-wielding angels are merely distractors to see if we’ll fall for the binary illusion.  Trees are just trees.  Gardens include weeds.  And being naked doesn’t mean that anyone has to be ashamed.  When you start your cosmology with an imposed lie of separation being RIGHT is the only solace you can hope for.  But it’s an itchy fig leaf and it makes your bits scratchy.  I’ll choose life’s alternate facts.


Saturday, January 14, 2017

In Memoriam: Homage to Martin Luther King, Jr.


“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change.  Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions.  But today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and face the challenge of change.  The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood.  Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.” 

“We must work passionately and indefatigably to bridge the gulf between our scientific progress and our moral progress.  One of the great problems of mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance.  The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.” 

“Every man lives in two realms, the internal and the external.  The internal is that realm of spiritual ends expressed in art, literature, morals, and religion.  The external is that of complex devices, techniques, mechanisms and instrumentalities by means by which we live.  Our problem today is that we have allowed the internal to become lost in the external.  We have allowed the means by which we live to outdistance the ends for which we live.”

-        Martin Luther King, Jr.  Where Do We Go From Here:  Chaos or Community, pg. 172-173. 1967.

Social responsibility – today’s sterilized proxy for morality – has become a euphemism for the celebration of not doing what shouldn’t have been done in the first place.  In a world defined by Kellogg School of Management’s Alfred Rappaport and GE’s Jack Welch’s perversion of “shareholder value” – the notion that enterprise should seek to maximize the distribution of wealth from effort to the rentier of capital – it’s no surprise that exceptional behavior is to acquiesce to the notion that enterprise may not harm at the margins and be thus acknowledged as “responsible”.  Gone is a standard that presumes that, at its core, human endeavor could be built with an exoenergetic-moral structure in which accretive human value is the core mandate for endeavors and that premium non nocere (Do No Harm) is the standard rather than the marginal exception. 

Together with my colleagues Bob Kendall, Charles Way, Lee Evans, Pam Cole, Colleen Martin, Aditya Bindra, and Hayden Luse, my inaugural efforts to form America’s first large cap Diversity Fund have been quite informative.  We’ve encountered numerous groups who trade on diversity as a moniker for inclusion.  I was intrigued when I read the criteria for Thomson Reuters’ Diversity & Inclusion Index.  Diversity & Inclusion scores favor companies with: a) fewer discrimination, harassment, wage or other published controversies; b) diverse employment meaning percentage of women employed and gender and ethnic board diversity; c) existence of policies for inclusion of flexible working hours and environments for persons with family, health or disability needs; and, d) inclusive training programs.  All 24 variables are laudable and basic.  But at no point does the D&I Index achieve a value accretive social outcome to advance humanity.  It simply states that companies would be well served to recognize humans as humans (tragically necessary, but not value accretive).  Now, the great news is that the Thomson Reuter’s D&I Index has modeled performance indicating the top 100 companies that score highly on their rating also out-perform their large cap broad market index.  In short, being human outperforms operating in callous disregard for humans.

And this is an important step forward.  I applaud Thomson for using their platform to promote humanity.  On September 29, 2016 I wrote a post Racism in America – Let JusticeRoll Down.  In it I discussed our formation of an investment fund that would carry forward our long-standing work around getting serious about racial dissonance in America.  What we’re seeking to do with our PB Diversity product is to invest in companies that are building Diversity owned and managed businesses.  And as our fund manager itself is also diversity owned and managed (women and minorities across the organization), we are living the same values we promote. 

We’re taking a step beyond the notion that the absence of bad behavior is a cause for celebration or accolade.  Our commitment is to invest in companies who source at least 10% of their supply chain from minority owned companies.  This acknowledges that value – to have its direct impact on the social challenges we face – must flow beyond discretionary employment and must include flowing capital to businesses which in turn employ diverse people and serve traditionally economically disadvantaged communities.  In short, we want the purpose for which we live to be more important than the means which we accumulate.


As we mark the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his notion that humanity needs to find a way to end the scourge of corporate sanctioned racism, it’s worth noting that U.S. Obama Administration’s EXIM Bank supported Exxon-Mobil LNG project in Papua New Guinea’s death toll rose again this week.  The Melanesian landowner’s issue – the non-payment of royalties due them by Exxon.  And while millions on social media “stood” with Standing Rock, there’s no Facebook campaign, no sit-ins, no public conversation about these deaths of real people.  For what reason?  Because they’re too far away to count and they’re invisible.