Sea Change or Just a Ripple

On August 19, 2019, the Business Roundtable made waves in the business press and the media in general with this press release. The key paragraph reads: Since 1978, Business Roundtable has periodically issued Principles of Corporate Governance. Each version of the document issued since 1997 has endorsed principles of shareholder primacy – that corporations exist principally to serve shareholders. With today’s announcement, the new Statement supersedes previous statements and outlines a modern standard for corporate responsibility. The full “Statement on the Purpose of a Corporation” is quoted below. Americans deserve an economy that allows each person to succeed through hard work and creativity and to lead a life of meaning and dignity. We believe the free-market system is the best means of generating good jobs, a strong and sustainable economy, innovation, a healthy environment and economic opportunity for all. Businesses play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. Businesses make and sell consumer products; manufacture equipment and vehicles; support the national defense; grow and produce food; provide health care; generate and deliver energy; and offer financial, communications and other services that underpin economic growth. While each of our individual companies… Read More

Continue Reading

Pragmatism and Hope

I continue to read Rorty and have just discovered a critical link between pragmatism and hope that I missed when I ended my book, Flourishing, with a chapter on hope. At that point I was grappling with Andy Hoffman’s questions about the differences between optimism and hope. Hope can stand on its own feet, but becomes clearer when the connection to pragmatism is made. Let me start with a few lines from Rorty’s book, Philosophy and Social Hope: If there is anything distinctive about pragmatism it is that it substitutes the notion of a better human future for the notions of ‘reality’, ‘reason’ and ‘nature’. One may say of pragmatism what Novalis said of Romanticism, that it is ‘the apotheosis of the future’. For all that, Dewey was not entirely wrong when he called pragmatism ‘the philosophy of democracy’. What he had in mind is that both pragmatism and America are expressions of a hopeful, melioristic, experimental frame of mind. I think the most one can do by way of linking up pragmatism with America is to say that both the country and its most distinguished philosopher suggest that we can, in politics, substitute hope for the sort of knowledge… Read More

Continue Reading

Richard Rorty and the Right-brain

I am reading some of Richard Rorty’s work this summer. I was moved to do this by a critically paper that examined his political program. The paper, by Joshua Forstenzer, is titled, “Something Has Cracked: Post-truth Politics and Richard Rorty’s Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism.” The paper in available online from the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center’s occasional papers. The title comes from an extract from Rorty’s 1998 book, Achieving Our Country, Forstenzer uses as a prefatory note. I have filled out the quote (underlined) to reflect the full impact of the original. Edward Luttwak for example, has suggested the fascism may be the American future. The point of his book, The Endangered American Dream is that members of labor unions, and unorganized unskilled workers, will sooner or later realize that their government is not even trying to prevent wages from sinking or to prevent jobs from being exported. Around the same time, they will realize that suburban white-collar workers—themselves desperately afraid of being downsized—are not going to let themselves be taxed to provide social benefits for anyone else. At that point, something will crack. The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman… Read More

Continue Reading

Love and Care

A friend just sent me a link to a blog post discussing the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, described in the post as the “legendary Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and peace activist.” I also subscribe to this blog, Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova, but I missed this one. Almost a lost opportunity because Nhat Hanh makes a marvelous connection between love and my use of “care.” I have walked quite gingerly in writing about love because its use is likely to be misunderstood by the largely technical/professional audience for my work. But after reading this blog, I’ll not be so cautious. I ordered the book, How to Love, that is widely quoted and expect to find an even richer source. Popova quotes a number of passages, but this one is particularly meaningful for me, “understanding is love’s other name” — that to love another means to fully understand his or her suffering.” The following quote conveys a similar sense: “To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love. To know how to love someone, we have to understand them. To understand, we need to listen. His use of “understand” is virtually equivalent to the way I… Read More

Continue Reading

Literacy and Domination

I have been reading Leonard Shlain’s fascinating book, The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image. I wish I had encountered it before I had completed my now book. I have been referring to Iain McGilchrist for the last year or so as my primary source for the divided brain model, but Shlain has described the same dichotomy, using a completely different style, telling historic stories without adding any clinical data. I find his work just as compelling as McGilchrist’s. In this book, Shlain traces the many shifts between the two brain hemispheres that have occurred over human history and their consequences on human societies. His basic argument is that alphabetic languages shifted cultures to masculine, left-brain dominated behaviors from feminine, image-based, right-brain patterns. The behavioral traits he ascribes to the two side of the brain are virtually identical with those that McGilchrist identifies. I am about two-thirds through and have just as many sticky page markers jutting out as I have put in McGilchrist’s book. Shlain uses short chapters, each one describing a contrasting juxtaposition of left- and right-brain-related cultural characteristic and historic events. I am up to Chapter 32 in which he describes the horrendous… Read More

Continue Reading

Natural Fireworks

This photo was taken about an hour before we watched fireworks from our porch. It provided the real fire for the evening. The setting Moon is just visible in the upper left. We don’t get one as spectacular every night, but do have more than our share during the summer. Our cottage is on the western side of a roughly north-south peninsula, offering us a rare view of sunsets over a small piece of the Atlantic. Every year Freeport has a show that is visible from our house. The bursts come over the trees about halfway between the setting Moon and already set Sun. This year, the night was so clear that we really could see every little burst. It’s always quite a panorama with fireworks shows coming at three or four places along the western horizon. The handful of roman candles our neighbor always sets off provide a little noise, but pale in comparison to the bursts we see far off in the distance. For the last year or so, I have taken to writing sonnets, mostly about something that happened. This one followed yesterday’s July Fourth festivities. July 4, 2019 Summer is in full bloom today; The rainy,… Read More

Continue Reading

The “I” of Impeachment

Our President is fond of using the word, “I.” It is important to all of us in the US and elsewhere to understand exactly what that “I” means. It comes in two flavors. The first is personal, pointing at and completely circumscribed by the speaker’s body. This form is created, sui generis. The second arises from the institutional status of the speaker and is constrained by the deontic (obligatory) powers of the particular institution: in Trump’s case, those incumbent on the President of the United States. These are to be found in the Constitution, laws, court rulings, and established traditions. The difference is critical in determining the legitimacy of the President’s acts, including speech acts involving the use of the word, “I.” The concept of institutional facts is central to this discussion. The best source for getting to understand this concept is John Searle’s 2009 book, Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. Searle is an American philosopher, who has written extensively about language, especially speech acts. I have written a discussion about this in my forthcoming book, and extracted the following part. The quotes come from Searle’s book. Unlike brute facts that exist… Read More

Continue Reading

A Preview of My Forthcoming Book

About a year ago I gave made a presentation of my recent work on flourishing to a conference of industrial designers in Oslo. The talk was chosen to be among a handful of papers to be published in a special edition of She Ji: The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation. Don’t let the name daunt you; the paper is published in English. The paper, “Flourishing: Designing a Brave New World” follows the story-line of my coming book. It discusses the grounds for flourishing, the role of the brain hemispheres in creating our present social and environmental  precarious conditions, and some ways to change our trajectory toward a flourishing future. If you are interested you can download a pdf copy by clicking the following link: Ehrenfeld 2019 Flourishing. Designing a Brave New World While I am advertising my wares, I’ll add a podcast, Transforming the Economy through Caring: A conversation with Dr. John Ehrenfeld, that just was published on the Sustainable Century website. It’s more general, covering my personal background and critical views about how “sustainability” is being addressed.  

Continue Reading

How to Use “Sustainability” Properly

I am patiently awaiting the arrival of my new book in August. It develops the idea of flourishing far beyond my previous works and ties both the sources of our present unsustainable state and pathways to escape from future disasters to an understanding of the way the human brain works. I do not plan to write many posts elaborating these ideas until the book is out. But I was reminded that I have two other books that have led up to the story I am now telling by seeing a quote from the first, Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming our Consumer Culture on somebody’s blog. The quote was: We’ll conclude by another quotation from John R. Ehrenfeld’s book: “To be a powerful force for redesigning the present, hurting world, sustainability needs to avoid becoming just another thing to measure and manage, and instead become a word that will bring forth an image of the world as we would hope it to be.” That book was published eleven years ago, but I am afraid that the use of “sustainability” has hardly changed toward expressing that thought. Flourishing, the image that the quote evokes, has become more widely accepted… Read More

Continue Reading

For Better or Worse: Humans Are the Earth’s Keystone Species

Ruth and I watched a very moving movie last night at our local art house. “The Serengeti Rules” is a beautifully produced story of the discovery of a very important feature of ecosystems. Seen through the eyes, mouth, and work of six ecologically oriented scientists, the film focuses on the role of “keystone species” as the glue that sustains the integrity of ecosystems. The film is the work of Sean B. Carroll, himself a biological scientist. For anyone who cannot find the film, he has written a book with the same title that tells the story. Classic models of ecosystems were largely built on a hierarchical model with ascending trophic levels, beginning at the bottom with plant species that rely on solar energy and produce their own food through photosynthesis. Moving toward the top level are, first, herbivores that consume stuff from level 1; then, carnivores that eat the herbivores; and, finally, bigger carnivores (sometimes called predators) that eat the lesser ones. Seeking to understand why some rich ecosystems become barren or monocultures, Robert (Bob) Paine discovered a different kind of relation among the species in a stable, rich ecosystem. His lifework is summarized in a memoir written by his… Read More

Continue Reading