On Freedom and Responsibility
in Business in the United States
This country was founded by people who were into the philosophers
and political thinkers of the day. One notable philosopher
that influenced them was John Locke. Locke was a daring writer
of his day, developing a philosophy which justified why those
in his calls (who had some money and education) deserved the
freedom to be able to make money and participate in civil
society as equals – at that time, if you weren't of
the aristocracy or nobility, you didn't count. So the freedom
Locke was calling for made a lot of sense to many in England.
His thoughts were considered so subversive that he had to
publish much of his writings anonymously.
The founding fathers were influenced by Locke's ideas, and
the general idea that all should have freedom to participate
in society, in commerce and the competition to freely buy
land (or purloin it from the indigenous population).
In any case, this concept of Freedom was enshrined in the
Constitution and the American psyche.
Freedom to engage in commerce, and freedom to give the English
the boot. Made sense at the time.
Today, the society takes Freedom as its primary principle.
Although this concept has been used to create greater equality
in the U.S. – appealed to by Martin Luther King, etc.
– it is not sufficient as a general principle.
As Emanuel Levinas points out time and again, the principle
of freedom is lacking. Freedom can be (and often is) interpreted
as freedom to be as acquisitive as possible, freedom to get
one’s own way, freedom to push others out of the way,
freedom to invade other countries (in order to give them a
taste of the wonderful essence of freedom) and so on …
Where is the notion of responsibility? Responsibility for
the other. A caring for the other.
Maybe if the U.S. adopted this principle, seriously, alongside
its notion of freedom, then the plight of the people in New
Orleans, living near poorly maintained levees, will be considered
BEFORE the floods hit. Maybe then the security at airports
won’t be dished out to incompetent and greedy companies
who aim to make as much money as possible by exploiting their
workers as much as possible – contracts awarded, no
doubt, by a politician with his hand out for contributions
from those awarded that ridiculous contract.
Money and profit may be important motivators to do better,
but the untrammeled rush to make money by any means possible
– including giving large “donations” to
favored (and not very bright) politicians who will agree to
do your bidding once in office …. Shouldn’t that
be regarded as criminal?
I noticed several of David Nadler’s points (in his
article in Harvard Business Review and in his recent talk
at our Institute) concerning consulting to CEOs were ethical
ones, rather than psychological ones!
Maybe America needs more thoughtful philosophers? For this
day. Who guides the present administration? The likes of Fukuyama,
who with the complex justification (appealing to Hegel and
Marx, etc.) for his “End of history” and “Last
man” ideas provides the intellectual backing for the
neo-conservative arguments that democracy must be brought
to the Arabs – until they see the error of their ways,
and the right-ness of ours.
But all is not lost. We DO have thoughtful thinkers, consultants,
psychoanalysts, anthropologists, certain religious figures,
etc. who do see the problems of freedom-as-license-to-do-whatever-the-f..k-we-want
for the future of this country.
What can be done? Keeping up the conversation is perhaps
the beginning of being responsible (i.e. responding).
I hope we hear from others on this issue.
In love and peace,
© Copyright, Murray Gordon, Living Philosophy, murray@LivingPhilosophy.org