Industrialized nations face a humanistic challenge -- big debts, stalled or slow growth, maybe for years to come. Yet, promises and obligations remain.
A while back, I watched an interview with Mortimer Adler. One of many interviews and writings, covering topics such as justice, truth, beauty and much more.
Mortimer Adler was an American philosopher, best remembered for editing the Great Books of Western Civilization. I was particularly struck by what Adler said at the end of this interview which derived from a quote of his:
"Everyone is called to one common human vocation -- that of being a good citizen and a thoughtful human being... -- and that, to discharge the obligation common to all human beings, schooling should be essentially humanistic..."
Too old-fashioned? Or, is there a take-away here?
Well, let's take a look. Humanistic means keeping the interests and welfare of others in mind. If we're taught the humanistic, it's likely that we'd aspire to integrate this into our professional lives and lives at large. After all, we seek coaches and mentors for just about everything else.
Take the late Czech President Vaclav Havel as an example of a "good citizen." He was a moral voice and beacon of hope for many.
He notes that:
"Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance...."
Havel called it as he saw it, using artistic expression to carry a message to millions.
...he wished to be taken then and afterwards not as a president but as an artist and, in certain engaging moods, even as an eternal student...The thrust of his later writings and speeches was that Communism had made everyone morally ill, or "spiritually impoverished," in another phrase of his, and it was humanity's task to recover what had been forfeited.
Stay with me -- I'll tie it together.
Recently, I watched the movie The Artist -- the story of a male silent movie star (who falls upon hard times when silent films transition to voice) and a rising female star in the new talkie medium. At the time, few silent movie stars were able to make the transition from silent movies to voice as audiences wanted new faces.
There's more to this movie though. It's a story about the transforming power of will and love, love's power to find a new way, a common ground. Two stars from two eras come together to create a new artistic expression where both the old and new co-exist as one in a different way.
The Artist, Havel and Adler come at it from different angles, yet they convey a common message -- doing our part, thinking "outside the box" -- even calling out absurdity or incongruity in our midst.
Now, let's back up a bit.
Last February, SEC chairwoman Mary Schapiro said that the agency doesn't have enough money to satisfactorily police Wall Street or draft new regulations required by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.
Did we resolve the fundamental problems that led to the financial crisis? What does regulation mean without implementation? Was all of Wall Street the problem or specifically leadership or the way the financial system was allowed to evolve with no restraint?
Banks remain dangerously large, banking dangerously concentrated and activity risky.
Take too the MF Global bankruptcy and alleged missing 1.2 billion in customer funds.
....in late 2010, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission proposed changing one of its regulations, known as Rule 1.25, to restrict firms like MF Global from investing their customers' funds in risky sovereign debt. But Jon Corzine, then CEO of MF Global, and his team vigorously fought the change, meeting several times with CFTC Chairman Gary Gensler to express their opposition, claiming that the proposed revision would restrict the firm's profits. The CFTC temporarily postponed the change.
Déjà vu, reminiscent of Brooksley Born's thwarted attempt to regulate derivatives years ago.
Then this just recently -- "Japan and China will promote direct trading of the yen and yuan without using dollars."
As a backdrop, note the growth in "the wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents." Note too the eye-popping 2011 "too big to fail" bank chief bonuses amidst high U.S. unemployment, rising poverty and foreclosures, alleged bank foreclosure fraud too. "Too big to fail" bank stock prices ended largely down for the year.
So back to plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (the more things change the more they stay the same).
...banks love the perks that come with being too big to fail. They will lobby shamelessly to hang on to their riskiest businesses and stay perilously large. No surprise, really. A heads-we-win, tails-the-taxpayers-lose model has a lot going for it, at least for executives atop these institutions.
I believe Havel used the term Absurdistan to describe incongruity.
It is "humanity's task to recover what has been forfeited." And like The Artist (where two created a new form of artistic expression) -- to pair a free market enterprise system with a humanistic approach.
After all, where has and is profit at any cost leading us to?
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