Beyond the Wasteland: A Commonsense and Values-led Approach to Build a Compassionate World

Beyond the Wasteland: A Commonsense and Values-led Approach to Build a Compassionate World

A Paper by Kamran Mofid, Founder, Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative, Member of the WPF International Coordinating Committee, delivered at the 10th Rhodes Forum

*(This paper is dedicated to the youth of the world, our children and grand children, who are the unfolding story of the next decades: The rise of today’s youth, leading the world, with hope and wisdom for the common good, to change our troubled world for the better)

As noted by those in search of wisdom, for a very long time now, we've constructed a new world order based on our sense of separation, leading to endless wars, racism, xenophobia, oppression, gender battles, and pseudo politics and economics, to name but a few. What if, we instead, build a new world from the principles of oneness, dialogue of civilisations and consideration for the common good?

Many sages, philosophers and theologians throughout history have reminded us that there are two forces at work in society, the material and the spiritual. If either of these two is neglected or ignored they will appear to be at odds with one another: society will inevitably becomes fragmented, divisions and rifts will manifest themselves with increasing force and frequency.

It is clear that this is exactly what has happened today. We have a situation of disequilibrium and disharmony. Only the reawakening of the human spirit will save us from our own worst extremes. Physical wealth must go hand in hand with spiritual, moral and ethical wealth.

Since the collapse of the financial, banking and economic sectors, many articles, papers and books have already been written on why such scandals took place, on what went wrong. However, these analysis, by and large, are mostly on economics of the crisis and in turn suggest economic- only- solutions. But as we can most clearly see, the more economic tools are employed, the deeper the crisis have become.

Those with a more spiritual disposition, with an eye on common sense, they all agree on the role of one vital element in all these crises: dishonesty fuelled by greed. We forget at our own peril that honesty and greed are essentially spiritual and moral issues. Furthermore, they know that no part of human life can operate without these values, not least the sphere of business, education, commerce, media and government.

Perhaps it is time for us to redefine our values by acknowledging that the marketplace is not just an economic sphere, ‘it is a region of the human spirit’.

It is in this spirit that the synopsis below is offered for your reflection and contemplation.

Part I - Beyond Pessimism: A Hopeful Commonsense Journey

“He that seeks the good of the many seeks in consequence his own good.”- St. Thomas Aquinas

'UBUNTU': "I am because we are"*

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion: if you want to be happy, practice compassion”- The Dalai Lama

“The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits, whilst the businesses' sole purpose is to generate profit for shareholders” - Milton Friedman, Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences

“Businesses do not have a natural propensity to do good. What is natural for them is to minimise costs and maximise profits” - Editorial, The Economist, 24 June 1995

"The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantor of independence is profit" – James Murdoch, Chief, News Corp

Our world today is facing a multitude of crises in politics, economics, finance, banking, energy, food, environment and education, amongst others, simultaneously, resulting in much uncertainty, fear and anxiety. There is no doubt that, we should see this multitude of crises as a wakeup call to action, to see things as they are. We should search with an open mind for the wisdom we need to transform our economic system to a sustainable path, grounded in ecological reality, with respect for justice and dignity for all, and our appreciation for nature and our kinship for all living things.

Moreover, the rapid and unsustainable rise in consumerism and materialism, has seriously destroyed the fabric of society, and has catastrophically weakened the ethical, moral and spiritual dimensions of our communities. It seems, there is nothing, but, “shop till you drop” left to bind us together. In short, the world is facing a crisis of values.

What we are going through is nothing but the sheer Crisis of the Spirit and what we desperately are longing and craving for is: The Search for Meaning & Meaningfulness, Stability & Sustainability, Contentment & the Common Good; a time for Spiritual Awakening.

In this respect, the following words and sentiment by a young German executive rings so true: “Now it's all about Productivity, Pay, Performance and Profit- the four Ps- which is fuelled by the three Fs: Fear, Frustration and Failure. Just sometimes I wish that in the midst of these Ps (& Fs), there was some time left for another set of four Fs: Families, Friends, Festivals and Fun.”

Given the observation above, the following remark rings so true:

The Dalai Lama was once asked what surprised him most, he said "Man.” Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived."

Therefore, a fundamental reappraisal of our place in Reality is urgently called for in order to break the iron grip of materialism, consumerism, selfishness, greed and individualism, thus freeing ourselves to lead a life with heart and soul; halting the ongoing process of dehumanisation in modern, consumerist society, enabling and empowering us to control the immense forces now held in frail human hands.

The current multitude of global crises provides a unique opportunity to chart an alternative to the complicit collusion of central states and free markets that characterise liberal political economy today. From this perspective, the proposed shift of focus from a self-interested pursuit of power or wealth (or both at once) to the quest for the common good should open the way for transforming modern economics, economy, business, education, society and community.

Part II - Change Is Needed and the Time Is Now

Modern economics assumes that human beings are fundamentally self-interested, and have no regard on the impact of their decisions on others, as long as the “number one: me, me, I, I” is cared for. Here, it is my firm intention to challenge that assumption.

In this respect, the brain physiology research of leading evolutionary neuroscientists has important implications for human economic motivation. As it has been noted, humans have two dominant motivations: 1) ego or self-interest and 2) empathy or other-interest, which our brains attempt to balance. This view is clearly important and at odds with mainstream economics in which self-interest is the dominant motivation.

I wish to argue that economic and business decisions impact many aspects of our lives, whilst they also raise important moral and ethical concerns which call into question what it is to be a human being. I will argue that decision-makers (contrary to what is mostly practiced today) need also to concern themselves with the world of heart, mind and spirit.

Moreover, I wish to present my thoughts in an easy-to-read and jargon-free style. I see my role as that of a storyteller in a heart-to-heart dialogue and conversation with the reader — nothing less, nothing more. We are facing some major crises. For me, the answers lie in simplicity. No need to complicate matters more. It is all of those impossible-to-understand theories and devices that have brought the neoliberal house of capitalism down, and we need not make the same mistake.

Therefore, it is time to be contemplative and take action for social justice, of which sustainable economics and business for the common good are an essential part.

The time is now to begin to work for a new paradigm, where collective outcomes are not from individuals pursuing their individual greed but from communities whose individual members work collectively for the common good. This I will call our Promised Land, a land of hope, vision, and inspiration, enabling us all to move from despair to hope, darkness to light, and competition to cooperation.

Steps to the Promised Land

Here are steps we can follow to the Promised Land.

1 - Begin a journey of self-rediscovery

In order to heal ourselves, our Mother Earth, to propose solutions to global crises of business, economics, ecology, education and more, we must learn, once again, The Art of Living in a loving and caring World. We cannot begin this journey, without, first and foremost, finding inner-peace and contentment ourselves first. We should acknowledge that a truly genuine and sustainable world is grounded in what is most valuable in life: love, meaningful relationships, family, friendship, well-being, contentment, freedom, sufficiency, comradeship, volunteerism, altruism, cooperation, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, non-violence, sympathy and empathy.

We must reorient economics, business and the world of education and work towards a truly meaningful and value-based development of human well-being, in balance with the well-being of nature, not simply the pursuit of unbridled economic growth, consumerism and materialism. The world of autistic economics and business must change and only then we can claim that we are genuinely pursuing a wealth creation model that is providing for the well-being and the good life for the good of all.

2 - Admit that modern economics and neo-liberalism have failed us

"THE WISDOM OF Socrates was famously summarised as his ability to know that he knew nothing. So in modern times he would probably be an economist. Few saw the credit crunch coming. Since it arrived, opinions as to the severity of its consequences, its effects on different nations and the prescriptions to remedy them have varied wildly"... “Put your trust in Socrates, not economists”, Editorial, The Observer, 16 August 2009

I wish to suggest that now is the time to acknowledge the failures of current economic models and theories, as well as the narrowness of market fundamentalism. The times demand a revolution in economic thought, as well as new ways of teaching economics, business and management, amongst others. In many respects this means a return to the soil in which economics was initially born, moral philosophy and ethics amid issues and questions of broad significance involving the fullness of human existence.

To begin this process, I suggest the following:

3 - Begin a Journey to Wisdom

The Times, 8 March 2011

Ethics boys

Sir, Around 1991 I offered the London School of Economics a grant of £1 million to set up a Chair in Business Ethics. John Ashworth, at that time the Director of the LSE, encouraged the idea but had to write to me to say, regretfully, that the faculty had rejected the offer as it saw no correlation between ethics and economics. Quite. Lord Kalms, House of Lords

We should acknowledge that economics and business should be all about human well-being in society and that this cannot be separated from moral, ethical and spiritual considerations, in a sharp contrast to the views of the so-called “great” modern economic minds at the so-called “great” places of teaching and learning, such as the LSE (see above).

The idea of an economics which is value-free is totally false. Nothing in life is morally neutral. In the end, economics cannot be separated from a vision of what it is to be a human being in society. In order to arrive at such understanding, my first recommendation is for us to begin a journey to wisdom, by embodying the core values of the Golden Rule (Ethic of Reciprocity): “Do unto others as you would have them to do to you”. This in turn will prompt us on a journey of discovery, giving life to what many consider to be the most consistent moral teaching throughout history. It should be noted that the Golden Rule can be found in many religions, ethical systems, spiritual traditions, indigenous cultures and secular philosophies.

Another necessary step in this journey to wisdom, which is complimentary to the Golden Rule, is to discover, promote and live for the Common Good.

Renewing our faith in the universal character of human values, whilst directing the decision-making path towards the Common Good must now be placed at the heart of all we do. Look all around you, after decades of pursuing the values of neo-liberalism such as individualism, selfishness, egotism, greed, consumerism, and materialism-to name but a few- and the subsequent and consequent outcomes-financial collapse, ecological degradation, lower morals, higher corruption and nepotism, etc, etc- can you see any alternative but pursuing the Common Good?

The theological and philosophical origins and sources of the common good are indeed very well documented. As it has been observed, the common good is an old idea with new-found vitality in the global public discourse. Its direct lineage includes philosophers, theologians, and statesmen from various ethical traditions. Debates about the common good allow participation by diverse schools of thought and provide a unique opportunity to build the broad political will necessary to meet today’s international moral obligations.

For our purpose and intentions we can define the Common Good as:

“Widely beneficial outcomes that are never preordained but instead arrived at through mindful leadership and active following”. These outcomes involve a “regime of mutual gain; a system of policies, programs, laws, rules, and norms that yield widespread benefits at reasonable costs and taps people’s deepest interest in their own well-being and that of others”.

In short, the principle of the common good reminds us that we are all really responsible for each other – we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers - and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realize their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well being of the whole human family.

4 - Now is the Time for a Revolution in Economic Thought

“The market establishes a system of human relations in which order, prosperity, peace, and even happiness can be achieved by people who don't care at all about one another's well-being...Instead of depending on informal personal contact between intimate friends, lovers, and family members, the market depends upon impersonal, formal contract between vast numbers of interchangeable buyers and sellers. In all of these ways, the market system economizes on love, a human quality that is presumably in short supply." - Barry Schwartz, “The costs of living: how market freedom erodes the best things in life”

Here I am guided by the wisdom of Keynes who once remarked that the only things that have value in themselves are love, beauty and the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, the focus of economics should be on the benefit and bounty that the economy produces, on how to let this bounty increase, and how to share the benefits justly among the people for the common good, removing the obstacles that hinder this process. Above all else the purpose of the economy is to provide basic human needs as well as the means of establishing, maintaining, and nurturing human relationships while dealing justly with future generations (Sustainability) and ethically with all life on earth (Ecological Balance).

Moreover, economic investigation should be accompanied by research into subjects such as anthropology, philosophy, theology, politics, ecology, environment, and ethics, to give insight into our own human mystery, as no economic theory or no economist can say who we are, where have we come from or where we are going to. All human beings and all species must be respected as part of the web of life and not relegated to narrow short term economic interests, commodification, or exploitation, as has been the case for the past many long decades.

5 - We must become Bridge-builders and encourage a Dialogue of Civilisations

We must undertake the task of building a bridge between East and West. We must encourage a dialogue of civilisations, cultures and faiths. We must encourage a multi-disciplinary approach to problem solving. Above all, our paths must be to unite love and intellect. This, in my view, can be a great path of dialogue between East and West, and between “the modern” and the indigenous or aboriginal. Pursuing such a dialogue will lead to a more relevant and true economic model, in harmony with the deepest human values.

In addition, the so called modern world (both East and West) has much to learn from the spiritual and cultural values of the worlds many indigenous peoples, both past and present. There exists much wisdom among the indigenous, containing lessons in sharing and equality and justice which can help draw ‘modern’ people into engagement with the deeper realities of their own dominant cultures. Also, people who live close to the earth, who possess an earth-based spirituality typically view themselves as part of nature, part of the earth, part of a community of species as well as being part of the human community.

Among the indigenous peoples not only do human beings derive tremendous benefits (physical, psychological, and spiritual) from nature, but all the elements of nature, (people, animals, plants, forest, rocks and streams) are regarded as living beings to be respected, reverenced, and to be in relationship with. These are the types of insights the world needs today in order to construct an environmental ethic which will allow us to enable an abundant flourishing of biodiversity on earth not only because we benefit from such diversity but also because it is right and moral.

In all, it is now clear that, capitalism for the 21st century needs a fundamentally renewed morality to underpin it, urgently requiring a new and more relevant definition of a value-based “Bottom Line”, to which I turn below.

6 - Now is the Time for a new definition of the “Bottom Line”

We should acknowledge that the new bottom line must not be all about economic and monetary targets, profit maximisation and cost minimisation, but it should involve spiritual, social and environmental consideration. When practiced under these values, then, the business is real, viable, sustainable, efficient and profitable.

Therefore, the New Bottom Line that we should tell the students now could read as follow:

“"Corporations, government policies, our educational, legal and health care practices, every institution, law, social policy and even our private behaviour should be judged 'rational', 'efficient', or 'productive' not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (The Old Bottom Line) but ALSO to the extent that they maximize love and caring, kindness and generosity, ethical and ecological behaviour, and contribute to our capacity to respond with awe, wonder and radical amazement at the grandeur and mystery of the universe and all being."

7 - Now is the Time for Globalisation for the Common Good (GCG)

We must recognise that our economic problems are closely linked to our spiritual problems and vice versa. Moreover, socio-economic justice, peace and harmony will come about only when the essential connection between the spiritual and practical aspects of life is valued. Necessary for this journey is to discover, promote and live for the common good. The principle of the common good reminds us that we are all really responsible for each other – we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers – and must work for social conditions which ensure that every person and every group in society is able to meet their needs and realize their potential. It follows that every group in society must take into account the rights and aspirations of other groups, and the well-being of the whole human family.

However, discovering common ties among varying belief systems is hardly the most arduous part of bridging religious, ethnic, and geographical divides. The greater challenge is to apply the ideas of the global common good to practical problems and forge common solutions. Translating the contentions of philosophers and religious scholars into agreement between policymakers and nations is the task of statesmen and citizens, a challenge to which Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) has adhered itself to, the purpose is not simply talking about the common good, or simply to have a dialogue, but the purpose is to take actions, to make the common good and dialogue to work for all of us, benefiting us all.

Guided by the principles of hard work, commitment, volunteerism and service; with a great passion for dialogue of cultures, civilisations, religions, ideas and visions, at an international conference in Oxford in 2002 the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) and the GCGI Annual International Conference Series were founded.

What the GCGI seeks to offer- through its scholarly and research programme, as well as its outreach and dialogue projects- is a vision that positions the quest for economic and social justice, peace and ecological sustainability within the framework of a spiritual consciousness and a practice of open-heartedness, generosity and caring for others. All are thus encouraged by this vision and consciousness to serve the common good.

The GCGI has from the very beginning invited us to move beyond the struggle and confusion of a preoccupied economic and materialistic life to a meaningful and purposeful life of hope and joy, gratitude, compassion, and service for the good of all.

Perhaps our greatest accomplishment has been our ability to bring Globalisation for the Common Good into the common vocabulary and awareness of a greater population along with initiating the necessary discussion as to its meaning and potential in our personal and collective lives.

In short, at Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative we are grateful to be contributing to that vision of a better world, given the goals and objectives that we have been championing since 2002. For that we are most grateful to all our friends and supporters that have made this possible.

And in conclusion I invite you to share a common belief in the potential of each one of us to become self-directed, empowered, and active in defining this time in the world as opportunity for positive change and healing and for the true formation of a culture of peace by giving thanks, spreading joy, sharing love, seeing miracles, discovering goodness, embracing kindness, practicing patience, teaching moderation, encouraging laughter, celebrating diversity, showing compassion, turning from hatred, practicing forgiveness, peacefully resolving conflicts, communicating non-violently, choosing happiness and enjoying life

Ubuntu in the Xhosa Culture Means “I Am because We Are”

I would like to close with a story that illustrates “common good” to perfection: An anthropologist proposed a game to children in an African tribe. He put a basket of fruit near a tree and told the children that whoever got there first would win the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats. When he asked them why they had run like that, since one of them could have had all the fruits for himself, they said: “Ubuntu, how can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?”

Biographical information:

Kamran Mofid is founder of the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative and a member of the International Coordinating Committee of the World Public Forum “Dialogue of Civilizations.” In 1986 he received his doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham, UK. Mofid’s work is highly interdisciplinary, and his writings have appeared in leading scholarly journals, popular magazines, and newspapers. His books include The Economic Consequences of the Gulf War, Globalisation for the Common Good, and Promoting the Common Good.

(This paper is the edited and expanded version of my oral presentation at the Forum)