For the Week of November 6, 2006
This will be my last Clue before the 2006 election. Unlike years past, I make no predictions. I might jinx things.
Instead I want to discuss a political issue that goes beyond politics, ethics.
I was angered recently when, after former Enron head Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to jail, TV reporters said that he had "ethical problems." He didn't. He broke the law.
Maybe it's just another case of Republican projection, but we have heard a lot of crap these last decades from that side accusing Democrats of having "situational ethics." Again, the claims made against Republican officials today aren't about ethics – they're violations of the law.
Ethics is different. Having ethics means you don't even approach law-breaking. It means you avoid the appearance of law-breaking. Certainly it's not against the law to cheat on your spouse. Ethical people (those who try to practice high ethics in their lives) know that if they did cheat, at least one person would know – they would. And this stays them.
The same is true with financial matters. Fiduciary responsibility means more than not breaking the law. It means avoiding any situation where it might appear, later, that you were even thinking of going there. It requires you to go the extra mile and show transparency in all your dealings, to put the interests of those who've given you this responsibility – shareholders, policy-holders, savers – first.
It extends to all forms of management. Harry Truman's sign that "The Buck Stops Here" meant he would take responsibility for things he did not do. Any manager or politician who tries to lay-off bad actions on underlings violates this ethical principle.
My son's school is planning on creating an Honor Code. We had an honor code at Rice, when I went to school there. It's a good thing to have. But it has no value if it's only policed, even by those who are covered by it. It only makes sense if everyone polices themselves, if everyone becomes convinced that violating the code, even appearing to violate the code, will stain their very soul. Because it will.
One reason I think we've lost our ethical bearings this decade is that we've lost the idea of satiation. For every rock star or business tycoon who chooses to give of themselves, or to give away their fortune, there are 1,000 or more who are going around buying ever-bigger boats, ever-bigger homes, ever-gaudier parties and trips for themselves. Sometimes they even make fun of the selfless ones – that's the whole point of Forbes Magazine.
Why do they do this? Because they are taught by society – by Republican society – that they should never be satisfied with what they have, that they should always want more. That going for "it all" is somehow ethical. And so those who are fortunate to find success in life do just that, they go for more.
They're like dogs, really, who will eat-and-eat-and-eat until they die if you let them. No, they're worse than dogs. Dogs, as they fill their bellies, share their food with other dogs. These bastards don't.
Instead they defend Paris Hilton's fortune and march against the "death tax." Instead they argue against any taxation of income and call that the "fair tax." Fair to them, no one else. There's a lack of ethics deep in their political souls.
Beyond the idea of satiation, having ethics also requires that you consider the interests of the larger society, of your fellow man, of the greater good. If you only care about yourself, you don't have ethics. Ayn Rand did not have ethics – she turned the whole idea on its head and called that ethics. It's bullshit.
But here's the big thing about ethics. It's practiced in secret. It's private. It is truly your choice. If an oppressive government is restricting your movements, or forcing you to give up all your money, you're not practicing ethics – you're just oppressed.
Ethics comes into play only when you have a choice. It's whether you tell yourself the truth about yourself – and many people don't.
When my 15-year old son gets into an argument, for instance, his ethical sense can go out the window. Right or wrong cease to matter. Winning the argument is all that matters. So he will lie about what he just said, lie about what he just did. Until he has the time to reflect on what happened. Then he will apologize and try to learn.
Republicans – today's Republicans – don't do that. The Thesis of Conflict is based on continuing, unrelenting anger. Anger at the other, the gay, the black, the female, the young, the Muslim, the Communist, the Democrat. The opponent. Which leads to seeking the destruction of the other, and in that the destruction of the self. Without that anger they're lost. It's the ethics of the cornered beast. And you can't live that way, as Mark Foley found out. As the writers of Seinfeld wrote a decade ago, "Serenity now. Insanity later."
The thesis of conflict made some internal sense 40 years ago, when middle-class values were truly under attack by young people, when the "Second World" of Russia and China did in fact seem to have more people in it than the "First World" of America and her closest allies. But with the fall of the Wall all those enemies were defeated. Yet the anger went on, always seeking new enemies within and without.
The thesis, in a word, lacked ethics.
However you decide to vote tomorrow, I ask that you don't confine your practice of ethics to the voting booth. It's easy to condemn an unethical politician, a fallen preacher, a thieving businessman.
What's harder is to look inside your own heart, to do so honestly, to go over all your actions and ask if you've truly been ethical. It's a test we all fail, at various times. Unlike the legal test, the penalty for breaching ethics lies only in our own conscience.
Build your conscience. Practice satiation. Consider your fellow man sometimes. Do this in your business, in your life, and in your own family, and you will win the inner smile that represents true fortune in this world.
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Best of the Week
The economics of this decade can be summed up as a fight between abundance and scarcity.
This is the kind of covert racism that southern Republicans have been practicing as part of the Nixon Thesis of Conflict. Nixon called it his "southern strategy." It's never overt. It's always denied. Yet when pressed to the wall (as Jesse Helms was by Harvey Gantt in 1990) it comes out.
Until now both political parties had been united against Internet issues. Democrats heard Hollywood first, Republicans heard their bosses on Wall Street first. The interests of Internet users, or small Internet businesses, were not heard.
All we can hope for is investigation. All we can hope is for subpoenas to lay it all bare, the lies, the murder, the war crimes, the banality, and create a record that a future government might send to the International Criminal Court, a record which will indict us all. Even me. Even you.
Karl Rove's target for victory is to get married white, low-information voters to save his ass through outlandish charges their husbands will reinforce for them.
Lon Wilson and his team have found a way to ionize very short carbon nanotubes, giving them a negative charge, and then loaded drugs or imaging agents on them.
If projects such as this one (which while ingenious does seek to game the system to influence lower information voters) proliferate, how much longer before internet speech goes the way of broadcast speech?
Our question becomes, can you find an election from that year in which someone from the descending order created such havoc among the people then rising to power?
All these people in the middle are threatened by the Internet. But few have the power and money to fight back.
ZDNet Open Source
Clued-in is Scott Howell, the operative who came up with the Bob Corker "Call Me" ad.
Clueless is every Tennessee voter who uses it as an excuse to vote for Bob Cracker, er, Corker.
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