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Selling a Vision of Hope: A Refreshing Alternative to Armageddon

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Vision of Hope
Archive >> April 2008
file under: transitionglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic developmentcharitable investment 24 Apr 2008 5:15 PM
What If Being Good Were Made Profitable? Posted by Nissim Dahan
The political philosopher, Machiavelli, concluded that "fear" was the best tool a leader could use to keep his subjects under control. And there is no doubt that fear has worked well over the centuries to keep people in line. But could it be that in today's globalized world a new organizing principle may be emerging?

 

Take China, for example. I don't doubt that the leaders there would like nothing more than to crack a few more heads in Tibet. They are tempted to use fear to quell the dissention there. Why, because they rule over a huge number of people, situated in a varied array of political, religious, economic, and social subgroups. If Tibetan dissention were allowed to bear fruit; what other repercussions would likely ensue? And for the Chinese leadership, the loss of order would pose an existential threat.

 

And yet, with all the incentive to use the Machiavellian notion of fear, China realizes that there is a limit to what she can do in this regard, given the context of the new economic and diplomatic realities she finds herself in. The Olympics are coming up, and too many cracked heads would not be exactly in keeping with the Olympic spirit of international friendship and fair play. And there are also all those trading partners to think of. A massive crack down would not bode well for good business relations.

 

The conundrum in which China finds herself is indicative of a new organizing principle at the heart of international affairs-and that is the principle of maximizing profits. Of course, the inclination to maximize profits has always been around, but in a globalized economy, in which market share and profitability are everything, profit is becoming an ideological imperative.

 

Now some of you may think that the quest for profits is perhaps a shallow endeavor, not worthy of much consideration, and not indicative of the more noble aspects of the human condition. But I, for one, think that the hunger for profits could be used to energize a rational approach to solving some of the most intractable problems and existential threats we face.

 

Ask yourself this: What are the most serious problems we face? I would point to three in particular: Ideological Extremism, the threat to the Environment, and widespread Poverty. Could the need to maximize profits in a global economy help to bring solutions to these global problems? I think it's possible that the answer is, yes.

 

In a global economy, the major players are in constant search of new markets for their goods and services, and for a ready supply of natural resources, like oil. Look at China trying to open up new markets wherever she can. Is it possible that the competitive nature of a global economy may be conducive to healing some of the world's ills?

 

Let's say for example that you want to tackle the problem of ideological extremism. Well, you could easily conclude that creating good paying jobs in third world countries will help to neutralize extremism. Good paying jobs will not necessarily sway the extremists themselves, but they will make it more difficult for the extremists to sell their ideological wares. The vast majority of people will be less susceptible to extremist ideology once they are able to hold on to good paying jobs and provide for their families. So in this example, the search for profits becomes a search for new markets, which in turn means the creation of good paying jobs. The need to protect profits coincides with the need to quell extremism, which widespread employment will help to do.

 

Let's say that you want to protect the environment. So ask yourself this: How can we make environmental protection profitable? Well, a barrel of oil is now selling close to $120. The profit margin there may now be great enough to allow green technology to compete profitably. So, as part of the ubiquitous search for profits, you create jobs, which produce green technology products, which help to clean the earth up, and quite possibly reverse the course of Global Warming. You see, it's not that we want to be good by cleaning up the earth. God forbid. It's more that we clean up the earth because we can turn a profit. But if the earth ends up cleaner, then who cares what the motivations were?

 

Let's say that you want to eliminate extreme poverty; along with the hunger, disease, and homelessness that necessarily come with it. You could ask for charitable donations, but don't hold your breath. History shows that people are not as charitable as they ought to be. So ask yourself this: How do we make it profitable to end poverty? Once again, look to the profit motive of wealthy nations and corporations, and play to their ambitions.

 

For example, in a global economy it is important to keep the wheels of economic activity turning. Poverty is an obstacle to profits because poor people, with nothing to lose, can easily succumb to extremist thinking. Therefore, in our never ending search for profits, we will need to open up new markets for our goods and services, and we will need access to natural resources. And we can't let poor people get in the way. Therefore, in order to create new markets, we will create new jobs, for people to be able to buy our goods, and at the same time, with their stomachs full, they will be less susceptible to extremist thinking, so as to allow the profits to keep rolling in.

 

The idea here is not all that complicated. If it is indeed true that the new organizing principle of the global economy is profitability, then it makes sense to put all this ambition to good use. It may well be possible to structure the global economy in such a way, that the need to improve the bottom line will coincide with the need to solve some of the big global problems which lie at our doorstep. As such, we will become good not due to our innate sense of goodness, but because being good will be our ticket to being profitable.

file under: Saudi Arabiapeacemoneyglobal warmingfrom hate to hopeeconomic development 14 Apr 2008 7:48 PM
A Recipe for Peace Pie Posted by Nissim Dahan
Ingredients:
  • 1 Nanotechnology Research Department at an Israeli University
  • 1 state of the art Green Technology Product
  • 1 Industrial Zone in the Palestinian West Bank
  • 1 mid-size Factory Building
  • Several Palestinian and Israeli Entrepreneurs (preferably of the male and female variety)
  • 200 Palestinian workers (preferably of the "peace-loving" variety)
  • Several Saudi Investors
  • 1 Marketing Firm with hunger in its belly
  • 1 Public Relations Firm with the guts to think big
  • Several Media Outlets (with time on their hands for some good news, for a change)

 

Baking Directions:

  1. Start by convincing the powers that be at a reputable university in Israel, to use the green technology research of the Department of Nanotechnology, to develop a product that can be used to promote peace and generate profits.
  2. Persuade the university to cooperate in launching and marketing a state of the art green technology product which can help to clean up the environment in some significant and noteworthy manner.
  3. Pick a favorable industrial zone in the West Bank, one that is currently being developed as we speak (preferably one where relative calm prevails).
  4. Persuade a group of Israeli and Palestinian Entrepreneurs to work together, for a change, to produce and market a green product. Remind them that the University gets its cut.
  5. Good luck with this one: Try to convince several open-minded Saudis that it is in their best interest to finance the project. Here are a few arguments you can use: Saudi oil could run out one of these days; so why not diversify your investments with Green Technology, which the world is hungry for? It will be good PR for The Kingdom to show that oil profits are being used to create green profits. Good paying jobs will help neutralize extremism which is good for business. The hold of ideological extremists on the public's imagination will weaken as people begin to imagine a better life for themselves. You never know when extremism will turn around and bite you in the ass (Remember, Bin Laden is not exactly a friend of the family). Blah, blah, blah, etc.
  6. Once everything is in place, hire and train some 200 Palestinian workers to produce the green product that will help clean up the world. Pay them well. Give them the respect they deserve. And remind them on a daily basis the teachings on non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. (Make sure to take out plenty of liability insurance just in case.)
  7. Hire an excellent marketing firm to promote the sale of the product.
  8. Hire an excellent PR firm to show to the world that peace is possible, and that it starts with good paying jobs.
  9. Rally the people on the street, and the leaders behind closed doors, to advocate on behalf of peace through good paying jobs.
  10. Use the media attention and public interest to raise more money: for more projects, for more jobs, for more profits, and for more protection of the environment.

Let me ask you this: Do you think this pie will be any good? Do you have any idea where some of these ingredients may be? Do you think it's time to start baking instead of just talking? Are you willing to try the first bite?

file under: religionpeacecommon sense 6 Apr 2008 1:10 PM
Edwin Just Called Me A "Deist" Posted by Nissim Dahan
In one of his comments on www.mideastyouth.com, Edwin called me a "deist."

 

A what? A "deist." Well, "them's fighting words," as far as I was concerned, but before reaching for the boxing gloves, I thought I'd better look up what the word "deist" means. It can't hurt to understand the insults, before getting insulted.

 

Deism is the belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation and supernatural events such as prophesy and miracles. Um... Believing in God on the basis of reason, as opposed to prophesy, miracles, holy books, and the like.

 

Well, maybe Edwin is on to something. I do believe that we can ascertain the existence of God through reason. It goes something like this: Some 13.7 billion years ago there was a great explosion, appropriately called The Big Bang. Right before this calamitous event there was nothing; not even time and space. Right after, there was everything; the entire universe in all its glory.

 

Whatever caused that explosion to occur is indeed worthy of being called God, if the word God is to mean anything. Therefore, God is the Prime Mover, who caused the universe to come into being. To do that, He needed to use an infinite amount of all sorts of energy: heat, electricity, radiation, and even the energy of intelligence. Therefore, God, who is the Creator of all things, can be thought of as the sum total of all the creative energy in the universe. His energy flows through us, and our energy flows through Him.

 

It's just a thought. I'm not about to jump on a horse and kill you over it. But it's simply a way of trying to make sense of the mystery that is God. Does it help us to think of God as an infinite ocean of energy? Does it make sense to universalize the notion of God by using reason to ascertain His existence and His essence?

 

I say yes. I am not against religion. I believe that religion, properly understood, could be a legitimate pathway to God. But here's the problem. When we rely solely on our holy books, and the prophesies and miracles that are recounted there, we divide ourselves from one another. "My holy book says this and that, and you better believe it, or else."

 

And since we're talking about something as important as God no less, the divisions we create between us can run very deep indeed. And since a belief in God can move us to extreme emotion, and to absolute conviction, we can feel entitled, somehow, to take liberty with the lives of others, in defense of our deeply held beliefs.

 

However, coming to God through our power of reason, is different than coming to Him from our holy books. Reason, by its very nature, is less divisive. Two plus two equals four; here and in China as well. There is not much room for argument here. Reason underpins the universal notions of Common Sense. Common Sense is "common," because it is universal. Common Sense makes "sense," because it is logical, rational, and self-evident. Common Sense unites. Religion can often divide.

 

So if there were a way to come to God through the power of intellect, as guided by reason, and in conformance with universal notions of Common Sense; would this not be a less divided world? Could religious strife be neutralized to a much greater extent? Could there emerge a consensus with regard to a belief in God, which would then help people find common ground with respect to the more mundane matters of life, matters which beg for our attention even as we speak?

 

So Edwin, at a time when Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are at each other's throats, over words written long ago, and about beliefs which may no longer be palatable to the modern mind; at such time, I don't mind being called a "deist," especially if accepting that label could hint at the possibility of peace. It may well be time, before time runs out, to find new sources of inspiration for our beliefs, and new pathways to God, even as we continue to embrace our religions. Using reason, and the common sense notions born of it, is a good bet, because whatever else He said or did, God certainly created a world that is capable of being understood, and being made sense of.