LETTERS FROM THE GLOBAL PROVINCE
GP 27 July 2005: The Collapse of the Ivory Tower
The Summer of
Before or since, we have never had a July equal to the summer of
It was the Bicentennial. The vast celebrations buoyed up the nation, and
patriotic tears served as prisms and magnifiers for the thousand beams of
light streaming across the land. As the tall ships came up New York’s
Hudson River, an armada of more than 150 craft topped with billowing sails,
we luxuriated in a nation saturated with unity, more fused than it had been
since World War II. The nation felt whole again (www.uwsp.edu/geo/projects/geoweb/participants/dutch/
Just a few weeks later we had breakfast with Charles
Tuttle at the Hotel Pacific in Tokyo. He had made his life in Tokyo
after the War, and his publishing firm there made an immense contribution to
the cultural discourse between Japan and the United States. (See
One night there he encountered a gathering of Japanese men wrapped in conversation who paid him no mind. They were covered from head to foot with tattoos. Emboldened by the alcohol in his system, he asked them what their decorations were about. Very bemused by his intrepid query, they fessed up. They were yakuza—Japanese gangsters—much given to such tribal ware (http://tattoos.com/mieko.htm, http://web.telia.com/~u31302275/yakyza8.htmm). Ironically, Tuttle, steeped as he was in Japanese culture, knew little about the yakuza or their tattoos.
Now and again, not too often, Tuttle would visit home in Vermont to see friends and family. On one occasion, he and friends were motoring through the countryside, and stopped in a country village to fill up the gas tank. As he got out of his car to stretch his legs, the attendant called out, “Why, Charley Tuttle, how are you? The basketball team didn’t do too well this year, did it?” This was a high school friend, who had no idea that Tuttle lived half a world away, light years removed from local basketball. But then, who amongst us does have a global enough view of things to grasp what moves the fellow across from you in a steam bath or at a Vermont gas station?
Federal Shield Law. In this month where we
celebrate our independence, our free press feels a little beleaguered, beset
both by declining readership and slugfest prosecutors who have gotten off
the reservation. On July 20, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard witnesses
testify in favor of a Federal Shield Law for journalists that would allow
them to protect their news sources, a privilege they are now afforded by
virtually every state. The Justice Department, which sent a brief in
opposition to the proposed law, failed to send a witness to back up its
assertions. New York Times reporter Judith Miller has recently been
imprisoned because she has resisted inquiries by Special Prosecutor
Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame affair, and in recent times a number of
hardliners have been going after journalists in order to get at their
sources of information. It is widely felt that journalists could not look
into the misdeeds of both government and other large institutions if
snitches could not come forward to them with the guarantee of anonymity, a
protection inquisitorial zealots would seek to erode (http://www.rcfp.org/news/2005/0720
The hearings show how our runaway officials can undermine our system of checks and balances. First, despite the lack of a law protecting their sources (in fact, the Courts, in Branzburg vs. Hayes , had really made clear that journalists lacked any Constitutional protection), the journalists had enjoyed salutary neglect under Department of Justice guidelines and an unwritten compact that generally urged the government to leave journalists alone. With too narrow a view of their job, of the Constitution, and of the trust that makes society work, the new crop of prosecutors have been recently hacking away at journalism. It is reasonable to claim that there are things you don’t do in a civil society, even if the letter of the law is on your side and you are an over-ambitious attorney on the make. This is no small matter as the world becomes more and more of an Information Society where it is economically foolhardy to take steps that impede the free flow of knowledge. In several spheres, meddling lawmakers and willful officials have erected barriers to informed dialogue.
Some at the hearings—maybe a journalist, maybe the well-spoken First Amendment lawyers—remarked that journalists cannot discover things by prosecutorial force of law or by some other exertion of authority. Their reporting depends on the goodwill of a citizenry that trusts in them and believes that confidences will not be betrayed. In other words, their sources rely on their integrity.
But What Is Integrity? Some equate integrity
with morality and honesty, taking a man of integrity to be someone who will
follow the rules of the road to the letter. We don’t: we know a host of
reporters who are average people capable of countless sins. Yet they have
integrity. We know moralizers who lack integrity, and people of integrity
who, by the standards of their community, commit immoral actions. For views
on integrity, see
People of integrity we think strive for broad awareness, trying to see the whole of a problem, going beyond the boundaries of a steambath or some other small place, beyond the prohibitions of a narrow set of ordinances, and beyond the injustice of a too legalistic interpretation of right and wrong. With integrity, we acknowledge the connectedness of all things, seeing better the pluses and minuses of what we are up to. People of integrity have a global view of their actions and are careful to weigh the consequences.
Companies With and Without Integrity. We are avid users of L.L. Bean products because they are good, the company takes returns without question, and, during our lifetime, the company has rapidly made good on product failures. For instance, we remember calling about a stake from our croquet set that had snapped, obviously defective. The woman to whom we reported it immediately asked where she should send the replacement, not stopping to quibble. This instinctive integrity contrasts starkly with a large cellular phone company who sold us equipment that did not work around the nation—as promised—and who would not provide an adequate replacement, though the cost would be minor. Careful, methodical attention to the customer satisfaction process has made Bean into a billion dollar company that will be around for the long haul. Bean says on its website that it guarantees 100% customer satisfaction, and it reminds us of L.L. Bean’s 1916 injunction: “I do not consider a sale complete until goods worn out and customer still satisfied.”
More recently, we bought several tickets for a future flight on Delta. When we arrived at the airport—at Delta’s behest—to buy the tickets, an extra, unannounced fee was tacked on to each ticket, though we, of course, were quite willing to buy the tickets over the phone. Delta had previously supplied us with a transportation voucher, but it did not honor the full amount of the voucher against our tickets, nicking us for yet more dollars. Out of bemusement, we asked the Delta representative whether we could redeem the tickets if it failed to fly the scheduled flight: the answer was no. A systematic lack of integrity is built into this company’s operating system. Such a devil-may-care attitude towards the customer is suicidal.
According to newspaper reports, some of Delta’s managers are advocating that the Company file for bankruptcy, so we may never be able to use our tickets. No wonder the company is sliding downwards. It does not have a wide and long view of its actions. Its persona is already bankrupt. There are a host of other actions this company would not have taken if it had a broad view of its markets and a sense of its destiny. Companies without integrity cannot act within a consistent strategy and eventually fall by the wayside.
Philosophical Breakdown. Some attribute lack of business integrity to the stresses imposed on our economy by global competition. Others claim that the wash of money has broken the character of our politicians, replacing discourse and statesmanship with diatribe and polarization. The dissolution of purpose and integrity is blamed on vast forces springing from the march of technology and the sweep of globalization.
We might, however, look at something less cosmic: the dismal state of academia. Long before all our politicians became pit bulls and so many of our other leaders became opportunists, philosophers took a long holiday from their responsibilities. We know of several philosophy departments at major universities that were riven in two by those holding to traditional philosophic issues and those that made the philosophic exercise into a semantic game. Driven by a reckless, feckless empiricism, our thinkers wandered into logical positivism, analytic drivel, deconstruction, and other head of the pin tendencies. Conjecture no longer focused on great matters. Truth no longer became the goal; instead the academics debated whether the idea of truth was even a legitimate concept. Philosophy had become atomized. For a more sympathetic look at how philosophy has evolved in the ivory tower, see www.philosophicalgourmet.com/analytic.htm. This meteoric fragmentation of the Western philosophical universe has been underway since World War II, and has picked up steam in the last 3 decades. It has been accompanied by great conceptual deterioration in most of the liberal arts disciplines.
Ideas, or the lack of them, matter we think. The evaporation of principles and conceptual structure in philosophy have gradually drained the popular marketplace of big ideas. We have lost the grand forums in which powerful thinking flourishes. Improvisation and a stew of small thoughts have replaced integrated visions of the world. Integrity—a way of acting based on a larger view of things—now comes in short supply. Nanotechnology and nanothinking have made us shrink. The dearth of substantial ideas has made us small-minded. We have come down a peg from Brooklyn Bridge creator John Roebling who was mentored in his early days by the great German philosopher Friedrich Hegel and who studied philosophy until the end of his life.
Large, Global Philosophers. Through the 1990s,
we still had some large-minded people whose thinking swept across national
and ideological boundaries. We refer here, for instance, to Filmer Stuart
Cuckow (FSC) Northrop, whose
Meeting of East and West called for an “integration of the
excessively inductive culture of the West with the excessively deductive
culture of the East.” “Northrop also called for a demarche between
the Anglo-American world and the continental tradition of Germany and
Russia….” Northrop had enough reach to pull together strains from several
cultures, ample precedent for what we must accomplish in the world of
today. Civilization for him was a multi-colored tapestry. (See
Likewise one could survey the work and broad thinking of Sir Karl Popper, a product of that prolific Vienna which has given birth to a host of émigré scholars who have journeyed elsewhere to bring their thinking to life. The range of matters—from Greek philosophy to music to politics—caught in the Popper cosmos was extraordinary, some of which are touched on in a tribute on the occasion of his 90th birthday in 1992 (www.eeng.dcu.ie/~tkpw/hk-ies/n23a/).
What we must ask of our leaders and our thinkers in a global age is whether they are sufficiently global in their thinking, able to transcend any narrow ideology or other partisan inclination. The French intellectual Simone Weil, after her experience in America in the forties, reflected on how religion itself may narrow one’s view of the world:
Religious questions filled her mind, and she poured them into her New York notebook. Although she was strongly attracted to the Catholic Church, she found it hard to contemplate joining any church because of her continuing suspicion of religion as a social power. She was appalled by what organized religion could do when it became powerful, citing as examples the Israelites slaughtering their enemies and the Catholic Church’s record of banning, excommunication and inquisition. She was similarly suspicious of Protestantism, which she felt to be too closely linked with individual nations and insufficiently global in perspective. (See www.americamagazine.org/gettext.cfm?articleTypeID=1&textID=1744&issueID=335.)
One must reach well beyond sect or faction to see the world as it is.
Operating Manual Spaceship Earth. Even more than the philosophers, we would hold that the American genius R. Buckminster Fuller had integrity, had in particular an integrated view of the world. In this regard, we would particularly recommend a read of his short, lucid Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, where he tells us of the intellectual “pirates” who can make the earth spin productively. And, likewise, he tells us about the specialists who muck up matters with their narrow thoughts and limited driving skills:
Of course, our failures are a consequence of many factors, but possibly one of the most important is the fact that society operates on the theory that specialization is the key to success, not realizing that specialization precludes comprehensive thinking. This means that the potentially-integratable-techno-economic advantages accruing to society from the myriad specializations are not comprehended integratively and therefore are not realized, or they are realized only in negative ways, in new weaponry or the industrial support only of warfaring.
All universities have been progressively organized for ever finer specialization. Society assumes that specialization is natural, inevitable, and desirable. Yet in observing a little child, we find it is interested in everything and spontaneously apprehends, comprehends, and co-ordinates an ever expending inventory of experiences. Children are enthusiastic planetarium audiences. Nothing seems to be more prominent about human life than its wanting to understand all and put everything together.
For more from his operating manual, see www.futurehi.net/docs/OperatingManual.html. Specialization, he finds, is the enemy of integrity, which we have defined here as an integrated view of how the world should work and how one should act in that world. Without a global operating manual, we will surely go off course. And our economy will be in the ditch.
P.S. Last week a lady in the British Government wrote us about a proposal now before the Professional Association of Educators to ban the word “failure” from England’s schools, replacing it with “deferred success.” We are having a bit of deferred success in U.S. education as well. (See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/4707015.stm.)
In response to our early warnings about the end of the real estate boon,
our colleague Raymond Firehock, self proclaimed City Gentleman of Staunton,
Virginia, writes about the sober reality attacking some localities. “See
recent stories on Denver (e.g.,
P.P.P.S. Academic philosophers have made a mockery of philosophy. And no one mocks philosophy better than the academics. We refer you to the following list of one-liners on an academic’s website, http://tar.weatherson.net/archives/000979.html.
P.P.P.P.S. Despite the best efforts of our press, the United States is only tied for 17th place on the Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International. Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, and many others outrank us, because substantial chicanery and foul deeds lurk in our dark corners, outfoxing journalists and grand juries alike. We suspect part of the problem is our Congress, which feels its mission is to enact laws; there was a time when a country’s parliament regarded itself mainly as a body of inquiry. Congress no longer accepts its most important role. (See www.transparency.org/cpi/2004/cpi2004.en.html#cpi2004.)
Copyright 2005 GlobalProvince.com