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Does Conscious Capitalism = Integral Business?

A while back I got engaged in a discussion on Conscious Capitalism on the Yahoo iNYCs forum. Russ Volckmann of the Integral Leadership Review was lurking in the background of that conversation and upon reading what I wrote asked me if I would be interested in writing an article for the October issue of the ILR. I was and I did.

My basic premise is that many in the Integral community, but also in spiritually awake communities at large, seem to have an allergy to for profit business. There is a shadow that lurks in many that leaves them expressing a sense of distrust with those who are running large corporations and also a hesitance to engage the world in a way that will earn them wealth. The population at large has a sense of non-profits as serving the social good and for profit companies as feeding off of society for selfish gain.

As I’ve mentioned before when talking about FLOW, if we are going to steer this ship of humanity towards mutual flourishing it seems obvious to me that large corporations are going to have to play a huge part. So, given the option of demonizing them or engaging their potential to heal the world, I choose to focus on the latter. In general, given the option to put energy into preventing what I don’t want in the world versus putting my efforts into creating what I do want, I certainly try to spend most of my time generating positive movement.

Check out my article here:

  1. Alan

    many separate, yet intertwined issues here..

    I do not believe capitalism to be clearly value neutral, the existence of a debate to it’s nature i would take as testimony to that effect.

    as to whether governments have more or less influence in ones daily life. business & governments are most definitely in partnership, i’d say they’re nearly indistinguishable.

    the premise that it’s “ok” for one person to profit disproportionately from the fruits of another persons labor, i would not consider value neutral.

    that a CEO of a company could be ousted from their job for taking actions that “negatively” effected a companies bottom line, while perhaps being better in the long run, for both the company & our environment, i would not see as indicative of a value neutral system.

    my personal take is that capitalism/industrial culture can be likened to an abusive relationship. one the participants (us) continue to make excuses for, as the way out isn’t clear.

    i’d extend that to say that “conscious capitalism” being akin to “well, my abusive partner is passed out drunk tonite, at least i’m not being beaten”..& taking that as a sign of progress.

    an aside: john mackey can talk about “heartsong” all he wants..but what about the “heartsong” of his workers that want to unionize..& that he is staunchly against? a company that is anti-union & beholden to shareholders (profits going to non-productive partners in the enterprise) has “screwing the little person” as part of it’s dna, period.

    one can say that people can choose to work for whole foods (or any company) or not to. i’d posit that the choices presented are that of an abusive relationship, be “in” or be out on the streets. industrial culture & government have colluded to destroy the natural world & our ability to exist in it sustainably if we were to so choose. there’s no level of technology that’s been shown to be sustainable past that of the stone age, & there simply isn’t enough open space/we’re in population overshoot/laws that marginalize those “choosing” to not be part of the system for that option to be viable these days, without a complete(?) dismantling of the system as it stands.

    further to say the workers have a “choice”, within the system is a blame-the-victim mentality. free will, involves freedom..& there’s little room to choose anything beyond the current system these days, as those options have been destroyed by an industrial culture. to choose between rape or death is not an exercise of free will.

  2. Alan, thanks for taking the time to respond.

    In general I think you are neglecting to see capitalism developmentally. That is to say that you are taking the way that people at one level of development (say the Orange vMeme) have tended to use the system and are equating that with the system. Disproportionate profits, short sighted CEO firings and the destruction of the environment are certainly a part of the way we are used to seeing capitalism enacted. I fail to see how such things are inherent in the system itself.

    Your statement that the “industrial culture & government have colluded to destroy the natural world” leaves me wondering who you think is in charge. It all sounds a bit conspiratorial. That is exactly the dis-empowering belief that leaves both the problem and the solution in others hands. To use that stance as a place to attack those who choose to create something in the form of a new business strikes me as lazy and destructive.

    To say that a publicly traded company has'”screwing the little person” as part of it’s dna” strikes me as similarly defeatst and ill informed. – In general I’d guess you haven’t looked that closely at the way profits are distributed in a company like Whole Foods. And I don’t see your point in suggesting that investors should not be making profits as well.

    As for Whole Foods preventing unions from forming, what’s your source? In John Mackey’s words “it’s a lie that Whole Foods somehow prevents unions from organizing. That’s against the law. We can’t prevent anybody from organizing a union; if our team members want a union, we can’t stop them.”

    Personally, I tend to think that unions are a bit like affirmative action, necessary for a society at one stage of development, but then obsolete and even having a negative impact once they have finished serving their purpose. I think America is reaching the end of it’s useful unionization period and I agree that Whole Foods is better able to take care of its employees without them.

    Overall, I think we share much of the same frustration. And I agree that capitalism will likely play it’s role and then bow out to a better system. But I also recognize that we have no idea what that system is right now. The difference is that I think that simply attacking the system in place instead of either A – offering a new system or B – looking for the ways to best enact the current system, is far less healthy than simply engaging the current system as a productive and supportive member.

  3. Alan

    First, I’d like to keep this discussion respectfully clear of ad hominem attacks, however slight they may be.

    as to your accusations of lazy & destructive thinking…

    i never “attacked” those forming new businesses. I’m attacking capitalism itself, & the premise that capitalism is value-neutral. Sure, those engaging in “conscious capitalism” are doing something “better”, yet a slightly less abusive relationship is not the answer to the problem of abusive relationships.

    Further, when faced with cancer, british rule of the colonies or slavery…the task at hand is to get rid of the cancer, establish independence & end slavery. after that has been achieved, is the time to take stock & see what is to built from what remains/what was gained. to not engage the important work of ending an injustice because what lies on the other side is unknown, is textbook psychology of an abusive relationship.

    i do in fact “neglect to see capitalism developmentally”, because i do not see injustice as a developmental necessity. just as i fail to see slavery developmentally, sure it built this country, but i’m hesitant to call that a “Good thing”, either.

    if capitalism were in fact value-neutral, then i could accept as valid the efforts to redeem the use of that tool. however, capitalism is not value-neutral (capitalism values profit..& that profit is a good thing, that money is worthwhile/effective/etc system of procuring goods & services, to name a few of capitalism’s values).

    as a separate, yet related thread of this discussion, whole foods anti-union stance has been clearly documented in word & deed. a good place to start would be here:
    the article links to many refutations of jon mackeys rhetoric.

    to the end that the thread of whole foods & unions is related, the abusers in relationships rarely (if ever) see themselves as abusers. they do what they do to because the (abused) needs it/caused it/ the abusers eyes. the viewpoint that whole foods may know what’s better for the employees than the employees themselves seems to me a rather patrician viewpoint, at best.

    “Whole Foods’ avowedly libertarian CEO, John Mackey, has compared the prospect of having unions at his stores to “having herpes.” An internal Whole Foods document listing “six strategic goals for Whole Foods Market to achieve by 2013,” obtained by Mother Jones, includes a goal to remain “100% union-free.””

    the party has to stop sometime, we (humans & human culture) are in overshoot. the planets resources are taxed. population remains the elephant in the room in all this. as much as i’d like to see world-wide human flourishing, i don’t see it happening as things currently stand. infinite growth cannot be sustained within a finite sphere. continued year-over-year growth is a goal of capitalism, if we’re talking about a steady-state system, we’re not talking about capitalism.

  4. Alan

    also, as an ex-whole foods employee & having had several friends who worked for whole foods for much longer periods than i, i’m somewhat familiar with how whole foods distributes its profits amongst workers.

  5. So we know what you don’t want. Putting aside the fact that I still think you see capitalism and profit without the proper gradients of development.

    What are you suggesting? You seem to be saying ‘burn it all’ and we’ll figure it out from the rubble.

  6. Alan

    & as a reasonable view as to the considerations that would form a post-industrial society i would offer Ivan Illich’s “tools for conviviality”

  7. Alan

    i don’t believe capitalism has a proper gradient of development, as i do not believe a system that encourages inequality is a necessary step in development. yes, it’s what we were born into & have to deal with, however to tell an african-american born into slavery or a ww2 era european jew to view their situations in “The proper light” (paraphrased) is a tacit consent to those injustices.

  8. Dude, Capitalism = cancer, Nazi’s, slavery, colonization and abusive relationships? really? I mean, that might be slightly melodramatic. It’s certainly not very productive.

  9. Alan

    again with the ad hominem, devin.

    the assertion that capitalism is value-neutral, & by extension, redeemable, is untenable.

  10. Your thinking strikes me as very black and white, good vs evil.

    There’s room for all sorts of grey. If we are going to make the world a better place we need to accept it’s current state. I’m proposing we look at a broken system and realize that much greatness can and has come out of for profit businesses. Everything you own, eat, play with etc. has come from capitalism.

    I don’t see you or anyone else completely removing yourself from the system this year. So why not figure out how to engage it in the healthiest way and recognize the efforts of others attempting to do so themselves as positive?

    I’m all for finding a better alternative in the long run, but money/profit is not going away anytime too soon.

  11. Anonymous

    Well, on the one hand, capitalism had better become a more positive force, since it’s the only economic game in town. Strong, intelligent, well enforced regulations are a necessity to prevent excesses, and even then there is no real guarantee. The profit motive can and does eat many well-meaning entrepreneurs alive. And, by the way, Whole Foods sells a lot of crap! Nearly all their 365 products contain sugar.

    So, capitalism has raised a relative few out of poverty in China & India, but left many many more in possibly even more abject poverty. Has capitalism ever delivered a whole nation? America, the pinnacle of capitalism, is a morass of people sick with the disappointments of consumer culture. Are we better off than citizens of Russia or 16th century England – probably, but is it good enough for a sustainable future? I doubt it.

    The questions of sustainability and survival go deeper than economic systems of wealth creation and distribution. The ecological impact of an ever increasing human population is the core issue, whether they are poor or rich, happy or miserable. We are devouring the natural world; whether fairly or unfairly with respect to each other may be a moot point. When we develop an economy that incorporates the well being and sustainability of all life I will sit up and take notice.

    The human centric approach, going far back in our history with our monotheistic anthropomorphic god, Humanism, etc, has failed, although its consequences have not yet fully played out. We assume there must be a magic system to lift humanity out of our blood splattered misery of continuous war and exploitation into our rightful heritage of enlightenment, reason and mutual well being. But maybe not. Maybe damage control is the only real option.

    After all we emerged from an ecosystem based on predation at least since life became multicellular, a billion years ago. We did not emerge from our mythology, which we
    rather created to blunt the violent reality and inexplicable chaos of our being.

    The chance in world view and the growth in consciousness necessary for a sane humanity
    is so enormous, I see very little hope of it happening in time. We have lived far too long in the confines of our own personal, family, tribal, and national survival – as is natural, as all creatures do. The difference is that we humans have suddenly emerged with the power to wreck the world, for our own good, which we are well on the way to doing. (continued)

  12. Anonymous

    The wisdom and straight to step back and accept responsibility for the planet is a tall order. To fill it we would have to transcend our own instincts for personal well being. Do you see this happening?

    When Russia’s economy failed and capitalism seemed to have won, I remember thinking that capitalism is probably a few decades behind but headed for its own systemic failure. Although it may be the most efficient of our spectrum of horribly wasteful human endeavors, it may just prove the most effective at the inevitable destruction of not only our resources, but of the ecosystem itself.

    Everywhere people succeed they expand their consumption, so the best formula for a future might be economic failure in the short term.

    Technological innovation is often seen as our best hope for salvation, but is in itself a double edged sword, often creating unforeseen ecological disaster. In the 80’s a Nobel prize winning chemist advocated pumping the atmosphere full of CO2 to increase plant growth for food production for a ever growing and future starving humanity. How farsighted human genius usually turns out to be! In any case, capitalism often works against innovation. Armies of lobbyists spend billions to keep archaic industries functioning as usual, generating profits.

    So conscious capitalism is an improvement, in human terms, over the raw capitalism that sent my grandmother to work in a cotton mill 12 hours a day 6 days a week at the age of 8 for starvation wages in the 1890’s. But is it good enough? Is it the key to our survival? I’m afraid I can’t buy it.

    —Roy King