Restraining the Profit Itch

The gap
between the diffuse human yearning for a decent world and the organized
agenda of the corporatocracy has never, in my lifetime, been wider.

I continue
to be unable to turn away from the Gulf and what seems to be the
unceremonious ushering in of a new age, a new awareness - or maybe just
the beginning of the end of our amped-up, gated, reckless civilization
. . . and all that has a chance to come after it.

What the
spill has yet to reach are the headquarters of corporate power and the
consciences ensconced therein. The arrogance of the great capitalists
remains undamaged, as they busy themselves with post-disaster job one:
fending off what they fear will be a tide of market-fettering
regulations and restrictions curbing their freedom to plunder the

instance: "The Gulf oil spill is having all sorts of nasty consequences
well beyond damage to the regional environment and economy," a Wall Street Journal
editorial seethed last week, not bothering to linger too long on
ecocide, a wrecked coastal economy or dispersant-laced toxic rain. The
real horror, we soon learn, is that politicians may actually make a big
deal of it and try to prevent a recurrence.

least," the editorial continues, "the resulting political panic seems
to be rehabilitating the thoroughly discredited theory of regulation
known as the precautionary principle."

Yeah, that's right, precaution. The editorial proceeds to belittle and, according to writers such as Amy Sinden
of the Center for Progressive Reform, utterly misrepresent the concept,
which is the regulatory foundation of the EPA and integral to many
international environmental treaties. It's also basic common sense.

quotes the principle's articulation in the 1992 Rio Declaration on
Environment and Development: "Where there are threats of serious or
irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be
used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent
environmental degradation."

truly discouraging is that this should be controversial - but I
understand why it is. It represents a fundamental shift in thinking at
the geopolitical level, an assertion of human over corporate
priorities. The precautionary principle puts the burden of proof square
on the moneyed interests to demonstrate that a given project will not
cause serious or, God help us, irreversible environmental damage - rather than on opponents, or the government, to demonstrate irrefutably that it will.

Painful as it may be for Big Money to give up the freedom to do whatever it wants, to keep risking, and creating,
irreversible environmental damage - the technical capacity to do which
we have had on a mega-scale since World War II - restraining the profit
itch, subordinating it to a larger value, is a crucial step in human
maturity. This is not an adversarial debate, where one side wins and
the other loses, or a choice between unemployment or cancer (though
this is how it seems to be presented). For God's sake, Wall Street,
we're all in this together.

Mary Parker
Follett, who wrote about management principles back in the 1920s, and
whose work has largely been forgotten, spoke brilliantly about the need
for both sides of a labor-management dispute to transcend the win-lose

thinking about dispute resolution recognizes only three possibilities:
winning, losing or compromise, in which both sides partially win and
partially lose and remain dissatisfied, bitter and agitated. Follett
proposes a fourth possible outcome, which she calls integration: the creation of something new, which transcends the mutual exclusion of the opposing sides and fully satisfies both.

integration really stabilizes," she writes in her essay "Constructive
Conflict." "But by stabilization I do not mean anything stationary.
Nothing ever stays put. I mean only that that particular conflict is
settled and the next occurs on a higher level."

As the
wounds in the Gulf continue to hemorrhage - as the polar ice caps melt,
as wars of domination spread their toxins into the unimagined future -
I know at least this much: We cannot afford to stay divided from
ourselves. The global economy cannot continue as a rogue engine whose
power dare not be restrained. We have to fuse our economic creativity
with a reverence for Planet Earth. We must reclaim the sacredness of

all indigenous cultures have myths about gods and spirits living in the
natural world - in rocks, mountains, glaciers, forests - as did
European culture before the scientific revolution," Naomi Klein
wrote recently. ". . . Calling the Earth 'sacred' is another way of
expressing humility in the face of forces we do not fully comprehend.
When something is sacred, it demands that we proceed with caution. Even

enormous challenge of the 21st century is to reach deep into our past
to reclaim that awe, even as we try desperately to undo the damage we
have wrought for profit.

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