The Illusion of Transparency

Together with Wafa Khlif and Coral Ingley, I just published the book called “The Illusion of Transparency in Corporate Governance.

Here we’re questioning whether transparency help or hinder true ethical conduct.

As we write:

Transparency is generally seen as a corporate priority and a central attribute for promoting business growth and social morality. From a philosophical perspective, society has experienced a gradual paradigm shift which intensified after the Second World War with the advent of the information era. As a fundamental part of an inescapable, hegemonic capitalist system and given the insistent emphasis on it as a moral imperative, transparency, this book avers, needs to be examined and challenged as to its true governance value in building a sustainable twenty-first century society. Rather than clinging to the fantasy of complete transparency as the only form of accountability, corporate governance is strengthened in this way by practicing true social responsibility, which emerges not from outward-looking compliance but from a deeper place in the corporate psyche through inward-looking contemplation and the development of moral maturity. 

See more about the book here.

Compassion – Toward an Ethics of Mindfulness

This work is guided by two hypotheses with one overall objective of establishing an ethics of mindfulness . The first hypothesis is the concept of moral motivator or in- tentional moral. Both Western philosophy and mindfulness operate with an intention influenced by their moral beliefs. The second hypothesis is the relationship between moral reasoning and wisdom. That is, our reasoning is affected by our moral belief . To combine those two theses, I introduce the concept compassion from mindfulness and the ethics based on the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Hereby, I suggest that by practicing mindfulness, one can develop his or her capacity for compassion, but also – this practice – is a «way of life» that can help protect the planet: an ethical practice.

Read the entire paper here: Compassion – Toward an Ethics of Mindfulness.

“Compassion – Toward an Ethics of Mindfulness” is published in the journal Mindfulness & Compassion, vol. 3, issue 1.

One World Now

In One World Now: The Ethics of Globalization, Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher, discusses humanity’s shared ethical responsibility and sovereignty. We live in a global world that—unlike the older term “internationalization” conveys—emphasizes that we are moving; that is, “moving beyond the era of growing ties between states,” he says.

Within his text, Singer addresses a central question: is the nation state loosing sovereignty? Perhaps. Should it? Yes, according to Singer. And he makes a strong case for overcoming it. Whether or not the nation state is losing its sovereignty is a difficult question to answer.

On the one side, there is a growing nationalism, not only in the United States where president Trump claims that “America is for Americans only” (regardless of who the term “Americans” refers to), but in other countries as well. In Europe, for example, the Catalan fight for independence in Spain is fueled by nationalism combined with a strong desire to have an influence on the monetary resources of the region. Countries such as France, Austria, and the Netherlands are also flirting with nationalistic principles—perhaps it’s a universal trend, other countries could be added to the list.

On the other side, in spite of this expanding sentiment, there is also a growing countermovement, perhaps the most imminent in the U.S. This countermovement would probably have a lot of sympathy for Singer’s project.

In One World, Singer looks closely at the relationship between states and the world through different lenses, including atmospheric, economic, legal, and communal perspectives. For instance, he observes that an organization such as the World Trade Organization could minimize a state’s power and sovereign control. In other words, state sovereignty can be reduced (and accepted by most) through reasonable global organs. In addition, Singer advocates for a universal law when it comes to crime and terror. Most importantly, however, Singer speaks about how people and nations will have to abdicate their sovereignty when it comes to environmental concerns.

Singer’s thesis is based on the fact that we live in one world. The phrase “one world” stands “as a description of the increasing interconnectedness of life on this planet and as a prescription of what the basic unit for our ethical thinking should be.” His logic, therefore, is that one world needs one world government that can overcome each nation’s self-interest and that “we need a sound global system of criminal justice.”

I agree completely with the fact that everything is interconnected, whereas I am not completely convinced that a world government is the solution to overcome our current problems.

For those who are familiar with Singer’s philosophy, it becomes clear that his ethical advice is based on the principles of utilitarianism. This theory requires that we all act in a way that maximizes the happiness of all human beings (who are all sentient creatures). He stresses the importance of this by referring to an UN report that says, “In the global village, someone else’s poverty very soon becomes one’s own problem: of lack of markets for one’s products, illegal immigration, pollution, contagious disease, insecurity, fanaticism, terrorism.” This quote illustrates the strength of Singer. He refers to many different—I am tempted to say “universal”—sources in order to make his argument stronger.

Singer’s utilitarian approach in One World is founded on both political and economic theories (though perhaps more so on the former). He aims for democratic solutions, emphasizing that, once we realize we are in this together, the more we will willingly share and uphold common values. This assumption is true. Still, it seems like the author of One World believes that many people do not understand our fundamental interconnectedness. I agree with him again. This lack of understanding our interconnectedness is one of the hurdles that Singer tries to overcome, for example, with the aforementioned UN report quote. However, if the UN report quote is read critical, it may teeters on the delicate balance between altruism and egoism. Utilizing the motivation of the latter may seem cruel, but the bottom-line of utilitarianism is that “I” should care for the happiness of all, because their unhappiness affects “me.” Hereby a classical dilemma is touched upon—one that also exists in corporate social responsibility; for example, if a company acts morally due to monetary self-interest, is it then truly good?

A utilitarian would regard such a situation based on the consequences, not the motive of the decision-makers.

Thus, despite my appreciation of the good intentions of Singer’s humanistic philosophy, I long for a deeper, existential understanding of the human being who, not only is morally responsible for the well-being of others, but is also responsible to pursue personal freedom and happiness. For example, Simone de Beauvoir argued that ethical freedom comes from resisting what represses one’s freedom. In theory it could be global institutions. Similar to Beauvoir, Simone Weil addressed the problems with universal right and laws that are—at times—contrary to one’s personal obligations. For example, when universal norms and ideals carry the inherent risk that each one of us may lose contact with one another. Or, we might forget or ignore that what is happening is also our own responsibility, not just the decision-makers.

Let me reframe my concern in another way. Twenty years ago, Michael Jackson wrote a beautiful song to benefit the starving people of Africa, titled We Are the World. Today we can still sing along. Not much has changed. This paradox is perfectly illustrated in the life of Bill Gates, who generously donates many of his millions, yet, at the same time, grows wealthier and wealthier. Living morally by donating money becomes another kind of investment; the show goes on and on and on. We need to change the way we think. Singer is probably right to spend so much time in One World convincing his readers that everything is interconnected. However, even after reading Singer’s book, we are left with ethical dilemmas.

Let me be even clearer. According to Gilles Deleuze, our style of thinking is related to our ethic—how we affirm certain things as we encounter them. But since no ethical issue can have privilege over another (for example, human starvation in Africa versus human suffering caused by an earthquake in Afghanistan), we have to cultivate our awareness of what takes place, how and why it takes places. What we affirm—according to Deleuze—are the differences between ethical issues, we explore and test; rather than counting “heads” to see which intervention will make the most people happy. Relying on a principle minimizes our capacity to think and to be affected by an ethical issue. For example, does our intervention depend on whether the problem is humanly manufactured, a natural disaster, or caused by political or financial factors, etc.? Utilitarianism may help us make decisions, but predicting an outcome is often difficult. For example, who would had known that the car today is not just a mean of transportation, but also a place where individuals can be alone and listen to music or an audio book? In other words, the car is for many a stress free zone, and, as most of us know, stress cost the society a lot of money. Furthermore, car users may pollute the environment (bad for all of us), but they may also be able to get home faster to their children (good for the family, but also good for the caring investment in future citizens, that is, the society).

In continuation, a person who donates 2 euros out of every 10 he or she earns is not morally better than another individual who donates only 1 euro or none at all. The issue is not related to redistribution, but to the idea of ownership, the economy, and economical freedom, which actually touch on Singer’s foundational belief that everything is interconnected, but from a different angle. The reason why some people have much give financially is because there is an imbalance to begin with. In other words, the ethical problem sticks deeper. This principle can also be viewed through the lens of Aristotle’s distinction between moral excellence and strength of will. I believe that monetary donation may display strength of will, but moral excellence can be seen in the one who never asks for more than what is necessary.

I am skeptical, yet positive towards Singer. I do recommend his book for decision-makers, but also for students of philosophy, political science, and business administration. One World is a wonderful resource to instigate constructive debates, and it is full of ideas of how to enact social change. Despite my reservations, the book’s mantra, that we—all of us—are in this together, is a message that I believe is worth sharing.

First published in Metapsychology, Volume 21, Issue 8

See also the review of Peter Singer’s The Most Good You Can Do.

One World

In One World Now: The Ethics of Globalization, Peter Singer, an Australian moral philosopher, discusses humanity’s shared ethical responsibility and sovereignty. We live in a global world that—unlike the older term “internationalization” conveys—emphasizes that we are moving; that is, “moving beyond the era of growing ties between states,” he says.

Within his text, Singer addresses a central question: is the nation state loosing sovereignty? Perhaps. Should it? Yes, according to Singer. And he makes a strong case for overcoming it. Whether or not the nation state is losing its sovereignty is a difficult question to answer.

Read the rest of the review at Metapsychology.

Riverbed

In 2014, artist Olafur Eliasson exhibited Riverbed at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Riverbed is a rocky landscape placed inside the museum. This work has nature and culture folding around one another to an extent that illustrates that everything is culture. The work challenges the participators both physically and mentally, as it facilitates intimate contact with the sounds of the water running through the riverbed, the smell of the wet rocks and the gleam of light reflected on the wet rocks, and challenges your bodily balance as you walk up the hill or try to balance on the slippery or rolling rocks—all of it becomes significant.

In an interview, Eliasson mentions how the landscape appears dead, except for the little stream of water that passes through it. The movement of the water makes the work dynamic. The movement brings life. Yet the water doesn’t come or leave; it just moves and thereby touches the participants. It comes from nowhere, going anywhere. The work is a meditative contemplation addressing time as movement and as duration, not linear sequences that can be split up. It doesn’t lead to a result; it can’t be passed toward something better; on the contrary, time passes. As an internal process, “The walking time is unfolded,” says the artist.

riverbed-by-olafur-eliasson

Riverbed takes place in-between the coming and going. How aware are you of what is happening right here and now? What comes into being? What passes? How do you relate to what is happening? Is your perception already affected by strong beliefs or ideas? Can you only relate in a certain way because of past memories, external pressure or fantasies? Can you meet the world unarmed?

These questions circle around establishing a belief in this world, where our belief is connected with the actual moment, not a projection. The work Riverbed may help us from solely thinking about art as an object of our thinking to having a territory, that is, it makes us think.

A river, like a piece of art, has a past form, a present form and, perhaps, a form to come. It depends on our involvement. This involvement is ethical, I propose.

For example, Gilles Deleuze’s ethic is one of the events; not the present understood as an object, but the present living moment stretched in-between, “What is going to happen? What has just happened … never something which is happening.”

What is happening, therefore, is always a mixture of no longer and not yet. This is why Deleuze says that philosophy is mixture of crime and science fiction, dealing with what has just happened as well actualizing.

Art can teach us a lot about ethical involvement.

The Generous Ethic of Deleuze

I just published “The Generous Ethic of Deleuze“, in Philosophy Study, Vol. 6, No. 8 (2016).

Abstract: This paper argues that the affirmative philosophy of Gilles Deleuze opens for a generous ethic. Such ethic passes on new or different possibilities of life. The paper briefly outlines the basic ideas in Deleuze thinking that can be understood as generous. Then it suggests how paying attention is a prerequisite for practicing a generous ethics, that is, mainly being aware of what, how and why something happens. Finally, it exemplifies how—referring to Christopher Nolan’s film Inception—we may practice a generous ethic.

Read the paper here.

Mindful leadership for beginners

We all know the simple moral principle that the buyers of stolen goods are as guilty as the thief. I recall this principle from childhood. The point is that the thief wouldn’t steal if no one was buying—at least a thief wouldn’t steal because of greed or arrogance, but perhaps only to meet his or her basic needs, e.g., food.

This moral principle touches upon a basic microeconomic model: supply and demand.

Continue reading here.

Mindfulness in Rome

May 11 – 15, 2016: 2nd International Conference on Mindfulness, Sapienza University of Rome. See here the website of the event.

Among the many interesting presentations, I presented the paper entitled Mindfulness as an Ethical Practice.

In this paper, I ask two questions. The first is: What is an ethical practice? The second question is: Is mindfulness an ethical practice? My ultimate concern, however, is the possible link between the two issues: What relationship does mindfulness have with ethics? To answer these questions, I first draw on three ethical theories from the Western history of philosophy—Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Deleuze—to define ethics as a particular way of being. Then, I integrate and compare some significant elements from these ethics with the practice of mindfulness, mainly as Jon Kabat-Zinn defines it. This is done to clarify to what extent mindfulness is an ethical practice. My study reveals that not only can mindfulness be viewed as a classical ethical practice (as understood in a Western philosophical context), but—and perhaps more surprising—mindfulness is closer to some Western ethics than to Buddhism, e.g., regarding whether “the Good” is known beforehand, whether ethics is an immanent or transcendent practice, and whether ethics is a judgmental or nonjudgmental practice. Finally, I briefly discuss the ways in which Western philosophy can shed new light on mindfulness.

 

Doing Business with Deleuze?

I just published the essay “Doing Business with Deleuze?” in Kritike.
Abstract: This essay has two parts. The first part gives a brief overview of the foundation of economics. The second part contains a broader outline of the way in which philosopher Gilles Deleuze thinks of ethics. In the second part, I also explore the potential connections between Deleuze’s thoughts and economics. Especially, I focus on the concepts of “human capital,” “empowerment,” and more fruitful, the concept of “power-with” as proposed by organizational theorist, Mary Parker Follett. By doing so, I try to minimize the gap between economics and ethics as presented here. Finally, I determine whether it is possible to do business with Deleuze.
Read the full essay here.