Saturday, February 25, 2012

Monsanto and the surface level dynamics of sustainable power

In this post we talked about Magicians, Journalists and the Common man. Now I'd like to combine all three with some practical examples.

Monsanto is a great example of a Magician. Monsanto has figured out the game and plays it well. It battles Journalists where it needs to. It  appeals to the Common Man where it needs to. That is why Monsanto survives and thrives despite so many Journalists being offended by it's existence.

In a corporation, you have Magicians, you have Journalists and you have the Common man.

Have you heard the saying, "I'll lead, you follow. And if you can't follow, get out of the way?" Well, that is exactly what the Magician says. The Magician turns to the Common Man and says, "I'll lead. You follow." And then the Magician turns to the Journalist and says, "Get out of the way."

The Common man develops a lot of tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty being caught in between force of the Journalist and the Magician. The smart Common man becomes a 'yes man' for social acceptance. The Common man practically lives his own unspoken morality and philosophy of self-survival.

In every corporation there are Magicians. These are the people who understand the political game very well. A corporation has many elements of a human body. In the same way that the organs of the human body work so that the body as a whole can fulfill it's purpose, the many organs of the corporate body work to make the corporation functional.
Like a human body has an emotional equilibrium, the corporate body too has an emotional equilibrium.
The Magician is very in tune to the pulse of the corporation.

At an emotional level every human body functions differently and achieves equilibrium differently. Similarly, every corporation functions differently and achieves a dynamic equilibrium in it's own way. It takes a while to understand the true logic that a particular corporation functions by. As they say, there are two truths:  the socially acceptable reason and the real reason. The socially acceptable reason is the textbook version about how corporations don't just exist for personal profit. It is the reasoning that corporations exist for social good. That corporations actually care about health and welfare of Common men.

Every individual has a mask that we wear in the external world. Similarly, every corporation has a mask that they wear in the external world. This is the socially acceptable truth. If we all walked around without wearing a mask, the world would be a scary place. It would be known as the jungle. The Journalist is determined to not see the world as a jungle.

The Journalist believes in human dignity. The Journalist believes that human beings should act in a certain way. And the Journalist imposes his morality on the world. 

But the Journalist is not concerned with the socially acceptable truth. The Journalist insists that he is concerned with the 'real truth.' For the Journalist, the real truth is the morally superior truth--that which is good for all Common men. The Journalist makes his case with the flourish of the pen and the eloquence of his tongue. Common men listen his stirring speeches in rapt attention.

In the book The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand depicts the Journalists role with the character Ellsworth Toohey. I suppose in that book, Peter Keating would be the common man trying to turn Magician. Howard Roark is the natural master athlete. He is the Michael Jordan of architecture. He doesn't bend or break the rules to win at the game of life. Though, to live by his own morality, he has to struggle. He happily accepts his fate. Michael Jordan had both nature and nurture (coaching) on his side. And he also had an amazing work ethic.

The Journalist does not accept that profit is an acceptable reason for a corporation to exist. The Journalist believes in what is good for the common man. In many ways, the Journalist is the whistle blower of society. He is the self-anointed referee in the game of life.

The Magician feels that the Journalist is an idealist. He feels that the Journalist is unpractical. The Magician accepts that it is a dog-eat-dog world. And the Magician seeks to be the biggest dog out there. The Journalist tries to impose his morality of non-violence on the Magician. The Journalist believes in equality. He believes in morality and that the world can be a fair play ground.
The Magician is an athlete in the sport called life. He does everything he can to gain the edge. Like you see athletes in professional sports. They do everything that they can get away with to get an edge on the game. They foul in a way that the referee doesn't see. He is a master manipulator of his situation so that he can gain the edge. He will fight, argue, and do everything without getting a red card or a yellow card. And by knowing exactly how much to push without getting kicked out of the game, he stays ahead of the pack. That is why he is the Magician. He has the stomach to take the risks.

In many ways, the Common Man believes that ignorance is bliss. He wants to believe that he is good at heart. He isn't comfortable with moral conflicts. The Common man only tries to know what would be good for him to know. He doesn't want to know the things that could get him in trouble. The Journalist does not have that fear. The Journalist strives to get to the 'truth' no matter how painful it is. The Journalist believes that truth reigns in the end. The Magician knows otherwise. The Magician believes that power and money reigns in the end.
The Common man is content with his lot in life. He isn't ambitious, cut-throat like the Magician. He isn't as comfortable with wielding power as the Magician is. The average Common Man has a conscience. The Magician, at a certain point, has accepted the nature of the game of life. The Magician supersedes his conscience by his knowledge about the cut-throat nature of the game of life in the same way that many professional athletes do fouls purposefully, to get an edge on their opponents.

When I watch the World Cup, I see this all the time. All the fake crying foul, all the shirt pulling, all the pulling the limb of your opponent. You don't think that that these athletes know what they are doing? Of course they do. They have just accepted that this is the nature of the game. They get good at doing it without getting caught by the referee. Maybe that is why they became professional athletes: they learned tricks in the trade that the average player didn't know. That is how they became Magicians of the game.
Now I am not saying that every professional athlete cheats. There are professional basketball players like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird,  Kobe Bryant who have honed their natural gifts to be amazing. These are magicians who don't have to fool the referee. They are genuinely good. But these are rare. Players like these are far and few in between. That is why they are loved and respected so much.
What happens to the many athletes who don't have the natural gifts or who have plateaued in being able to improve themselves? These athletes need to either accept that they are Common Men players. They are average players. They will never get the fame, money, love and respect that star players get. Or else, they need to cheat to get ahead in the game.
Some of these players might drop out of playing sports to become referees or sports commentators. They stop actively playing as a Common player or aspiring to be a Magician and instead decide to be a sports Journalist. There is nothing wrong with that. It's a choice that some players make.

A corporation has all the same elements as in professional sports.
A corporation has naturally gifted master athletes (Magician), it has the average professional athlete (Common man), and it has referees (Journalist). The referee in the corporation is the whistle blower.
I went to see an ice hockey game. And when the referee skates into the rink, every body boos. People like the drama that happens in an ice hockey game. They like the fights and the skirmishes. The referees break this apart. They spoil the fun.
In many ways, whistle blowers in Corporations do exactly the same. There are master athletes cutting corners to win the game. And the Journalist comes in and blows the whistle. She calls foul. She points out who is getting hurt and how. She says that there are more important things than earning a profit.

From a socially acceptable perspective, sure, the media lauds these journalists. But from a practical perspective, when you watch movies like The Insider, you see the true fate of these self-righteous chest-pounding morally superior Journalists with a holier-than-thou attitude. It's not pretty. As much as it says otherwise, the world doesn't like referees. The world, consisting of the majority of common men, likes Magicians.
Common men like to buy stocks in companies run by talented Magicians. And they like to see these stocks grow.

The Journalist believes that what the common men really want to see is socially conscionable business and sustainable "green" living. The Journalist touts her outrage with eloquence. She writes up a storm. She appeals to people's hearts. She embraces empathy as a means to the end of social justice.

The Magician laughs at the Journalists effort. The Magician has figured out how the world really works. That is why he laughs when hears the Journalists moral outrage about 'how it should work and how things should *really* be.'
The Magician is the master athlete who understands the game. He considers the Journalist to be a neophyte who simply has bookish knowledge about the rules of the sport. The Journalist only knows enough to call foul. The Journalist only knows how to referee the game. She doesn't know how to play it like the Magician does.
How does the Magician handle the Journalist? He has well-paid expert lawyers to battle the Journalists burst of moral outrage. The Magician knows that he can't completely silence the whistle blowing of the Journalist. But, he knows how to close his ears. The Magician is determined to continue to play the game without getting kicked out. He knows how many yellow cards he can afford to get in playing aggressively without ending up with a red card that kicks him out of the game. He's just that good.

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