Pope says ‘we’re all in this together’

Though paraphrased and abbreviated, that message isn’t as simple as it sounds.

Pope Benedict found a characteristically nice way of saying the destiny of each of us is inextricably linked to the destiny of all of us. His message is not exactly stating the obvious. So it calls for some attention.

“The challenges we are currently facing are numerous and complex, and can be overcome only if we reinforce our awareness that the destiny of each of us is linked to that of everyone else. For this reason … acceptance, solidarity and legality are fundamental values”.

He made these remarks to an annual meeting with Roman and provincial officials.

The Pope went on: “The present crisis can, then, be an opportunity for the entire community to verify whether the values upon which social life is founded have generated a society that is just, fair and united, or whether it is necessary to undertake a profound rethink in order to rediscover values which … not only favour economic recovery, but which are also attentive to promoting the integral good of human beings”.

That’s the Pope’s nice way of saying we need a profound rethink at this time.

Benedict XVI expressed the view that the roots of the current crisis lie in “individualism which clouds the interpersonal dimension of man and leads him to close himself into his own little world, concerned first and foremost with satisfying his own needs and desires with scant concern for others”. The consequences of such a mentality are “speculation in housing, increasing difficulty for young people to enter the world of work, the solitude suffered by so many elderly, the anonymity which often characterises urban life, and the sometimes superficial attention paid to situations of marginalisation and poverty”.

The first step towards creating a more human society is “to rediscover relationships as the constituent element of our lives”.

This little address is loaded.

Acceptance must be accompanied by solidarity, because “charity and justice require that, in times of need, those with the greatest resources should look after the disadvantaged”.

Over the past year of global financial crises, I’ve been looking for the human story at the center of it all. Most major media neglect that aspect. But I’ve found a kindred spirit in finance expert Lydia Fisher, Cinderella of Wall Street, who I’ve made a frequent guest on my radio show. Our conversations are as compelling as her insights, which appear in her business blog on Huffington Post. This latest one converges with the humanistic message Benedict emphasized.

Industrialized nations face a humanistic challenge — big debts, stalled or slow growth, maybe for years to come. Yet, promises and obligations remain.

A while back, I watched an interview with Mortimer Adler. One of many interviews and writings, covering topics such as justice, truth, beauty and much more.

Mortimer Adler was an American philosopher, best remembered for editing the Great Books of Western Civilization. I was particularly struck by what Adler said at the end of this interview which derived from a quote of his:

“Everyone is called to one common human vocation — that of being a good citizen and a thoughtful human being… — and that, to discharge the obligation common to all human beings, schooling should be essentially humanistic…”

These messages are converging, and I’m happy to say it’s about time we hear this side of the global crisis story.

Humanistic means keeping the interests and welfare of others in mind. If we’re taught the humanistic, it’s likely that we’d aspire to integrate this into our professional lives and lives at large. After all, we seek coaches and mentors for just about everything else.

Take the late Czech President Vaclav Havel as an example of a “good citizen.” He was a moral voice and beacon of hope for many.

He notes that:

“Even a purely moral act that has no hope of any immediate and visible political effect can gradually and indirectly, over time, gain in political significance….”

The thrust of his later writings and speeches was that Communism had made everyone morally ill, or “spiritually impoverished,” in another phrase of his, and it was humanity’s task to recover what had been forfeited.

When you’re on the track of human dignity and pursuit of a just and moral order, things converge in surprising ways. I was just given the opportunity to interview Vaclav Havel’s former General Secretary next week, on his new book that has at its core the message that crisis leads to change. How exquisitely timely.

Accountability in economics and finance

Imagine the possibilities.

I’ve been looking for the story behind the stories under the headlines of the economic crisis, and someone who understands it from the inside. Found both in Lydia Fisher, author of  Cinderella of Wall Street.

The day she was on my radio show, she posted this on HuffPo:

Meanwhile, in the real world of non-billionaires, we’re dealing with absolutely untenable U.S. joblessness — a 25% unemployment rate for the young (last I read). That’s robbing someone’s dreams, not to mention a deep hurt to the innate desire, we, as human beings feel, to be valued, to succeed, to care for ourselves and our families.

Stubborn joblessness is symptomatic, of the pernicious hollowing out of the US economy over decades through conglomeration, globalization and technological automation — the morphing into a services and consumption based economy, one increasingly driven by financial bubbles.

So, what’s the deal here.

Throughout the ages things don’t seem to change, they just play out through a different forum. Romans conquered, then taxed to get bigger and wealthier. In the process they took people into bondage, who toiled for the economic and military success of the empire. That’s what happens when person-to-person reciprocity is removed.

Debt is a form of bondage and servitude. Someone’s got to pay for it, in some way or another.

We’re paying now, but our children and their children will be paying heavily. This is so important right now. Again.

Listen up.

A leadership vacuum characterized the mid-third century, leaving Roman Army generals jousting for Imperial power, rather than governing. Ever increasing military conquests drained resources, created a need for money. Story has it that the silver coin currency was devalued through a metal dilution to meet the funding needs. The chain of events — runaway inflation, currency collapse, civil unrest…

Debt, if big enough, is a shackle. Being shackled brings fear and anguish, certainly not freedom.

One can’t move.

So, as I watch the headlines, the human crisis unfold worldwide — the job, foreclosure, and debt disaster here at home juxtaposed against the recent headline “Bank Chiefs Enjoy 36% Jump in Pay” — I scratch my head, in wonder, is there something deeply, deeply…?

Disordered? Yes, obvious on a global scale. We’ve moved away from community orientation and subsidiarity. But crisis provide opportunities. Right now, tough as they are, we have plenty of both.

No security, despicable exchange

This is disgusting. The consequences for such highly dysfunctional behavior in the Securities Exchange Commission, or lack of them, will tell us a lot about the state of our government and the press right now.

Will the porn revelation be a game-changer in the financial crisis and push for reform?

Senior staffers at the Securities and Exchange Commission were surfing Internet pornography when they should have been policing the financial system. A deeply disturbing SEC memo to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) exposing this problem was reported Thursday night by ABC News. Here are some highlights via the Associated Press:

Or lowlights. Get ready….this is no joke. Serious stuff.

_A senior attorney at the SEC’s Washington headquarters spent up to eight hours a day looking at and downloading pornography. When he ran out of hard drive space, he burned the files to CDs or DVDs, which he kept in boxes around his office. He agreed to resign, an earlier watchdog report said.

_An accountant was blocked more than 16,000 times in a month from visiting websites classified as “Sex” or “Pornography.” Yet, he still managed to amass a collection of “very graphic” material on his hard drive by using Google images to bypass the SEC’s internal filter, according to an earlier report from the inspector general. The accountant refused to testify in his defense and received a 14-day suspension.

That’s it?! A two-week suspension?!

These were not some ‘lackeys’ in the SEC. And note, it was far more than one.

_Seventeen of the employees were “at a senior level,” earning salaries of up to $222,418.

_The number of cases jumped from two in 2007 to 16 in 2008. The cracks in the financial system emerged in mid-2007 and spread into full-blown panic by the fall of 2008.

So this was all going on simultaneously. One more tumbler falls into place.

When on the verge of the most major economic crisis in around 80 years, they were watching porn instead of the financial system.