Is Political Evil Built Into Religion? [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of my latest column in the Theist vs. Atheist debate series at EveryJoe:

“We live in good times for religion and politics. The great majority of us are free to practice or not religion as we choose. That has been rare in human history, as politicians have generally enjoyed using religion as a political tool, and as religious leaders have almost always tried to employ politics for religious purposes.

“My assumption in this article is that some sort of liberal-democratic-republicanism is the best politics. So our question is: Does religion support or undercut such politics?

“It is common in debates such as these for atheists to cite the long history of fanaticism, torture, and war that religion has caused and for theists to respond that such evils are aberrations and that their own preferred religion, properly interpreted, is innocent of such charges.

“So: Is bad politics built into religion? …” [Read more here.]

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Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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The Bhopal Chemical Spill Disaster: Who’s to Blame? [new The Good Life column]

The opening of my latest column at EveryJoe:

“The long-term estimated death toll from the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India is about 15,000 people.

“To put that in context, consider that the estimated immediate death toll from the Soviet Union’s 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster is 4,000. The death toll from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear radiation leak in 2011 is zero. And the death toll from the USA’s 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident is also zero.

“In the high-tech society we strive to be, it is essential that we learn the causes of disasters so that we can correct our mistakes. Technology lessens many of life’s risks, but handled badly it can add other serious risks.

“So Bhopal is rightly a major case to learn from. A hazardous chemical, methyl isocyanate (MIC), used in the making of agricultural pesticides, was spilled and tragically many people died or were maimed …” [Read more here.]

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Previous column in The Good Life series: How Smart and Well-Read was Adolf Hitler?

Posted in The Good Life | 2 Comments

Video of my talk in Buenos Aires

I gave a talk in June at a conference sponsored by Fundación para la Responsabilidad Intelectual, Junior Achievement Argentina, and the John Templeton Foundation. I spoke (in English) on “Cómo las Revoluciones se Ganan o se Pierden,” or “How Revolutions are Won and Lost.”

Here is a video of the talk:

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Os que só reclamam e os problemas ambientais

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Algumas partes do mundo realmente são infernos ambientais. São locais sujos e exauridos, tornando-os insalubres e economicamente insustentáveis. Nós podemos argumentar sobre aseveridade dos problemas de vários lugares; contudo, eu quero focar em outro aspecto do debate: a determinação precisa das causas da degradação, de forma que possamos focar produtivamente na busca de soluções.

Infelizmente, em grande parte, o debate público é caracterizado pela retórica emocional com a ignorância das alternativas e aceitação da primeira hipótese plausível.

Se perguntarmos quem é o culpado, a culpa será atribuída, na maioria das vezes, à natureza egoísta do homem (no original, The Greedy Nature of Man). Aqueles que aceitam essa resposta veem o autointeresse, o lucro, e o capitalismo como as raízes do problema. O autointeresse, argumentam, significa que as pessoas querem mais com o menor custo para si. O lucro no presente significa o uso de recursos o mais depressa possível, livrando-se dos resíduos da forma mais fácil. E o minimalismo proposto pelo capitalismo serve somente para encorajar tal comportamento libertino.

Vamos dar um nome à The Greedy Nature of Man — e proponho adicionar uma palavra — The Greedy Nature of Man´s Evil — para produzir um acrônimo GNOME. Nós podemos produzir algumas camisetas com os dizeres “GNOME is the problem” (gnomos são o problema).

O ensaio clássico A Tragédia dos Comuns de Garrett Hardin para a revista Science é às vezes utilizado em apoio dos GNOMOS. Hardin usou o exemplo de pastores que utilizam uma mesma pastagem. Cada pastor é um criador com interesses próprios, de forma que ele deseja colocar quantas vacas forem possíveis para pastar porque cada vaca adicional aumenta seus lucros. Mas cada vaca adicional também significa que menos pastagem está disponível para as vacas dos outros pastores. E, é claro, os outros pastores estão fazendo a mesma coisa. Mas com o aumento no número de vacas, a área de pastagem será cada vez menor. Assim, os pastores acabam presos em uma competição de soma-zero que leva à destruição da pastagem — e à morte de vacas e pastores magros.

A solução então parece óbvia: se o autointeresse de curto prazo é o problema — se a busca pelo lucro antissocial é o problema — e se o desenfreado capitalismo laissez-faire é o problema — então a solução requererá uma instituição poderosa capaz de domar a busca egoísta pelo lucro das pessoas, impondo regras sobre o uso de recursos que levam em conta as necessidades de longo prazo da sociedade como um todo; isto é, o governo deveria administrar os recursos da sociedade.

No caso dos pastores, por exemplo, o governo deveria dizer a cada pastor quantas vacas ele poderia levar à pastagem e por quanto tempo poderia lá deixa-las. O governo deveria obrigar cada pastor a fazer sua cota justa de manutenção e melhorias na pastagem — capina, construção de cercas, poços e coleta de resíduos. Além disso, o governo contratará policiais para assegurar que nenhum dos pastores trapaceará ou fugir das responsabilidades. E imporá tributos de maneira a financiar a execução da lei e o monitoramento. Isso quer dizer, uma política ambiental sábia demandará racionamento, alistamento militar, poder policial e tributação.

Daí a característica autoritária do ambientalismo atual, com pedidos de mais poderes para essa ou aquela agência governamental e mesmo a instauração de um governo mundial.

Recursos básicos e empresas dessa área deveriam estar em mãos do setor público e da sociedade”, argumenta este documento preparado pela Conferência das Nações Unidas para o Desenvolvimento Sustentável. Ademais: “[O] desenvolvimento sustentável pode somente ser alcançado numa perspectiva global e não pode ser alcançado somente em nível nacional”.  

A análise GNOME seduziu muitos jovens ambientalistas e políticos. Mas a GNOME se depara com algumas estatísticas contrárias e uma poderosa hipótese concorrente sobre a causa da degradação ambiental.

Considere, por exemplo, essa lista dos 25 lugares mais poluídos da Terra.

Na verdade — antes de você verificar aquela lista, faça algumas suposições:

  • Dos 25 mais poluídos, quantos deles você acha que estarão localizados nas partes mais livres do mundo?
  • Quantos deles você acha que serão socialistas, ex-socialistas, autoritários, ou localizados em outras partes do mundo com governos fortes?

Ou você pode confiar na minha contagem: Rússia e Índia estão no topo da lista, cada uma com três dos lugares mais poluídos da Terra. China e Azerbaidjão contribuem com dois cada. Os seguintes países apresentam um lugar cada: Ucrânia, Quirguizistão, Irã, Bangladesh, Indonésia, Congo, Tanzânia, Zâmbia, Haiti, México, Argentina, Brasil e Peru.

Agora, um detalhe interessante: cada um desses países é também reconhecidamente economicamente não livre. O Índice de Liberdade Econômica estabelece um ranking de 178 nações, da mais livre a menos livre, do ponto de vista econômico. A Rússia está na 143º posição. A Índia, 128º. Outras posições, China (139º), Irã (171º), Haiti (151º), Argentina (169º), Congo (170º) …e você pode verificar o resto por conta própria. india-pollution

A questão é: os lugares mais poluídos do mundo são também os menos livres economicamente e, portanto, os mais anticapitalistas.

Em contraste, veja as nações que estão relativamente bem posicionadas no ILE: Hong Kong (1º), Nova Zelândia (3º), Suíça (5º), Canadá (6º), Bahrain (18º), Suécia (23º), Coréia do Sul (29º) e outros são exemplos representativos aqui. Naquelas nações existe uma forte busca pelo lucro, autointeresse e fortalecimento do capitalismo — e aquelas nações são relativamente limpas do ponto de vista ambiental.

Então, a popular hipótese GNOME enfrenta um paradoxo: ela nos diz que o capitalismo de livre mercado causa morte ambiental, mas os dados indicam que mais capitalismo está relacionado com mais saúde ambiental. Ela também nos diz que a administração governamental deveria salvar o ambiente, no entanto, os dados sugerem fortemente que os infernos ambientais ocorrem com maior frequência em sociedades que possuem um estado inchado.

O que significa que deveríamos considerar um hipótese concorrente.

Aquela hipótese também tem dois componentes. Um é que as sociedades planificadas estão repletas de problemas — incompetência, burocracia, corrupção e incentivos perversos, portanto, deveríamos esperar ineficiência e consequências não intencionais em tais sociedades.

A outra parte é que deveríamos conceder ao autointeresse e ao livre mercado mais crédito no que diz respeito à preservação ambiental. O autointeresse inclui o desejo de viver em um ambiente limpo, saudável e bonito. Os humanos são inteligentes o bastante para entender as consequências e a lucratividade no longo prazo. A propriedade privada e o livre mercado podem e efetivamente incentivam o uso consciente de recursos e o tratamento adequado de resíduos.

Além disso: as nações capitalistas tornam-se ricas — e essa riqueza pode ser revertida em forma derecursos para solucionar os problemas ambientais.

Vamos chamar essa nova hipótese de Capitalism Loves the Earth as Needed (o capitalismo ama a Terra como necessária). Vamos adotar o acrônimo CLEAN (limpo, em inglês) e explorar uma nova forma de interpretar do exemplo dos pastores proposto por Garrett Hardin em A Tragédia dos Comuns. 

No último semestre de faculdade, fiquei sem dinheiro. Meu primeiro trabalho como professor já estava confirmado para o segundo semestre, contudo eu não tinha renda para os três meses de verão que o antecediam.

Resolvi, então, deixar de pagar aluguel de um apartamento e me mudar para uma residência estudantil com outras sete pessoas. Era uma casa antiga enorme com oito quartos, de forma que cada um tinha seu próprio quarto, e todos nós compartilhávamos uma cozinha e dois banheiros.

Existem pessoas organizadas e desorganizadas, logo, ao analisar os oito quartos, eles variavam de limpos a bagunçados, mas cada homem estava feliz com seu espaço. Ainda assim, as áreas comuns — cozinha e banheiros — estavam sempre de sujas a repulsivas e todos nós reclamávamos delas.

No dia seguinte à mudança, passei a tarde inteira limpando o banheiro próximo ao meu quarto. Dois dias se passaram e o banheiro estava sujo novamente, e resolvi não mais limpá-lo. Naquele verão, eu tomei banho na academia da universidade.

Nós tentamos resolver a bagunça da cozinha por meio de um sistema de rodízio. Sete dias por semana e oito pessoas na casa, de forma que a cada dia uma pessoa era responsável pela limpeza da cozinha, existindo uma pessoa como reserva (caso alguém não pudesse). A matemática do plano era boa, mas o rodízio durou somente três dias. Uma das pessoas não cumpriu seu dia: restos de comida, e pilhas de louça se acumularam, e a pessoa do dia seguinte se recusou a fazer o trabalho dobrado. Ninguém mais se entendeu e o sistema não funcionou. Eu comi fora de casa muitas vezes naquele verão.

Pergunta: por que as áreas comuns da casa eram inutilizáveis e as áreas privadas, plenamente utilizáveis?

Retornemos ao cenário clássico da tragédia dos comuns de Garrett Hardin. Cada pastor que utiliza uma pastagem comum X tem incentivo a colocar mais vacas ali para aumentar seus lucros.  Ao mesmo tempo, pouco incentivo a cultivar a pastagem ou criar um poço, dado que estaria assumindo todo o trabalho duro enquanto os outros só tirariam proveito. Assim, a pastagem seria superutilizada, contudo mal cuidada e, em pouco tempo, inutilizável.

A hipótese da natureza gananciosa do homem culpa o autointeresse dos pastores: se somente eles não fossem tão egoisticamente preocupados com seus próprios lucros! Como podemos fazê-los agir em prol do bem comum? Claramente, precisamos que o governo assuma a gestão dos recursos — racionar, recrutar, tributar, e policiar — como forma de manter os recursos comuns! Isto é, o socialismo é a solução ou todos nós sofreremos ou até mesmo morreremos!

Não tão rápido. A tragédia resulta de dois fatores que trabalham conjuntamente: o recurso comum e o autointeresse privado. E se a área comum é o problema e não o autointeresse?

Suponha que a pastagem comum tenha 10000 hectares e que existem 20 pastores fazendo uso. Nós poderíamos dividir essa pastagem em 20 lotes com 500 hectares cada, cada qual a ser administrado por um pastor. Isto é, poderíamos privatizar o recurso ao torná-lo uma forma de propriedade privada.

Como isso mudaria a dinâmica? Suponha que você seja um dos pastores que recebeu um lote de 500 hectares.

  • É do seu interesse continuar adicionando vacas a sua pastagem? Claramente, não: se você deseja que a pastagem seja útil para você no futuro, você assegurará que a quantidade de vacas seja proporcional à capacidade de produção forrageira da pastagem.
  • Você abriria um poço de forma que suas vacas tivessem água nos meses quentes do verão? Seria caro, sim, mas suas vacas teriam uso total da água — e se for um poço realmente produtivo, você poderá vender a água que sobrar para seus vizinhos.
  • Você falaria com seus vizinhos sobre a possibilidade de divisão do valor de instalação de uma cerca entre as suas propriedades, de forma que as vacas não ficassem vagando entre a sua propriedade e a dele? Sim.
  • Ou você pensaria: algum dia eu quero me aposentar, e quando eu decidir fazê-lo, eu quero vender minha fazenda por muito dinheiro, de modo a viver de forma confortável até o fim dos meus dias. Para tal, eu deveria administrar minha fazenda da melhor forma possível, aumentando o seu valor econômico no longo prazo.
  • Ou: Eu quero deixar minha fazenda para meus filhos quando eu morrer, e quero que eles tenham o máximo de sucesso na vida. Para tal, quero deixar uma fazenda produtiva e bem cuidada para eles.

O ponto é que, com a solução da propriedade privada, o autointeresse agora está alinhado ao uso saudável dos recursos. Existe um papel para o governo — não a gestão dos recursos, como proposto pela opção socialista que vai contra a ganância humana — mas sim o registro e concessão de títulos de propriedade, proteção efetiva de tais títulos, e resolução de conflitos caso venham a acontecer. Se minhas vacas acidentalmente cruzarem os limites de minha propriedade, você tem o direito de impedir que pastem e até mesmo me denunciar por qualquer dano que possa ter sido causado por essa “invasão”. Se você roubar água do meu poço, você pode ser processado. Existem incentivos suficientes para o respeito da propriedade alheia.

Nós acabamos de descrever a solução capitalista de livre mercado à tragédia dos comuns: autointeresse e a busca do lucro, aliadas aos direitos de propriedade e ao governo limitado, isto é, a proposta do capitalismo.

Mas e o que dizer dos pastores ruins? Meu sobrenome é Hicks, o que significa que venho de uma longa descendência de fazendeiros. E se eu for preguiçoso e incompetente, ou ter uma onda de má sorte e acabar falindo a fazenda? Ela se tornará mal cuidada, tomada pelas ervas daninhas e empobrecida ao ponto de eu não ser mais capaz de obter o mínimo necessário para o meu sustento. new-zealand-scenery

A única opção que resta, portanto, é a venda da fazenda. Para quem eu venderei? Para um fazendeiro que puder compra-la — isso quer dizer, para um fazendeiro que tenha administrado a sua própria fazenda de forma eficiente, obtendo lucro suficiente para colocá-lo em uma posição capaz de investir em outros recursos.

E o que será de mim? Agora não tenho mais uma fazenda. O que acontece com fazendeiros incompetentes como eu é uma questão, mas nossa preocupação aqui é a boa manutenção de recursos e a solução da tragédia dos comuns. A grande virtude do sistema capitalista é que aqueles que utilizam os recursos de forma imprópria são incapazes de fazê-lo por muito tempo. Os recursos acabam nas mãos daqueles que têm um incentivo a geri-los de forma sábia.

Retornemos agora a minha não muito agradável residência estudantil. A cozinha e os banheiros eram o exemplo vivo de uma tragédia. E é por isso que eram um exemplo de propriedade comum.

Quando vemos recursos mal utilizados e poluição, nós quase sempre encontramos uma propriedade comum. Ou não existem direitos de propriedade ou existe uma tentativa fracassada de administração governamental de recursos sob a forma de propriedade comum.

Mas até onde podemos expandir a solução privatizante?

O direito de propriedade privado sobre a terra faz sentido, mas a terra não é o único recurso sensível do ponto de vista ambiental e não é sempre claro como os direitos de propriedade podem resolver todos os debates sobre o uso da terra. Como funcionariam para recursos como o ar e a água ou espécies animais migratórias? Como os aplicamos a recursos novos e intangíveis como os valores intelectuais? Tecnologia de ponta, por exemplo.

E a escolha que temos se reduz somente à privatização ou à administração governamental? A vencedora do prêmio Nobel Elinor Ostrom argumentou em defesa de uma via intermediária: não uma solução “tamanho único”, Ostrom argumentou, apresentando exemplos bem sucedidos de associações locais de várias partes do mundo que possuem práticas públicas e privadas aplicadas à gestão de todos os tipos de recursos. (Coincidentemente, Ostrom era professora da Universidade onde eu estudava na época, e talvez deveríamos tê-la consultado sobre nossa tragédia residencial comum).

Isso nos leva à situação atual. O debate sobre a tragédia dos comuns é parte do grande debate entre os pessimistas versus otimistas. E muito está em jogo, portanto, vamos evitar disputas no grito. Em primeiro lugar, é tempo de analisar os exemplos da história e considerar todos os lados do debate.

* * *

hicks-stephen-2013“Os que só reclamam e os problemas ambientais” Por Stephen Hicks. Tradução de Matheus Pacini. Revisão de Russ Silva. Artigo Original no “The Good Life”. Visite Publicações em Português para ler os últimos artigos de Stephen Hicks.

Stephen Hicks é o autor do livro Explicando o Pós Modernismo e Nietzsche and the Nazis.

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Is Religion Good or Bad for Politics? [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of John C. Wright’s latest column in the Theist vs. Atheist series debate at EveryJoe:

“The question for this week is whether religion is good or bad for politics.

“The wording of the question is charmingly misleading, akin to asking whether economic theory is good or bad for politics, without bothering to distinguish between the economic theory of the free market, which produced the industrial revolution, versus the economic theory of Stalinist Marxism, which produced the Ukraine famine, the gulags, and the endless fear and bloodshed of the Cold War.

“Politics is the study of how to organize the laws and customs of the state to preserve the common good, maintain the social order, deter crime and win wars, and promote virtue among the citizens and subjects.

“Reading the ancient and the modern literature on the topic, one soon realizes that every writer from Plato to Marx and beyond sees the sole mechanism of political control to be the abolition of liberty, with one glaring exception.

“This exception is so obvious that only an intellectual would somehow contrive to overlook it.

“Only in Christian commonwealths and kingdoms can the study of how to organize the state to achieve the common good and promote virtue be subordinated to how to preserve liberty. This is what politics properly so called is, and all that it is …” [Read more here.]

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Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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Video Interview with John Chisholm — Transcript

Interview conducted at Rockford University by Stephen Hicks and sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Entrepreneurship.

Hicks: Our guest today is John Chisholm. John is a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, now based in San Francisco, involved in a number of ventures. And he was here today talking to the Business and Economic Ethics class about entrepreneurship and, more specifically, about how to think like an entrepreneur. Lots of fascinating material there. chisholm-john-headshot

One of the first things you mentioned was motivation, about why people might consider entrepreneurship as their option as opposed to working for an existing organization. What are the motivating values here?

Chisholm: Well, I can suggest three reasons. One is the freedom to do what you love. Two is security for you and your family. And one thing I remind students is that no one is going to provide for their security except for them. And do not rely on the government, because who knows what could happen there.

Hicks: Because they are young people who are looking 40 years down to the road to retirement.

Chisholm: Yes. And especially today since we have a government shutdown, that might seem particularly relevant

Hicks: Coincidentally, yes.

Chisholm: And third is opportunities that are unique to each and every one of us. Everyone has a unique set of skills, knowledge, relationships, and reputation. And these give each of us the ability to do something or start a business that potentially nobody else can. And so, developing that and taking advantage of that opportunity is one of drivers of entrepreneurship.

Hicks: When we get an entrepreneurship as a career, there are two things that we hear a lot. One is the positive motivation, about passion, about finding something you’re interested in and excited about and trying to pursue a career there. But we also hear that entrepreneurship is very hard work. It can be grueling, sometimes overwhelming, and so perseverance is important. Both passion and perseverance were central to your talk, but an interplay between the two was interesting. How does that work?

Chisholm: I see them as feeding on each other. They don’t necessarily go to together; you can have one without the other. For example, you can have passion without perseverance, and that is not likely to lead anywhere long term. I call it a passing fantasy. Or you can have perseverance without passion, but that’s drudgery and it isn’t likely to be very sustainable. But the combination of the two is very powerful, and they feed on each other. I call that combination flow. Some people call it flourishing. It goes by different names. But examples of passion driving perseverance are when you are so deeply engaged by an activity or a subject that you spend so much time that hours go by like minutes. And there your passion is driving perseverance. It’s making perseverance easy. An alternative example is perseverance driving passion. If you just dedicate yourself to working on or learning about a particular activity so that you start to get good at it and feel good doing it, then that’s an example of perseverance making you or helping you become passionate about something.

Hicks: Right. And in many cases you find out that you are passionate about something that you wouldn’t have become passionate about had you not persevered past a certain threshold.

Chisholm: Exactly.

Hicks: All right, good. The middle part of your talk focused on personal psychology. In many cases people can have self-defeating psychological habits rather than self-empowering psychological habits. One of the things, for example you mentioned was being careful about negative thoughts. How do you deal with negative thoughts? Of course we’re going to have negative thoughts, but what’s their place in the process?

Chisholm: One of things I say is: never say anything negative about yourself. And if you have to, use the past tense. That’s the way I used to be. But it’s not the way I am now, it’s not the way I am going forward, it’s not the direction I am going in. I emphasize that the human brain is like an iceberg, with only 20% of it consciously aware of the messages that come in and 80% unconscious. That unconscious mind is doing a lot of processing of messages, and some of those messages that we repeat to ourselves again and again are accepted as truth, so a negative idea can turn into reality. So, we don’t want to repeat negative thoughts about ourselves that will hold us back. So I suggest that for any negative thought that might creep into your mind, think of a specific incident, no matter how small, where you did the opposite. If it was at a party, you put everybody else at ease. If it was in a game, you were the star. Keep that specific incident in the fourfold of your mind. Think about, maybe write it down, maybe describe it in detail, and maybe tell others about it. And then let that push the negative thoughts out of your mind.

Hicks: How does that work with one’s self-evaluation, where sometimes it is appropriate to recognize that you do have deficiencies, weaknesses, and you make mistakes. And you do have to confront those in order to learn from them? So, we don’t want to get down the road of denying that one has weaknesses or that one has engaged in inappropriate behavior or whatever. So how do you balance what you were just saying with an honest self-evaluation, including evaluation of weaknesses that you have?

Chisholm: Well, as I said, it’s okay in the past tense to say that this is what I’ve done before or this was my performance before. And, maybe you can identify some improvement to that performance even since it happened. If so, great, that’s progress already starting. And then you can talk about the direction you’re going in and what you plan to do in the future.

Hicks: Two more social points: Entrepreneurs often are leaders, so they have to set the tone, so to speak. And so, cultivating the right kind of social, psychological atmosphere in a start-up firm is also important. And there you were also emphasizing the positives. Can you give us some examples of what you mean by that?

Chisholm: Well, one of things I say about culture is that it emerges; it’s emergent. It’s not directly controlled by anyone, even the CEO, although the CEO certainly has more influence over it than any other person because others will look to his or her example and follow that. But it is a combination of the interactions of everybody in the company, and I think two things that are particularly important in driving culture is how decisions are made and how people treat each other. And again, for both of these the CEO can play a very central role, including others in the decisions, delegating decisions, trusting others to make the right decision, and treating others respectfully in the same way that he or she would like to be treated.

Hicks: Including criticism, right? Criticism should be constructive criticism, not blame storming and all of that usual stuff that we hear about?

Chisholm: Something I often say is look for and find the good in the people around you. This is something I look for in other executives and try to work on in myself. And build on that good, no matter how small. So, just as it’s helpful to me to build on the small, good things I’ve done, it’s also really good for others to have me and others recognize the good things that they’ve done, acknowledge them, and build on them.

Hicks: So, an important part of the entrepreneur’s function is going to be selecting people who are in the team, and their psychology and their attitudes that they bring to the table are also going to be adding to the mix. So there might be people who are going to have the technical skill sets, but they might not be the right social mix if they don’t have that same ability to contribute positively, and so forth.chisholm-unleash_your_inner_company

Chisholm: So there is a lot there. On one hand, you want to find people who have a positive mindset, who will have a can-do attitude, and who will contribute to those cultural elements that we talked about, and, at the same time, you don’t want to get everybody identical in the company. Because if everybody is identical, then somebody isn’t necessary. And, there are lots of ways to think about diversity. The way that seems to be most valuable to any team as far as I can tell is cognitive diversity in a business team. So, how do different members of the team think about things? What are some of the ways people can be different? Some people focus on the big picture, some people focus on the individual components, some people are better dealing with relationships and with other people, and some people are more transactional. And having a mix of those different styles, I think, strengthens the team. In fact, Scott Page at the University of Michigan has done tests that find that teams that are diverse cognitively outperform teams that are stronger but less diverse or more homogeneous cognitively.

Hicks: Is there a double-edge sword with cognitive diversity, because then you have cognitive styles and they can clash, as well as being complementary to each other? So, is a part of an additional level of management being able to manage the clash constructively?

Chisholm: Yes, and I do think you can go too far and that there is an optimal middle ground. I think of them as three overlapping circles. Say, if we have a venn diagram, if they’re too overlapping that’s suboptimal, but if they are completely non-overlapping, the members of that team may have trouble working together.

Hicks: Issues of money and funding obviously come up a lot in entrepreneurship at all levels, but, particularly, the entry stage. Young people are often deterred because they don’t think they can raise the funding or they don’t know how to think about the funding process. And you did have advice about seeking funding, but not until you’re ready. What does that mean? When you are ready to seek funding?

Chisholm: Well, I do think there are a finite number of times in a company’s life that are optimal for fundraising, and they are right after the company has achieved a significant milestone that reduces risk to potential investors. And when will those times be? Here are some examples. If you are profitable, that eliminates the risk that you can’t generate revenue. If you can generate revenue, that eliminates the risk that you can’t get customers. If you have customers, that eliminates the risk that your prototype won’t work. And if you have a working prototype, that eliminates the risk that your idea can’t even be made to work in the first place. So, those are examples of milestones that would probably be perceived as significant risk-reducers by prospective investors.

Of course, the key question is how can an entrepreneur get to that point where they have reached one of those milestones. That’s going to perhaps take some funding just to get there, and so I encourage them to look at all of their resources. So we filled out that chart that has lots of different types of assets on it. I may have a spare bedroom. Great, that means that I don’t have to rent an office. I may have some computer equipment and access to the internet. Great, that means I don’t have to buy that equipment. I can find whatever friends and family I have that can provide initial funding. I can be creative about how I engage others to get involved with the company. I can perhaps offer a combination of stock and flexibility in addition to capital and in that way get additional funding.

Hicks: As well as getting people who are enthusiastic about the product or the project so the compensation necessarily will be lower, but they will get more psychological rewards. So being creative in all of those dimensions?

Chisholm: Absolutely.

Hicks: Towards the end you also talked about ethics, which certainly as an ethics professor I found refreshing, and you raised the provocative question of whether entrepreneurship is ethical, particularly since in business ethics we don’t hear a lot about entrepreneurship. So, what were your thoughts there?

Chisholm: Well, I do think it is one of the most ethical career choices you can make, and let me explain why I say that

Hicks: Sure.

Chisholm: First of all, we don’t often hear about entrepreneurship. What do we hear about is corporate philanthropy as being very ethical. We hear about graft and corruption and theft as being unethical. I don’t disagree with either of those, but I don’t think it’s the whole story, and I don’t even think it’s the most important part of the story.

And I think to see the full story it’s helpful to look at the stages of the entrepreneurial process. What does it require for somebody to become an entrepreneur? Well, they have to have an idea, which they have to develop. That takes rationality, creativity, and persistence. They have to have the courage to strike out on their own. That takes courage. They have to have intellectual honesty to reject an idea for which there is no customer demand as I was eventually forced to do with my first company, when I, after six months, finally accepted the fact that there was not customer demand for a cool, new technology called conditional voting. And you have to create win-wins with your employees and with your customers or else they are not going to deal with you. They are going to go somewhere else. So, all of these qualities in an individual that entrepreneurship demands are qualities, I think, we would like to see in the people around us, our neighbors and our co-workers.

Now, consider the social benefits that entrepreneurship generates. It’s impossible to be successful as an entrepreneur without making the world a better place by creating more choice, more innovation, lower cost, or some combination of the above. Because, again, if people don’t feel their world is going to be made better by your product or service, they don’t have to buy it. They are going to go elsewhere. Similarly, all of your stakeholders, employees, shareholders, customers, and partners have to, their worlds have to be made better or else they are going to go elsewhere. So, both individually and socially, I see lots of qualities that we would like in our co-workers and neighbors that entrepreneurship brings out in the people around us and which entrepreneurship demands if a person is going to be successful at it. And if you stand back and look at the tens of millions of entrepreneurs around the world who are all serving customer needs and creating these win-wins and innovating, they are driving improvements in quality of life, standards of living, and economic growth around the world.

Hicks: All of that is deeply ethical, absolutely.

Chisholm: And, incidentally, guess what’s funding most of the philanthropy in the world? Entrepreneurship. So given all of those factors, I rest my case that entrepreneurship is among the most ethical career choices you can make.

Hicks: So, as an individual, entrepreneurship requires certain virtues of character. For a venture to succeed, it has to be a network of win-win relationships that are developed. Those make the world a better place in a number of respects including philanthropy because of all of the extra wealth that it generates. Fascinating.

All right, thanks very much for being with us today. I am sure the students found it very eye-opening.

Chisholm: It has been very fun. Thank you, Stephen.

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Making Life Meaningful Without Religion [new Theist vs. Atheist series column]

The opening of my latest column in the Theist vs. Atheist debate series at EveryJoe:

“The quest for a meaningful life comes naturally to us. As infants we delight in exploring the world and developing our powers — hearing and seeing and tasting, crawling, eye-hand coordination, vocalizing, and social interaction with parents, siblings, and family pets.

“As children our lives becomes more complicated, yet we continue to grow in the strength of our reason and we develop emotional resiliency and more powerful bodies to meet the challenges.

“This natural process continues into adulthood until we are capable of embracing the adventure of life fully — with commitments to meaningful careers, romantic loves, becoming parents ourselves, experiencing the profundities of art and philosophy, traveling to exotic places, including to magnificent past cultures by means of history and to the vast reaches of the universe by means of science.

“But along the way, bad things can happen to sabotage us …” [Read more here.]

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Here are the links to other columns in the series.

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How Smart and Well-Read was Adolf Hitler? [new The Good Life column]

The opening of my latest column at EveryJoe:

“One century ago, Adolf Hitler was fighting in the Great War. He was a good soldier — he would be promoted to the rank of corporal, be wounded two times, and be awarded six medals. And with him during the war he had the writings of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.

“The image of Hitler reading Schopenhauer is startling, as one popular depiction of Hitler is of a semi-literate, semi-sane outlier who somehow lucked and manipulated his way to power in Germany. Certainly after the devastation of World War Two and the horrors of the Holocaust, it’s tempting to think that those who caused them must be close to crazy and to dismiss the possibility that educated people could be responsible.

“But if we are going to fully understand the causes of National Socialism and other horrors, we have to consider an unsettling possibility: Maybe those who commit them, like Hitler and his accomplices, can be highly intelligent, well educated, and think of themselves as noble idealists …” [Read more here.]

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Previous column in The Good Life series: On Greek Debts and Doing What’s Moral.

Posted in The Good Life | 2 Comments