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P H I L O S O P H Y F O R B U S I N E S S ISSN 2043-0736
Issue number 65
17th February 2011
I. Answer to question on 'Capitalism and the poverty of desire' by
II. 'Swine Flu in Perspective' by Maximiliano Korstanje
III. 'The Way of Business: Pressing On' by Tom Veblen
IV. Birkbeck College London: Postgraduate Programmes in Corporate
Governance and Ethics
I was delighted to hear that Birkbeck College, University of London,
where I did my BA in Philosophy many years ago, is offering new
postgraduate programmes in Corporate Governance and Ethics. This is a
welcome sign of an increasing interest in these issues, especially at
a College where the majority of of the student body are in full-time
employment. Many of the postgraduate students following these
programmes are at the coal face, putting into practice what they
For this issue, I have contributed an answer published recently on
Ask a Philosopher (Q+A Page 49) concerning the question of job
satisfaction, and how the requirements of making a living can be
reconciled with the desire to feel engaged with something that
expresses one's individuality, rather than being a mere cog in the
Maximiliano Korstanje focuses on a recent event, the swine flu
epidemic, which casts interesting light on a number of interconnected
social and political issues. He argues that behind the lurid headlines
there is an ideological element to do with power and control which is
not new but has appeared intermittently throughout human history.
Tom Veblen is currently working towards a new edition of his book The
Way of Business. His latest contribution to Philosophy for Business is
a trenchant summary of five principles or virtues -- Endeavour,
Knowledge, Direction, Self-Governance and Harmony -- which together
encapsulate what it means to be, or to strive for, true 'superiority'
in the business world.
I. ANSWER TO QUESTION ON 'CAPITALISM AND THE POVERTY OF DESIRE' BY
On Fri, Feb 4, 2011 at 13:18:52
Kramer asked this question:
How can philosophy help in addressing a poverty of desire? Living in
a capitalist society leads to spending most of my time towards
earning a living and caring for my dependents. I feel I must try out
different vocations to figure out the job I would like best but then
you would not know if you really like a job unless you put in
sufficient time. And I don't have much time and I don't know what I
like. I just live and this causes a poverty of desire.
The claim that human beings in capitalist society work 'just to live'
rather than to fulfil their 'human essence' was the criticism famously
levelled by Marx originally in his Economic and Philosophical
Manuscripts of 1844. As a capitalist sympathetic to Marx's ideas
about the human essence and the need to fulfil it, I feel sorry that
so many people spend so much of their lives in dead-end jobs just
working to make ends meet. It's something of which I have hardly any
experience, not because I am capitalist living of the sweat of the
working class, but because of my innate laziness. I lack the
Protestant work ethic. You won't get me to work by threats or
rewards. Only the prospect of fulfilling my human essence is
sufficient to motivate me.
As a result of this, I am poor. If I had been more 'responsible', my
family would be better provided for but at least we have a roof over
our heads and we don't starve. I have spent two thirds of my six
decades doing more or less what I do now. I reckon I'm pretty good at
my job -- philosophizing on a point. I don't get a lot of praise, but
then I never needed other people's approval to motivate me either.
This morning, I knew that another Tentative Answer was overdue. I
looked forward to the prospect with a mixture of apprehension,
nervousness and slight annoyance at myself for not having written my
weekly answer last week so that I could spend the rest of my day
watching the clouds go by as I love to do.
But then, part of being lazy is not doing a task at the first
opportunity, but rather on the deadline when you absolutely know that
you can't postpone it another day.
What advice can I give Kramer?
First, about Marx. It is absolutely wrong to think that the need to
work at a task you don't like is a criticism that Marx laid at
capitalism's door. Not at all. How much work is required and what
kind depends to a large extent on things out of our control. In the
aftermath of a nuclear holocaust the survivors will be working their
guts out just to stay alive. In a future super-technological age of
plenty, perhaps very little work will be needed at all, maybe just a
couple of hours on a Friday.
But let's just tackle things as they are.
Regardless of how society is organized or what political system human
beings live under, work will be necessary. Marx understood this. Doing
what is necessary, pulling your weight, making your contribution to
society is part of what is required to fulfil one's human essence.
There are some jobs that only a masochist would enjoy, and there are
not nearly enough masochists to go round. But the jobs have to be
done, nonetheless. Say, it's your turn to clean out the lavatories.
The point, however, is that provided everyone pulls their weight (and
barring the nuclear holocaust scenario) you have sufficient time time
to do things which you enjoy, which enhance you and express your
The young Marx's criticism of capitalist society was that the very
best of the worker is used up in the daily grind. the worker's only
pleasures the animal pleasures of eating, sex and sleeping. Then the
whole things starts again. Marx believed that to sell your labour
rather than give it freely out of the joyful desire to make a useful
contribution (including cleaning out lavatories) already condemns
you. You're nothing better than a prostitute. But then so are the all
those talented people who choose wealth and comfort over artistic
integrity. In a world that runs on money, we sell our souls because
we lose our sense of value -- regardless of whether the general
standard of living is high or low.
Criticism of materialism is nothing new. Gloomy Diogenes was there
before Marx (see Follydiddledah page 6). Defecating in the street,
begging coins of passers by in return for a caustic philosophical
discourse, that's not my idea of the good life. But freedom to
express your human essence has a value, and that's one way to be free
if you can accept the discomfort. Be a bum. -- But I forgot, you have
(This reminds me of a beautiful short novel Knulp -- actually three
short stories -- written by Herman Hesse in 1915, which makes a good
case that the life of a tramp isn't that bad if you are one of those
rare people who has the right qualities.)
This isn't the place to launch into a criticism of Marxist
philosophy. I will just say that a society of brotherly and sisterly
love, where we are all just one happy family and everyone does the
work required without needing to be motivated by material reward
isn't something that anyone has every believed possible, apart from
maybe the early Christians. That's what you would have to achieve in
order to get rid once and for all of the evil of money.
Kramer, your problem isn't about the evils of capitalism, real though
they may be. Accept that you may need to choose between jobs you don't
like, and that the best choice you can possibly make is more likely
than not a job you won't enjoy doing -- at least not too much. But
still, there's the pleasure of social contact, work mates, the
various compensations that help you get through the day. Be prepared
to take a cut in pay, in order to work for someone human rather than
a bastard (as many bosses unfortunately are). You have obligations to
your family but those obligations don't include self-sacrifice. If you
sell yourself into miserable wage slavery, your value to them reduces
to the money you earn.
(Which reminds me of another novel, or novella, Franz Kafka's
Metamorphosis coincidentally also written in 1915.)
Find an interest in life, outside work or family. You can probably
guess what I'm going to say. You found the Ask a Philosopher web
site searching for sites related to philosophy. Take a philosophy
course. Develop your mind. Don't do it because of the super-slim
chance of making philosophy your career. The chances are, you're not
cut out for it. Do it because it is one way -- very satisfying, as I
have discovered -- to realize your human essence.
And do other things. Don't forget your friends, keep yourself fit,
engage in something artistic, look after your garden. Whatever
talents you have, exploit them. Accept the necessity for work but
have a life as well.
(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2011
II. 'SWINE FLU IN PERSPECTIVE' BY MAXIMILIANO KORSTANJE
Even though it is not my habit to review the content of journals, I
consider the last issue of Desacatos (32) worth my time as it is
dedicated to the coverage by the mass media of the outbreak of swine
flu in Mexico. The foreword by Molina del Villar introduces readers
to the atmosphere of panic people lived through during the epidemic.
One might speculate that the outbreak of epidemics has played an
important role in history: the Spanish Inquisition, persecution of
Jews, unification of Castile and Aragon Reigns, the Conquest of
America and other discoveries, all these events were triggered by
epidemics (the Black death) (Plaidy, 1994). This happens because
societies develop symbolic pretexts to digest the effects of disaster
in the hope of preventing similar consequences in future. This was
exactly what we saw regarding swine flu in Mexico and Argentina.
In the first paper, Eduardo L. Menendez explains how the mass media
operates in the coverage of a pandemic. He dwells not only on the
primary aspects to be taken into consideration in the first days of
an outbreak an epidemic of the caliber of swine flu, but also the
scientific alarmism coming from all sides regarding a pandemic
apocalyptic virus that could possibly wreak havoc worldwide. The
sentiment of panic emerges whenever there is a failure to give an
adequate account of the scientific reasons for such an event. Of
course, it is almost impossible for all the different biologists to
agree about the cause and effects of a virus. This ambivalence of
information paves the way for the advent of uncertainty. It is
unfortunate that mass media echoes this and is involuntarily
functional spreading fear and promoting discrimination.
Nonetheless, Menendez warns that although epidemics represent
potentially serious losses for economy this does not justify the
sensationalisation of science. If the press distributes information
concerning a serious risk for the population, it is assumed that the
authority for disseminating such claims comes from science, in this
case the biologists. The message of the sensationalism of science can
be summarized in the following points: (a) the virus could have a high
lethality (although in practice this is not proved) (b) there is the
fear that a virus might mutate becoming more lethal, (c) the outbreak
can affect not only underdeveloped countries but also developed ones,
(d) because the strain of the virus is new, there is a lack of
affordable vaccines to prevent its advance. All these aspects combine
to create a state of dread that paralyzes the population.
A similar argument can be found in the second paper by Eva Salgado
Andrade and Frida Villavicencio Zarza. The authors look at the
coverage from 81 news stories between April 24 and May 7 of 2009.
Examining the process of the construction that journalists make of
such a contingency, the authors convincingly argue that the discourse
not only can be taken as a form of political instrument, but as a way
of controlling the consumer market. At the very same time as the
public learns about the emergency through the press, business
stakeholders enter in conflict in their quest of power. We had
eye-witness reports as to how the fear and contradictory messages
from the hospitals and government resulted in the press assuming the
leading role in offering a sense of certainty at a moment where
nobody knew really how to act. The press occupied and re-signified
the public sphere just where science had apparently failed.
In the third article, Teresa Carbo scrutinizes the different pictures
shot by photojournalists during the swine flu epidemic. From the point
of view of symbolic anthropology, she considers the photographs as a
fertile source of analysis for understanding the social issues. Her
main thesis is that the urban emptiness provoked by the flu, the
absence of people in the streets visibly contrasted with the
overabundance of food in the shops, most notably foodstuffs
containing pork. The face mask posed as the primary option for
travelers, tourists and people in general who decided not to shut
themselves away. Tourists dressed in face masks, a custom initiated
in Asia during other similar outbreaks as SARS or bird flu, became an
emblem of protection and isolation. In the first days of this episode,
the most powerful visual sign that portrayed the effects of the health
emergency was the face mask which worked as a rite that not only
helped to intellectualize an event of this nature but as symbolizing
the atmosphere of fear and the threat of oblivion.
We have selected these three papers (from other well-researched
papers) because they provide the reader a clear framework for how an
outbreak of a new virus works in the social imagination. These
studies allow us to reinforce our argument with evidence from the
similar situation of emergency in Dengue. In perspective, disasters
not only exhibit the imbalances and miseries of a society but also
allow the political conflict among stakeholders to rise to the
surface. One of the aspects that terrifies the citizenship in these
cases is the invisibility of the danger. Unlike other sudden
catastrophes such as hurricanes or earthquakes, the outbreak of a new
virus represents a threat that cannot be seen. Secondly, the
possibility that the symptoms of the sickness can be passed from
person to person jeopardizing the security of children and pregnant
women threatens the youngest generation, which society is especially
anxious to protect.
Thus, we can see how the coverage of press and journalism of a virus
outbreak follows three connected facets. The preliminary facet is
denominated as uncertainty during the first days of the outbreak when
little or scarce information is available to the people. This moment
is characterized by a high degree of confusion. Mass media and the
press can from one moment to the next present contradictory
information about the same event. Similarly, the disputed question of
the number of infected persons or victims plays a pivotal role in
colouring the events as they unfold.
Secondly, the facet of gossip can be distinguished from the advent of
fear and panic. Typically, during the fifth or sixth week of the
outbreak there appears much uninformed gossip. Conspiracy theories
multiply as attempts are made to explain the reasons behind the
event. This is one of the most dreadful moments of the emergency. An
inevitable process of discrimination arises whenever officials
scramble to give the public an explanation which not only meets their
expectations but also justifies their own policies and strategies
regarding the disaster. As previously noted, this facet is
characterized by the cross fire between officials of different
parties. (This could be observed in Argentina when Mauricio Macri
advised Cristina Kirchner, Argentine president, to cancel all inbound
flights from Mexico.) Once the discussion has reached a deadlock,
politicians look for a third group to act as a scapegoat, in order to
recover the equilibrium in the social system. These groups almost
always are the most vulnerable. The poor and the indigent were
identified as the primary source of contagion even though this type
of virus spreads through air travel and mass-tourism; activities from
which the poorest sectors of Mexico and Argentina are excluded.
The final facet of an emergency is the the discrimination whose
function is to adjust those asymmetries that can break the hegemony
of aristocracies (Korstanje, 2010). Ranging from the persecution of
Christians at the time of Nero to the media representation of
Afro-Americans during the looting that took place after Hurricane
Katrina, disasters impinge on our social order. The causes of a
disaster are often hidden behind its effects. The poverty,
underdevelopment or other characteristic of a minority becomes a
distracting issue which alleviates the state of angst that these
types of event trigger. In conclusion, one might realize how the main
message of this hegemonic discourse seems to be aimed at upending the
causality of events. The newspapers and media converged on a very
specific message: 'This has occurred because you are poor!' This
virus made us learn a lesson about how ideology operates in the
context of an emergency, uncertainty and chaos.
Andrade-Salgado, Eva and Villavicencio-Zarza, Frida. (2010). 'Cronica
de una Epidemia pregonada'. Desacatos, Issue 32: 89-108.
Carbo, Teresa. (2010). 'La visibilizacion de un enemigo invisible. La
Influenza A (H1N1) en fotografias de Prensa'. Desacatos, Issue 32.
Special section without number of pages.
Korstanje, M. (2010). 'Assessing the case of Dengue in Argentina
2009, discrimination and fear'. Brazilian Journalism Research. Vol 6
(1). Available at http://vsites.unb.br/ojsdpp/viewissue.php.
Menendez, Eduardo. (2010). Las Influenzas por todos tan temidas o de
los dificiles usos del conocimiento'. Desacatos, Issue 32: 17-34.
Plaidy, J. (1994). The Spanish Inquisition. New York, Barnes and
Villar Molina, de. America. (2010). 'Influenza A (H1N1): estudio de
la contigencia sanitaria y el brote de una pandemia desde las
perspectivas epidemiologica, social e historica'. Desacatos, Issue
(c) Maximiliano Korstanje 2011
University of Palermo
III. 'THE WAY OF BUSINESS: PRESSING ON' BY TOM VEBLEN
Endeavoring we advance or decline, improve or deteriorate, get better
or get worse.
The idea is to get better...
Becoming better is a conundrum of course, dependent on how we think,
decide, and act. Practitioners following the way of business are
purpose driven and sociable, and culturally attuned. In the American
culture this means that the superior ones are collaborative by
nature, value reality over idealism, integrity and knowledge over
power and fame, entrepreneurship and open dealing over risk avoidance
and trickery, wealth creation and management over profit taking.
Thus acculturated, they discover the things that really matter in
business (and life).
We learn by doing, by endeavoring, which in its highest form is an
amalgam consisting of equal parts industry (diligence,
conscientiousness, hard work), speculation (supposition, conjecture,
theory), and enterprise (hard, bold, dangerous, or important
Endeavor -- try, strive, make an effort, do one's best, struggle,
exert oneself, undertake, aim, aspire; take a stab at, have a go or
crack or whack or shot at...
To act soundly on courses of action in keeping with the grand scheme
of things one must first know the present reality (history, present
state, prospect) of one's business and life.
Knowledge -- knowing, awareness, cognition, grasp, understanding,
Worthwhile accomplishment depends on right means and right ends.
Direction-reason, intention, purpose, drive...
Virtue (excellence) is acquired from a lifetime of moral and ethical
choices -- a matter of being and becoming according to one's own
Self-governance -- independence, autonomy, sovereignty, self-mastery,
The vagaries of business (and life) conspire to make fools of us all.
Life being a work-in-process it is best to proceed with modesty
(humility, simplicity, moderation), recognizing that luck (good and
bad) will attend your endeavors. How one capitalizes on luck, be it
good or bad, is what the art of business is all about.
Harmony -- balance, congruity, orderliness, closeness, togetherness,
STRIVING FOR SUPERIORITY
We live in a world of ceaseless change. In such a world the steady
state of 'being' is 'becoming,' ideally for better not worse, good
not bad, right not wrong.
Think about the global spread of Enlightenment ideas, and how these
are creating a world of national economies increasingly dependent on
the free exchange of goods, services, and people.
The idea that business can be a vital force for advancing human well
being has captured the imagination of progressive persons throughout
the world. As this proceeds, societies adopting enlightened business
practice improve their national well-being. Countries resisting
modernization, sadly enough, fall behind economically and socially.
There is, undeniably, a growing cadre of modern businesses emerging
in all the diverse cultures of the world-practitioners and firms
intent on creating and executing winning business schemes.
How enlightened they are, or will become, is a critical question, for
it is enlightened business firms, weaving themselves into the very
fabric of their society and markets that make the difference in
advancing global well being.
These superior firms-perfecting their inner workings, defining and
redefining their bounds, and staying in step with the purposes of the
world are the long-term winners. Lasting generations and lifetimes
rather than just a few years, such firms are valued cultural assets.
Enlightened business practitioners know what role business plays in
determining the outcomes for their culture. Accepting the
responsibility that attends such knowledge, they strive to be
superior, technically and culturally...
ASSESSING BUSINESS SUPERIORITY
Business Aspect Indicator of Superiority
Social Endeavor Wealth Creation
Collaborative Process Stakeholder Quality (and
Adversarial Contest Customer Quality (and Satisfaction)
Moral Drama Principled Selection of Means
Promotion of the Good and Ends
Prospect Business Scheme
Addressing an unpredictable future, superior business practitioners
work to refine their own character, skills, judgment, and
determination. They do this by rigorously pursuing The Way of
• Comprehending the Grand Scheme of Things
• Mastering the Art of Business
• Creating a Winning Business Scheme
• Acting to Perfect the Endeavor
• Pressing On in doing your best
So doing, they earn the trust of those with whom they associate and
Wealth creation and management are paramount virtues in any effort to
advance human well-being, whether locally or globally.
That being so, think on these questions...
• How to create more superior business practitioners and firms?
• How to persuade more accomplished business practitioners to engage
• As for the right course, how to think and act on the things that
really matter in business and life?
• Harmony... Before all else, be civil and modest.
• Self-Governance... Make your own mistakes and profit from them.
• Direction... Be guided by right ends, and where you've come from.
• Knowledge... Strive to know more at the end.
• Endeavor... Press on, and never, ever give up.
(c) Tom Veblen 2011
IV. BIRKBECK COLLEGE LONDON: POSTGRADUATE PROGRAMMES IN CORPORATE
GOVERNANCE AND ETHICS
I thought I'd let you know about the range of postgraduate programmes
that we now offer in Corporate Governance and Ethics, in case you know
anyone who might be interested in further studies or an academic
qualification in this area.
In 2010-11, we introduced a new PG Certificate in Corporate
Governance and Ethics, that can serve as a stand-along qualification
or a pathway onto our MSc in Corporate Governance and Business
Ethics. The PG Certificate involves taking 4 taught modules
(Corporate Governance, Corporate Responsibility, International
Business Ethics and a Free Choice module). It can be taken over one
or two years, which makes the qualification ideal for those whose
work demands make it difficult to take the Part time MSc or who are
interested in the standalone qualification.
For those continuing on to the MSc in CG&BE, what is then required is
4 additional taught modules (for a total of 8 taught modules) and a
15,000 word dissertation.
We offer a MRes in CG&BE, for those wishing to concentrate on the
research; this also serves as a pathway onto the PhD Programme for
those interested in further academic work. The MRes requires 6
taught modules and a 25,000 word dissertation and can be taken part
time over 2 years or full time over 1 year.
Finally, in 2010-11, we introduced a new programme of study, our MSc
in Management with Corporate Governance for those interested in a
more general Management Msc with a concentration in Corporate
Governance and Business Ethics.
Further information can be found on our website:
Applications are accepted online, throughout the year, with decisions
being made as soon as the full application is received. Starting dates
are October and January.
If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me. Please
forward this to anyone else that might have an interest; I appreciate
your help in spreading the word about our PG programmes in CG&BE.
Dr Suzanne J. Konzelmann
Reader in Management
Director, London Centre for Corporate Governance & Ethics
Director, Post Graduate Programmes in Corporate Governance & Business
Birkbeck, University of London
Malet Street Bloomsbury
London WC1E 7HX
tel. +44 207 631 6799
fax. +44 207 631 6769
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