Human Flourishing Feed

Canvassing a fair rule set for the upcoming "Save our Country" Scapegoat Lottery

Taking "The Bacchae" as a model of healing the  body politic does have one defect. The scapegoat was the King, Pentheus, and we don't have a King. We are a democracy, leading to the need for a fair procedure for picking scapegoats, which is the purpose of this important post, created pro bono publico, by a citizen down on his luck, but hopeful of preferment, when things get better again in our messed up country. 

In the earliest myths, the priest slits the throat of the sacrificial animal, and is then stoned to death himself. Scapegoats included outcasts and pariahs, the deranged, foreigners, lepers, political enemies, and the mentally ill. But they also included wise men like Socrates and Boethius, godly men like Christ, patriots like Cicero, clerics like Saint Thomas Beckett, and Kings like Oedipus, Pentheus, Charles I, Louis XVI, and even a Tsar and his whole family. 

Given all of human history, and much of literature and political theory and practice, surely, we can all agree on the need for a steady supply of scapegoats, but we must also agree on a fair procedure for designating as many as needed. I realize that calling for scapegoats to unify a nation is a good way to become a scapegoat, even if I was not one already. By way of ground rules, maybe, we can agree to exclude any elected officials, designated Morals Tutors, or anyone who is a significant owner of property. That would narrow it down to the expendables, while keeping me (destitute as I am, and a pariah), off the bad list. I come under the exemption for Wise and Virtuous Counselor to the World's Wealthiest Families and their Puppets. (That is a long list, and I am happy to share it with any Billionaire, in or out of the Cabinet, needing a Wise and Virtuous Counselor, but the short list is either me or The Happy Tutor, and he is currently fully engaged in mentoring Audrey, our once and future Queen to Be.)

Actually, maybe we should put on the good list anyone who has read "The Bacchae" and/or Rene Girard on Violence of the Sacred, or Carl Schmidt on a body politic defined as friend against enemy; or building on Schmidt, Agamben, on the state of exception, in which democracy is abrogated during a state of emergency because only a top man can save us inside/outside the rule of law. Anyone who cannot prove he or she has read and digested at least two of these (may my feminist friends please excuse the word) seminal texts goes into the Scapegoat Lottery, unless they qualify under one of the other exceptions, like powerful person, wealthy person, male, white, of European descent, Christian, monolingual in English, or a personal friend of mine, or full-paying client for morals tutorials.  

Impact investing - Friend or Foe of Philanthropy?

Looks like I have just now agreed to talk on impact investing for a group of fundraisers in May.  They want me to provoke table conversations with such questions as these. 

  1. What is impact investing, as opposed to earlier forms of socially conscious or screened investing?
  2. Where does it fit in your work as a nonprofit? (Endowment?)
  3. Is impact investing friend or foe for fundraising? (A recent US Trust survey of wealthy families found that 1/3rd  do impact investing, and 1/3rd of that third said they do it in lieu of giving)
  4. How do advisors get paid on philanthropy? How do they get paid on impact investing? Any predictions where that will go?
  5. Will impact investing steal your nonprofit mojo?
  6. Are children raised in a mall, whose only categories are “own,” “manage,” “buy,” “invest,” and “consume,” and whose social status, identity, and sense of community are confirmed by “likes” and “friends” going to prefer impact investing to deeper and more challenging engagement with a cause?
  7. Will any rational person prefer sacrificial giving to impact investing when both get results, and confer feel-good bragging rights?
  8. What is your “competitive advantage” vis a vis impact investing  if you are, say, the Catholic Church, Jewish Federation, Georgetown, a soup kitchen?
  9. In seeking the good, the betterment of humankind, to whom, to what prayer, poem, tradition, or prospectus,  do you turn in the dark of the night?
  10. Heidegger wrote, “We live in society, we dwell in community.” If impact investing lives in the market, in what community do you and your donors dwell?
  11. If your gift planning is transactional, all about the art of the ask, who do you think is better at sales, you or the investment advisor?
  12. When income tax and estate tax deductions are eliminated for the highest capacity donors, under Trump, how will you tell a story true enough and compelling enough that the “social investor” is willing to accept a guaranteed 100% loss of his or her funds via a gift, when he or she can get (according to the investment advisor) a market return and greater impact by keeping the money under management for the Greater Glory of God and the Betterment of Humankind in the Bank of Wealth Bondage?

Any thoughts? Further questions?

King Lear and The King's Men - Lessons on the Slippery Art of Family Governance

King Lear: The History Revealed by Fintan O'Toole, reviewed in The New York Review of Books.

Family Governance for Governing Families. The role of the artist, under a patron. The role of the King's Man. Support, absorb, refactor, and subvert, for the greater good. More power than a Wise Counselor in the traditional Courtier mode. More power than Parliament. Only an all licensed Fool could do more. Were I a wise man I would join Wise Counsel, giving sage advice to families as powerful as our former Monarchs, before we broke from English rule. 

The Wise make good use of literature, as of everything else. If they were wiser yet, they would be Fools. And perhaps The Happy Tutor could show them how. He is a Secular Priest, or actually a real priest, educated at Oxford as a cleric, since under Primogeniture (how our august predecessors beat the proverb, ashes to ashes, and rags to rags), he had to go into the army, become a judge, or be a priest and scholar, with a parish, or a school, or if lazy, as Tutor is, and a drunkard, and carouser, he could set up as a Morals Tutor to his noble neighbor's brats. Mentoring the Heirs, as we now say. The Happy Tutor is also the Lord of Misrule. So are our Wise Counsel, today, if by Misrule we mean the rule of the richest forever. Fool is one thing, Coxcomb, or Villain is another.

In Lear, do we pity the pauper at the base of Fortune's wheel as it turns, or the King at the top who must inevitably fall? When the highest and lowest trade places, 'handy dandy' who goes in ermine, and who in rags? Change places, and who is the thief, and who is the justice? Who is the sighted one? Who is blind?  Who is sane and who mad? Riddle me that, Wise Counsel. But more importantly, can we like Shakespeare, speak truth in riddles to power, and still be awarded our four yards of red cloth to wear the King's livery at court? So far Tutor, buck naked in a Dumpster, must await future delivery. Advantage Wise Counsel.

If I were to write my own Book on Wealth and the Will of God, I would add the epigraph: "Wiser are the Children of Darkness." And believe me, I have learned that to my own cost. Let it be a lesson to us all.

The Good Life - 8 Vignettes Produced by Kathryn Davison

Capture_of_film_2 At The Fortunate Isles you (whether loser or winner, rich or poor, wise or foolish, envious or admiring, Master or Servant, Milady or Ms. Nobody) can find The Good Life, eight video vignettes,  produced by Kathryn Davison. These short films dramatize what life is like when married to, or a child of, or a  grandchild of a Master of the Universe.  We see marriage, children, friends, trust officers, lawyers, heirs, playing each other in a world of silences, privileges embraced, and duties shirked. We see a Diamond as Big as The Ritz, and I found myself scanning for literary antecedents: Petronius? Flaubert? Fitzgerald? Edith Wharton? Henry James? The Robert Lowell of "Life Studies"? How can we as a nation make democratic sense of what these videos depict? (An enervated, narcissistic culture of wealth without humane competence, open communication, or social conscience.) Well, once again, I noted in the advisory roles a bow-tie wearing machiavel, serving as trust officer, and a soft spoken and sinister Iago type in the attorney role, both male, of course. What I did not see was a Falstaff, a Hermes, a Trickster, a Jeeves, a Holy Fool, a Pippi Longstocking - unless, as I suspect, that is the implicit trouble-maker, boundary breaking, role played by Kathryn herself.

Horace, a bit of a courtier in his own right, in the court of Augustus, famously said that "Art holds the mirror up to nature." Human nature? Making life-like portraits of the ruling class is a dangerous game, as Goya understood. The portraits if true to life may be hideous and then you get accused of being satirical, impertinent, insubordinate, or ungrateful, or disloyal, or a traitor to your class, or a teller of tales out of school, or the bad child who never learned good manners. If as an insider you do not keep your mouth shut about how things are in the family circle and its closed world you might just get yourself ostracized, shunned, or disinherited. So, maybe, it is wise to not go too far. Let the portraits speak for themselves, and hold the camera steady.

The Good Life, if you trace that title back, comes from Aristotle's Ethics. In that work he suggests that we only find happiness by exemplifying excellence as part of a well-ordered polis, or community, founded on civic friendship among the leading citizens, the cultivation of civic virtues, and the largeness of mind that characterizes a vigorous, productive and responsible aristocracy. Yup. Our Aristocracy, by contrast, sort of sucks. That is the explosive, subversive, charge these videos discreetly deliver, from inside the firewall. If the explosion is muffled, that may be because  the firewall is very thick, and built to sustain even tactical nuclear weapons, should revolutionaries ever get their hands on any.

America's Oldest Family Businesses

What does it take to keep a closely held business in the family for hundreds of years? See Family Business Magazine. Such locally owned firms may be a protoype for socially consious business, since they do not have to be run to meet Wall Street expectations quarter by quarter. The family can take a long term perspective and consider part of its goal to be the thriving of the family itself and the surrounding community. Still, such businesses live in a competitive environment, always subject to being put out business or bought out.  Congrats to these going family owned concerns that have lasted for so many generations.

Human Flourishing in a Constitutional Republic

Jay Hughes is the best read and most cultured and probably the wisest of those writing about wealth in families. He has taken certain concepts (such as human flourishing and systems of governance) from political and moral philosophy, along with sources in psychology, religion, and literature to create both a vision and a methodology for perpetuating dynastic families. The truth is that this is an aristocratic vision going all the way back, and honorably so, to Aristotle's Ethics and Politics. What Jay helps wealthy families see is that their success is not just perpetuating the family wealth, but optimizing the family's lived life, their human potential, or human capital. So he talks in terms of developing each family member as a family asset. This means nurturing and cultivating human excellence, productivity, virtue, and wisdom. It also means, I would imagine, getting Junior elected to the Senate, and having Sister run the Family-Owned Bank, and Uncle run the NY Times, and so on, so that the family weaves itself into the power centers of our society in such a way as to become puissant and indomitable. From family, to clan, to dynasty. Aristocracy at its best works like that. At its worst such a system devolves into an Oligarchy, or Plutocracy. And in the ambit of these increasingly concentrated and interwoven power systems comes putsch, silent takeover, gilded lies backed by force, or Tyranny.

My question is this: Can we replant Jay's insights back into their native soil, that of the theory and practice of a just society? Can we ask what it would take not just for some disproportionately wealthy families to flourish, but what it would take for all families to flourish, whether they wear shirtsleeves or ermine?

If the goal is widespread human flourishing, up and down the social hierarchy, and if philanthropy, and personal leadership, and public service, are among the levers, and if social investing or mission aligned investing, and local organizing, and political action of informed citizens are among the levers, then we finally have a topic comprehensive enough to offer potential solutions.

With Catherine Austin Fitts I am trading ideas on mission investing, centered on not only giving but also on economic returns, and also on spiritual and humane social capital widely dispersed. I have learned from Jay how to help families last as economic and social forces for generations, "lest they go from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations." (Becoming in the process much like you or me, as horrifying as that might seem to our dynastic clients.) From Catherine, I am a learning how ordinary people can prosper, even when their efforts are sabotaged by those in high places (be they dynasts or parvenus) who have every advantage, including wealth, political power, secrecy and sometime access to illicit force, and who may act as parasites, or tapeworms, upon or within the body politic, flourishing at our expense.

Of course, it matters whether the "dynasty" an advisor seeks to preserve is a restaurant owning family in Smallville, a farm in Nebraska, a locally owned bank in Canton, or a multi-billion dollar family firm with tentacles in think tanks, media, politics and the like. If we are to build and preserve thriving dynasties, I hope they are small, local, and community-spirited. To that effort I lend, and Catherine, I believe, would lend a willing hand.  And in fact while that (the world of small town entrepreneurial families)  is not Jay's world, it is the world of most wealth advisors and attorneys who read his work.  Philanthropy embedded in community, responsive to ethical, humane, spiritual and democratic traditions, in which families give back to help others flourish as they have flourished; well, that is part of the good life in a just society. That is maybe how Aristotle translates in a Constitutional Republic in which we all have an equal right to the pursuit of happiness, or human flourishing, in our families great and small, whether in pinstripes or work-shirts.  It would also be  interesting to hear from Bill Schambra on such themes. 

Philanthropy In A Life Well Spent

Charles Handy, a British business consultant, in his new book, Myself and Other More Important Matters, "Philanthropy is the polite way to advertise a life well spent." Very nice phrasing. Writing well about giving is hard. You get so many euphemisms for "Filthy Rich."  Here are a few that come to mind:

  • Resourceful women
  • High capacity people
  • People of substance in every sense of that word
  • Successful people

There are many ways to invest ourselves in society. There are many ways to live a life well spent. There are many ways to make money, lots of it, that are not so admirable. Philanthropy can be an acknowledgment of or an investment in those who have lived their lives much better than the funder. Maybe we give in part to the person we might have been had we not lived our lives as we have. What we have to invest, what we have to spend, and what we have to give, or offer in libation, what has been given to us and must be returned, what has been loaned to us and must be repaid at high interest, is more than money. And He who staked us to our talents, He to whom the dice we roll report in this life-long game of luck and skill, will not be satisfied with an Advertisement, no matter how Polite, for Myself.  "Call no man happy until he is dead," said the Greeks, or happily ensconced in the Eternal Kingdom, where Eden abuts Disney World. Turn right at the Billboard with Your Face on it and take the straight and narrow. I suspect that Handy is making a point not far from mine; "Myself and Other More Important Things," as a title, suggests that Self is a dangerous starting point for giving. I look forward to reading the book.

The Role of Philanthropy in a Security State

Headinsand The comment on an earlier post by my old nemisis, Captain Blowtorch, raises certain life and death issues for philanthropists. May I expound upon them? (Hop in and be so kind as to pull the lid closed on the dumpster. Not all messages are for all ears. This is strictly need to know. You never know these days who is listening or for what purpose or how what you say may be used against you in a court of law, or in some dark alley for that matter.)

The world we have is all screwed up. The world we want is very different. But the world we have is owned and operated by people with money and power who will defend their own interests by fair means and foul, up to and including rewriting our Constitution, torturing people, and having them assassinated. We all know this, right? And that is why we are silent about it? We know it, but we know not to talk about it? We know it is now to late to resist? There is no alternative?

Anyway, let's say that we are in fact still committed to the world we want, a world characterized by the rule of law, openness, transparency, freedom, economic opportunity, and justice for all. How, then do we work towards that world when it is anathema to those who profit from being above or outside the rule of law, and who benefit from operating by force and guile in secret and with impunity, while hurling down edicts, propaganda, laws and and swat teams on those who want nothing more than to have America's promise restored through loving and peaceful means?

What action items come to mind for the good people in this country to take our country back against the forces of darkness, including but not limited to Captain Blowtorch, and his compatriots in Wealth Bondage, a front some say, for the CIA? How about these steps?

  • "Many pieces loosely joined," or a network for a loving and peaceful version of  "net war."
  • Not secrecy, but brazen openness - loving kindness expressed openly in thought, word, and deed.
  • Awards and prizes and honors for whistle-blowers, truth tellers and dissidents
  • Think tanks with real thinkers in them
  • Political organizing outside the party system by all citizens to retore our Constitution
  • Media specializing in investigative journalism
  • A database of dissidents and whistle-blowers to track their mortality and morbidity against societal averages. The longitudinal data to serve as a starting point for further investigations if the population of dissidents and truth tellers proves more than normally susceptible to accident, disease or suicide.
  • Scholarship programs for budding young satirists
  • Investment programs that bypass Wall Street and put money to work on Main Street
  • Advisors who work with high capacity clients to determine how much capital the client can put to work for social good in imaginative ways, hedged against potential counter-measures.
  • Broad-based communications networks to activate citizens who are slowly waking up the the new realities of life in a security state.
  • Civic dialogues, formal and informal, online and off, to make us more at ease in discussing such things as dirty tricks, wet work, death squads, suicide teams, torture, lies in high places,  and how to turn that around to love, justice, and peace.
  • Artists, dramatists, novelists, singers, to help us form a shared consciousness, living in truth.
  • Philosophers, historians, critics, sociologists, and critical theorists to teach us how the weapons of the weak have been used in ages past to keep hope alive under oppression.

Now, look, let me make myself clear. I am not declaring war on Wealth Bondage, not even a covert or cold war. That would be suicide. I am as dependent upon the forces of Wealth Bondage as anyone else. I am deeply implicated in the status quo. Every dollar I have invested, every dollar I make, circulates around inside one or another institution of Wealth Bondage, or goes in taxes to Wealth Bondage projects, or piddles about in various Wealth Bondage philanthropies.  If Wealth Bondage goes down, so does my pension, my mutual funds, everything I have, as little as that might be. My clients are mostly Wealth Bondage bigshots. My generous patron is the CEO of Wealth Bondage; she who rules us all. I do not in any way want to jeopardize what little I have, and the little credibility I have earned by being a Faithful Servant and Trusted Advisor to Wealth Bondage Private Banking Clients. I have always been loyal to Wealth Bondage.  I buy into the concept. I have drunk the Koolaid. I am on board.  I pledge allegiance to Wealth Bondage.  I have no desire to become a lightning rod for whatever Wealth Bondage does to retain its control if challenged. Those people are morally insane. They will stop at nothing here or abroad. They creep me out. So, don't get me wrong. I am a happy camper. I am really just thinking that promoting civic philanthropy might be a good double bottom line social investment opportunity, catering to the needs of those wealth holders in Wealth Bondage who prefer democracy, or a more credible simulation of it.  The pro-democracy movement is a niche, a small one, but maybe profitable? High risk for high return? A piece at least of a prudent philanthropic social venture portfolio, if only as a hedge against the possibility that democracy and the rule of law might one day be restored, and the malefactors brought to justice? Surely, in Wealth Bondage there is room for a brand of philanthropy catering to a taste for even a niche product like democracy? It wouldn't change anything, it would keep trouble-makers occupied, and it would be good for business?

I am going to pitch Candidia, and see what she says. With any luck she will be my first investor.

(Tag, Catherine, you are it.)