Can virtue change the world?

Robert B. Reich has written an article in web edition of The American Prospect that suggests “It’s naive to think corporations can or will sacrifice profits to fight climate change. Firms that go green to improve their public relations, or cut their costs are being smart — not virtuous.”

I have to question virtue as a motivation. While the vast majority aspire to be virtuous, the number is exceeded by those that are hypocrites. We all want nicer homes, better jobs, a better something. None of us want to do the wrong thing just to get them, but we often do. Not out of being evil, no.

More by design, or a failure of it. As articulated in “Cradle to Cradle”William McDonough & Michael Braungart show how we have unwittingly fallen into a immense bad design problem.

Most of us intuitively know and understand that we will act in our own self interest. George Washington did. He stated that the real difference in men is in how they define ‘self’. For some people ‘self’ is just them and their immediate family. For others it is a whole community or society.

Well MCDonough and Braungart lay out a very good case for how poorly we have designed, and therefore defined, what self interest is in the industrialized society. And they suggest that application of our brains, including our imaginations, to redefining and designing how we construct our society, as well as our goods, can transform ourselves as well.

One can’t fault Reich for being cynical about corporations. But it certainly hasn’t been successful to expect the society to change out of virtue. Self interest will continue to rule. Will we come to see a redesign of our society, which by definition must depend on government ( on this Reich and I agree) from anything less?

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.