Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Split from and Re-emergence of Social Responsibility

     ACIPCO and Herman Miller are employee owned companies which were converted as a result of the spiritual orientation and the related social obligation of their original founders JJ Eagan and DJ Dupree.  Of the original founders of the Rochdale Pioneers co-op store, around 50% were members of a religious congregation, as reported in a 1944 book by B. Landis.  The Rainbow Grocery workers' co-op also reports in their on-line historical account their assessment of the role of their own original spiritual orientation as a Yoga center or the like.  The original orientation of spiritual service distinguished their co-op effort from the politically heated orientation of other similar projects.  The founder of Mondragon Co-operative Corporation was an independent and practically-minded priest, Padre Jose Marie Arizmendiarrieta.  While the MCC has become a large and diversified network of co-ops, Arizmendiarrieta's work has also inspired a network in the San Francisco area, the Arizmendi Association of Co-ops.
      Credit co-operatives, or credit unions, were innovated at the initiative in Germany by Raiffeisen some 20 years after Rochdale's initiative in 1844.  Raiffeisen was a deeply religious man and spiritual.

     Some widely referenced thinkers have legitimized anti-religious stances, such as Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, and with a certain amount of justice consistent with the spirit of the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther's criticism of the Catholic Church.  From expressions such as "opiate of the masses" and "God is dead," facile means to address religious doctrine have been formulated, and often making more independent thought possible.  However, the benefits of many spiritual perspectives have continued, and churches continue to provide important sources of meaning around the world.  Some of the best cases include the work of the World Council of Churches and the UNEP Interfaith Partnership for the Environment.  In Latin America beginning in the 1970s, and following a Pope's perspective of social justice in the preceding decade, priests innovated the liberation theology perspective.  Existing threads of these approaches include Brazil's Rural Land Commission CPT, probably the secular Landless Worker's Movement there, and the Ecumenical Forum.
       Social responsibility as a Western cultural practice is larger than the alternative business model of co-operatives and employee ownership.  It is linked to its manifestation in a wide number of non-profit associations, from such current tigers as Global Witness, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Greenpeace, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth, Action Aid, and Food and Water Watch, to historical manifestations in the women's movement and anti-slavery movement.  The Quaker Society of Friends (of Christ) first contributed to religious freedom in England, and then were significant in the latter movement which then prominently influenced the English government to begin to end the slave trade at the 1815 Treaty of Vienna.  Steve Charnovitch has written extensively of these roots in a 1996-97 University of Michigan Law journal article.
       We can trace social responsibility through the university also.  Karl Marx's ideas, for example, can be separated into distinct threads, and we can recognize his fundamental concern with the well-being of working people, the "proletariat" as was discussed in some depth by psychological philosopher Erich Fromm.  Jean Jacques Rousseau, although not formally educated, exercised his faculties to the extent that he produced philosophical work of a quality comparable to the university educated, such as Montesquieu, Locke, and DesCartes.  Rousseau's concerns discussed subjects such as the origins of inequality among people and the social contract.  Even Adam Smith can be recognized for his effort to identify the mechanism of economic functioning and "the wealth of nations."  Nevertheless, even before Marx and Engels 1840's Communist Manifesto and his social consciousness and compassionate fervor were formulated, the Swiss Sismondi was already engaging in his socially oriented economic ideas.  The functioning university environment, or of modern education in general from libraries to bookstores to high schools, had its beginnings in Church education.  Padua, Italy is one of the earliest examples.  The University of Paris, too, began in the Catholic Church and was where the power of Greek logic was wedded to Christian philosophy by monks, especially St. Thomas of Aquinas.  From Italy, educated in Cologne, Germany under Albert Magnus, St. Thomas of Aquinas preceded DesCartes by 400 years as the pioneer in applying Greek logic from Aristotle in seeking to define God.  Pyenson et al touch on aspect of these historical details in their 1999 book Servants of Nature, Koestler in his 1950s book, and Pieper in his 1980s book.  Stanley Jaki wrote the Savior of Science which goes into greater detail about the role of Christian thought as a foundation for the modern application of Greek logic.  He was awarded the Templeton Prize of Religion and Science for his work.
        St. Thomas of Aquinas, a monk like his contemporaries St. Anthony of Padua and St.'s Francis and Clare of Assisi, had taken a vow of poverty.  St. Francis and St. Clare demonstrated a renewed vision of Christ and the Apostles' social responsibility and St. Anthony as a member of the Franciscan order demonstrated a critique of nascent capitalist practices of exploitative usury.  St. Thomas, meanwhile, had become a member of the Dominican order.  The order in its own right was originally founded as an educational approach to heretics in an attempt to use non-violent persuasion and avoid the tragic and violent practices of the orthodox Inquisitions.  St. Thomas of Aquinas, then, elaborated on the approach of the Dominican order within the Catholic Church of the 13th Century, representing an alternative approach within Christianity at that time, and prior to the Protestant Reformation.  Martin Luther, for his part and along with antecedent critics of the Church like Erasmus of Rotterdam and Jan Hus (?) himself was a monk who followed the Dominican path of learning.
         Thus we see that Christ's principles of ethical behavior expressed in terms of "love of God, Moses, neighbor, self, and enemy" are not lost entirely in papal and Church corruption or aristocratic and technocratic philosophy and history.  Adam Smith and the appropriation of educational practice in the Cartesian and Newtonian scientific traditions by aristocratic merchants using stock market techniques and imperial conquests, for example in the British, Dutch, and French East India Companies, the Portuguese and Spanish Crowns, and the British Virginia and Hudson Bay Companies, all represent the foundations on which the capitalist employer Industrial Revolution of the steam engine, factories, factory labor, and expropriation of small farmers was conducted.  The degree to which genuine social responsibility was divorced and alienated in this process in the lives of working people is shown in the efforts of revolting slaves, striking employees, marching women, and the efforts of former artisan guild members to form co-operatives even prior to the Rochdale Pioneers.  John Curl has written a recent book and published a recent article in the Affinities journal on-line, and Johnston Birchall has written a 1990s co-op history The International Co-operative Movement which touch on related issues.
          If we compare the experience of the Roman Empire, we see that they had incorporated no positive reference to Christianity until Constantine in 323 AD.  Greek culture infused Roman militarist culture after their being conquered before 100 BC, and by 323 AD was mixed with the new ascension of Constantine and Christian culture.  As Roman imperial culture lacked a formal ethical structure beyond that of primitive and barbaric aggression, personality cults, and civil war, the society was overtaken by the strengths of surrounding tribes.  Christianity's divided manifestations nevertheless permeated and spread during these "Dark Ages."  Thomas Kenneally has written of the role of the Irish monks in his work How the Irish SAved Civilization, for example.  St. Augustine's Confessions from 400 AD is another example of one of the earlier new threads in Christianity in his self-consciousness as a transformed individual and then doctrinal philosopher. 
        Thus, by the time of St. Thomas of Aquinas, he established a renewed integration and a new application of Greek logic while under his vow of poverty in the Dominican order.  Martin Luther later extended the use of socially responsible spiritual logic to the Church itself.  The priest Copernicus initiated another philosophical approach which lead to threads of the scientific revolution detached from considerations of social responsibility, and even linked to defiance of Catholic Church authority.  From socially-mobile commoner Robert Owen and the Luddites in England to Raffeisen and Delitz-Schultz in Germany to Grundvig and the Rev. C. Sonne in Denmark and including reluctant slaves, striking workers, and utopians everywhere, social responsibility has been gradually reclaimed despite the self-serving economic philosophies of aristocrats, technocrats, and their sympathizers.
        Moreover, today social responsibility has been achieved by those within the financial matrix of the stock markets and its ideologies.  While the international co-operative organization, the ICA, the International Labor Organization, and UN COPAC are among major organizations promoting a socially responsible model of business, the Pax World Fund, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, the Domini 400 Social Index, and the Dow Sustainability Index are among the pioneers of socially responsible shareholder activists.  The non-profit PIRG's have gone even further with their Green Century Mutual Fund, while Shore Bank Pacific is part of a social enterprise that has created several branches, an international microcredit lender, and an environmental bank branch.           
         Moreover, Anita Roddick's The Body Shop, Food Co-ops as described by William Ronco in his 1974 book and organized in on-line directories, Whole Foods Markets, and Working Assets Long Distance (now Credo) have been leaders among socially responsible businesses and motivators for the more image oriented association the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  Nevertheless, non-profit leaders like the Pew Center for Climate Change has helped organize corporations similar in renewable power commitments to the Green Power Marketing Group and the Climate Group.  Still a survey of more solidarity-based and community-oriented social enterprises leads us to the need to recognize such renewable energy pioneers as Denmark's first wind co-op in 1980 and most famous at Middelgrunden, Germany's like the Oederquart co-op partnership and Schoenau citizen buyout, and England's Baywind co-op and Woking Council.  The US too has locally oriented enterprises like the Northwest SEED, Ohio Evergreen co-ops, the Maryland Solar Co-ops, and NYPIRG's Fuel Buyer's Group.
        In these ways, the immense gulf that exists worldwide still between socially and environmentally responsible economic activity can be rebound, or reformulated.  The vision of Ronald Reagan that environmentalists want to turn the White House into a bird's nest won't define the vision of Jimmy Carter's sympathizers and the solar panels put on the White House, or those supporters of Al Gore, Ralph Nader, and Michael Moore who have suffered for years under the corporatized views social responsibility.  Moreover, the theoretical views of Herman Daly, David Ellerman, and others like Amartya Sen, M. ul Haq, Miguel Mendonca, Joyce Rothschild, and Jessica G. Nembhard can be reconciled favorably with real world accomplishments.  Even the emerging consciousness of economists like Jeff Sachs, Joseph Stiglitz, Paul Krugman, and even Greg Mankiw can be presented with the realities which disprove any links they maintain with orthodox, cost externalizing thought.
        The reconciliation, or even the resusscitation of theories and practices becomes possible, as does the split between such views as progress, profit-maximization, and social responsibility.  Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud's healthy rejections of corrupt and dogmatic religious doctrines can be fully informed by such views as Owen, Sismondi, Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Kierkegaard, Kant, and Jung among many others.  In Latin America, Hugo Chavez has based his support of co-ops on Boliviarian Socialism, while African fair trade networks continue the original ideals of pioneers like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, and now Elizabeth Sirleaf-Johnson.  Asia, too, where Japan's Hokkaido Green Fund resonates with the Right Livelihood winner Michiko Yajima and the Seikatsu Consumer Co-op Club, and the ideals of Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, and Nobel Winners indigenous Rigoberta Menchu, Africa's Wangari Maathai, Pakistan's Muhammed Yunus, and the recent Riksbank economic Nobel memorial shared by Elinor Ostrom.   ACIPCO, Herman Miller, Rainbow Grocery, and Mondragon as they remind us of their spiritual and religious associations can allow us to appreciate the underlying basis of socially responsible approaches and ideas, such as the Arizmendi Association of co-ops and the UNEP Interfaith Partnership for the Environment. 


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