“As a nation we [The United States] have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by “American instinct” and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated (Holder 2009-02-18).”

How do we as communities move towards voluntary socially de-segregated nations? Have a picnic?

On July 30, 2009 two Cambridge Massachussetts families will join the President of the United States for a picnic table summit. They represent the town and gown, but more significantly, two races, brought together in a gesture of reconciliation.

The press are stomping on the turf of the Professor’s yellow wood-frame home and the Sergeant’s Natick home and tomorrow they will be all over the White House lawn for the picnic.

Sgt. James M. Crowley, who grew up in Cambridge and now lives in Natick, Mass. with his wife and three children, has served with the Cambridge Police Department for 11 years. In 2004 he was selected by Ronny Watson, a former police commissioner (who is black) to be instructor at the Lowell Police Academy teaching colleagues how to avoid racial profiling. He was in the Mid-Cambridge district when at 12:45 p.m. July 16, he heard the call of a possible break-in at Ware Street in Harvard Square. A passer-by, Lucia Whalen, a fund-raiser for Harvard Magazine, saw two men struggling with the door of a yellow wood-frame home and called the Cambridge police. Sgt. Crowley answered the call although he was alone. When he encountered the individuals, whom he considered to be a threat, he called for assistance. He handcuffed one individual who was brought to the station for questioning, then released without any charges. He overreacted.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. moved to Harvard Square in 1991 when he joined the faculty of Harvard as Chair of the Department of African and African American Studies. Before coming to Harvard he taught at Yale, Cornell, and Duke. His autobiography entitled Colored People: A Memoir is taught in ethics courses among others. When he first moved to Harvard Square, “one of the most tolerant places on earth,” in 1991 he voluntarily introduced himself at the Cambridge Police Department hoping that he might avoid being pulled over constantly by police for being black while driving an expensive car. He is a very visible presence at Harvard University, his home. He is slight of build, small, (5’6″) and uses a cane. He is charismatic, distinguished and is impeccably dressed. He spent the week of July 9-16 on a documentary in China. Upon his arrival at Logan Airport, a Moroccan driver took him to his Ware Street resident. The door to his home was jammed. He was already fighting bronchial infection and was tired from a 14-hour flight so he asked the driver for help to force it open. When Sgt. Crowley arrived at his home asking him to prove his identity, he was confused and indignant. He refused to step outside as Sgt. Crowley requested (Hernandez, Rimer and Saulny 2009). He overreacted.

President Obama, who is a friend of Henry Louis Gates Jr., also overreacted.

We are human. We make mistakes. We apologize. And President Obama’s apology resonated.

In a rare White House statement to the press (2009-07-24) President Obama explained, “My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved, and the way they would have liked it to be resolved. […T]he fact that it has garnered so much attention, I think, is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America, and — you know, so to the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate. What I would like to do, then, is to make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, recognizes that these are two decent people. [… B]ecause of our history, because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues, [a]nd even when you’ve got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding. My hope is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called a teachable moment where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity. [T]here are some who say that as President I shouldn’t have stepped into this at all because it’s a local issue. I have to tell you that that part of it I disagree with. The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that race is still a troubling aspect of our society. Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this and hopefully contributing to constructive — as opposed to negative — understandings about the issue, is part of my portfolio. So at the end of the conversation there was a discussion about — my conversation with Sergeant Crowley, there was discussion about he and I and Professor Gates having a beer here in the White House. We don’t know if that’s scheduled yet — (laughter) — but we may put that together. He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. (Laughter.) I informed him that I can’t get the press off my lawn. (Laughter.) He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn. (Laughter.) But if anybody has any connections to the Boston press, as well as national press, Sergeant Crowley would be happy for you to stop trampling his grass (Office of the Press Secretary of the White House. 2009-07-24. The Statement by the President).”

At the Department of Justice African American History Month Program, Attorney General Eric Holder (2009-02-18), cautioned that, “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race. It is an issue we have never been at ease with and given our nation’s history this is in some ways understandable. And yet, if we are to make progress in this area we must feel comfortable enough with one another, and tolerant enough of each other, to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us. But we must do more- and we in this room bear a special responsibility. Through its work and through its example this Department of Justice, as long as I am here, must – and will – lead the nation to the “new birth of freedom” so long ago promised by our greatest President. This is our duty and our solemn obligation. We commemorated five years ago, the 50th anniversary of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. And though the world in which we now live is fundamentally different than that which existed then, this nation has still not come to grips with its racial past nor has it been willing to contemplate, in a truly meaningful way, the diverse future it is fated to have. To our detriment, this is typical of the way in which this nation deals with issues of race. And so I would suggest that we use February of every year to not only commemorate black history but also to foster a period of dialogue among the races. This is admittedly an artificial device to generate discussion that should come more naturally, but our history is such that we must find ways to force ourselves to confront that which we have become expert at avoiding. As a nation we have done a pretty good job in melding the races in the workplace. We work with one another, lunch together and, when the event is at the workplace during work hours or shortly thereafter, we socialize with one another fairly well, irrespective of race. And yet even this interaction operates within certain limitations. We know, by “American instinct” and by learned behavior, that certain subjects are off limits and that to explore them risks, at best embarrassment, and, at worst, the questioning of one’s character. And outside the workplace the situation is even more bleak in that there is almost no significant interaction between us. On Saturdays and Sundays America in the year 2009 does not, in some ways, differ significantly from the country that existed some fifty years ago. This is truly sad. Given all that we as a nation went through during the civil rights struggle it is hard for me to accept that the result of those efforts was to create an America that is more prosperous, more positively race conscious and yet is voluntarily socially segregated (Holder 2009-02-18).”

Professor Glen Loury, author of Race, Incarceration and American Values (2008) is hopeful that the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the resulting picnic table summit will illuminate hard-core issues such as the systemic crisis of “hyper-incarceration of poor black men” not end in more sensitivity training for police officers. He wants “something of lasting value” not mere moral posturing. Loury calls for deep reforms in our criminal justice system with a real investment “in helping the troubled people — our fellow citizens — caught in the law enforcement web to find a constructive role in society, and less in punishing them for punishment’s sake. We need to change the ways in which we deal with juvenile offenders, so that a foolish act in childhood doesn’t put them on the road to lifetimes in prison. We should seriously consider that many of our sentences are too long — “three strikes” laws may be good politics, but they are an irrational abomination as policy. We should definitely consider decriminalizing most drug use. We need to reinvent parole. And, most important, we should weigh more heavily the negative and self-defeating effects that our policy of mass incarceration is having on the communities where large numbers of young black and Hispanic men live (Loury 2009-07-26).”

Selected Bibliography and Webliography

Office of the Press Secretary of the White House. 2009-07-24. The Statement by the President. James S. Brady Press Briefing Room.

Child, Maxwell L.; Zhu, Peter F. 2009-07-24. “Obama Backs Off Gates Remarks After Police Ask for Apology.” The Harvard Crimson.

Editors. 2009. “Attorney general says U.S. a nation of ‘cowards’ when it comes to race“.” New York Times. Issue.

Harvard Faculty Biographies. “Henry Louis Gates, Jr Biography.”

Hernandez, Javier C.; Rimer, Sara; Saulny, Susan. 2009-07.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2009. “A Man’s Home Is His Constitutional Castle.” Washingtonpost. Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC.: Issue. /

Holder, Eric. 2009. Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Attorney General Eric Holder at the Department of Justice African American History Month Program.

Loury, Glenn C. 2008. Race, Incarceration and American Values. Cambridge, Mass. Massachussets Institute of Technology.

Loury, Glenn C. 2009. “Obama, Gates and the American Black Man.” New York Times. Issue.

Parker, Kathleen. 2009. “Redemption on Tap: Why Cambridge Could Use a Cold One.” Washington Post. Issue.

Warner, Judith. 2009. “A Lot Said, and Unsaid, About Race.” New York Times. Issue.

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Governing Board of the European Baha’i Business Forum (EBBF). 2009-06. “An Ethical Perspective on Today’s Economic Crisis: A statement from the European Baha’i Business Forum.”

“The world is passing through an economic and financial crisis unprecedented in modern times. Its global scope transcends the cyclical adjustments of national economies and the corrective instruments usually used by business and national governments. The general malaise and loss of confidence point to deeper issues and more fundamental flaws in the economic system, extending to a crisis of leadership and values. This unprecedented crisis, together with its accompanying social breakdown, reflects a profound error of conception about human nature itself. We are being shown that, unless the development of society finds a purpose beyond the mere amelioration of material conditions, it will fail to attain even this goal. That purpose must be sought in spiritual dimensions of life and motivation that transcend a constantly changing economic landscape and an artificially imposed division of human societies into “developed” and “developing”. The European Baha’i Business Forum recognizes in this situation an opportunity to reshape the fundamental concepts and structures that will not only lift us from this crisis but set us on a road towards a new set of institutions and behaviours which will enable humankind to prosper. As the present crisis is fundamentally one of trust and integrity, and therefore ethical in its foundation, its solution cannot be a mere institutional reorganization or some additional regulatory measures. It needs an ethical response at all levels: the individual, the corporation and the government and regulatory entities. There is no quick fix to this situation. Several principles must be considered while reshaping our thinking on institutions and the individuals that compose them. We need to replace the concept of self-centred materialism with that of service to humanity, competition with cooperation, corruption with ethical behaviour, sexism with gender balance, more authoritarian legislation with personal ethics, national regulation with international supervision, protectionism with world unity, and injustice with justice. EBBF promotes and welcomes engagement with the widest possible community to develop together the new framework. Given the importance of the business community in the world, we should draw on its special capabilities and resources, in collaboration with governments, international organizations and NGOs, to design the institutional framework and the guiding principles of the new economic system. We call on peoples from all businesses, countries, and walks of life to work together to build a new economic system based upon equity and justice (EBBF 2009-06).”

Who’s Who

“EBBF is a network of over 400 women and men, a community of people passionate about bringing ethical values, personal virtues and moral leadership into their workplaces. Its membership is diverse and crosses generations, borders, sectors and beliefs. It began in 1990 and is now present in over 60 countries. EBBF’s vision is to enhance the well-being and prosperity of humankind. It believes that positively influencing the world of business, starting from the inspiration of action by each of its members, is an important step in this direction (EBBF 2009-06).”

Notes

“EBBF promotes seven core values that it feels are of strategic importance in enhancing business performance: Business Ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Sustainable Development, Partnership of Women and Men, A New Paradigm of Work, Consultation in Decision-Making, Values-Based Leadership (EBBF 2009-06).”

Webliography

Governing Board of the European Baha’i Business Forum (EBBF). 2009-06. “An Ethical Perspective on Today’s Economic Crisis: A statement from the European Baha’i Business Forum.” Chambery, France.

“Canada’s social safety net results in lower rates of poverty and income inequality along with higher rates of self-sufficiency of vulnerable populations than in the United States. But many Canadians would be surprised to find out that the U.S. has a lower burglary rate, a lower suicide rate, and greater gender equity than Canada […] Canada’s relatively poor record on child poverty, income inequality, and assault [remain] shocking […] Particularly troubling is its ranking on child poverty. In Canada, according to OECD statistics, one child in seven lives in poverty. Canada also still has an unacceptably high rate of poverty among its working-age population. According to statistics published by the OECD, just over 10 per cent of its working-age population is below the poverty line. This is double the rate of Denmark, the best-performing country on this indicator. Canada’s crime record is also disturbing—with 17 times the rate of assaults as the best-ranked country, 7 times the rate of burglaries, and 3 times the rate of homicides. Crime takes its toll on trust—both within the community and within public institutions. This picture of crime is not what Canadians think of when they think of their society. […] Canada ranks high on the indicator measuring acceptance of diversity […] Canada’s past achievements, such as reducing poverty among its elderly, show that, given the political will, Canada could successfully address other social challenges to sustain future quality of life (Conference Board of Canada Society Overview 2008 ).”

The Conference Board of Canada (2008 ) compared economic, innovation, environment, education, health and society performances of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States which are considered to be Canada’s international peers. Canada’s standard of living ranking dropped from 4th spot in 1990 to 9th in 2008. In terms of Education and Skills, over 40% of adult Canadians lack literacy skills required for everyday life and work in modern society. In terms of innovation Canada scored D since the 1980s and has failed to produce any top global brands.

The full report for 2008 will not be available until September. I am curious to see how data specifically related to Canada’s growing aboriginal community with its unique social histories and current dilemmas will be analysed in this report. When we examine the weakest points in the report, it is obvious that the vulnerabilities faced by Canada’s most at-risk group (aboriginal women and children) affect our international ranking. It is also useful to consider the location of remote aboriginal communities in terms of the most volatile environmental debates in Canada.

Data for this annual report comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (c.80%), the United Nations, the World Bank, and the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. The report measures quality of life based on this definition:

“The Conference Board defines a high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians as being achieved if Canada records high and sustainable performances in six categories: Economy, Innovation, Environment, Education and Skills, Health and Society (B 10/17). The word “sustainable” [1] is a critical qualifier. It is not enough for Canada to boost economic growth if it is done at the expense of the environment or social cohesion. For example, to take advantage of high commodity prices by mining and exporting all our natural resources may make the country rich in the short term, but this wealth will not be sustainable in the long or even medium term. The Conference Board has consistently argued that economic growth and sustainability of the physical environment need to be integrated into a single concept of sustainable national prosperity—what we call here a “high and sustainable quality of life for all Canadians.”

..

“Having a high quality of life means living in communities that are free from fear of social unrest and violence, communities that accept racial and cultural diversity, and those that foster social networks. A country that provides a high quality of life also minimizes the extremes of inequality between its poorest and richest citizens, while reducing the social tensions and conflicts that result from these gaps. Performance in the Society category is assessed using 17 indicators across three dimensions: self-sufficiency, equity, and social cohesion. Self-sufficiency indicators measure the autonomy and active participation of individuals within society, including its most vulnerable citizens, such as persons with disabilities and youth. Equity indicators measure equity of access, opportunities, and outcomes. Social cohesion indicators measure the extent to which citizens participate in societal activities, the level of crime in society, and the acceptance of diversity [. . .] Canada’s social safety net results in lower rates of poverty and income inequality along with higher rates of self-sufficiency of vulnerable populations than in the United States. But many Canadians would be surprised to find out that the U.S. has a lower burglary rate, a lower suicide rate, and greater gender equity than Canada […] Canada’s relatively poor record on child poverty, income inequality, and assault [remain] shocking […] Particularly troubling is its ranking on child poverty. In Canada, according to OECD statistics, one child in seven lives in poverty. Canada also still has an unacceptably high rate of poverty among its working-age population. According to statistics published by the OECD, just over 10 per cent of its working-age population is below the poverty line. This is double the rate of Denmark, the best-performing country on this indicator. Canada’s crime record is also disturbing—with 17 times the rate of assaults as the best-ranked country, 7 times the rate of burglaries, and 3 times the rate of homicides. Crime takes its toll on trust—both within the community and within public institutions. This picture of crime is not what Canadians think of when they think of their society. […] Canada ranks high on the indicator measuring acceptance of diversity […] Canada’s past achievements, such as reducing poverty among its elderly, show that, given the political will, Canada could successfully address other social challenges to sustain future quality of life (Conference Board of Canada Society Overview 2008).”

Footnotes

1. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland 1987:43).”

Webliography and Bibliography

Brundtland, Gro Harlem. 1987. Our Common Future: World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Conference Board of Canada. 2008.

Armchair science: Montreal philosophy prof Laberge (2007) calls Al Gore, the high priest of the missionary ecological movement and claims Gore has turned the issue of climate change into a moral imperative. He uses 18th c. Scottish Enlightenment philosopher Hume’s is-ought problem to prove that the statement “global warming is bad” is erroneous.

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See also Speechless:

In the socio-historical context in which Hume was writing he was concerned with distinguishing vulgar reasoning from true philosophy. He argued that there were four sciences: logic, morals, criticism, and politics. He claimed that morals do not result from logical reason and judgment but from tastes, sentiments, feelings and passions.

Hume distinguishes also between a vulgar [thinker who uses only common language] who proposes a system of morality and a true philosopher, between the thinking of a peasant and a true artisan. Vulgar reasoning shifts from ‘is’ to ‘ought’ imperceptibly without giving a proper explanation or producing evidence.

Is Laberge suggesting that Gore is a vulgar thinker who has not provided enough evidence for his case? In the case of climate change the science is overwhelmingly clear.

And humans do have the moral sensitivities which are the basis for making ethical decisions. We also have reason and scientific tools that provide us with experience-based evidence that informs our moral choices. Even Hume describes a political will, a social covenant in which citizens consult and agree upon a common ‘moral’ action.  We are not conscious of most of our mundane, everyday moral choices. Failing to protect forests or watersheds is a moral choice. A couple of decades ago most of us were insensitive to the moral nature of our actions that were destructive to ecosystems. In complex ecological issues where so many political, economics, geography, social and cultural interests converge, we consider ethical dimensions. Science can provide tools for measuring forest regeneration and efficient technologies for implementation. But science itself is not invested with moral sensitivity. It is only through human moral sensitivities that value judgments can be made in regards to unintended risks or side effects. Once science has provided evidence of shared, heightened risks we move from mere truth claims to moral justification for action or inaction.

Notes:

Keywords: Hume, philosophy, epistemology, ecology, is-ought, meta-ethics,
Webliography

Markie, Peter. 2004. “Rationalism vs. Empiricism.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Hume, David. 1739-40. “Footnote 13.”Treatise of Human Nature.

Laberge, Jean. 2007. “Le devoir de philo: le scepticisme de Hume contre les écolos.” Le Devoir. 19 mai.