Thinking About Justice

On April 7th, an article in the Globe and Mail got me thinking.  The article said shareholders of the Royal Bank were not happy with the “breath taking size of the CEO’s pay package” (last year $13.4 million dollars).  An RBC board member responded that shareholders are getting a bigger dividend now because the bank is making more money.  But that is not the issue. For me it is a justice issue.  The Royal Bank exists in a bigger world.  This response shows the narrow focus of the board (granted this was a share holder meeting).  I wonder who speaks for the customer and the community.  As a shareholder, I regularly get notices of fees being increased.  If those pay packages were not so large I think they could afford to lower some fees for their customers.  But that is not really the issue either.  They operate in a community where poverty persists, low-income housing is hard to come by, and homelessness continues to be a problem.  Enlightened leadership could shift $10 million out of top executive salaries (I believe there are 5 top executives) and put it into a fund to target poverty reduction.  That would benefit the bank in the years to come, and the community right now. Just saying. For example.

This brings me to something I read in a Canadian book called, “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up” by James Hoggan (2016). The author interviewed 23 people around the world asking the question, “Why in this age of communication can’t we solve big problems such as poverty, climate change, etc.  In chapter 8, “The Self-Regulating Psychopath”, with Joel Bakan and Noam Chomsky, the conversation is about corporate greed. Their conclusion is that corporations do not participate in the solution to big problems in our society. Corporations act like psychopaths with “…callous unconcern for the feelings of others; incapacity to maintain enduring relationships; reckless disregard for the safety of others; deceitfulness, repeated lying and cheating people for profit; incapacity to experience guilt; failure to conform to societal norms with respect to lawful behaviour…” (p. 68). Then he says, but don’t blame the CEO’s, because corporations are legally set up this way “…to elevate their own interests above those of others and pursue their goals with rampant self-interest, sometimes without regard for moral limits.” (p. 67). Furthermore, governments have colluded with and enabled corporations by supporting globalization and deregulation while abdicating their responsibility for oversight.

Obviously it is citizens and customers who have to hold corporations to account and proclaim alternative values (generosity, not greed; compassion, not neglect). Corporations do not have to act like psychopaths, but it is the way they make lots of money.  Maybe we need a customer boycott or a customer march to the bank to withdraw our funds.  But then what would we do with these funds?  It is not like there is a bank across the street that does not act the same way.

This is one reason I still belong to the church – it is one, maybe the only, institution that has the values of love and community at the centre of its operating system.  But while the church is interested in addressing justice issues, it seems hesitant to take on the system that allows injustice to prevail. Like the banks example, they have a limited picture of their purpose and place in the world and do not address systemic problems. However, churches and/or community organizations could be in a position to help organize a challenge to the current economic and political systems that are based in power and greed.  Right now the citizens of many countries are saying loud and clear that they want change but do not see a credible candidate to elect.  Populist and far right candidates offer a change because they identify with the anger of citizens.  Unfortunately, they have no solutions except a return to some better day in the past.

The response to my last post had two people wrestling with the idea of “sin”.  They identified sin as emotional constraints, debilitating beliefs and an inability to let go of unhealthy ways of being that keep us from the fullness of life.   I don’t use the word often, but I would say “sin” is not letting our faith inform our action to create a just society.  There is a lot of talk about love but not a lot of talk about paying the price of loving our neighbour and our enemy.  I don’t hear a lot of conversations about that, and I see no support groups for people (me) who fall off our various “wagons” and slip into self-centredness and greed.

I am afraid that Canada will be in the next line of countries to fall to this negative fantasy that we can somehow get back to the good old days.  By my measure the good old days were just many of us spending like mad while we could, and not believing that there would come a day when we would have to pay the bills accumulated by our neglect of social responsibilities incurred in the last 100 years.  Justice is taking responsibility for not keeping our treaty obligations with indigenous Peoples (good education and health care on reserves); justice is focusing on people and relationships not just living a more and more consumption-oriented life style. (Consumer debt is threatening the life of 47% of people in Canada as interest rates rise).  So it is not just the rich one or 10 percent who have skewed values.  It is most of us. I fear that if we cannot get a faith perspective as our foundation for life, our whole system will continue to collapse as we blame other people for our problems rather than participating, however we can, to develop solutions.

An evolutionary faith leads us to participate in life and make sacrifices for the greater good.  (The Easter message?) Maybe I should say an evolutionary faith invites, urges, demands? that we participate in moving life forward according to the golden rule:  Love God, neighbour and self.  It is not just a good idea, it is essential for the survival of the species.  There is no one coming to save us.  We/I have to step up.

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