Monday, September 26, 2005

Aren't we all Constant Gardeners?

A review of the new movie, the Constant Gardener with Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz was newly posted on Common Dreams (which offers writings that are current politics, science notes, philosophies etc. and yes, slightly left leaning!) .

I'd seen the movie. The review focused on the Big Pharmaceutical companies and their "ethics" of using the poor in Africa to test new drugs on an unsuspecting (and disposable) population who often end up crippled guinea pigs. Based on the John LeCarre novel, the movie of course is fiction, but as this writer says--it will be interesting to see if this movie creates a PR nightmare for the pharmaceutical companies because it has a strong ring of plausibility.

But to me, he missed the point entirely. Yes, big pharmaceutical companies are made out to be quite evil, but in reality they are just one example in a general microcosm of how we run this planet. The players in the movie do exactly what every executive or CEO in the world does--makes every decision based on "maximize shareholder return". If that means you murder people or use them as cheap testing subjects it is an acceptable necessity because we have created a world completely devoted to making money. Thus, anything that makes money (and improves stockholder returns) can and must be done even if that means destroying the earth, air, water, or, in the case of the Constant Gardener--people!

All the characters in this movie are caught in this game although when the Ralph Fiennes character asks innocently "How did this happen?", the response was "Justin, it was happening all around you. You couldn't see it because you were contented to stay in your garden". To me...this is what the movie is really all about.

This same question is one we all need to ask ourselves as well. How did we let the world get to a stage where "making money" is the primary driver of all the decisions of the world? I'm afraid our response will be similar to Justin's....we were content to stay in our gardens. (I am as guilty of this as anyone!) And while it is easy to demonize Big Pharma--quite frankly, we are all a part of this game! And we must all take responsibility.

Every publicly traded company in the world has the same mantra that drives every business decision--"Maximize shareholder returns". And a CEO will tell you that he has a "fiduciary responsibility" to his shareholders because shareholders "own" the company. If he doesn't do this, he'll be replaced with someone else who will do this. And we all accept this as totally normal. Of course stock prices must increase and a company must do everything possible to succeed at this because stockholders demand it since they own the company. You're probably shaking your head "yes", as you read this. Of course--everyone knows this is true.

But its only true because we made it true. It doesn't have to be true at all. To that, I direct you to a wonderful book that will help you get out of the garden and begin to see what's going on around you! The book is The Divine Right of Capital by Marjorie Kelly.

If the Constant Gardener makes you angry as the reviewer at Common Dreams hopes, I hope it will spur you to action. A movie is just fiction and is easy to dismiss. When you read The Divine Right of Capital, you'll see how this fictional movie dramatizes a world-wide reality.

Long ago we got ourselves kicked out of the Garden of Eden--only to create an even bigger mess. It is time we kicked ourselves out of the Garden of Money. As the Constant Gardener so vividly shows us, it is time we stopped being content to let corporations and the mantra of 'maximizing shareholder return', run the world.

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