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The New Era(Archive)

When four airliners fully loaded with human cargo destroyed the World Trade Center, part of the Pentagon and a corner of a field in Pennsylvania, it was said that the events were harbingers of a new era of civilization. Any “new era”, in my opinion, is more about edification than new global politics. The horrific events of September 11, 2001 should have been shocking only in their theatrical, economic and psychological success, because capitalism has been on a collision course with fundamentalist values for decades. On a clear fall day, nineteen young Islamic men literally acted out that collision in a noisy and fiery blast broadcast around the world, dragging thousands of innocent victims into the melodrama. Like most people I know, I responded to this fall’s events both emotionally and intellectually in a process that sometimes felt schizophrenic. Even as my emotional self spent sleepless nights, my intellectual self was not surprised that terrorism had finally reached the shores of our country in such a way that we are forced to add “fear of being blown up” and “fear of anthrax” to a list of anxiety generators that includes “fear of urban crime” or “fear of drunk drivers”. I have traveled abroad enough to know that many nations have been living with the fear of terrorism for years. Once at Heathrow Airport in England I was confronted by two faceless police in riot gear resembling movie space villains. They pointed their huge black automatic weapons at me as they asked why I had stopped and put down my bag in a long corridor. With a slight chuckle, I explained that I was tying my shoe. They were not amused.In his brilliant and prophetic book published in 1995, Jihad vs.McWorld , Benjamin Barber warned of the collision of global capitalism (McWorld) and fundamentalism. He wrote that neither has anything to do with the democracy that many citizens of the United States value. “McWorld is meager fare for hungry moralists and shows only passing interest in the spirit”, Mr. Barber contends. “However outrageous the deeds associated with Jihad, the revolt the deeds manifest is reactive to changes that are themselves outrageous. McWorld – the spiritual poverty of markets – may bear a portion of the blame for the excesses of the holy war against the modern; and that (sic) Jihad as a form of negation reveals Jihad as a form of affirmation. Jihad tends the soul that McWorld abjures and strives for the moral well-being that McWorld, busy with the consumer choices it mistakes for freedom, disdains.”Now as the American flag or its likeness flies from family vehicles and keeps vigil over highways and construction sites, life must go on in this “new era”. Investors concerned with the social and environmental impacts of investing continue to work to protect the small vestiges of democracy left around capitalism. These activists raise questions of companies that strive to create a global system of trade with virtually no input from non-economic stakeholders. As economic stakeholders, we assert our right to worry about the exploitation of women and children in the production of running shoes or carpets. Islamic fundamentalists, meanwhile, worry more about the running shoes themselves as carriers of corruption. Benjamin Barber visited the socially responsible investment community in 1996 as a speaker in TAMC’s Pasquinade conference. At that time, he told the audience that he believed that our work of “making the market world more democratic” is vitally important. We stand now at an historical crossroads with new wisdom. The easy short-term way out would be to build fortified walls around our privileged world. But perhaps, as the curtains of denial fall away and we understand how close our global neighbors really are, we will rise to expand the ideas of the democracy we cherish into our economic systems.