39. Integrity

I have been increasingly disturbed by the steady erosion of that most important but highly complex concept with multiple definitions and interpretations called: Integrity. Those in politics rarely employ it except in the negative sense when, during election campaigns, one party will challenge the other for lacking integrity. In everyday usage the police, the bankers, or the politicians are often described as faltering on integrity. It is rare to hear a leader use the word in a positive sense as President Dwight D. Eisenhower did half a century ago:

“The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible , no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”

To be sure, “integrity” can be perceived in different ways: there is personal integrity, public integrity, creative integrity, etc. Today some will describe it as an adherence to moral and ethical principles, others as a concept of consistency of actions, methods, principles, and values. Providing a definition for Wikipedia, Dr. Barbara Killinger described it as “an uncompromising and predictably consistent commitment to honor moral, ethical, spiritual and artistic values and principles.”1

The word actually stems from the Latin adjective integer (meaning whole or complete) and in this context it expresses that sense of “wholeness” or overall consistency of character in which people act in accordance to the principles, beliefs and values they aspire or claim to hold. How far we have come from the times of Plato who regarded commerce in terms of acquisitiveness and therefore an occupation of limited value. Need one say more than that Plato valued integrity above solutions. Today “the market,” in which the almost undisputed values (profit being a given) are choice and efficiency, drives the capitalist system. Even hardened commentators, like those of the Economist, would have to admit that integrity is seldom associated with our globalized corporations.

Leaf through the financial pages of the New York Times, London’s Financial Times or the Guardian newspapers and you will find yourself confronting endless reports of collusion, corruption, deception, duplicity, embezzlement, evasion, falsification, graft, lies, subterfuge, theft and a string of other misdeeds being exposed about corporations, banks, institutions, management funds, individuals and various nations. The lack of the positive use of the word in the media says a lot about the progressive decay of moral standards throughout our economic structure.

At the most basic human level it was Immanuel Kant who first maintained that all values are created not by some heavenly powers but by rational and free human choice. Following this tradition, Professor Stuart H. Brody recently examined “how the conflict of personal interest drives many to guiltlessly engage in common breaches of integrity that they would deplore in others.”2 Few initially intend to resort to various dodges, deceits, or falsehoods which ultimately end up as crimes. “Still many engage in behavior that deepens the ethical crisis caused by such conduct without doubting their own integrity.”

The global crisis which is associated with the fall of Lehman Brothers was precipitated by the thousands of individual financial professionals – the bankers, stockbrokers, insurers, analysts, rating agents, financial advisers and corporate executives – whose collective negligence, ignorance, deceits, subterfuge and outright corruption resulted in economic panic. No one admitted to the global shortage of integrity.

It is important to understand what values and priorities we share in the 21st century. Most of us have a built-in sense of fairness and justice. We are born with an innate need to belong and to make attachments. Our identity as human beings is to a large extent based on our own and society’s values.

The closely held values such as integrity very much define the meaning of our lives. It is therefore essential that we reaffirm the importance of values and their place in our age of amoral capitalism.

We are experiencing a serious and fundamental conflict between our market economy and our heritage of personal values. The “me first” rampant competitiveness of capitalism is destructive of our human dignity. The wealthy are already buying themselves longer lives than the poor. The desire of those trying to make health care a market transaction is just part of their desire to make life and death more profitable.

Every society has a set of largely tacit assumptions about what it values and what is important. Relativism, however, holds that all value systems are bound only to their time and are no more than a measure of the outlook of a specific era. Because basic conventions are in turmoil, our prevailing relativism appears no better than an ethical cop-out. At the same time we must recognize that change itself is being held by many in higher esteem as a value than stability. The younger generations also tend to value and embrace what is different, new and highly touted.

In the 21st century much of our heritage seem up for sale; those concepts that cannot be seen to turn a profit are relegated to the moral scrap-heap. The concepts of civic virtue and the public interest have practically vanished. The irony is that capitalism provided much of prosperity for society even as it undermined the very values, like integrity, that made such improvements in the standard of living worthwhile. The strangleholds of money and consumption may give us the freedom to choose but not to BE. At the popular level what matters is what automobile you drive or what clothes you wear. Focusing on the tangible ultimately leads to the devaluation of all values.

The philosopher John Rawls noted that “in times of social doubt and loss of faith in long established virtues, there is the tendency to fall back on the virtues of integrity: truthfulness and sincerity, lucidity and commitment, or, as some say, authenticity.”3 And yet, for many Americans, what goes on in Washington D.C reveals the ultimate breakdown of integrity. The politics in this ethical pressure cooker of pernicious lobbying, political bickering, endless debates and overwhelming opportunistic self-interest all tend to drown integrity.

The author Thomas Frank declared five years ago that: “There is no higher claim to journalistic integrity than going to jail to protect a source.”4

The great French scientist, Jacques Monod, held that “No system of values can be said to constitute a true ethic unless it proposes an ideal reaching beyond the individual and transcending the self to the point even of justifying self sacrifice – if need be.”5

However, the integrity of our actions is not always accepted nor clear. While Edward Snowden’s forced exile in Russia was seen by most of the world as a commendable example of how integrity can motivate the individual, to many Americans his revelation of the extent of unrestricted snooping by various arms of the US intelligence network appeared as a denial of loyalty, patriotism, institutional commitment and integrity. Alas, such splits in judgment clearly show how our differences in heritage and perspective can affect our conceptual values.

Most religions have embraced the transcendent standard that the values conferred upon the life of man come from above. In the decades ahead, as the apps develop further, we shall have the challenging task of learning to distinguish not only what is ephemeral and what has consequence but also what is of value and what is virtual.

Our global societies must incorporate ways which recognize our need for one another. We must consciously and deliberately move towards an ethics based on affiliation and care. Every society has formed value judgments which have rapidly become the criteria for deciding what kinds of behavior will be approved. As values are generated by the creative human will and by the struggle of conflicting individual and collective wills, it seems self-evident that we have the potential to establish a new edition of values for the 21st century and that these will, in large measure, be selected from the traditional ones formulated by previous generations. It is thus to be hoped that the quality of life on this planet shall be such that humanity shall re-enlist integrity as one of its highest social values.

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1Dr. Barbara Killinger, Integrity: Doing the Right Thing For the Right Reason, 1995

2Stuart H.Brody, “Why public integrity fails,” The Journal of Academic and Business Studies, September 2012, p. 1

3John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, (1971) p. 519

4Thomas Frank, The Huffington Post, Posted October 28, 2009

5Jacques Monod, “Chance and Necessity,” (1971) p. 178

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38. A Mass Tourist Future?

My mind instantly responds to the expression “mass tourism” with “grotesque nightmare!” Having worked, lived in, or traveled in over 90 countries around the world, the prospect of travel no longer entices. Congestion on the roads and in the airports, concerns about security, inspections, and bureaucratic hassle, unsettled weather patterns and unpredictable politics are all unsettling. The prospective arrival to a city in terms of the architecture, hotels, restaurants, the conventions of politeness of service, each have become so stereotyped that they leave little to my imagination. Put simply: All fun in the process of getting there has vanished.

It says a lot about our species and our global civilization that tourism has become the largest (or perhaps the second largest after food) industry. Mass travel has shrunk our globe in more ways than one. I regret to say that mass tourism, while good for the creation of jobs, is also causing serious erosion of our environment. The carbon emissions alone are staggering.

Tourism used to be about exploration and getting to know other people and their differing ways of life. No longer. The mass tourist is primarily interest in taking “selfies” in front of the Grand Canal and then being able to say “I have been there.” Venice, one of my favorite cities, can have so many tourists struggling to reach St. Mark’s Square or the Rialto bridge that I can only compare it to morning rush hour in the New York or Tokyo subways. Fortunately, when there, I can hurry away and, in just a few blocks from the crush, can then stroll calmly through narrow alleyways and intimate piazzas to mingle with ordinary Venetians going about their daily chores: bliss!

Mass tourism entails levels of standardization, conformity, uniformity and cost cutting, all working against individual choice. (Yes, the “holiday package” may be structured around ‘singles’, gourmets, seniors, or even flora, but the driving force is numbers.1)

I live in the academically renowned city of Cambridge (UK) where more than 10 percent of the work force is employed in tourism. About four million visitors a year come to visit this historic site bringing in more than $300 million (or £200+ million.) A new phenomenon has been the arrival of bus load upon bus load of Chinese who have come to regard Cambridge as one of the “musts” of their ‘grand tour’ of Europe. Most of these want to pay homage to the 20th Century poet Xu Zhimo who wrote a highly nostalgic verse, “Leaving Cambridge Again” (1928) which has been taught in every Chinese primary school for over a generation.

During their visit to Cambridge, none of these visitors is likely to speak to a single resident. Most are unlikely to see much beyond the punts on the Cam river and ‘the backs’ of Kings and neighboring colleges. What will they come away with when, having “done” Cambridge, they eagerly mount their buses to return to London’s Chinatown in time for dinner? Perhaps they will decide that there are as many cyclists in this city as there are in their city in China? Or that there is less air and water pollution than back at home? Or that they miss the black tea they are used to?   Perhaps the visit to the rock with the poetic inscription of Xu Zhimo may just have been another essential rite in affirming their social status?

All too often the faces of mass tourists, their digital cameras at the ready, express fatigue and boredom, as well as anxiety and irritation. Much of their time is spent queuing for food, entrance fees, or toilet facilities. They never seem quite comfortable when distant from their flag bearing guide or from the bus which will take them to their next destination as printed in their illustrated packaged programs.

Would that some of the thrills of sensation open to the individual traveler were enjoyed by the mass of tourists, but the age of the independent ‘Grand’ hotels (which was launched with the opening by Princess Eugenie of the Paris Grand in 1862) has now passed. Replicating intimate service on a mass scale is an inherently implausible task in the 21st Century. There are some 16,500 posh hotels scattered around the world run mostly by a variety of national chains. The five biggest hotel loyalty schemes, half of which are upscale/posh or luxury, have a total of 200 million members. The Economist, in surveying this state of affairs, speculated that “In the future the hotel may offer neither bland conformity nor authentic warmth but a proliferating number of experimental worlds in which to insert yourself.”2

There was a time, not so long ago, when travel was an adventure full of the unexpected and sometimes even redolent with charm. Looking back two centuries at the experiences of different travelers and adventurers, one encounters startlingly different perceptions and reactions. I note this not only as nostalgia on my part but also as a protest at the way the human race has voyaged of late. Boswell, crediting his libertine friend, Samuel Johnson  with a verse from Naples on March 7, 1765 when, on a visit to what had already become an essential stopover of the European “Grand Tour,”3 he wrote:

Why curse fair Naples, strangers, wherefore swear
That all the human race are worthless there?…
At Naples lives the woman I adore,
Oh, had I seen her ere she turned a whore!
But whore or not I love her with my soul,
And to her health will drink a brimming bowl.

Twelve days later, in a somewhat different mood, he wrote that

“Naples is indeed a delicious spot. I have been near three weeks here and have been constantly employed in seeing the classical places all around. Is it possible to conceive a richer scene than the finest bay diversified with islands and bordered by fields where Virgil’s Muses charmed the creation, where the renowned ancient Rome enjoyed the luxury of glorious retreat and the true flow of soul which they valued as much as triumphs?”

There was indeed a time before tourism became a mass industry that the prospect of travel could fill the visitor with pleasurable anticipation. Few tourists today travel for travel’s sake. Catering to the market has entailed the loss of spiritual values and has replaced these with material concerns: Getting the best deal for your money and getting you there fast.

But do not despair. New tourist vistas (without any visas) are opening up for those willing to spend $200,000 (or £125,000) for a risky two hour journey to outer space at ever higher speeds. Those who already have signed up for Sir Richard Branson’s commercial space flight on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, are unlikely to get a much smoother ride than that described by Catherine Roget on October 5, 1793 on her five day+ coach journey from London to Edinburgh:

“I had the most disagreeable journey I ever experienced owing to the new improved patent coach, a vehicle loaded with iron trappings and the greatest complication of unmechanical contrivances jumbled together that I have ever witnessed. The coach swings sideways with a sickly sway, without any vertical spring, the point of suspension bearing upon an arch called a spring, though it is nothing of the sort. The severity of the jolting occasioned me such disorder, that I was obliged to stop at Axminster and go to bed very ill.”

Lady Roget cautioned that “unless they go back to the old-fashioned coach, hung a little lower, the mail coaches will lose all their custom.”

Sir Richard, Beware!

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1Maxine Feifer, Tourism in History, (1985)

2“Be my guest  A short History of Hotels,”The Economist,  December 21, 2013.

3Christopher Hibbert, The Grand Tour,(1987)