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Deception

04/15/08 5:55PM By Bill Shutkin
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(HOST) What do Eliot Spitzer, Bear Stearns and the Iraq War have in common? Commentator Bill Shutkin is a writer, lawyer and Research Affiliate at MIT, who tries to connect the dots in his sometimes quixotic quest for truth.

(SHUTKIN) It's been a jarring few weeks in America. First it was New York Governor Eliot Spitzer's stunning turn of fate after admitting to his involvement with a prostitution ring. Then came the collapse and rescue of the Wall Street titan Bear Stearns. And most recently, the sad news that 4000 Coalition men and women have died in the Iraq War.

Though each of these events has its own extraordinary storyline, I've found myself trying to connect dots, to find meaning in this seemingly arbitrary cascade of events - much like a Roman augur trying to divine the future in the patterns of flying birds.

And sadly, the theme that I think runs through them all is deception - of ourselves as well as others. Governor Spitzer's moral rectitude was a thin cover for his own illicit desires. Wall Street professes to believe in the free market unfettered by regulation yet doesn't hesitate to accept government subsidies and taxpayer bail-outs. The call to war in Iraq was based on lies and delusions, masking the complex web of oil politics that lies at the real heart of the conflict.

In 1938 the great Harlem folk poet Langston Hughes wrote, "Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death/The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies/We, the people, must redeem . . . the land."

Hughes reminds us that where there is deception, there is also redemption. By acknowledging our indiscretions and failures, we create the opportunity for truth, for renewal.

I think this may be why people reacted so positively to Barak Obama's recent speech on race and his relationship to the controversial Reverend Jeremiah Wright. They heard in his words and delivery the kind of honesty and authenticity our culture, politics and we ourselves often lack. We are starved for this kind of truth-telling.

But Obama's speech is just one example. In the business world, an increasing number of U.S. companies are owning up to their past mistakes and embracing strategies that more accurately and truthfully account for their costs and benefits.  As former Exxon Vice President Oystein Dahle put it recently, "Socialism collapsed because it did not allow the market to tell the economic truth. Capitalism may collapse because it has not allowed the market to tell the ecological truth."

It seems to me the great challenge of the twenty first century is not purely political or technological or even environmental. It is the challenge of human consciousness, of our ability to own up to certain undeniable truths and to learn from them so as to help ourselves and our society evolve from artifice to authenticity, from blinding ideologies to expansive ideas that work not only for people and communities, but for the planet.

This was Langston Hughes's message 70 years ago. Perhaps we're starting to listen.
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