On the Edge of a New Frontier


The New Frontier is Here

Whenever I hear the words ‘thought leader’ I think of Jacqueline Kennedy and wonder what she would have made of their pairing. I suspect she would have recoiled at the thought of someone calling her first husband that.

She might well have considered ‘thought leader’ to be a perversion of two perfectly respectable words, fused together to create a synthetic and clumsy phrase that is about as inspiring as the word ‘thoughtcrime’ is innocent.

That's what she would have thought. I think.

Legends and myths aren’t built on the foundations of words that don’t serve a purpose, words that don’t seek to clarify but instead compromise and curve the edges of the clearly defined adjectives and nouns we use to identify the truest leaders amongst us. Professionally speaking, ‘thought leader’ doesn’t quite make it as a job title. At its best, it’s a tag line which applies to, and is used by, marketers to market their wares.

Jacqueline Kennedy liked language and she liked legends and she carefully crafted and skilfully manipulated both. ‘Thought leader’ doesn’t invoke images of John F. Kennedy, in salmon pink chinos, on a golf course, with Ben Bradlee to his right and Frank Sinatra to his left. The only leadership imagery ‘thought leader’ successfully conjures up is Danny DeVito, as the Penguin, in an underground lair, surrounded by what can only be described as some very confused, city dwelling penguins.

Whether we Seek it or Not

A couple of years ago, I realised that I didn't understand the financial sector as well as I thought I did. I had been working my way up the pyramid and thought I knew what I would find at the top. As a pre-teen I had fashioned my understanding of the upper echelons of society off the politics of Rage Against the Machine and The Simpsons.

And it stuck.

Tom Morello and Matt Groening can be very convincing. But in my experience, world views become less black and white the more people you interview and when you’re in the room with them, nothing stays black and white. Everything becomes grey.

Here’s what the financial industry does have going for it. For the most part, insurers, investors and other capitalists of that ilk are professional optimists. That might be one of the reasons the private sector has taken such a lackadaisical stance against climate catastrophe. And if the medium is indeed the message, things aren’t looking too good.

Much of their optimism as it relates to the changing climate is of course misplaced, but it lingers in the air like perfume. And, if it didn’t feel so irresponsible to do so, I would be tempted to close my eyes and spend the rest of my days walking around like I was in an Enya video.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt claims that the conscious brain thinks it is in the Oval Office in charge of all the decisions when, in reality, it is actually in the press office just rationalising those decisions long after they have been pre-consciously made. It’s a brilliant metaphor that encapsulates the seemingly proactive stance the private sector has taken against climate catastrophe.

I am perplexed by the financial sector and I’m sure that they’re equally perplexed by us. We live in a world of complex realities where we have an unbalanced relationship with the world of finance. We’re quick to celebrate and idolise privilege and profit and we’re quick to throw rocks at the privileged and the profitable.

I have met and worked with sincere people who want to help but they don’t know how to take action against climate change because they don’t how to talk about it, because they don’t know how to think about it. That would involve acknowledging the worst of what’s to come and what’s already here.

Just about everyone acknowledges that the climate is changing but so many of us don’t accept it. Not really. Not in its entirety.

To do that would require accepting that things can’t continue as before. We would all have to accept that drastic change was needed, that capitalism as it exists is not compatible with our new global objectives. Greed operates in predictable patterns and it has an endless appetite that will not allow it to change, ‘to innovate’, should these innovations take it down a less profitable path. It has no limits, no edges, that’s what makes capitalism so influential but also…limiting.

Worst case scenario, nothing changes and when the storms come and the number of climate change refugees rise, we the people will blame the refugees and we will blame the bankers. Brave, young souls competent and courageous enough to call climate catastrophe out for what it is are already being dubbed ‘climate alarmists’ and being shamed and mocked for their efforts.

I know, it's unfashionable to end on a bleak note, but I honestly couldn't say what a realistic best case scenario would look like. I can however leave you with some parting words from John F. Kennedy's presidential nomination acceptance speech:

We are not here to curse the darkness; but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future...For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do...The problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won; and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier.