Thursday, April 30, 2009

John Mackey and the "Branding" of Freedom

Question: What do you get when you cross a hippie and a successful businessman?

Answer: A Libertarian.

John Mackey, founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, claims that he has forsaken his hippie roots and is now an advocate of freedom. Yet, this talk reveals a much different story.

Mackey criticizes the "freedom movement" for "bad branding". The wrong emphasis, he argues, is largely responsible for driving young adults to the Left:
How sad that the freedom movement often refuses to be idealistic. We usually don't even attempt to compete. We simply forfeit the field to the Left because we pride ourselves on our "realism" and "tough-mindedness." We talk about freedom and prosperity — and that is about it.

While decrying the absence of "idealism" in the "freedom movement", Mackey simultaneously attacks the most principled and consistent defender of freedom--Ayn Rand. Rand, he argues, has harmed "the movement":
She was overly provocative. The "virtue of selfishness" is an oxymoron. Selfishness is not a virtue. Now, I understand all the arguments — I've read all the books. I know that self-interest channeled to the social good, as expressed through Adam Smith's "invisible hand," is the single most brilliant insight about social organization ever made in history. That being said, selfishness (as opposed to self-interest) is still not a virtue. It is something to be discouraged, and not something to be supported.

Apparently Mackey has not "read all of books", and if he has, he does not understand "all of the arguments". Rand was very clear about her meaning of selfishness:
The Objectivist ethics proudly advocates and upholds rational selfishness—which means: the values required for man’s survival qua man—which means: the values required for human survival...

The values required for human survival, Mackey argues, "is something to be discouraged, and not something to be supported". And what values are we to encourage? Mackey has the answer:
The freedom movement has strategies that could meet higher human potential and social responsibility but lacks the idealism and vision to implement these strategies. I assert that the freedom movement can become a successful mass movement today if it will consciously adopt a more idealistic approach to its marketing, branding, and overall vision, and embrace a vision of meeting higher human potentials and greater social responsibility. [emphasis added]

"Social responsibility" is nothing more than altruism--we have a responsibility to "society". Which means, we must serve others; we must place the welfare of "society", or the planet, or anyone but ourselves before our own welfare and interests. Mackey is offering the same stale ideas, only he dresses them up in green and purports to call them freedom.

That Mackey is a Libertarian is not surprising. As such, he can ground his version of "freedom" in environmentalism and New Age mumbo-jumbo. He can repeat the mistakes of conservatives--defending freedom on altruistic grounds. He can retain the "idealism" of his hippie days. He can even have his whole grain cake, but reality won't allow him to eat it too. He may create a new "brand", but it won't be for freedom.

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