The Ethics of Immigration

Last Sunday, Italian voters in an election for Parliament gave a small plurality to the Brothers of Italy party and its leader, Giorgia Meloni.  The Party’s history harks back to the Fascist movement of Benito Mussolini.

Previously in an election in Sweden, a party of the right also won impressive support from voters.

The emotional issue activating voters to support both parties seems to have been immigration – too much immigration, that is.

Those voters raise the ethical issue of the right of nationals to maintain their own culture and not have it diluted by newcomers who think and behave according to the cultures to which they were born and in which they were raised.

From a standpoint of open societies and democracy, is there an ethic for immigrants to assimilate when they move to a new nation?  Or, is there an ethic of respect for “indigenous” people and their values and traditions?

This question was discussed at the Caux Round Table’s 2018 Global Dialogue in St. Petersburg, Russia.  A statement was drafted addressing the challenges of immigration.

In part, the statement concluded that:

The ethics of an immigrant: serving as prospective citizen and holding the offices of friend and guest.

Immigrants – refugee, asylum seeker, worker, student, retiree – become residents of a nation state with the intention of making a life as part of that community.  As such, they have the status of prospective citizen, learning how to assume the privileges and obligations of citizenship and the status of friend, obligated to perform the office of friend in their new homeland.

In gratitude for receiving permission to become a resident and then, perhaps, a citizen, immigrants should be particularly alert to being a gracious guest.

You may read the statement here.

A Comment on Labor from Hector Garcia

I want to share with you a response from Hector Garcia, an old friend with a deep connection to Moral Re-Armament, now Initiatives of Change, which inspired the creation of the Caux Round Table in 1986.  Hector adds his thoughts on the importance of “labor” as a worthy force in our living, not merely as drudgery or that which is only there for exploitation by those more powerful or wealthy than the “worker.”

I learned much from your Labor Day letter.  The diverse insights of religious prophets and teachers and their value were a good learning experience.  Personally, I believe Pope John Paul’s encyclicals focus on actualizing our potential role as co-creators of the universe (the missed opportunity presented in Genesis) holds the answer to the question you sent with the Bethel University meeting proceedings: “Where is the middle space in which we can find each other on good terms?”

Choosing to finally enact this role can prevent the apocalyptic option described in William Butler Yeats’ poem, “Second Coming,” which you included.  Enjoyed the political, economic and ethnic complementarity, which was present in the letter.

I believe the Founding Fathers accomplished an unprecedented bridging of the spiritual, economic and political.  Through arduous and inspired labor, they balanced the 3 realms, while factoring in human limitations and prioritizing the different values within each on the basis of ideals, historical experience and the Founders’ moment in time.

It seems to me that we have lost that balance and prioritization by gradually reducing reality to STEM through academic atheism and the prosperity gospel.  The latter is now attempting to reduce reality further to STEM because physical science is supporting the conclusion that humans are having a significant impact on global climate change.

Why Can’t We Talk to Each Other? Thursday, October 13

Why can’t we talk to each other?

Am I the problem, or are you?

Is it us or is it them?

It is a problem of talking or listening.  I talk; do you want to hear me out?  You talk; do I want to hear you out?

The Caux Round Table has asserted that discourse is best for moral governance, which implies both quality talking and quality listening.

Quite overlooked these days, as we grow more and more dismissive of others, are the advantages and ideals put forth by Aristotle and Cicero on friendship, on sociability as a profound human good, as at the core of ethics and morality, not to mention peace and prosperity.

Or what about old social expectations of being gracious and polite to those who are different or who don’t see things our way?  Emily Post, anyone?

Is discourse a skill we must learn? If so, where can we find teachers?

Aristotle and Cicero also left us wonderful treatises on rhetoric – the art of getting others to listen to us.  Both affirmed that in persuasion, the first step is to listen to the other and speak to their concerns and narratives, whatever they might be.

Please join us in-person at 9:00 am on Thursday, October 13, at the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul for a round table discussion of why we just can’t get along with one another.  Where is the way forward?  Or, is it back to the mores and habits before the metastasizing of social media?

Perhaps a public statement should be drafted and circulated this election season?

Registration and a light breakfast will begin at 8:30 am.

Cost to attend is $10, which you can pay at the door.

To register, please email Jed at

The event will last about an hour and a half.

From the Book of Common Prayer

The funeral honors given Elizabeth, the second of that name to be Queen of
England, were estimated to have been watched, at least in part, by 4.1 billion people globally.  It was the largest television event in the history of humanity, encompassing cultures, races, ethnicities, countries and religions.

We have arrived at an age of irrepressible globalism, thanks to technologies created by the private sector and sold for a profit, including not only television and cell phones, but also aircraft and waterborne shipping containers.

In retrospect, Queen Elizabeth lived with a grace and fortitude detached from the parochialisms created and sustained by culture, ethnicity, race, nations and religion.  And so her passing was noted by so many who were not her subjects.  The response to her passing gives evidence of a moral sense in most of us, whoever we are and wherever we live.

To me, the blessing given at the close of her burial service by the Archbishop of Canterbury, taken from the estimable Book of Common Prayer used for centuries by the Church of England, most appropriately echoed the humanity which can resonate in each of us after our own fashion:

GO forth into the world in peace; Be of good courage, hold fast that which is good, render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honour all people, love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; …

And so may each of you go forth into our world with all its tribulations and shortcomings.

We Are Restless Weavers

This past Sunday, my wife Hoa and I were in Wellfleet, Cape Cod.  I decided, more or less on a whim or, more likely, to once again feel part of that New England Calvinist culture which centered my Father’s family for generations in this continent.  I went to the local Congregational Church, now part of the United Church of Christ.  The congregation in Wellfleet was 301 years old.  Its church had been built in 1850, very solid in design and construction, very Yankee without fuss or feathers, plain and utilitarian, as if built for use in a work of worthy substance.

Wellfleet is just a few miles from where, in 1620, the Pilgrims first came ashore after their voyage from Delft-Haven in Holland to what would be called “New” England.  Not finding the land well-disposed for settlement, they sailed farther along the coast to make their new home in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  As God-fearing, but very practical in worldly ways, the Pilgrims were on an “errand into the wilderness,” the better to find solace in their faith.  Their “errand” was to inspire and guide the American Republic ever since.  As one of our Caux Round Table Fellows says, “Behaviors are the residuals of values.”  Puritan values have had a long shelf-life in the behaviors of my fellow citizens for 400 years and through many of them, in the world beyond our shores, as well.

The service centered on hymns.  There was no sermon.  Most of the hymns were not familiar to me, raised a Unitarian.  One was new, from 1995.  It was “Restless Weaver.”  I was surprised how such new lyrics connected so well with the Puritan tradition of yore, when so much these days is a rejection of the past, of duty and sacrifice, of making a Pilgrim’s Progress (John Bunyan’s 1678 tale), day by day, through a hard and cold world, into an unknown future, with head held high and courage at the ready.

The last verse was:

Restless Weaver, still conceiving new life – now and yet to be – Binding all your vast creation in one living tapestry: You have called us to be weavers.  Let your love guide all we do.  With your Reign of Peace our pattern, we will weave your world anew.

Remarkable, I thought.  Expressed here is the very sentiment which inspired the Caux Round Table’s Principles for Business, a sentiment shared by the Japanese, Europeans and Americans who drafted the principles, each in their own way a restless weaver seeking a better world for all of us.

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of England

The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
And God fulfills himself in many ways
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.’

Alford, Lord TennysonBecause I Could Not Stop for Death

By Emily Dickinson

Because I could not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews drew quivering and Chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ’tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

Elizabeth Windsor, who passed away earlier today at age 96, knew something very important. Something so important that she impressed her character with its exacting demands and lived every day guided by its truth.  She knew who she was – not as an individual with ups and downs, likes and dislikes – but more importantly, as an official.  She held an office.  She was Queen of Great Britain.  She was in service – to history, to the future, to her realm.

For her, being monarch was a privilege in the best sense – it was an opportunity to do good, a grace, to have work that, every day, was meaningful, even at the horse races.  She did not seem to see herself as entitled to extensive personal prerogatives as the due to her privilege, so much as accepting and welcoming responsibility.

Responsibility is onerous, sometimes even a frightening burden we would rather lay down and go fishing.  Others depend on us and that can get into our souls.  Responsibility is not often sugar and spice and all things nice.  When we are responsible, our very selves are on the line, subject to judgment and criticism.

How many of us seek out responsibility?  Many of us flee duty and decision-making.  We pass the buck, leave it up to others and slide through life uttering weasel words of exculpation.  We are eager for position, privilege in a crude and demeaning mode of self-indulgence at the expense of others.  We often seek to rise above others, to gain dominion over land and money, to become celebrated, but to what end?  Do we seek to stand firm for the right as Martin Luther did – “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

Elizabeth easily, it seems, accepted her fate as having been born, through no fault of her own, the eldest child of a king.  She shrank not from the standard of personal character, which insists that rank must have its responsibilities, come hell or high water.

Quite unexpectedly, I once had dinner in Buckingham Palace.  I was seated next to Princess Anne.  She spent the dinner talking with me and ignoring the gentleman to her right, who was quite obviously not pleased.  She was intelligent, worldly, but reserved, keen to learn, quick to make a point.

And once I had a long private audience with His Majesty, King Rama IX of Thailand.  He advised me on Buddhism.  His aide-de-camp, a major general, had trouble staying awake.

In each case, while listening, I wondered how I would carry myself if our roles were reversed – me the royal and they the commoner.  I sensed, in each, dedication to something more than self.  Each provided me with insight and keen observations.  They took their position – but not themselves – seriously as a work that made a difference in our world.  And I sensed, as well, that these two people very much wanted whatever difference they might make to be good and honorable.

In this sense of holding office, I suggest that Elizabeth Windsor was a role model for all of us.

We each have our special offices – parent; child; grandfather; grandmother; citizen; neighbor; employee; owner; our own person; civil servant; teacher; lawyer; marketing executive; doctor; nurse; priest; penitent,…

Let us, therefore, never turn our backs on the responsibilities that come with our offices, nor indulgently disable ourselves, mentally and emotionally, from holding such offices in good faith and to the best of our abilities.

I have always liked Mark Twain’s quip that “Let us endeavor to live so that when we die, even the undertaker will be sorry.”

Mikhail Gorbachev and the End of History

The passing of Mikhail Gorbachev deserves mention, as it is a teaching moment for us all.  He personified the collapse of Soviet Communism, a great experiment in the intentional organizing of human society, idealist, to be sure, but evil at the same time, a gnostic theocracy shaping persons (square pegs) to fit in (round) collectivist holes.  What’s not to like?

The collapse of Soviet Communism was described as the “End of History” by Professor Francis Fukuyama.  His intent, I think, was to mark the failure of that experiment as a turning point for humanity in putting a failure behind it and accepting the reality that individuals, not collectives, carry the Holy Grail of possibility within themselves.

When push came to shove in the struggle to shore up and carry on with the Soviet clunker of a system, as First Secretary of the Communist Party ruling the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Gorbachev neither pushed, nor shoved.  He presided over the inevitable.

He was a wise man, in some ways, heroic, not turning his back on the system which had raised him to great power for a time, but also not seeking to do the impossible, which was to revitalize it.

His attempt at overcoming systemic entropy and its decreasing output of work was to open it up to individualism – glasnost in thinking and speaking and perestroika in modes of organization.  Neither modification could surmount the entropic forces slowing the system down and hastening its collapse.

The lesson for us to learn from Gorbachev is to ever respect reality: cooked spaghetti cannot be pushed up a straw, but uncooked spaghetti can.  His foresight in anticipating the collapse of his system, shared with others in and around the KGB, such as Vladimir Putin, was unremarkable. The KGB recruited smart people with analytical minds, not slavish ideologues.  They knew the world outside the Soviet Union, tracking its dynamics and accomplishments.  They knew that their Marxist-Leninism would never bury capitalism.  The pithy Marxist aphorism, I understand, is “The proletariat is the undertaker of capitalism.”

His course, I think, was wise and moral.  At some level, he understood that Lenin’s and Stalin’s system had outlived its possibilities.  I heard Gorbachev speak to the Center of the American Experiment in Minnesota in April 2000.  While he did not repudiate the Soviet experiment, neither did he praise it.  I found that cast of mind prudent and befitting a statesman.  His remarks were subtle, but directed towards universal values embracing the agency of human persons.  In this sense, I found him to be a man inclined more to principle than to power.

I think he would have had no difficulty accepting the Caux Round Table’s ethical principles.  As for the end of history, I have trouble with that one.  History is something like the Dao, I would suggest.  It just “is” and goes on and on, to what end, we know not, though we are agents of its evolution.

The Dao De Jing advises that the Dao that can be named is not the real Dao.  Thereby, we create names for that which is historical, but by doing so, we do not necessarily get our hands on or wrap our minds around real history.

Fukuyama cautioned us about the hubris of thinking that this system or that system is “it” – the culmination forever and ever more of a Dao in some kind of stasis.  He pointed to thymos, (sometimes thumos) the Greek concept of impassioned spiritedness – glory, honor, ego – within our character that draws on emotions and therefore, can become blind to reason and prudence. Thymos drives us to create systems and structures and it also drives us to destroy them, as times change.  Such spiritedness grates against norms and order.

Thus, Fukuyama warned, the system of “capitalism and constitutional democracy” – the liberal order – which seemingly “won out” over Soviet Communism – could be corrupted, even destroyed, by the energies which thymos sets loose in person after person.

Ethics and morality are important checks on thymos, more so than reason.  Thus, they have a role to play, as the Dao of history just goes on and on.

On Labor

Today, Monday, September 5, is Labor Day in the U.S., a holiday no longer much celebrated in honor of working men and women and their unions, organized as a counterweight to “capital,” keeping money power from making excessive demands on workers in capitalist systems.

The formation of labor unions was the foundation for the modern welfare State.  But now in the U.S., Labor Day is more appreciated as the official end of summer and family vacations, the beginning of the school year and the formal start of election campaigns seeking political power in a constitutional democracy.

So, should we honor “labor”?

On one level, “labor” is just a factor of production, along with land and capital, a necessary fact of life, one which supports the creation of wealth and so more opportunity and better lives for humankind.

On another level, “labor” correlates with exploitation.  Workers are not paid fairly for their contributions to economic and social well-being.  Capital – money – has such power that it can squeeze “value” out of labor, said Karl Marx, creating inequality.  Those with capital thrive.  Those who labor manage, at best, and suffer, at worst.  My junior year tutor, the noted American Marxist, Barrington Moore, drilled into us the narrative that all society is structured to “extract the surplus” from labor, be it farmers or factory hands.

In the Judeo-Christian traditions, labor is punishment for our sinfulness.  It is associated with drudgery and hardship.  We are not entitled to ease and enjoyment of our desires, but must work in creation to sustain ourselves.  In English, we even say that the pain of a woman when giving birth is her “labor.”

The Old Testament describes jubilee years, when debts are forgiven, a social mechanism to offset the power of money, as it subjugates those who must borrow in order to fund their “work.”  The Qur’an prohibits “riba” or paying interest on money borrowed.  The Qur’anic alternative is a joint venture, where the parties are collaborators, sharing between them the risks of work.

Labor has also, in many societies, become intertwined with social status and reputational superiority.  Those who “labor” are on the bottom of social hierarchies, while those who don’t – priests, merchants, investors, landlords, aristocrats, bureaucrats – enjoy privileges.

For most people, across cultures, the thought of rising above the laboring class or enjoying the ease of elite lifestyles is a source of motivation, but also of resentment.

Interesting to me is the different take on labor found in several Asian religious understandings of the human predicament.  Buddha focused on the individual person, not on class or labor.  He was universalistic in his teachings, believing that they applied to all persons everywhere, no matter their social power or status.  The core to his thinking was developing mindfulness, to seek and keep the middle way of balance and equilibrium.

To him, a poor working person was just as capable of seeking and finding understanding as the greatest of kings and potentates.  Internalization of the Noble Eightfold Path into our personal character was universally possible among humans.

Similarly, in China, Daoism ignored the social, political and economic confinements of labor. Living in the Dao was presented as possible for everyone.  One only had to wu wei – not strive to live up to a name or office or to measure oneself by a socially constructed status.

Even Mencius can be read to proclaim the possibility that everyone can aspire to living in the practice of jenyi (with humanness and righteousness) and not in a Darwinist struggle for wealth and dominion.

In Protestant Christianity, Martin Luther sought to transform labor and work into a calling of more transcendent virtue by reframing “work” as “vocation” (beruf), as efforts to live up to God’s expectations, not society’s.  What is of God is worth no matter how much money it brings home.  And no amount of money, earned or privilege inherited, can ever become something of God.  Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Pope John Paul II, in his 1981 encyclical, Laborem Exercens, proposed that we, in our work, are co-creators with God of his work and it continues until the end of time.  Each of us, then, has a vocation.  We may not be conscious of our goodness or how our lives, as disappointing, banal and exhausting as they may be, have higher purpose.

John Paul II affirmed that “Work is a fundamental dimension of man’s existence on earth.”

He continued: “As the “image of God,” he is a person, that is to say, a subjective being, capable of acting in a planned and rational way, capable of deciding about himself and with a tendency to self-realization.  As a person, man is, therefore, the subject of work.  As a person, he works, he performs various actions belonging to the work process; independently of their objective content, these actions must all serve to realize his humanity, to fulfil the calling to be a person that is his by reason of his very humanity.”

John Paul II held it as a “fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares, by his work, in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of his own human capabilities, man, in a sense, continues to develop that activity and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.”

Awareness that man’s work is a participation in God’s activity ought to permeate even “the most ordinary, everyday activities.  For, while providing the substance of life for themselves and their families, men and women are performing their activities in a way which appropriately benefits society.  They can justly consider that by their labour, they are unfolding the Creator’s work, consulting the advantages of their brothers and sisters and contributing, by their personal industry, to the realization in history of the divine plan.”

Taking these religious insights into our consideration, let us not look down upon “labor” or associate it primarily with the injustices of subjugation and exploitation.  Let us, rather, consider everything we do – including our use of money – as contributing to our vocation as a person of goodwill and grace, seeking the optimum intersection of our own well-being, considered upon the whole of life’s possibilities, tangible and intangible, with the common good.

August Pegasus is Now Available!

In this edition, we include articles on moral capitalism and the middle class and whether theocracy has re-emerged in China.
We also include former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s letter to his mother as it concerns China’s current ruler, Xi Jinping.

I would be most interested in your thoughts and feedback.

By the way, if you’ve missed any previous issues, you can find them all on our website here.

More Short Videos on Relevant and Timely Topics

We recently posted more short videos on relevant and timely topics.  They include:

C.S. Lewis – An Alternative Preface

We Are Agents

Surveillance Capitalism – When the Rubber Meets the Road

All our videos can be found on our YouTube page here.  We recently put them into 8 playlists, which you can find here.

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