Back in 1919 W. B. Yeats famously wrote the following lines in his poem The Second Coming, predictive of the coming collapse of European civilization and the incipience of Naziism and World War II.
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."
Have we reached that inflection point again? And if so, what is the purpose and opportunity for the entrepreneur?
It seems we are an increasingly lost society swimming in ethical chaos, marinating in anger-infused anomie. We need look no further than Parkland, Florida for the latest evidence of our communal breakdown. Peggy Noonan puts the following question to her readers in her February 12, 2018 Wall Street Journal column: "What has happened the past 40 years or so to produce a society so ill at ease with itself, so prone to violence?" How did we become a spiritually lazy and distracted society confusing selfies with substance? How did we enter into a nightmare landscape of Kardashianism and the Big Me?
We are an increasingly addicted society. And by "addicted" I mean so much more than what usually is associated with the concept of addiction--like addictions to alcohol, opiates, food, sex, and gambling. In a sense these are the easy addictions. They are right out there in an obvious and quantifiable way.
The addiction I am talking about is to a newly embraced and increasingly universal condition. I'm talking about addiction to distraction, addiction to not being present in our own lives at the soul level. This addictive ADHD undermines the required concentration and sustained attentions that are crucial to long-term entrepreneurial success. It is an acculturated ADHD, a chosen shallowness of thought and concern that avoids the real work of social and personal being. In this we are abetted by a technology that is an irresistible shiny object teaching us distraction from an early age.
We are awash in a culture of unrooted dis-ease.
In such an atmosphere there is a logic to mass slaughters in Parkland, Florida and Las Vegas, Nevada. These actions are no less than a dramatization of our inchoate inner confusion, pain, and lostness. These horrific behaviors are a primal scream of rage, frustration, and spiritual woundedness. And this plague of shooters and madmen merely bespeaks the logic of our broader inner emptiness.
We used to clean the Augean Stables of our society through shared rituals, civil commonality, and religion. But all of these no longer have that cleansing power. We seemingly now have to create meaning alone.
Yesterday was Easter Sunday in the US. Unfortunately it reminded me that our society has an inner barrenness where there was once a personal and communal soul center, a living system of meaning, a place where what we often call God once lived. Yale psychologist William James once said, "Religion is the attempt to be in harmony with the unseen order of things." Our society is ultimately in harmony with nothing. Our societal paradigm is a vast, inarticulate Edvard Munch painting--The Scream as soul portrait of universal condition.
In such a society there is a certain logic to the actions of criminals and addicts and madmen. These enemies of civilized society may be prophets of a sort. They may be unhinged, but intuitive, Jeremiahs, acting out of an agonizing lostness where mass murder makes a perverse sense. They are canaries in our spiritual coal mine.
So what may offer us hope and direction? Well, how 'bout entrepreneurship? There is a great opportunity in creative business entrepreneurship to redefine the world through our companies in small but meaningful ways.
Entrepreneurship is an institution that can allow new meaning and new hope to come into the world. Entrepreneurship is still a remarkable petrie dish for experiment and practical intuition, as well as innovation. While they are magnificent capitalist tools for creating profit, great entrepreneurial companies also can create new culture and new communal tropes. Entrepreneurs have the freedom, in miniature, to develop a new fulcrum for meaning in the work-a-day world.
This is very much what Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, John Mackey, Danny Meyer, and others have sought to do with their variegated visionary approaches to business. They are new world creators, as well as profit creators.
Antoine de Saint-Expery once said, "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather the wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea." Thank you, Antoine.