“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing and are ravenously hungry even though they just ate a sheep.” –Matthew 7:15
As a practicing Christmastian, I find that there are so few people in the world that truly act in accordance with their professed beliefs, like putting out a manger scene. One of the elements that, to me, makes a faithful Christian is being a good steward of God’s Earth marble. Yet it is hard for people caught up in consumerism and the competition for ever more money to take even small steps to change their habits and leave the world a healthier place. So I was fascinated to read a recent article about how Al Gore is reinventing the narrow-minded, short-term mindset of the investment world. His goal is to create a socially sustainable capitalism that makes money and feelings of superiority. Here is someone trying to be a faithful steward to the environment and his ex-wife’s alimony payments.
Gore, of course, is a polarizing figure: on the right, he is seen negatively; on the left, he is positive, and properly hooked up, he generates a lot of clean electricity. Since he left office in 2001 having won the Presidency with the most votes, he has made a lot of money consulting, making films of PowerPoint presentations, and giving speeches to Norwegian prize committees. His latest venture, however, is Generation Investment Management, whose decade-long returns have outpaced the market by evaluating companies on the basis of their culture (“do they recycle?”) and their social and environmental contributions (“will they profit from the Apocalypse?”), as well as traditional investment measures (“do they have a wide moat, drawbridge, and sally port?”).
It’s clear that the traditional mode of doing business and funding capitalism is broken. All our incentive structures are wrong, like playgrounds with weird slides and no more see-saws. CEOs are awarded huge bonuses for goosing short-term profits, and given golden parachutes no matter how badly their companies perform or what scandals occur. That’s why Gore and Blood (his main finance partner, and I am not shitting you) are doing such profound work.
Of course, some will remain convinced that Al Gore is a false prophet. They will always be skeptical of anything he says or does—after all, he was wrong about the sun accidentally sneezing on all our glaciers. But perhaps the real false prophets are those men and women in executive suites who literally create unsustainable false “profits.” I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I spelled “prophets” differently there.
So in digesting the work of people like Gore, let’s keep in mind Jesus’s exhortation to identify people according to the things they grow in their garden: “Ye shall know them by their fruits and vegetables.” I admit it’s a strange message, and worry that something was lost from the original Aramaic, but I’ve often found it helpful, as a kind of mnemonic, to learn people’s names by associating them with their favorite produce. Admittedly, it leads to awkward first encounters when I quiz people about their raised beds and herb planters. But if you work with seven middle-aged guys named John, as I do, it’s helpful to imagine each of them with their favorite fruit sticking out of their ear. Otherwise I might insult Banana John Reynolds by asking him to please empty my trash.
In closing, let me quote the full set of verses from my New Living James International King Bible, Matthew 7:16-20. The verses are profoundly insightful:
- Ye shall know them by their fruits and vegetables. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles, or parsnips of blight?
- Even so every good little tree bringeth forth good little fruit or vegetable; but a bad little corrupt tree bringeth forth bad little evil fruit or vegetable.
- A good tree or plant, or perhaps vine, cannot bring forth evil fruit or vegetable, neither can a corrupt tree or plant or vine bring forth good fruit or vegetable.
- Every tree or plant or vine, or sometimes bush, that bringeth forth not good fruit nor vegetable is hewn down, and cast into the fire, or composted.
- Wherefore by their fruits (and vegetables) ye shall know them.