Return to Video

In praise of conflict | Jonathan Marks | TEDxPSU

  • 0:12 - 0:13
    Twenty years ago,
  • 0:13 - 0:16
    when I was a barrister
    and human rights lawyer
  • 0:16 - 0:19
    in full-time legal practice in London,
  • 0:19 - 0:22
    and the highest court in the land
  • 0:22 - 0:26
    still convened, some would say
    by an accident of history,
  • 0:26 - 0:27
    in this building here,
  • 0:28 - 0:31
    I met a young man
    who had just quit his job
  • 0:31 - 0:33
    in the British Foreign Office.
  • 0:33 - 0:36
    When I asked him, "Why did you leave,"
  • 0:36 - 0:37
    he told me this story.
  • 0:38 - 0:41
    He had gone to his boss
    one morning and said,
  • 0:41 - 0:45
    "Let's do something
    about human rights abuses in China."
  • 0:46 - 0:48
    And his boss had replied,
  • 0:48 - 0:50
    "We can't do anything
    about human rights abuses in China
  • 0:50 - 0:53
    because we have
    trade relations with China."
  • 0:54 - 0:57
    So my friend went away
    with his tail between his legs,
  • 0:57 - 1:00
    and six months later,
    he returned again to his boss,
  • 1:01 - 1:02
    and he said this time,
  • 1:02 - 1:06
    "Let's do something
    about human rights in Burma,"
  • 1:06 - 1:07
    as it was then called.
  • 1:08 - 1:10
    His boss once again paused
  • 1:10 - 1:14
    and said, "Oh, but we can't
    do anything about human rights in Burma
  • 1:14 - 1:18
    because we don't have
    any trade relations with Burma."
  • 1:18 - 1:19
    (Laughter)
  • 1:19 - 1:21
    This was the moment
    he knew he had to leave.
  • 1:21 - 1:24
    It wasn't just the hypocrisy
    that got to him.
  • 1:25 - 1:28
    It was the unwillingness of his government
  • 1:28 - 1:30
    to engage in conflict
    with other governments,
  • 1:30 - 1:32
    intense discussions,
  • 1:32 - 1:36
    all the while, innocent people
    were being harmed.
  • 1:37 - 1:39
    We are constantly told
  • 1:40 - 1:42
    that conflict is bad
  • 1:42 - 1:44
    that compromise is good;
  • 1:45 - 1:47
    that conflict is bad
  • 1:47 - 1:49
    but consensus is good;
  • 1:49 - 1:52
    that conflict is bad
  • 1:52 - 1:54
    and collaboration is good.
  • 1:55 - 1:57
    But in my view,
  • 1:57 - 1:59
    that's far too simple
    a vision of the world.
  • 1:59 - 2:01
    We cannot know
  • 2:01 - 2:03
    whether conflict is bad
  • 2:03 - 2:06
    unless we know who is fighting,
  • 2:06 - 2:08
    why they are fighting
  • 2:08 - 2:10
    and how they are fighting.
  • 2:10 - 2:13
    And compromises can be thoroughly rotten
  • 2:13 - 2:16
    if they harm people
    who are not at the table,
  • 2:17 - 2:19
    people who are vulnerable, disempowered,
  • 2:19 - 2:23
    people whom we have
    an obligation to protect.
  • 2:24 - 2:27
    Now, you might be
    somewhat skeptical of a lawyer
  • 2:27 - 2:30
    arguing about the benefits of conflict
  • 2:30 - 2:33
    and creating problems for compromise,
  • 2:33 - 2:35
    but I did also qualify as a mediator,
  • 2:35 - 2:38
    and these days, I spend my time
    giving talks about ethics for free.
  • 2:39 - 2:42
    So as my bank manager likes to remind me,
    I'm downwardly mobile.
  • 2:44 - 2:47
    But if you accept my argument,
  • 2:47 - 2:50
    it should change not just the way
    we lead our personal lives,
  • 2:50 - 2:52
    which I wish to put
    to one side for the moment,
  • 2:53 - 2:57
    but it will change the way
    we think about major problems
  • 2:57 - 3:00
    of public health and the environment.
  • 3:01 - 3:02
    Let me explain.
  • 3:04 - 3:06
    Every middle schooler
    in the United States,
  • 3:06 - 3:09
    my 12-year-old daughter included,
  • 3:09 - 3:13
    learns that there are
    three branches of government,
  • 3:13 - 3:17
    the legislative, the executive
    and the judicial branch.
  • 3:17 - 3:19
    James Madison wrote,
  • 3:19 - 3:24
    "If there is any principle
    more sacred in our Constitution,
  • 3:24 - 3:26
    and indeed in any free constitution,
  • 3:26 - 3:28
    than any other,
  • 3:28 - 3:30
    it is that which separates
  • 3:30 - 3:35
    the legislative, the executive
    and the judicial powers."
  • 3:35 - 3:39
    Now, the framers were not just concerned
  • 3:39 - 3:43
    about the concentration
    and exercise of power.
  • 3:43 - 3:47
    They also understood
    the perils of influence.
  • 3:48 - 3:53
    Judges cannot determine
    the constitutionality of laws
  • 3:53 - 3:57
    if they participate in making those laws,
  • 3:57 - 4:01
    nor can they hold the other branches
    of government accountable
  • 4:01 - 4:03
    if they collaborate with them
  • 4:03 - 4:06
    or enter into close
    relationships with them.
  • 4:07 - 4:11
    The Constitution is,
    as one famous scholar put it,
  • 4:11 - 4:14
    "an invitation to struggle."
  • 4:14 - 4:17
    And we the people are served
  • 4:17 - 4:22
    when those branches do, indeed,
    struggle with each other.
  • 4:24 - 4:27
    Now, we recognize
    the importance of struggle
  • 4:27 - 4:30
    not just in the public sector
  • 4:30 - 4:32
    between our branches of government.
  • 4:32 - 4:36
    We also know it too in the private sector,
  • 4:36 - 4:38
    in relationships among corporations.
  • 4:40 - 4:45
    Let's imagine that two American airlines
    get together and agree
  • 4:45 - 4:47
    that they will not drop the price
  • 4:47 - 4:51
    of their economy class airfares
    below 250 dollars a ticket.
  • 4:52 - 4:56
    That is collaboration,
    some would say collusion,
  • 4:56 - 4:57
    not competition,
  • 4:57 - 5:00
    and we the people are harmed
  • 5:00 - 5:02
    because we pay more for our tickets.
  • 5:03 - 5:05
    Imagine similarly
    two airlines were to say,
  • 5:05 - 5:10
    "Look, Airline A, we'll take
    the route from LA to Chicago,"
  • 5:10 - 5:14
    and Airline B says, "We'll take
    the route from Chicago to DC,
  • 5:14 - 5:15
    and we won't compete."
  • 5:15 - 5:20
    Once again, that's collaboration
    or collusion instead of competition,
  • 5:20 - 5:22
    and we the people are harmed.
  • 5:24 - 5:30
    So we understand
    the importance of struggle
  • 5:30 - 5:34
    when it comes to relationships
    between branches of government,
  • 5:35 - 5:37
    the public sector.
  • 5:37 - 5:40
    We also understand
    the importance of conflict
  • 5:40 - 5:45
    when it comes to relationships
    among corporations,
  • 5:45 - 5:47
    the private sector.
  • 5:47 - 5:49
    But where we have forgotten it
  • 5:49 - 5:54
    is in the relationships
    between the public and the private.
  • 5:54 - 5:57
    And governments all over the world
    are collaborating with industry
  • 5:57 - 6:01
    to solve problems of public health
    and the environment,
  • 6:01 - 6:04
    often collaborating
    with the very corporations
  • 6:04 - 6:10
    that are creating or exacerbating
    the problems they are trying to solve.
  • 6:11 - 6:15
    We are told that these relationships
  • 6:15 - 6:17
    are a win-win.
  • 6:18 - 6:21
    But what if someone is losing out?
  • 6:23 - 6:25
    Let me give you some examples.
  • 6:26 - 6:30
    A United Nations agency
    decided to address a serious problem:
  • 6:30 - 6:33
    poor sanitation in schools in rural India.
  • 6:34 - 6:39
    They did so not just in collaboration
    with national and local governments
  • 6:39 - 6:41
    but also with a television company
  • 6:41 - 6:45
    and with a major
    multinational soda company.
  • 6:46 - 6:49
    In exchange for less
    than one million dollars,
  • 6:49 - 6:53
    that corporation received the benefits
    of a months-long promotional campaign
  • 6:53 - 6:56
    including a 12-hour telethon
  • 6:56 - 6:59
    all using the company's logo
    and color scheme.
  • 7:02 - 7:04
    This was an arrangement
  • 7:04 - 7:07
    which was totally understandable
  • 7:07 - 7:09
    from the corporation's point of view.
  • 7:09 - 7:12
    It enhances the reputation of the company
  • 7:12 - 7:14
    and it creates brand loyalty
    for its products.
  • 7:15 - 7:17
    But in my view,
  • 7:17 - 7:21
    this is profoundly problematic
    for the intergovernmental agency,
  • 7:21 - 7:25
    an agency that has a mission
    to promote sustainable living.
  • 7:27 - 7:30
    By increasing consumption
    of sugar-sweetened beverages
  • 7:30 - 7:34
    made from scarce local water supplies
    and drunk out of plastic bottles
  • 7:34 - 7:37
    in a country that is already
    grappling with obesity,
  • 7:37 - 7:41
    this is neither sustainable
    from a public health
  • 7:41 - 7:44
    nor an environmental point of view.
  • 7:44 - 7:47
    And in order to solve
    one public health problem,
  • 7:47 - 7:49
    the agency is sowing the seeds
  • 7:49 - 7:50
    of another.
  • 7:52 - 7:57
    This is just one example
    of dozens I discovered
  • 7:57 - 8:02
    in researching a book on the relationships
    between government and industry.
  • 8:02 - 8:05
    I could also have told you
    about the initiatives in parks
  • 8:06 - 8:07
    in London and throughout Britain,
  • 8:07 - 8:10
    involving the same company,
    promoting exercise,
  • 8:10 - 8:15
    or indeed of the British government
    creating voluntary pledges
  • 8:15 - 8:17
    in partnership with industry
  • 8:17 - 8:20
    instead of regulating industry.
  • 8:20 - 8:26
    These collaborations or partnerships
    have become the paradigm in public health,
  • 8:26 - 8:30
    and once again, they make sense
    from the point of view of industry.
  • 8:30 - 8:34
    It allows them to frame
    public health problems and their solutions
  • 8:34 - 8:36
    in ways that are least threatening to,
  • 8:36 - 8:39
    most consonant with
    their commercial interests.
  • 8:39 - 8:41
    So obesity becomes a problem
  • 8:41 - 8:46
    of individual decision-making,
  • 8:46 - 8:48
    of personal behavior,
  • 8:48 - 8:51
    personal responsibility
    and lack of physical activity.
  • 8:51 - 8:53
    It is not a problem,
  • 8:53 - 8:55
    when framed this way,
  • 8:55 - 8:58
    of a multinational food system
    involving major corporations.
  • 8:58 - 9:00
    And again, I don't blame industry.
  • 9:00 - 9:04
    Industry naturally engages
    in strategies of influence
  • 9:04 - 9:06
    to promote its commercial interests.
  • 9:07 - 9:10
    But governments have a responsibility
  • 9:10 - 9:12
    to develop counterstrategies
  • 9:12 - 9:14
    to protect us
  • 9:14 - 9:17
    and the common good.
  • 9:18 - 9:20
    I want to give you another example,
  • 9:20 - 9:22
    moving from high-profile collaborations
  • 9:22 - 9:24
    to something that is below ground,
  • 9:24 - 9:27
    both literally and figuratively.
  • 9:29 - 9:31
    And just before I do, I should mention,
  • 9:31 - 9:35
    the mistake that governments are making
  • 9:35 - 9:37
    when they collaborate in this way
  • 9:37 - 9:39
    with industry
  • 9:39 - 9:41
    is that they conflate
  • 9:41 - 9:43
    the common good
  • 9:43 - 9:44
    with common ground.
  • 9:47 - 9:49
    When you collaborate with industry,
  • 9:49 - 9:52
    you necessarily put off the table
  • 9:52 - 9:56
    things that might promote the common good
    to which industry will not agree.
  • 9:56 - 9:59
    Industry will not agree
    to increased regulation
  • 9:59 - 10:03
    unless it believes this will
    stave off even more regulation
  • 10:03 - 10:06
    or perhaps knock some competitors
    out of the market.
  • 10:07 - 10:10
    Nor can companies agree
    to do certain things,
  • 10:10 - 10:13
    for example raise the prices
    of their unhealthy products,
  • 10:13 - 10:15
    because that would violate
    competition law,
  • 10:15 - 10:16
    as we've established.
  • 10:18 - 10:21
    So our governments should not confound
  • 10:21 - 10:24
    the common good and common ground,
  • 10:24 - 10:29
    especially when common ground
    means reaching agreement with industry.
  • 10:30 - 10:33
    So, again, to the example below ground,
  • 10:33 - 10:36
    the hydraulic fracturing of natural gas.
  • 10:37 - 10:40
    Imagine that you purchase a plot of land
  • 10:40 - 10:42
    not knowing the mineral rights
    have been sold.
  • 10:42 - 10:44
    This is before the fracking boom.
  • 10:46 - 10:49
    You build your dream home on that plot,
  • 10:49 - 10:50
    and shortly afterwards,
  • 10:50 - 10:56
    you discover that a gas company
    is building a well pad on your land.
  • 10:56 - 11:00
    That was the plight
    of the Hallowich family.
  • 11:02 - 11:05
    Within a very short period of time,
  • 11:05 - 11:08
    they began to complain of headaches,
  • 11:08 - 11:11
    of sore throats, of itchy eyes,
  • 11:11 - 11:14
    in addition to the interference
    of the noise, vibration
  • 11:14 - 11:17
    and the bright lights
    from the flaring of natural gas.
  • 11:17 - 11:19
    They were very vocal in their criticisms,
  • 11:20 - 11:22
    and then they fell silent.
  • 11:23 - 11:26
    And thanks to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
    where this image appeared,
  • 11:26 - 11:29
    and one other newspaper,
    we discovered why they fell silent.
  • 11:29 - 11:33
    The newspapers went to the court and said,
    "What happened to the Hallowiches?"
  • 11:33 - 11:36
    And it turned out the Hallowiches
    had made a secret settlement
  • 11:36 - 11:40
    with the gas operators, and it was
    a take-it-or-leave-it settlement.
  • 11:40 - 11:41
    The gas company said,
  • 11:41 - 11:44
    you can have a six-figure sum
  • 11:44 - 11:46
    to move elsewhere
    and start your lives again,
  • 11:46 - 11:47
    but in return
  • 11:47 - 11:51
    you must promise not to speak
    of your experience with our company,
  • 11:51 - 11:54
    not to speak of your
    experience with fracking,
  • 11:54 - 11:57
    not to speak about the health consequences
  • 11:58 - 12:01
    that might have been revealed
    by a medical examination.
  • 12:02 - 12:05
    Now, I do not blame
    the Hallowiches for accepting
  • 12:05 - 12:08
    a take-it-or-leave-it settlement
  • 12:08 - 12:10
    and starting their lives elsewhere.
  • 12:10 - 12:11
    And one can understand
  • 12:11 - 12:14
    why the company would wish
    to silence a squeaky wheel.
  • 12:14 - 12:18
    What I want to point the finger at
    is the legal and regulatory system,
  • 12:18 - 12:21
    a system in which there are
    networks of agreements
  • 12:21 - 12:23
    just like this one
  • 12:23 - 12:26
    which serve to silence people
    and seal off data points
  • 12:27 - 12:30
    from public health experts
    and epidemiologists,
  • 12:30 - 12:31
    a system in which regulators
  • 12:31 - 12:35
    will even refrain
    from issuing a violation notice
  • 12:35 - 12:36
    in the event of pollution
  • 12:36 - 12:38
    if the landowner and the gas company
  • 12:38 - 12:40
    agree to settle.
  • 12:40 - 12:44
    This is a system which isn't just
    bad from a public health point of view;
  • 12:44 - 12:47
    it exposes hazards to local families
  • 12:47 - 12:49
    who remain in the dark.
  • 12:52 - 12:56
    Now, I have given you two examples
    not because they are isolated examples.
  • 12:56 - 12:59
    They are examples of a systemic problem.
  • 12:59 - 13:01
    I could share some counterexamples,
  • 13:01 - 13:04
    the case for example
    of the public official
  • 13:04 - 13:07
    who sues the pharmaceutical company
  • 13:07 - 13:09
    for concealing the fact
  • 13:09 - 13:15
    that its antidepressant increases
    suicidal thoughts in adolescents.
  • 13:16 - 13:19
    I can tell you about the regulator
    who went after the food company
  • 13:19 - 13:23
    for exaggerating the purported
    health benefits of its yogurt.
  • 13:23 - 13:27
    And I can tell you about the legislator
  • 13:27 - 13:31
    who despite heavy lobbying
    directed at both sides of the aisle
  • 13:31 - 13:35
    pushes for environmental protections.
  • 13:36 - 13:37
    These are isolated examples,
  • 13:37 - 13:42
    but they are beacons of light
    in the darkness,
  • 13:42 - 13:45
    and they can show us the way.
  • 13:47 - 13:51
    I began by suggesting that sometimes
    we need to engage in conflict.
  • 13:52 - 13:56
    Governments should tussle with,
  • 13:56 - 14:01
    struggle with, at times engage
    in direct conflict with corporations.
  • 14:02 - 14:07
    This is not because governments
    are inherently good
  • 14:07 - 14:09
    and corporations are inherently evil.
  • 14:09 - 14:13
    Each is capable of good or ill.
  • 14:14 - 14:19
    But corporations understandably
    act to promote their commercial interests,
  • 14:20 - 14:26
    and they do so either sometimes
    undermining or promoting the common good.
  • 14:26 - 14:30
    But it is the responsibility
    of governments
  • 14:30 - 14:33
    to protect and promote the common good.
  • 14:33 - 14:36
    And we should insist
  • 14:36 - 14:38
    that they fight to do so.
  • 14:40 - 14:43
    This is because governments
  • 14:43 - 14:45
    are the guardians
  • 14:46 - 14:47
    of public health;
  • 14:48 - 14:51
    governments are the guardians
  • 14:51 - 14:53
    of the environment;
  • 14:53 - 14:54
    and it is governments
  • 14:54 - 14:56
    that are guardians
  • 14:56 - 15:01
    of these essential parts
    of our common good.
  • 15:02 - 15:03
    Thank you.
  • 15:03 - 15:08
    (Applause)
Title:
In praise of conflict | Jonathan Marks | TEDxPSU
Description:

Conflict is bad. Compromise, consensus, and collaboration are good. Or so we’re told. Lawyer and bioethicist Jonathan Marks challenges this conventional wisdom. Conflict is essential for the protection of the environment and public health—and he shows how both may be jeopardized when governments collaborate with industry.

Jonathan Marks works at the intersections of ethics, law, and policy. Having studied law at Oxford University, he qualified as a barrister and mediator, and spent a decade in full-time legal practice in London, where he developed expertise in human rights law, environmental law, and commercial regulation. Jonathan is currently the director of the Bioethics Program at Penn State University, and affiliate faculty with the Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State Law, and the School of International Affairs. He is also an academic member of Matrix Chambers, a leading set of barristers’ chambers in London. He has participated as an expert in law and ethics in meetings held by the Royal Society in London, the National Academies in Washington, D.C., and the World Health Organization. Jonathan recently finished a book on the ethics of public-private partnerships in public health, and he continues to explore the ethical, legal, and policy implications of reciprocity and influence for public bodies.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at http://ted.com/tedx

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
15:08

English subtitles

Revisions Compare revisions