I’ve profiled scores of companies over the decades. I’ve learned we all have our own business models. Not only private companies, but bureaucracies and faiths and non-profit groups – indeed, each of us in the workforce – performs a core trick that earns our keep. These can be revealing.
This struck me again when I was in Galveston writing my last book and noticed two enterprises, on the face quite different, but employing virtually identical business models. I have in mind America’s right-wing Christian moralists and Canada’s left-wing water moralists. The Christian moralists flourish in large part by drumming up alarm over the gay tide undermining straight Christian marriage – and by extension all that is good in America. Canada’s water moralists beat the drum over American corporations poised to suck our lakes dry – and by extension all that is good in Canada.
No matter that U.S. industry has cheaper, easier, all-American choices for water or that gay folks are, well, just not that interested in the private lives of straight people. To rock-ribbed Christians or Canadian devotees of leftist scriptures that blame business, trade and America for every woe, it’s the revulsion that counts: can’t let the homeland fall into the hands of that.
Revulsion is the fuel that drives the model. Start by stoking: “Hey, look at these vile forces [gays/corporate America] about to violate all that is good.” Offer salvation: “Support us and we’ll stop them.” Open the envelope. Cash the cheque.
Conveniently, since the threat was imaginary to begin with, there’s no need to spend any money to stop it. (Leaves all the more to throw another wing on the Crystal Cathedral or send a deserving cadre to march against a globalization summit.)
When no Village People turn up to cast coal on June weddings, no CEO appears at the border with a lawyer at his hip and a train of pumps and pipes following behind, the business model declares (temporary) victory and reminds the faithful that, since past donations have plainly prevented disaster, now is the time to recontribute to avoid disaster in the future.
Cash the cheque. Repeat. As long as no one stops to question whether the threats are real or make-believe, this business model thrives.
Both the Christian right and aqua-nationalist left, interestingly, deploy nearly identical strategies to discourage too much thinking. Both invoke the authority of sacred but opaque texts: some of the least forthright passages in the Bible and the most arcane annexes to trade law.
Ostentatious patriotism provides another distraction. A star-spangled banner is as at home in every Word of God sanctuary in America as are the Support the Troops ribbons opposite the fish symbols on the bumpers outside. Here, the most prominent aqua-nationalists claim the mantle of national mission. Just for fun, run “Canadians” through your favourite search engine and see which dot-org implies that open animosity to business and our continental neighbours is the true measure of a patriot heart.
It helps that there are real threats out there to the health of families and Canada’s not-so-limitless water resources. As it happens, the real culprits clouding our marriages or our water are generally the same: ourselves. But who wants to look hard at that? Easier to blame Americans with buckets or wedding cakes with two grooms.
This, let me be clear, is not to impugn the sincerity of the Christian American far right or the Canadian aqua-nationalist deep left. Nor do I suggest that anyone is engaged in anything improper, let alone criminal. If it were illegal to profit from fear, we wouldn’t have insurance companies; if the same were true of hope, we wouldn’t have lunch dates.
But neither do I concede that sincerity is the same as being right about a problem. Families (straight and gay) suffer real stresses that we might be able to reduce. Obsolete infrastructure, increasingly extreme weather and our own obstinate refusal to imagine water as something beyond the mythic liquid of national symbol pose actual threats to our security.
That, in the end, is why both groups’ business model is breaking down. Even hard-right Christians who reject evolution realize it might be godly to save the biosphere. Water conservationists accept that feelings about a problem like water security don’t solve it. Emotion has its place. It can also give us blinkers to the real dangers we’d rather avoid.
Chris Wood is a Vancouver Island writer and author of Dry Spring: The Coming Water Crisis of North America.