Moral Leadership: President Obama as a Role Model?

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The U.S. Senate passed a historic $871 billion health care reform bill on December 24, 2009, handing President Obama a Christmas Eve victory on his top domestic priority. Should it become law, the measure would constitute the biggest expansion of federal healthcare guarantees since the enactment of Medicare and Medicaid more than four decades ago. It is expected to extend insurance coverage to 30 million additional Americans.

Fourteen days earlier, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded on December 10, 2009 the peace prize to President Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples” and that they have attached special importance to Obama’s moral leadership.

Leadership always calls forth images of vision, courage, commitment, and forthright action. The leaders are usually considered as individuals who possess a clear vision of what need to be done and are capable of transforming their visions to substantial achievements. Leaders can demonstrate accuracy in their actions, enabling to defeat all obstacles and opponents to achieve their goals.

Leadership has been interpreted in various ways. Beyond those conceptions, that notion can basically be considered as an art of transforming others in the manner desired by the leader and depending of the environment. Leadership refers to a process of social influence in which an individual influences others to transcend personal interests in the accomplishment of common objective. This idea of transformation conveys the premise that leaders can profoundly alter both followers and themselves for the good if they exhibit effective behaviors, deploy the correct techniques and actions, demonstrate high ethics and imagine long term goals in a suitable environment.

Some scholars showed that there is a difference in kind between the exercise of power and the exercise of leadership, and that the difference is a moral one. The ultimate test of moral leadership is its capacity to transcend the claims of the multiplicity of everyday wants, needs, and expectations by responding to the higher levels of moral development. The transforming power to moral leadership requires a certain kind of character and a certain kind of wisdom in relation to that character. When leaders apply moral standards, public interests may supplant personal interests and the correctness of a decision depends of the soundness of reasoning that justifies the leader’s actions.

Scholars and policymakers interested in the human impact on society should read Lives of Moral Leadership by Robert Coles. This book underscores the role and determination of the individual in altering negatives in society and culture. Coles attempted to identify leadership attributes and show when and how such personalities can make an impact on environmental, institutional, and elite structures. He successfully demonstrated that leaders can impact the world through their courage, abilities, knowledge, example, and moral grounding.

A close look of the short public life of Barack Obama through his thoughts, decisions, and actions is deserved to grasp the message that true leaders work for justice.  The Obama administration allowed, for example, unlimited travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans and lift limits on transfers of money to relatives on the Caribbean island. In addition to easing travel and remittances, the new rules expanded the list of gifts Cuban Americans can send to their families in Cuba and allowed U.S.telecommunications companies to do business there. Such decisions are simply morally correct!

Moral principles are tightly associated to the meaning of life. As human beings, we live either by no genuine moral rules or by absolute ethical principles. Ethical principles are either relative or absolute. We are always challenged to think about the various ways in which we make sense of ourselves, the society in which we live, the world around us, and the relationship to it. We usually analyzed current and classic treatments of meaning and sense-making in the philosophical, psychological, and cultural beliefs. After all, every human being constructs a fundamental philosophy of the basis of life, a theory of the relation between the individual and the society. This philosophy shapes the individual whole attitude of life.

Perhaps at no other time in recent history has the question of moral leadership been so acutely relevant. The global financial meltdown, the diplomatic struggle of the United Nations to reach agreement at Copenhagen on climate change, the decision of Iran to boost its nuclear program despite sharply increased concerns of Western governments and the United Nations, and the massive anti-globalization protests around the world all dramatized issues of moral leadership at individual, institutional, national, and international levels.

I salute Obama’s positive thinking by maintaining a non-judgmental approach to both other people and situations, maintaining self-assurance about oneself, being optimistic and communicating effectively. The problem for him is that, because of all his capabilities, failure is not an option. President Obama can not put us down!

Web 2.0: Toward an Open-Content Movement?

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A friend of mine, a brilliant economist, asked me recently if there was a new version of the Web called Web 2.0 and what could be the possible link with the new Internet Protocol, IPv6. My response was the following: Web 2.0 is a new version of the Web that replaces Web 1.0 and there are no (for now!) direct implications with IPv6. Although the response to my friend’s question is correct, I did not really share with my friend the philosophy behind the emergence of Web 2.0 and all technical implications of this move.

Web 2.0 first emerged in 2004 during a meeting held between O’Reilly Media (a technology firm) and MediaLive International (a conference planning firm) while organizing a conference about the Internet. Initially, the term Web 2.0 was nothing more than an attractive name designed to emphasize the evolution of the Internet. The difference, for example, between IPv6 and Web 2.0 is that the former refers to an articulation of the state of the Internet Protocol (to replace IPv4) and the latter is a combination of a number of disparate ideas, practices, and programs.

The main variation between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is that Web 1.0 delivers information to people whereas Web 2.0 allows the active creation of information by users. The development of Web 2.0 applications involves both the developers and users. Myspace, Digg, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Wikipedia are all examples of sites that facilitate collaboration between content generators and content users.

Web 2.0 technologies are open-source tools that foster collaboration and participation. Web 2.0 tools facilitate the publication and storage of textual on blogs and wikis as well as podcasts (audio recordings) and vidcasts (video materials). Web 2.0 principles from a collaborative perspective include individual creativity, harnessing the power of the crowd, diverse data on an epic scale, architecture of assembly, independent access to data, and so on.

Web 2.0 technologies can be synthesized into two categories: (a) applications and programmatic considerations including Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX), blogs, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), social software, and wikis; (b) function and conceptual design covering usability, participation, remixability, focus on simplicity, joy of use, convergence, and mobility.

Web 2.0: A new Philosophy

More than the development of models and tools, Web 2.0 is a new philosophy behind the evolution of the Internet. This philosophy is similar to the open-source movement initiated by Stallman during the 1980s. Even though the open-source movement began in the early 1960s with the advent of ARPAnet project of the US Defense Department, the roots of the contemporary open-source odyssey are connected directly to Stallman’s GNU on a free, libre, open-source alternative to proprietary versions of the Unix operating system (OS). Stallman’s GNU project spanned the course of a decade and resulted in a number of initiatives eventually licensed for distribution under the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). Linux OS (developed by Linus Torvards with its first Linux release in 1991), Navigator of Netscape in 1998, MySQL, Firefox, PHP, Ruby, Perl, Python, or Joomla (I am using to develop this site!) are few FLOSS and open-source initiatives.

Free, libre, and open source software (FLOSS) is software that is liberally licensed to grant the right of users to study, change, and improve its design through the availability of its source code. Stallman developed the free software definition and the concept of copyleft to ensure software freedom for all.

Software drives the information society. Software enables us to connect and communicate in ways that drastically changes how we work and play. Software facilitates productivity, at the same time, delivers the digital lifestyle. The open-source movement has gained both momentum and acceptance as the potential benefits have been increasingly recognized by individuals, corporate players, and governments.

A 2003 survey of open-source developers conducted by scholars at Stanford University revealed that the spatial distribution of the open-source movement has evolved into a global phenomenon covering all continents including Africa. Many governments (Peru,Venezuela,Vietnam, Malaysian,India,Germany,Dominican Republic,Ecuador, French, etc.) adopted open-source software in most of their agencies. Today, the majority of companies move to FLOSS.

After the open-source movement, we are acknowledging a new paradigm shift with Web 2.0. This new gestalt (from Kuhn’s perspective) is what I called “The Open-Content Movement”. The purpose of the movement is to facilitate collaboration and participation toward a global collective intelligence or, to wink at the Fishers, a global distributed mind.

The main idea of distributed mind is that multiskilling for each individual tends to be less important for knowledge teams than putting together the right team of people who collectively have multiple skills. The contribution of computer-mediated communication system (CMCS) to Fishers’ distributed mind is to facilitate the collaboration between virtual knowledge teams.

A CMCS is the use of the computer to structure, store, process, and distribute human communications. A CMCS is frequently used for asynchronous text-based communication, meaning that the participants are distributed in time and space. It can also include graphics or digitize voice, as well as real-time (synchronous) exchanges such as chats and instant messaging (for example, Lotus Notes Sametime, Skype, Yahoo Messaging, and so on). The most common forms of CMCS are electronic mail, computerized conferencing, and bulletin board systems.

The global distributed mind from the new open-content movement will illustrate the capacity of people of the world to participate and collaborate. It will demonstrate the capacity of people to share a collective world’s culture character that represents their cultural mental programming. After all, this is all about globalization: an integration of the world’s culture, economy, and infrastructure through transnational investment, rapid proliferation of communication and information technologies, and the impact of free-market forces on local, regional, and national economies.