Liberal-Progressives: The Strategic Enemies of Change
photo credit: Serghei Starus

Liberal-Progressives: The Strategic Enemies of Change

The harsh truth, through tales from the trenches, about the social & environmental ‘impact’ spaces.

  • Gunther Sonnenfeld
10 min read
Gunther Sonnenfeld

This is likely to piss off quite a lot of people.

That’s precisely the intention.

If you can handle a constructive assessment of the liberal-progressive spaces wrapped up in a pretty little bow known as ‘social and environmental impact’, then read on.

My teams and I can’t afford to mince words or to be ‘nice’ any longer. The proverbial gloves are off. There’s way too much at stake and we, as a society and a planet, have already run out of time in terms of getting our shit together and implementing the kind of change that is required to leave a solid legacy for future generations.

There are three critical patterns I see across impact and environmental domains. These patterns have revealed themselves repeatedly over nearly 25 years of working with a wide variety of corporate, institutional and non-profit groups. They are also the hallmark behaviors of liberal-progressive ideologies, perhaps as destructive to our futures as any ‘conservative’ or ‘moderate’ or ‘libertarian’ precepts they constantly ‘resist’ or rail against.

  1. Rampant flakiness.
  2. Various forms of entitlement.
  3. Little, if any, follow-through.

The Major Flake Factor

I’m not entirely sure what it is, but the vast majority people who claim to be ‘do-gooders’ have serious issues with time management. They also have a really hard time retaining information and holding to commitments.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many people we’ve come across who don’t prepare for meetings (or show up to them), and when they do, they are scattered, can’t engage in a generative dialogue, and worse, they love to tell you all the things that can’t be done.

Even still, they want you to commit to their confusion, and circle around in conversations that basically lead nowhere.

There’s the old adage (or something to this effect), “Hey, our relationship sucks, so let’s have a kid.” This is a highly appropriate analogy, because it becomes painfully obvious that people throw words around like collaboration and co-creation, wanting to birth something in the form of ideas or some opaque set of concepts, yet, they rarely ever actually want to build something and then make the commitment to nurture it or enable it to grow.

To be clear, I’m not talking about bullshit B-Corp certificates or innocuous things like SDGs (sustainability development goals) or insipid ‘new value accountability standards’, I’m talking about actually building things that transform the ways we operate through our value and supply chain infrastructures — not our perceptions of those operations that ultimately just serve the purpose of deluding ourselves into believing that we’re ‘doing good’ when in reality we aren’t. We sure as hell aren’t doing nearly enough.

Trenchant Tales

When I say we’re not doing nearly enough, I’m really talking about the incredible amount of money, along with real social and ecological capital, that is being left on the table.

Case in point: companies like Patagonia that honestly believe they are “saving the world” by incubating startups which make carbon zero skateboard wheels, while their organic cotton supply chain has failed to integrate with other supply chains which are literally destroying the planet.

Patagonia, of course, freely admits this in its own sustainability reports. Its corrective action is equally insidious — it just got a new batch of certifications to perpetuate this lunacy of operating in a vacuum that actually hasn’t had much of an impact at all to improve the company’s footprint, at least not at the level of scale they could be for the benefit of the planet as a whole.

The sad but hilarious part about this is that Patagonia’s venture fund has committed the equivalent of 5 percent of the company’s earnings (earnings are around $800m) towards ‘sustainability’ investments with roughly $40m earmarked, while the opportunity space for supply chain transformation is globally around $1.2t. The commensurate investments required to tap into that global $1.2t market don’t entail deploying a whole lot more capital upfront simply because this strategy leverages preexisting assets and capabilities. So basically, not that much is needed to go after the biggest opportunity space in history.

Another case in point: companies like Runa that espouse rainforest protection and have, in reality, very little connection, if at all, to the local indigenous communities that inhabit the lands from which Runa extracts its ingredients.

Why is this a travesty?

Because the people in these local communities could actually work with Runa on developing a regenerative supply chain — and they could solve a number of problems all at once, to include new agricultural, sourcing and distribution models.

And with Runa, here’s the kicker. The company is struggling financially.

When my group told Runa’s CEO earlier this year that we had a solution for this in which everyone would benefit — you know, the investors, the local communities, supply chain partners, the Brazilian government, U.S. constituents, etc. — he wouldn’t even take fifteen or twenty minutes to hear what we had to say.

I would waste a few more short breaths on the array of foundation directors we’ve dealt with, but it isn’t worth it. I will, however, say this — they are among the most lazy, arrogant, entitled, unethical and out of touch people we’ve had the displeasure of working with.

Look, it’s totally fine if you don’t really want to work with us, we’re all adults and business people doing our things in the world. But if a reputable group comes to you offering a solution, why wouldn’t you hear them out? Not only that, but it would behoove someone confined to the same stakeholder data, day in and day out, to listen to people outside their own hallways and who are taking major risks as well as innovating on the edges.

Bottom line: These companies and institutions, namely the people running them, are full of shit. I’m talking about people who are truly delusional. It would be one thing if they would readily admit that they were still extracting resources or supporting extraction practices in unacceptable ways, but they’re not, and they’re hell-bent on convincing everyone else that they aren’t.

Which leads to the next section on entitlement.

Yes, You are Entitled

We all are.

You see, the wonderful hypocrisy we play out in the Age of Trump is really quite simple: We think we deserve better, when the thing we’ve got is something ‘we’ had a hand in creating.

I’ll clarify. You are, we are, what we create. It’s that ‘reap what you sow’ sort of thing.

So, we created the preconditions for a Trump presidency, just as we have been complicit in the establishment of a surveillance state, just as we continue to consume at alarming rates which continue to destroy the planet, which of course create the conditions for socioeconomic instability.

Don’t get me started on all the persuasive marketing tactics that are used and amplified across social media channels to propagate the illusion that neoliberal narratives are in touch with reality.

Everything is interrelated, AND, the outcomes are all based on various forms of entitlement.

We are entitled to our ideas, our opinions, our beliefs, our patterns, our creature comforts, our data, our mobile devices, our Internet access… and when the conditions change and when we don’t like outcomes, we complain.

We complain and complain and complain, and complain again, instead of actually doing something about it, such as figuring out ways to build alternatives, regardless of our financial or social statuses.

That’s entitlement.

Not acting like an entitled twit and actually doing something about our global situation requires discipline, strength and endurance (more on this in a bit).

I’m not talking about picketing or throwing rocks or taking to the streets to protest. All that can be a considerable waste of time when the intentions for change are not backed by coordinated actions. Remember the Occupy movement?

I’m not talking about showing up at COP23 or the Paris Accords to discuss carbon offsets and the like, when any sane person knows that all this really amounts to is some twisted neoliberal taxation scheme to extract more money from hardworking citizens to cover up the so-called ‘oversights’ of corporate and government stakeholders.

I’m not talking about all the social workers who genuinely try to help trauma victims while their donors are often the same people who build the industrial complex systems that garner more prisoners inside of prisons and more patients inside of mental hospitals, while peddling fancy psychotherapies replete with the latest drugs of choice. Lest we mention the perpetuated rape and torture that goes on inside of these places.

And as you scoff at these realities, perhaps turning your nose up at the possibility that your mortgage, your car loan, your grocery tabs and your communications bills aren’t somehow tied to these same special interests, then maybe it’s time for a gut-check.

I’m talking about a fucking choice.

I’m talking about taking responsibility for yourself and others around you, even if it means getting uncomfortable.

Not hoping that things will somehow change. Not praying for the sun to somehow set in the North.

You are NOT entitled to different outcomes if you don’t have any skin in the game.

That goes for your life.

That goes for your family.

That goes for your work.

That goes for the environment.

That goes for the economy.

That goes for democracy.


That Little Thing Called Follow-Through

As I color this declaration of war, I’m also gonna let you in on a secret.


The reason why relatively little has changed for the better is because it’s highly likely that you don’t train your mind, your body and your spirit to properly adapt to the conditions of change.

There, I said it. And I’ll tell you how this is so obvious to so few people.

See if this seems familiar. Reach deep if you need to.

“I need to refocus.”

“Let me get back to you when I’m ready.”

“Let me think about this some more.”

“You know, I’ve got a lot going on right now…”

“Wow, that’s really interesting, but…”

“You know, this is great, honestly, but I really just can’t commit right now…”

Blah, blah, blah. Blah and more blah.

You likely don’t have energy and willpower because your mind is scrambled, your focus points are divergent, and your body is out of shape. You likely have very little capacity to transform your own realities, let alone those of anyone around you.

But you can do your 30-second meditations, listen to your self-help audio books in the car or on the train, consult your money manifestation apps, and drink your power elixirs as you shuffle into your day job, punching a clock, repeating the same shit, day after day.

And yet, you claim to be a ‘change agent’?

You expect to have a real positive impact on the world?

You think that you can ‘inspire’ others with your quick-fix methods and fancy scatter plot graphs?

You’re out of your fucking mind.

Go give a TEDx talk. Drink some more of the foundation Kool-Aid. Keep on keepin’ on… pretending.

I know something about this. I was that person.

What the ‘Opposition’ Does That ‘We’ Don’t

The real Shakespearean tragedy in all of this liberal-progressive inertia is the fact that the people primarily destroying the planet (my group calls them ‘the destroyers’) are really, really good at what they do. Part of the reason why they are so good at what they do is that they just don’t care.

They don’t care about you, and they sure as hell don’t care what you think. They laugh at all the protests, the manifestos and all the fancy studies on the problems of political economy. They laugh at all the so-called social and environmental reform because you, we, use their apparati and their deceptions in these efforts.

These motherfuckers get on their private planes, often meeting in beautiful undisclosed locations, and simply make shit happen.

They don’t argue about shared language, or proper sustainability metrics, or even money… they coordinate their agendas and put their extractions into the world at breakneck pace.

So, to be precise, they are:

- highly coordinated

- extremely disciplined

- strategically ruthless

We, the collective ‘we’, are NONE of these things.

As learned in martial arts practices, these are the hallmarks of understanding your opponent. If you don’t understand the mind of your opponent, then you don’t understand the battlefield you’ve stepped onto. If you step onto the battlefield blind, you get annihilated.

And before you respond with some nonsense that “there is no ‘us’ and ‘them’” that “we’re all one people”, it’s important to realize that yes, we ultimately come from the same gene pool (sort of), and we’ve been put on this planet to get along and build things together in abundance, but right now… we’re not.

Compared to ‘them’, ‘we’ aren’t doing jack shit.

So, there IS an opposition and there ARE nefarious agendas and WE are at risk of being wiped off the planet a lot sooner than you might think.

It’s not important that ‘we’ identify ‘them’ (many of ‘them’ are largely unseen forces), but that ‘we’ understand that WE are getting in our own way.

‘We’ are, in reality, very much the opposition that we so fervently resist.

I’ll elaborate a bit more.

Ask someone, anyone, what they envision for the world they want to inhabit. Chances are they won’t have a response, or, they’ll respond with some cliche description along the lines of some grand utopia or some ultra polysyllabic patchwork monocultural meme (how’s that for a mouthful?). You know what I’m talking about. I’ll list off three of the more creative ones I’ve heard in the last year.

“A communal living organism built on trust, collective intelligence & abundant co-creation.”

“A symbiotic, technosingularitarian mesh of communities designed for authentic value creation.”

“Intentional vibrant cohabitation movements that reinforce biomimetic streams of conscious collaboration matched with forms of current-see.”

Um… yeah. Whatever the fuck any of that means.

These descriptions almost always lack details around the realities of human behavior, or socioeconomic dynamics, or even common sense things like what happens when people disagree on basic issues.

It’s not that people have to have a perfectly clear vision of the future — most don’t — it’s the fact that they manufacture delusional notions of the future to serve their own needs under the guise of the Greater Good.

A Departing Gift + Fair Warning

As you might have gathered by now (you’re still reading!), I’m not particularly interested in your opinion. I really don’t care what you think. Caring is a trap. It’s a trap set by the status quo to keep people in check, to make them believe that they have to constantly watch their step and be… careful.

Being careful doesn’t improve the world.

I want to know who you really are.

I want to know what you’re really made of.

I want to understand what you see based on experience and taking risks, not what you think you know based on what you’ve read in a publication or a textbook.

And if you have the courage to face reality in its current forms, then feel free to reach out.

Here’s some of what I’m building with my group, a small, concentrated network of committed people.

For those of you who will remain as the opposing forces of change — no matter what side of the aisle you sit, or what ideology you promote — we are going to expose you, bleed you dry of your proselytizations, and fastidiously, systematically, wipe you out.

Count on it.

Until we meet again…

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