A Second Hat

MS. TIPPETT: One of the things that’s been on my mind recently that I’m trying to think through, and I’d like to think through with you and see how you approach this, is that part of the problem and part of the difference between now and the mid-20th century is that — and I don’t want to say we don’t have a moral center of gravity — we don’t have a vocabulary of morality or worth or value, except for the creation of wealth. I’m going to use a wealth analogy: We are really impoverished.

MR. GIRIDHARADAS: I would think about this almost as the second hat problem, which is, I think if you were to go back a little bit in time and think about businesspeople in 1950 or whenever, they would always have — in addition to their businessman hat, they’d have a second hat. That hat may just be “strong community member” and “T-ball coach” and “volunteer for the Rotary Club” and whatever. But that second hat was often a spiritual hat. They were in the church. They went to see other people in that church every week. They had a parallel set of values that were in some ways reinforcing of or in tension with the first hat.

I think what’s happened in the business world is, a lot of the people with wealth and power and real decision-making authority over how our society goes don’t have a second hat anymore. They don’t have some other set of values that competes with their business values.

MS. TIPPETT: I think that what you’re describing that happened in the business world — the geological layer below that is a story of a real shift in our society. We’re not going to go back to those hats. Society has changed. We have secularized. But I think that what rushed in, in the place of moral imagination, were economic values and economic metrics. And that’s not big enough. It's not good enough.

MR. GIRIDHARADAS: I think that’s exactly right. However, I don’t think that means that there can’t be other second hats. We have to invent them.

MS. TIPPETT: We haven’t developed them yet. We’re in this moment where, I think, the void and the consequences of the void, in fact, what rushes into the void is very apparent. That’s what you’re describing.

Mr. Anand Giridharadas, author of Winner Take All, The Elite Charade of Changing the World, describes “the second hat problem” or more accurately, the lack of a second hat problem in an interview with On Being, When the Market is Our Only Language. As quoted above, the lack of a second hat problem is that business people today, many of the people making the massive system-impacting decisions that affect most of our lives whether we want them to or not, no longer have a second language, a set of values parallel to and in conversation with their business values. They don’t wear a second hat. They are not, to use Giridharadas’ own example, in church, seeing those church people every week, and - I would add - being immersed in the language of church which, while it can be re-inforcing of market values in some interpretations, is surely a second language.

It’s not only elite business people who have lost a second hat and it’s accompanying language. As Tippett describes, “we don't have a vocabulary of morality or worth or value, except for the creation of wealth.”

We didn’t abandon the wearing of a second hat, and in particular the hat of being a church-goer, without reason. Some of us grew tired of church’s self-protectionism, of its excuse making, of its holding too tightly to whiteness-invested traditions to actually enact the transformation that drew us most to it. We left, or we leave, or hang out at some distance from the church not because we didn’t see the value of its alternative-to-the-market language but because it was no longer being shaped by its own deep language.

I remember the None & Some interview with Philip Maurer and Philip’s fierce sense of God’s love. God is love. Period. This is what Philip took from his upbringing in a Lutheran Church and when that church wasn’t able to hold queerness in that love, Philip was insistent that God’s love encompassed his queerness. He took the language that the church gave him and went where it goes, when we don’t stop it going there.

So, maybe we are second hatless.

Maybe we are in a place where we don’t have a well-formed moral language other than the market, other than that which falls from hyper-valuing the creation of wealth. But there are also a whole bunch of us dispersed within business and markets, in our gigs, who while we don’t wear a formal, traditional, institutionally-supported “second hat” do know the value of an alternative language.

What would it take to speak it? Trusting others enough to speak it with them. At least that.

Lindsey Peterson