The Destruction of the Common Good: Laying the Foundation of a Zero-Trust Society

Adapted from the book REGENERATION: The Future of Community in a Permacrisis World IDEA BITE PRESS (May, 2023)

The USA, and increasingly the rest of the world, is becoming more and more fragmented – with COVID being blamed[1], in part, for the death of the Common Good.  

If we cannot agree – as nations, as institutions, and as individuals – on actions to save the Planet, then what hope can we have at all?

 We have been betrayed by our leaders (misleaders) and the institutions they lead. How did this happen?

Robert Reich traces the roots of America’s disenchantment with the Common Good[2], with government in particular:

Watergate represented something of a turning point for America, in terms of our faith in the presidency. Nixon was a scoundrel, by almost any definition of the term. He was worried far more about his own power, and maintaining it, than the institutions of government. Other presidents before him had also put a greater priority on their political survival than on the institutions of democracy, but Nixon was an extreme example. No one in the post-war era had so abused government. Because of that, the generation of Baby Boomers were shocked into a form of cynicism that was very different from the belief in government and the social contract up to that point.

Reich elaborates: 

Trump has been a wake-up call to many people that cynicism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can be very destructive. We need to rebuild our institutions and find a common good.

In our book[3]Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action, we discussed the “trust crisis,” and referred to the Edelman Global Trust Barometer.  Unfortunately, we no longer trust the trust barometer!

Why? The Guardian revealed[4] that Edelman has signed about $9.6m worth of deals with the Saudis, while simultaneously urging businesses to stand up for human rights. Incidentally, The Guardian also states that Edelman is not the only US firm doing business for the government of Saudi Arabia.  McKinsey & CompanyBoston Consulting GroupHogan Lovells and Qorvis Communications are a few named, and there are many more. Remember Jared Kushner? He pocketed $2 billion to start up his own private-equity company[5].

Richard Edelman has called climate change “the biggest crisis we face as a society,” proclaiming that “we think very carefully about which businesses we work for.” Apparently, that advice doesn’t apply to his company. Edelman’s clients have included ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, the pro-coal National Mining Association and the American Petroleum Institute (API), a lobbying group for some of the biggest fossil fuel companies. 

The Guardian

Edelman’s work for API has proven particularly lucrative, netting the PR firm nearly $440m since 2008. Energy Citizens, an astroturf group that Edelman helped launch for API, contributed to the defeat of climate efforts in Congress. One study found that between 1989 and 2020 Edelman conducted at least 60 “engagements” for oil, gas, coal, steel, and rail clients–more than any other PR firm.

Even as we write these words, Exxon Mobil Corp posted a $56 billion net profit for 2022, taking in about $6.3 million per hour last year, and setting not only a company record but a historic high for the Western oil industry.  

This sort of institutional betrayal accelerates us on the path to a zero-trust society.

What does a zero-trust world look like?  

The core concept of zero trust is simple: assume everything and everyone is hostile by default. 

Another way to see it is to view it as social collapse.

In a zero-trust society, there is no Common Good.  There is no Truth either. It’s every individual for themselves, and at best, their families.  Threats – real and non-existent – are everywhere.  Violence is the way of life.  There is no collective security, or even trash pickup.  Conflict is embraced as a model for everyday living. Threats and bullying are everyday occurrences. Think of a society run by warlords, by mafia bosses, by autocrats.  Guns everywhere. Governance is by fear, intimidation and militarization. The state is a man with an ideology and a  “plan.” 

Sound familiar? We are at a fork in the road. Either civilization goes down in hate, war, violence, and collapse, or we turn, finally, to a path of peaceful regeneration, beginning with the Common Good

But what is the Common Good? 

In ordinary political discourse, the “common good” refers to those facilities—whether material, cultural or institutional—that the members of a community provide to all members in order to fulfill a relational obligation they all have to care for certain interests that they have in common. Some canonical examples of the common good in a modern liberal democracy include: the road system; public parks; police protection and public safety; courts and the judicial system; public schools; museums and cultural institutions; public transportation; civil liberties, such as the freedom of speech and the freedom of association; the system of property; clean air and clean water; and national defense.[6]

The diagram above explains the difference between “public goods,” “common goods,” and “global common goods”:[7]

The Common Good thus is the pathway to us working together.  Without the Common Good, there is no regeneration. Remember the 9 Domains?

We should also clarify here that the Common Good is not the same as “shared value”[8] – the corporate mantra that seems to have gone nowhere.

[1] “The pandemic killed the common good” Samuel Goldman, The Week July 21, 2021

[2] “Robert Reich: How to Resurrect the Common Good” interview by Hope Reese, JSTOR Daily March 16, 2018

[3] Brand Activism: From Purpose to Action by Christian Sarkar and Philip Kotler, IDEA BITE PRESS, 2018

[4] “The American PR firm helping Saudi Arabia clean up its image” by Adam Lowenstein, The Guardian, Dec 22, 2022


[6] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,

[7] Sabzalieva, E., & Quinteiro, J. A. (2022). Public goods, common goods and global common goods: A brief explanation. UNESCO IESALC.

[8] “Creating Shared Value” by Michael Porter and Mark R. Kramer Harvard Business Review Jan-Feb 2011