Friday, March 25, 2011

The Corporation

I watched the 2003 documentary "The Corporation" last night. There was a lot of excellent material in the film - a lot that seriously affected me, and a lot to analyze and extrapolate. But the ideas most relevant to this blog emerged from my consideration of the section that discusses corporate collusion with twentieth-century fascism and moves on to, perhaps with a slight tinge of melodrama, draw lines connecting the nature of earlier fascism with the nature of modern corporations. There was expert commentary discussing the notion of multi-nationalism and how it lets business transcend the need for direct influence over government. The main idea, I take it, was that the same craving for power that drove fascist dictatorships can be evoked by corporate businesses in much more subtle ways.

Another portion of the film shows an old business training film explaining the virtues of incorporation, namely limitation of liability. This, as far as I can tell, is practically the sole reason for the existence of the corporation. And as a consequence of it, even if there is the same mad grab for power in a corporate business as in a fascist regime, and even if there is a similar perversion of morality, there is no dictator to whom we can assign blame. There is no face that we can identify as a mask of evil.

The liability is spread thin in a corporation, but so too is the damage it does. It is much harder to be angry at something amorphous that does a lot of harm in tiny increments the world over than it is to be angry at a dictator commanding the military that oppresses your own people as well as others.

It brings to mind ideas that have been in my mind a long time. I feel that there are many evils that mankind does not destroy, but rather just channels into different forms. When we have risen up against evil in one form often enough, it learns to adapt and camouflage itself. Western society will be long without brutal dictators not because we are through with barbarism and base impulses, but because it no longer needs brutal dictators to indulge those impulses.

Dictators fall. They practically ordain their own demise when they take power. When you possess that power all on your own, everyone can see that you have it, and the masses beneath you or the external interests around you will wrest it from your hands sooner or later. All they need is for the dictator to push them far enough that they reach their breaking point. Such a breaking point requires two things: a critical mass of conviction or frustration or pain, and someone against whom to direct it.

But we can't overthrow the proverbial Corporation. And it's difficult to reach a critical mass when we're all directing our fears and concerns and frustrations to different directions. Some of us agitate against the pollution, some of us the plight of oppressed workers, some of us mindless consumerism, and even if we're all angry, it's hard to articulate why or at whom.

The evils that man does on a grand scale today are so much harder to pin down than they were in past generations. The change happens slower. The control over men's lives is more subtle and gradual. The harm done is more widespread but less spectacular when its mechanism is not militarism but capitalist imperialism. So what does that mean for us that aspire to breaking points? It could be, perhaps, that with the evil effects taking hold more slowly, broadcasting themselves more quietly, the same must happen with the good. The change that we want to see in the world comes about step by step, matching the evil that it is fighting in spiraling, slow-motion conflict.

Or it could be that we still need to reach breaking points sometimes, but that they're harder to get to, that the container in which that critical mass must build is larger, that the place to which the eventual eruption must be directed is not particular and minute, but is instead everywhere. And maybe, if this is the case, the result of mankind itself being pushed too far will be a spectacular triumph beyond anything that has been witnessed before.

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