Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Corporations Behind America

There is a growing movement that see's life through a very different lens than most Americans use, and it believes we're living with the veil pulled over our eyes by greedy corporations.

I know, I know, it sounds conspiracy theorist, but I am beginning to see where they are coming from.

I stumbled onto a very interesting essay that I think everyone should read, and this writer, Jane Smiley*, see's deregulation as a main catalyst to our current environmental, military and other destruction:

Here is a couple of tidbits from this intriguing piece that is definitely gestalt:

"Here's what the big ag companies want to do -- they want to own and contaminate the entire gene pool of all the world's food resources for their own profit and without the knowledge or input of anyone who will actually be eating the food or living in the world they create. So far, the French and the Japanese and some other nations are standing firm, but the US government, our government, your government, is trying to enforce the will of the big ag companies."

The writer, Jane Smiley, is talking here about seeding America with pesticide resistant plants, that destroy the fragile ecological systems our lives are sustained on (which we have been effectively unable to replace after we have destroyed it."

She goes on to tell us how our 'free market' capitalism really works, and how its not actually working for us (like we thought):

"Big ag, big tobacco, big war, big oil, and their enablers on Wall Street always congratulate themselves on "wealth creation". This is what the "free market" does -- it takes something that was supposedly worthless, like mountaintops in West Virginia or corn varieties in Mexico or oil deposits in Alaska, and gives them "value".

But this is a fiction. The model here is big water. The earth abounds in rivers and lakes. Wealthy water companies (the water rights in my river are owned by a company in England that is now in trouble for mismanaging their own Thames) go to other countries and buy or take the water rights of those people and then sell them back to those very people at a price they can hardly afford.

This is "wealth creation" -- creating wealth for stockholders, even though they already have more wealth than they know what to do with, by stealing the resources of the poor and the powerless. The "free market" always talks about buying low and selling high, but it specializes in theft. And, as an alternative, if the "wealth creators" cannot use what you own, say a hardy seed that works well for your ecosystem, they will render it useless so that you will have to buy their seed just to live."

She also blames the Reagan administration for opening the door, wide open that is, to corporate interests once and for all. This bit needs the rest of the article for context, but is also a nice nutshell:

"This is what I remember about the 1980 election...Ronald Reagan busied himself deregulating everything he could -- the airlines, the savings and loans, the protections of consumers and workers, health care and the health of the nation itself, the industries that people relied upon for jobs. Babies, children, old folks, farm animals, you name it, he made their lives worse. Possessed of a nice ranch of his own, he assigned James Watt to wreck the environment for everyone else. And he just kept smiling. Americans loved it.

Is it the US that gives corporations a bad name, or corporations that give the US a bad name? In 1980, the Republicans invited the corporate elite to have it their way. The world we have now, violent and selfish and brutal, contaminated and in danger of environmental collapse, is the world they made, both by actually dismantling the regulatory environment and by letting powerful people get in the habit of thinking that doing whatever they felt like, no matter how grossly harmful, was their right and their privilege.

And, she very nicely describes my own position on corporations, and boards of directors, and share holders. It incorporates the basic pyschological theory of "Groupthink", which is simply that a group of people are usually dumber than any one of those individuals by themselves. Sort of like a reverse gestalt. Like when a person is being mugged somewhere in Manhattan, and everyone in the nearby apartment buildings hear their cries for help, and nobody calls 911 because they think everyone else is going to do it instead, so why should they?

In essence, that a corporation is an entity that doesn't exist, and so it can't experience consequences and wouldn't know how to address them if it did:

"American corporations are uniquely free to do business in an irresponsible manner because of what you might call a typo in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which uses the word "person" without defining it as a human being. Since then, corporations have repeatedly interpreted their personhood in their own favor -- they get to have the rights that humans have, such as free political speech (bribing candidates with contributions), but none of the consequences (mortality, moral reciprocity, full liability for bad actions). The result is all around us and threatens to destroy us.

Ms. Smiley finishes with why she feels regulation was a good thing:

"Regulation was good because it rationalized not only business activity and human governance, but also because it rationalized the way the business elite saw themselves. It did not simply confront power with power, as Marxism did; it took details into consideration and broke up the huge gamble that is capitalism into a plethora of smaller gambles with perhaps fewer profits but also fewer consequences."

As a whole, I found Jane Smiley's essay, and some of the articulate comments below it, an eye opening reminder and inside look into how my life is not really what I think it is. Living in a city, you become subject to a lifestyle that depends on big business. But there are other ways to avoid that, such as farmers markets and local fruit stands, and I think I'll be visiting those more often now.

I reccomend reading the whole essay, and then the comments below it, which are interesting too. Here is one of them:

The further away from the land we get, the more we are dependent on corporations for our food, clothing, and shelter. And, for the sake of convenience, corporations get by with murder and monstrous profits because we're too apathetic and lazy to stop it....

Most people haven't a clue how to raise a garden and then preserve the veggies and fruits to have over the winter. In the past, even in large cities, people used to have a little garden to raise veggies or berries or other things to preserve every fall to have food for the winter, and maybe even keep a few chickens for eggs. Not so now; there are zoning laws to keep people from raising their own food within city limits. Most people don't know how and couldn't raise chickens or a pig over the spring and summer, feed them well, and then in the fall humanely kill them, butcher them, and put their meat in a basement freezer to feed themselves over the winter. The list goes on an on of the things most people (younger generations not raised on farms or in small towns, at least) no longer know how to do. There is a radical disconnect with life cycles in nature, and corporations have helped foster that disconnect.

We have made ourselves dependent children who couldn't even keep ourselves alive because we no longer have the knowledge our ancestors had about raising our own food to keep ourselves alive for any length of time. Thanks to brilliant advertising, corporations have made it easy for us to think of buying everything at a store... and we've bought into the "convenience" of purchasing all our food and the fact that we don't have to do any of the work to provide for ourselves is supposed to free our time for other things... which now means going to a mall to buy our clothing (designer labels only, of course - snob element comes into play here, and labels blazon our chests or our butts as free advertising for corporations who provide our clothing), or otherwise entertain ourselves through meaningless movies or other nonsense; all at a price, of course.

We don't even know how to entertain ourselves any longer, but complain of boredom and want someone around who keeps our every waking hour occupied with some form of "entertainment" - we're entertaining our boredom to death, starving for intellectual stimulation. And heaven forbid we teach our kids how to pick up a book to keep their minds occupied, or that we do the same and lead by example. No, we wait for the movie-based-on-the-book to be released and pay for the privilege of seeing the story as interpreted by a director or a producer, not what the author wrote in her/his book that could make our imaginations work and keep our minds occupied. Ditto any of the artistic pursuits, from painting to scupture to music to dance to designing and making our own clothing to... you name it.

Corporations have become our surrogate parents who provide our food, shelter, clothing, and feed our empty minds with their form of 'entertainment' because we no longer keep ourselves occupied with providing any of those things for ourselves. We might be physical adults, but we are mental children who rely on corporations to provide everything we need or want... for a price, because we've been brainwashed to believe we need the convenience the corporations provide.

Only if we break the bonds of dependence on corporations and once again learn to provide our own food, clothing, and shelter for ourselves will we once again become adults fully responsible for ourselves and our offspring.

There you have it. Corporations - faceless, mindless, groupthink tanks that don't face consequences - are running our country, our lives, and are, basically, at the controls of this roller coaster ride that will eventually plunge off of the unfinished track. (I found this article off of another extremely interesting site: Peak Oil.)

*Jane Smiley is the author of numerous books, including Horse Heaven and The Greenlanders.


At 9:51 AM, Blogger Nature Boy said...

You should pick up Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.


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