CORPORATIONS AND THE COMMUNITY
By Roland Watson
Would that my earlier observations were all we could say against corporations, but there is still a long way to go. The next public to consider is our community as a whole.
Obviously, the preceding outcomes, including the destruction of families and other personal relationships, substantially undermine local communities, but some corporate practices are far more direct than this. When companies relocate production, as to foreign countries with lower labor costs, they destroy communities at the wholesale level. Vast unemployment, impoverishment of local merchants, and community malaise, are the results. Of course, corporations, again, argue that this is the price of capitalism. They say they have no choice.
Then there are the side effects of a company's desire to grow, to acquire its competitors and if possible achieve monopoly power in its market. For consumer products, one of the things this has led to is "Walmartization," the overpowering of family-based businesses by large discount chains. (Home Depot is another example.) This also dramatically increases town sprawl, and the ugliness of modern life, as these discount centers are positioned in rural environments, which immediately become subject to rapid, unchecked and ill-conceived commercial and residential development.
This leads to yet another significant ill for the community, which is the environmental destruction and pollution that corporations inevitably cause. To them, the environment is merely a resource to be used up in their profit quest, with no thought given to the future generations, of humanity and other species of life, both plant and animal, that are going to have to inhabit it (if they can). Corporations level natural habitats, fill the water and air with filthy production byproducts, and threaten an untold number of species in the process, driving many, every day, to extinction. However, it is not only the environment that suffers: increasingly, as above, the human community is degraded. Our homes, and lives, become uglier and uglier.
This also represents a side effect of business' love affair with science and technology, which, after all, generate these pollutants. Rather than be benefactors of communities, corporations are patrons of science. But through their research and development they encourage science to expand the frontiers of knowledge not as a means to enhance the human experience, but solely as a way to find new opportunities for profit. (One ideal to which they strive is "complete automation," in other words, production requiring no employees at all. Apparently, we are not dependable enough. Also, this undercuts their "failsafe" argument that they have to be granted a never-ending freedom to exploit, because of their role as employers.)
In addition, in the search for these profit opportunities corporations vigorously oppose any attempts to apply ethics to scientists and technology. They refuse to consider the negative outcomes of a new technology, before mass-producing it. Because of this we have such things as atomic power, rather than solar; an atmosphere with massive ozone holes; and all of the terrifying prospects of eugenics and the other likely consequences of genetic engineering. (Corporations try their hardest to sell us technology, even when we don't want it. New technology only fails when it doesn't meet a real need and the divergence is so great that no amount of brainwashing can bridge the gap.)
Indeed, because of the strength of corporate devotion to science, it is now seen as the only route to knowledge. But one could well ask where this devotion is leading us. I would argue that it is in fact diverting us from the real issues of life, and society, while creating differences that are even greater than those which already exist with wealth. Science is the defining arena of "progress," and because of this we are obsessed with such things as the internet, gene therapy, and man/machine links. But it is still the case that most of the people in the world do not have sufficient nutritious food or clean water. Many people don't even use toilet paper, or women sanitary pads, much less telephones or computers or cars. The progress of science is forcing us to focus on issues of little real consequence, and in the process causing us to ignore those of great import. (Which is worth being in more of a rush to achieve: a world at peace and with real equality; or a manned flight to Mars and genetically engineered people?)
Science is one of the clearest cases of an institution that cares only for itself. For instance, consider the infamous Y2K problem: computers that were expected to fail as we began the year 2000. It is not as if the computer analysts who wrote the programs decades ago did not realize that this problem might occur. They did. They were not stupid. They saw it coming all along. They either just didn't care: they left it - the problems they created - for us to solve. Or, they did it intentionally: they created a future source of work for their industry, to the tune of billions of dollars in income. (This is yet another planned obsolescence.)
And, surprise, surprise, Y2K was a bust. Nothing significant happened, other than one of the clearest examples of mass brainwashing in recent years.
Finally, in their efforts to support and exploit science, corporations do their best to advance product innovation. But at they same time they attempt to stifle social innovation. They are inevitably against anything that seeks to change, to advance, the social environment. This is because the environment that we now have, with its brainwashing and dictatorships, is the one which best fits, which has actually been shaped by, their purposes. They will do anything to subvert reform (unless they can find a way to make some money at it).
All of this raises an important question with regard to ethics. Earlier we saw that we need to base our system of ethics on reason, and not on such things as religious belief. But science is based on reason as well. Doesn't this amount to a contradiction? In other words, if reason doesn't work with science, why will it work with ethics?
Reason is the basis for science - the scientific method - but as it now stands there is a problem. Reason, through science, is only directed forward, towards the new (and, through this, to creating new sources of income). Consideration is rarely given to the consequences of this "forward" movement. The question is, does this have to be the case? Couldn't such considerations become part of the normal process of scientific exploration?
The answer is, yes, there is no reason why science, using reason, cannot consider and deal with all of the consequences of its progress, including postponing such progress until the negative consequences are resolved, or avoiding it altogether if they cannot be. The reason this does not occur now is, again, that it is not competitively expedient for the corporations to do so. They have a conflict of interest in policing themselves, and because of this, also once again, we will have to force them to behave. Society, via various regulatory and activist mechanisms, must demand that corporations anticipate, and take full responsibility for, all of the consequences of their science.
(Earlier, I made the point that since science is a valid route to knowledge, it should receive significant funding from the government, to cut such links to the profit motive. Unfortunately, the opposite has occurred. Research post-WWII was two-thirds government funded and one-third corporate. Not, this ratio has been reversed. Science is now dominated by the profit motive.)
Lastly, in reviewing community degradation, we also need to consider the effects of corporations on education, in the first instance on schools. And, with schools, we should start with the students. It is widely recognized that there has been a decline in student well-being, and an increase in negative behavior, including the imposition of peer pressure and bullying by the strong over the weak, drug use, and the formation of gangs and resultant gang violence. All of this is to a great extent the result of the earlier described effects of corporations on communities, including the destruction of families and other social relationships. Young people, in great numbers, are being deprived of a normal, peaceful and supportive upbringing, and the problems that they bring to school, and those that they create there, are the result.
As to the education itself, the modern subjects of choice are all trade-related. Everyone is too busy preparing for their careers, studying computers, engineering, business or law, to take time to learn about the real marvels and intricacies of life. For example, I have commented many times on the fact that history repeats itself. But this is not that difficult to understand: all you have to do is study history. Unfortunately, in the modern world, almost no one does that. Further, even when students do study life, such as the "life sciences," this regularly occurs in a corporation-funded lab, and the corporate bias, their form, is present.
(Regarding the famous statement that those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it, this is inaccurate. It should be: those who do not understand the past are condemned to repeat it.)
Modern schools teach not only job preparation, but also corporate values ("McEducation"). They teach that what is important is not your life, but your career. And, they also preach competition, rather than cooperation. In an earlier chapter we saw, in reference to sports, that schools are the first proving ground in modern society's love affair with the cult of the winner. Through this schools reinforce, in many cases they actually revel in, the idea that it is us versus them.
(It is a very interesting form that in America there has to be a winner. With few exceptions games have to be continued, in overtime, if they end in a tie. Someone has to win. In many other countries, though, people think little of games that end in a tie. That's the result, so that's the way it is. The two teams, on that day, are equal.)
Additionally, and as will be considered in a later article, corporations are the main force behind what is known as globalization. But this, from an educational standpoint, is only considered in light of the competition, the economic competition, which has resulted. Rarely is culture, an understanding and appreciation of the wide variety of cultures that are now coming into contact with each other, viewed as an essential subject of a young person's education. It is in these and other ways that schools are entirely supportive of the corporate system, and everything bad that it represents. As a basic activist objective, therefore, we should strive for a separation of commerce and education, just as we already have a separation of church and state.
(Corporations should be forbidden from providing sponsored educational materials to schools. Also, we should not allow Walmart to make an award for "Principal of the Year," and we should forbid in-school marketing, such as the advertisements that are shown on Channel 1, exclusive contracts with soft-drink companies, etc.)
Further, under the corporate system your education is actually supposed to stop with school. You are supposed to work after you graduate, and spend money, and watch TV; not continue to educate yourself. (In addition, it is important to mention that the values that are commonly presented in school reflect not only the wishes of corporations, but also the propaganda of the government, the social agendas of the teachers and administrators, etc.)
Of course, it is not only in schools that the public is subjected to corporate "education":
"If you switch on your radio or television [or the internet], or open your newspaper, corporations speak to you. They do it through public relations and advertising. American corporations spend more than $100 billion yearly on advertising [circa 1991 - it was $240 billion in 2000], which is far more than is spent on secondary education in this country. In some ways corporate advertising is the dominant educational institution in our country, surely in the realm of lifestyle."
- In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander, Sierra Club Books, page 122
© Roland Watson 2016