Saturday 23rd October 2010

Why are we being assaulted? There are two reasons why our pensions, our jobs, and our education system are under such concerted attack from the ConDems, one immediate and one long-term.

The immediate reason is that, to paraphrase Michael Moore, the bankers and their friends recently drove a large truck up to the back door of our public coffers, loaded it up with billions of pounds, dollars and euros of our taxes, and drove off to the yacht shop to spend it on their bonuses. A pretty straightforward mugging; I'll be phoning CID this afternoon, but don't hold your breath. The millionaires inhabiting the cabinet found it quite obvious that we needed to save the banks; after all, if you're sitting on a huge pot of cash the last thing you want to contemplate is a default in the insitutions holding the money. Those of us for whom the banks more often hold debt than savings may find the equation less obvious.

The longer-term reason was explained very clearly by Joel Bakan in his book The Corporation and has to do with some of the most fundamental processes of our society.

One of the reasons why people new to an anti-capitalist world view find it hard to accept is the implication that the leaders of our institutions must be a woeful set of incredibly viscious and stupid people. In daily life such types are in a vanishingly tiny minority, so it is easy to believe that leading politicians and industrialists are as they often seem in the media — by and large pretty ordinary.

Joal Bakan's book is wonderful for showing how the personality types at the head of our society's institutions are largely irrelevant to how those institutions construct the terrors and catastrophes of our times.

If the most powerful institution on earth is the nation state, the second most powerful, and the one with by far the greatest influence over the state, is the corporation. Bakan shows how this institution is:

  • treated in law as a person who has only limited responsibility for their actions
  • mandated by law to act in its own selfish interests at all times
  • behaves in ways that are pathological for society and the environment as a result

Not surprisingly, when this freedom (to act with the rights of a person) is combined with mandated selfishness a whole range of pathological behaviours ensue. Bakan quotes a psychologist who categorises corporate behaviour as psychopathic, and notes that Anita Roddick blames the "religion of maximizing profits" for business's amorality, for forcing otherwise decent people to do indecent things: "Because it has to maximize its profits... everything is legitimate in the pursuit of that goal, everything... So using child labor or sweatshop labor or despoiling the environment... is legitimate in the maximizing of profit. It's legitimate to fire fifteen thousand people to maximize profits, keep the communities just in such pain." (p. 55)


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