Alternatives to Corporate Consciousness by@deranian

Alternatives to Corporate Consciousness

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Deranian

Coder and writer.

When people form a group of any kind - a company, a marriage, an army, a religion, a government, an academy, a club, or an angry mob, that group literally has a mind of its own. It is, despite what critics might think, a kind of person, made up primarily of its constituent individuals, but with emergent features all its own. This "group consciousness" may be internally conflicted, as an individual might be, or it may have a clear focus*. It tends to be influenced by the bylaws of the group (or other formal or informal internal rules and structures), the resources available to the group, the personalities and agendas of the people within the group**, its relationship to other groups, among many other factors. This consciousness could be generous, greedy, supportive, or psychopathic.

I tend to focus on the corporate group consciousness, because in contemporary society corporations generally control the means of production; virtually all modern goods come from corporations, including food, clothing, cars, furniture, technology, and of course, fuel. The corporate model is structured in such a way as to expand its reach wherever plausible; hence, we have bottled water, even though the vast majority of the people in the United States have access to tap water, and certain companies like Nestle have advocated for the complete privatization of water, in a bid to eliminate their free (and more sustainable) municipal competition. This is normal corporate behavior. As the documentary "The Corporation" explores in-depth, the corporate group mind is focused relentlessly on one thing: profit. And everyone working for the corporation, from the board on down, is, to the extent that they are aligned with the corporate consciousness, is dedicated to this goal (and to the extent they are not, they are very likely to be replaced with someone who is). There may be internal tensions and conflicts among departments or individuals, but the corporation as a whole exists to make a profit. It is legally obligated to: its shareholders can sue if it deliberately makes choices otherwise. So if a course of action that is more environmentally sustainable or humane would result in less profit, the corporation is unlikely to take it.

Externalities

Which leads to the main fundamental problem with the corporate model: the externality. A corporation will do everything it can to reduce its own costs, without any consideration as to the effects outside itself. If a corporation's production activities result in significant toxic pollution, for example, it will never take steps to remediate that if it is not in the corporation's financial interest. Health impacts such as birth defects, cancer etc are "externalized costs"; that is, someone else's problem. As "The Corporation" points out, this is sociopathic behavior, and the sum of such behavior is destroying society, humanity, and the planet.

There may be some sort of backlash against a corporation for its actions, in which case it might relent, not because of any moral considerations, but because the bad publicity might have an impact on its profits. But the corporation is just as likely to hire a public relations firm to "spin" the story, downplay or obfuscate its impact, and otherwise try to mitigate its bad publicity (again, as a sociopath would). If it can do that, it will not care to take any corrective action. So tobacco companies will bury research that shows that their products cause lung cancer, oil companies will bury research about their products and the environment, and so on. Is there any wonder there is such widespread suspicion about corporate-produced vaccines? Or journalism?

The organization of production into discrete, profit-seeking and growth-oriented companies, each hellbent on externalizing all costs, including social and environmental costs, whenever it can, has resulted in disaster. Like in a human body, any runaway growth that is at the expense of the whole might be seen as cancerous. Hypothetically the government is supposed to prevent or treat such things, but corporations have long anticipated this, and have neutralized many potential regulatory threats to their profits through PR and lobbying (with the additional externality of government corruption). And most people are influenced by corporate marketing to be consumers, making a demand-side drop in production (i.e. a large-scale boycott, for example) unlikely, or at least gradual.

From a more holistic perspective, each externality is a system failure. Corporations do not and cannot take into account humanity, society, or the planet as a whole - that is their terrible flaw, a flaw which must be immediately addressed. We must conceive of a new kind of group consciousness that is competent, efficient, sustainable, and capable of production on a large scale but that remains subservient to the greater good. Such a paradigm shift is in my opinion a healthier approach than constantly lobbying the government to rein in corporate excess, simply because legal regulation is almost always reactive and ex post; legislation is doomed to remain at least one step behind, and that is when it itself is acting in society's best interest.

In order to come up with a new kind of organizational group consciousness for production, the question then becomes: what kind of larger, emergent, "meta" group consciousness (i.e. what kind of civilization) does it create, when all of these organizations are added up? Does it provide a healthy, safe environment for everyone? Are all people be housed and fed? Are adequate health care and education accessible and available to everyone? Does it preserve the ecosystems on which life depends? Does it encourage personal responsibility and healthy social relationships? Is it fair? Is it able to adapt and evolve? Is it inclusive? Does it give people the opportunity to flourish and express their gifts to the fullest? Is it psychologically healthy? I contend that given the current corporate means of production, the answer is "no" to most of these questions.

Solving the issues

Many ideas have been launched or proposed to address these issues: the "true cost" movement, the DIY movement, platform cooperativism, DAO's, using non-profits for production, and many more. None of these are perfect, and some have their own (sometimes serious) costs, but they all attempt to mitigate institutionalized greed in some way. Which we must do: human survival is at stake.

* One of the greatest dangers of fascism is precisely that it creates groups that have a clear but sinister focus. In the context of a muddled, decadent liberalism, fascism can be highly seductive: its attraction is its apparent, if ugly, "mental clarity."

** The fascinating "Paradoxes of Group Life" by Smith and Berg deals specifically with the internal paradoxes and tensions caused by the various forces working within a group.

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