Sunday, March 04, 2007

Corporations, Psychopaths, Jesus and our Souls

In the 2003 documentary The Corporation a scary picture is painted about the danger the global socio-political world has a result of the corporation, by nature being profit driven, and hence exhibits psychopathic characteristics. The films major premise spring boards off the fact that the 14th amendment that gave the rights for slaves to be free to pursue life, liberty, and property ownership also opened up the opportunity for corporations to have all the rights as people.

Yet, the difference between a corporation and a person is that a corporation has no soul, it strictly looks towards the bottom line.

The recently deceased genius Economist Milton Friedman is quoted saying in the film:
"Can a building have moral opinions? Can a building have social responsibility? If a building can't have social responsibility, what does it mean to say that a corporation can? A corporation is simply an artificial legal structure. But the people who are engaged in it, whether the stockholders, whether the executives in it, whether the employees, they all have moral responsibilities."

And Milton Friedman is completely accurate, that it does take the individual people (who do have souls) to try to do what's best with out exploiting individuals, people, and society to achieve and endgame with significant externalises.

Yet, the fact of the matter is that as July 2006's article in Fast Company discusses is that when looking at Robert Hare's Psychopathy checklist developed in 2002, most well respected and successful CEO's exhibit extreme psychopathic tendencies (fast company list John D. Rockefeller, Walt Disney, and Henry Ford in their list of top 10 bosses from Hell).

In this vein, it is very easy as an employee whether in a sales, manufacturing, marketing, or any other type of find your self as a tool being used to support a business enterprise that in it's profit driven mode might be hurting people and the environment.

In Rob Bell's (pictured left) book Velvet Elvis he says, "For Jesus, the new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jesus isn't to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here."

Which if that truly is Jesus' goal, you have to wonder how Jesus would react to the corporation. Obviously Jesus certainly offended political and social leaders of his day, and overturned the tables of the money changers and asked people to give away all the had for the sake of others, so how would he respond to the corporation?

Would Jesus have any thought for Andy Fastow on how he handled the Enron situation?

Or would Jesus encourage or discourage those who protest when the World Trade Organization meets?

Or would he tell the woman who does the accounting for a textile factory to quit her job because her company exploits the cheap labor of the third world?

It's hard to say?

At the beginning of this decade it was easy to hate the corporation, in fact I think that's why even in the past couple years many films targeted the corporation. But even in the second part of this decade more companies are increasingly becoming socially conscious.

In fact, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming as Christina Arena, author of The High-Purpose Company says "more corporations are using CSR not for feel-good philanthropy or to polish their public image, but as long-term corporate strategy." (via)

That seems pretty clear as many commercials and ads are geared with that messages of social responsibility. Yet this too has intrinsic value, but I don't think many would be surprised to see socially conscious companies be exposed of doing too little, hiding corruption, or misrepresenting their social involvement.

It's all marketing, and it's hard in a highly corporatized world to know how one should respond in a world where many corporations have more global power than government, political bodies, and any organization.

Yet, I do believe that as individuals it is worth our effort to remember in the midst of the chaos that we have souls even within our corporately structured climate, and we can make choices to do what's right, care for people, and make value-oriented decisions even at the cost of corporate achievement, pay raises, and recognition.

Friedman is right, our buildings will never have souls -- but we do.

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Jon said...

Interesting topic!

Corporations don't have souls, but there is definitely a collective conscience within each business, organization or even family. There's something bigger than the sum of its parts. In Walter Wink's book, The Powers that Be (which I agree with only parts of), he talks about organizations as the "powers" referred to by Biblical writers like Paul. He says that the powers were created to be good (we need structures, organizations, etc to function), but they have fallen and can be redeemed. His whole idea is that to transform society, it takes more than individuals working toward change in organzations. That is part of it. But there have to be shifts within the entire system as well.

We need to work toward, and support, businesses, governments, etc. that are life-giving and like the "kingdom" that Jesus talks about in the Bible.

Just my two cents :).

Kimberly Ann said...

This movie was very tough for me to digest. As a corporate marketing manager, I felt very conflicted at parts of the movie. And I agree that people can make an impact even within a corporately structured climate; and those decisions can be powerful.

Sher said...

Though provoking post! I'll have to revisit this later when I'm not in the office and distracted by all of the going-ons.