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<nettime> corporate individualism
brian carroll on 13 Sep 2000 08:11:05 -0000

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<nettime> corporate individualism

 my dictionary has `corporation' meaning: `acting as a body,
 rather than as a number of individuals.' it seems to me that
 the corporation as legal entity is defined around the idea
 of a business functioning as an individual-body with rights,
 versus a personification of corporation as a human being.

 advertising seems to exist to project the latter though, to
 humanize the corporate product and its philosophy. that could
 be related to slogans such as "Just Do It" by Nike, once an
 advertising slogan, now (possibly) many consumers personal
 belief system. like Apple's "Think Different (TM)" campaign.

 from my vantage, the problem with corporate responsibility
 and abuse of power comes with its status as an individual,
 with individual rights. in itself, this may not be bad,
 but i think the problem stems from the privatization of
 individual rights (as ideal) and a society of private
 individuals directing public governance. a typical person
 is basically helpless against corporate screwups, until the
 government or legal establishment steps in. one person,
 a human being, who is a consumer, versus a transnational
 corporation as an all powerful meta-individual can be
 quite an imbalance between these individuals' rights.

 for example, i believe GE is the world's largest company,
 probably bigger than many armies, with a workforce of 340,000
 and a market value of half of a trillion US dollars, which
 represents 2+ million shareholders, averaging around 4,500
 shares each, each shareholder on average worth around
 $250,000.00 US. [my averages may be wrong: facts on General
 Electric are at the end of this post...]

 now anyone who, as an individual consumer, decides to challenge
 the practices of an individual corporation is up against a body
 which is much larger than any single human being or even many
 large non-profit groups.

 for example, here is a possible comparision:

                private                 private
                human being             corporation (GE)
                ----------------        --------------------
 income         $20,000 US/year         $10,700,000,000 US

 size           1 person                340,000 workers

 occupation:    one/few things          expertise in many things
                ex. activist            ex. lawyers, engineers,
                                        scientists, researchers,
                                        government lobbyists,
                                        corporate partnerships...

 family:        a few people            340,000 workers and
                                        2 million shareholders
 education or
 experience:    college/work            (100+) years of thousands
                                        and thousands of workers and
                                        shareholders and CEOs
                                        guidance to maximum profit
 policy         economic/political/     economics and politics
 issues:        social/cultural

 if an individual person or even a group were to try to change
 the practices of _one_ army of a corporation, they would be at
 a vast disadvantage in terms of defending theirs and others
 individual rights, with little chance of changing the pattern.

 ex. a corporation is polluting, and an individual gathers up the
 money to hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit in a court. the average
 large corporation could probably bankrupt the person just by sheer
 mass of resources and a million dollar treasure chest set aside.
 social and environmental policies seem to require large organizations
 and their resources to challenge such large corporate legal wings.
 but even economically, trying to get money back from a company
 who sells products which fall apart or break or are defective
 is, in my experience, near to impossible. corporations are allowed
 to be dysfunctional, as long as there are no individuals of enough
 power to challenge them on it. i imagine this is what the 'class
 action lawsuit' is based on in the US.

 i think the inequality of power in society, national and global,
 is the primacy given to corporate power and their economists
 to drive the economy. this is why anti-corporatism isn't a
 viable strategy. even Ralph Nader, consumer activist, owns
 Intel stock.

 besides having economic profit as their `bottom-line', by
 which all else ultimately needs to be judged in order to
 maintain a wealth-creating business which rewards shareholders
 and workers and management and executives, corporations use
 capitalism as their economic/political/social policy. i am
 under the impression that capitalism, as it is practiced
 today, has _no_ social dimension other than to better the
 world by selling their commodities.

 likewise, an anti-capitalist standpoint seems unlikely, as it
 does seem to work at generating lots of wealth, not taking into
 account how it is distributed nor the impact it has on others
 not a part of its corporate body.
 from my perspective, this all centers around two issues/ideas:

 1-- capitalism is only economic, without a social dimension

 2-- the corporation only operates as a private individual

 regarding 1: unaware of the background on the idea of social-
 capitalism, it does seem to address what the economic profit
 of capitalism has been unable to do, benefit the community
 and the society (via health/safety/environmentalism/jobs).
 often, company profits are chosen above people, above
 social issues. and the `privacy' of the corporate id is
 able to be as socially corrupt as it is, until someone can
 gather the resources necessary to challenge the behemoths of
 industry. it seems that public governments are where the
 checks and balances occur. would there be a US Tobacco
 Settlement without States Attorney Generals taking up
 the cause with their public monies and support..? if a
 social dimension can be added to corporate profit, such
 that there is social profit alongside economic profit, the
 nature of corporate behavior may change for the better.
 this appears to revolve around the second issue...

 2- corporations, constituted as private individuals (until
 a public, human identity is established) can *choose* what
 to focus on. it is their individual right and their freedom.
 yet this is the super-man syndrome, the limited semantic-man,
 of unbridled competing wills-to-power, economic and political,
 on a local and global scale. ideologues say there is no `public'.

 the differentiation between `public' and `private' identity
 could influence the definition of corporate (and peoples)
 concepts of individuality. if an individual person is a
 man, and keeps on talking about mankind, meaning to include
 children and women, his voice may be (his-storically) meant
 to represent a `public' or common perspective, but today
 it is obvious that an individual man's point of view cannot
 logically represent all of humanity which is not this man.
 thus, it could be said that this man's point of view is
 partially privatized, in the sense that it is particular.

 it seems this is how corporations operate, in the legal
 and economic system, as private (not public) individuals.
 they can therefore *choose* what is important to them
 and pursue it with their full rights and freedoms as
 corporate citizens. maybe this is the reason that the
 CEOs figure so prominently in the ideological psyche,
 in that they both represent this private individualism,
 as a private individual and as a private corporation.
 (that their salaries are those of kings in a kingdom...)

 this private constitution of individuality is grounded in
 language but awaits to be dethroned as the definition of
 commonality- that is, being a good citizen means being
 a good worker, productive, a good business wo|man, etc,
 a believer in Capitalism as if it were a Democracy.

 in fact, in two different places (Sid Meier's Civilization
 computer game and Lewis Mumford's Pentagon of Power) i've
 read that the corporation could be considered a type of
 privatized communism or socialism. many workers may not
 question it, but day care, massages, exercise rooms,
 free food and drink, and extra-curricular activities such
 as bicycle trips and golfing are an extension of the job,
 or the job as communal family, while at the same time often
 taking away other `independent' forms of worker compensation,
 as if there were `strings attached'. the corporate body as
 the puppeteer and the workers as thousands of marionettes,
 directed by the corporate ideology of economic Capital,
 at all costs (environmental/labor/political/etc).

 democracies today are built around this privatized language
 of individuality, constituted by identity (race, sex, class,
 gender, disability, ethnicity). this logically limits the
 commonality of the larger corporate identity to the decisions
 of private individuals (women and men of all backgrounds),
 whom, by language, may have no clear differentiation between
 what is public and what is private. everything today is
 confused in the epic clashing of public-private identities.

 this is not intentional as much as a result of heredity,
 inheriting the private language of the (mainly) men whom
 wrote and constituted countries and corporations. this is
 a reason that capitalism is mainly an economic engine, and
 not a positive social engine for change. individual men and
 women are the ones charting the courses of these companies,
 not people whose primary identity is as a public human being.

 it is a matter of sequence, in the sense that one can think
 as a private individual about private matters, but until one
 thinks about public matters with a public identity, they will
 not see the problem in the terms that it exists in. it will
 instead be seen as a private *choice*. one example is George
 W. Bush's pollution policy, developed by a former corporate
 lobbyist for the chemical industry in Texas. the policy gave
 some of the most polluting corporations in the country the
 individual *choice* whether or not to enact environmental
 policy. i think most did, but in such a minimal way that
 it effected almost zero-change in the pollution. (see the
 skeletoncloset.org for backgrounds on US politicians from
 US newspapers, media, and reporters).

 this privatization has already consumed industry, the non-
 profit religions and social groups are the small counter-
 points. but now, it is not enough, and in the US more and
 more of government services are to be privatized (this
 is not deny that corporations can do some things much better
 than governments, but _social_ policy is not one of them).
 in effect, this is literally taking the whole of humanity
 and the collective fate of the world and putting it into
 the hands and minds of individual capitalist-economists,
 that is, private individual men and women, to decide the
 present and future state of local and global affairs.

 a strategy, after defining concepts like the `private'
 corporation by de|con-structing the private language of
 individual wo|men, would be to establish a `public'
 identity for individuals, groups, and corporations
 based on the imperfect concept of humanity, as a heritage
 common to all. billions and billions of human beings.

 in that sense, an individual person and a corporation _are_
 equals, if they really were constituted as public entities.
 both could exist in the same sphere of awareness, legally,
 but would no longer be allowed the *choice* to ignore it.
 the individual rights of corporations would then be held
 accountable to the impact they have on the public, instead
 of how it is today, where the public pays for all the
 problems that corporations *choose* to ignore, at taxpayer
 expense and the integrity of democratic governance and
 the human rights of other citizens.

 if a corporation did not have a *choice* whether or not
 to address pressing social issues, because they are issues
 that are common to all human beings, then the corporate
 ideology may be able to change, to transform itself from
 a purely economic form of capital value, to one of social
 value, based on its positive/negative impact upon human
 society, with some ethical checks-and-balances which do
 not exist today, and let corporations run the world by
 running the economy, while governments lose power over
 the course of their social futures, which politicians,
 by the necessity of being privatized public officials,
 have to ignore because it is a different paradigm of
 identity, a different constitution of the self and
 the other, moving away from an exclusionary ideology
 of either-economic-or-social *choices*, to an inclusionary
 philosophy of both-economic-and-social issues, as, as
 human beings, we, you and i, can find a similarity of
 a shared/public identity that will never be found in
 the private identities of wo|men, alone.

 to change corporate behavior will require changing
 corporate constitutions from ones of private identity
 to that of public identity. changing awareness of wo|men
 to human awareness. changing the checks-and-balances on
 individual rights and freedoms from private *choice* to
 public obligation. changing capitalism's value from
 purely economic to social-and-economic marketplaces
 where social awareness can be profitable economically.

 if corporations were able to transform their business
 structure from private profit to public profitability,
 the ideology of the privatized corporate estate may
 no longer govern the state of the world, but the states
 of the world the corporations. given the scale of trans-
 national corporations exercising their private rights
 as economic individuals, it would take an equally large
 international governance such as the United Nations
 to enact a global system of checks-and-balances, to
 legally enforce the social dimensions of corporate
 economic power based on public rights and freedoms.
 if corporations ignored public issues (environment,
 health, pollution, inefficiency) they could be fined,
 and-or possibly regulated by the collective of states.

 the regulation of a transnational government, such as
 the United Nations, might be necessary to enact such
 change and maintain it. but, if business objectives
 went out of the private sphere and into the public
 sphere and dealt with issues that regulation often
 addresses, then governmental regulation may not be an
 issue of thwarting innovation or freedoms. these
 freedoms would need to be judged on their public
 impact, not only by private corporate rights alone.

 in the end, i think it will take changing language,
 in order to change the rest. changing relationships,
 changing ways of seeing, ways of communicating, ways
 of thinking, reasoning, and feeling. a change in heart,
 that it is a paradox. the argument is not that corporations
 or capitalism are all bad or good, but that they need to
 be changed to address public issues often ignored by
 a culture of sanctioned private and insular individualism.

 it is time to take the language back, to use the letters,
 words, and sentences to make it clear that this is _not_
 a *choice* between `either' private profit `or' public profit:
 it would be profiting, economically and socially, both women
 and men and children - the human family - as individuals
 and as a collective. what is democracy if it is without
 human freedoms and rights, but instead is in bondage to
 the limits of private identities? we now know. it is a
 private estate run by private individuals and groups
 for their private profit, which is all we can expect
 until the language, the logic, and the arguments change.

 human being
 a.k.a. brian carroll
 the architecture of language
 the architecture of the United Nations

 * corporations are not democracies. but then what are they..?
 some may be, but many seem similar to authoritarian, totalitarian,
 despotic, oligarchic, and-or aristocratic organizations of power.

 ** proto-transnational corporation information...

<begin General Electric facts>

GE FACT SHEET      August 25, 2000     http://ge.com/factsheet.html

About GE
GE is a diversified services, technology and manufacturing company with a
commitment to achieving customer success and worldwide leadership in each of
its businesses. GE operates in more than 100 countries and employs nearly
340,000 people worldwide, including 197,000 in the United States. John F.
Welch has been Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of GE since 1981.

The Company traces its beginnings to Thomas A. Edison, who established
Edison Electric Light Company in 1878. In 1892, a merger of Edison General
Electric Company and Thomson-Houston Electric Company created General
Electric Company. GE is the only company listed in the Dow Jones Industrial
Index today that was also included in the original index in 1896.

Financial Highlights
1999 Revenues           $111.6 Billion
1999 Net Earnings       $10.7 Billion
                        ($3.22 per share - diluted,
                        not adjusted April 2000 split)

Market Value of GE Stock (at $56 7/8 /share)        $563 Billion

Average Shares Outstanding                          9.882 Billion

Number of Share Owners                              ~2.1 Million

1999 International Revenues     $45.7 Billion (41% of total revenues)

1999 R&D Expenditures           $2.0 Billion

1999 Total Assets               $405.2 Billion


*    World's Most Admired Company - Fortune (1998, 1999)
*    World's Most Respected Company - Financial Times (1998, 1999)
*    America's Most Admired Company - Fortune (1998, 1999, 2000)
*    America's Greatest Wealth Creator - Fortune (1998, 1999)
*    First - Forbes Super 100 (1998, 1999, 2000)
*    First - Business Week 1000 (1999)
*    First - Business Week's 25 Best Boards of Directors (2000)
*    Fifth - Fortune 500. If ranked independently, 13 GE businesses would
appear on the Fortune 500.


GE Business Backgrounder

Aircraft Engines

Aviation Services
Commercial Equipment Financing
Commercial Finance 
Employers Reinsurance Corporation (ERC)
Financial Assurance
GE Equity 
Global Consumer Finance
Industrial Systems
Medical Systems 
Mortgage Insurance Corporation
NBC (National Broadcasting Company)
Power Systems
Real Estate
Structured Finance Group
Transportation Systems
Vendor Financial Services

GE & Social Responsibility

GE Elfun, a community service organization of 40,000 GE employees and
retirees in more than 90 communities worldwide, led the Company in
surpassing its goal of one million volunteer hours annually for youth by
2000 by logging 1.3 million hours one year ahead of schedule.
Accomplishments include 800 community service projects around the world, the
construction or renovation of 100 playgrounds, mentor programs at 150
schools and 25 food programs.

GE and its employees, the GE Fund and GE Elfun contribute more than $90
million annually to support education, the arts, the environment and human
service organizations worldwide.

The National Society of Black Engineers awarded GE the first Golden Torch
Award for corporate community service in 1998.

GE was awarded the President's Volunteer Action Award in 1994 and the
Council for Aid to Education's Leaders for Change Corporate Award in 1995
for its College Bound program.

The National Science Foundation awarded its first National Corporate
Achievement Award to the GE Fund in 1992 to recognize its outstanding
support of minority students, faculty and professionals in science,
engineering and math.

GE Home Page

</end GE>

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