Rachel's Weekly, July 6, 1995
In an editorial last month (6/18), the NEW YORK TIMES noted
that the environment of the Western states is under siege by commercial
interests (grazing, mining, timber, developers, big commercial
farmers), and a small but noisy group of property rights activists,
engaged together in a full-scale mutiny against Federal and state
regulations meant to protect what is left of America's natural
resources. "The war in the west and the war in Congress on
basic environmental protections have much in common," the
TIMES said. "First, both are being driven and in some cases
underwritten by big business. Second, both are being waged to
save the 'little guy' from Federal tyranny. Third, this alleged
little guy is nowhere to be found when the time comes to draft
crippling legislation. Indeed, his wishes have been largely ignored.
Poll after poll suggests that what ordinary citizens want is more
environmental protection if it means a cleaner environment and
a healthier society."
Most citizens want the environment protected, but Congress
and the states are giving us the opposite. How does that happen?
The short answer is "money in politics." Legislators
are beholden to the individuals and corporations who provide mountains
of cash for election campaigns. The solution to that problem is
public financing of elections.
But the full answer is a bit deeper than that. The commercial
interests destroying the environment world-wide are not just "bad
people" or crooks. They literally can't help themselves because
of the kind of organization that propels their behavior: the corporation.
Successful advertising executive Jerry Mander writes that, "The
corporation is not as subject to human control as most people
believe it is; rather, it is an autonomous technical structure
that behaves by a system of logic uniquely well suited to its
primary function: to give birth and impetus to profitable new
technological forms, and to spread techno-logic around the globe."
Mander suggests 11 rules that describe corporate behavior,
which we offer here in shortened form (we urge you to get and
read the original, which is eloquent):
1. The Profit Imperative: Profit is the ultimate measure of
all corporate decisions. It takes precedence over community well-being,
worker health, public health, peace, environmental preservation
or national security. Corporations will even find ways to trade
with national "enemies"--Libya, Iran, the Soviet Union,
Cuba --when public policy abhors it. The profit imperative and
the growth imperative are the most fundamental corporate drives;
together they represent the corporation's instinct to "live."
2. The Growth Imperative: Corporations live or die by whether
they can sustain growth. On this depends relationships to investors,
to the stock market, to banks and to public perception. The growth
imperative also fuels the corporate desire to find and develop
scarce resources in obscure parts of the world.
3. Competition and Aggression: Corporations place every person
in management in fierce competition with each other. Anyone interested
in a corporate career must hone his or her abilities to seize
the moment. This applies to gaining an edge over another company
or over a colleague within the company. As an employee, you are
expected to be part of the "team," but you also must
be ready to climb over your own colleagues.
Corporate (or athletic) ideology holds that competition improves
worker incentive and corporate performances and therefore benefits
society. Our society has accepted this premise utterly. Unfortunately,
however, it also surfaces in personal relationships. Living by
standards of competition and aggression on the job, human beings
have few avenues to express softer, more personal feelings.
4. Amorality: Not being human, corporations do not have morals
or altruistic goals. So decisions that may be antithetical to
community goals or environmental health are made without misgivings.
In fact, corporate executives praise "nonemotionality"
as a basis for "objective" decisions.
Corporations, however, seek to hide their amorality and attempt
to act as if they were altruistic. Lately, there has been a concerted
effort by American industry to seem concerned with environmental
cleanup, community arts or drug programs.
It is a fair rule of thumb that corporations tend to advertise
the very qualities they do not have in order to allay negative
public perceptions. When corporations say "we care,"
it is almost always in response to the widespread perception that
they do not care. And they don't. How could they? They don't have
feelings or morals.
5. Hierarchy: Corporate law requires that corporations be
structured into classes of superiors and subordinates within a
centralized pyramidal structure: chairman, directors, chief executive
officer, vice presidents, division managers, and so on. The efficiency
of this hierarchical form, which also characterizes the military,
the government and most institutions in our society, is rarely
The effect on society from all organizations adopting the
hierarchical form is to make it seem natural that we have all
been placed within a national pecking order. Some jobs are better
than others, some lifestyles are better than others, some neighborhoods,
some races, some kinds of knowledge. Men over women. Westerners
over non-Westerners. Humans over nature.
That effective, non-hierarchical modes of organization exist
on the planet, and have been successful for millennia, is barely
known to most Americans.
6. Quantification, Linearity, Segmentation: Corporations require
that subjective information be translated into objective form,
i.e., numbers. The subjective or spiritual aspects of forests,
for example, cannot be translated, and so do not enter into corporate
equations. Forests are evaluated only as "board feet."
When corporations are asked to clean up their smokestack emissions,
they lobby to relax the new standards in order to contain costs.
The result is that a predictable number of people are expected
to become sick and die.
7. Dehumanization: In the great majority of corporations,
employees are viewed as ciphers, as cogs among the wheels, replaceable
by others or by machines.
As for management employees, not subject to quite the same
indignities, they nonetheless must practice a style of decision
making that "does not let feelings get in the way."
This applies as much to firing employees as it does to dealing
with the consequences of corporate behavior in the environment
or the community.
8. Exploitation: All corporate profit is obtained by a simple
formula: Profit equals the difference between the amount paid
to an employee and the economic value of the employee's output,
and/or the difference between the amount paid for raw materials
used in production (including costs of processing), and the ultimate
sales price of processed raw materials.
Capitalists argue that this is a fair deal, since both workers
and the people who mine or farm the resources (usually in Third
World environments) get paid. But this arrangement is inherently
imbalanced. The owner of the capital --the corporation or the
bank --always obtains additional benefit. While the worker makes
a wage, the owner of the capital gets the benefit of the worker's
labor, plus the surplus profit the worker produces, which is then
reinvested to produce yet more surplus.
9. Ephemerality: Corporations exist beyond time and space:
they are legal creations that only exist on paper. They do not
die a natural death; they outlive their own creators. They have
no commitment to locale, employees or neighbors. Having no morality,
no commitment to place and no physical nature (a factory, while
being a physical entity, is not the corporation), a corporation
can relocate all of its operations at the first sign of inconvenience:
demanding employees, high taxes and restrictive environmental
laws. The traditional ideal of community engagement is antithetical
to corporation behavior.
10. Opposition to Nature: Though individuals who work for
corporations may personally love nature, corporations themselves,
and corporate societies, are intrinsically committed to intervening
in, altering and transforming nature. For corporations engaged
in commodity manufacturing, profit comes from transmogrifying
[changing] raw materials into saleable forms. Metals from the
ground are converted into cars. Trees are converted into boards,
houses, furniture and paper products. Oil is converted into energy.
In all such activity, a piece of nature is taken from where it
belongs and processed into a new form. All manufacturing depends
upon intervention and reorganization of nature. After natural
resources are used up in one part of the globe, the corporation
moves on to another part.
This transformation of nature occurs in all societies where
community manufacturing takes place. But in capitalist, corporate
societies, the process is accelerated because capitalist societies
and corporations MUST grow by extracting resources from nature
and reprocessing them at an ever-quickening pace. Meanwhile, the
consumption end of the cycle is also accelerated --by corporations
that have an interest in convincing people that commodities bring
satisfaction. Inner satisfaction, self-sufficiency, contentment
in nature or a lack of a desire to acquire wealth are subversive
to corporate goals.
11. Homogenization: American rhetoric claims that commodity
society delivers greater choice and diversity than other societies.
"Choice" in this context means PRODUCT choice in the
marketplace: many brands to choose from and diverse features on
otherwise identical products. Actually, corporations have a stake
in all of us living our lives in a similar manner, achieving our
pleasures from things that we buy in a world where each family
lives isolated in a single family home and has the same machines
as every other family on the block. The "singles" phenomenon
has proved even more productive than the nuclear family, since
each person duplicates the consumption patterns of every other
Native societies --which celebrate an utterly non-material
relationship to life, the planet and the spirit --are regarded
as backward, inferior and unenlightened. We are told that they
envy the choices we have. To the degree these societies continue
to exist, they represent a threat to the homogenization of worldwide
markets and culture.
Form is content: The most important aspect of these 11 rules
is the degree to which they are inherent in corporate structure.
Corporations are INHERENTLY bold, aggressive and competitive.
Though they exist in a society that claims to operate by moral
principles, they are structurally amoral. It is inevitable that
they will dehumanize people who work for them and the overall
society as well. They are disloyal to workers, including their
own managers. Corporations can be disloyal to the communities
they have been part of for many years. Corporations do not care
about nations; they live beyond boundaries. They are intrinsically
committed to destroying nature. And they have an inexorable, unabatable,
voracious need to grow and to expand. In dominating other cultures,
in digging up the Earth, corporations blindly follow the codes
that have been built into them as if they were genes.
We must abandon the idea that corporations can reform themselves.
To ask corporate executives to behave in a morally defensible
manner is absurd. Corporations, and the people within them, are
following a system of logic that leads inexorably toward dominant
behaviors. To ask corporations to behave otherwise is like asking
an army to adopt pacifism. Form is content.
 GET: Jerry Mander, IN THE ABSENCE OF THE SACRED; THE FAILURE
OF TECHNOLOGY AND THE SURVIVAL OF THE INDIAN NATIONS (San Francisco:
Sierra Club Books, 1991). Cost is $14.00; phone: (415) 923-5600.
(Chapter 7 is titled, "Corporations as Machines.")