How corporate idealism is twisted

“The Corporation,” a documentary based on the Joel Bakan book, is an astounding analysis of the nature of big business. One of its primary conclusions is underlined by the book’s subtitle — “The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power” — that large corporations are clinically insane.

When you compare the behaviour and characteristics of corporations to the diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and those of DSM-IV, a standard psychiatric diagnostic tool, you find that these organizations are effectively psychopathic.

Significantly, this isn’t an attribute of one or two large corporations; it applies to the majority worldwide. More profoundly, it appears to be the inescapable fate of public corporations because their essential function is to be profit-making machines. All other functions and attributes (social, cultural, political) are relegated to a distant second place.

Essentially, the end (profits) will always justify the means (whatever it takes) because that is how corporations are defined.

Recently, I contended Google wouldn’t become evil. But I think I’ve realized that, like most corporations, Google can’t help but become amoral and ultimately psychopathic.

You might wonder if this happens because bad people get to run what could be good companies. But as the film repeatedly points out, the corporation has far more power than the good intentions of any individual or group in the corporation. Moreover, there are many employees all too willing to fall in with the psychopathic program.

This explains, for example, why Microsoft always tries to lock out the competition, why it perverts standards to retain market control and why the corporation finds it hard to stay away from monopolistic practices in general. It’s not that the people are necessarily bad, it is the corporation they work for that makes their efforts have bad results.

It also explains why all major telcos and cellular service providers have lousy customer service. “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the telephone company.”

This view of corporate behaviour as psychopathic also illuminates why the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is so aggressively hunting down allegedly illegal music downloaders.

Tanya Anderson, a 42-year-old disabled single mother from Oregon, says she was contacted by RIAA’s Settlement Support Center, which acknowledged she was probably innocent, but advised she should settle because RIAA would proceed with a suit against her anyway, “to discourage others from attempting to defend themselves against unwarranted litigation.”

Now that we know why these companies act as they do, we can be more rational and less surprised when they do. The chance of any change in the way corporations behave is next to zero. Until then, forewarned is forearmed.

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