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SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE  April 2005

SCIENCE-FOR-THE-PEOPLE April 2005

Subject:

Yank shows rare insight into own system

From:

Robt Mann <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Science for the People Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 12 Apr 2005 20:38:13 +1300

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (348 lines)

To start your own free subscription to Rachel's,
send a blank Email to: [log in to unmask]
.
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH NEWS #812
http://www.rachel.org
Mar. 3, 2005
Published April 7, 2005

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^


Try This At Home

By Jane Anne Morris*



The Ambassador

It was Colombian Independence Day, so I suppose I should have
expected to bump into the U.S. ambassador in the mummy room of
the National Museum in Bogota.  What better way for the
ambassador to demonstrate her deep concern for the people of
Colombia and bone up on Colombian history?  Like the fact that
the National Museum building was originally designed to be the
perfect prison -- an application of the principles of
Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham's 1787 Panopticon.  From a single
vantage point, one unseen overseer could monitor all activities
of all prisoners, 24/7.  Significantly, Bentham noted that the
plan would work just as well for factories, schools,
poorhouses, and hospitals.

From 1905 until after World War II, "El Panoptico" was
Colombia's most fearsome prison.  The central surveillance point
was a round guard tower (now an airy rotunda sponsored by the
Siemens Corporation) with lines of sight radiating out toward
eyelid-shaped windows on three floors of tiny prison cells.  The
Panopticon -- like the junior high school intercom left on when
the teacher is out, like the invisible "cookie" behind your
computer screen -- is about hierarchy and control.  The system
requires fewer overseers with whips, because inmates do the
heavy mental lifting.  Shrouded in a wrap-around one-way mirror,
the prisoner (student, teacher, consumer, citizen) is shaped
more by the possibility of sanction than by its actual
presence.  Physical force stands down and waits on-call for
special occasions, while self-censorship takes over daily
operations.  Because it derives its power from the inmates'
internalization of the work of the watcher, the Panopticon
succeeds whether or not there's anyone in the guard tower.

In Colombia, almost-daily massacres and assassinations are
necessary to maintain corporate power, but in the United States
the Panopticon is functioning quite well -- it is most often
the little man in one's own head that makes people into
enthusiastic foot soldiers in the war against themselves.  We
live in a corporate-controlled Democracy Theme Park.  Popular
rides include the Regulatory Agency Roller Coaster and the
Voluntary Code of Conduct Mule Train.  The Reform Gallery
features Welfare Reform and Campaign Finance Reform.  In the
Constitutional Rights Hall of Fame, people can take part in
regular reenactments of famous battles.  The democracy theme
park even has its own museum, where other corporate power grabs
are reinterpreted as "peoples' victories."

Ambassador Patterson has a role to play in the U.S. democracy
theme park.  So on Independence Day, the ambassador goes not to
inspect helicopters used in the "War on Drugs," but through
downtown Bogota with its "Plan Colombia = guerra" graffiti to
the national museum to check out the props for the "War on
Democracy."  When not mummy-gazing, Anne Patterson, the U.S.
ambassador, is the on-site point person for stage-managing the
Colombia campaign, a critical testing ground for global
corporatization.  Her job is to transform a corporate resource-
grab of mind-boggling proportions and unsurpassed brutality
into a fairy tale with a "War on Drugs" theme song.  There will
be lots of heroic action against giant mutant coca plants and
cartoonlike bad guy "drug lords".  Patterson has lots to do.  She
has to deny that U.S. aid supports right-wing paramilitary
death squads.  She has to deny that U.S.-sponsored "coca
fumigations" are killing subsistence crops, domestic animals,
and people.  She has to deny a U.S. role in the provision of a
Colombian army escort for a U.S. corporation's illegal drilling
on indigenous lands. She has to deny U.S. complicity in the
methodical assassination of Colombian labor leaders by U.S.
soft drink corporation thugs. She also has to advertise and
promote numerous U.S.-backed social, health, and educational
programs whose primary existence is on billboards. And she has
to read and sometimes respond to letters, faxes, and e-mails
from pesky activists in the United States.


The Activist

Patterson is no busier than Sally, from Anytown, U.S.A. -- she's
"one of us" -- who keeps a diary of her activism.  Here
is the last week's worth:

On Monday, she stuffs envelopes for Save the Dolphins campaign,
and goes to a neighborhood meeting to discuss organic,
sustainable food.

On Tuesday, she does research for her regulatory agency
testimony to fight a local corporation's pollution permit; she
leaflets at a demonstration to support boycotting a brand of
gasoline.

By Wednesday it's time to work on Voluntary Code of Conduct
provisions for corporations, then have a meeting to decide
which "socially responsible" investments to recommend.  (Here
there's a note that the meeting broke up after an argument
between two factions.  One favored the corporation that hires
people of color and women to build nuclear power plants; the
other favored the corporation that's famous for union-busting
but builds fuel-efficient cars.)

Come Thursday, she sits down to write letters to state
legislators, urging broader disclosure laws for chemicals.  Then
there's that fax to Colombia urging the U.S. ambassador to
begin an investigation of the latest government-assisted
civilian massacre. In the evening she "persons" a literature
table at a panel discussion of unions and globalization.

On Friday there's a strategy meeting on helping the Community
Health Clinic stay open two days per week.  After that her group
tries to decide what to do about sweatshops and deregulation.

Saturday is money day. In the morning there's a bake sale to
pay lawyers to pursue regulatory agency and court appeals. In
the afternoon there's a 5K Run fund-raiser to pay fees, fines,
and lawyers to bail out banner-hangers from their last
demonstration.

It's Sunday as she looks over her diary, the day that she must
set priorities for the next week.  She can't possibly contribute
to all the causes that she cares about.  Should she skip the
dolphins and add social security?  Should she forget Colombia
and switch to Nigeria or East Timor?  Should she work on
radioactive waste storage and worker safety instead of campaign
finance reform and groundwater contamination?  Should she skip
the demos so she can spend more time in the library reading
about others going to demos?  Should she dress up as a mutant to
publicize pesticide use in public schools?

By this time it's late Sunday night.  Sally drifts off to sleep,
and has a dream:

        At a company picnic, two teams are playing a soccer game.
Sally's on a team made up of people from the neighborhood,
activists, and other concerned citizens; the other team is
sponsored by something called MegaCorporation.  Sally's team was
getting close to scoring, but then Mega tilted the field so
that the others had to run uphill.  Then Mega disqualified some
of Sally's teammates and declared that certain plays couldn't
be used.  But Sally and her friends kept playing harder and
almost scored again.  This time Mega stopped play and decreed
that Sally's team would have to play blindfolded.  Then they
bought off the referees.  Sally's team finally scored anyway but
the referees said the goal didn't count.

The next morning over coffee, Sally remembers her dream and
proceeds to interpret it:

The soccer game is how we're always fighting against Mega
Corporation.  When they tilt the field, that means that they
have a built-in advantage with more resources to use against
us, and tax-deductible expenses.  Disqualifying our players is
like when they sue us for writing letters to the editor, or
tell us that we don't have standing.  Banning certain plays is
like when they say we aren't allowed to bring up certain topics
or issues at hearings, or when our testimony is limited to two
minutes.  By withholding information -- like about what
chemicals they're using -- corporations force us to play
blindfolded. Buying off the referees is like when they grant
favors to politicians, make campaign contributions, and use
their political power to influence regulatory agencies and
courts.  When we score a goal but it doesn't count, that's like
when suddenly a corporation is granted exemptions and variances
from existing law.  Or when a federal court throws out as
unconstitutional a local law that we've worked for years to
pass.


The Corporations

There is quite obviously a fundamental asymmetry between
activist strategy and corporate strategy. We activists dress up
as corporate executives to get into meetings and buildings, and
as animals to get media coverage.  When was the last time a
corporate executive dressed up as an Earth First!  member or a
turtle or an U'wa to get attention for themselves?  While we are
stuffing envelopes, writing letters to our "representatives,"
and talking to twelve people at a time in living rooms,
corporate executives are writing laws and buying television
stations.

While the community response is to play harder -- to try for
bigger demonstrations at the Capitol, more letters to elected
officials, more experts at the hearings -- the corporate
response is to simply change the ground rules.  With
increasingly unfair ground rules, no matter how hard we play,
we won't ever score, or we won't score enough to matter.  And
corporate ground rules are not intended so much to affect a
particular issue -- though they do that -- as to frustrate and
dilute people's efforts over a broad range of issues.

People's efforts usually apply to only one issue at a time.
Even if we share common values and care about many of the same
issues, we are inevitably rivals structurally.  Like Sally, we
find that if we have spent our efforts trying to save the
dolphins or promote sustainable agriculture, we have fewer
resources and less time left to work on toxic cleanups or
prisoners' rights.  This same fragmentation is evident at
conferences, where after an opening keynote speech, attendees
fan off into an almost endless array of particularized
workshops and panel discussions.  How to stop one corporation
from using one chemical.  How to get communities to recycle one
type of container.  How to get one framed political prisoner out
of jail.  This isn't what corporate strategy looks like.

Corporate strategy is to change the ground rules for all --
labor organizers, human rights workers, toxics campaigners,
everybody.  A corporation doesn't have a separate team of
lawyers, experts, lobbyists, and public relations persons for
each of the thousands of chemicals dumped into the environment.
Or for each separate labor law violation.  Or for each state, or
each voluntary code of conduct, or each chamber of commerce.
Most of what corporate strategists do works across the board:
it helps the particular corporation in many areas, and, it
makes corporations in general more powerful. This is what
working on ground rules does for you.

As a result of this difference in strategy, where people's
efforts are subtractive and divisive, corporation efforts are
cumulative and synergistic. A score or victory for one
corporation helps all corporations, but our work on one issue
or campaign takes resources from others. In the soccer game
analogy, we're exhausting ourselves struggling uphill trying to
score a goal, and they're tilting the field. What we have
termed ground rules amounts to no less than the political
process, the assumptions and understandings that in a democracy
are supposed to result in self-governance by the people. The
democracy theme park has obscured both the current ground rules
and "who" is using and writing them. This "who" is not "The
Corporation" because the corporation is not a who at all.
People say "Monsanto did this" and "Philip Morris did that"
with the casualness and familiarity you'd expect when
describing an errant uncle with a hip flask. The more accurate
term for the abstract legal fiction is Monsanto Corporation or
Philip Morris Corporation. But corporations don't really do
anything. The things that get done in the name of the
corporation are done by people. Corporate executives make
corporate policy, award each other golden parachutes, and hire
lawyers to manage lawsuits and regulatory agency matters. They
extract wealth from the work of others, call this the
corporation's wealth, then use it to externalize costs onto
society and the earth while funneling profits to a tiny group.

Business corporations in their current form -- as vehicles for
the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of an elite
-- are incompatible with democracy.[1] That's why they are so
popular with an elite whose status depends on ensuring that
democratic processes don't happen. A corporation is the most
recent and most successful effort to do all the things that
elites hoped the Panopticon would do: preserve elite power.
Corporate executives make decisions and manage the money, while
workers follow orders (on pain of losing their livelihoods) and
add value. The "corporation" is a legal fiction to hold money
and power for a few; it gives them access to "corporate"
resources and shields them from responsibility for their
actions. But, finally, a corporation is not a sentient being,
not a conscious actor, not a target, not a "citizen." It cannot
be "punished" or negotiated with. It can't be "socially
responsible," or have an opinion on global warming. It can't
have "rights." If people believe it can do any of these things,
then the corporation succeeds as a decoy to confuse issues and
take the flak for an elite. But the corporation can still be
deconstructed, and not a moment too soon. [To be concluded next
time.]

===================

* Jane Anne Morris is a corporate anthropologist who lives in
Madison, Wisconsin.  She is the author of Not in My Backyard:
The Handbook, available at America's biggest unionized book
store, Powell's
(http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-0962494577-3),
and she is a member of POCLAD, the program on Corporations, Law
and Democracy (http://www.poclad.org/).  Some of her work has
appeared previously in Rachel's (#488, #489, #502, and #806),
available at http://www.rachel.org.  This essay originally
appeared in David Solnit, editor, Globalize Liberation (San
Francisco: City Lights Books, 2004, pgs. 73-86.

[1] In current U.S. law, the term "corporation" encompasses
municipal corporations, for-profit corporations, and many kinds
of nonprofit corporations (including trade industry groups and
educational and religious corporations).  A century and a half
ago in the United States, the form that the "business
corporation" took would be nearly unrecognizable today. In some
cases, for example, stockholders did not have "limited
liability" as we know it today.


^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

RACHEL'S ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH NEWS
Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160
New Brunswick, N.J. 08903
Fax (732) 791-4603;
E-mail: [log in to unmask]

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consider "fair use" in your own case. --Peter Montague, editor

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

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