Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There Is Freedom of Speech

Quote of the week:

“How’s your boy?” asked Mr. Bush.
“I’d like to get them out of Iraq, Mr. President,” replied Mr. Webb, whose son, a Marine lance corporal, is risking his life in Mr. Bush’s war of choice.
“That’s not what I asked you,” the president snapped. “How’s your boy?”
“That’s between me and my boy, Mr. President,”

That's an exchange between the new Senator from Virginia, James Webb, and the leader of the free world, excerpted from Paul Krugman's Monday column in the Times. It's certainly representative of the nasty, mean-spirited arrogance that we have noted in this Bush administration time and again here. I also hope it's representative of the character of the 110th Congress to come. Mr. Webb, I think the people of Virginia made a very, very wise choice.

More cause for muted celebration (muted, that is, while we await hearing who's next): Bolton is out. Bush and Co., of course, blame it all on the Democrats, though the opposition to Bolton was led in part by a GOP Senator, Lincoln Chaffee. I call this response a "mind-jerk reaction." Knees, of course, are made to bend; but the Bushian mind is made from reinforced concrete: as Stephen Colbert has observed of him, on Wednesday he will spit the same rhetorical spin as he spat on Monday, no matter what happened on Tuesday.

It is a recognizably corporate habit of perseveration: you have your Message, which is inscribed as indelibly and immutably as the Ten Commandments themselves, and no force of events or public opinion will change the Message (unless, of course, there is sufficient profit to be made from the revision). The Message appears in identical form across every public relations and advertising venue available to the corporation, and all that P.R. isn't cheap. Any refutation or disavowal of the Message, the Plan, and its proven value proposition, will meet with the same bitter and infantile reaction that Bush delivered to the media on the occasion of the Bolton resignation.

So it's not merely that corporations have, as Terry McKenna pointed out last week, bought the government; they have also infected it with their own peculiar model of fear-based conformity. Believe and repeat, and you will be retained, maybe even rewarded. Question or criticize the corporate Message, though, and you will be fired, ostracized, browbeaten, or otherwise punished. That's the way it works.

Well, maybe those are realities of work and politics that we just have to accept. But it goes further than that—in fact, it goes right into our daily lives, even into our family, personal, and individual psychological lives. Yes, I'm saying that the game of corporate conformity actually gets inside our minds, whenever we allow it to.

As Terry suggested last week, it derives from our false use of language. Whatever is wrapped in the stiff forms of corporate verbiage infects our relationships—our professional and personal relationships, and even our relationship with ourselves; the interactions amid the diverse functions of the personality.

It is, I suspect, a pervasive danger of our time. Later this week, we'll also hear from the author of our banner quote, who was delivering a similar warning some 50 years ago. Until then, I would merely ask you to just pause to consider how the corporate model of conformity and intimidation may have seeped into your life, into your relationships, into your mind. There are, incidentally, some very effective ways of getting it out, which we will discuss in future posts.

As for the government, we are very familiar with the currently prevailing delusion: dissent is an alliance with the terrorists; departure from the Message is "stubborn obstructionism" (Bush's characterization of those who thought Bolton was not the greatest choice for an Ambassador); and the slightest departure from the FOX News script of mute conformity is treason. To reverse that trend, we will have to be involved: one place to start is with UFPJ's Voters for Peace Pledge (see the graphic in the sidebar). There are petitions, call-in events, and local campaigns all across the nation and the world wide web: here's one.

We will also need more of our new and existing members of Congress to speak out as James Webb did—clearly, adamantly, and straight into the face of Power.


Dr. Hulbeck said...

The exchange between Bush and Webb is highly revealing -- only a very thin-skinned President would forget his diplomatic reflexes so easily. (Though granted that was never his strong point.) It's easy to imagine a hundred different responses that a leader could have made that wouldn't have come off sounding so childish and cranky. Either he's much more vulnerable than even we suspect, or much, much stupider -- either way, an iron hot enough for the new Congress to strike.

--Dr. Hulbeck

Miss Bitty said...

How timely this discussion of the dangerous creep of corporatization into our lives and government.

The company that I work for merged last year with several other companies who do what we do and formed an ESOP. Ostensibly a good thing, (it's 100% employee-owned and highly regulated by the IRS, so it's not like an Enron-type arrangement) but in this year, I've seen the swift change from our entrepreneurial company culture that never took itself too seriously, to the institutionalization of a consumptive corporate culture and its increasing demands on the lives of those of us who work there.

The loss of our company's identity was one of my biggest fears while the president and I worked on the merger, and he tasked me with helping to preserve the unique company outlook and philosophy that had made it such a terrific place to work. But in only a year, I'm increasingly expected to sacrifice greater parts of my life to this company and to ask the same of my employees/co-workers, to represent the company at all times, to preach the gospel of what we do and who we are. I feel like I'm in "Shaun of the Dead", that I went to sleep one night and woke up to find myself surrounded by zombies and all of them looking to turn me into one of them.

A year ago, my attitude was the prevalent one. We scoffed at any intimation that we would need to devote more of ourselves to this soulless entity. We had built our success -- and thus our attractiveness to be invited into the merge -- by doing precisely the opposite and encouraging everyone who worked there to keep their lives and family and activities as a priority, that we expected 100% when they were at work, but never to put work before life. The president of the company had earned the devotion and loyalty of those of us who worked there in prior years with his very simple philosophy that we work to live, not live to work.

And we're suffering for that change, though it never gets taken into account in the (now daily) meetings with corporate...only the drive to the bottom line and results and expansion matters now.

I knew I had to get out when, during our October meeting for the new ESOP in which we were regaled with the ambitious plans for growth of the merged company and expansion into new markets, the CEO of the ESOP said that he just learned a new quote that was now his new motto: "All capitalists are monopolists at heart." Chilling, no? For two reason, in my view: 1) that a man who has a Master's in business apparently never took an Econ 101 class, where he would've learned that quote before he was 45; and 2) that he actually adopted it as a philosophy worth following.

He said it with a grin and to much applause from my coworkers, but I immediately had visions of a wave of locusts invading fields and consuming everything in sight, then moving on to do it again and again and again. And then I was struck by how this image can be applied to so much of business in our country, to the consumerism we're taught from infancy, to the way we use and discard Nature, the way we steamroll our way through other countries and wars and economies.

Such reckless, destructive folly.

-- Miss Bitty