Thursday, April 5, 2007

iWaste and MyCorp: The Corporate Cult of Anti-Sustainability

We have a new banner quote up, and I offered a clue on it in Tuesday's post. The only other hint I'll add is that it's from a book published 40 years ago. Amazing, isn't it? Doesn't it seem like it might have been something from a recent bio-piece on Bush, Cheney, or Rumsfeld? We'll have more about it on Friday.

Amnesty International is having a membership drive this month. I'm a member, and I encourage anyone who longs for some greater measure of peace and justice on this planet to join now. Why now? Here's AI's explanation, from Larry Cox, the Exec. Director of AIUSA:

It's astonishing how dramatically and quickly things have changed. Our America - once a beacon to the world and the standard bearer for human rights - is now a major perpetrator of human rights abuses.

Take a moment to read that sentence again - and let it sink in.

Ten years ago, if you had told me what was down the road, I would have shrugged in disbelief. But today, Amnesty needs committed human rights defenders like you more than ever.

Next, a follow up to our Geek Wednesday piece yesterday, in which I bashed Apple again over the iPod, which I think is in the same class of dysfunctionality as MS Windows. In an article in Mother Jones, Giles Slade details the cult of disposability that has grown around the iPod and its product ilk, and the threat this poses to our planet.

Yes, the secret is out. After 13 months of heavy use, the lithium-ion battery of the iPod can lose more than half of its functionality. You'll find that even though you recharge more often, your iPod can fade out by the end of a long day. Simply put, even though an iPod can cost you $350, these digital music players are designed to be disposable.

Perhaps even more simply put, we are a culture that has forgotten how to make music; we only know how to consume it. In the piece that follows, I've tried to indicate some of the forces behind that mistake, so that we can the more easily and quickly clear them out of ourselves.

MyCorp: Corporate America and the Pandering of Ambivalence

Healing is, by definition, transformation: something new, fresh, and regenerative grows to replace death, malignant division, and corruption. What is true of bodily cells is also true of institutions like government and corporations.

Immediately after 9/11, corporate America (like the government) had a golden opportunity to make some internal changes that would naturally become manifest in a global transformation of its values and behavior. These changes could have moved our society forward in a quantum leap of growth and well-being for all. In other words, they could have helped us all to heal, by beginning the work of healing themselves.

But instead, the cry went out—from politicians, corporate leaders, and an answering chorus of media pundits—for a return to "normalcy." By this was meant, "let's all hit the switch of our treadmill and get back to the round of accumulation and denial." The politicians brazenly ordered us to go shopping; the investors cried for an ideologically contrived bull market; the corporate kingpins and the media cheerleaders urged us to get back to work, just as we had done before.

It was, in short, a return to the same old grind. No changes were made to the structure of the workday; the sardine commute in big cities; the herd mentality of indentured servitude and consumption (conspicuous or otherwise); or the general cult of conformity. The only clear changes visible were an increased militarization of the corporate workplace, again particularly in urban areas. We saw several obvious signs of purely outer change, viz:

◆ There was ramped-up security: barriers, guards, cameras, fences, dogs, and other marks of institutional vigilance sprang up around our workplaces.
◆ There were "forced troop movements" among the workforce in America. Many workers were made to relocate or transfer to new offices, often in more remote areas that provided significant financial savings for the corporation. Needless to say, none of this money was ever shared with the inconvenienced workers.
◆ Also in the name of security, more invasive protocols for worker identification were speedily executed (it was almost as if they had been on the drawing board for some time already). Fingerprinting, face recognition technology, and vigilantly granular background checks, complete with urine drug testing, were forced upon both current and new workers in corporate America.

Lots of changes: a re-ordering of the furniture, the cubicles, of our working nation; but not the slightest evidence of a transformation of principle, a fundamental change of attitude. Everything that was done was a superficial, defensive response that, far from bringing anyone a feeling of protection, actually elevated the anxiety level of all. This, after all, was not a "return to normalcy"; it was the introduction of a police state, with a focus on the American workplace.

Meanwhile, the marketing division of corporate America realized that, in the midst of this iron descent of rigid uniformity and hypervigilance, there must be some positive reinforcement offered to a confused and alarmed populace. So they brought us an ingenious advertising campaign devoted to the person in the context of his place within the group. This was necessary to make us feel better about ourselves, and to give us some superficial sense of our individuality even amid the oppressive lockstep march of forced conformity. They invented a new consumer cult of "My": My Points, My Bank, My Card, My News, My Team, and, of course, myspace.

This, of course, has absolutely nothing to do with the individual; it does not speak to each person's true self, but rather to a group self: the pebble in the concrete block. The campaign is the corporate marketing department's grudging nod to individuality, even as it promotes and enriches the Corporate Person. Thus, the various financial incentives offered as "my" rewards/points/cards/etc. are in truth created to further a culture of consumption beyond both need and means. The information that is delivered as "my" news/weather/sports/sites/etc. is really a spin-washed veneer of pabulum.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we remain trapped inside thickening cages of accumulation, beneath a revolving, gleaming white monument of debt. Nor should it shock us that, years after 9/11 and the beginning of the Iraq War, significant percentages of Americans still believed that Iraqis had committed the atrocities of 9/11 and that Osama bin Laden was an intimate ally of Saddam Hussein's: this is what the cult of "my news" had fed them. This vein of the info-advertising culture has seeped into the very buildings of corporate America, in the form of the news screens visible in many elevators—the muzak of the information age.

Meanwhile, is an artificially personalized web portal that beckons to youth at its main entrance, even as it opens its back door wide to sexual predators, pornographers, and the other corporately-approved agents of consumption and titillation. Believe me, if there were a true will on the part of myspace to stop this infection of our teens, the technology is there; it could have been easily done. But where would be the profit in that?

So is it time to resort to further government regulation of such sites? Will that solve the problem, or simply redirect the energies of the poison-pushers into other avenues of infestation? Before we answer, we should be clear about the dilemma that our corporate culture has forced upon our children.

Most kids are taught principles of frugality and thrift from an early age: a penny saved...waste not...and the like. As they grow, however, they are welcomed into the culture of consumption: more is better, bigger is better, the more you get, the more you save. To have a "mycard" or "mypoints" is to have a "mylife." And who would want to miss out on life?

Or again: kids are taught principles of moderation, restraint, and even some measure of contempt for their bodies and bodily functions; and then they are fed into the cult of the extreme, the self-indulgent, even the perverse, by our advertising-rich media. If your sports and games aren't "extreme" (as in extremely dangerous), then you're a wimp; if you aren't covered with the chemical body-washes, toxic makeup, tattoos, and garish, faux-ghetto clothing that is all over the TV and myspace, then you just don't get it, you're lame.

If you are sensing a forced ambivalence here, a conflict-by-design, then you have arrived at the black heart that beats within the corporate troll; the fuel that runs the massive machinery of corporate America. This is the heart we have to cut out of ourselves; the force we must reject; this is what we have to deprogram from within ourselves, as true individuals. In a future piece, I will offer some suggestions on how this may be done; but the real answer lies, already formed and waiting, within yourself.

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