A People Awakening to the Nature of Corporate Culture
(Published by Access magazine in April 1999)
Most Americans assume that global corporations are a modern phenomenon. In fact, corporations much like those of today have been in the world for almost 600 years. Here's a brief survey of some of the most famous global corporations of the past:
1407 The Sovereign King Henry the Fourth of England chartered the “Company of Merchants and Adventurers”, ancestor of the East India Company, granting it monopoly control over exports of certain manufacturers
1553 The Crown chartered the Russian Company, granting it monopoly privilege over certain trade routes to Russia
1553 The Africa Company was chartered, given special privileges to pursue the slave trade
1557 The Spanish Company was chartered, given special privileges and monopolies to control the wine and olive oil trade with Spain and Portugal
1578 The Eastlund Company was chartered, given sole privilege to carry on trade with Scandinavian countries, and was also granted additional authority to make laws, impose fines, and imprison people
1581 The Levant Company was chartered, to trade with Turkey
1592 It merged with the Turkey Company and the Venice Company (in which Queen Elizabeth was a shareholder) to form the East India Company
1605 The East India Company was given a charter in perpetuity (the first one ever!) and given exclusive rights to trade in specified areas of Europe, East and West Asia, North and West Africa
Richard Grossman (co-director of the Program On Corporations, Law and Democracy) from which Democracy Unlimited has drawn much of its inspiration, has done research on this period of history. In a speech he gave in Berkeley two years ago, he generated the following list to describe what the purpose was of these and other global corporations of that time. Here are his words:
"Their mission was:
To buy cheap
To sell dear
To limit or prevent competition
To vacuum out resources
To display fierce violence, and to perpetuate violence to people, species, and places
To destroy existing cultures and social relationships
To replace independence with dependence
To eradicate people's sense of their own histories
To get people to internalize the corporation's values, myths, and world views
To create a class of bureaucrats and civil servants to serve their needs
To define people as subjects, objects, property, invisible, etc
To control all dispute resolution
To raise armies, navies, and wage war
To write laws and doctrines which legalized and institutionalized the corporation's
destructive and dominating acts
To enforce laws
To impose punishments including executions
In other words - to govern! To govern dictatorially. This was the nature of the corporate fiction."
It is remarkable to look at this list, and to realize how many of the items on it are still valid today to describe the MODERN global corporation. How do we Americans interact with the corporate culture which we currently live within? Paolo Freire, world famous Brazilian educator, coined the term "the unconscious oppressed" many years ago to describe the characteristics of a people who do not recognize the oppressive nature of their existence. Is it possible that we Americans are today a good example of the unconscious oppressed?
Richard Grossman analyzed Freire's theory, and came up with a list of examples of how the American people act as oppressed people:
"We adopt corporate values.
We aspire to be like the most respectable of the corporate leaders.
We model our civic, educational, and other institutions after the corporation.
We accept the dominance and authority of the corporation as just and appropriate, or as inevitable.
We concede to the corporation basic legal and cultural authority to define production, investment, and work; and to define basic values and concepts such as progress, sustainability, efficiency, productivity, justice, freedom, liberty, human rights, nature, property, peace, prosperity, public and private, and personhood.
We pursue our grievances within institutions crafted by corporations.
We allow corporations to educate and entertain our children.
We fear governing ourselves, and defining our own societies.
We do not know our own history.
We think and talk and strategize in the language of the corporate culture.
We confuse freedom with the maintenance of the status quo."
Paolo Freire also coined the term "the conscious oppressed" to describe a people who are becoming aware of the oppressive situation which they live within, and are beginning to transform that situation. From Freire's work, Richard Grossman assembled the following list of characteristics which he believes describes an increasing number of Americans today:
"We are uncovering and examining our own histories - most of them badly distorted
by the corporate culture.
We are relearning our languages and our cultures.
We are no longer permitting our communities to be treated as corporate fiefdoms.
We are joining together and no longer regarding corporations as abstract forces
created by some higher power, or allowing ourselves to be defined as mere
We are teaching ourselves through intentional dialogue and authentic action -
not merely to curb the worst excesses of the corporation, but to craft
resistance that is about taking power and legitimacy away from the corporation
and assuming the authority to govern ourselves.
We are aspiring to create institutions of self-governance, which are carefully
maintained by each of us acting accountably and responsibly to one another.
We are working together not to grovel for concessions, but to transform our world.
We are impatient and also patient."
Here in Arcata, California, due to the work of Democracy Unlimited, awareness has been growing for the past two years about this oppressive situation which most Americans now find ourselves in. And last November, our spin-off project, Citizens Concerned About Corporations (CCAC), won 58% of the Arcata vote on Measure F: The Arcata Advisory Initiative on Democracy and Corporations". To paraphrase Richard Grossman's words, the Measure F Steering Committee is impatient and also patient. We firmly believe that the process which is now unfolding here in Arcata is an extraordinary opportunity for citizens to come together, share our experiences of living in a corporate culture, and begin to design democratic processes for transforming our world here in the community we cherish. We encourage all local readers to attend the first Town Hall meeting on Democracy and Corporations which is scheduled for April 10th from 10 AM to 3 PM at the Arcata High School Multi-Purpose Room. We'll break at noon for lunch - please brown bag it. If you have questions or comments, or wish to volunteer or make a donation to CCAC, please phone us at 707-441-9913.