Sunday, February 3, 2013

Death by Corporation

I have recently been thinking about how so many of the world's most serious problems today are either caused or made worse by the powerful business entities known as corporations. It is not just that large corporations engage in practices and sell products that may be harmful in various ways. It is also the case that such corporations are also able and willing to use their considerable economic power, media presence and political clout to block or confuse any efforts to address serious problems from global warming to childhood obesity to gun violence, to name just a few.

Global warming. It is a serious threat to humanity's future. Warmer temperatures are causing more and more extreme weather with damaging, even lethal consequences, with the "superstorm" Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the USA in October of 2012 and the raging fires caused by excessive heat and drought in the New South Wales region of Australia in January of 2013 as two recent examples of the environmental juggernaut that is bearing down on us. In the judgment of most scientific authorities, we have to alter our patterns of energy consumption, in particular our dependence on carbon-based fossil fuels like oil, coal and natural gas, in order to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases that are building up in the atmosphere and triggering a warming of the climate that is in turn warming the ocean waters, that in turn cause more warmth and moisture to rise into the atmosphere and produce the storms, droughts and other weather effects causing increasing damage to life, land and property. However, the carbon fuel industries have poured money into an intensive media campaign, particularly prominent on right-wing news outlets like FOX News but also finding its way to other media channels as well, to discredit the very idea of global warming or climate change, convincing a good many Americans, and no doubt others elsewhere, that either global warming is a kind of scientific hoax, or, that there is no clear proof that it is the result of human activity,and no proof that human activity can halt it. Therefore, it would be foolish to undertake actions such as reducing the burning of fossil fuels, since such actions would be disruptive to the world economy without any certain environmental benefit. This has confused many people into a state of apathy. The Victors: corporations that profit from fossil fuel production and consumption. The Losers: all of us who want the planet to remain livable. The reason: the incredible hunger for profit that blots out all other concerns and values is proving capable of drowning out the world's scientists and visionary leaders concerned about the future.

Childhood obesity. This is an increasingly common condition in the USA and is growing in the UK and elsewhere too. It is not just that young people are becoming more massive in their size. They are also manifesting diseases such as diabetes that threaten their health and longevity. Scientists are not clear on all the causes for this situation, and there may well be many from lack of exercise due to more sedentary lifestyles and pastimes to the ingestion of growth hormones given to farm animals and ending up in American food to overeating of "junk food" filled with fat, carbohydrates, salt, sugar and/or corn syrup, and chemicals that add appealing color and addictive taste. No one objects to the government encouraging young people to exercise more, such as First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, but when Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of NYC, made an effort to restrict the bottle and/or serving size of sugary drinks such as soda, there was a huge outcry from the soda and beverage industry,and a media campaign accusing the mayor of robbing Americans of their "freedom," presumably the all-important freedom to eat and drink non-nutritious foods and beverages and develop heart disease and diabetes. Once again, corporate greed attempts to override human interests.

Gun violence. As I have addressed this recently, I will not rehash the whole discussion, but just focus on the corporate profit dimension. Guns and gun-related paraphernalia are big business in the USA, highly profitable indeed. The main pro-gun lobbying organization, the NRA, is largely funded by gun manufacturers. With so much money at stake, the purveyors and manufacturers of guns are definitely not going to let a mere public outcry by the majority of the people of the nation over problems of gun violence get in the way of the profits that their stockholders feast upon. And once again, we find a sophisticated media campaign funded by gun manufacturers and amplified by right-wing media that any reduction or restriction of guns in America is an assault on fundamental freedoms and evidence of a totalitarian government in the making that is best resisted by --you guessed it-- guns. So go out now, all you freedom-loving folk, and prepare for war against the big bad government that thinks of nothing else but how to oppress and enslave you. I keep wondering when someone will start championing the right to bear nuclear arms. If possessing personal weapons without restriction of ANY sort is so important, then why not allow patriotic Americans to have their own nuclear bombs and missile launch systems? Wouldn't that be the ultimate demonstration of the most important American "freedom?"

The defense of the "right" to eat and drink unhealthy foods and the "right" to own and use a limitless number of guns is almost identical to the way that tobacco companies used to champion the "right" to smoke. The skillful effort to confuse and discredit the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming/climate change is a planet-threatening problem RIGHT NOW is also reminiscent of how the tobacco companies argued for decades that there was no good scientific evidence that smoking was harmful to human health, even though the companies themselves had done their own research proving that point!

We cannot trust corporations to watch out for our health or the future well-being of our planet. Corporations just want us to buy buy buy whatever crap they are producing, no matter what the cost to health, to society, to the environment,and they will do everything in their power to prevent anyone from interfering with their business activities. As a college teacher, I am sad to see how many of my students seem to believe that the American style corporate economy, the so-called "free enterprise/free market" system, is not only the best economic system, but indeed the ONLY one that is possible. This is the result of the past 30 years of American politics in which the Reaganite vision of government-BAD, businessmen-GOOD; regulations-BAD, profits-GOOD; compassion for others-STUPID, selfishness and individualism-SMART has been dominant. For the sake of the planet and ourselves, I pray that this paradigm is now losing its allure and that we will be able to have a different kind of conversation about such issues as mentioned above. One thing is for sure, every step of the way, powerful corporations will fight like hell to prevent any changes that might deprive them of their all-important profits. They do not care about the future, so we are going to have to care twice as hard.

In Snorri Sturluson's version of the myth of Baldur, his death causes widespread sadness, and his mother lets it be known that if all beings will weep for him and show their love, he will be returned to life. The whole range of living beings are ready to cooperate, but only one creature refuses, a female giant that is actually the mischievous god Loki in disguise. She says, "Let Hel (death) keep what she has...I will not weep for Odin's son!" This is the kind of hard-heartedness that we can expect from the giant corporations of our day. When we tell them the children are being killed by an oversupply of dangerous weapons and unhealthy food, that the oceans are rising and destructive storms are washing away our shores and threatening our cities, and when we urge them that we have to change the way they do business so that future generations can walk on the earth in safety and enjoy the light of the sun, the blue of the sky and the greenness of the earth, they are not going to want to listen. We have to keep at it until they do. Today's corporations are caught in a web of evil that they have spun for themselves, but the corporations are at bottom human institutions, and we must strive to reawaken that glimmer of humanity that still exists somewhere inside the armies of lawyers, the billion dollar marketing teams, the disinformation campaigns, the corporate boardrooms obsessed with financial figures.

Above all, we have to reject the idea that profits are all that matter. People are more important than profits. Nature is more important than profits. The well-being of us all and our planet is more important than profits. We need new economic arrangements that honor our deepest, most sustaining and inspiring values and reject the false idols of narrow-minded greed and profit. We need to revisit the very idea of what corporations are for, who they should serve, and whether they should bear more responsibility to society and nature in a broader sense, and not just be answerable to their shareholders and the stock market.

As a Pagan, I can easily relate this to the Pagan love of nature, but there is in fact no religion I know of that tells people they should seek to destroy each other and all in nature for the sake of gold and greed.

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