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the OTHER paper
Box 11376
Eugene, OR 97440
April, 1996

Corporate colonization of our minds

by Wanda Ballentine

"American society is disproportionately shaped by the outlooks, interests and aims of the business community, especially that of 'big business.' The sheer power of corporate capital is extraordinary. This power makes it difficult even to imagine what a free and democratic society would look like if there were public accountability mechanisms that alleviated the vast disparities in resources, wealth and income, owing in part to the vast influence of big business on the U.S. government and its legal institutions."

-- Cornell West, "The Role of Law in Progressive Politics," in
The Politics of Law 468, 468-469 (David Kairys ed. 1990).

This corporate power has emasculated American liberalism, claims Ward Morehouse, co-founder of the Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy (POCLAD). It has transformed America into a profoundly conservative culture which worships at the altar of "economic growth." Anyone questioning this sacred cow, which is -- by any definition -- unsustainable, is marginalized.

Partner Richard Grossman asserts that our language, and thus our way of thinking, has been "corporatized" by corporate hirelings trained to use language as "a manipulative, diversionary, coercive, and distortive mechanism." We act like the colonized people described by anthropologists, he said: "It's the best we can get; don't rock the boat; this is the way it's always been." This has created what Morehouse calls the "TINA" phenomenon -- the belief that "There Is No Alternative." It is this idea, the internal co-option by the corporate vision, that is the greatest obstacle to confronting corporate power, not the power itself. The challenge is to examine our relationship with corporations, to determine how we have been affected, and to free ourselves. What would it be like to be a free, self-governing people? What do we really want in a society?

Grossman suggests we start by expunging the following phrases from our vocabularies:

Self-governance/Corporate anthropologist, Jane Ann Morris, also with POCLAD, provided an overview of what self-governance entails and how this area has been colonized by corporations.

"The real learning," she said, "occurred after the book was written." She had chronicled what she thought was a unique event -- they had organized, followed the rules, done the research, testified (in three-minute testimonies on small points). Right clearly appeared to be on their side - and they lost. Instead, she found her story duplicated many times in many places across the country. The purpose of regulatory agencies is to determine how to grant a permit to build or mine or cut, not how to prevent it. The battles of Warner Creek, the Umpqua and Hyundai stand in testimony.

Corporate spokespeople speak out of both sides of their mouths regarding regulatory protections -- on the one hand, they assure us the laws are "more than sufficient" to protect workers, consumers and the environment; on the other, they rail at the restrictions and work constantly to undermine them. Morehouse reported that when a huge Formosa Plastics Corporation PVC facility was dumping highly toxic wastes into the Gulf of Mexico, and he contacted the EPA to demand action, officials admitted they knew what was happening, but informed him that "enforcement is discretionary."

From the OTHER paper, April, 1996, pg. 7, POB 11376, Eugene, OR 97440.
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