In the past I’ve described corporations as demons. The comparison is an extension of the Jewish myth of the golem. The golem was a manmade monster created to help out the man with various tasks. Sometimes the golem performs atrocious acts of war, some tales simply have him helping out like a robot around the house. Regardless of the interpretation, the golem always ends up turning on the man and ruining his life or killing him. This myth is instructive in that it demonstrates how our creations end up controlling us.
I extended the metaphor by calling corporations demons. This metaphor plays on the ceremonial magicians who summon demons from the Aether to do their bidding. This generally goes poorly and the magician ends up dead, possessed, or worse. Same basic plot structure.
Corporations are similar to golems and demons in that we create them to provide a service to mankind. That’s the most basic definition of business I can give you. Companies exist to provide goods and services. In most cases, these goods and services are exchanged for money. As the company grows so, too, do the demands of the company. At first the startup was a side project. Then users started to demand more of it. In order to meet these demands the owner spends more time and money on the company. Pretty soon the owner quits his job and focuses full time on the company. After a while the company is too much for one man and now he has a staff of workers assisting with the needs of the company. Over time, the company shifts from a valuable service providing a solution for clients’ problems into a living entity requiring time, care, and attention. The company’s needs grow in order to serve itself.
The largest companies, like Comcast, go one step further and actively change the landscape to preclude competition. No company wants to compete for limited resources, so they purchase influence with legislators and stack the regulatory landscape in their favor. The company will seek to skirt around antitrust laws. The company will find loopholes for environmental regulations. The company does not do this in order to provide better services to its clients; rather, it does so because these actions better serve the needs of the company.
The largest companies take human time, energy, and talent for years on end. Then, when they’re done with you, they unceremoniously dump you back into the general population. You’re left to fend for yourself without so much as a pension (in most modern companies.) The workers are disregarded. The clients are not a factor. Big companies serve only themselves. They suck the best out of us in order to feed their infinite desires.
While hyperbolic and incendiary, this extended metaphor holds up pretty well for the majority of the Fortune 500. I’ve since determined that this metaphor may be incomplete. While it’s certainly true that a great majority of the United States’ citizens work as wage slaves for various companies, the truth is that this slavery is illusory. Corporations serve themselves in the same way as governments, nation-states, religions, and other bureaucratic entities. There is nothing uniquely evil about corporations. The evil, if there is such a thing, stems from society’s willingness to enslave itself to the material world.
Corporations are not demons. They are not evil. They are illusory. Fundamentally, they’re legal fictions created for a variety of business purposes. That doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily a force for good in our society. Rather, they’re agnostic creations of our imagination to which we willingly enslave ourselves.
Stay tuned for our next post where we unpack corporate personhood.