International Man of Dignity, anthropologist, and socio-economic researcher / commentator.
The first stop in my more detailed research was the involvement of what I call runaway Corporations (see The New Mutants).
In essence, corporations have been getting away with more and more since the industrial revolution, but this increased exponentially with the advent of the two World Wars. Much of the groundwork for corporate dominance and stupefying individual wealth for major shareholders was set during the First World War. In time of war, national governments borrow hugely - as much as they can possibly get away with - from private interest-charging banks and the bulk of it is heaved into the production of armaments. Armaments - from bullets to tanks and warships - are usually massively expensive but also have (ideal from the supplier point of view) a very short life expectancy. So while the majority of male humans were being thrown into horrific meat-grinder battles, the corporations and their major shareholders were enjoying profits and interest payments on a scale hitherto unimaginable.
The other factor in this runaway tendency is that corporate leaders and their major shareholders tend to have another advantage over the bulk of humanity.
They have reduced capacity for empathy.
Many of the men who gravitate towards the top of corporations and towards massive returns on capital get there by virtue of having a dysfunctional part of the brain called the amygdala.
A truly successful corporation must often turn a blind eye to the unhappy side effects of their activities on fellow humans. This is best achieved by having people in leadership positions who are themselves undeterred by such side effects, so it becomes inevitable that such people rise to the top of such organisations. The humans best hard-wired for not caring are those with dysfunctional amygdalae – roughly speaking, about 3% of the base human population but rising to much higher proportions in the upper levels of corporations. In modern psychoanalytical terms, people with sufficiently dysfunctional amygdalae are diagnosed/classified as psycho or sociopaths.
As touched upon above, these people are “hard wired”. That is to say, they are born with the defect. It is not a curable condition. There are different degrees of dysfunctional amygdala, but whatever the degree, if you’re born with it, you’re stuck with it. It can’t be cured, but it can be managed - if the afflicted individual wishes to try to manage it. But why would anyone with low or zero levels of empathy wish to do that?
These are the people to whom, by virtue of their rise to the top of these non-empathetic organisations, we’ve entrusted virtually everything – including the introduction of genetic modification and now, artificial intelligence. Even the management of scientific research is now largely in the hands of corporations. Universities used to be much more attuned to empathetic values and were less driven by “the bottom line”. While they were driving research, the fields were wide open and the sharing of discoveries and knowledge was as instantaneous as possible. Now those universities have research departments funded almost entirely by corporations and empathetic values, not least the sharing of knowledge, have had to take a back seat.
Fully functioning amygdalae were instrumental to our success as a species. From the caves to the cities, our ability to imagine what fellow humans might be thinking or feeling is what allowed us to gather in ever larger groups and develop more and more refined communication skills. It wasn’t just about hunting and gathering skills. It’s thought that one of the reasons the Neanderthals declined was because they couldn’t function well in groups of more than about a dozen. The Cro Magnons seemed to have had more highly developed amygdalae and were able to create larger and larger settlements and accommodate more and more specialised activities (activities not directly connected with hunting or gathering).
Corporate “values” - ie maximum return on capital investment in the shortest possible period of time - are now being allowed to set the agenda for humanity. The obvious projection, assuming the planet isn’t destroyed in the process, is that the amygdala, having served its purpose, will slowly die out of the human evolutionary path. The psycho/sociopaths will become the dominant subspecies and the empathisers will become the forlorn 3%.
Perhaps this is an inevitable aspect of human evolution - the evolution of consciousness. Perhaps this is a “good thing” in terms of the ultimate purpose we may eventually discover we are meant to serve. But I doubt it. The idea of us slowly expanding into the near universe with corporate values at our collective heart is too cold to contemplate for an empathiser. And as an empathiser, I feel it is my duty, as I feel it should be the duty of all empathisers, to resist this slide towards indifference and psychopathy.
A Canadian documentary directed by Mark Achbar/Jennifer Abbott and based on the book by Joel Bakan.
Corporations are "legal persons" today who have as their primary obligation to their shareholders a duty to generate profit - over and above any other outcome. For this reason, they have no interest in safeguarding the well-being of workers or host community or natural environment or anything else. The documentary explains this phenomenon and illustrates it with various examples, which include, among other things:
- the exploitation of labour, especially in Central American countries, brought to light by the investigations of the American National Labour Committee;
- the synthesis and dissemination of chemicals that are hazardous to health, such as DDT and Agent Orange, produced by Monsanto and used in Vietnam by the US military;
- the administering to cows of a hormone (Monsanto's rBGH, also called rBST or Posilac). This substance, considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), was supposed to increase milk production, but instead resulted in cases of mastitis (inflammation of the udder) in cows, which in turn resulted in bacterial infection of the milk. A Fox News program should have mentioned it, but Monsanto, with the support of Fox itself, censored it;
- the pollution of factories and farms;
- the trial conducted by General Electric against the US Patent Office, which refused to patent a genetically modified bacterium . Before this process it was not possible to patent living beings, but after GE's victory, this rule was changed and now the ban applies only to modifications of human species;
- the privatization of public properties and services, including the water services of a Bolivian city (Cochabamba ) which presented the opportunity for corporations to distribute water in exchange for a quarter of the citizens' income. The population rebelled, there were clashes that resulted in numerous injuries and one death;
- the collusion between corporations and dictatorial regimes, most notably between American corporations and the Nazis.
And of course we've been warned for decades about the horrendously extravagant use of anti-biotics in animal agribusiness. As fast as they pumped huge amounts into livestock, so the viruses mutated. Warnings were rife about how this could leave us defenceless in the face of a human pandemic. But profits for shareholders and bonuses for executives were deemed far more important by anybody with any access to effecting change, and now, as usual, we're all paying the price.
Banks & banksterism
And let us not forget that Banks are corporations, and that successful banksters, like other successful corporate leaders, require low levels of empathy. All of the above applies to banking corporations just as much, if not more, as to oil or pharma or IT or armaments corporations.
It is important to recognise that most of modern banking is now no more nor less than gambling. And that while the gambles are winning, proceeds accrue to the banks and their major shareholders, but that when the gambles are losing, it is we the taxpayers who are inevitably called upon to absorb the losses. If you are a bankster with a dysfunctional amygdala, you won’t find this troubling at all.
Increasing numbers of historians and economists are recognising that many of the “boom and bust” cycles experienced in western economies are artificially generated by gambling banksters. It’s also true that, just as in actual wars triggered by other corporate entities, bust cycles, once triggered, are very difficult to control. Clever heads of banks can coordinate crashes, but will quickly run to central governments once they’ve well and truly lost control.
And why do they have such a sympathetic ear when they run to central government? Well, in part because they’re “too big to fail”. Entities of a certain size will inevitably bring down other entities, creating a domino effect ripping through the host economy. But also, if “too big to fail” isn’t argument enough, banking and other corporates now invest heavily in politicians. Modern idiot politicians can be bought and sold like never before, and even bumped into the highest possible offices. All the corporates have to say is: “Sign this and we’ll fund your next electoral campaign. Heck, just relax and we’ll even draft the legislation for you.”
Some sexy bankster-speak
“Mergers and acquisitions”. It sounds great doesn’t it? But what is actually achieved through these? They are themselves gambles of course, and the scale of gambling in which the chief execs and major shareholders can indulge is exponentially enlarged - as is the scale of the damage they can do to the economy generally. And as is the scale of the bail out often required from us when they go wrong. So stability isn’t guaranteed. “Economies of scale”? That usually means cutting supply side and labour costs. So small supplier businesses lose even more bargaining power with the combined colossus and people lose jobs up and down the line. As these are the only people buying locally, this translates into lower local spending - meaning emptier high streets, depressed local economies, and higher social welfare costs. There is rarely new investment in mergers and acquisitions and all the “cost cutting” surplus is usually translated into higher dividends for shareholders and bigger bonuses for chief execs. So where is the added value? Well, for the most part, it’s off-shore.
“Futures” and “derivatives”. Sounds so knowledgeable and optimistic. But it’s only enhanced gambling. Instead of gambling on a simple outcome, banksters can also gamble on outcomes - including losses - within specific sets of circumstances (eg. between specified dates or within specified share values). Just like when you bet on the ponies to “place” or “show”.
“Financial instruments”. I know. Wish I had a degree in gambling too. But this is simply the clever sounding name for the various forms of gambling in which banksters and other speculators can indulge themselves - usually with other people’s money.
A note on Artificial Intelligence
One of the reasons empathetic humans should not leave the development and control of AI in the hands of non-empathetics is that the latter will assume they know the purpose of human life. Just as they run corporations with the certainty that nothing but maximum return on capital in the shortest possible time, to the exclusion of all other considerations, so they will impart that delusional certainty to AI.
And if they succeed, the journey for the rest of us towards the distant hope that we may eventually discover that purpose will come to an end.
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© 2021 Deacon Martin