Monday, November 28, 2011

A chink in the armor may have been found

The recent Occupy movement has meant more to me than just financial reform. It has exposed to the public the incredible greed of corporations and wealthy individuals, and an inhumane lack of compassion on part of the government and private sector for those that are most vulnerable, those that are caught in the circles and tentacles of poverty and injustice and degraded environments. I hope you see the threads and connections, too. It is hard to deny the omnipresence of corporatism in our lives. Our conversations are mediated through their gizmos, our politicians are influenced by their monies, our food is "produced" in their labs, our life savings are eaten up in instants.

In class one day, Professor Parson, the most brilliant person I have met, was talking about an experience that he has had several times over. He has the in in policy circles; he has the in on meetings in which the head honchos of major corporations, these powerful, rich people, get together and discuss policy issues regarding the environment. After days of discussion, many of them end up hanging their heads in defeat, saying, "We just need to educate the next generation to make better choices."

I am a student (and employee?) at the University of Michigan. Each year, a couple of large student groups and the Career Center in the College of Engineering hold Career Fair--a two-day long event that brings recruiters to campus. You see tons of engineering students, dressed up in business-casual attire, lined up waiting to be told impersonally to apply for any positions "on the company website." You can assume who is doing the recruiting...all the big guns--defense contractors, oil exploration corporations, mining companies.

And so it is particularly defeatist, ironic, and hypocritical of these very rich men and corporations, who (corporations are people, too, right?) have their sway in policy circles, to say that we should leave it to the next generation to solve the myriad of issues that face us. But, it is true that the lifeblood of these large corporations is the young; corporations prey on the young to continue their legacies, to continue to buy their products. The young can be lured by six-figure salaries and quick repayment of their debts. Having been through an undergraduate engineering degree at the University of Michigan, I know that engineers are not made to think about the consequences of engineering. And so, many undergraduates may have never heard about Engineers Without Borders, or the phrase "appropriate technology." Indeed, the government-industry-military-university complex does not train these engineers to be activists. Rather, they train them to be passively engaged in violent and Earth-raping activities.

Furthermore, the way large bureaucracies are set up, there is very little individual blame or responsibility put on engineers. Write Martin and Schinzinger in their book Ethics in Engineering,
Large-scale engineering projects involve fragmentation of work. Each person makes only a small contribution to something much larger. Moreover, the final product is often physically removed from one's immediate workplace, creating the kind of "distancing" that [Stanley] Milgram [who conducted the famous experiments in which he concluded that people are willing to abandon personal accountability when placed under authority] identified as encouraging a lessened sense of personal accountability. (pg. 94)
Such lack of accountability allows young people to easily convince themselves that what they are doing is benign, and allows their moral compasses to be swayed by hierarchy. While talking about corporatism and having dinner with Rebecca the other night, we talked about the chink in the (corporate) armor that Professor Larimore had brought up in August. She said, "Corporations feed on young people. They are always looking for new, young recruits." There are many reasons why, it seems.

It is ultimately clear to me that these corporations must be brought down, or at least their structure--where they are no longer allowed and privileged and encouraged to endure forever--must be restored to "the original an association granted temporary privileges for the purpose of carrying out some socially useful task, with charters that must be reviewed and renewed periodically by state legislatures," as Scott Russell Sanders writes in his essay, Breaking the Spell of Money, in Orion.

But I really do think Rebecca has found one of the weaker spots of corporatism--the need for new blood.

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