The Corporate State [Chapter 2].
[Note: Please see the 1996 Preface for an explanation of the unusual pagination.]
Copyright Notice: Copyright © 1972 by Bantam Books, Inc.; Copyright © 1996 by Nicholas Johnson. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any medium known now or in the future. Provided, however, that permission is hereby granted to distribute this book under the following conditions: (1) that it is distributed in its entirety, including this copyright notice and 1996 Preface, (2) that no charge is exacted, or revenue received, directly or indirectly, by anyone in connection with the transfer, and (3) as a matter of courtesy and information, that the author be informed, simultaneously with the distribution, of any distribution to more than one person or posting for availability on the Internet, Web, or publicly available directory. Any other use requires the prior permission of the author: Nicholas Johnson, email@example.com, postal: Box 1876, Iowa City IA 52244-1876, U.S.A.
# p. 16 #
The world is a beautiful place to be born into if you don’t mind a few dead minds in the higher places
We are approaching the
condition of King Oedipus of Thebes.
Thebes was a tribal society, and
when the King set about investigating
the responsibility for misery and
disorder, he found out he was the
How sharply our children will be ashamed
taking at last their vengeance for these horrors
remembering how in so strange a time
common integrity could look like courage.
# p. 17 #
The Corporate State [Chapter 2]
To say that the government isn’t working is scarcely a partisan statement. I recall comparable sentiments being expressed during many of the past twenty years. However, the extent to which government is viewed as the problem-not just a lethargic institution incapable of effecting solutions-may be somewhat new.
There is an increasing sentiment outside of government to get on with the job. Polls seem to indicate that a great many Americans, silent or not, recognize that we have some very serious problems in our society; people are looking for leadership, and they are prepared to make some sacrifices to effect solutions. I recall a white cab driver who had been giving me some pretty reactionary complaints. On a long shot, my curiosity prompted me to ask for his solution to “the Negro problem.” I braced myself for the worst, but he surprised me: “I think they have to be given better jobs and more money. A man has to have some dignity.” It is my impression that, in general, we Americans are possessed of far more intelligence, generosity, good will, and common sense than our television networks and political leaders give us credit for. We need education and information-so do college professors and corporation presidents-but, once informed, our instincts are sound.
The insensitivity of our leaders has forced some Americans, however, to grow increasingly impatient and violent. This trend has been predicted by most social observers: it happens whenever a government fails to respond to the legitimate demands of its citizens. Indeed, this nation was born out of just such a violent response to intransigence in government, and the legitimation of revolution in the United States has been re-
# p. 18 #
Either out of ignorance, or out of calculated political cynicism, our citizens are being told that crime will stop if we erase the Bill of Rights — that unity will come if we suppress dissent — that racial conflict will end if we ignore racial justice — and that protest will cease if we intimidate the people who report it.
-John V. Lindsay
Mighty nations that do not respond to the needs of their own people have traditionally tried to solve problems and overcome frustrations through violence abroad and repression at home. In the process, they have hastened their own exit from center stage. The greatest security problems for a nation are the hostility and frustration of its own citizens.
-Richard J. Barnet
This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.
In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive . . . has direct responsibility to his employers . . . to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom.
When I started teaching here [Harvard Business School] twenty years ago, everyone fully believed in the capitalist system and we started from there. Now a lot of the students not only question the system but downright distrust it.
-Thomas C. Raymond
# p. 19 #
peatedly attested to throughout our history by political leaders of virtually every political stripe.
I do not argue that the government no longer has any power. Not at all. It makes decisions that affect billions of dollars, dollars that flow from the people — as taxpayers and consumers — to the large corporations: defense contracts, agricultural and maritime subsidies, oil import quotas, natural gas rates, airline routes, and so forth.
But even though the government still has the power to act, the impetus for that action tends most often to come from the management of the largest corporations rather than from government officials. Such American corporations are larger, and more influential by almost any measure, than all but very few of the world’s nations. Their management officials have a theoretical responsibility to shareholders but in practical fact are responsible virtually to no one.
There is a split in the thinking — or at least the talking — of business talk today. Milton Friedman and others take the position that the only legitimate concern of corporate management is the making of money. Legitimate or not, that would appear to be the limit of the concern expressed by most corporate officials. Increasingly, however, corporate management and business-school students are expressing their uncomfortable feelings of disquiet, and they are at least talking about social responsibility.
Meanwhile, there is a growing awareness on the part of a great many people — not just young college students — that unchecked corporate greed is today more the cause of America’s shame than its great pride. Large corporations tend to exert an inhibiting
# p. 20 #
I guess I just don’t think it’s right to make a profit out of killing people.
on leaving advertising agency with
On CBS radio the news of his
[Edward R. Murrow’s] death, reportedly
from lung cancer, was followed
by a cigarette commercial.
l have about reached the conclusion that, while large industry is important, fresh air and clean water are more important, and the day may well come when we have to lay that kind of a hand on the table and see who is bluffing.
-Barry M. Goldwater
He responds, as I’ve explained, only to stimuli affecting his corporation. That’s the thing, you see. He has totally identified with his corporation. I’m sure if you talk to him about his corporation, he’ll hear and understand you and might even talk to you. Otherwise he has no sensory faculties at all.
-Dr. Klune in Paddy Chayefsky’s play,
The Latent Heterosexual
When the Army killed 6,400 sheep at Skull Valley in 1968 by accidentally spraying them with VX, a deadly nerve gas, the state veterinarian, D. Avaron Osguthorpe, observed, “We’ve got a defense business bringing in $35 million a year into the state; sheep bring in one thirty-fifth that amount. Which is more important for Utah?”
-Richard J. Barnet
# p. 21 #
influence on the growth and development of the human personality.
Business does to its women’s bodies
What it does to its men’s minds It binds them tightly Snuffing out the free Covering with a uniform Painting any parts that stick out With the company colors And a smile Making replaceable people With replaceable parts Wigs and Brains, Inc.
These corporations also tend to be behind most of the modern-day despoiling of the air, water, and land. They tend to be, like war, “unhealthy for children and other living things.” Indeed, they are more than like war, they are war. For profit can come from any enterprise. You can make more money by blowing up bodies than by treating them; the poison-gas business tends to be even more profitable than administering anesthesia. And when the only morality is measured in dollars, no appeal to human values can ever make much sense.
These corporations must manufacture and sell more and more every year. As a result, they now simultaneously create the products and the advertising campaigns to generate the market for the products: male cosmetics, electric carving knives, vaginal deodorant spray, or new brands of cigarettes. The corporations
# p. 22 #
‘Cause it’s one, two, three, ’What are we fightin’ for?’ ’Don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn;’ Next stop is Vietnam. And it’s five, six, seven, Open up the pearly gates There ain’t no time to wonder why, Whoopie, we’re all gonna die.
-Country Joe McDonald
Looka here you can be like a tape deck you know
They can plug you in and you say what they want you
-J. Brown, B. Byrd, R. Lenhoff
One of my very perceptive students at the University of Waterloo has said: “The adman writes the script for our lives; we read it back.” He is right, but most people must know, some of the time, at some level of their consciousness, that their reading back of the script is not quite what they meant to say.
The advertising industry will not readily give up its custodianship of our cultural life, which it has purchased with good money.
# p. 23 #
have tampered into destruction the genius of the free market system. The theory is that products are manufactured to satisfy preexisting needs, that the cheapest and most functional products will be selected on their merits by the consumer, and that, through his “voting” with dollars in the marketplace, the best manufacturers will prevail and profit. But once you start manufacturing needs as well as products, the whole system spins out of control — economically (inflation), socially (urban unrest), and psychologically (personality disorders).
If corporations practiced the free private enterprise they preach, there would be nothing necessarily wrong with the existence of a group of institutions and men hell-bent on profit maximizing within a society rich in diversity. There would be a sufficient number of countervailing pressures from family, church, school, the creative-artistic-intellectual community, and government to keep it all in balance.
The difficulty in America today is that we have turned it all over to the big corporations. Time owns Life. Our colleges, churches, foundations, and public broadcasting stations tend to be presided over by the same guys who decide what automobiles we’ll buy and breakfast cereals we’ll eat. They publish our children’s school books; they own most of the nation’s artistic talent — and they have little hesitation in censoring the copy of both.
Understanding this concept of “corporate interlock” is really essential to an understanding of this book. In general, people either understand the concept right away or not at all — in which case spelling it out is a waste of time. But I’m going to try.
# p. 24 #
Once upon a time there was a girl who dreamed of a doll that had everything. And then came Dawn, the doll that comes with these beautiful things. Like a car with Dawn actually at the wheel! Just look at Dawn go! There’s a Music Box with Dawn on top, and the fabulous Dawn Fashion Show — the only one in the world with a revolving stage like this. Dawn comes with it — watch her walk and model, all by herself. And start collecting all these accessories: a handbag, elegant furniture with a phone that really works, a beauty parlor set. You can display Dawn, her friends, her fabulous clothes, right in your own home. Make your dream come true with Dawn, the doll that has so many beautiful things. Dawn’s clothes are so beautiful, so stunning, so elegant, you’ll want to collect more than one doll just to show them off! And it’s so much fun to put two Dawns here, three Dawns there, call it “Midnight Magic.” Then change their clothes, set them up, and call it “Sweet Dreams.” Use your imagination! Dawn. Fun to play with, fun to collect.
-a television commercial
Free selection of a wide range of goods and services does not signify genuine freedom, particularly if the desire for these goods and services tends merely to foster more frantic work, more compulsive buying, more fear and self-doubt. In this context, free selection tends to create and sustain alienation.
-William F. Fore
One cannot successfully alter one facet of a social system if everything else is left the same, for the patterns are interdependent and reinforce one another.
# p. 25 #
Let me begin with an anecdote. One evening Mason Williams and I were debating whether to go out for dinner or cook something at his house. We finally decided we’d stay home — principally because we didn’t want to bother to change clothes. This prompted Mason to start speculating — as do a great many of life’s quirks.
“Nick, I’ve finally figured out why you have to dress up to go out to dinner.”
“Why’s that, Mason?” I asked.
“Because the same people who own the restaurants own the clothing stores.”
His years of working for television have forced Mason to think in one-liners. (That’s all you ever have time for.) And, like many of his one-liners, this one is both inaccurate in its particulars (so far as I know clothing stores are not owned by restaurateurs) and profound in its more general wisdom.
“Living” ought to be individual, spontaneous, extemporaneous; a personal quest, evolution, and growth; an experience in uniqueness. But living your life according to the corporate plan involves no more of a creative “centering,” or flowering soul, than painting in numbered spaces with the indicated colors is “art.” It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. You are living out somebody’s else’s plan — not yours — paying them handsomely for the privilege of doing their work for them. The psychology of acquisitiveness is to know, at every stage, what pieces you must next acquire, and in what order — house, car, sailboat. “House” takes on an externally imposed meaning: suburbs, air conditioning, grass, wall-to-wall carpeting — just as surely as “Dawn” would be incomplete without her “car,” “fabulous
# p. 26 #
In America one of the basic rules many people live by is that one must keep up with the Joneses. By your own example you must turn this rule upside down. If you absolutely need a car, let it be the oldest on the block. Let your limited household appliances be virtual “antiques” and take the trouble to learn how to repair them. Claim that your wash is a bit grayer — even if it isn’t — but brag that it is done without any detergent or enzymes. Save all returnable bottles, and, if you can afford it, give them to neighbors’ children to redeem — it will be good training for the young and may make a few parents feel guilty.
If you are invited to parties — and you may well not be — make a point of always showing up in the same suit or dress.
At first such “odd ball” behavior will cause some embarrassment and you will hardly be popular with your neighbors. But if you manage to keep your sense of humor and patently explain why you live the way you do, friendships and converts won’t be long in coming.
Half the worry of half the people in this country is how to pay for all the brand-new and superfluous junk they have signed up for at just “pennies a day.” By your example you will be offering an escape from this endless worry and if you don’t lose your cool you may well move from local odd ball to local trend-setter. Keeping up with the Joneses has become such a tyranny that more than one middle-class family is ready to consider alternatives — particularly if they see a neighbor actually doing so.
-Timothy J. Cooney and James Haughton
# p. 27 #
clothes,” “elegant furniture,” and “beauty parlor.” Sound familiar? Could it be you are now living in the doll house you used to play in? Is that an accident? Is it really what you want?
The corporate interlock of jobs, products, and life style means that once you come into the circle at any point you find yourself surrounded by all of it. And once you’re in it’s very difficult to get a little bit out. The choices remaining to you are relatively meaningless — such as which color and extras you want with your Chevrolet, whether you’ll drink scotch or bourbon, how “mod” your ties will be, and which toothpaste you’ll use. It all fits: corporate white-collar job, suburban home, commuting by automobile, eating in restaurants, and the clothes. There is the canned entertainment of radio and television for the boredom, the bottled alcohol and aspirin for the pain, and the aerosol cans of deodorant and room freshener to maintain the antiseptic cleanliness of it all. You wear your office, your home, and your car as much as your clothes and deodorant. And from the corporate layers of externals comes your very identity — and the smothering of your soul.
Let me try another example. Once you have accepted a job in a professional or managerial capacity with one of the nation’s top two hundred corporations, you will be led inevitably to the purchase of a special automatic dishwashing detergent. Here’s how it happens:
You are probably working in a large, fairly new
# p. 28 #
Just as we are lowering our water table by ever-deeper artesian wells and in general digging ever deeper for other treasures of the earth, so we are sinking deeper and deeper wells into people in the hope of coming upon “motives” which can power the economy or some particular sector of it. I am suggesting that such digging, such forcing emotions to externalize themselves, cannot continue much longer without man running dry.
As often as not, it seems that many of the programs and most of the commercials from Madison Avenue appeal to a set of values entirely different from, if not in clear opposition to, the set of values taught in home, in school and in the church.
-Spiro T. Agnew
A young person gets a big bang out of taking a well-paying white-collar job with a large and important company, thinks to himself “I’m making it,” and sees his job as a boost to a position of importance which holds immense possibilities. He sees himself in the saddle. It’s only later, much later, when the exits have all been quietly sealed off, that it becomes apparent that the saddle is really a harness, and worse, that his head is set on a completely predictable route which promises no variation from the one he has been on all along.
We’re like a race horse shot full of speed to make us run harder than is good for us, to win for the owners and lose for ourselves, to win the race for only the price of the chance to run.
# p. 29 #
such a house is, in fact, the only kind available. The kitchen is really quite large. It has lots of cupboard space. You may have moved a lot of kitchen stuff with you; or maybe you bought it because you and your wife never envisioned any other way to live, or because you’re expected to entertain in a particular style. In any event, even though you find a camp cook set more than enough in the way of kitchenware when you’re camping, you don’t want all those empty kitchen cupboard shelves. Once they are filled, you feel a compulsion to use the stuff. Instead of washing a pot after it has been used, you put it aside and dirty another one. Silverware, glasses and cups, bowls and plates are likewise dirtied in great number, even during the course of a family meal, let alone when you are entertaining. Having dirtied so many pots and dishes, it really is a drag to have to wash them all by hand. So you get an automatic dishwasher. Maybe it was already in the house. Maybe you were partly influenced to buy it because the neighbors have dishwashers. But mostly you get it because you have all those dirty dishes. And once you get it, you find it’s designed so that you have to use the special dishwasher detergent or the soap will suds out all over the floor. That’s how, once you accept the job, you have to buy the special detergent.
Your job itself may have come about through the same kind of almost nonvolitional process. If students earn high marks in high school, they can get into “good” colleges, where they can get into “good” graduate schools if they continue in their proficiency in exam taking. If they receive scholastic honors they are offered the “good” jobs — jobs with corporations, law firms, or whatnot that are prestigious (meaning, gen-
# p. 30 #
Social custom teaches us to strive for a privately owned, single-family home in the suburbs, possessing a garage of at least two-car capacity, and filled with “conveniences” that assure us of more “leisure” time. Advertising urges us to consume and dispose. We spend much of our free time as spectators watching professional performers or in vigorous activity behind the wheel of some power-driven machine — a car, boat, or snowmobile. Life is kinetic and frantic.
Is this really what you want? The decision is yours and you are free to say no.
The censor sits
The scenes to be seen
And the television sets
With his scissor purpose poised
Watching the human stuff
That will sizzle through
The magic wires
And light up
Like welding shops
The ho-hum rooms of America
And with a kindergarten
Arts and crafts concept
Of moral responsibility
The rough talk
The unpopular opinion
Or anything with teeth
A pattern of ideas
Full of holes
For your mind
# p. 31 #
erally, the largest). By that time you are so used to assuming that all honors are desirable and to be accepted that you accept the job with the large corporation with almost the same automatic reflex as you accept your Phi Beta Kappa key. You have internalized the standards of those about you — parents, teachers, advertisers — to the point where you may be incapable of separating your own identity from the standards of your culture.
In fact, of course, you have a little more choice than I’ve suggested. But an awful lot of people do end up with the automatic dishwasher detergent.
Those who are caught find that the pattern tends simultaneously to increase their anxiety, their material consumption, and their slavish dependence on the job — as well as to contribute to a waste of valuable natural resources and to environmental pollution.
The beauty is that the reverse is also true. Once you break the interlock in your own life, not only do you enjoy yourself more, it costs you less, and you’re a better citizen, too.
The corporate interlock involves the unquestioned assumptions in our lives. Because they are unquestioned, and largely unperceived, it is difficult enough to describe individual examples even one at a time. But the point of the interlock is that they are not just individual examples but part of a pattern — the test pattern television is reinforcing in millions of us hour after hour.