My Twitter moniker is “eiohel”. It underlies everything I believe in. Lower case corporate behemoths? Are there such things? Well. If there aren’t, there damn well should be.
And I’m here to prove it.
My question tonight is whether anyone is really happy with how this world is turning out. I intend to evidence that – in general – most people and organisations can’t be; that – even as we lob missiles at each other – we are more on the same side than on the opposing; and that there are plenty of solutions out there which could turn this world constructively upside down.
First, however, some history.
I first used the name “eiohel” on the website OpenOffice.org, back in 2002. I chose one of the biggest online corporations of its time and made it little – and used that to explain what I was about. At the time, OpenOffice.org was riven by battles between open-source developers and Sun, the American computer corporation. I was yet to work in a large corporation but could appreciate both what Sun were trying to achieve – massify the open source experience and undermine Microsoft’s own unhealthy grip on the desktop market – as well as what the developers felt to be of prime importance: the creation of a self-sustaining community where in exchange for the prize of creating a software utility everyone could use, collaboration would be freely and generously provided.
I only stayed as a volunteer on OpenOffice.org for about six months – and whilst it wasn’t altogether a happy experience, it was certainly formative; certainly something I would not have missed for anything.
So it was that “eiohel” reappeared on the Internet a couple of years ago when I decided to make it my Twitter name. That constant thread in my life of simultaneously admiring the ambition of grand corporations to organise people towards common goals and yet finding most resistible their general corruption of such goals has pursued me to this very day. I’ve written about it quite often, as those of you who read these pages will know. I’ve even compared some structures employed by the various Occupy movements, especially Los Indignados in Spain, to such corporate edifices – as I contemplate the dangers of becoming like your competition.
My ambivalence to corporate behaviours manifested itself most recently in this post from a couple of days ago. In it, I suggest that HMRC might want to participate in and promote the distribution of a Corporate Boycott app. It would work along the following lines:
- The objective of the app would be to allow consumers to compare and contrast the percentage of corporation tax paid annually in relation to turnover by a shop or company or other institution before a decision to purchase was made.
- The app would piggyback off public domain data already in the possession of HMRC which would allow such a comparison to be made. A website could be set up which would allow web users to access the same data.
- Instead of consumers having to manually keep track of every company the media continues to reveal as the latest tax-avoider we knew nothing about, the app would do this automatically on our behalf according to criteria which could be set.
- Options could include sorting via sector; nationality of head office; philanthropic activities; community engagement; ratio between highest-paid and lowest-paid workers; salaries of executives; bonus arrangements; environmental awareness; and the percentage of internationally outsourced jobs.
In the truest spirit of the “eiohel” concept, however, and as per the title of this post, I’m inclined to recast somewhat the original proposal. For it’s my strong belief that most people who work in large corporations – perhaps 99 percent of them – do try and do the best they can, whatever their level of responsibility. We could, equally, say the same of political players and voters; of writers and artists; of singers and songwriters; of professionals and artisans; and of mothers, fathers, siblings and children in all strata of society. No one is ever – generally – looking to mess the world up and make stuff in it more dysfunctional.
Human beings are really not that stupid.
So there must be another reason.
And I think that reason is this: we are all – generally – at the mercy of systems. We don’t deliberately forget the customer and focus on the targets. The system, badly constructed, makes us do so. Most of those bankers didn’t deliberately decide to fuck up all those economies either. The system, badly constructed, made them do so. Nor are most of our current crop of political leaders deliberately choosing to shift our civilisations into reverse gear. The system, badly constructed, makes them do so.
If our complex societies are such interdependent mechanisms of clockwork-like intricacy, any attempt to change absolutely anything which looks to use a full-frontal assault is bound to create a disastrous dislocation. Here in Britain, our own Coalition government is evidencing this. In other parts of the world, I am sure you can say the same.
In modern and inevitably complex civilisations like our own, change of any kind should not revert to the utter stupidity of trench warfare. This will simply repeat, on the political killing-grounds of the 21st century, the foolishness of the early 20th.
We need to learn from history.
We need to understand that no one – but no one – can really be happy with how this world is turning out.
And we need to change the world by engaging as many people as possible.
This is why I suggest, in the spirit of the “eiohel” concept, that my Corporate Boycott app be rechristened the Freedom app. As described above, it would provide corporations the world over with a transparent, consumer- and market-driven framework to fashion behaviours everywhere. Instead of an eternal driving-down of costs at the expense of worker dignity, it would give those who run and operate large companies the security and certainty that the playing fields and paradigms would be common to every player in the market – as well as truly customer-controlled for the benefit of everyone. Instead of an eternal searching-for-the-lowest-common-denominator, we could program the app to optimise humanity. Instead of monetary profit being the one and only aim of all business, we could introduce a whole host of other factors clients would be able to vote on.
Instead of a terrible drive to compete out of fear, the Freedom app would give us all the liberty to fearlessly cooperate.
How would we collect the data? Open data initiatives are already flourishing across the world. Tax offices and departments already collate publicly available information on corporations. Agreement that this is really what we want – a level playing-field to save us all from the misery of this current dysfunctionality – is surely all we would need.
How would we fund the app? Maybe advertising from the corporations themselves. They could show how they had improved their ratings from month-to-month; from quarter-to-quarter; from year-to-year. In the meantime, millions of consumer decisions would help the already-more-ethical organisations to steam ahead, confident in the certainty that the others would have no option but to follow.
In the end, using such methods, we could prove that it was possible to use technology, corporate skills at mass organisation and human-made systems of all kinds in order to improve society and the environment – as well as protect, defend and expand our loved ones’ futures.
Is that really too much ask? Is that really too much to expect? Is that really too much to hope for?
So what am I looking for from all of you then?
People prepared to invest time, energy and money in such a set of objectives, tools and technologies. Maybe we can #opensource it; maybe we can #opengov and #opendata it; maybe we can – even – #HMRC it!
Yes. The goal I set is huge, I know. But human beings, when they choose to work together, can achieve magnificent things.
On the eve of the #Oct20 march in London, organised by the British Trades Union Congress against the foolish austerity policies of our present trench-warfare politicians, isn’t it time that those of us who would prefer to imagine other worlds to the one we seem to be entering choose, instead, to stand up for what we believe in?
Isn’t it time to demonstrate human beings are far more when they work together?
Isn’t it time to evidence the fact that we are all on the same side?
Three final questions then, before I finish this impassioned – and perhaps foolish – appeal for sense and sensibility.
The first, to reiterate the title of this post. The second, essentially asking for some feedback to try and understand whether I am entirely alone. The third, looking to progress the matter beyond the immobility of our current political and business classes:
- Can anyone point to anyone out there who’s honestly happy with how this world is currently turning out?
- Does anything of what I’ve said above resonate with anyone at all?
- And if the answer to the latter is a “yes” of any sorts, what can reasonably be done next to improve matters?
One final thought. If you think the ideas contained in this post, written late on a Friday night when I should’ve been working in an otherwise gainfully employed manner, are worth spreading, sharing and generally drawing to the attention of others … well, please do so. We can’t do anything as individuals, that is true. But individuals who respect other individuals, and learn to share common and dignified objectives whilst they do so, can move those metaphorical mountains that – right now – impede a proper and civilised progress.
A Freedom app to liberate us from the trench warfare of early 21st century business and politics? Why not?