Corporations create their own religions. They have leaders who are generally untouchable, and inevitably upbeat. They have departments dedicated exclusively to brainwashing individuals who start out as simple workers but who, if all goes well, soon become fanatical followers of this or that (whatever’s the flavour of the month, in fact – generally depends on who’s building which empire at the time): in the vast majority of companies such evangelising departments go by the nondescript abbreviation of HR, or, occasionally, by the oxymoron of Communication.
(Now wouldn’t you just love to work for a company honest enough to call its Communication department its Monologue department – or, alternatively, forward-looking enough to have the right to call it the Dialogue division?)
Then, of course, behind these corporate religions, there is the most important group of individuals of all: that is to say, the shareholders. In this aspect, most Western corporations are much more like the multi-deity belief systems of cultures we might pooh-pooh as primitive than our own incredibly irrational cobbling together of superstition that is that hyper-hypocritical Christianity, which manages, astonishingly, inventively and incoherently, to integrate seamlessly with a latterday world of manic consumerism – and, through its many charities and fund-raising activities, at the same time live off its outer reaches.
Shareholders are to corporations what gods are to true religions. (I suppose this must be said with at least one caveat to hand: some shareholders are clearly more godlike than others; that is to say, more equal than others.) They act out of self-interest, they are all-seeing and omniscient – and they know, quite awfully, that to be kind you must be cruel. It is thus quite clear that, in so many things, a corporate entity is frighteningly similar to religious organisations we would believe ourselves quite easily capable of resisting the temptation to ever go near. Is it really so very surprising, then, that religious organisations can also appear frighteningly similar to corporations?
In the latest scandals to affect the Catholic church, and the hierarchy’s inability to see beyond its own rotting reputation, I am reminded of how Toyota’s ways of working and seeing the world led to it internally glorifying the savings of hundreds of millions of dollars whilst recalls were resisted in the lead-up to the recent braking and acceleration issues. Corporations defend their own lack of integrity quite beyond what any objective assessment of reality would suggest was the case – because, essentially, I suppose, they are gigantic sales operations, and sales operations rapidly become used to the idea that if you say and believe enough, reality soon obediently acquiesces.
After my nervous breakdown, I was very vulnerable and returned to the Church in quite a big way. I went to Mass every Sunday – even found myself returning to the difficult and trying rite of Confession on a couple of not unnotable occasions (occasions which, I have to observe, nevertheless failed to lift my fallen spirits as I had expected – perhaps I should’ve taken note sooner of this not inconsequential piece of data). I stopped going a couple of years ago, though people very dear to me continue to avail themselves of this outlet for their religious instincts – and I am unwilling to criticise or indeed attempt in any big or small way to argue them out of this most personal choice.
Anyhow, as my corporate world collapsed around me during the financial services sector crises of the past two years, so my resistance to play a public and fulsome part in any other large organisation began to increase. No. I’m not saying I lost my faith in the Catholic Church because the hedge funds roundly messed us all around. Not exactly.
But you can see where I’m coming from, can’t you? Big is not better, not if our criteria involve sincerity, honesty, frankness, objectivity and humility. Where layers of vested interests accumulate, so dinosaur-like behaviours impose themselves.
Above all, save your reputation before your soul.
Now how many large organisations can have claimed to do the latter before the former? Tell me that.
I think, uneasily, I am inclined to believe in God. Perhaps it is something that my age leads me to need to cling to. Perhaps I cannot shake off my schizoid upbringing entirely; my damned ability to see both sides of a question even as I find myself arguing more one than the other just takes me over. But, as I continue to give God the benefit of the doubt, His corporate manifestations on this godless earth are becoming evermore resistible.
And this means in all spheres.
Perhaps politics too.
I stumbled across the concept of “hyperlocal” on Twitter just this afternoon. This is definitely something I need to investigate further.
Meanwhile, not a god but a hero all the same: Tom Watson’s digital pledges here. Tom needs our support – partly because he is brave but mainly because he is right.
And essentially because he is not in the pocket of corporate religions – as some others in this debate currently find themselves.