The Wound Outside

excerpted from the book

Burning All Illusions

by David Edwards

South End Press, 1996

The Pathology of Profit

Business, as exercised by modern companies, is a matter of generating maximum profits at minimum cost in minimum time. This is their absolute goal. I use the word 'absolute' advisedly: maximum profit generation, for the modern company, is the final, unconditional reason for being. By implication this means that all other goals are secondary, and justifiable only in terms of their contribution to the absolute goal of profit. Thus all recruitment, training, accommodation, administration, advertising, production, storage, profit-sharing -all aspects of company activity-are justifiable only to the extent to which they contribute to the absolute goal. Any activity compromising or conflicting with that goal is not, in corporate terms, justifiable. As we have discussed, this logic applies as much to human behavior as it does to everything else. All human behavior at work is justifiable only to the extent to which it serves the absolute goal: generating revenue, minimizing costs, cutting time, in order to generate more profit.

The point is that there is no room for compromise in the essentially fanatical system of profit-orientation. Indeed, given the (economically logical) indifference with which corporations maintain 'a good investment climate' at the expense of human life in the Third World, it is more accurate to describe the corporate system as essentially psychopathic. The corporate system genuinely does not have the capacity for compassion and remorse in the face of the suffering of its victims. Like the psychopathic individual, its 'logic' cannot comprehend the immorality of its actions-concern for human suffering simply has no place on the balance sheet, beyond PR costs and benefits. The political extension of this truth was neatly encapsulated by US Secretary of State Dean Acheson in 1950, arguing that 'should starvation break out in mainland China the United States should give a little food aid-not enough to alleviate the starvation, but enough for a psychological warfare advantage.'

Compromise, in corporate terms, is failure. Success is defined only in terms of profitability. It is not defined in terms of profitability and the happiness and contentment of the staff, or profitability and the preservation of the environment. As Sydney Smith said:

'You never expected justice from a company, did you? They have neither a soul to lose, nor a body to kick.'

Indeed so-for the modern company, anything is justifiable if it contributes to profit. This includes actions which destroy both human and environmental well-being but whose cost and negative public relations impact are less than the revenue generated. As David Jack, former head of research at Glaxo pharmaceuticals said of the company's Chairman, Paul Girolamo:

"I can tell you quite frankly he doesn't have any great regard for scientists, or for science as a way of living. His whole purpose is to make money. I don't think there is much folly in his mind about doing good."

This may sound extraordinary and exceptional, but it is not: it is an inevitable product of our unrestrained, cut-throat system of economic evolution: the survival of the most profit-oriented. Good guys- people who place human well-being above profit-do not win in this game. Consequently, this evolutionary system tends to throw up the sort of individuals found at the top of our corporate trees. It is they and the logic of the system by which they are produced that are responsible for so much of the chaos in our world.

Undoubtedly the prime example is the devastating role corporate activity has played in the history, fortunes and catastrophes of the Third World. As we would expect, this fact is almost never discussed in a serious way. One exception appeared in 1972 in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. The author, Dennis Ray, investigated two hundred major works of what he termed 'respectable' literature on international affairs and foreign relations. He discovered that 95% of these books made no mention whatsoever of the relationship between corporations and government foreign policy and that less than 5% gave the subject 'passing mention'. One reason for this oversight on the part of 'respectable' academics is that the impoverishment and death through starvation of millions in the Third World is a direct result of collusion between Western governments and corporations in maximizing exploitation. Woodrow Wilson expressed the guiding philosophy behind this cooperative venture succinctly enough:

'Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down.... Colonies must be obtained or planted, in order that no useful corner of the world may be overlooked or left unused.'

Consequently, as Susan George has written:

'Food has become: a source of profits, a tool of economic and political control; a means of insuring effective domination over the world at large and especially over the "wretched of the earth".. . Multinational agribusiness wants to grow cheap and sell dear (meaning mainly to Western markets that can afford to pay) and totally ignore the needs of poor people who cannot become 'consumers'.

Feeding the millions of non-consumers would compromise the profit drive. The great lie of initiatives like Band Aid and Live Aid is that they serve to bury the truth of institutionalized Western exploitation beneath the idea that, not only are we not responsible for mass starvation, but are passionately committed to doing all we can to alleviate the problem. As David Pepper has said:

'Western false consciousness about the Third World is amply illustrated by Band Aid and other mass-media charity events. The cloying self-congratulatory tone of the 'generous' stars melds with the frenzied pointlessness of the supporters' sponsored activities to produce a rich cocktail of hypocrisy. Purged of some of their guilt, the participants then return, none the wiser, to lifestyles and politics (masquerading as non-politics) that create the very situation which their 'charity' had sought to alleviate.'

The truth beyond Western philanthropy being that:

'Every time weaker nations have attempted to reallocate their resources and undertake land reform [to feed starving populations], powerful interests emanating from the rich world and its multilateral bodies have thwarted their efforts.'

By means of economic strangulation, proxy armies, or outright invasion, as the peasants of Chile, Nicaragua, Vietnam, El Salvador, Cuba and Haiti among many others know only too well. The reason for the opposition to local, self-preserving initiatives is simply that the goal of the Western powers:

'. . . is not, and never was, to feed today's undernourished or starving millions, but to perpetuate poverty and dependence for altogether "valid" political and economic reasons'.

Indeed, Susan George continues:

'Today the State more often than not protects not the right to food but those who violate the right to food. This is the case in countries in the First or Third Worlds which are governed on behalf of banks, corporations or the landholding classes; where the rights of property always supersede the right to eat.'

The filter system ensures that these truths remain generally unknown, buried beneath the perennial diversions of overpopulation, innate Third World stupidity and tragic Acts of God. Despite the fallacious nature of such arguments, Susan George argues that they persist for the simple reason that they help to maintain 'as thick a smokescreen as possible around the problem of world hunger'. This is vital to obscure the fact that the starvation and torture of the Third World are the results of deliberate policy designed for "'valid" economic and political reasons', namely to ensure the enrichment of a Western elite through the profitable activities of giant corporations, all this being facilitated by the same smiling, eminently respectable politicians talking of their 'yearning for democracy and human rights'. To quote Susan George one more time:

'At this point you are entitled to ask whether every case of hunger truly implies a willful violation of the right to food. It's true that acts of God like drought and flood or population pressures can aggravate hunger. But climatic extremes and environmental destruction can often be traced to human action or inaction. Pushing this statement to its limits, I will even say that there are no ecological problems, only the social and political problems that invariably underlie and cause ecological damage....Wherever and whenever hunger occurs, I'm convinced that human agencies and agents are at work; that hunger is basically a reflection of inequity at the local, national and international levels. This is why, ethically speaking, the correct response to hunger, and the cardinal virtue we need to respond to it, is justice, not charity.'

Similarly, if anyone wonders how it can be that Western corporations have sold $300 billion worth of arms over the past thirty years, fueling the 150 global conflicts at the cost of 22 million lives; how it can be that companies like ICI can export ozone-destroyers to the legislation-free and PR-safe Third World; how it can be that the US-led consortium of fossil-fuel interests can continue to insist on a 'wait and see' approach to global warming, when all climate models agree that global warming will happen between 10 and 100 times faster than living systems have ever experienced while man has walked the Earth-they need only look to the absolute and unconditional goals of modern business.

Thus we can see that corporate capitalism is fundamentally at odds with life. It is not even against our lives and for its own long-term survival; the logic of profit maximization in a free-market economy dictates that longer-term planning is subordinated to the needs of the day, the next quarter, the next financial year; and rarely beyond. Over and over again in this discussion we have surely been struck by the complete disregard the corporate system has for life generally - be it the poor of the Third World, the sanity of the first world, for the living creatures generally who get in the way. Concern for life just does not belong in the profit/loss equation. In our discussion of the desolated day-tripper, we saw that he was overwhelmed by a sense of deadness rooted in conformity. This is the real truth of the corporate industrial system-it is against life, it is a system for using living beings to create things, to create capital. To do this, it must turn human beings into producing and consuming devices that serve the needs of capital rather than the needs of human life. The environment provides the raw material for the machine, to be processed and transformed into profit, regardless of the needs of global environmental integrity.

Because this system is against life, a shadow of death is spreading over the planet-over the minds and lungs of European children, as over the people of East Timor, as over the poor of Africa, as over the peasants and rainforests of South America. It is the shadow of life sacrificed for non-life. Remarkably, this process is only able to continue because you and I continue to believe that it is really on the side of life, that it is really for our best, for the progress of man and all life. Once again, we may remind ourselves that, just as the fiend is said to speak in the name of God, so the corporate killing machine speaks in the name of life.


Burning All Illusions

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