Saturday, November 12, 2005

Corporate Self-Flagellation

Tibor R. Machan

It wasn’t but a few minutes into this movie—The Invisible Circus, produced by FineLine Features, An AOL TIME Warner Company, one of America’s biggest media companies—that the main character makes the following voiceover comment:

My father dreamed of being an artist. Instead he worked for a giant corporation. He hated it. He hated himself for working there. Faith [her sister] said that’s what made him sick [from which he died]....

The movie is based on a novel by Jennifer Egan and I have no idea whether the original work contained these lines. What I found utterly despicable here is that this giant American media corporation was releasing a movie in which nearly the first substantive idea that comes out of the mouth of the protagonist is how a nice daddy hated working for a giant corporation.

Just think about it: this movie would not have been made without a giant corporation footing the bill for its production, the payment to the author of the original novel, the director’s and actors’ salaries, and so forth. AOL TIME Warner Co., is, of course, owned by millions of stockholders, many of them with shares of which on and off they make a few (or quite a few) bucks. It employs thousands of people who are paid a pretty decent income from their work at this “giant corporation.” Then, also, I don’t know how many thousands and thousands of people make good use of AOL TIME Warner services and product and how many more enjoy subcontractor status, deriving side benefits from this giant corporation’s hateful existence.

My son keeps telling me I should relax, enjoy these entertainment fares, avoid getting ulcers or some other malady from becoming aggravated about all these shows paradoxically and viciously indicting the very foundation of their own existence. Sadly or happily—it varies for me from one day to the next—I am unwilling to forgetaboutit. It is one of the most infuriating things I experience on a nearly daily basis: businesses that are sponsoring total disrespect toward businesses.

Ayn Rand used to call this “the sanction of the victim,” suggesting that here are good people who are accepting bad things said about them. But I think they are not such good people, although, of course, in important ways they are. It is they, after all, who create all those valuable things I listed above—the products, services, employment, subcontracting, etc. But in one serious—indeed possibly fatal—respect they are being vicious. They are undermining their own very valuable existence by fueling the fires of anti-business sentiment in not only for a world-wide audience but in their very own psyche.

I experience this now and then when I teach my business ethics courses at my university’s school of business and economics. Students who are required to take this course—in which we examine some of the special ethical issues that people in commerce and business run across—often report that their parents who are business executives have a very cynical view of their own profession. Not because they actually witness wrongdoing, although that happens now and then, but because they believe that businesses have only a kind of raw, practical value in the world and may indeed encourage greed, which they equate with the desire to run a profitable enterprise. Why? Because from virtually every corner of the culture in which they live, too many people who mount podiums and rosters or write novels, essays, plays, even columns, or, especially, give commencement exercises—and, of course, write scripts for TV programs, have nothing but criticism to offer of corporate commerce. (Just take a look at David E. Kelley’s hit ABC-TV show, Boston Legal, and you will immediately know what I am talking about.)

Of course, this started a couple of thousand of years ago, when Plato declared the merchant as innately incapable of living a noble life and positioned at the lowest rung of society. Christianity didn’t help things much by having Jesus turn violent only one time, when he chased away money lenders from the temple (as if no other sins were worthy of the Prince of Peace’s ire).

In fact, however, all this is bunk. As Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, “Money, which represents the prose of life, and which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses.” So, yes, forgetaboutit, it being that derisive attitude and moral superiority toward people in the profession of wealth care.

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