The connection between us–Occupy Edmonton
"The economy is a reflection of the connection between us." This is the first line in a flyer that was handed to me as I arrived at Occupy Edmonton this past Saturday. It continued, "Therefore, trying to fix the economy without fixing the way we relate to each other is bound to fail. We must look at the root crisis and address the real problem—the egoistic and sour self-centered values that prevail in our society and manifest in our economy."
By my estimation, anywhere from 1200 to 1400 people turned out to ‘Occupy Edmonton’. It was an inspired, even surprising turnout, that suggests a broad concern and discontent.
There was a raft of signs—from a farmer carrying a sign chastising Harper for his plans to jettison the Wheat Board, to various environmental warnings, to anti-war messages, but the single dominant message—as touted, a message from the awakening 99 percent to the ultra-affluent 1 percent—was the call to end corporate greed and corporate influence on government, and to rein in unrestrained capitalism.
Of course we Canadians have faired better than Americans—millions of whom have been foreclosed on, millions who have lost their jobs and still have little prospect of returning to the work force. Their lives and livelihoods have been raided by corporate fraud and elitist indifference.
In Canada the disparities between rich and poor not as pronounced as in America: Our 1% earn 11% of total income while in the U.S., their 1% earn 20 percent. (In terms of overall wealth the top 10% in Canada own 53%, while in the U.S. it’s 70%)
While we can be thankful that we have been spared from the kind of recession that has hit the U.S.—primarily because of regulations that are still in place between investment banking and commercial banking—we are not immune to the hegemony of corporations. There’s a ready army of lobbyists pushing for corporate friendly legislation, and with a corporate friendly government, we would do well, if we are awakening, to stay awake.
But concerning the “root crisis,” we are of course complicit. The charge of acquisitive self-interest can be levelled at most of us, not only corporations. Corporations salivate and bloat because of our buying habits, our lifestyles, mimetically derived from the rich-and-famous, our prurient wants we deem needs. All this has hardened us and helped create artificial classes and divisions between us, while leaving us no independent access to the basics of life, further fracturing local communities and giving us the illusion of independence.
Like corporations we’re messed up, myopic and mercenary, but we also have it in us to be empathetic and compassionate and to desire an egalitarian society. And it’s this that separates us from big corporations.
Our governments have granted corporations the rights and privileges of an individual; but a corporation is not a person, it is a principality—it is a power structure. It is not inherently good or evil. It does not create anything on its own. Whatever tangible goods it produces is the result of an entrepreneurial vision and a company of workers. The owner/entrepreneur has the right to keep a substantial portion of profit. But with that right comes great responsibility—social, environmental, and certainly, a responsibility to its workforce.
No doubt, there are humane and socially conscious corporations run by diligent and caring people. The problem, to my mind, is that it requires a herculean vigilance to keep a halter on a corporation when it reaches a critical size. The larger the system/corporation becomes, the more it operates according to its nature.
The hard reality is that the corporation, as an entity, exists solely for its own growth. It grows by keeping income private while socializing financial loss and costs. The corporation is an externalizing machine. It externalizes any and every cost a neglectful or complicit government, or unwary public, lets it get away with. For at the hollow heart of the big corporation lies the principle of self-preservation and expansion by way of the duel. Only winning commercial wars satisfies shareholders. (Sun-Tzu’s the Art of Warfare & Karl Von Clausewitz’s, On War, remain popular and recommended reads for CEO’s)
The corporation has no mechanism for social care. In the documentary “The Corporation,” management guru Peter Drucker says: “If you find an executive who wants to take on social responsibilities, fire him. Fast.” And if an owner should decide to be responsible to the workers, to pay them fairly, to protect their jobs, to refuse to outsource labour, and to be stewards of the environment, the shareholders can, and should, according to people like Drucker, sue the corporation.
Corporations do not care about relating, they do not have a lexicon for social-welfare. In the documentary, Psychologist Dr. Robert Hare lists psychopathic traits and ties them to the behaviour of corporations:
- callous unconcern for the feelings for others;
- incapacity to maintain enduring relationships;
- reckless disregard for the safety of others;
- deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning others for profit;
- incapacity to experience guilt;
- failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviour
If its true that mega-corporations are psychopathic, then the only treatment is proper boundaries and in some cases the use of restraint. And this is what the Occupation is calling for. It is simply asking to reintroduce relational responsibility into the economy.
Perhaps it was a taste of the fever that is gripping Occupation Wall Street, or simply the harmonic of hope that a peaceful protest for creative change sets off, but while I stood listening to the speeches and marching on the downtown streets I felt my own cynicism about the possibility of change soften.
Did this enter anyone’s mind at the beginning of the year that our northern Alberta city, and cities across Canada, would be part of a near global protest in support of, and spawned by, a New York sit-in?
Is it too much to hope that this could be a spring board for a congealing movement that is as self-reflective as it is probing and provocative? Whether that’s possible at this point may be beside the point. There is already—despite main media’s talk-circuit smirks, derisive dismissals, and confused portrayals—something of an awakening.
And the spiritual movement that the term awakening alludes to is not unwarranted. Because how we connect and relate to one another, both personally and economically, is a matter of deep spiritual import.