On Getting Personal and Going Public

The Battle in Seattle

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Today’s blog is a second excerpt from The Battle in Seattle by Janet Thomas. Thomas has written plays about abortion, sexual abuse, nuclear war, the Vietnam War, and the war against the environment, books about hostel travel in the West, and she’s been editor of a magazine about spas around the world. She lives and teaches on San Juan Island in Washington State.

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It’s this same corporate illness that’s at the core of the policies of the WTO. A corporation per se could be a beautiful thing. It could foster health among employees, well-being throughout the cultures it impacts, a ray of hope for our beleaguered environment. It could help to make life better. But corporations are organized in a very specific way to make a very few people very rich—the behind-the-scenes players who are so well disguised by the corporate mask, the fictional entity that does not exist.

I say this over and over because it’s frightening. Corporations have become the Emperor-Without-Clothes of the planet, and the rest of us are acting as though this nonexistent, bare-assed corporate catastrophe is fully dressed for winter at the North Pole. The corporate structure starts with evasions. We are misled by savvy and slick advertising and kept in the dark about the devouring bottom line.

The World Trade Organization, as it now exists, is structured to support the care and feeding of corporate fortunes at the expense of the democratic way, and to fill the deep pockets of a few at the expense of the no pockets of the many. The question is: Can we wake up in time? The people on the streets of Seattle during WTO week had only one thing to say: “Yes!”

Now to the hard part. What exactly do we wake up to? A corporation is easy to vilify precisely for the same reason it succeeds so well: There is no readily visible person at the helm. Nobody is accountable; nobody is responsible. Nobody is there. When we recoil and rebel, we are recoiling and rebelling from that which appears inhuman. A corporation, let loose to do its job, will always exploit without conscience. When money is the only measure, there is no other landscape upon which to gaze. But when human beings become measurable, as they did in Seattle, suddenly there is a shift, and the geography of corporate cause and effect is shown in its rightful complexity. A complexity that encompasses us all.

Recently, somebody said to me that “a corporation has all the attributes of a person.” His comment took me aback because I realized that it was partially true. A corporation is as complex as each of us, but there is at least one critical thing missing: empathy. Which means that if a corporation is a person, it is a sociopath. It changes shape to please its audience, it charms and seduces, it’s brilliant in rationalizing its position and in getting it’s way. But it has no ability to feel. And this is why it engenders so much fear and frustration, so much reaction. The potent beauty of being human and in partnership with one another, as well as with this sustaining earth, is threatened by a nameless, faceless, powerful sociopath that is out of control.

Excerpt © Janet Thomas. All rights reserved.

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