The Danger of Unenlightened Institutions
I recall reading an essay by David Loy a few years ago that furthered my distrust of the large corporations that many share a distrust of. Titled A Buddhist Critique of Transnational Corporations, Loy presents a vision of such corporations that may be quite unique to those who aren't used to viewing things from an Eastern or spiritual perspective. I reread this essay not too long ago, resulting in a realization that his critique could actually transcend the transnational corporations (I'll call them TNCs from this point forward) he focuses on and apply to all centralized institutions, especially the State.
When it comes to acknowledging the inherent problems associated with corporations, leftists are on the ball and provide some valid and important criticism, although for some reason they're unable to acknowledge similar problems associated with the State. As Rad Geek pointed out in a post he wrote awhile back, pro-State leftists simply don't see the reality of how government works, partly due to a democratic mysticism that holds agents of the State as being more enlightened than others. Government bureaucrats are just as fallible and corruptible as people in the business world.
Returning to Loy's essay, it is clear that his view of the State isn't entirely clouded by such mysticism since he ackowledges how modern corporations and the State grew up together, like "Siamese twins". He further emphasizes their relationahip with the following:
This incest needs to be emphasized because we tend to forget it. We distinguish between government and the economy, but at their upper levels there is usually little effective distinction between them. Today governments still get their royal share of the booty -- now it's called taxes. On the one side, states today need to promote corporate business because they have become pimps dependent upon that source of revenue; on the other side, transnational corporations thrive on the special laws and arrangements with which states promote their activities.While Loy goes on to make a very valuable critique of TNCs, I am disappointed that he either failed or chose not to put two and two together and apply his critique to the State as well.
He begins the critique by distinguishing corporations (the word coming from the Latin word corpus or corporis, meaning "body") from living things with material bodies. Despite being different from human beings in this regard, Loy points out the similarities between people and corporations, such as that both happen to be dissipative systems. He then brings Buddhist thought into his analysis by showing how the Buddhist concept of anatman, or "non-self", makes the parallel between corporations and people deeper than it may appear on the surface. With such parallels being acknowledged, it must also be acknowledged that both corporations and people are subject to the same sorts of problems. When it comes to dealing with such problems, Loy reveals the fundamental difference between corporations and people:
The difference is that corporations are legal fictions. Their "body" is a judicial concept -- and that is why they are so dangerous, because without a body they are essentially ungrounded to the earth and it's creatures, to the pleasures and responsibilities that derive from being manifestations of the earth. You may prefer to say that corporations are unable to be spiritual, for they lack a soul; but I think it amounts to the same thing. As the example of Bhopal shows, a corporations is unable to feel sorry for what it has done (it may occasionally apologize, but that is public relations, not sorrow). A corporation cannot laugh or cry; it can't enjoy the world or suffer with it. Most of all, a corporation cannot love. Love is realizing our interconnectedness with others and living our concern for their well-being. Such love is not an emotion but an engagement with others that includes responsibility for them, a responsibility that if genuine transcends our own selfish interests. If that sense of responsibility is not there, the love is not genuine. Corporations cannot experience such love or live according to it, not only because they are immaterial but because of their primary responsibility to the shareholders who own them. A CEO who tries to subordinate his company's profitability to his love of the world will lose his position, for he is not fulfilling that financial responsibility to it's shareholdersMy purpose in bringing all of this up is to show that the State is subject to the same analysis. The body of the State is just as fictitious as those of TNCs. The State is unable to laugh, or cry, or love. Heck, the State is even less inclined to apologize for it's actions than TNCs are. The State feels no responsibility to it's subjects (what, did you think that we're not "subjects"?), only to it's own preservation and the preservation of the various special interests that grease it's wheels. As Rad Geek stated, the belief that government is different than corporations due to the whole representative democracy thing is a myth, especially when you consider that bureaucrats are appointed, not elected.
Loy then discredits the notion that there can be such a thing as an "enlightened" corporation, for it it just not possible for a non flesh and blood entity to achieve such a state. Once again, the same conclusion must also apply to the State. No amount of electing "the right people" will change the inherently flawed nature of the State and give it the sense of responsibility that only living beings can have. Loy sums up the dangerous implications of relying on such entities quite well when he states that:
...the destiny of the earth is in the hands of impersonal institutions which, because of the way they are structured, are motivated not by concern for the well-being of the earth's inhabitants but by desire for their own growth and profit.It doesn't matter whether we're talking about ExxonMobil or Leviathan, it's all the same.
Loy then concludes that:
We cannot solve the problems they create by addressing the conduct of this or that particular corporation; it's the institution that's the problem. I do not see how, given their present structure, we can repair them to make them more compassionate.I'm afraid that the same prognosis also applies to the State. No amount of reforms, whether it's switching from communism to state capitalism or from state capitalism to social democracy or whatever, will eliminate the fundamental dangers inherent in such concentrations of power that all states wield. Even a supposedly benevolent design for such a centralized beast will ultimately be perverted by the imperfect nature of human beings.
This is an instance where an enlightened spiritual perspective has helped to shed light on the danger of such institutions. The critique of TNCs is undoubtedly easy for leftists to identity with, while applying the same critique to the State makes it relevant to libertarians. Of course, now the two sides need to focus upon the fact that there is more than one type of institution that poses a threat to our freedom and our well-being.
For a thoroughly worthwhile read that focuses more on the State's relevance to such a spiritual critique, I recommend checking out an essay published on Lew Rockwell.com today by Jeff Knaebel. It's called Remembering Gandhi, and he makes reference to the same critique made by David Loy:
We have abdicated our moral sovereignty and outsourced our personal responsibility to corporations and to the State. These are both non-human entities without heart, soul or conscience. They are machines, abstract legal constructs. They cannot feel pain, cannot love, experience empathy, touch the moist grass of this earth with their bare feet, hear a birdsong, or scratch a puppy’s ear. Yet, by operation of sovereign immunity and the corporate veil, their anonymous members can make secret decisions that destroy thousands, millions of lives, and they remain personally unaccountable.
The State has no ears for Nature, it hears not the cries of earth and her creatures; it cannot respond to Nature. It would be wise for us not to forget, in our pride, that man IS nature. The State responds only to the self-interest of its power, and to money. We expect individuals to lead a life of reasonable morality. The State has no morality.