Power From Below!
From the Guardian Newspaper.
Swaziland’s royal family have long kept their distance from the paparazzi in a way British royals can only dream about. Not any more, thanks to the rise of Swazi Leaks, an online group determined to expose the opulent lifestyle of Africa’s last absolute monarch.
The movement, inspired by Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, frequently publishes pictures of King Mswati and his family living the high life. One recent post says: “Our taxes pay for the king’s children to party in Los Angeles in the USA, will we struggle to eat here in Swaziland.”
The Little People’s Power
What is meant by “power from below?” It is the ability of those with little economic or political power to actively oppose the current order. One way is by publicizing the flaws of the system. That is what is being done in the article quoted above.
As economic and political power has concentrated in the hands of the one percent, this type of activism is becoming more and more important. It may in the end become the only vestige of democracy remaining.
One of the arguments for net neutrality is that if there are fast lanes and slow lanes, the non-commercial side of the net, politics in particular, will operate at a handicap. This is a serious problem. It would take a lively, vital and continually developing medium of democracy and neuter it.
Business interests often find democracy to be an obstacle in their path. Communities seem attached to neighborhood schools. Thus school boards can be a problem when privatizing or “incentivizing” public education. Some towns prefer fracking to not take place within the city limits. And so companies react by lawsuit, massive campaign contributions and from time to time, simply destroying the elected body, in particular school boards.
Is there a business ethics problem here? In the minds of many corporatists, democracy is the problem. Can you imagine their pleasure in a two lane internet? The first lane for the commercial interests at full speed. The interests of corporate business enshrined. The second lane for the public. The interests of the public consigned to a ratty, ill-used dirt road – the very epitome of second rate.
Often, we get the impression that multi-national corporations prefer the the sweet guarantees of totalitarian dictatorships over the democratic societies where they were born and nurtured. And this in spite of the fact, that the dangers of such deals are well documented.
Is it wrong for a corporation to hamstring the will of the people using its massive financial advantages and its many friends in politics, academia and the church? Sometimes, corporations use their power to secure tax money, evade taxes and other responsibilities. Sometimes they take the regulated and convert it to the unregulated (fracking). Sometimes they blackmail cities and states for one benefit or another.
The Jesse James Theory of Citizenship?
The Jesse James Theory of citizenship is when a corporation desires and expects the protections of a nation state while at the same time declining any responsibility toward the welfare of that same nation state.
Corporations are under the fascinating concept that they are in a real sense, independent nations. Currently under American auspices they are seeking treaty making powers. Having nation status without a geographic presence, or a military might sound ridiculous and it is. What is happening is the desire of the modern corporation to exist between nations without any responsibility save for its own interests.
In times to come, there will be attempts to set up corporate utopias on abandoned oil rigs or perhaps even an island. The power of even the smallest criminal gang to annihilate one of these intellectual exercises is not understood by those who have lived in the protection of an organized society. They understand “the real world.” This is, in spite of its name, a bizarre fantasy where they are the tough, realists who understand how everything works. When these overpaid, over-praised denizens of the skyward reaches of organized societies are casually plundered by “unorganized” societies, the rest of us less favored ones will find it difficult to generate sympathy.
We don’t live together in societies to oppress the creative classes as in an Ayn Rand fantasy. We exist in societies, nation states, because they have demonstrated over hundreds of years the ability to protect their citizens and organize economically. The word, parochial, has been used to describe the attitude of those of us who find the willingness of corporations to abandon a nation a demonstration of a lack of patriotism. But we do consider ourselves Americans, Canadians, Frenchmen, etc. It is a rabid and selfish form of self interest that pushes for this kind of corporate abandonment of national and ethical responsibilities.
Self-interest is not the key to utopia. In morals and ethics the distance between self interest and raw evil is only a matter of scale.