Friday, April 15, 2011

Fighting Back Against Corporatization Part 3-- Neutralizing the Psychopath

Last week, I wrote about how corporations as psychopaths because they lack empathy due to their profit motive and limited liability. Today's post will be on how to defend oneself against psychopaths. The ideas are taken from a presentation by John Clarke on "Workplace Psychopaths" and a book by Martha Stout entitled "The Psychopath Next Door."

Collective Action

A common tactic by workplace psychopaths is to identify victims' needs and to use these needs to cause emotional pain and manipulate the victim. Clarke's list of needs looks a lot like the basic needs that we have as human beings and are also preyed upon by corporations.

After prolonged exposure to the psychopath, the victim can develop physical symptoms as well, including stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, rashes, hair loss, anxiety attacks,  and chronic fatigue. A victim often feel like they are going crazy, because they often think they are the only ones undergoing this experience, one that defies the normal bounds of reason.

As a result, victims often feel like they are stuck and that nothing can be done. In truth, there are things that can be done.

If the victims banded together, they would not be alone. They could also gang up on the psychopath. But once they adopt this strategy, they must be completely committed to each other, because the psychopath could easily turn on them and the victims would be worse off than when they started.

Auditors can provide a check on psychopathic behavior, because they are more difficult to manipulate. They come from outside the psychopath's usual power hierarchy. They also use performance measures to evaluate people rather than subjective reports.

Both of these remedies provide useful lessons for how to defend against the bad behavior of psychopathic corporations: collective action, transparency, and oversight. Isn't it interesting that trade unions are getting slagged so badly these days?

Transparency and Accountability

One of Clarke's central arguments is that auditors are the natural enemy of workplace psychopaths, because they assess based on objective measures of performance, can see through impression management, and sit outside of the psychopath's usual power hierarchy. If we translate this over to corporations, we would need a way to generate objective measures; bypass public relations, marketing, and lobbying; and be independent.

Currently, corporations are evaluated solely on profit and loss. This isn't working very well for human beings who are more than shareholders or consumers. Measures of performance should cover factors such as labor relations, environmental impact, safety, and social responsibility. Organizations such as United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Standards Organization (ISO) have already started work on measurement regimes. I'm personally skeptical of balanced score cards. I'm sure corporations will find a way to manipulate these too, but maybe somebody who has a better grasp of game theory should design and implement them.

In order to calculate these measures, we'd need access to raw data from the companies, not just press releases or cleaned up data. We'd need to make it a legal requirement that companies release these figures.

The independent part basically rules out government at this point. Politicians need way too much money to get elected these days. It takes on average over $1.3 million to win a US congressional seat and over $8 million to win a senate seat. It's too hard to raise that much money without becoming beholden to someone. If it's not government, that basically leaves us. We are the ones who need to keep our collective eyes on corporate behavior.

Robert Jensen, a professor in the School of Journalism in the University of Texas at Austin has proposed a Citizen's Oath of Office. It is intended to be taken by every citizen on the same day that our elected representatives take their oaths of office. It states:
I do solemnly pledge that I will faithfully execute the office of citizen of the United States, and that I will, to the best of my ability, help create a truly democratic world by (1) going beyond mainstream corporate news media to seek out information about important political, economic, and social issues; (2) engaging fellow citizens, including those who disagree with me, in serious discussion and debate about those issues; (3) committing as much time, energy, and money as possible to help build [authentic] grassroots political organizations that can pressure politicians to put the interests of people over profit and power; and (4) connecting these efforts to global political and social movements fighting the U.S. empire abroad, where it does the most intense damage. I will continue to resist corporate control of the world, resist militarism, resist any roll-back of civil rights, and resist illegitimate authority in all its forms. [And I will commit to collective efforts in my local community to help build joyful alternatives to an unsustainable consumer society.]
 It strikes me that this oath would serve equally well for the purpose of resisting corporatization.

Token Economy

Clarke's third suggestion is to institute a token economy to reinforce good behavior and deter bad behavior. A token economy is a system of behavior modification that uses systematic positive reinforcement of target behavior using symbols or tokens. It is often used with children, mental institutions, and prisons. Privileges can be earned or lost based on choices made.

I find this idea appealing, because it's cute. I don't know how well it would work, but Clarke is an advocate and it has been used elsewhere successfully with recalcitrant populations. This idea also ties in well with the accountability measures discussed above. If you don't damage the environment, your charter can be extended. If you treat your workers well, your corporation is allowed to grow larger. If you're not socially responsible, we'll increase your tax rate. (I'm not crazy about this last one, because I think we should be simplifying our tax code, not making it more complex.)

Resist the Urge to Pity

"The Psychopath Next Door" by Stout has a chapter on 13 rules for dealing with psychopaths.  IMHO, it's the best part of the book.  I include two of them here.
9. Question your tendency to pity too easily.
Respect should be reserved for the kind and the morally courageous. Pity is another socially valuable response, and should be reserved for innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on misfortune. If, instead, you find yourself often pitying someone who consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for your sympathy, the chances are close to one hundred percent that you are dealing with a sociopath.
In other words, don't feel sorry for corporations. When an automaker says that it's too difficult to meet new emissions or fuel efficiency standards, make them comply anyways. When a corporation complains that the taxes are too high, tell them that this is nonsense. When a mining corporation protests that safety regulations are too stringent, don't listen.

The last rule on her list is "Living well is the best revenge." I'll be writing about this in my next post.

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