As Americans, we spend a third or more of our waking lives at work.
Most of us work at corporations.
Corporations in the last century or so have encouraged a singular attitude:
Do whatever it takes to make money for the business.
The “It’s just business” mentality has led to millions of otherwise sane, rational, and compassionate people to perform inhuman acts in order to fulfill this corporate mission.
Charge abusive interest rates to people for borrowing their own money? Sure, it’s just business.
Take the whole system to the brink of collapse on the basis of risky bets? Of course, it’s not my money.
Ruin people’s lives for the sake of profit motive? Why not!
We have a word for this type of behavior:
Corporations Are People Too …
The Corporation, a movie documentary that came out in 2003, does a great job of making this point.
The documentary charts the development of the corporate form of organization. Early on, corporations were formed to complete a specific project and were quickly dissolved. It’s only later that they became the self-perpetuating, immortal creatures we see today.
Over time, corporations had to have legal powers in order to sue and be sued in court. The Corporation movie points out that a throwaway line in a U.S. Supreme Court decision first led to corporations being considered “persons” under the U.S. Constitution, with the same legal rights as human beings.
The corporation-as-person is a legal fiction. But it’s an important one that’s had a profound effect on modern-day life, The Corporation documentary argues. The corporation–not the government or the church–is the most dominant institution on the face of the Earth, affecting billions of people around the globe every single day.
This legal fiction has led to decisions like Citizens United, which gives corporations the ability to contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns here in the U.S., because corporations are “persons” with the right to “free speech” AKA donations.
So if corporations are people too, then it’s worth asking:
What kind of people are they?
… They’re Just Psychopaths
The Corporation movie uses the psychological assessment in the DSM-IV to come up with a “diagnosis” of the corporate personality. The result:
If modern corporations were real people, they’d be clinical psychopaths.
On nearly all the measures of psychopathy, modern corporations pass with flying colors:
- callous disregard for the feelings and safety of others
- incapacity to maintain human relationships
- incapable of experiencing guilt
- deceitfulness for private gain
- disrespect for laws and social norms
Think about the ways companies you’ve worked for or companies that have been in the news behave. How many of them exhibit the character traits above?
Think Like a Psycho: How Corporations Affect Employee Behavior
But you might be saying corporations are made up of people. So how is it we blame the corporations and not the owners and employees who are running those businesses?
The answer is simple.
Employees do things for their employers that they would never do in their personal life.
Seth Godin cites the example of Progressive insurance, which went to court against its own customer to try to get out of paying under its life insurance policy.
What’s sad about this situation is that it happens all the time. The difference is the victim’s family made it public. Most don’t.
Would the guy who sold the victim the insurance behave this way if it were his personal reputation on the line? Or how about the lady who works in claims? Or the lawyer?
I don’t think so.
(Okay, maybe the lawyer would.)
The corporate way forces us as employees to forget our empathy and good judgment.
Employees must submit to the will of the corporation, which often leads to otherwise reasonable people behaving like psychopaths. Is it any wonder corruption and fraud are so prevalent in modern business life?
Lifestyles of the Rich and Psychopathic
The psychological divide happening in people who work in corporations cannot continue. We can’t keep acting like a psychopath in one context (work) and trying to act like a compassionate human being in another (personal).
Inevitably, the walls that we try to build between these two facets of our lives will collapse.
The current system pushes you in one direction: psychosis. Our human relationships suffer as a result. We lose our ability to empathize. We start seeing everything in terms of profit-and-loss and ROI.
We can do better.
We can make compassion and cooperation core values of our businesses. When we take direction of our own lives, we can act like human beings instead of ceding our will to the psychosis of corporations. We can tear down the walls between our work personalities and our home personalities.
The jerks and bullies among us will always be jerks and bullies. It doesn’t matter for them who they hurt in the process.
But the rest of us can opt out of the system that they’ve built.
Recommended Viewing: The Corporation on DVD (2-Disc set with extended interviews)