Thursday, November 02, 2006


Empathizing With The Emperor

This is a frustrating time for anyone who distrusts corporate power. In years past, the workers may have been faceless, but so were the tycoons and the executives. We had a few images of the very rich - a wizened Rockefeller handing out dimes, a gawky Henry Ford lurching spasmodically across the silver screen. Enough, perhaps, to render them as either icons or caricatures, but not enough to make them fully rounded and sympathetic. Even if we were faceless, our enemies had no faces either - at least not human ones - and it was easier to oppose them. Nowadays, tycoons and executives become superstars. They are photographed, they are interviewed, they even have their own TV series. We observe them smiling and speaking softly and behaving courteously with others. We learn about their families, their hobbies, and the names of their pets. They confide to us the hurdles they had to surmount, the afflictions they had to bear, the tragedies in their lives. They are realer to us than our own neighbors and colleagues. In short, they have become more human than ourselves. We identify with them - at least some of us do. And with identification comes empathy. We feel as though they are our friends - or at least our champions. They may not have fought for us to get where they are, but they won the contest anyway, and that makes them the champions of...something.

We assume this is what they've always wanted. Admiration, an audience for their opinions and even public adulation. That is what all that striving was for, wasn't it? To become our heroes?

You may worship them and empathize with them, but I don't - and I'll tell you why. I never had any interest in becoming a chief executive, or in making billions. My interests and ambitions lay totally elsewhere - so it's not like they pulled off something I'd always wanted to, but couldn't. I could care less what they did. It's how they did it that bothers me. What everyone who worships billionaires should remember is that the wealth of all these men and women has been vastly increased - in some cases, entirely created - by a single pivotal change in corporate thinking. That change was the conscious decision to stop viewing their employees as hard-working people capable of growth and loyalty, but as a mere cost of doing business - human overhead that could be expunged from the ledger at any time without regard for their welfare or any sense of moral responsibility whatsoever. That ruthless tendency has existed in the business world since the dawn of time, but only in the last fifteen or twenty years has it become so programmatic and absolute. Corporate leaders no longer even pretend to care about the people who work for them, and are proud that they do not. The "achievement" that brings these "leaders" into the public eye and enables them to broadcast their "humanity" across the globe arose directly from their willingness to empathize with no one else.

I don't care if you believe I am stupid, that my writing is illiterate, or that my spirit is immoderate and insensitive. I know that what I am trying to say is the truth, and the truth will out. Go ahead and fawn over those distant gods whose good fortune is founded on their inability to care whether you live or die. You will see the light eventually.

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