War and Corporate Power
Talk given by Molly Morgan at the Los Angeles Peace Center on 21 July 2003
One of the consequences of the US government's invasion of Iraq and the breathtaking speed with which Halliburton, Bechtel, and other corporations have received lucrative contracts is that war profiteering is once again part of the mainstream conversation. But beyond the billions in profits, the cronyism, and the obvious abuses of power, why is it important to understand how deep the relationship between war and corporate power goes? To begin with, capitalist corporations are the dominant institutions of our time. They have not superseded nation-states, but they have transcended them. What this means is that corporate values and needs - not human values and needs - dictate the day-to-day lives of most people on the planet - who has power; how we allocate resources; who gets healthcare, housing, and education; literally who lives and who dies. But corporations are not living beings. They do not exist to take care of people or the earth; they exist to provide ever-growing profit for their stockholders - into infinity. This means that the dominant institution of our time is operating from an insane expectation. Nothing can grow infinitely because we don't have a continually expanding planet. So the corporate value system is on collision course with finite resources of the earth.In addition to having an insane mandate, corporations exist to benefit a few people - primarily their major stockholders, top executives, and directors - at the expense of everyone and everything else. Therefore, war is essential for capitalist corporations to fulfill their growth mandate, because violence is required to force people to work for someone else to their own detriment and to give up their own local life-sustaining resources for someone else to use, or squander, or profit from. In our current global political climate, nation-states are still needed to provide legitimacy and cover for wars that benefit corporations, so governments and the capitalist corporate system co-exist in a symbiotic relationship. We can look at two examples to see how this works - how these corporate values are driving government decision-making and affecting people's lives. Obvious war profiteering, like weapons manufacturers encouraging more bombing, is only the tip of the iceberg.
The first example is Yugoslavia. In the early days of the Cold War, Tito had disagreements with the Soviet Union and as a result, although it remained socialist, Yugoslavia was more receptive to the West than the other nations of the eastern bloc and received lots of financial aid and loans from the US for decades. For the US, it was extremely important to build this strategic relationship with a country inside the enemy camp. After the wall fell in 1989, though, not only did the US no longer need this relationship with Yugoslavia, but the race was on to establish capitalist economies inside the eastern European countries. So in the fall of 1990, Congress passed a law cutting off all financial aid and loans to Yugoslavia in six months. When it went into effect, the economy collapsed and the resulting chaos rapidly descended into civil war, with certain factions aided and abetted by the US. In the aftermath, western corporations were able to buy up Yugoslavia's national assets at bargain-basement prices. But the economic link caused by the actions of the US Congress was not making it on anyone's front page because by that time the first Bush administration was then warring with Iraq.
The last chapter in the breakup of Yugoslavia happened eight years later when the Serbs were being demonized as carrying out "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. News agencies reported that peace negotiations were being conducted in Rambouillet, France. When the Serbs eventually walked away from these meetings, they were accused of being unreasonable, which provided the US and NATO with the excuse they needed to start bombing Kosovo. Had anyone bothered to read the Rambouillet Accord, they would have seen that in its 80 pages it called for "The economy of Kosovo [to] function in accordance with free market principles. . . free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital to Kosovo, including from international sources. . . international contracts for reconstruction projects. . . [and] to reallocate ownership [of] government-owned assets (including educational institutions, hospitals, natural resources, and production facilities)." The US government said they were trying to negotiate a peace agreement to stop attacks on defenseless civilians, but what they were really doing was giving Yugoslavia a choice: economic invasion or military invasion. Yugoslavia took its chances with the latter and got both.Another example is Afghanistan. For years Unocal and others had tried to negotiate with power-holders in Afghanistan to build pipelines across their country from the oil- and gas-rich Caspian Sea region. The power, wealth, and geopolitical control that would come with those particular pipelines were important to the US government as well as the corporations, so when business negotiations didn't work, the Pentagon developed plans to invade Afghanistan. All they needed was an excuse, which they got on September 11. Within hours of what they tried to make us believe was a total "surprise" attack, the FBI alleged to have found substantial evidence linking the hijackers to al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, hiding out in Afghanistan. The Taliban government said they'd turn Osama over if the US would simply show them the evidence. The US refused, said Afghanistan was harboring terrorists, and proceeded to bomb the country. They were able to mobilize within a few months because the battle plans already existed before September 11. The US military is still occupying Afghanistan, the Taliban is out, a former Unocal consultant is the puppet president of the country, and Unocal is now proceeding with its pipeline. Osama bin Laden has never been found, and no one is being prosecuted for the September 11 attacks, but the US has embarked on a "war against terror" that will give it an excuse for military excursions for years to come.The present Iraq situation is not just about making sure that people in the US get oil, but about the US controlling who in the world gets oil. Now that US troops are occupying Iraq, if France or Russia - for example - are engaging in any kind of activity someone in the US elite doesn't want, withholding oil from Iraq is one way to force them to comply. This is not necessarily about driving SUVs - withholding oil can be a matter of who gets heat in the winter. To think about how this kind of blackmail works, consider the legislation Senator Bill Frist introduced a couple of months ago. The bill suggests that African countries facing famine and requesting food aid who reject genetically modified food from the US might then be denied AIDS medicines. In other words, this legislation threatens Africans who need life-saving medicine to take food that has not been adequately researched for safety, that no one in Europe will buy, and that could destroy their own country's capacity to produce healthy crops in the future. Senator Frist is a physician, the only one in the Senate, so he holds a lot of influence in these kinds of issues. What kind of doctor have the voters of Tennessee sent to Washington? Clearly one for whom the Hippocratic oath takes a back seat to the violence of economic exploitation of some of the most desperate people on the planet. Senator Frist is on the side of agribusiness corporations having trouble selling their GMO crops. These kinds of negotiations, quid pro quos, and forcing already oppressed people to choose between deadly alternatives goes on all the time; there are hundreds of stories like these every year.
_____________________________________Since the inception of modern-day corporations at the beginning of the 17th century, they have been inextricably linked to war. Queen Elizabeth of England granted a charter to the British East India Company in 1600, providing the stockholders with "limited liability" to skirt England's inherited debt laws in case the extremely risky business of developing trade in Asia and exploiting the so-called "New World" was a disaster. In exchange, the Crown received a portion of the profits. Other European countries were doing the same thing, and as early as 1614 a Dutchman, Jan Pieterzoon Coen, wrote to his directors, "Trade in India must be conducted and maintained under the protection and favour of your weapons, and the weapons must be supplied from the profits enjoyed by the trade, so that trade cannot be maintained without war or war without trade." Although monopoly rights assured the various India trading companies of the exclusive privileges of buying and selling, they did not guarantee that they could buy goods cheaply. For that, political control was essential, which soon led the Europeans into imperialism.Many of the colonies in the Americas were chartered as corporations, and in order to control property and commerce, the representatives for these long-distance stockholders had a lot of autonomy, including levying taxes, writing laws, and raising armies to fight Indians and control rebellions. Life was hard in the colonies, and the majority of people who were touched by the colonial system suffered enormously. The colonists died by the hundreds of overwork, disease, and starvation, and the indigenous people were slaughtered to take their land. The purpose of these colonial corporations was to funnel wealth to the already wealthy in Europe, no matter what the human cost was, and despite serious initial setbacks, when successful they did their job so spectacularly that the European aristocrats continued to gamble their investments on this horrific form of exploitation.Justification for this kind of trade and this kind of corporation had been established more than a century and a half before when the Europeans were starting to claw their way out of the Dark Ages. They believed in a transportable, proselytizing religion that rationalized conquest. As feudalism gave way to mercantilism, the crown heads and nobles sought trade routes and regional consolidation to expand their power and wealth. These emerging nation-states threatened the power of the Vatican, which then sought favor with the competing monarchs by giving them God's approval for their exploits. In the middle of the 15th century, for example, the Pope granted to the king of Portugal "general and indefinite powers to search out and conquer all pagans" and to enslave them and appropriate their lands and goods. They were given responsibility for the spiritual development of all lands they acquired. It was better for the Vatican if the Europeans waged war on non-Christians than with each other, so to resolve a dispute later in the century the Pope established a line in the Atlantic giving Spain one side of the world to conquer and Portugal the other. This was the situation in 1492 when Columbus sailed to the Americas for Spain. When Columbus, Pizzarro, and other "explorers" landed on foreign shores, they would usually read aloud - in Spanish - a document that came to be called "the Requirement" to the friendly, uncomprehending native people:"I implore you to recognize the Church as a lady and in the name of the Pope take the King as lord of this land and obey his mandates. If you do not, I tell you that with the help of God I will enter powerfully against you all. I will make war everywhere and every way that I can. I will subject you to the yoke and obedience to the Church and his majesty. I will take your women and children and make them slaves. . . . The deaths and injuries that you will receive from here on will be your own fault and not that of his majesty nor of the gentlemen that accompany me."Gets right to the point, doesn't it? In one short paragraph, the Church provided justification and absolution for invasion, theft, war, murder, torture, and slavery all rolled into one! While being non-Christian was the original justification for such atrocities, within a century and a half skin color started to replace it as a dominant technique for economic exploitation. The natives in the Americas were decimated by disease, war, and sometimes mass suicide; forcing them to work was not long successful and soon led to the enormous trade in slaves from Africa, yet another highly profitable form of commerce for which corporate monopoly trade charters were issued. A few centuries later, the US Supreme Court quietly adopted the Church's Doctrine of Discovery, which said that Christian nations had a divine right, based on the Bible, to claim absolute title to and ultimate authority over any newly "discovered" non-Christian inhabitants and their lands. In 1823, in Johnson v. McIntosh, Chief Justice Marshall asserted that the US, upon winning its independence, became a successor nation to the right of "discovery" and acquired the power of "dominion" from Great Britain. Unoccupied lands - unoccupied by Christians, that is - rightfully belonged to Christian "discoverers" to do with as they pleased. As a result of absorbing these philosophies into US law, the consequences of these practices of economic exploitation are with us today in many forms, including racism, grossly unequal distribution of wealth, substance abuse, the prison-industrial complex, the poverty draft, and destruction of the earth. Although we talk about periods of peace, the reality is that this hemisphere has been engaged in a continual racist war for profits since Columbus first set foot in Haiti in October of 1492.
By the 1770s, some of the wealthiest colonists in the Americas had grown tired of being second-class English citizens and sharing their wealth with the king, so they fomented a rebellion and, with the help of France, waged a successful war of independence against one of Europe's superpowers. Cloaked in the language of liberty, this was a war about who would get the spoils of commerce. The new rulers in the US associated corporations with the king's oppression, so when they wrote Constitution, they didn't mention corporations, leaving the responsibility for chartering them to the state legislatures, which kept corporations under tight control, specifying exactly what a corporation could do, when, where, with whom, how, and for how long. Stockholders were held personally liable for any harm done in the name of the corporation, corporations were prohibited from any kind of political activity and from owning stock in other corporations, and they could only get their profit-making privileges by doing something for the public good. Most charters expired after 10 or 15 years and weren't renewable. And when corporations violated their charters, state legislatures and courts frequently revoked them. But all these restrictions were eventually doomed to the dustbin because the Constitution protects property - not people - and corporations are a unique and extremely useful form of property because, unlike land or buildings, they can be redefined at will under the law. And this is exactly what happened to facilitate the desires of those who wanted to amass ever-growing wealth. This is how a good idea, like keeping corporations on a short leash, gets dismantled.As the industrial revolution proceeded, the elites in the US started to understand how convenient corporations could be as a tool for shielding their wealth, so they shed their old prejudices about corporations being tools of the king's oppression and gradually worked to change the laws that kept corporations accountable to the citizens. The size and number of corporations grew rapidly during the Civil War as governments on both sides of the Mason-Dixon chartered lots of them to produce guns, cannons, powder, wagons, uniforms, tents, and all the other supplies needed to keep an army fighting. That era's version of war profiteering included rancid food, rifles that shot off soldiers' thumbs, and shoes with soles that melted in the rain. Nonetheless, the war funneled large amounts of public money into private corporations, which was then used by the powerful men who owned them to facilitate rapid corporate growth in the late 1800s and usher in the era of the robber barons. The railroads were the first monopoly in the US, and although they viciously abused their employees and the people who were dependent on them (like farmers), investors prospered so well that soon monopolies existed in many other industries as well. It was a spiral: the more money corporations made, the more their owners could bribe elected officials and judges, hire lawyers to write new laws and challenge existing ones in court, and the more corporate power grew. By the middle of the 19th century the US had acquired all of its continental territory, and by the end of the 19th century, it had begun its imperialist phase to meet the demands of those investors, who needed to keep growing their capital. Corporate profiteering became an increasing feature of US wars of conquest.It's worth noting that Thomas Jefferson, who had a far more democratic vision for the United States, advocated two additional amendments that didn't make it into the Bill of Rights. One was a prohibition against monopolies, and the other was against a standing army.The US, and even the Europeans, didn't invent this idea, of course - for thousands of years people have waged wars to control resources and labor, obtain and protect trade routes, and colonize. But the US was essentially born at the same time as industrialization, and within a relatively short period of time it shifted from a primarily agrarian economy to a capitalist one. Don't forget that Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations was written the same year as the Declaration of Independence. The Civil War was fought to determine whether the industrial capitalists of the North would seize the historical political power of the plantation owners of the South. Once that happened, the corporation quickly became the commercial vehicle of choice for the elite. The corporation was molded in US law to reflect the core mandate of capitalism: infinite growth. By the end of the 19th century, the investor class, through their industrial corporations and financial institutions, were well established as the most powerful people in the country, where they have remained ever since.
As the US got into the imperialism game, it launched its own wars for corporate conquest. Smedley Butler was in the US Marine Corps from 1898 to 1931, fighting in the Philippines, China, Asia, and Latin America, and rising to the rank of Major General. He became a vocal critic of US foreign policy after WWI, and after his retirement became a national hero for his outspokenness, giving more than 300 speeches a year to veterans groups. He published a booklet, "War is a Racket," in 1935, in which he made the links between corporate profiteering and war. Just before his death in 1940, he gave a speech in which he said, "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested." Little has changed since Smedley Butler's death.Both world wars had commerce issues - control of territory and trade - at their roots. Then came the Cold War and the arms race, which allowed corporate abuse of power to reach new heights. We were periodically treated to scandalous stories of Uncle Sam purchasing $600 hammers and $700 toilet seats from so-called "defense contractors." In the name of national security, weapons manufacturers were not held accountable for cost overruns, delays, and even stuff that just didn't work. This could not have happened without the complicity of elected officials, who increasingly worked on behalf of their corporate constituents rather than the majority of their human ones. Behind the scenes, laws and institutions like the IMF and World Bank were retooled in the 1970s to facilitate the next phase of corporate expansion to the transnational level - what we now refer to as globalization. Corporate capitalism needed new markets and more cheap labor and resources to keep growing, or else it would collapse, and the CIA and uncontested military superiority of the US delivered them. Since the unprecedented disgrace of the military in Vietnam, much of this work has been done covertly. Sometimes the strategy is to create chaos where none existed so the US has an excuse to come "straighten things out." Sometimes it's to punish governments that had the audacity to nationalize assets. Often it's to prevent democratic, socialist, or union movements from becoming successful. When the people in the way are powerless - like indigenous tribes on land that logging or mining corporations want - they're wiped out by proxy armies, paramilitaries trained by the US, or covertly funded guerrillas, and it doesn't register a blip on the national news. If the people in the way have some power, then a plausible story has to be told.Propaganda is absolutely essential to this process, and it is more sophisticated in the US than in any other country. Because naked aggression is distasteful to most people, the US's imperialist wars of the 20th century have had to be camouflaged as something else: helping our "little brown brother" in the Philippines, fighting fascism, stopping the "domino effect" of communism, ending ethnic cleansing, spreading democracy, fighting terrorism. Revenge is a common rationale, with self-inflicted or manufactured insults like the Alamo, the Maine, the Lusitania, Pearl Harbor, the Gulf of Tonkin, and September 11 all carefully propagandized to create maximum US outrage at being attacked. Language is important. At the end of WWII, when a permanent war economy was established, the Department of War was renamed Department of Defense. The brilliance of the propaganda is to take a nugget of truth - after all, Pearl Harbor and September 11 really happened - and weaving a different story with techniques like leaving out key people and events, suggesting connections where there are none, and fanning prejudice to reinforce myths of US supremacy and goodness. The reality is that US wars and military actions are always about protecting corporate commercial interests that benefit a small number of people enormously. The fact that these actions might also accomplish something desirable - like getting rid of the Taliban - is secondary, but useful for propaganda. The interests are determined first, well out of sight and sound of the citizens of the US, and then an appropriate cover story is concocted. The reason that corporate capitalism has thrived in the US is because power-holders are brilliant at co-opting people at just the right level to obtain their support of the system - or at least prevent them from working against it. In the second half of the 20th century, it was in the interest of the system to allow a large and prosperous middle class to develop, and they created stories that allowed people to feel ok about their privilege or at least not ask questions. That need is much less important now, which is why the middle class is being targeted by changes in the system.
Militarism is so deeply intertwined with corporate capitalism that the two cannot be pulled apart. They complement each other in essential ways. Our economy cannot exist without either. So it's no surprise that corporate world shares many characteristics with the military. It starts with intent: the purpose of capitalist corporations, as with the military, is to exploit the many in order to benefit a few. It's reflected in the structure: the power, privilege, pay, and prestige of military officers compared with enlisted people is the same relationship that corporate executives have to line workers, whether in a factory or an office. The language of corporations often mirrors that of the military's language of rape and plunder: penetrating markets, cutthroat competition, battle for profits. In both the corporate worldview and the military, other actors are divided into interchangeable allies and enemies, sometimes turning traditional relationships on their head. A few years ago the FBI successfully investigated and convicted Archer Daniels Midland in a huge international price-fixing scheme. The top-level executive who provided undercover assistance revealed that in those meetings these global partners in crime often referred to each other as friends and their customers as the enemy. Both the military and the corporation seek to minimize individual accountability, whether it's by leaving the evidence dead on the battlefield or obscuring it in departmental finger-pointing. Except when political expediency demands it, power-holders routinely sweep accusations under the rug in response to military and corporate wrong-doing. And the military and corporate worlds are both, of course, not just undemocratic, but anti-democratic.There is even a kind of spiritual similarity. Chris Hedges is a columnist for the New York Times and has been a war reporter for many years in more than a dozen countries on three continents. Here are some excerpts of his observations about war from a commencement address he gave in May:"The seduction of war is insidious because so much of what we are told about it is true. It does create a feeling of comradeship, which obliterates our alienation and makes us, for perhaps the only time in our life, feel we belong. War allows us to rise above our small stations in life. We find nobility in a cause and feelings of selflessness, and even bliss. . . . War gives us a distorted sense of self. It gives us meaning. Once in war, the conflict obliterates the past and the future. All is one heady, intoxicating present. You feel every heartbeat in war, colors are brighter, your mind races ahead of itself. . . . The ecstatic glow that makes us in war feel as one people, one entity, is real, but this is part of war's intoxication. . . . [While we may not all be able to have true friends or love, w]e can all have comrades. The danger of the external threat that comes when we have an enemy does not create friendship, it creates comradeship; and those in wartime are deceived about what they are undergoing. And this is why once the threat is over, once war ends, comrades again become strangers to us. This is why, after war, we fall into despair. . . . In comradeship, the kind that comes to us in patriotic fervor, there is a suppression of self-awareness, self-knowledge, and self-possession. Comrades lose their identities in wartime for the collective rush of a common cause, a common purpose. In comradeship, there are no demands on the self. This is part of its appeal and one of the reasons we miss it and seek to recreate it."These words about comradeship sound very much like the experience I - and many other people - have had in the corporate world, at least in the middle and upper levels of management. If you enjoy your work and are involved in it, you can spend hours, days, weeks, intensely discussing projects, strategies, and company politics in meetings, over lunch or drinks, the excitement perhaps even leading to an affair. But once you leave the company to go on to another job, it is hard to conduct a conversation, let alone maintain a relationship, with those same people. The corporation creates the same kind of environment, the same context for relationships, that Hedges describes in war - ephemeral and illusory. This is not to say that people in the military or corporations don't make friends or even find love - just that the structure makes most relationships a temporary, hollow sham. And rather than bemoan the loss and figure out what's happening, most of us just reach for the next war, the next job, to try to replace what we've lost and get rid of that empty, lonely feeling.
Just as the purpose of the military is to maintain control of resources through war, the purpose of the capitalist corporation is to maintain control of resources through the economy. And "resources" in this worldview includes people, because that's all human beings are to the world's elite power-holders - "human resources." This need to control resources is why corporations are now entwined into virtually every aspect of our lives - food, healthcare, housing, clothing, entertainment, energy, transportation - and they're rapidly closing in on education and essential services like water. Both methods - control through war and control through the economy - are violent. Either method is acceptable to the world's elites; the only question is which is less expensive and more politically expedient at continuing to consolidate power and wealth. If one doesn't work, the other will, and often both are used. The economy is a system of violent rule, but its brilliance is that people don't realize it. This is the hard reality we must wake up to.This two-pronged approach for controlling people's lives, whether it's wartime or so-called "peacetime," is no new invention. The model for our system, quite enthusiastically embraced by the US Federalists, the French Revolutionaries, and the British, is the Roman Empire. Rome was a great band of robbers. War and plunder were essential to the Roman economy. Taxing newly conquered peoples and waging war were routine ways of expanding wealth and power for those in control, and continual expansion was necessary to keep their unsustainable system going. Co-optation happened at many levels; soldiers in the early days, for example, were paid in pillage, and the plebian struggles to get power and equality really amounted to nothing more than getting their "fair share" of the booty. Lest the people have too much time to think, make common cause, and rise up against the emperors and senators, a new war campaign would be announced. While the Roman Empire lasted for many centuries, and certainly became the most fearful and powerful military of its day, we all know how the story ended. Like all empires throughout history, it was unsustainable and eventually collapsed of its own weight and corruption.The point I am trying to make is this: most of us, when we think about violent action involving military personnel, don't have trouble calling it war, whether it's declared or not. But most of us don't realize that our economic system is also a form of war, which turns our day-to-day lives, literally, into battle. Scholar John Gillis contrasts older forms of militarism - in which civil society is separate from and subordinate to military authority - with contemporary militarization. According to Gillis, militarization is the process by which "civil society organizes itself for the production of violence." Whereas militarism was once understood as a set of beliefs limited to specific - separate - social groups or sectors of the ruling class, militarization is a series of mechanisms that involve the entire society. We are all implicated.Many of us understand that we cannot have peace without economic and social justice. What may not be as clear, however, is that a struggle for equality in an inherently unjust system cannot, by definition, be a struggle for justice. If all we want is our share of the spoils of war - the spoils of capitalism - we will, in our very struggle, maintain the institutions and beliefs that cause war. If we want peace, and if we want justice, then the work must be about the complete transformation of our society to one that is sustainable, cooperative, and democratic.We cannot accomplish that by following the rules of a system set up by people with fundamentally different values. The anti-democratic vision established by the men who wrote the Constitution is fully operational today. This vision calls for a small number of people to retain power, and the reason the system has lasted for more than two centuries is that they've been very successful at giving people just enough table scraps to keep them from really challenging the balance of power - not that people with a very different vision of society haven't tried. Through enormous struggle, the majority of people in this country have won real victories, real privileges, real rights that are extremely valuable. But these privileges have lulled most of us to sleep and prevented us from taking a radical stand against the root causes of the problem: corporate capitalism and centralized elite rule. The seduction of the system is like gambling in Vegas. The odds always favor the house; they let people win just often enough to keep them coming back to gamble some more. Our occasional victories, as important as they have been, haven't changed the balance of power; they've been like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But now those privileges are being taken away which is causing more people to wake up. We are on a collision course between the myth of infinite corporate and economic growth, the rapidly expanding human population, and the mass extinction of plant and animal species. If we want to do the work of minimizing the damage of this collision, we need to rethink our strategies by redefining power, learning how to think and act like small-d democrats, and deeply questioning our assumptions about the world we live in and what we can do.
Why should we believe this is possible? For one thing, I don't think we have a choice. Maintaining the status quo is no longer an option for us. The voracious, insatiable nature of corporate capitalism is forcing revolutionary changes whether we like it or not. The alternative to not trying to transform our world is letting the current system continue on its self-destructive path until we have a world in which most of us are dead or wish we were. But too many people don't think transformation is possible because we've been taught to believe that we've always lived under oppressive hierarchical systems and that we can't change human nature. Eradicating this lie from our belief system is an essential first step for us, and an extremely difficult one because we live in a culture that severed itself from human history some 10,000 years ago - which is a long time but compared to millions of years of human existence on the planet is nowhere near "always."The foundation for the culture we live in goes back much farther than even the Roman Empire, and here's a theoretical story to explain what might have happened. At some point around 10,000 years ago, some tribe of people changed their cultural story from one about living in harmony with the earth to one about dominion over the earth - not about finding their place in the world, but changing it to suit their needs and theirs alone. Unlike the other tribes, they applied their skills in agriculture and animal herding to building food surpluses, which led to a growth in population, which led to conquering and displacing other tribes. Their cultural story changed from being at one with life in the universe to being separate from both the divine and the planet - and separate from other human beings. Cooperation was replaced with competition, sustainability with growth, shared power with hierarchy, and peaceful co-existence with domination. By force and by emulation this new cultural story spread around the planet, with a huge push in the last 500 years. This is the root of the growth mentality that has metastasized into corporate capitalism.Why should we believe this story? Most people who refused to change their cultural story and adopt the dominator mode have now been wiped out, but we know that there is an alternative because some of these people are still living with this fundamentally different worldview, because information about other cultures was collected before the extermination, and from archeological records. We may never know just what caused this change to come about, but the point is that humans have existed on the planet for millions of years - we haven't forgotten our sustainable, cooperative ways of living in just 10,000 years, but they have atrophied. If we want to stick around much longer, we have to invest in, connect with, and re-develop our democratic, life-loving, cooperative, sustainable selves. We have to reconnect with that much longer, deeper history of human evolution and consciousness. This needs to happen in small groups and at local levels because that's the only way we can develop our skills. And because there is no one right way to live, there is no one right way to do it.Doing this is critically important, because we can't leave this job to our so-called "leaders." The power-holders in nation-states and corporate capitalism are too trapped in their own belief system, too deeply in denial, to provide real solutions. The only responses they can come up with is more of the same - more violence, more lies, more suppresion of the truth. They call for "more growth" the same way a medieval doctor might prescribe "more leeches." Well, we're running out of blood. We have to let go of our dependency and abandon the illusion of security that these people have convinced us they provide. We need to figure out how to do this without them, and later, when we've developed the new systems, they'll join us. Here's a short story illustrating what I'm saying.The World Economic Forum happens every year in Davos, Switzerland - a gathering of the world's most powerful bankers, financiers, corporate CEOs, media people, and government officials. In 1996 they were addressed by Oren Lyons, Peacekeeper of the Iroquois-Six Nations Confederacy. When asked to give his perspective on the financial community's role in the present world situation, Chief Lyons responded, "I see you all as jockeys, and your companies are the horses you ride. You're beating your horses on in a race, but now you can see that you are racing toward a stone wall. You see some of those ahead of you smashing into the wall, but you don't turn around or even pause. You're beating your horses on anyway as fast as you can."
A few months later, one of the women who'd been at Davos had tea at the home of a banker from Rio de Janeiro whom she'd met there. She asked her host how he saw the world economic situation from his position as one of the leading bankers of Brazil. "He said that frankly it looked as though we were all going over the edge of a cliff. I caught my breath and asked if his colleagues felt the same way. He confirmed that they did. I asked him then whether he - or they - were interested in discussing alternatives. He said there was nothing to be done. Finally I tried one last question: How do you reconcile this inaction with the fact of being a grandfather? He turned his eyes away. 'Don't ask me that,' he said, 'I can't bear to think about it.'"_____________________________________In order for people to want to work to change the system, they need three things. They must see a problem with the current system, they must have a vision of a different system and see it as an improvement, and they must see a way to get from here to there. These are not sequential steps; they are conditions that must all be present for most people to act. One of the great things about this is that lots of different skills are required for all of these things to happen - diagnosticians, visionaries, architects, organizers, writers, teachers, artists, musicians - happily, the diversity we will need to do this work reflects the diversity of the human species. For decades people have been talking about the problems with corporate capitalism and dedicating their lives to the life-saving work of mitigating the harms caused by that system. For generations visionaries have dreamed of alternatives. We're coming into a time when the current system is causing misery for so many more people that many of us are asking questions, and just when other people are starting to figure out how to build bridges to get to alternatives. I believe understanding the connections between corporate power and war is an essential part of helping us strip away our illusions so we can participate in his building of a new world. Although we live in dangerous times, they are also very exciting times - full of promise - and I, for one, am looking forward to the journey. Thank you.