• Aaron Lehmann

Corporate Social Justice and The Politics of Life and Death

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

“Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me." - Napoleon Bonaparte

When a government no longer provides safety and ceases to represent the values of the majority of its citizenry, its population, especially within a capitalistic society, undoubtably turns to business entities for security. Does this business reinforce my values? Will this business protect and respect both my rights as a citizen, and my general health and wellbeing?

Corporations are forced, now more than ever, to concern themselves with their customer's anxieties. What brand you buy may feel more impactful than who you voted for during an election.

To have a socially conscious corporate entity is preferable to the alternative though, right? Customers should demand the ethical behavior of their suppliers, right?

I grew up on Long Island, about 90 miles outside of New York City. As a teenager in the 90s, it became evident that our modest towns were being overrun by the invasion of corporate businesses.

Back then, in pre-internet times, this sort of thing came about in the physical space, with the construction of warehouse-like structures and acres of blacktop parking spaces. They ate up the Mom-and-Pop shops seemingly overnight.

To get a job was no longer a matter of working for someone you knew who lived down the street, it was now about working for an abstract global entity, one designed specifically to extract capital from your community; an entity with no intention on reintroducing that capital back into the local economic ecosystem --- certainly not via your paycheck anyway! Sure, your Boss, the Manager, may still live down the road from you, but when he or she fires you it will be preluded with, "this is from corporate. Sorry. There's nothing I can do."

How could a locally owned burger joint compete with beef patties ready in 90 seconds? Patties designed in a lab to contain the perfect combination of salt, fat and sugar required to give the brain mini-orgasms.

And they came with a fucking toy...

The local hardware store owner can "get you that part in a week or two". He'll "call you when it gets in", actually don't worry, he has your number, besides, he'll see Barbara on Wednesday...

Or you could just head over to Home Depot and get started on that backyard pond ASAP...

Even as teenagers, my friends and I intuitively understood the negative implications of this invasion: we merely observed the cutting down of trees in order to make space for tar. It was clear that this was a fascist operation. After all, the small patches of woods is where we drank our beer and smoked our grass!

This growing up of mine all took place in an area dominated by white people and white American "culture". Folks other than those from European descent were sparse at best. Consequently, perceptions of African Americans, other US minorities and world cultures, were constructed almost solely by the visions (mostly nightmares) absorbed through TV.

At the time, there seemed to be two prevailing constructs in terms of the African American image: "Yo! MTV Raps" and "COPS".

Then there was the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the beating of Rodney King; and of course the O.J. Simpson trial, which gave birth to the 24 hour news cycle.

Before the internet, their were only a few news outlets which framed everything in society, outside of "the fringe". The infinite portals of information now provided by the internet today, were at the time, pure science fiction. We could only assess the macro world or the collective unconsciousness via narratives curated or constructed by the powerful. Strange to think of it now, but my local public library's foreign language film VHS section was all that made the exotic accessible to me.

Throughout rural America, the corporate model eventually dominated the landscape, and communities quickly experienced the consequences: declining income and longevity, and an increase in depression and anxiety. Communities became dysfunctional. Levels of drug addiction, malnutrition, obesity and suicide rates increased. Cheap imports replaced the need for creative or skilled workers, until all that was left was the service economy (modern day companies like Uber, Amazon or Seamless; those who offer work and take up to a 30% cut off your labor...this is the obvious extension).

Now who might these rural white American folk begin to realize as the enemy of their existence? Big business and corporations? Those who squeezed them dry and gave nothing back? Amazon doesn't pay taxes. Period. Not a cent...

Well, yes. Sort of...

Walmart? No. China, yes. Mainstream media, yes. Fox News, no. The Obama Administration, yes. Black Lives Matter? Also yes...

Rural white Americans who experienced the vampirism of big business rightfully blame the corporate powers centralized primarily in the major coastal cities. The same cities that broadcast the majority of mainstream news and Hollywood fiction.

They believe big business, under the protection of the Democratic Party, has bled them dry. Their board rooms of elite, ivy-league-educated marketing teams, behavioral scientists and economists have turned their communities into a collection of isolated individuals on hamsters wheels...

...and to add insult to injury, the media companies owned by the very business conglomerates who they believe fucked them, seem to be endlessly accusing them of their inherent racism and how they are the recipient of social privileges; all these accusations being broadcast from their shining urban Wall Street funded towers. Until finally and famously, the democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton branded them as "the deplorables".

To blame Walmart would be to implicate themselves, because they shop there. It is much more preferable to blame China.

I learned when traveling in Kenya a simple metaphor on the ways in which some NGOs, under the guise of charity, exploit a people. Imagine a community that has spent hundreds of years living off their local ecosystem. They live in relative harmony within their natural environment. They know which plants are medicinal, how to locate and utilize them for treatments. They know where, how and when to cultivate which crops, as well as when and where to hunt for specific animals. They know how to track their prey and read the stars for navigation. They have rich mythologies which they use to pass down moral teachings largely centered around the importance of taking care of their natural environment, i.e. not taking too much, so that the plants and animals will continue to thrive and produce for the community...

But since they have no money, they are deemed impoverished, but don't worry, the NGO is here to help!

Within one generation you can exploit these people by simply offering them free rice and wine. In return, all they must do is accept the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (or whatever ideology) into their hearts. Because it has become no longer necessary for them to practice their ancient methods of survival, the younger generation is taught only the politics of man and how to stay on the good side of the priests (or cult leader) in order to assure the rice and wine rations continue.

Unbeknownst to the villagers, while the rice is being so generously distributed, a factory is being constructed up river. Soon enough the factory requires workers, and the rice and wine must now be purchased. The old ways are lost and the economy of man has replaced the economy of ecology.

It isn't long before the waste from the factory makes the river undrinkable and now the villagers must commit their wages to import water from distance sources; thus competition for the factory jobs increase and poverty ensues.

Collectively abandoning the Laws of Nature for the Laws of Man to the point of global ecological disaster.

This metaphor of free rice and wine is comparable to the cheap Chinese plastic goods that fill the shelves of Walmart. It is the same as the convenience of shopping on Amazon and getting products delivered directly to your door in a few days time.

It always starts this way...

I was raised in the second largest box in the red section, Suffolk, NY and now I reside in the second largest box of the blue section, New York, NY. 👇

((Why is Joy Reid lecturing me on MSNBC about my privileged life when she has a Harvard graduate degree, a fantastically successful career, and is pulling in at least 1.5 million a year! As I struggle to make rent, I am being told by this network of the elite that I am privileged! FAKE NEWS!))

If a white male in America identified himself in the 80s or 90s as in fact being a white male, it is quite possible that he had, at least at some point in his life, considered himself to be along the lines of Tom Cruise's character in the movie Top Gun (a movie partially funded by The Pentagon, FYI) --- so as you can imagine, this new identity pitch requires a drastic reassessment.

“It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it … ”

–Aung San Suu Kyi, acceptance message for the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, 1991

And I would argue that the threat of corruption extends far beyond those who actually wield it. I believe that all that is required is a threat to one's perceived power; whether real or otherwise.

All the while, it is clear to the white American via their corporate media streams, that the African American identity is recalibrating in the collective consciousness as beautiful and defiant survivors of oppression. African Americans are breaking away from their historically imposed representations and are at last self-defining with rightful pride and esteem. Their stories are sought after by Hollywood, while media outlets are increasingly looking to hire qualified minority reporters, intellectuals and scientists to showcase both their outlet's commitment to diversity, and to insure minority communities are fairly represented. Statues are are being toppled and history is being rewritten.

The Academy Awards recently announced the establishment of LGBTQ and racial quotas for their best picture contenders. Corporations and big businesses are looking to meet the demands of the people for social justice, accurate representation and ethical treatment...

Now is this upward mobility of women and minorities, made obvious across liberal media platforms, is it real? Does it exist outside the realm of media?

'If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're mis-informed.' -- Mark Twain

If you go to Wolf Blitzer's imdb page, you'll see that he has quite a resume. He plays himself, framed by the CNN graphics layout, in the films Mission: Impossible - Fallout and the James Bond film Skyfall. Batman vs. Superman featured Anderson Cooper and Soledad O'Brien. Netflix’s House of Cards had Rachel Maddow, George Stephanopoulos and Lester Holt playing themselves.

CNNs parent organization, Turner Broadcasting System, also owns TNT, TBS, TruTV, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, etc. Turner Broadcasting System is in turn owned by WarnerMedia, which owns HBO, DC Films, Warner Brother Pictures, etc., WarnerMedia is owned by AT&T, the world's largest telecommunications company.

AT&T has made more than $1.8 million from CBP’s deportation agenda, including $1.3 million since Donald Trump took office. AT&T donated $2.7 million to 193 anti-LGBTQ politicians. AT&T has been one of Steve King’s largest corporate donors - over his long, racist career, King received more than $60,000 from AT&T, including $10,000 – the legal maximum limit – for his 2018 re-election campaign. AT&T donated nearly $200,000 to anti-abortion politicians. In 2017 and 2018, AT&T paid $600,000 to Trump’s convicted lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen to “advise” on various matters in the telecommunications industry – even though Cohen is not an expert in the field. And AT&T donated $2 million to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee...

The DNC predictably embraces the use of celebrities to bring out the vote, which also foolishly fuels the blurring of lines between the politics-of-life-and-death and empty-headed, capitalist corporate entertainers such as Katy Perry or Lady Gaga.

"In January of 2017, Trump did a press conference and called CNN 'fake news,' and us at BuzzFeed News a 'failing pile of garbage.' From that moment forward, any attempt to be specific about what 'fake news' is went out the window. It became weaponized and popularized at the same moment, and in the end Trump has really taken a certain level of ownership over it."

-- BuzzFeed News media editor Craig Silverman

In 2016, reality TV host Donald Trump had risen to become the President of the United States. Just as the news media had traversed into fiction, fiction had made the cosmic leap into the politics-of-life-and-death. Trump's antidemocratic, authoritarian, racist agenda successfully reassured a disturbing number of white Americans that their dominant political position would continue amongst a rapidly changing demographic. Even now, after living under his incompetent, sociopathic governance for four years, Trump still managed to convince 58% of white American males to vote him in for another 4 years in 2020. His actual agenda was to strip them of their healthcare, and he did nothing in response to a global pandemic [at the time this is being written 242,000 American lives have been lost to covid-19].

As Steve Bannon admitted in Errol Morris' documentary American Dharma, the losses experienced and hatred felt by rural white Americans can be easily directed and weaponized politically --- made evident simply by reading the Breitbart News comment section.

Writer Alan Moore rightly said it in his October 2020 interview with Deadline, “...when the American people elected a National Socialist satsuma...six of the top 12 highest grossing films were superhero movies...I think they’re both symptoms of the same thing – a denial of reality and an urge for simplistic and sensational solutions”.

Just as economic concerns dictated the Trump administration's public denials regarding the dangers of covid-19, the same could be said of the media's amplification of Trump leading up to the 2016 election. He brought the ratings, he brought the advertising money and he brought The Game of Thrones. They are Doctor Frankenstein, and he, their "unfaithful" Monster.

So what is with this discrepancy between perceived power and upward mobility, and the economic and political realities? On one network, it seems as if all of a sudden, all new shows are about minorities and women. News anchors of color are being promoted to prime time slots. Commercials for laundry detergent show fathers happily doing the laundry for their young daughters, and every other commercial has interracial or same sex families having a great time together. Is this an accurate representation of American society, or is it supposed to have some sort of Reaganomics trickle down, social enlightenment effect?

Simply change the channel to another network and the opposite is true...

When a government no longer provides safety and ceases to represent the values of the majority of its citizenry, its population, especially within a capitalistic society, undoubtably turns to business entities for security.

White rural America rails against the coastal cities. After all, most American cities are full of residents who were rejected, often violently, by rural American communities.

Maybe a young woman longing for a career migrated to New York because she felt suffocated by expectations to get married and have children. Maybe a homosexual teenager got thrown out of his religious parent's house and decided to hitchhike to Los Angeles in hopes to become an actor. Perhaps having become tired of being treated as suspicious or less than, an African American or Latino family ventured to live in a urban community where they no longer felt endangered by their minority status. Whatever the reason, there are plenty of them to migrate out of rural American and into a metropolitan setting. Since the money and the media platforms are all centralized in the coastal cities, these "freaks" and "rejects" of rural America logically become the most amplified voices of culture.

What I did not realize, until recently, is the full extent to which this hatred has been brewing...

I lived on 23rd Street and Lexington Avenue in Manhattan during the 9/11 attacks. 2,753 New Yorkers died that morning and the entirety of America united in a way that I had not seen before, or since. The entire world was mourning with us. America was ready to unite and defeat whatever enemies had wounded us. The rally cry was so strong that it enabled the Bush Administration to use its political capital to create an unjustified war; one founded on lies and the manipulation of evidence.

Nineteen year later, as of today, 24,099 New Yorkers have died from covid-19. During the worst of the first wave, ambulance sirens outside my window rang out continuously, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. A few blocks away eighteen wheelers were being packed with frozen bodies because the hospital morgue was overflowing. When I turned on the news during these bleak nights, folks from other parts of the US were not rallying around New York in solidarity like after 9-11. They weren't sending sympathy or screaming out for the need of government action. THEY DISBELIEVED IT AS FACT. The overwhelming deaths of their fellow Americans appeared to be inconsequential, at best. It was more clear than ever that there was a social sickness in America that went well beyond the virus.

Since the initial pandemic outbreak, the rest is recent history. The uprising of Black Lives Matter. Protests in New York City and ANTIFA in Portland. The rise of The Proud Boys and other right wing militias. The Trump administrations continuous push for a self-coup.

All being framed by the media that framed it all to begin with...

The Black Lives Matter movement is a political movement that deals with the life-and-death-politics in America. Just on the topic of covid-19 alone, African Americans are over 2x as likely to die from the disease.

When a government no longer provides safety and ceases to represent the values of the majority of its citizenry, its population, especially within a capitalistic society, undoubtably turns to business entities for security.

Because the Trump administration has not addressed any of the concerns of the virus and consistently encouraged racial conflict, the US citizen has turned to businesses to address their demand for justice and health safety concerns. Lily Zheng wrote for the Harvard Business Review:

"Research has shown that companies with effective Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are more profitable than those that aren’t. Over the last 50 years, corporations have relied on these programs, which include social issue marketing, philanthropic efforts, employee volunteer initiatives, and diversity and inclusion work, to build their brands and satisfy customers. Now, consumers and employees are raising the bar. The killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis has driven one of the largest protest movements in recent memory, and the widespread reactions to the standard CSR playbook suggest that old best practices may no longer work. Consumers and employees are now looking for more than Corporate Social Responsibility — they’re looking for what I call Corporate Social Justice.

Corporate Social Justice is a reframing of CSR that centers the focus of any initiative or program on the measurable, lived experiences of groups harmed and disadvantaged by society. CSR is a self-regulated framework that has no legal or social obligation for corporations to actually create positive impact for the groups they purport to help. Corporate Social Justice is a framework regulated by the trust between a company and its employees, customers, shareholders, and the broader community it touches, with the goal of explicitly doing good by all of them. Where CSR is often realized through a secondary or even vanity program tacked onto a company’s main business, Corporate Social Justice requires deep integration with every aspect of the way a company functions."

I fear associating a movement with advertising campaigns and corporate power delegitimizes the-politics-of-life-and-death, falsely implies collaboration and transforms the messaging to one that will be almost intuitively or instinctually resented.

The framing of the politics-of-life-and-death should be kept out of the hands of corporate power. The pressure put on businesses to represent their customer's social aspirations is better directed towards government institutions. To feel vindicated by the social change expressed in elite circles, in the propaganda of popular culture and in advertising, is to be bamboozled. It is designed, of course, to distract and appease.

Corporations should be held accountable ethically in their means of production and business practices, but they should not be allowed to co-opt the politics-of-life-and-death. If corporate celebrities wish to voice their political opinions, they should not be adopted or utilized by a political party that is of the people. The-politics-of-life-and-death is not in allegiance with corporate business or entertainment.

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