(image by The Corporation)
Thanks to Dick Overfield for transcript checking
My guest tonight is Joel Bakan. He is a professor at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law. He studied at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar and served as Law Clerk in 1985 for Chief Justice Brian Dickson of the Supreme Court of Canada. He wrote the book and created the movie, The Corporation:The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power, one of the most successful documentaries ever produced. The most successful one ever produced in Canada. And more recently he is the author of, Childhood Under Siege: How Big Business Targets Children. Welcome to the show.
R.K.: Now wait, wait! How is it the same for culture? How is it the same for arts? I want to"you're a good thinker. I want to get into how you see this in culture and arts.
J.B.: Yeah, sure. I mean, there used to be ideas" and I am a professional jazz musician as well as the other things I do and so I am quite involved in the arts and in performance and there has been a real shift in the arts to begin with. There is a lot less, fewer opportunities for public funding so increasingly artists are being forced to work within for-profit models and within those for-profit models they are increasingly pursuing projects that are being crafted in a way that they can make a quick buck rather than that they serve other kinds of aesthetic and artistic values.
You know I am quite close to the film industry. I made "The Corporation" film and my wife is a film actor. It's just" it's very obvious in the film industry where you have got much more product placement than you ever had. You have scripts that are being written more by producers than writers with a view to: how can I write a script that is going to create a story that is going to make a lot of money?
And so the notion of arts for art's sake, like education for education's sake, or science for science's sake- all for the public good- that notion is very much disappearing in the arts. You look at music you can see the same thing. Symphonies dying, jazz dying, and all the effort being put by the big studio and record companies, well they don't make records anymore, but music companies into something that's going to be a very quick hit that follows the formula that will ensure that it makes a lot of money and then that's it.
So, and there are many people who are much more expert than I am in all of these areas, arts, culture, science, education, who are making these kinds of arguments and doing very good work on showing how this is playing out. So you have got this general commercialization of the culture and that can't then help but seep down into people's sense of their own agency.
So why aren't people voting as much as they were, especially youth? You know, why is there political apathy? These aren't natural things. These are partly a result of the fact that people are being more drawn in to this model of understanding that we're kind of all on our own. We're all individuals and you just... the union movement, I mean, is really an example.
All of our sensibility around collective good, around communal attachments, around solidaristic ties are very much... that sensibility is very much deteriorating. Part of what I look at in my new book is how that's happening in the interface between youth culture and commercialism.
R.K.: Then tell me a little bit more about how the effects of corporations and the psychopathic character of them has affected individuals.
J.B.: Well, I mean, I think following from what I was just talking about, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for individuals to engage with social phenomenon that are driven by values and goals and ideas, not somehow linked to commercialism. So I think what that means is that in most individuals' lives the culture they're encountering on a daily basis is commercial culture and that commercial culture in turn is increasingly defined, as I said, by what will make a buck quickly.
So you have niche markets and niche groups that are interested in independent film or in independent theater, but increasingly it's more and more niche. And you have most youth, for example, are living their social lives on a marketing platform called Facebook.
Facebook is not there as a public good. It's there as a for-profit enterprise and increasingly kids are living their social lives on that platform and communicating with each other by together "liking" some Starbucks site, or Mountain Dew, or being involved in creating a video for some company and then sharing it. So that their communications are increasingly becoming commercial.
They're pitching things to each other almost without knowing it on these social media platforms. They're on these platforms that are primarily commercial and that are tracking everything they do and then feeding back to them individually tailored ads. So the world is becoming much more fundamentalist for kids, and for adults too, in the sense that one idea, the idea of making money, serving yourself as an individual, rapaciously consuming- this is more than one idea I guess- defining yourself in terms of what you own and what you buy, what brands you're attached to. That this sort of one idea of commercial is you is deepening and we're becoming as a result a fundamentalist culture because, by definition, a culture that is not fundamentalist is one where you have a plurality of different values and different ideas and different attachments in the culture of existence.
R.K.: So I've done a lot of writing and interviewing about psychopaths and sociopaths and there are all kinds of people, different angles, whether they're different or the same- I don't want to get into that. But it's been estimated that there are about one percent of the population in the US are psychopaths. That's three million people and, if you add the other related personality disorders, it can go up to eight percent, or ten percent. And if you look in certain different areas, like corporations and particularly big corporations, the numbers can go as high as twenty percent.