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June 18, 2014

Interview Transcript: The Corporation Movie/Book Creator Joel Bakan--part 2

By Rob Kall

How the psychopathic character of corporations is affecting our culture, individuals, organizations. Is the corporation producing more psychopaths and sociopaths? Could we reach a point where NOT being psychopathic is considered abnormal? Tie between religion and psychopathic corporations? Can capitalism exist without psychopathic corporations?


(Image by The Corporation)   Permission   Details   DMCA

link to audio podcast.

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.

continued from part 1 of the interview transcript.

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.


R.K.: That's huge. And, I guess, I keep coming back to the same question: is the corporation as an entity, as a part of our culture, producing more of them, or not? Because the other side of this is a lot of discussion about how there's a very strong genetic component to corporation"to, I mean, psychopathic behavior. That there could be literally" I recently spoke to a neuroscientist who figured out he's got all of the characteristics of a psychopath. There are something like fifty different genes that are identified that contribute to psychopathic behaviors and characteristics.

J.B.: You know, we're always a product of nature and nurture, right? So we're in part a product of these genetic maps that constitute us and we're also constantly interacting and changing in relation to these environmenst we're in. So a simple answer to your question would go something like this: that in any society you have a kind of prevailing set of norms that define what we consider to be a reasonable, normal range of behavior.

Then, we place outside of that aberrant behaviors like what we're talking about, psychopathic personality disorders and so on. I guess one way of looking at this is that we are living in a society where that question of what is normal is shifting and the domination by corporations of our society and in both tangible concrete and also cultural and ideological terms is shifting what we think we are as a society and what we think is sort of normal behavior, or at least a range of reasonable behavior.

And it's shifting it in a direction towards what we're calling psychopathic behavior being not only within the range of normal, but also rewarded and celebrated. And that I think is what explains the twenty percent of psychopaths in corporations and on Wall Street. If our system is increasingly dominated by corporations as institutions and also by the ethos that constitute corporations, then it makes sense that our very sense of what we are as a society and who we should be as individuals is going to be dominated by that as well, as I've been suggesting.

And that then I think creates a sense in which what we used to think was aberrant may be normal, and may be celebrated and may even be desirable. And that is where I think we are as a society. That" and that's a very dangerous place to be, and we've seen in history this happen again.

So what it means is that people who are genetically predisposed to be psychopaths and psychopathic are going to be people that succeed and that end up in powerful positions and influential positions over what other people should be like. Whereas in an older time, or another time, or maybe a time that never existed where virtues of compassion, of communal attachment of solidarity were celebrated, then it was easy to say, well, those people who are purely self interested who have that genetic framework, they are aberrant and they should try to be different.

So my concern is that we're moving towards a society where it's the people who are genetically disposed to not be psychopathic who are going to be deemed to be abnormal, or in need of being trained out of whatever their genetic predilections are.

R.K.: Wow! Talk about moving to a jungle culture- law of the jungle culture.

J.B.: I don't believe" we're not inherently as human beings" we're not inherently that way. It's about how we are in these broader institutional frameworks.

R.K.: Do you think that psychopathy is a trait that is evolutionarily supported?

J.B.: Well, I think self interest is, but I also think that what evolutionary" what evolution reveals is that we need to be enlightened in our self interest and what that means is that we need to actually be capable of transcending our self interest and understanding where our individual interests end and where we need to start thinking about collective institutions that enable us to be the individuals we want to be and that enable us to be fuller and more fulfilled and ultimately happier individuals.

So I don't think you can reduce love for a child to self interest, or romantic love to self interest. We're very complicated beings and there's no question that part of what we are is self interested, and there's no question that we love to consume. I like a good bottle of wine and a nice fitting jacket as well as anybody else. I mean it's not a crime to want to be a consumer, or to be self interested, but it gets back to the point about fundamentalism.

If we see that as our primary characteristic, one that we are to the exclusion of everything else, then we build a society that is fundamentalist because it's based on that notion of who we as human beings, that we're just one thing. Whereas I like to believe both from an evolutionary perspective, or from a spiritual perspective- whichever you choose to take- we are very complicated mixes of self interest, of altruism, of the capacity to love and to sacrifice ourselves for others.

We're all those things. And some of us are genetically predisposed to be a bit more of this and a bit less of that. We're all those things and so the challenge for us as human beings is to create societies that enable us, encourage us, to live those different dimensions of ourselves which are not in any way contradictory but actually reinforcing.

What history shows is that we get into trouble every time we start to think we're just one way whether it's one religious way, or one economic way, or one cultural way, or one racial way, or whatever. But what we see are horrific societies, usually being based on that idea that we're only one thing and that this is prior to that.

And we see functional societies, and I consider the United States with all the difficulties and everything, but the sort of post-war period and I'm not saying it was a panacea, but the United States in general, going back to the constitution, going back to the revolutionary ideals, this was an attempt to create a society that would enable people to be fuller and more multidimensional.

Now the history is checkered for sure and it's not perfect, but this was an attempt, Democracy was an attempt, and a better one than the authoritarian regimes that preceded it, to create a society where people can really engage in this kind of fluidity about what society should be, about the multiplicity and plurality of values that society should embrace, about how that reflects who we are as individuals.

R.K.: Okay, I need to do a station ID..."

R.K.: So I have a question for you. Has corporate culture affected religion, or conversely, have religions affected and maybe even led to corporate culture?

J.B.: That's a VERY complicated question and I am not an expert on it, but I will say that there is no question that the corporate institution comes out of industrialization which relates back to a particular sort of classical liberal set of political ideas which many people have linked to Protestantism.

You know, I don't think it's a coincidence that the corporation as we know it today emerges in Europe at a particular time and in a particular religious context. The corporation, as we know it in the United States and in Canada, is very much rooted in the British corporation which in turn comes out this Protestant culture. The corporations that came out of continental Europe, of Catholic countries, were quite different and operated in accordance with different principles, at least historically.

R.K.: Where are the aspects of the Protestant culture that you're referring to?

J.B.: The individualism in particular is what" and, again, it's drawing on the work of others that I have seen. I haven't done this work myself, but the kind of the individualism, the work ethos of the individual, the sense that the individual is separate from communal attachments which of course plays out differently in Catholicism, plays out differently in Islam and Judaism.

So people have done that work and made that link and I think that there are some ways in which the current sort of Tea Party driven politics in the United States combined with the religious fundamentalism, combined with this sense of radical individualism of a particular kind and of deregulation and privatization in getting the state out of people's face, and all of this stuff. I think there are connections there and people have talked about them and perhaps connections not dissimilar to those that existed between earlier versions of Protestantism in England and the rise of the corporation.

R.K.: Okay, now are there differences between the US and Canada in terms of corporate psychopathic behavior and are their any nations where solid restraints are working?

J.B.: I would say there are differences between the US and Canada, but it's hard to define them in global terms. We don't have a health industry in Canada so that takes out a large segment of industry and of sort of corporate problems- HMOs, and all of that. We don't have that because it's all run by the government. In the province I live, we don't have private car insurance. That's all run by the government and brought in by the NDP when they formed the government.

So there is a lot more in Canada I think that's taken out of the realm of industry and corporations because it's run by the state. So that makes it different. In terms of our regulatory environment, depending on the issue, we have some sort of a stronger presence of government and industry on labor issues, for example, and collective bargaining and things like that. But in other areas, like environmental protection in the Alberta oil sense, we've got the same kind of deregulatory thrust that is characteristic in the United States.

So it depends on the issue. Overall Canada is probably driven by ideologies that see government as a friendly force in terms of economic intervention. More so than in the United States and so we don't have the same issue of privatization of schools. Universities are primarily publicly funded as are schools.

So many of those issues you have around health, education, those are pretty solidly embedded in the public sector here and so we don't get industry involvement as much.

R.K.: Okay. Do you believe that capitalism can exist without psychopathic corporations and if so, what would it look like?

J.B.: Well, it would look a lot like what Adam Smith originally conceived capitalism to be and to look like because he was rabidly against corporations, because he believed they were anti-capitalist. He believed they were state-run monopolies, which they are. I mean, corporations are created by the state. They're created to be monopolies. They're collectivist institutions and they're given certain privileges, like limited liability and so on, that individuals don't have.

So he saw that for what it is, namely a massive intrusion of the state in creating collectivist monopolies which is really what corporations are. And so he said he couldn't think of anything that was more anti-capitalist than that. And so his capitalism involved the sort of the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker as he famously talked about and so, yes, you can have capitalism without corporations and you can have corporations without capitalism.

The corporations existed in previous communist countries. They just weren't for-profit corporations, but they were collectivist entities, whether farms or industries, that had their own charters and did what they did. They were effectively corporations. In Canada, we have Crown corporations that are government run and in the United States you have the postal service, a corporation that is not a for-profit corporation.

So you can have non-capitalist corporations and you can have capitalism without corporations. The two are arguably separate. So corporate capitalism is a particular kind of capitalism and the capitalist corporation is a particular kind of corporation.

R.K.: Are there specific countries that you can think of that have done the best job at minimizing the psychopathic aspects of corporations?

J.B.: I mean, I visited Norway on several occasions to talk about my work with Norwegians and the mentality there tends to be a lot different than it is in North America around these issues and they have much more robust regulatory norms. That would be true in Denmark as well, used to be true in Sweden. It's probably less true than it is now. I mean, so yeah, you can look at different countries, France and see differences in terms of the degree to which states are involved in trying to protect public interests through constraining what corporations can do. In a globalized environment, it's becoming increasingly difficult for states to do that and that's one of the challenges that we're facing politically is how do we continue to regulate corporations when they're operating on a trans-national basis.

R.K.: Well you bring up globalized. How about globalization. Is that a further level, a new level of psychopathic corporate monster really? Because globalization aims to serve the biggest corporations primarily.

J.B.: I mean, I think what globalization does when you have sort of international trade deals, you have the possibility of companies based in America supplying their labor in Indonesia, shopping the globe, scouring the globe for the cheapest labor at the lowest environmental standards. That creates the notorious "battle to the least" where those jurisdictions with the lowest standards for labor protections, human rights, environment will get the investment which then puts pressure on countries like the US in the developed world to lower their standards to get back that. So, yes, unquestionably globalization has done that. Now, does globalization have to do that? No.

We have a particular kind of globalization that is geared towards the interest of capital and of corporations. Globalization doesn't have to unfold in that way. We could still have international trade, cooperation, concerns about labor, human rights, and the environment on a globalized scale, pursue globalized conventions to deal with ocean pollution- you know, we can still have globalization, but we could have globalization that is geared more towards public interests than corporate interests.

So we pursued a particular kind of globalization. I think it's really important to keep that in mind. I mean, Joseph Stiglitz, an economist has written on this extensively, but globalization is not the problem. It's how we have created our globalized economy.

R.K.: Alright. Last question. There's a book that was written over thirty years ago, Small is Beautiful by Schumacher. Are you familiar with it?

J.B.: Yes.

R.K.: Now, he describes a different kind of business and it's about small. It's about local. What are your thoughts along those lines?

J.B.: Yeah. I think that there is a large sense of public opinion and public policy opinion and business opinion that if we move towards different models of doing business, whether it's smaller businesses, or it's cooperative, or it's benefit corporations, that if we do that, then that's going to solve the problem.

The difficulty I have with that" I mean, while I agree with that, it's how do we get from here to there? And the only way I can see for getting from here to there is through public policy. I think as long as we have public policy that allows for it, incentivizes big business, we're going to get big business. That's where the investment dollar is, that's where the money is going to go.

So we would have to have some quite radical shift in public policy which in turn leads me to conclude that it's naïve to believe that this can entirely come simply from business people deciding, well, we want to operate on a smaller basis. It has to be a broad coordinated public policy which gets right back to my initial point that it has to come through pressuring, working with, taking over our democratic institutions so that we create new forms for being, for doing business.

The market and business forms are not created by nature. They're created by laws and laws are created by governments.

R.K.: Okay. At that point we're back to where we started our conversation. So I think it's a good place to end, too. Thank you so much, I really appreciate this.

Submitters Bio:

Rob Kall has spent his adult life as an awakener and empowerer-- first in the field of biofeedback, inventing products, developing software and a music recording label, MuPsych, within the company he founded in 1978-- Futurehealth, and founding, organizing and running 3 conferences: Winter Brain, on Neurofeedback and consciousness, Optimal Functioning and Positive Psychology (a pioneer in the field of Positive Psychology, first presenting workshops on it in 1985) and Storycon Summit Meeting on the Art Science and Application of Story-- each the first of their kind.  Then, when he found the process of raising people's consciousness and empowering them to take more control of their lives  one person at a time was too slow, he founded Opednews.com-- which has been the top search result on Google for the terms liberal news and progressive opinion for several years. Rob began his Bottom-up Radio show, broadcast on WNJC 1360 AM to Metro Philly, also available on iTunes, covering the transition of our culture, business and world from predominantly Top-down (hierarchical, centralized, authoritarian, patriarchal, big)  to bottom-up (egalitarian, local, interdependent, grassroots, archetypal feminine and small.) Recent long-term projects include a book, Bottom-up-- The Connection Revolution, debillionairizing the planet and the Psychopathy Defense and Optimization Project. 

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