August 2003
volume 1, issue 2




•Corporatization and increasingly centralized control.
• Reliance on coercion (both physical and ideological) to maintain control
• Drive to Commodify all aspects of life.
• Community fragmentation/cultural decay (replacement of lived experience with representation— image based mass culture, television addiction, increasing alienation).
• Elevation of consumerism to the center of public life (consumer monoculture).
• Increased mechanization and blind faith in technology (trend towards cyborgianism).
•Fetishization of speculative/financial wealth.
• Accounting flaws that mask liquidation of ecological and social capital.
• Pathological values/flawed assumptions.
• Undermining of planetary life support systems

iii. naming the system (global pathology)

In this era of escalating global crisis one of the most important roles radicals can play is to build a common analysis of the system’s flawed design. Not the dogmatic vanguardism of a single analysis but rather the political space for a critical mass of people to define the problems they face in their own lives in a systematic way which allows the imagining of fundamental change. We don’t have to convince people that something is wrong, as corporate rule becomes more blatant and the ecological crisis worsens the system is doing most of the work to discredit itself. We must, however, help people imagine alternatives that go beyond tinkering with the symptoms to address actually dismantling and re-designing the global system.

Radicals have always struggled to build oppositional power by naming the system. If only it were as easy as putting “Capitalism” or “Corporate Rule” or “Algae Bloom Civilization/Insane World” on a banner, we’d have probably won by now. But naming the system isn’t merely a semantic or intellectual exercise. Rather, it is the revolutionary process through which a critical mass of people recognize the deadly design flaws of the current social order. The process of “naming” is our way of revealing the hypocrisy, brutality and idiocy of the corporate controlled world in order to build the popular consciousness necessary to inspire transformative action.

One of the beauties of the recent global uprisings have been their ability to look beyond tactical, cultural and ideological differences to see a unifying commitment to structural change without sacrificing our diversity of perspectives, strategies and experiences. The more we articulate the fundamental flaws of the current world order the more we see the links between the many types of resistance that are springing up to confront the doomsday economy and the flawed assumptions which have created it.

A useful description of our current system can be found in the medical science of pathology— the branch of medical study which examines the nature of disease. The modern system is pathological on many levels, but the disease that most closely corresponds to the global crisis is the quintessential modern pathology— cancer. Cancer is not merely a metaphor but a literal diagnosis of the doomsday economy.
Cancer is a perversion in the biological systems of the human body— our internal ecosystem— when a cell goes haywire and loses its connection to the surrounding cells. The cancerous cell forgets its own boundaries and its own mortality. The infected cell lives forever, continuing to divide without limits, until it finally overwhelms the entire biological system of which it is a part.

Cancer is the definition of biological insanity. This disease which has now become so common at the molecular level is a chillingly apt description of what is happening at the macro-level— the emergence of a pathological world system.

Corporate power is a cancer in the body politic. Corporations are the institutional embodiment of the perverted values system of modern capitalism— shaped through the historic lens of white male supremacy to be anti-democratic, exploitative, and incapable of respecting ecological limits. The corporation is a machine which blindly focuses on its one function: the maximization of profits. Now as the elites are on the brink of ushering in de facto global corporate rule through the neo-liberal free trade agenda the cancer is metastasizing (spreading) through out the host— planet earth.

We can learn about the pathological nature of the corporate take over by examining four ways in which cancer operates in our physical bodies.

1. Cancer is a perversion by definition. Cancer usurps the function of the cell away from the collective interest of the organism and into an illusionary self-interest separate from the host. Corporations are the manifestation of a similar deep perversion in modern culture— alienation from nature and the failure to recognize our collective self-interest as tied to the over all health of the biosphere. Just as the cancer cell loses its connection to the organism, the corporate paradigm is incapable of seeing the ecological reality, the interdependence between humans and ecosystems that define the real limits of the economic sphere. The corporation, like the cancer cell, defines itself around unlimited growth and exists through its desire to expand, consolidate power and subvert any limits placed upon its ability to maximize profits. The cancer cell models the same fundamental flaw as our modern system— defining its self-interest so narrowly that it forgets that it is part of and dependant upon a larger biological system

2. Cancer re-writes the rules. Cancer infects the cell’s genetic instructions to make the cell operate separately from the rest of the organism. This is exactly what corporate elites have done first in America and then around the world: re-written the laws to limit democratic tendencies and to consolidate power. Since 1886, when corporations achieved legal “personhood” in the United States through judicial fiat, the corporate form has become the preferred method for elites to organize their wealth and rationalize their seizure of public property and assets. Corporations continue to undermine the regulatory framework and to subvert democratic decision making with campaign finance corruption, influence peddling and public relations campaigns. Free from its historic limits the corporation has risen to become the defining institution of the modern world. The ideology of privatization has facilitated the corporatization of every aspect of life. International trade, health care, schools, prisons, even the building blocks of life itself -- our genetic material -- are all being gobbled up as corporations become the defacto tool of governance. Corporate pathology has become so ingrained that the Bretton Woods Institutions (World Bank, IMF, WTO) now overtly force rule changes to favor corporations over the public interest. The essence of the doomsday economy is that the same corporations who profit from destroying the planet are being allowed to write the rules of the global economy. Structural adjustment is not very subtle, but neither is cancer’s reprogramming of a cell.

3. Cancer masquerades as the host. Since cancer is not an outside invader but instead a perversion within the body’s existing cells our immune system fails to recognize it as a threat. The body’s defenses fail to attack the cancer because the cancer masquerades as part of the body. This is probably cancer’s most important quality for informing our strategies because it is central to understanding how the corporate take over has managed to become so advanced without triggering a stronger backlash. Corporate rule masquerades as democracy. The elites use the symbols, trappings and language of democracy to justify control while corporations hijack the democratic form without the democratic function. This process conceals the deepening values perversion - ecological illiteracy masquerades as “market forces”, monopoly capitalism masquerades as “free trade” and doomsday economics masquerade as “economic growth”.

4. Cancer Kills the host. Cancer’s suicidal destiny is a product of its initial perversion. If not confronted cancer inevitably metastasizes, spreading throughout the body and killing the host. This is exactly what the corporate pathology is doing to the biosphere. Spread across the planet by waves of colonizers, from the conquistadors to the resource extraction corporations to macro-economic structural adjustment, the corporate system is on the brink of killing the host— the biological and cultural diversity of life on planet earth. People’s ability to govern their own lives is sacrificed along the way since corporate rule is antithetical to real democracy. By definition corporate decision making must operate within the narrow, short term interests of their shareholders. Corporations are not wealth generating machines as the American mythology would have us believe but rather wealth consolidating machines. Corporations extract the biological wealth of the planet, liquidating our collective natural heritage in order to enrich a tiny minority. The corporate drive to shorten the planning horizon, externalize costs and accelerate growth has pushed the life support systems of the planet to the brink of collapse.

iv. the control mythology: consume or die

At the center of the ever-growing doomsday economy is a perverse division of resources that slowly starves the many while normalizing over-consumption for the few. Maintaining control in a system that creates such blatant global injustice relies on the age old tools of empire: repression, brutality and terror. Multinational corporations have long since learned how to “constructively engage” with known repressive regimes and put “strong central leadership” to work for their profit margins. Whether its US approved military dictatorships or America’s ever growing incarceration economy, the naked control that is used to, criminalize, contain and silence dissent among the have-nots is obvious.

But this brutality is just one side of the system of global control. Far less acknowledged is that in addition to the wide spread use of the stick the global system relies heavily on the selective use of the carrot. The entire debate around globalization has been framed to insure that the tiny global minority who makes up the over-consumption class never connects their inflated standard of living with the impoverishment of the rest of the world.

Most people who live outside the small over-consumption class can’t help but be aware of the system’s failings. But for the majority of American (global north) consumers the coercion that keeps them complicit with the doomsday economy is not physical; it is largely ideological, relying heavily on the mythology of America. It is this control mythology which buys people’s loyalty by presenting a story of the world that normalizes the global corporate take over.

In this story America is the freest country in the world and corporate capitalism is the same as democracy. The interests of corporations are represented as serving popular needs (jobs being the simplistic argument) and the goal of US foreign policy is presented as a benevolent desire to spread democracy, promote equality and increase standards of living. This control mythology prevents people from seeing how pathologized the global system has become. Much of this story is merely crude propaganda that relies on American’s notorious ignorance about the world but elements of the control mythology have become so deeply imbedded in our lives that they now define our culture.

Among these most deep ceded elements of the control mythology is the ethic of an unquestioned, unrestrained right to consume. Consumerism is the purest drug of the doomsday economy. It epitomizes the pathology— the commodification of life’s staples and the human and cultural systems that have been created to sustain collective life.
Children’s author Dr. Suess provides a simple eloquent critique of consumerism in his cautionary tale The Lorax when he describes how the forests gets destroyed to make useless disposable objects appropriately called “thneeds”. A slick businessman markets “thneeds” and maximizes production until the forest is entirely destroyed. This is the essence of consumerism— creating artificially high rates of consumption by getting people to believe they need excessive or useless things. Over-consumption (invented in America but now exported around the planet) is the engine that drives the doomsday economy. Bigger. Faster. Newer. More! More! More!

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