The Mean Streets of Capitalism

When I think about how many bad bosses I’ve had, I lose count.  One of the worst was a seemingly non-threatening short, middle-aged white female who was a cross between the Snapple Lady and Darth Vader.  She would interrupt me whenever I tried to speak in a meeting, though usually she just excluded me entirely.  She lied about me to her supervisor – and you can bet that it wasn’t flattering.  She routinely requested reports from the database with criteria that didn’t exist and when I miraculously pulled something together (after working late) she either didn’t read the report, or asked for endless modifications.  Of course she was pleasant to everyone else in the department, so they thought she was “sweet.”  While I worked there the organization had a hiring freeze that made it impossible for me to transfer out of her purgatory.  My husband was scheduled for life-threatening/saving surgery, so I could not do anything to jeopardize our health insurance.  It was at this point I begged my doctor to please schedule a colonoscopy so I could get two days out of work – better a camera than her foot.  And I believe there are many people out there with similar stories.

A 2010 study by MetLife (“Study of the American Dream,” April 2010, reported on MSNBC) reported that 55 percent of Americans were worried about losing their jobs.  At the time of that survey 9.5 percent of Americans were out of work.  The numbers are only slightly better now.  There are many Americans who feel they are permanently unemployed or painfully underemployed (which I think is a euphemism for a low-paying job that sucks).  There are also people who may not live in daily fear of job loss, but have awareness that it could go away at any time for no reason related to their own performance.  Then there are the hard-working folks who get an undeserved bad review so the organization doesn’t have to make good on a promised raise or bonus.  If you want to keep your job, check your conscience at the door and don’t question authority.  May I just say this is no way to run a country?

When corporations were originally established in the last century it was considered a “privilege.”  A worthwhile viewing on this is the 2004 documentary, “The Corporation.”  In it Richard Grossman of the “Program on Corporations” said, “In both law and culture the corporation was considered a supported entity that was a gift from the people in order to serve the public good.”  Ah, the common good.  Remember that notion from antiquity?  We don’t need Old Time Religion, we need Old Time Capitalism.  We need the kind of patriotic capitalism where corporate executives are ashamed of layoffs and see a diminished workforce as personal and organizational failure, not shrewd cost-cutting.

As entities, corporations are amoral.  In practice, situation ethics emerge as the elite of the organizations work to protect their own interests.  People without conscience are more valuable to these organizations, and exercising one’s conscience may mean demotion, alienation, or job loss.  Though some attention is paid to public perception (have you seen the new BP tourism ads for the Gulf Coast?), I believe that is to insure we are distracted from the ugly truth.  Corporations relentlessly pursue quarterly profits – even at their own long-term expense.  That pursuit is at the cost of jobs and the health and welfare of our country’s resources and the human beings who live here.  It’s just plain mean out there.

Many people make the mistaken assumption that morality comes from religion.  Religions are just one source for ethical guidance.  This is a secular country and we need a stronger common moral code to keep corrupt and unbridled capitalism from trampling us.  Even in a pluralistic society, that is not an impossible task.  The following are selected ethical suggestions I’ve extracted from several mainstream religions, with the helpful review of Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions.

  • Buddhism – The Eightfold Path: Right intent, Right conduct, Right livelihood
  • Islam – The Five Pillars: Guide us on the straight path
  • Judaism – The Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness
  • Christianity – The Greatest Commandments: Love your neighbor as yourself

The majority of people in this country believe in God and the majority of religions have a valuable moral code.  If we look to how we are alike rather than how we are different it should be possible to reinforce commonality and morality.

It’s just not too much to expect any corporation to serve the common good.  That is not Marxism or Socialism, it is common sense.  Real patriotism is about taking back the Mean Streets and remodeling this country so it is not only there in the future, but more fit for all of us today.  Ranting about abortion or gay marriage while the everyday work place is mean and immoral can’t possibly be what any God wants any of us doing.  Respect your own religion, or respect Secular Humanism, but going to work or finding a job should not be at the expense of our dignity or our soul.  -J.B.

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  • Robin Smith  On June 3, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    AMEN, Sister!!!!!!

    • allthingsreligious  On June 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

      Thanks for taking time to read! Looking forward to in-person conversations in the near future! -J.B.

  • ligh4043  On June 4, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    Wow, this is a very intelligent blog and so versatile in it’s examination of life. I agree with so much of this and can relate from personal experience.

    The way I’ve always weathered the ugly corporate work machine is to remove myself emotionally from it. Not that I act like a robot, but I move my sense of self worth out of the workplace, that way whatever annoying things happen throughout the day, it doesn’t end up messing with me (and only affects my stressed out bosses).
    Great blog.

    • allthingsreligious  On June 4, 2012 at 3:10 pm

      I have read some of your blog, and enjoyed it as well. I have much to learn about detachment! Thank you so much for reading and commenting! -J.B.

  • Sue Bofinger  On June 4, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    I just left my latest job, after a little less than two years, because the new “supervisor” in our department is trying to model Hitler. I finally decided that my peace of mind was worth far more than the store was paying me! I don’t understand how the incompetent so frequently rise to the top – except that she knows the boss! In many ways, I wish for “the good old days.”

  • allthingsreligious  On June 4, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    It is sad how many people have stories like yours. I had to work hard while writing this blog so as to not go on and on. There are very, very many stories like yours. Thank you for being willing to comment. I wish you much luck on your job hunt. I would like to believe that eventually karma takes care of people like your soon-to-be former supervisor, but there is usually much collateral damage between now and then. -J.B.

  •  On July 12, 2013 at 2:57 am

    Very good article! We will be linking to this great article
    on our site. Keep up the great writing.

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