Sunday, May 6, 2012

Corporations, also known as people [working together].

Even the simplest items in our modern-day, first-world lives come to us via complex paths. When Michael Pollan tracked the origins of a store-bought steak, he discovered an extended assembly line that depended far more on the economics of oil and biological manipulation than the simple act of eating a sirloin would imply. It's not the pleasant picture we'd like to have for our food, and it certainly has many drawbacks, but it's how our food supply has evolved to meet the demand for cheap beef.

This may seem wrong somehow, and in many ways it probably is, but it meets a very basic human need, food, at scale. And I don't see how we can meet the caloric requirements of a world population of seven billion without involved, "unnatural" processes. In fact, the only way I see overcoming the evils of food production isn't by dumbing down to some fictional old-school utopia. It's by pushing forward with technology and finding inventive ways to make the production of food more humane, biological even, and sustainable.

And this is food, the simplest of items. It quickly gets more complex. The Toaster Project, perhaps the most influential book on my thinking that I've never read, illustrates this well. The author, a design student, decided he'd build a toaster from scratch. Nine months and many hundreds of dollars later, he had one. It's obvious that the only way to make toasters for the masses is to mass produce them. And mass production requires many people working together--from designers to suppliers to shipping clerks. In other words, it requires corporations.

That's my big issue with Occupy Wall Streeters. The fuel-efficient cars they drive, the fixies they peddle, the Gortex tents they sleep in, the Urban Outfitter clothes they wear, the Seattle's Best coffee they drink, the iPhones and MacBooks they use, the wireless and wired networks they twitter over--only corporations can pull off these complexities. I can't imagine even the most hardcore leftie saying that iPods are a "right," or that the public sector should be the ones in charge of developing and manufacturing them.

My opinion is that the whole "corporations are evil" shtick is misguided. Some are, some aren't. They're all, like us, imperfect. They're merely organizations that have found a need--or, just as likely, a want--in our culture, and they're attempting to fill it in order to make a go of it. In other words, they're made up of people, motivated by what people are motived by. Sometimes that means gold mines and mercury and lives worn out underground, other times it means hemp clothing and dedication to ethics and dream jobs for surfers.

How about we attempt to modify the former, amplify the latter? That seems a better bet than witch hunts, especially when we all benefit from the witchcraft.

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