Take a look at your copy of the Constitution, if you own one (or read this online version). Please tell me precisely where it states that we're a capitalist nation, beholden to corporate interests? Where does the Constitution grant corporations personhood, or claim that a corporate body should have the same rights as an American citizen? Allow me to save you a bit of reading: it never once makes any such statement, nor does it contain language, partial to the vernacular of the late eighteenth/ early nineteenth centuries, that would in any way hint toward such concepts. And yet corporations are treated by some in the United States as the end-all, be-all of American life. Some believe that corporations can do no wrong, and should be treated as vassal lords, subjugating their will over the people in fear that they may abandon us. They believe corporations should never be asked to change their ways, and should be given even more leeway than they have today to run roughshod over the American people and our ways and means of life. Me? I call that bunk... bunk of the highest quality and caliber.
Corporations do not have the best interests of the people in mind. I state this as a fact, because that's precisely what it is. The very principal concept of corporations stands in clear defiance of the interests of the people, actually. It's a legal entity which exists so that no individuals can be held accountable when a company's products or services go awry, fueled with the sole intention of maximizing profits for the benefit of a small group of shareholders. The corporation's bottom line is first and foremost in the operations of their business, morality or decency be damned.
Corporations have proven time and time again that they're all too willing to sell inferior products, treat their employees like cattle, and deal with customers as if those customers need the corporation, rather than the corporation needing the customers. If you care to challenge this assertion, I'll gladly call you naive, or ignorant, or a fabulist... or perhaps all of the above. I often point people toward Upton Sinclair's classic novel The Jungle (which you can read online) as a keen reference to what corporations are capable of when left unchecked. When I point people toward this, their initial reaction is to say something akin to "well Matt, that book was written in 1906. Things have changed since then!" Have they really? Did workplace safety save lives during the Triangle fire in 1911, or the Texas City disaster in 1947, or the Centralia fire in Pennsylvania in 1962, or the Three-Mile Island disaster in 1979, or any of the countless mining disasters that have transpired in the past hundred years, right up to and including the ones that occurred a few years ago? Do I need to point out the countless and ever-growing list of corporate product recalls, food-born illnesses, and dangerous materials used in manufacturing that happen far too often for anyone to pretend they don't? And what of customer service? Find a random product in your home and call the company in regards to it. Post in the comments below and let me know what your customer service interactions were like... I defy you.
With all of this general muckery at the hands of corporations, you'd think the American people would be outraged at their very existence. But the simple fact of the matter is that most people will never read an article like this one, as they don't care about what corporations do until they create short-term issues for that individual in an immediate sense. Until a person has been negatively impacted personally by corporate malfeasance, it's of little or no concern to them. Those of us who do pay attention to such things are seemingly split, with some of our numbers wholeheartedly championing corporations and everything they do. The belief that everything the government does is sinister, while everything a corporation does is innocent or otherwise excusable, is the sort of mentality that sets this nation backward by leaps and bounds. Until that mentality is tackled, corporations will find an ample supply of civilian supporters who will back their dirty plays and defend them unto their dying, chemically-hazed final breaths.
How do we win against corporations? How can the American people rise above multi-million and multi-billion dollar powers, who legally buy legislation through lobbying, and create special interest groups like Americans for Prosperity to rally unwitting citizens to their causes and cover their remaining bases that the lobbyists couldn't reach? How do we fight back against corporate-sponsored politicians of every political party, or the fleets of lawyers these organizations regularly deploy to counteract the ill effects against their profits from any of their own wrongdoings? In a word: unity.
America's consumer culture needs to dramatically shift. We need to stop buying things simply for the sake of buying them. I'll have you know that I'm not allergic to money, and of course we should be able to own the things we need or want. But there's a difference between buying in sustenance and in substance, and in buying for the sake of spending money. The latter is what fuels those corporate entities in their efforts to undermine your best interests. Assess need and desire before you head off to the store to buy something, and get in the habit of turning away when something flashy catches your eye that you had no intention of acquiring, particularly in instances where that item will bring you no long-term betterment. Educate yourself on the practices and behaviors of a business before you interact with them. Refuse to shop with any business that doesn't stand true to your assessments and personal education efforts. And consider the long term effects of your purchases before you make them; is that new car going to be running smoothly in ten years? If you wore those pants once a week for several months, would they end up falling apart on you, literally? That's all there is to being a smart shopper and combating the cons of our consumer culture... it really is that simple, folks. Assess, educate, refuse, consider. Think of those four words the next time you're shopping for anything, and I can promise you that your life will be improved within a single shopping trip. Give it a try, honestly. Let me know your results!
Where does the word "unity" come into play in battling corporate ills? While observing those four aforementioned rules while conducting your shopping can help you personally, spreading the word to friends and family after you've seen how effective they are can help improve their habits as well. Are you familiar with the tried and true "two-person system," where you tell two friends, and they tell two of their friends, and so on? That's how this would work, too. After you see for yourself how much money you're saving and how better you feel about your purchases with this system, tell two friends about your experiences. Tell them that if they feel the same way, they should tell two friends of their own. Let's see a corporation put the stop on that. Soon, you'll see organic boycotts sprouting throughout your circle of friends of those businesses that you shouldn't conduct business with. I started boycotting Wal-Mart back in 2004, stepping foot in a Wal-Mart once back in 2005 only to find someone I was picking up to drive home. I've been telling friends to not shop there for years, and that boycott has been growing pretty steadily ever since.
I've recently come to start championing the notion of collective consumerism, with fellow Newsvine columnist Coral Atlas and I actively discussing the formation of a sort of consumer's union (with a different name). That's where my usage of the word "unity" becomes organized. But in order for those efforts to succeed and bring about true change, people need to start talking about the notion today. If you've found yourself agreeing with this article, do everyone a huge favor, if you would, and start using the phrase "collective consumerism" in discussion. The time for taking whatever corporations hope to dish us needs to end, and it needs to end now.