There is a phrase you come across every time some company scandal occurs, or if it shown that corporations are, for example, pro lgbtq rights in one area of the world and silent about it in another. “Of course,” the commenter says, “corporations only care about profit” or the rhetorical question “who knew corporations wanted profit?” And many more annoying variants. What these cynical commentators do not realize is that by repeating the myth that corporations only role is profit seeking they reinforce it. The myth of profit is naturalized, made normal by these incessant comments as all myths are made to appear normal. What they are saying in their smug self-congratulatory tone, “I am not outraged, for I already know that anything that is done by corporations is done for profit reasons, no matter how horrible”.
This pre-empts any criticism and deadens the conversations. What if I disagree and do not want to consider the sole existence of most major human non political (and that they are non political is very arguable) organizations to be for profit only? What if there is more than just profit and we should be outraged every time something like this happens no matter how normal it appears to be. We should be outraged every time injustice happens. Repeating the simple myth of corporations ‘being for profit’ negates change. And, if we think about it beyond the surface does not always make sense. Corporations care about profits -sure- but whose profits? Profits of a select view for whom it might even be favourable to destroy the company if they get off with more money. Saying corporations only care about profits removes the human element. all corporations are still governed by humans. There are humans are the top that make decisions. There is no iron law that makes all corporations behave the same way and it is only the myth of the corporation as profit seeker that makes them operate in this way. If we evaluate corporate success not by a number going up and down on a stock market but by say—the number of obelisks build, we might see corporations bankrupt themselves to maximize the number of obelisks in their area of operations. And then these same commentators would say: “Of course corporations bankrupt themselves to build obelisks, they only care about the obelisks”
Roland Barthes in Mythologies writes how right-wing political myths rely on different elements among which the tautology and the statement of the fact. Saying corporations are for profit accomplishes both. It is a witless remark that adds nothing to the conversation. Corporations are for profit, you idiot, they seem to say, so why did you expect anything else. As if this is some magic spell that allows anything to be done. With this formula anything is made acceptable, polluting things, cheating, and lying, oppression, exploitation, of course they do these things you simpleton, the cynics say, because they are for profit. This kind of rhetorical trap is not worth engaging against. It is a closed off argument masquerading as factual and self evident. It pretends to be on the same level of statements as those about nature: the sun rises and falls every morning; humans need to eat and drink to life; rain is wet, and of course corporations would use slavery—they only care about profit.
That corporations are for profit is one of the strongest myths of our time. It is a myth so strong that it has even infected governments who often try to ‘run the country like a business’ as if they are in any way equivalent. But what is meant by profit by those who invoke it? It is not the profit of the people who work there. Rewards are not shared equally between the workers but usually float to the top. Profits are also by and large do not find their way to governments to be redistributed in the form of social programmes as corporations find ways to not pay tax to which those commentators would most likely smugly say that this is what corporations should do as per their tautological; factual schema.
Letting aside the idea of what profits are what do these commentators get out of their behaviour? In essence these are the same type of people who through push against any kind of social change. Governments are corrupt so of course they would do this and that, Noblemen are above the peasants so of course they would behave in this and that way. It is exemplary of what the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk found the dominant mode of our time a kind of universal diffuse cynicism. We know more than ever about the many horrible things that happen all over the world; we know that our devices and clothes are most likely made with slave labour but we feel we cannot do anything about it so we retreat to the self-evident factual statement. These statements empowers the commentator, they place themselves in the seat of knowledge: I am knowledgeable and you are naive to think otherwise. I know how the world ‘really’ works and those who think differently are children while I have grown and see how things are. The temptation of holding the keys to reality as it is and to refrain from any self criticism and reflection must be very tempting indeed.
To cure this attitude, we have to let us ourselves continue to be outraged. Find the solution not in facts and the realm of the objective but in feelings and the subjective. Feel anger at injustice no matter big or small. Things are like this now but they should not be. Allow for positive change to open up. The world is not as fixed as we think it is and what corporations ‘are’ today can be something different tomorrow. Think of our current understanding of gender and sex and how different this was from only fifty years ago. Humans make and change concepts so do not allow yourself to be co-opted by those in power just to feel you are in the right. You will not get anything out of it. When they say: “It’s as if corporations exist only for profit.” You simply “But I do not want them to be and I wish they would not be.”