Following Christ and Making a Living, part 2: The Soul of Corporations
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Following Christ and Making a Living, part 2: The Soul of Corporations 

Officers of corporations are required by law to abide by the directives of the shareholders. The Shareholders almost always want the board of directors to maximize profits. Stocks are purchased primarily by mutual funds, pension plans, foundations, and individuals whose sole reason for purchasing stock is to generate as much income as possible. Corporations can and do engage in altruistic behavior, but almost always the reason for their generosity is to enhance their public image in an effort to make more money. Corporations whose products cause environmental damage or harm humans in other ways are particularly eager to appear concerned about social welfare.
Corporations are recognized by law as persons, but one way corporations differ from living persons is that corporations have no souls. Most of us act generously and kindly because we are humans and generosity and kindness (as well as less admirable characteristics) are among the attributes typical of our species. Corporations, lacking feelings of any kind, have no inherent regard for the welfare of humans, nonhumans, or the environment. The only things that stop them from harming humans, nonhumans, and the environment are laws that punish harmful corporate behavior, the threat of lawsuits from harmed individuals, and loss of income if consumers regard corporations unfavorably.
We have a term for people who have no conscience and only look out themselves Ė psychopaths. This best describes the personality of corporations, and itís easy to see nonhumans at the mercy of corporate persons are at great risk. Laws written by and for humans provide little if any protection for nonhumans, particularly in industries where animal exploitation is a central component; nonhumans canít sue; and nonhumans donít make consumer choices. Next week, Iíll consider the effects of the amorality of corporations on people who work for corporations. 
Buddhism teaches the importance of right thinking and right action, in part because what we think and do tends to become habitual and, eventually, a component of our personality. I think this is a main reason that Jesus taught that we should forgive repeatedly, because the act of forgiving makes us more kind, gentle, and compassionate. If amoral corporations demand that employees focus on maximizing profit, there is great risk that these people will apply analogous standards to other walks of life.
Successful, sustainable communities must have a high degree of good will among their members. If fair, just, and respectful treatment are grounded primarily on threats of retaliation or litigation, it is not only unpleasant, it is dangerous and, ultimately, dysfunctional. People looking out for themselves alone will eventually find themselves in destructive internal conflicts, and they will be unable to unify against external social, political, or military threats. They will tend to respond poorly to problems of resource scarcity and environmental degradation. And, they will have difficulties in commercial trade, because trust is needed for a smooth exchange of goods and services.

What should we do? There are few people who are eager to see radical changes, in part because our form of capitalism has been so successful in providing goods and services that have made life far safer, easier, and (perhaps) more enjoyable. There are several ways we can resist the corrosive effect of working for corporations totally dedicated to profit maximization. We can do our best not to work for corporations whose core products violate our core values, for example corporations involved in exploiting nonhuman beings. We can do our best to remain mindful that some of the values demanded by the workplace should not become our values. This takes vigilance, because the process of corrupting morals is often an insidious one. 

Go on to: Essay: Some Victims Are More Equal Than Others
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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