Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Why It Matters Whether Corporate Entities Exist

Last time I said that a corporate entity is really just a shorthand description of something so complicated we can’t begin to understand it.  The entity itself has no real existence.  We talk about it as an objective reality because we lack the brain power to grasp what’s really happening.  What’s really happening?  Lots of people are working together to achieve a common goal.  If we could see a Day in the Life of a corporate entity, it would be like staring at an ant farm.  It would be impossible for us to keep track of all the individuals at once, or even to make much sense out of what they were doing.  And if we extended the observational period to a Year or a Decade in the Life, we would see different individuals over time.  Even the facilities might not remain constant, as some office complexes or factories are closed and others opened.

Unlike ants, however, these individuals would also have lives of their own apart from the social organization in which they work.  So we would see them scatter to join other groups during their off-hours.

But in all of this activity, we would not see the corporate entity itself.  There is no such thing.  There may be company logos on company letterhead.  There may be company vehicles.  Buildings and ballparks might even be named after the company.  But no matter where we look, we will not see the company itself.  All we will see is this “ant farm” of individuals coming and going, the locations in which they congregate, and the artifacts they produce.

When we speak of a corporate entity, we are referring to the complex social network formed by all these people laboring together for a common cause.  It’s a complicated set of relationships—that’s the key.  We draw up organizational charts to help us keep track of those relationships, but we consistently reduce the whole thing to a single identifiable entity.  We speak of the company as if it existed, and as if we are all loyal to it.  What we mean is that we are all committed to that complex set of relationships.  But nobody talks like that, and most of us don’t even think about it that way.  The corporate entity takes on a life of its own, and we think of that entity as something over and apart from us even though it doesn’t exist.

A school is an example.  We usually identify so strongly with the school building that we think of the school as actually existing.  But even if something unfortunate happens to the building, the school itself lives on. What we refer to as “the school” is actually a complex system of working relationships among teachers, students, administrators, librarians, food servers, and so on.  It does indeed center around the school building, but the school itself is this set of relationships, not the building within which the transactions occur.

You may ask, “What difference does it make?  Why emphasize the fact that the school itself doesn’t exist?  Especially since we don’t think that way, why keep harping about it?”  The reason is because we may have faulty views about how our society operates and—more importantly—about the sources of power within our society.  For the power within a society is generated by the people within it, and yet for most people, it doesn’t feel that way at all.  It feels like the authority of the group is external to us. It is true that we are only individuals, and therefore the group outnumbers us if we choose to oppose it.  But the group is not external to us.  It’s just made up of a lot more people than us alone.

(To be continued…)

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