Sunday, July 22, 2012

The new feudalism: corporatizing our common life - 20 July 2012

This post was written by Sam Smith and was originally posted here .

JULY 20, 2012

The new feudalism: corporatizing our common life

by Sam Smith

One of the best metaphors for what is happening to our culture was the firing of a lifeguard for rescuing a swimmer outside the boundaries of the beach controlled by the corporation for which he worked. The first problem was that the town had turned over part of the beach to a corporation. The second was that the corporation punished an employee for engaging in the most profoundly decent of human behaviors: saving the life of another human. 

Imagine if this corporation had been in charge of a whole city and a fire or other disaster occurred just over the city’s boundary. In fact, you don’t have to imagine. That’s the way fire departments worked in the early days of America and is one reason we have public fire departments today.

The beach incident illustrates in clear, simple terms why the privatization of formerly communal space and activities is not only anti-democratic, it can even be anti-human. This is not capitalism, but a form of robbery, taking from the public lands, powers, or roles it formerly owned and turning it into a profit center for the few.

We have been there before. Just watch any PBS program on medieval times and you’ll realize how much of what the current American right is up to is a corporate revival of ancient feudalism, but without any responsibility to the underclass. Or consider the abuse of common lands that led to national and state parks, conservation areas, and environmentally based zoning laws. And don’t forget the private fire companies that wouldn’t save your home if you didn’t have their plaque on your outside wall.

The other day, in an article about music, I listed a few of the places where corporater feudam is spreading:
What has happened to music has happened to other aspects of our lives and can perhaps be best described as the corporatization of communal culture. In each case matters of non-fiscal but enormous common value have been translated into just another market item controlled by megacorporations. For example:

- America is politically defined by its Declaration of Independence and Constitution but these have become merely marketing icons in a political culture now overwhelmingly controlled by corporations and wealthy individuals. Our freedom and independence have just become another item on the syntactical shelf. What counts is money.

- Physical play has followed a similar path. As budgets for playgrounds and parks come under attack, the definition of good sports is no longer Olympian or back yard but determined by Olympian sponsors and major league owners. As with music, we have turned over much of our cultural property to the money grabbers.

- Corporations have seized control of public education through various cons ranging from No Child Left Behind to charter schools and for profit universities. Among the victims, incidentally, is time for music.

- Corporations have commercialized that most basic connection we have with nature: food - through pesticides, genetic modification, industrial farming and additives that make us less healthy and gain more weight.

- And in a similar fashion corporations have seized the culture of music making it theirs in as many ways possible.

In each case our lives within a community have suffered.
And a friend involved with Amnesty International has reminded me of another example: the corporate takeover of large non-profits. The weakness of many of these institutions – such as large environmental groups – is directly connected to where they now get their funding, often enemies of their purpose for existence.

We should start calling it what it is: corporate feudalism. A system in which our politics, education, recreation, music, food and non-profits have become profit nodes for big business and we are its vassals.

These corporations are stealing our communal property and make us their serfs living in a new Middle Ages.