By David E. Roy
Our society today, as with most, is far from egalitarian. I am not going to offer details, as they are too obvious to most of us. However, we have not always been like this.
I have recently learned that our species—Homo sapiens sapiens— was evolved to a lifestyle quite different from what we find today. Until a mere 10,000–15,000 years ago, we lived in small groups of 30–60 people, groups that often interconnected with one or two other groups. Based on research among those small band hunter-gatherer groups that have been encountered over the last century, the lifestyle was characterized by cooperation (versus competition) and equal sharing of resources (versus greed and hoarding).
The advent of agriculture and tending livestock radically altered our basic social organization to one of hierarchy, control and virtually all the ways that result in tremendous human misery against which we struggle.
We need to find ways to take steps to radically alter our current trajectory. That means recognizing where we are and beginning to bend things in a new direction. It is in that spirit that I have been thinking of some changes in rules that could make a definite difference if they were adopted and enforced.
I will confess in advance that they might appear to be farfetched, tongue-in-cheek even, but the reality is they are no more farfetched than many of the de facto rules we are encountering today (none of which are ever tongue-in-cheek).
Rule #1: Make Surveillance Mutual
The first rule is to change the landscape of our culture of surveillance, not by eliminating it but rather by expanding it. This alteration is based on the principle of mutuality, of true equality. I could live with existing surveillance if it were made equal. This would require the following conditions:
That I have copies of and/or access to every bit of information that is being held by some other person or entity. This would include not only law enforcement at all levels but also all businesses, even nonprofits, healthcare and more. No secrets about what is known.
That I have the ability to correct any and all errors, with the power imbalance (if there is any) on my side, not the big entity.
And here is the real direction-changer: That I, in turn, have knowledge of and access to the same global body of information on everyone who has collected and compiled information on me, everyone who has had access to my bank of information (no matter how little) and everyone who has gained information about me from an intermediary. No secrets about the knower of information about me.
The bottom line here is that if you get to know some things about me, then I get to know the same things about you. I also get to know everything that you know about me. Enforcing this would be crucial to its success. Software-wise, it would be simple enough to create a program that would be automatically set in motion once a person is added to any surveillance request or action.
Rule #2: Do to Yourself What You Are Doing to Others
The principle behind the second rule required for real change is simple to understand though it might at times be complicated to apply. This principle could be stated as “don’t ask anyone to take a risk for your benefit that you would not take yourself.”
This means, for example, that if you are part of the top management and/or prime stockholder of a nuclear power plant where no one has yet figured a guaranteed way to store or get rid of nuclear waste that will exist for 1thousands of years and that might be loosed into the environment at any time with tragic deaths, you will be required to live within the zone of greatest danger and you will be required to manage a certain proportion of the stored waste on your property.
Or, if you are one of the upper management and/or major stockholders of a company selling products that contain chemicals that have not been tested, you will be required to use these products and to urge them upon family members if they are being sold to children.
The list of products, methods and so on, where this rule would apply is lengthy. Think of a few more and share them with me.
Rule #3: Punish Persons Who Populate the Corporate Personhood
The third rule amounts to acting on the principle of personal responsibility regardless of the context. As long as corporations, particularly those that claim international status, are treated as persons in the eyes of the vision-less members of the Subprime Supreme Court, then our laws should be applied to them for any crime that a person can commit.
Because people actually populate businesses, pushing the levers that make the beast walk (lurch?), steering it around corners, etc., if the corporation is found guilty of crimes, then it should have to have the same punishments as a physical person.
If the corporation’s actions have destroyed physical environments, permanently injured people who work for them or who are citizens damaged by the company’s actions or inactions, or even worse, have resulted in the deaths of citizens and/or employees, then the upper management and the owners and major investors in this company should have the convictions assigned to them—ranging from theft and fraud to manslaughter and first-degree murder.
It does not take a great leap of imagination that if this became the law of the land, companies would either go out of business or radically change their behaviors for the better. I would love to see this put into effect under the current situation. Moreover, if eventually these corporations decide to abandon the fiction of being a person, this would be a good feature to retain.
I am off in a few days after this issue of the Community Alliance is released to participate in an excellent progressive conference, Seizing an Opportunity: Toward an Ecological Civilization. I hope to see some of you there. I will make a report upon my return.
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, David Roy is a pastoral counselor and a California licensed marriage and family therapist who directs the Center for Creative Transformation. He has a Ph.D. in theology and personality from the Claremont (California) School of Theology. Send comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 5475 N. Fresno St., Suite 109, Fresno, CA 93711.