1. The primary objective of organisations is to survive and grow.

“We are survival machines – robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes.” 

“The Selfish Gene”, Richard Dawkins 1976

“When Enron Corp. was riding high, Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow had a Lucite cube on his desk supposedly laying out the company’s values. One of these was communication, and the cube’s inscription explained what that meant: When Enron says it’s going to “rip your face off,” it said, it will “rip your face off.” “

“How Enron Bosses Created A Culture of Pushing Limits” By ANITA RAGHAVAN, KATHRYN KRANHOLD and ALEXEI BARRIONUEVO, The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 26, 2002 

To begin to understand the forces that are trying to control how we think, we need to examine the nature of organisations.

An organisation is just an organised group of people with a common objective and they are necessary for accomplishing major tasks. There is nothing inherently wrong with the idea of people coming together to get something done. The problems seem to arise when organisations amass a certain amount of wealth and power.

Although there are many different kinds of organisations, the five I want to focus on are business, religious, media, government and education, as these dominate the affairs of most of the modern world. We need a framework for understanding why they behave in the ways that they do. Once we have a basic framework for modelling their behaviour, perhaps we will be able understand the role they play in society more clearly. We don’t need to have a degree in economics or sociology to understand the primary drivers of these organisations – they aren’t that complex. They are driven by considerations that are extremely familiar to all of us, because we have either worked in, with or against one of them at one time or another. As we’ll discover, regardless of the different domains these organisations operate in, they tend of have overlapping interests which allow them to co-operate without deliberate collusion.

Richard Dawkins, in his classic text “The Selfish Gene”, refers to humans as “survival machines”.

“Individuals are not stable things, they are fleeting. Chromosomes too are shuffled into oblivion, like hands of cards soon after they are dealt. But the cards themselves survive the shuffling. The cards are the genes. The genes are not destroyed by crossing-over, they merely change partners and march on. Of course they march on. That is their business. They are the replicators and we are their survival machines. When we have served our purpose we are cast aside. But genes are denizens of geological time: genes are forever.”

― Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene

Organisations are also survival machines. Instead of genes, they preserve their own version of selfish molecules called “shareholder capital”. This is what they are programmed from birth to do. Instead of existing to build new copies of themselves (like organisms), organisations exist to grow more money and power, because with greater power comes the ability to survive. They do whatever they can to manipulate their environment to engineer that outcome.

Organisations continually fight to survive. It would be antithetical to their interests to exhibit behaviour that could lead to its own demise. Every organisation invests enormous amounts of time, effort and money to perpetuate its own existence. They fight off predators, horde resources, and exhibit many of the same characteristics of large living organisms. For example, large organisms are made up of millions of smaller single-celled organisms i.e. cells, whereas organisations are made up of hundreds or thousands of individual humans. In an organism, each cell is obeying its own needs for survival and passing on its genes. The more successful the meta-organism is at surviving, the better the chances each cell has of surviving and replicating. In organisations, people are also obeying their own survival needs (e.g. earning income, career advancement, personal fulfilment) by serving the needs of the organisation.

Organisms have sophisticated biological mechanisms for filtering out rogue cells that are threatening its health. Organisations do too.

Darwinism states that all species of organisms arise and develop through the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the individual’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. Organisations also survive by increasing their ability to compete, survive, and ‘reproduce’ capital; they are “red in tooth and claw” as Tennyson put it. We might think of this kind of behaviour as “Organisational Darwinism”. Survival of the fittest, when it comes to organisations, means that whichever one can amass the most power will (usually) survive. Utopian views of capitalism suggest that only the organisations that best serve the needs of the market will survive. This might be true in a market where a level playing field exists but it’s an unfortunate fact that when organisations control enormous amounts of wealth, there can be no level playing field. The wealth differential between rich Company A and start-up Company Z means the playing field is tilted dramatically in Company A’s favour. All too often, these organisations will do whatever they can do destroy their competition by means fair and foul; they will use their power to try to coerce the compliance of politicians (through lobbyists, promises of campaign funding, promises of post-government jobs, etc); they will use their army of lawyers to negotiate their way around the existing laws; and will use their influence with the media to spin a positive story about their actions and negative stories about their competition for as long as they possibly can.

I was once in a meeting where I heard a senior executive at Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, refer to the practice of putting start-ups out of business before they pose a serious threat as “killing the baby in the crib”.

“It comes from an order of men whose interest is never exactly the same with that of the public, who have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public, and who accordingly have, upon many occasions, both deceived and oppressed it.” – Adam Smith, The Wealth Of Nations

“We have to grasp, as Marx and Adam Smith did, that corporations are not concerned with the common good. They exploit, pollute, impoverish, repress, kill, and lie to make money. They throw poor people out of homes, let the uninsured die, wage useless wars for profit, poison and pollute the ecosystem, slash social assistance programs, gut public education, trash the global economy, plunder the U.S. Treasury and crush all popular movements that seek justice for working men and women. They worship money and power.”

― Chris Hedges, The Death of the Liberal Class

Instead of thinking of this kind of corporate behaviour as being errant, which is how it is often portrayed in the media whenever an organisation is caught red-handed doing something indefensible, we should start to think of it as a natural outcome of Organisational Darwinism. In the same way that humans have been bred with certain evolutionary impulses, such as a tendency to act violently against people who threaten our interests, organisations are also bred to act in certain ways. This should come as no surprise. Instead, we should expect it – and build ways of protecting society from it wherever we can.

When we talk about organisations brainwashing the public, you might think we are suggesting that there is some kind of vast conspiracy, with shadowy men sitting in darkened rooms, plotting the fate of the world. While this has definitely happened in the past (read G. Edward Griffin’s book “The Creature from Jekyll Island”, about the November 1910 meeting at Jekyll Island, Georgia, of six bankers and economic policymakers, who represented the financial elite of the Western world and who created the Federal Reserve System in the United States), and still happens today (in May 2015 four large global banks — Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland — pleaded guilty to a series of federal crimes over a scheme to manipulate the value of the world’s currencies  – and then you have meetings such as the Bilderberg Group, an annual private conference of about 120–150 political leaders and experts from industry, finance, academia and the media, founded in 1954 by Józef Retinger, the founder of the movement that became the European Union), it is not the model we are mainly interested in.

The model we are interested in revolves around the shared natural interests of organisations. Despite some of these organisations being businesses, others being governmental and others being in the business of education or religion, there are a set of common ideas that it is in their best interests to promote to their respective stakeholders.

What interests do different kinds of organisations have in common? When you read this table, imagine you are the top executive of one of these organisations and you are asking yourself “what is in our best interests?”

Idea

Business

Religious

Government

Education

Media

Teach People Not To Question Authority

Managers don’t want their staff to question their authority because it threatens their position and therefore their income. Businesses also tend to want a pliant population who will do what they are told – buy this, buy that – and a stable economy.

Religions are built around authority – the authority of the god, of the priesthood, of the prophets, of the book.

All governments exist to exercise authority and are run by people who have a desire to hold it. They do not want the population to question authority – or to question the system at all.

The education system, designed, managed and financed by governments, religions and businesses, is where most of us first learn to obey authority. It is built on a one-to-many classroom situation where discipline and authority is required.

Most media organisations in Western countries are owned by large businesses and their clients (who they sell advertising to) are large businesses. We should therefore expect the media to support the values of large businesses.

Drive People To Work Hard

Businesses want their employees to work as hard as possible for as little income as possible. They will create a culture where hard work and long hours are edified.

Religions often rely on congregational tithing or donations to fund them, so the more money a congregation has, the more they can donate – especially if they believe that their god will favour them in the afterlife (or in this life for the impatient) for their donations.

One of the key metrics used to measure the success of a government (especially by businesses) is the performance of the economy. Therefore governments want to encourage everyone to work long hours to drive economic growth. Also, the harder people work, the more tired they will be – and the less likely the are to participate in political activism and protests.

The education system is designed to create future employees for businesses. It will echo the “work hard” ethic where it can, particular in secondary and tertiary education.

Media businesses generate revenue from advertising. The stronger the economy,  the more money will be available for advertising. Therefore media businesses will do their part to convince the public to work hard to make more money which they can spend on consumables, which drives up the need for advertising.

Spend More Money

Businesses want their customers to spend as much of their money as possible on the businesses products and services. They also want employees to stay broke so they need to work hard and  keep their job.

Churches want you to spend your money on buying the favour of the gods by donations and tithing. They also have investments in business and real estate and therefore a general  interest in the economy.

A strong economy requires people to continually spend money on products and services, so governments have a natural incentive to convince people to spend more, even if they have to borrow to spend it.

?

As above.

Xenophobia

Businesses that are part of the Military-Industrial complex stand to benefit from war and the precursor to war is xenophobia. For other businesses, fear also drives up media consumption – which means more people are going to see the advertising carried by the media. Finally, maintaining a fear of “the others” works to the advantage of businesses who want the population to vote for conservative governments, who are traditionally ready to play the “national security” card.

Fear is central to  religious belief (fear of what will happen to you when you die). Keep in mind that all religions are also businesses. The tend to run very large investment portfolios. There is also natural competition between religions and all religions would like to see their competitors wiped out. Look at the wars between Christian denominations,  and between Christians and Jews and Muslims over the last 1000 years.

The government of a country has a natural fear of foreign influences, beyond their control, determining the outcome of elections. Also, keeping the populace worried about foreign threats is a proven method of using fear as a motivator in elections. Incumbent governments can argue that the imminent threat from outside demands a steady hand at the wheel, while opposition parties can claim the current government isn’t doing enough to ensure the security of the people.

?

Fear drives media consumption. If the public is scared about foreigners “destroying our way of life”, then they are more likely to watch the news, read the paper and then want to take their minds off of it by watching the lowest-common denominator television that doesn’t require much mental effort. The more people watching (/reading/listening), the more advertising revenue can be generated.

Don’t Try To Change The System

The management of a business don’t want the system to change – either the internal system of the business or the wider socio-economic systems, unless, of course, the wider change is perceived to be low risk to existing revenues and to bring positive opportunities for greater revenues.

Religions are built around tradition. Change is a threat. Therefore, it’s in your best interests to convince your congregation not to rock the boat.

Its axiomatic that governments and professional politicians want to protect the status quo. If you are running the system, why would you want it to change?

The education system is also designed by governments and businesses who both want to protect the status quo. Educational institutions that encourage students to try to change the system will be pulled into line by the system.

Media businesses tend to be large and profitable and managed by executives who earn millions of dollars. Why would they want the system to change? It’s working for them the way it is. They have a natural disincentive to allow any content into their media channel that would encourage significant systemic change.

Keep Them Distracted

Particularly if there is a movement in society for socio-economic change that would be negative for a business, they will want the market to pay attention to something else.

The more time you can convince your congregation to be distracted by other things, the less time they are likely to think about the gaping holes in your arguments.

If the people pay too much attention to domestic politics, they may notice your mistakes and your corruption, so it’s better to keep them distracted with other things, such as sport, xenophobia, celebrity gossip and political theatre.

?

The media business is build on distraction. The more they can distract the public from thinking about changing the system, the more sustainable their existing business model will be.

Support The War

Businesses that profit from war, directly or indirectly, will support the war.

Especially when the war is against one of those countries with a competing religion. Fear that those people that we are at war with want to kill us, might bring us to church more often – and the more we come, the more chance we will donate.

Fear is an important motivator in politics. Keeping the people scared that “the others” are coming to harm us means we can keep them distracted from domestic issues. It also helps justify the winding back of civil liberties, which helps silence critics of the government. Anyone trying to expose government corruption can be accused of risking national security.

In any society where there are business and governmental influences on the management of education, we should expect that academics and education managers that don’t support the values of those institutions will find themselves in a difficult situation. To be vocally unsupportive of the existing regime is career suicide. And if the ruling institutions want a war, you better support that war.

Fear for our own safety and the safety of our loved ones is well recognised as the great driver of media consumption. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Selling a foreign threat as an imminent danger to our way of life is a great way to increase readership of your paper.

Your Lack Of Success Is Your Own Fault

The more you can convince your staff that success is purely a product of working harder, the more profit you can extract from their labour.

Religions are often based on guilt, whether its inherited guilt of “original sin” or guilt that stems from being a human with flaws. The more guilty you feel, the more you will come back to church and donate.

This ties into driving a growing economy. If you keep people believing that the only think stopping them from living the dream is how hard they work, then you can keep them too tired to protest the decline in civil liberties.

The primary purpose of educational organisations in a capitalist society is to produce workers and managers for business. Even though their students probably haven’t experienced personal career frustration yet, many of them are likely to have seen it in their parents and relatives. Instead of being told “yes, in this system only a few can make it”, they are told “you can make it if you study & work hard enough”.

This ties into the “hard work is all it takes” meme. The media, run by businesses and wealthy magnates, has an interest in propagating the meme that their own wealth and success is just a matter of hard work, something that is hard to criticise.

If the largest, most powerful organisations all have similar, over-lapping interests, then they don’t need to meet in dark rooms to co-ordinate – they just need to each obey their instincts. Like birds flying south for the winter, they don’t need to discuss what they are going to do with each other – they just do what comes naturally. They do what they need to do to increase profits and hold onto power. This kind of behaviour is to be expected – there’s nothing strange about it. There’s probably nothing illegal about it either. But it results in the central organisations of our society using their combined influence to keep the population scared, broke and exhausted.

As each organisation tries to mould the beliefs, behaviours and expectations of the public in ways that will benefit it, we experience a confluence of propaganda.  All it requires is a set of mutual interests and cultures designed to protect the interests of the organisations themselves, even when those interests stand at odds to the good of society as a whole.

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