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Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise
By draping itself in the finery of political activism, the corporatist class consolidates political power, corrupts democracy and distracts from its real functions.
The British spy agency GCHQ is so aggressive, extreme and unconstrained by law or ethics that the NSA — not exactly world renowned for its restraint — often farms out spying activities too scandalous or illegal for the NSA to their eager British counterparts. There is, as the Snowden reporting demonstrated, virtually nothing too deceitful or invasive for the GCHQ. They spy on entire populations, deliberately disseminate fake news, exploit psychological research to control behavior and manipulate public perception, and destroy the reputations, including through the use of sex traps, of anyone deemed adversarial to the British government.
But they want you to know that they absolutely adore gay people. In fact, they love the cause of LGBT equality so very much that, beginning on May 17, 2015 — International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia — they started draping their creepy, UFO-style headquarters in the colors of the rainbow flag. The prior year, in 2014, they had merely raised the rainbow flag in front of their headquarters, but in 2015, they announced, “we wanted to make a bold statement to show the nation we serve how strongly we believe in this.”
Who could possibly be opposed to an institution that offers such noble gestures and works behind such a pretty facade? How bad could the GCHQ really be if they are so deeply committed to the rights of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and trans people? Sure, maybe they go a little overboard with the spying sometimes, and maybe some of their surveillance and disinformation programs are a bit questionable, and they do not necessarily have the highest regard for law, privacy and truth. But we know that, deep down, these are fundamentally good people working within a fundamentally benign institution. Just look at their flamboyant support for this virtuous cause of social justice.
Similar agencies of deceit, militarism and imperialism now robustly use this same branding tactic. The CIA — in between military coups, domestic disinformation campaigns, planting false stories with their journalist-partners, and drone-assassinating U.S. citizens without due process — joyously celebrates Women’s Day, promotes what it calls The Agency Network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Officers (ANGLE), hosts activities for Pride Month, and organizes events to commemorate Black History Month. The FBI does the same.
It’s so sweet that one is tempted to forget about, or at least be more understanding of, all the bombing campaigns and all the dictatorships they install and prop up that repress and kill the very people that they purport to honor and cherish. Like the GCHQ, how menacing can an intelligence agency be when it is so deeply and sincerely supportive of the rights of the people they routinely spy on, repress and kill?
Again, this does not make the CIA perfect — sure, they make some mistakes and engage in some actions that are worthy of criticism — but to combat real evil, you do not go protest at Langley. They are engaged in important work combating homophobia, racism and misogyny. Thus, real warriors against evil look not to them but instead go searching online for the Boogaloo Boys and boomers on Facebook who post Q-Anon and other problematic memes. That is where your focus should remain if you want to root out the real threats.
Large corporations have obviously witnessed the success of this tactic — to prettify the face of militarism and imperialism with the costumes of social justice — and are now weaponizing it for themselves. As a result, they are becoming increasingly aggressive in their involvement in partisan and highly politicized debates, always on the side of the same causes of social justice which entities of imperialism and militarism have so effectively co-opted.
Corporations have always sought to control the legislative process and executive branch, usually with much success. They purchase politicians and their powerful aides by hiring them as lobbyists and consultants when they leave government, and those bought-and-paid-for influence-peddlers then proceed to exploit their connections in Washington or state capitals to ensure that laws are written and regulations enforced (or not enforced) to benefit the corporations’ profit interests. These large corporations achieve the same goal by filling the campaign coffers of politicians from both parties. This is standard, age-old K Street sleaze that allows large corporations to control American democracy at the expense of those who cannot afford to buy this influence.
But they are now going far beyond clandestine corporatist control of the government for their own interests. They are now becoming increasingly powerful participants in highly polarizing and democratic debates. In the wake of the George Floyd killing last summer, it became virtually obligatory for every large corporation to proclaim support for the #BlackLivesMatter agenda even though many, if not most, had never previously evinced the slightest interest in questions of racial justice or policing.
One of the very few companies that refused to do so was the Silicon Valley-based cryptocurrency exchange platform called Coinbase — which announced that it would remain apolitical and not involve itself in partisan debates or causes of social justice unrelated to its core business mission. When announcing that policy of political neutrality, the company’s co-founder Brian Armstrong explained that “the reason is that while I think these efforts are well intentioned, they have the potential to destroy a lot of value at most companies, both by being a distraction, and by creating internal division.” That once-anodyne announcement — to stay out of politics as a corporate entity — produced instant backlash. And exactly two months after, the notoriously censorious and politicized “tech reporters” of The New York Times punished the company for its heresy of neutrality with a lengthy article depicting Coinbase as a bastion of racism and toxic bigotry (the company was also savaged by journalists because of its audacity to reveal and respond to the NYT’s allegations in advance of the paper’s decision to publish).
Ever since, large corporations are diving into numerous other political debates with great vigor and force — provided that their views are in alignment with affluent liberal culture and prevailing social justice pieties (though, like NBA officials and stars, they confine themselves to easy domestic causes and scripted liberal platitudes while they steadfastly avoid commenting on any injustices that may implicate their business interests, such as debates over labor abuses in China or Amazon’s abuse of its workers). The Wall Street Journal on Sunday reported that “dozens of chief executives and other senior leaders gathered on Zoom this weekend to plot what several said big businesses should do next about new voting laws under way in Texas and other states.” The campaign against these laws includes not just corporate giants but also the nation’s largest and richest corporate law firms.
Part of the motive may be self-serving strategy. With Democrats controlling both houses of Congress as well as the Executive Branch — all of the instruments that can legislate and regulate their businesses — they may be calculating that using their massive weight to serve the Democratic Party’s political agenda is wise. Doing so could curry favor with powerful lawmakers and regulators and result in rewards or, conversely, allow them to avoid punishment and recrimination for the crime of refusing to engage in activism. That motive at least partially explains why they have been so generous with their donations to Democratic candidates. “Wall Street is putting its money behind Democrat Barack Obama for president,” reported Reuters in 2008, while they did the same overwhelmingly in 2020 to support Biden over Trump (just as Democrats have increasingly become the party of affluent suburbanites, they are also increasingly supported by the wealthiest corporate and tech power centers).
The farcical nature of all of this is obvious. Just as it is laughable that the CIA and GCHQ care about social justice, feminism, and racial diversity as they bomb and subvert the rest of the world in ways that contradict all of those professed values, the idea that corporate giants who use sweatshops, slave labor, mass layoffs and abuse of their workforce care about any of these causes would make any rational person suffocate on the stench of their insincerity.
But whatever the motives, the dangers of growing corporate involvement in U.S. political debates are manifest. In its healthiest form, the way democracy would function is that citizens vote for the representatives they believe will best serve their interests, and those representatives then enact laws they believe their constituents favor. But when giant corporations use their unparalleled economic power to override that process — by forcing state and local governments to rescind or reject laws they would otherwise support due to fear of corporate punishment — then the system, by definition, far more resembles an oligarchy than a democracy. Rod Dreher, writing on Monday in The American Conservative, advanced arguments and concerns that were once the province of the left:
This is progressive oligarchy. Woke Capitalism is a threat to democracy. As I write about in Live Not By Lies, these same people are eventually going to eagerly collaborate with government to create the Social Credit System necessary to make this country controllable.
When is it going to occur to people on the Left that Big Business is doing all this because it knows that if it makes the right moves on cultural issues that matter to the Woke, it will be able to do whatever it wants to workers? It has never had to worry about Republicans. That may be changing soon, if we elect a crop of populists who know how to do more than tweet and make belligerent but empty speeches. I’d like to see Republicans like this get elected, and get active to remind Big Business of its proper place. . . .
Big Business is already quite powerful in our society. Do we really want a society in which Big Business reserves to itself the right to tell polities what their laws and policies are going to be, at the risk of punishing that polity economically if it resists? Does this sound like the kind of country you want to live in? If you are pro-choice, imagine that Big Business decided to threaten your state’s legislature with economic consequences if it doesn’t pass pro-life legislation. One expects the business lobby to engage itself on legislative questions pertaining to its own sphere, but beyond it? Big Business already has a lot of power over our lives — and now it wants more. The only force powerful enough to reign it in is the State. Whatever else you might say about the State, at least it is democratically accountable — unlike Big Business.
Residing beyond the dangers of even greater corporatist control over our lives and politics is the deceitful branding and distractions that this exploitation of social causes, by design, engender. If large corporations are crusading for voting rights, why would anyone regard them as a menace? The contrary is true: we should be grateful for their noble activism.
When it comes time to identify the root causes of social pathologies, we will look elsewhere. The concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the corporate class and the ways they abuse and eliminate labor, control government, and destroy the working and middle classes will be impossible to see, as we are all blinded by the glare of their virtuous Instagram posts about racial justice and their unified campaigns against voter suppression. In an instant of swooning over their benevolent devotion to social justice, we will forget what they actually exist to do. When we work to harness their power to support our own political causes, we forget about how out of control and menacing that power is, and what it is most often used for. And that is exactly the way they want it.
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