The Company: An Aggregate of Identities
In the spirit of the holidays, we are sharing a short story written by Liam, a current RC international student. We encourage you to take the time to read this story, possibly even aloud, with your loved ones. This short story is longer than our average blog posts, so we hope that you can enjoy it with your community throughout the days spent together, as we did!
In the province of Zamora Chinchipe, a father and son tread through the Amazonian jungle in their rubber boots. Vast populations of diverse trees provide them with ample shade, protecting them from the sun’s rays. As they walk, the fauna and the insects provide a marvellous fugue for the two. Colourful birds hum pleasant tunes, followed by the buzzing insects, and the spider monkeys ruffling the leaves. Their feet submerge into the jungle’s muddy floor as they push past the flora and the lovely melodies. Without warning, a raspy sound interrupts the sequence of jungle melodies, tormenting their eardrums, bringing both to their knees. In confusion, they both stare upwards at the blue sky, hoping to find the source of the horrid noise.
Motivated by curiosity, they begin to climb an adjacent thick and towering tree. Ascending from branch to branch, bullet ants crawl up and down the tall tree’s core. As they get higher and higher, they begin to see the green treetops and majestic birds with impressive wingspans gliding through the air. A sight to be seen. At the highest bough, the two take a seat, and they begin to look for the noise. While the son quickly rotates his head in all directions, in an attempt to find the blare of drills, the father pulls a wooden pipe from his pant pocket, lights it, and puffs smoke clouds into the oxygen-rich Amazonian air. He has already found the source: Ecuador’s largest mine, the Mirador. Excavators plunge their arms into the Amazonian subsoil. Drills pound the ore surface, breaking it into fragments so that copper can be extracted and shipped to China to make industrial machines. The entire area is deforested. There is no harmony but instead, cacophony.
After identifying the source, the son turns to his father, to see his solemn face, gazing upon the destruction of the jungle. A conversation ensues regarding the identity of the destructor. The father and the son hang many meters above the ground.
On the side of one of the excavators, the son spots a name, CRCC-Tongguan.
Son: Papa, what’s CRCC-Tongguan?
The father blows a smoke spiral that diffuses into the air.
Father: It is a Chinese Mining company.
Son: What is a company?
Father: A company is an aggregate of a diverse range of people. These people are separated into interconnected branches such as management, labour, research, and human resources. Companies either offer services or they extract natural resources from the land and transform them into products to be consumed. Are you following?
The son scratches his head.
Son: What is aggregate?
The father looks around his environment to find the perfect example to explain the meaning of the word, aggregate. He looks at his son, and the ideal example appears in his mind.
Father: Do you know what a cell is?
Son: Yeah! They’re those small things that make up my body.
Father: Exactly! Our body is composed of billions of cells that work in unison. An aggregate is a whole formed by combining several parts. In this case, your body represents the whole, and your cells are the minute parts. Do you understand?
Son: Ohh, I see! Would you say a company is like a body? The employees would be like cells.
Impressed by his son’s inquisitiveness, the father smiles.
Father: That’s a fascinating thought. You know, the adjective corporate, a word used to describe a large company, is derived from the Latin word, corpus, which means body. So yes, a company is like a body.
Son: Interesting! Looking at your body, I divide it into three parts: the head, the torso, the extremities such as your arms and legs. If we are to view a company as a body, who occupies these three roles?
The father scratches his chin and pensively stares at the wasteland in the distance.
Father: The extremities of the body interact the most with the natural world. We dig holes with our hands, we plant seeds with our hands, we knead the dough with our hands, we protect ourselves from impact with our hands. As a result of the abundance of exposure to the natural world, we are most likely to gash, scratch, break or damage our extremities. Depending on the severity of the wound, they heal quickly over time. When we think of people who are continually working in the natural world, who do we think of? We think of miners, farmers, planters and fishermen. All of these roles can be categorized into the category of labour. The purpose of the labourer is to extract resources from the earth, such as fauna, minerals, vegetables, and flora, for the company’s consumption. If the labourers are not meeting the company’s needs, they’ll be replaced by others who’ll work the land for a lower wage. The cells of the extremities are continually changing.
Son: The torso?
Father: The torso is the core of the body. This is where critical internal functions occur: the cardiovascular, the respiratory, digestive system. In terms of corporal structure, scientists, managers, engineers, salespeople, marketers, spokespeople make up the torso of the company. These individuals are responsible for driving the company forward, keeping the company competitive against other companies. Scientists and engineers are expected to be continually innovating new systems of production and inventing new efficient machines used to siphon up the wealth of the land. Daunting quotas are strapped upon the shoulders of marketers and salespeople. They are responsible for extracting wealth from smaller organisms such as communities by selling them material objects through multiple mediums: television, radio broadcasts, magazines, billboards, online ads. If quotas are not fulfilled, they may be fired and replaced by a new hog. These jobs are responsible for keeping the company resilient against foreign threats, other companies.
Son: What about the head?
The father takes a few deep breaths before beginning the third explanation.
Father: The head is the location of the brain, the control center of the body. The mind commands all of the bodily systems. So, in thinking about a company, the CEO and the executives constitute the control center. They control the flow of wealth. They control each sector in different ways. They incentivize employees in the torso sector with benefits and generous salaries as a way to motivate them to achieve new discoveries and meet quotas. However, in the extremities sector, the control center uses fear tactics to keep the labourers stagnant and obedient. With no high-level education, where will you find a job as beneficial as the job we give you? They use the fear of unemployment to manipulate marginalized workers into doing the most strenuous work with few benefits.
The son’s eyes are wide open in amazement. He can see the body his father just described.
Son: In my biology class, I learned that cells are living organisms. Supposedly, they’re not conscious of the interconnected world that they inhabit. In a company, if a cell represents an individual, would that cell be conscious of the complex body he or she inhabits?
Father: Unfortunately, very few are conscious. However, all are aware of their role in the company. Like cells which receive instructions from DNA molecules, people also receive instruction. Let’s call instruction education. Before becoming productive cells in the torso sector, employees are students attending university. At university, they are programmed with the necessary knowledge and skills to perform the required responsibility for the company. The knowledge transmission process can take up to 4 years or more depending on the job. Education is the DNA of the corporal cell. However, education does not only teach technical skills, but it can also teach people how to think and to understand the complexity of the world critically. These individuals are dangerous to the company because they’re able to mobilize people to demand changes from the company. Education is a two-sided coin for companies.
Son: The way you’re talking makes me think that you view companies negatively. Is that fair to say?
Father: Not all companies are bad, my son. There are non-profit organizations that keep large companies such as Chevron in check. Some companies want to improve the human condition but also find harmony with nature instead of an extractive relationship. I believe there are good and bad ones. According to the ancient Chinese philosophy, everything has a negative and a positive. This concept is called yin and yang. In terms of companies, if an oil company that pollutes represents the negative, an environmental agency would represent the positive. Every negative company has its positive counterpart.
Son: hmmm So, why are the bad companies able to get away with polluting our earth?
The father gazes upon the mine below.
Father: Power is held amongst the people, the sea of cells. To keep the sea of cells in a trance(a state of apathy) companies manipulate entities such as the government and the media to control the flow of information. By controlling the flow of information, people remain in a comfortable state of ignorance. If you don’t know about rural farming communities being diagnosed with cancer because of poisonous pesticides, will the sea of cells transform into a tsunami to crush the company’s awful behaviour? No. If you don’t know about oil companies extracting barrels upon barrels of oil in the Amazon and contaminating the surrounding area in the process, will the people will rise? No. Bad companies can get away with unacceptable behaviour because they control the narrative.
Son: How do we change the narrative?
Adjacent to the mine, a few miles away, the father spots a community. He points his finger northwest. The son turns his head to see the community. They both gaze in contemplation.
Father: To change the narrative, we must form entities to transmit the truth to the world.
Son: What is an entity?
Father: let us view it as a whole, a whole composed of people.
Father: To transmit the truth, stories from the community over there must be released to the world. The world must know their experience. By telling their stories through multiple mediums such as films, poems, books, songs, and so on, the people will rise to their defence.
Son: Why are stories so powerful?
Father: Companies reside in the imaginary world, a world of ideas. As human beings, we are the only inhabitants of this imaginary world. We are the only ones that can see these large bodies guzzling resources from the natural world. The imaginary world is amorphous. Its structure is dynamic. The flow of stories provides the imaginary world with this property of dynamism because stories are constantly changing over time. Some give us truths; others fill our minds with propaganda. So, if an entity can transform the flow of the types of stories told, the imaginary world would change. By changing the imaginary world, you change how people interpret the natural world, how people live their lives, and how people treat each other. Whoever controls the imaginary world, controls the planet. To keep these Goliath-like companies in check, we must go to war in the imaginary world. We must fight for the transmission of the truth. The truth will keep these companies in line.
Son: It seems like this war will be eternal.
Father: Probably, but we mustn’t surrender. Our duty as conscious individuals is to awaken the people by transmitting the truth through stories.
Silence ensues. The father and son begin to hum together, adding another melody to the jungle fugue. Their music resists the violent sound waves reverberating from the mine. Their war in the imaginary world is just beginning.