Fiduciary Responsibility

June 24th, 2010  |  Published in etc

You know the whole “fiduciary responsibility” dodge?

It’s the one where a company does something awful, and Person A. says “Man, that’s awful!” and then Person B. comes along and says “Yeah, but a company has a fiduciary responsibility to its shareholders to maximize its profits.”

Person B. usually seems to be delivering the dodge from one of two perspectives:

Perspective 1: The “clear-eyed realist” perspective is the one where you’re supposed to shut up and get over your naive, hippy notions about the world because Business Means Business.

Perspective 2: The “embittered realist” perspective is the one where you’re supposed to shut up and get over your hippy notions about the world because the world is screwed, and until you understand The Way the World Works, you’ll continue to expect better from mean old corporations.

Either way it’s delivered, you’re supposed to shut up because the person delivering the dodge has worked out the angles and you’re a sap either way for getting all emotional about it.

I’ve never delivered the dodge from the first perspective, but I’m not willing to go on public record as having never delivered it from the second perspective, because up until just now — when I was reading it being delivered over this thread on MetaFilter about how insanely cruel and wrong the producers of the Biggest Loser are to the contestants — I know that when I heard/read it, I thought to myself, “right on! Maybe if these goddamn hippies hear it enough times they’ll quit thinking they can make anything better by expecting goddamn corporations to behave themselves.”

The thing that occurred to me just now is that I’ve been thinking “right on!” from the perspective of a former Marxist who has spent a lot of time over the past, well, very long time with the idea still in the back of his head that maybe some day, if everyone would just get together and do something about it, we’d sink that corporate system to the darkest pits of hell*. From that perspective, the person delivering Perspective Two is a Platonic philosopher, come to unchain us from the rock and force us to see what we’re dealing with so we can all get busy with the PowerPoints on how to form soviets in the cube farms. I feel like I should clarify that I have not been at all convinced that forming soviets would fix anything for some time now, but that hasn’t kept my notions about what would qualify as useful reform from having a certain apocalyptic bent.

The thing that occurred to me just now is that in addition to hearing an expression of raw despair, you’re also hearing someone giving up. Or rather, announcing that they’re giving up until someone comes along and immanentizes the Eschaton for them so they can quit reacting to everything around them with anything but despair. And that makes me think of the wisdom of Joe Hill, whose words I’ve never read in quite the same way as I’m reading them this afternoon.

Leave a Response

© Michael Hall, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States license.