A Modern Parable: The Beast of Corporate Globalization
An Excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell: Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization
“Resistance is not futile.”—Banner seen at WTO protest
Star Trek, the popular science-fiction television series, has been running off and on for over thirty years, through several incarnations. In a recent series, Star Trek: Voyager, the greatest alien threat to the heroic crew of the Voyager space ship is the Borg, a “Collective” made up of living beings that have been captured from various planets throughout the universe. Borg “drones” do not have a sense of individuality, but share in a collective consciousness.
The Borg travel through the universe colonizing cultures, incorporating what is valuable and distinctive about different species to enrich their Collective. They incorporate the knowledge and abilities of other species telepathically, taking advantage of their weaknesses in order to assimilate them, the Borg’s power growing ever stronger.
Technology is all-important to the Borg, who despise anything “flawed, weak, human.” They “improve” the species they conquer by implanting devises into their bodies that will enhance their utility and keep them technologically connected to the Collective, under constant surveillance and thought control.
When the Borg move in to conquer a planet, they announce, “Your culture will be adapted to service ours” and “We will add your distinctiveness to our own.” As the nightmarish, robot-like drones approach their intended victims, they counteract potential opposition by announcing, “Resistance is futile. You must comply.” This is their theme and their ongoing refrain. They count on the power of suggestion to take away the will to resist, so that other species will simply surrender in the face of the Borg’s overwhelming psychic, physical, and technological power.
The Borg even have an ideology with which they justify their incredibly evil form of empire building, based on a bizarre concept of “seeking perfection” through the unlimited expansion and growth of their culture. They consider themselves to be on a quest for perfection since they are assimilating all the wonderful and diverse qualities of species throughout the universe into themselves. Through this process of assimilation, they claim to be bringing other species closer to perfection as well. They see the whole colonization process as a way of evolving toward perfection, to a sort of “higher mind.” Of course, the drones don’t question this logic. They simply serve the interests of the Collective, no questions asked.
Like the Beast in the book of Revelation, the Borg can serve as an up-to-date myth or metaphor as we talk about corporate globalization. I am not using this image to refer to any particular institution, but to the culture and network of institutions that make up the system of global free-market capitalism as a whole. Following chapters will include an overview of the global economy and the specific institutions that make it up. For now, I am simply using the Borg as a metaphor to illustrate the overall system of corporate globalization and the worldly Powers that promote it, the individuals who support it, and the bizarre ideology that attempts to justify even the most harmful aspects of the globalization process.
Colonizing the Planet, Assimilating the Earth
“In amazement the whole earth followed the beast…, saying, `Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?” (Rev. 13:3b-4)
The current global economic system is a monster, a “Beast” more scary and dangerous than any science-fiction story. The Beast of Corporate Globalization grows ever bigger, incorporating more and more of the earth’s surface and assimilating more and more of its creatures. It drinks in pristine rivers and lakes, excreting toxic effluents into aquifers and oceans and onto the surface of the earth. It inhales clean, fresh air, exhaling poisonous fumes. It eats up fertile land, leaving deserts behind. It consumes majestic old-growth forests, spewing out clear cuts. It colonizes the earth.
Wealthy corporations, along with many governments and global institutions, support this Beast and conceive of its goals as their own. Complex webs of competing and complementary interests maintain a tenuous stability in this global economic system and hold these various institutions together. No individual human being or group of human beings is in charge of this system. It is rather like the Borg, with people acting together in a collective way to support the overall goal of global capitalism: to expand indefinitely, incorporating cultures and natural species throughout the world into one integrated market economy that encompasses the whole earth.
Commercial spokespersons and government figureheads, generals and CEOs serve this Beast, carrying its goals and ideology forward. Investors eagerly feed it money, betting on large returns. Individuals are conditioned and adapted to serve it as compliant workers and eager consumers in order to increase corporate profits and further overall economic growth. The Beast of Corporate Globalization has no use for people who are destitute, the unemployed, or others who do not fit into the market economy, so it renders them invisible and expendable. It puts economic growth and corporate profits first, demands the obedience of human beings, and employs police and military power to enforce its will.
Most people who have economic or political power portray the process of corporate globalization in a positive light, appealing to the dominant economic ideology that undergirds this system with logic that is similar to that of the Borg. They argue that trade liberalization, endless economic growth, and integration of the global economy will lead to peace and prosperity (the quest for perfection), and furthermore, that it is inevitable (“Resistance is futile!”). They justify the process of cultural assimilation by appealing to the superior value of Western-style industrial development, which, so the argument goes, leaves cultures better off than they were before (bringing them closer to perfection).
With this kind of development, of course, corporations lead the way. Media networks owned by huge conglomerates transmit satellite images of Western sitcoms and advertisements around the world, marketing not just products but a superior way of life. Mega-corporations such as Nike and Wal-Mart roam the world to find places to set up sweatshops where there are weak labor and environmental laws and where they can take over the business and markets of local artisans and small-business owners. Amid charges of “bio-piracy,” pharmaceutical corporations search remote jungles for unique species of plants and animals, then try to coax secrets of healing from indigenous people so that they can patent the knowledge. Military and paramilitary forces protect Western interests such as oil drilling or rain-forest development projects from indigenous or other subsistence communities who have lived on their lands for generations. In even the poorest countries, fast-food restaurants like Burger King and McDonald’s serve burgers and fries to wealthy customers who are protected by armed guards as famished children roam the streets outside.
Corporate globalization assimilates cultures and people into one huge global marketplace. Some people benefit. Many have moved from subsistence living to wage jobs and new opportunities. But this process of assimilation extinguishes both cultural and biological diversity, as transnational corporations dominate agriculture and trade, and as they exploit the wealth of nature, pollute the earth, destroy communities, and put farmers, artisans, and small-business people out of work. Subsistence farms with diverse crops are lost. Corporate-run farms take their place, growing monoculture crops that require extensive use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Patented, costly, genetically modified seeds that must be purchased each year replace varied seed stocks that have been developed and saved for generations. Colorful community marketplaces where neighbors buy, sell, and barter give way to shopping malls. Traditional forms of work give way to sweatshops. Species are lost to what Vandana Shiva calls “maldevelopment,” as the earth is paved over for strip malls, walled housing complexes, and parking lots. Indigenous cultures are extinguished. Even human genes are patented and put up for sale. People around the world who have depended upon the natural world for their subsistence become dependent upon the global economy, immersed in the values portrayed by Western commercial media, plugged into jobs in corporations, dependent upon low wages to purchase essentials—all from corporations. Those who cannot make it in the global market economy are left behind.
And yet, all this is done as if it is in the best interest of all concerned. The U.S. government and the rulemaking institutions of the global economy, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and World Trade Organization, promote this style of development and sing its praises, in spite of resistance from citizens’ groups around the world. The standard economic ideology so dominates discussions of economics that other views are usually dismissed or ignored altogether. Public officials, economists, corporate executives, and media representatives rarely question the generally accepted view of economic development and world trade. The underlying ideology that supports corporate globalization is pervasive; it is a given. This entrenched worldview dictates economic policies and limits creative alternatives. It functions as a collective mind-set that expresses the “spirit,” that is, the inner dimension, of the network of Powers that make up the Beast of Corporate Globalization.
This ideology includes an unquestioning loyalty to the value of technology. Computers, though they do enhance individual access to information and grassroots organizing efforts, bring far more benefits to corporations and governments as ever-expanding tools of surveillance, money transfer, and the waging of war. Television, controlled by corporations, pervades households in the United States and around the world, delivering the official line on current affairs, promoting a commercialized version of American culture, and delivering the corporate message that purchasing commercial products brings happiness. Nuclear and other military technologies continue to advance, making possible increasingly sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. Genetic engineering and nanotechnology are progressing in ways that threaten to change the course of life on earth, moving us away from all that is “flawed, weak, human.” Yet public discussions rarely focus on whether particular technologies should or should not be developed. Those decisions are primarily left to corporations.
Although some individuals, groups, and institutions benefit in the short term from corporate-led globalization, its long-term and overall effects are harmful, and its immediate effects are devastating to many vulnerable people, including children and the poor. The system of corporate globalization is the latest manifestation of the Domination System. It is a new form of imperialism; like ancient Babylon and imperial Rome, it seeks to dominate the whole world. Together with the institutional Powers that support it, this monolithic system seeks to colonize the earth and to assimilate people, cultures, and other species into an integrated, homogenous whole, modeled upon Western corporate culture. Its goal is its own survival, which depends upon its increasing profits and expanding power. It is evil, it is demonic, and right now it has the upper hand.
In the long term, however, this system itself, as powerful and absolute as it may seem, is unsustainable. It is based on the faulty premise of human dominance over the natural world, supported by the seemingly inevitable advance of technology. But as the earth’s natural bounty is depleted and as its ecosystems fail, this idolatrous system, too, is destined to collapse. God is the only absolute, and if we lose sight of that reality and live beyond the natural limits God has set for us as created beings, we do so to our peril.
Like the Borg, the interlocking network of political, economic, social, and military institutions, which together make up the global capitalist system that seeks to dominate the earth, functions as a Collective that tends to dehumanize and disempower human beings. It is a monster, a “Beast” in the biblical sense, and though it is not sentient except through us, it acts in a coordinated way to sustain itself and to expand its power. People serve it, benefit from it, or are victimized by it, but individual human beings do not control or direct it. In other words, the system is driven by its own imperatives.
Resistance is Not Futile
“The Powers are limited by the very presence of men who will no longer let themselves be enslaved, led astray, and intimidated, against whom the program of the Powers, that is, their effort to separate men from God, suffers shipwreck.” Berkhof, Hendrik, in Christ and the Powers
Like the Borg in Star Trek, as it assimilates more and more people and places, its constant message is that such assimilation is inevitable, that “resistance is futile.” And yet our only hope is in resistance, since this system, overall, is working at cross-purposes with God. It is engaged in “undoing creation” and consolidating the reign of death. In such a situation, the only moral stance is one of resistance, for compliance means bondage and complicity. Resistance, on the other hand, means freedom and hope for both personal and social transformation..
To illustrate this hope, let us return for a moment to the spaceship Voyager. One crew member is a former Borg. She was born human, but the Borg killed her parents and assimilated her into the Collective at an early age. The valiant Voyager crew later helped free her from the Collective. She retains the name given to her by the Borg: “Seven of Nine.” It took Seven a tremendous initial effort to regain her inner freedom and individuality. Several episodes have focused on her ongoing struggle to resist the Borg’s continuing efforts to reclaim her. As they try to reassimilate her, the words “resistance is futile” resound in her mind, almost overpowering her.
In one episode, Seven is helping another drone who has managed to break free from the Collective. As the Borg pursue the drone, who is still connected through technological implants, both he and Seven hear their “billions of voices speaking as one,” saying, “Resistance is futile. You must comply.”
“We must resist that voice,” says Seven. “The Voyager will be destroyed if we don’t.” In the end, knowing that the Borg will pursue him throughout the universe, the drone sacrifices his life rather than continuing to endanger the spaceship crew. He is a Christlike figure resisting the temptation to give in to the influence of evil, even though it costs him his life.
This myth of resistance to overwhelming psychic, ideological, technological, and military pressure to comply echoes the myth in the book of Revelation and the examples of the martyrs and the calls of the prophets through the ages. It also recalls William Stringfellow’s appeal to live as fully human beings, in resistance to the dehumanizing influences of the Powers. And so we are challenged to form supportive communities and to act as people who have been set free from the power of death, seeking to see, hear, and understand what is at stake for ourselves, for future generations, and for the whole community of life.