Adam Smith wrote that he thought the corporation to be a flash-in-the-pan fad which would not last for long. Centuries later, it's still going strong and has grown and expanded its scope enormously. Like Adam Smith, I've long felt the corporation to be very much the odd duck, and its near-hegemony in our world difficult to explain. However, I have lately come to believe that the corporation has some interesting properties which solve some long-standing human problems, and that how they work can be subjected to memetic analysis. These properties include:
- The contact memes of corporations are radically different for the owner/investors, the workers, and the consumers, and yet they all perceive themselves to be engaged in some kind of "common enterprise"
- Corporations allow often radically different factions to coëxist side-by-side without open conflict
- Allocation of resources
- Access by men to women
- Classism (including castes)
- Violent conflict to resolve differences
Mark 10:9, Matthew 19:6, et al. The construct of G-d establishes a hierarchy of power, from the king downwards, as well as "institutions" such as marriage1, dietary laws, holy days (when certain activities are prohibited, etc.), taboos, and caste systems2. The position in the hierarchy, membership in a caste, are ordained by G-d, as is marriage, which governs men's access to women and in some ways guarantees said access provided that the rules are scrupulously followed, and provides some guarantee to women of support for their children. A priestly class is busily engaged in manufacturing a sufficiently complex megamemeplex (or ideology, if you like) to keep everything running by laying out the details of proper behavior and justifying measures to curtail deviancy. The highest achievement of this enterprise is when the megamemetic cohort (the population) internalizes the system of oppression to the extent that they police, shame, and punish themselves.
The G-d concept, or "God-MIAO", accomplishes this objective quite handily. But then so too does the corporation.
God and Violence
If a society is stable, then violent conflict is curtailed, typically by social shaming or punishment, even death, for those who don't follow the rules. The rules are of course tailored, consciously or unconsciously, by the priestly and/or ruling classes, to keep everyone in line. Again, the most efficient system is where the people internalize the rules and oppress/police themselves. And so the rules must be made accessible, understandable, to the population in order for them to enforce them on their fellow citizens, or, in the worst case when the state is forced to intervene with violent force (the use of which the state reserves to itself), for the population at least to understand the rules whereby this violent action is taken.
Even things like human sacrifice, cannibalism, mass murder, and genocide may be supported by such a megamemeplectic (ideological) system of rules, as we have all seen time and time again. These kind of tactics may be employed (if they are part of the megamemeplex) to respond to Malthusian3 pressures, as can war, which is of course one of the "Three Horsemen of Thomas Malthus". Genocide may be seen as a kind of war on one's own people, and an extreme one, since it claims both men and women equally5. On the other hand, war against another people (nation) addresses, in addition to the overpopulation issue, both the problems of resource allocation and access to women since one nation sends its young men to kill the other side's people (mainly men), take their resources, and, not to put too fine a point on it, rape their women.
Perhaps a quick side point: does it make sense to send the young men (as opposed to the more mature ones6), or to send women as in Israël and soon, the United States? If the objective is to field the most effective fighting force, survive the war as a people, and repopulate losses afterwards, then it would seem not. One man dying makes next to no difference in terms of repopulation after a war, but a woman dying is a disaster. Older men are more experienced (especially if they are veterans7), and may have already sired and supported to maturity the next generation as much as they are going to do before they die themselves. The opposite is true of young men. Clearly the objective of warfare is not to win, but rather to kill large numbers of people on both sides, including one's own, starting with those who have the most reproductive future ahead of them. The inclusion of women makes the whole enterprise enormously more effective. Is it a losing proposition to send one's own women into combat if they other side does not? Probably the opposite8. This may also be a memetic motivation for the development of nuclear weapons, i.e., the need to eliminate a larger and larger population9 in wartime. Nuclear weapons and the conscription of women may be evidence of intelligence on the part of megamemetic systems10, in fact. Clearly the objective is Malthusian in nature, and the megamemetic system sugarcoats and justifies the actions that support this with distracting and untruthful mythology that cause the cohort (in this case the national population) to behave exactly as if they understood the underlying rationales. Indeed, when two nations are in conflict, the one with the megamemeplex which is the most effective at duping the population into engaging in war activities, and shaming and self-policing themselves into doing so, is going to be the most effective, even if they have lower population or other strategic disadvantages.
And this is where the corporation comes in...
The Corporation as an Instrument of Control
As with a class system or a caste system, the corporation offers a system of control. Part of this is the largely illusory offer it makes of "advancement", and also "security". Workers can be "promoted", which offers an increase in pay (though usually miniscule), more responsibility11, and more power, which is probably the major motivation for seeking advancement, although the farcical promise of more pay may be the "cover story". Again, the memes provide justification for our investment in the system. Salaried positions are typically more prestigious than hourly wage ones, both socially and in terms of more power and responsibility, but the former can actually be more well-remunerated.
Hourly wage positions tend to be the ones offered to the poor and/or less well-educated, and they are often in competition to be given more working hours. This allows for direct control over the poor, who are, of course, the ones most motivated and likely to rebel against the memetic system, and hourly wages offers direct control over the resources they can garner, whether they can care for their families, even get enough food and basic necessities. Salaried workers, however, have a reliable income, so they can continue to pay for house, car, electric bill, food, etc., even if they are required to work large amounts of overtime for extended periods or travel for their jobs.
In short, whatever corporations are really doing (which may or may not approximate what they say they are doing, e.g., producing products and providing employment, i.e., stimulus to the "economy", whatever that is), one real result is that a large number of people are engaged in their operation, and depend upon that operation (usually the bureaucratic aspect, i.e., deciding who gets what and how much and when, often divorced from the actual "production" of the company). It could be said that salaried and wage employees are "enslaved", but in slightly different ways. All of them may be fired/sacked (and in the US, usually without any "legal" justification), which effectively terminates their livelihoods in the same way as being dispossessed of one's farm would in any other century in human history. While the wage employee may be in a situation where their hours are cut, which can be a kind of "mini-firing/sacking", which allows the corporation to put pressure on (usually) the working poor, the salaried employees are a reliable source of additional free labor—they are there, and they may be required to work more hours, even many more hours, when demanded.
Whoever, if anybody, drives the corporation, it is able to exercise this kind of control on the employed population, and corporations collectively control the vast majority of the population.
Corporate Contact Memes
From a corporate standpoint, and memetically speaking, salaried workers form a middle class within the corporation, especially those who work in supervisory positions. They have what they themselves perceive to be power. They can hire and sack/fire people, control the work that people do, and have budgetary decisions over the corporation's resources. But they are not owners, and the progression of their career path at the corporation does not lead to their being so. However harder they work, they are no closer to being owners of the company, but they labor under the illusion that the owners of the company are just "a little further ahead" on the road to increased power (and wealth is just an expression of power). The middle class are in a real sense merely slightly better-off members of the working class who have been selected to be go-betweens between the owning class (the owners of the company who have actual major stake in it) and the workers who make the products which provide the cash flow.
Obviously the concept of profit as measured with a "negotiable currency" plays a part in this, but that may be a different essay altogether.
What about the owners? What is their perspective? The workers' contact memes vis-à-vis the corporation make a fair bit of sense in terms of their behavior. They turn up to work, they get paid for the number of hours they work, and they may get benefits, such as health care (unless this is provided by the state, which in the case of America, it isn't). There may be other factors that muddle the situation for an hourly worker considerably, however, and it's probably quite interesting to subject each detail to memetic analysis. The salaried workers' situation is rather more muddled. They work hard in hope of promotion and more money (which are largely mythical12), they take pride in being on salary (even though it can mean reduced real wage in the face of required overtime), and they harbor the illusion that some day they might be some kind of owner with a real stake in the company (even if it's limited to some kind of higher executive position where their salary is linked to corporate profits). In other words, the make-up of the memeplex governing the motivational system of mid-level salaried employees would seem to support a number of fairly heavy delusions, reminiscent of the memeplex of, say, a religion or other such non-fact-based ideology. The function of people occupying these "jobs" may have broad implications for the system as a whole—maybe we'll see.
The drivers of behavior of salaried employees, especially mid-level managers, has long bewildered me. It may make sense in memetic analysis, however, i.e., an examination of the signaling, immunological, and functional memes and how they interrelate.
The real owners, however, may have the simplest contact memes, the memes that are closest to the "truth". Whatever is happening inside the memetic and technological "black box" of the corporation, it has stocks/shares which may be purchased at some price13, it has an historical rate of profit on investment, i.e., a certain efficiency and a given set of risks, some, perhaps many, of which may be known. Shares in a corporation could be considered semi-liquid assets, able to be sold when needed but possibly at a loss, where a "deeper" ownership, i.e., ownership of the real assets and such, begins to turn into a non-liquid asset. Such a non-liquid asset may begin to change things in terms of taxes, perks such as using company facilities, inability for creditors or others to seize, garnish, or place liens on the asset, since it may be legally or practically impossible to transfer without losing part or all of its value.
Even if the owner is creating a corporation from scratch, possibly around one of their own ideas or inventions, they are in the same sort of situation. If they are ultimately going to succeed, their invention/idea must be salable at some price, naturally, where they make money rather than lose it, in the long term, at least. Part of this starting up process is procuring facilities needed to produce and supply the product and workers who can produce it at or below the rate of pay that results in a workable salability/profitability level. After that, the owner/creator collects the profit, much as with a purchased company. The fact that many new businesses fail changes nothing as to this delineation.
Effectively, vis-à-vis the owner, the corporation may very well represent14 an "engine" for making money. A wealthy person, an owning-class person (not necessarily the same thing), purchases a company, much as one would purchase a car or a home appliance, and said appliance, like a "black box", generates money through some sort of internal functioning. The money machine may need tune-ups, which may involve staff changes, organizational restructuring, equipment improvements, moving locations, or the owners may decide to sell it or even dismantle it and sell off part or all of its components. Often the task of performing these upgrades would be placed in the hands of corporate management to carry out, or outside experts might be brought in, or both. Sometimes the wealthy owner, e.g., Warren Buffet, might have sufficient subject expertise and actually oversee the "tune-up" personally.
"Company Loyalty" and Residual Memetic Debt
So the corporation seems to appear to be a very different thing to the people holding different rôles in it. In some ways this might seem obvious, perhaps like three people going to see the same movie or restaurant and having different impressions of it. However, one of them does not have the expectation that the people in the movie are real and that they will continue to have a relationship with them afterwards, or that it's some kind of "game" that they might be able to "win at", and only one of them a more "realistic" idea15 of what is going on, i.e., that the movie is a piece of entertainment media and that buying a ticket permits one to view it, and after the screening is over, the purchased experience is complete.
This may actually tie into the idea of residual memetic debt. Memetic debt is incurred and then "carried" between the time that a meme is enacted and the time that it "terminates", or the "memetic loop is closed", i.e., that it is either imitated or some expected reaction received (good or bad)16. I've touched on this before, but this may be the memetic explanation for things like intergenerational dysfunction and abuse and even ethnic strife and genocide like we see on the Palistinians by the Israëlis. When a behavior is enacted, the organism tries to learn it and reënact it, i.e., or enact an appropriate response meme, which closes the loop and provides a physiological memetic reward (or "memetic orgasm") to all concerned17. Again, this is the physiological motive behind all human imitation. However, in the case of abuse, the child is not allowed, obviously, to enact the abusive action in return on the parent, and thus incurs residual memetic debt which may not be resolved until the child themself [sic] becomes an adult and is able to enact the imitation on their own children, thus closing the loop.
By the way, money may solve some problems for us here as well in that receipt of goods and services may be immediately paid off, obviating the need to carry residual memetic debt. Obviously in a modern specialized economy imitation as a way of closing the memetic loop becomes impossible in most cases (which may in and of itself be an issue). The use of money, and indirectly, the operation of the corporation, allows an individual to enact a set of memes, i.e., "working" (which may involve the memetic reward loop of actual imitation, which is beside the point), receive "money", which she may then immediately turn around and employ to close the loop on the act of receiving a good or service from another place, i.e., supplying the "promise" of an appropriate reaction. For example, I fix TVs and I enjoy ice cream. You work for a company to get money, your TV breaks down, I come and fix it. You could pay me in ice cream, if you had any, but I may not want any just then and it would melt if I took it, and you might have to pay me in more ice cream than was practical for the work I did. In other words, you cannot enact a sufficient reaction for the enactment you need me to do. This is a simple description of how money solves the problems inherent in bartering, but this time from a memetic perspective, with a memetic explanation. Once the money has been associated with the value, which is a kind of MIAO-association operation, it works. As the TV repairman, my residual memetic debt is immediately paid off in terms of the "expectation" of an anticipated future memetic reaction (which becomes "smeared together" with all of the memes I have enacted). This smearing together (all of my TV repair work looks somehow like an impossibly huge ice cream cone) is part of why currency systems are so powerful. Additionally, and the simple comparison to bartering fails to capture this, it sheds some light on why currency debasement is such a huge emotional issue—the memetic debt is in a sense still all there until the money is spent and if savings are perceived as having been lost, it comes back in force. This may be similar to what goes on with a salaried corporate employee.
Aside from the fact that the corporation pays salaries and wages in currency (usually), there is perhaps a residual memetic debt that is incurred by salaried employees which is not incurred by wage earners or owners, and this imposition of residual memetic debt may be part of the fundamental functioning of the corporation. Residual memetic debt arises from the feeling that one has not received one's due in return for one's actions, and so it is not unlike the concept of excludability in economics17. A wage worker works a given number of hours and is paid the amount they expect, and they are not expected to work more without pay or get paid when they do not work. There may be resentments about things such as taxes on wages or expenses incurred just to show up to work and so on, but basically the transaction is clear and no resentment builds up over time.
Owners, on the other hand, have invested their currency, their stored residual memetic debt, into the company, and so are strongly motivated to protect it for very clear and tangible reasons. They may invest a substantial amount of their own time in the corporation as well, but it is for the sake of a "return" or "gain" on their memetic debt, which is an amazing thing when you think about it.
The salaried employees, however, even though they are similar to wage employees, are made to believe they are different, and have expectations that they are somehow on the same track as owners. If they are working on a 40-hour-a-week basis and are told to work more than that, they incur memetic debt, a residual memetic debt that is often never resolved. They may have the expectation that they will be listened to, that they will have some say in how the company is run and so on, again, as though they were an owner. But they are not. The company has no obligation to repay that memetic debt, either in salary raises, extra vacation, promotions, whatever. In fact, there is no "company", per se, but the memetic subsystem in which the salaried employee exists anthropomorphizes the corporation to a much greater extent than with the wage earners and owners. and it is onto this personalized MIAO that the need for enactment of response memes is projected and whereby a considerable amount of various types of residual memetic debt is accumulated. The complex mythology around the hope for the repayment of this psychic debt, reënforced by the social environment of other salaried employees inurred of the same memeplex, keep the salaried employee in a state of satisfied dissatisfaction. The hope that they shall one day be able to close the loop on the residual memetic debt they have incurred so far may be a large part of what keeps them there, may be dubbed "company loyalty", and actually takes the form of a growing set of expectations that an anthropomorphized "company" will (eventually) enact appropriate response memes and/or place them in a position where they may enact/imitate memes such as "managing" (telling others what to do, deciding the conditions of work, etc.), receiving residual income, etc., and receive the long-awaited (residual, deferred) memetic reward wrapped up in it all.
In Sum: Same Perception, Different Contact Memes
So this is what I mean when I say that the contact memes for each group are different, but the perception is that they are all in the same boat, i.e., that they all somehow have the same set of motivations, differing only by degree. Contact memes are the set of memes that a megamemeplex presents to an individual interfacing with it. For wage workers it is "put in hours, get paid", for owners it is "invest money, get return". For wage workers there may also be the promise of "you may become a salaried (manager) later" and this often comes true. Owners expect to keep getting their return, that the company will become more and more self-managing, and that they can sell it later if they like, and again, these expectations are more-or-less met and consistently. However, the salaried employee's set of contact memes with the corporation bears some resemblance to those of owners, some to that of wage workers, but it's a strange mish-mash, and there is a great deal less "reality" behind it all in terms of what the employee is expected to do and what they can expect to receive in return.
1But also including things like harems, le droit du seigneur or more graphically, le droit de dépucelage, or the right of the lord to any virgin under his sway.
2One function of a caste system is to control which economic activities may be undertaken, and where and when. For example, where one is allowed to fish, what sorts of fish or animals may be taken for food, what one is allowed to manufacture and sell. Activities such as butchering animals, burying the dead, membership in the priestly or scholarly caste, fighting in wars, are ordained by birth, and are often unchangeable from generation to generation.
3c.f. The Reverend Thomas Malthus, who put forward that when human populations exceed their available resources, they will be reduced back to survival levels by one of three events: (1) War, (2) Famine, (3) Epidemic (the "three horsemen" of Thomas Malthus). However, it could be argued that there is a fourth route, which is the increased efficiency of the exploitation of available resources through improved technology4.
4c.f. Le huitième jour de la création, Prof. Jacques Neirynck, Pressess Polytécniques Romandes. The continual upward growth of technology provides a stopgap on Malthus, but only temporarily, as technology does not always keep pace with population growth, and ultimately hits a dead end with either the total exhaustion of resources (thermodynamic entropic "heat-death") or the limits of quantum mechanics (e.g., "the end of Moore's Law", etc.)
5Though this may not, in fact, be true—further research is required. It may prove that men are killed more and woman are raped but disproportionately not killed. Neither case undermines the basic idea.
6An interesting counterexample is how in the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a call went up from retired nuclear workers that they themselves should be sent in to do the most dangerous work since they were already old and it was tragic that young people with their whole lives ahead of them should die of radiation poisoning. Also, obviously, since the retired workers had already spent their entire careers at the work and working together, they were more experienced and better at working in teams. This is the exact opposite to war conscription, where we send the youngest and least experienced people into battle. There must be something else going on here.
7I've heard that it's a bit of military conventional wisdom that there are three kinds of recruits when it comes to combat, more-or-less evenly divided: those who run in fear, those who freeze up, and those who are able to function and fight effectively under fire. Furthermore, it's apparently impossible to tell which is which prior to a first engagement. This seems like a huge problem, and no doubt ameliorated if older men (especially veterans!) were called up. By the way, the statistics for women may be considerably better (they could hardly be worse!), but this is probably not the justification for drafting women.
8It has been posited that the Black Death, which killed some 75% of the population of Europe in a very short time, actually led to enormous social and technological advance since all of the resources and infrastructure were left to the survivors without the crushing day-to-day pressure of having to eke out a meager living. On top of that the survivors where the hardiest, with the strongest immune systems, and just the best at surviving in tough times. This could be a large factor in Europe's subsequent conquest and colonization of the rest of the world. Likewise, a cohort of returning men and women veterans would be comparably strong and skilled, and if returning to a country where the population had been culled by bombing, could repopulate a stronger nation, possibly with a rebuilt and renewed infrastructure.
9The current world population stands at over 7 billion. A good round number for the percentage of people killed in a major war is probably 2%-5%. Think of the 2%-5% number as what's needed to bring a nation on the verge of a Malthusian event (such as starvation) back under the critical threshold. If two nations with total population of 1-2 billion were in conflict, that's approximately 100 million people, or the three biggest Chinese cities, or every major city in the United States, completely destroyed along with their entire populations in the course of a 3-5 year conflict. War casualties on the battlefield are insufficient, as would be conventional civilian bombing campaigns.
10This is a major question in macromemetics, as I've mentioned elsewhere, i.e., whether memeplexes are intelligent. By this I mean whether they are able to "predict the future" and take novel action.
11Additional responsibility almost invariably translates into more hours worked, and since supervisory positions with real decision-making power as to budgets and such are almost invariably salaried, promotion actually translates to a reduction in real wage.
12An interesting anecdote is that when I was looking into joining Fujitsu in Tokyo, I was told that I could stay (on the cheap) in the company dormitories/apartments with other employees and next to the campus where I would be working. I was further informed that once I got married (I was engaged at the time) I would be moved into a "married employee apartment". In other words, my eligibility for better accommodations was predicated on my married status, rather than on my job title or salary at the company.
13Which may be subject to manipulation, and that may or may not be a significant factor in this analysis, but probably out of scope for now.
14I can't claim to be much of an owner of things like corporations, so I can't speak with authority here—comments welcome!
15In memetics we sometimes have to question everything. Movies are also manufactured by corporations, and they do have a social impact, and they are constrained by the limitations of the prevailing ideology and the need to resonate memetically within the given cohort who will view it, so the meaningful effect (as opposed to the ostensible effect) of such a piece of media is open to question.
16This is the basis for and the differentiation between oppression and alienation. "Oppression" is where enacted memes are imitated or responded to in a way that engages the individual in the prevailing ideology, but still denies them access to resources. Racism, classism, and sexism function in this way—the individual has a place in the memeplex, there is a panoply of memes for them to enact and responses they can evince, perhaps even more than non-oppressed members of the cohort have, but despite this high level of memetic engagement, and even power, they are hobbled in their ability to get access to what they need to live. "Alienation", on the other hand, is where the individual has few if any memetic exchanges they may enact to engage with the society in which they find themselves. This may or may not equate to deprivation, i.e., ability or inability to satisfy their own needs. For example, a middle-class American working for a Japanese branch of an American company may not speak the language or understand the culture well enough even to go shopping or order food in a restaurant, and the local people may not try to engage him either for these or other reasons. Thus he is alienated, lacking almost any memes to enact in order to evince reactions from the prevailing (Japanese) megamemeplex, but he is not "oppressed". He probably has WoWow to watch foreign shows on TV, can get foreign (American) food, and probably has a handful of equally-alienated associates. Japan can be a very frustrating society in terms of residual memetic debt, by the way, and this may be the stuff of a series of essays by itself.
17This may be a significant issue, and point to a remedy, for the different sexual experiences in (human) males and females. Since she is physiologically unable to penetrate her partner, she may incur residual memetic debt. This is not true of other females in the animal kingdom, of course, since only humans are subject to the principles of memetics. Residual memetic debt has unsalubrious effects (for the female and probably for the male as well) and may be able to be dissipated by closing the loop on the memes of the sexual interaction, for example, via the use of a strap-on dildo (and perhaps a special design might be particularly helpful). More on this later...
18Excludability means that all of the benefits of a transaction may be enjoyed by the purchaser and not inadvertently shared with anybody else, for example, the purchase of a hamburger that the purchaser then completely consumes. Nonexcludable economic activities are those where others benefit without paying, even if the provider and the consumer also benefit. Examples include accepting payment for teaching people to read. I get paid to teach, however, further employers of my client and many others also enjoy the benefits of my work without having paid me for it, since they get to hire a person who can read without having had to teach them themselves. This relates to the concept of The Tragedy of the Commons.
模倣子 Memetic Essay