It was once a land of great prosperity. Even then, though, it was a land of extremes. Or at least that’s what the history books say. It’s been hundreds of years since government dysfunction, natural disasters, and internal conflicts turned it into the greatest quagmire of human suffering. Little is known of the people that remain there now as they are physically cut off from each other and the world and are suspicious of strangers besides. Still, those few brave souls that have managed to make the trip and come back alive have brought strange rumours of what goes on. I suppose it is only natural that a society pulled apart by extremes, if left alone without even the checks and balances of others would only get stranger.
I was just a young anthropologist when I first heard the story from one such traveler. In almost a whisper, he told me of a large and apparently flourishing community far inland that worshipped a corporation. I was both intrigued and aghast. We had long ago done away with these “legal fictions” when they became far too powerful. Yet here was a society in the midst of utter chaos that not only kept them but deified one! And they managed to flourish?
I had to see it for myself, whatever the risk or cost. Was there some secret that we, in our rush to be rid of the old ways, had missed? At the very least, it would make a fascinating series of articles and a monograph on a fresh topic.
Naturally, it took months to get the funding, proper approvals, and arrange the passage, but this was somewhat expedited due to my urgent plea that this odd community could be swallowed up at any moment by the natural or political instability of the continent.
Getting there was no small task. When I finally arrived at the place the traveller had indicated on the map, I was a little disappointed to see a rather ordinary town. Of course, an ordinary town amidst what I had seen elsewhere was odd in itself, just not the kind of oddity I had hoped for. When I came into town, a woman in uniform came out to greet me. On her shirt was simply written “K Corp”. I explained who I was and what I was doing there. Without any apprehension, the woman said, “You’ll want to speak to someone from public relations. They’ll be able to answer your questions.” With that, she handed me a glossy print-out of the map of the town and pointed to a building simply named PR.
After a short walk, I stood in the hall of the PR building where a man greeted me with an eerily friendly smile. “You must be famished from your travels. Why don’t you come into Meeting Room 1 with me and we’ll have some lunch.”
“Thank you,” I said, and followed. After a sufficient lunch of mediocre egg salad sandwiches and juice, I took out my recording device.
Before I had a chance to ask anything, he began, “I understand you have some questions about our way of life. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. We are in a growth phase and we believe there are a lot of opportunities for personal investment here. You’re aware of the problems with our domestic situation no doubt, so foreign direct investment is welcome.”
“Thank you, that’s very generous of you. I will certainly share what I learn as widely as I can,” I said truthfully. This seemed to please him and he began in earnest with an enthusiasm I can’t remember ever seeing in a person.
“As you know, the Great Divide tore apart our world long ago. All around us, many died from war, famine, disease, and other disasters. Our ancestors, however, survived. A great leader, an entrepreneur, saw in all the chaos a business opportunity. Our ancestors, his employees, understood his great vision and followed him. In exchange, he took care of them. As long as they served the bottom line, their interests were his interests. As the chaos grew, so did the company. More and more sought security among its ranks. A steady paycheque, a warm office, family benefits… these were the difference between life and death. And for a while it worked, but all natural persons are flawed. You have that saying where you’re from, right?” I nodded, not wanting to offend. “And even our great Founder, may his name be preserved in our Minute Book forever, began to err. As he grew more successful, he invested less and less back into the company. He spent more on himself. He spent less time making decisions and the products suffered… the people suffered. It was almost as if the bottom line and the people’s interests were not the same, may it never be so resolved!” He shuddered, but with an audible relief, he continued. As he did, I marvelled at how, though it seemed to be well rehearsed, he looked as though he was giving it over for the first time.
“But you see the bottom line did eventually begin to suffer. The Corporation itself punished the Founder and he soon died in an earthquake. Though he could not see it, his accomplishment could not be undone. He had given birth to the Corporation, but there was no heir. Without a natural person to pervert its vision, the Board and Officers could carry out its will unmediated. Their task was an awesome one and though they faltered at first, unanimity soon reigned. The Founder, after all, had selected them carefully. The Corporation alone has protected us ever since. We are all only accountable to The Bottom Line. Our interest is its interest, and as you see, we are very comfortable.”
The whole thing was quite astonishing, but I wondered what it all meant in practice.
“A people lives by its calendar, and we are no different. Not only does each individual have their own personal holidays according to their place in the Corporation, but we all come together several times a year. Once every five years, in April, the Board goes on a Retreat wherein they must be completely secluded and purified so that they may determine the Corporation’s Strategic Plan. Each year, they Retreat again to ensure they are on track to meet the Corporation’s Goals and Metrics, by which we all live. This is a period of great anticipation and anxiety for us all, since it is not revealed to us until the Annual Staff Meeting in May. April, in general, is a time of self-reflection for us as each must take stock of their accounts and see how they have contributed to The Bottom Line. Performance evaluations determine who will be promoted and who must be… let go.” The pain in his voice told me all I needed to about what that might mean and so I didn’t ask.
I asked if they had any belief in an after-life. “Of course! At the age of 18, all employees have the opportunity to incorporate. It is only then that they receive their true name. Mine for instance is 1795643677 Inc. We believe that life before incorporation is inherently temporary. You are merely a natural person, cut off from your fellows. You may wish with all your heart to serve the Bottom Line, but ultimately, your pay is alienated from the Corporation. Once you become an incorporated employee all that changes. You can become a wholly-owned child of the Corporation, a subsidiary, whose whole purpose is to serve it. Your bottom line is its bottom line, and though you may have your own balance sheet and your own annual report, you can become truly part of the Great Annual Report. In exchange, you are granted perpetual existence. Indeed, we have a Department dedicated to maintaining the corporations of our ancestors.”
While my own society was far more technically advanced than this one, they seemed to be in touch with a dimension of existence we had totally lost touch with. The idea of being so devoted to something greater was at once monstrous and seductive. With all my training, I should have known how to extricate myself, but I simply could not.
“And does everyone get incorporated?”
“Well there is a fee involved with the process but for those who cannot afford it, the Corporation has set up a foundation.”