I Wish I Were Under the Word Count So I Could Talk About Corporate Word Counts

By Guest Contributor

[The following regards conversations on campus surrounding divestment, activism and diversity, which all directly relate to corporatization. It links newspaper reporting, silencing of oppressed voices and investing in unethical companies, while advocating for free and just existence on earth, an aim achieved through de-corporatizing our means and methods.]

The Campus is preoccupied playing referee in a public debate between legitimate voices, assuming anyone attempting to disrupt public order to get their message in the paper is by definition illegitimate. Accordingly, when an audience member calls out a transnational corporate executive for supporting the execution of activists (the indigenous Ogoni 9 who refused displacement of their communities in the name of oil addiction and increasing returns for Shell), the Campus reported the corporate representative was interrupted “with accusations against Shell of human rights violations.” It didn’t report the activist’s actual words.

The paper drowns the voices of activists with those of their critics. The defense of corporate crimes is forefronted, further marginalizing those most affected. The job of the corporate public relations office is done for them, without ever having to pass along a check to the paper. As anthropologist David Graeber describes in Direct Action, the reigning editorial logic is that to reproduce the hecklers’ actual words would allow them to “hijack” the media; it would make the newspaper partially responsible if anyone acted similarly in the future.

Also, our established media has lightened the activist toolbox to corporately approved means: educational panels, screenings, appeals to figures of authority. When there is a dispute between contested authority and protesters, Graeber explains most newspapers do what they always do in such contexts — try to appear even-handed by staking out an editorial position somewhere in the middle. Consequently, challenging an unjust status quo is authoritatively de-legitimized.

Last March, we learned that the College invests in arms manufacturing and big oil, but, as a community, we did not act. The formation of SRI, as a sub-group of Student Investment Committee (SIC) six years ago, demonstrates this knowledge was nothing new.

As Olav Ljosne so successfully taught us, “transparency” is a PR tactic, used to either vanish or sustain insurgency under corporate supervision. Indeed, [President of the College Ronald D.] Leibowitz recently confirmed in an all-campus email – Investure has revealed that some $32 million and $6 million of our endowment are directly invested in fossil fuels and arms manufacturing respectively. One percent invested in death is one percent too many. In a press release, 350.org ignored the information [President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz] revealed and disregarded the percentage invested in weaponry, encouraging us to go “fossil free” while leaving us more to invest in war.

So, why do students keep propagating corporate interests? Our very own SIC voted last week to invest in BP Oil. SIC has also invested in Exxon Mobil, which, by the way, “recruited, paid, supplied and managed sections of the Nigerian military and police.” This phenomenon is so warped it’s worth closer examination.

The Board of Trustees founded SIC as an educational project in 1987, relinquishing $100,000 of the endowment for play. SIC’s portfolio has performed very well. One needn’t studymacroeconomics to know the rule(s) of finance — maximum returns by all means necessary. SIC states in its mission: “‘The only reason you should play poker is to make money.’ The same rule applies to investing.”

Today, SIC has approximately $325,000 of the endowment to play with. Having learned how to “play poker” by successfully investing in arms manufacturing and environmental degradation, SIC alumni go on to top Wall Street jobs. It’s like giving children guns to play with before they get drones, F16s and cluster bombs in the “real” world.

This is not a personal attack. I see these atrocities as collective responsibilities. I remember the words of a friend of mine who is in the Israeli military.  He confessed he doesn’t want to talk about politics because it destabilizes him; it makes him question decisions he’s struggling to be happy about. He is not alone.

Many Israeli Defense Force soldiers, corporate reporters and finance managers display sympathy to activist causes. Analogously, the corporate behavior exemplified by our student body is not entirely due to personal bias — it is structural. So long as SIC reproduces actual investment portfolios and the Campus emulates the structure of corporate newspapers, we will see corporate trends regardless of members’ opinions: “Individual opinions are not really that important […] within an institutional structure that renders their opinions irrelevant (Graeber).”

During the talk on socioeconomic diversity last week, a student asked our Associate Director of Admissions whether we admit students based on the likelihood of them donating after graduation, which can be modeled while remaining “need blind.” She both confirmed this practice of the College and explicitly denounced it as unfair. Little action is possible within the structure she submits to in that office.

These are sad prospects for the College and the world. But all hope is not lost. This is not the end of history. Capitalism was preceded by feudalism.  It will be succeeded. As active actors within capitalist order, we must ask ourselves how to subvert our authoritative positions in order to build the egalitarian foundations of the new society, within the crumbling structures of the old.

Education or corporation? Liebowitz’s response is a result of our collective actions, indicating that we can re-imagine the world as we want to see it, without making concessions. I can’t quote Desmond Tutu enough. It’s time to stand up to our values.  Remaining neutral is taking the side of the oppressor. Let’s start with a 100 percent ethically invested endowment.

Written by AMITAI BEN-ABBA ‘15.5 of Jerusalem

[EDITOR’S NOTE: When quoting the Campus, Ben-Abba originally wrote that an article stated that the corporate representative was “interrupted for alleged human rights violations.” This quote was inaccurate: in the editorial which Ben-Abba is referencing, “The Nuances of Free Speech on Campus,” the Campus reported that the corporate representative was interrupted “with accusations against Shell of human rights violations.” The correction has been added above, and the Campus regrets this error.]