Philosophy Tuesday

“A company’s purpose is to make money.”

We need, I strongly assert, to stop saying/repeating this.  Because it is false.

Which I think, deep down, we all know.  But it’s weird, ‘cuz it kinda feels true, doesn’t it?  It’s a classic example of both a “false opposite” and an “adjacent mistruth” operating in harmony:  A company that continually loses money isn’t going to be in business for very long* – that’s the true part.  The false opposite is that a company has to make loads of profit to remain in business.  Similarly, to avoid losing money, a company has to think about its cash flow.  Which is fair, but the adjacent mistruth that arises is that therefore the company must think about, and almost only about, maximizing its profit at every turn.  Put those two together and it has got the veneer of veracity.  One that is further burnished by repetition.  We hear this phrase over and over so often that it feels true just through recurrence and agreement.

And boom, there it is.  We get companies that do just that, and we, perhaps unwittingly, encourage it.

However, despite this truthiness it is a falsehood.

A company’s purpose is to produce a good or service that is of value to the community while earning those who provide that good or service a decent living.

That’s it.  That’s what a company ought to be aimed towards.

If a company is in business for 50 years and breaks even every single year while providing a solid living for its employees, it’s doing great.  It may not be “crushing the competition” or “growing by leaps and bounds” or “earning a 50% profit” or “making it’s owner insanely rich” or “producing amazing shareholder value.”  But it’s been around for 50 years, providing something worthwhile that has it stay around for 50 years, all the while with employees living mighty fine lives.

A company need not overcharge its customers so it can pocket the difference.  Or underpay and overwork its employees to pocket the difference.  Or offset costs into the community to pocket the difference.  Or harm the environment to pocket the difference.  Or make detrimental and injurious products to pocket the difference.  It need not impoverish us all, fleecing us to further line the pockets of a select few.

Companies are about people making vital and fun and really nifty stuff for each other so that we can all live and thrive together.

And that’s what we need to be saying.

 

* Usually – companies/rackets like Uber notwithstanding.

Philosophy Tuesday

Back in June, while I was in Los Angles, I took a visit to the Annenberg Space for Photography and saw the show “Generation Wealth” by Lauren Greenfield.  The show examines the influence of affluence, both locally and how it has influenced (and maybe we could say has even been exported to) other countries around the world.  The idea wasn’t to simply look or catalogue the so-called “lifestyles of the rich and famous”, but more so to examine and highlight the pervasive desire for more.

It was a good show (and it will be going on until Aug 13th if you can visit before then), and there was a lot to take in.  There was one particular caption for a photo, however, that really stuck with me.  To paraphrase:

“Girls at a young age learn that their body has currency.”

“… has currency.”  That strikes me as a really interesting concept, and I think there’s juice there, well worth looking into.  So this post will be just that – I don’t have a particular ending point or great conclusion I’m driving towards.  I just want to explore it and see what might open up.

Currency.  Noun.  Something that is used as a medium of exchange.  If you have currency, you can spend that currency as capital to get something else.

Homer: Oh, twenty dollars. I wanted a peanut.

Homer’s Brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts.

Homer: Explain how.

Homer’s Brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services.

Homer: Woo-hoo!

I’d surmise that most of the time when we think about currency, we only think about the “paper” kind: money.  But if we step back for a second and look, there’s really a lot of things that we can (and do) use as currency.  Things we attain, culture, try to make grow, and even horde, so that we can use them in some way to get something else.  Yet they’re such a part of the fabric of the/our culture that we don’t even notice that or when we’re doing it.

We are social creatures.  In the same way we’ve declared and agreed that a particular piece of paper is worth “10 dollars”, we’ve also placed values on all sorts of intangible things.  And we’re exchanging those things all the time to get other things.

If we go from there… “ok then, what do we value and consider as currency in our society?”

Bodies.  A particular style/type of body.  Access to bodies.  Certain clothes.  A style.  Type of language.  The way we act:  macho, sultry, partier, etc.  Fan of a particular thing/team/singer/etc.  Likes and shares online.  Followers.  Goods of a certain calibre, or brand.  Connections or people we know.  Favours, of all types.  Philanthropy.  Notoriety or infamy.*

What’s the price to pay (pun semi-intended), though, when they become wrapped up in the same contexts we have in our head for currency/economy/exchange?  Because we can get decidedly weird and act very bizarrely around money… So too then will we around anything that fits in our minds as a currency.  Often including actions and decisions that don’t always turn out to be in our best self-interest.

And then things can get even more entwined when we spend actual currency to bolster and increase these “virtual” currencies…  (Which, again, in reality, are just as much of a fiat currency as is the “real” currency of money.)

It is that craziness wrapped up in the way we operate around money that has me so intrigued about this distinction and calling out of the other things we traffic in as currency.  Why I think it’s valuable.  Especially since so much of it we just inherit from our surrounding culture and society.  There’s nothing necessarily good or bad in any of the things we might hold as a currency, it’s just how we might be impacted when they get caught up in the notions of an economy.  We can form barriers that limit us from being and acting in ways that are expressed, fulfilling, creative, related.  Something that is authentic for us can instead get hijacked by our subconscious machinations around money.

Like anything, taken too far to one side or the other it can become destructive.  There’s what we hoard, the inappropriate and inaccurate meaning we can place on it, the judgments, the pathological pursuit of it, the crushing despair of not having it, the dying a thousand deaths if what we put so much of our energy into begins to slip away and we realize we are bankrupt (in many metaphorical ways)…. Likewise too there’s what we spend it on, how we spend it, and the misguided ways we try to spend it, perhaps attempting to gain companionship, attention, agency (ie the feeling of power), self esteem, all things that too easily also flit away.

Perhaps above all this is also just the basic, absolute, deadening of anything that gets reduced to a mundane transaction, a footnote in a ledger, all forced into perfectly equal rectangles and an eye on zero-sum games.

And if things we cherish and derive genuine self-actualization from gets supplanted by that kind of everyday mundane monetary economic context, then that is an unfortunate thing indeed.

Creating a window that allows us to see what would otherwise be hidden is always a first step in not getting trapped.  That little caption is opening up a whole new realm for me to check out and examine.  A brilliant little distinction by Lauren.

What do you see?  What else do we/you use as currency?  Or spend it on?  How might it be acting as a straightjacket?  If you have any insights or thoughts, please share…  I’d love to explore this more.

 

* Another photo by Lauren noted the rise of some celebrities who are famous almost entirely and only for being famous.  They gained their fame through a sex tape or other item that went viral, and rather than being a scarlet letter it instead became the foundation of their fame.  A fame that becomes capital to be spent… acquiring more fame and capital, and so on.