Corporations (pronounced to be ‘persons’ by the all-knowing supreme court in its infamous Citizens United decision), are often committed to sadism.  Consider how a couple of decades ago, when cigarettes were exposed for the dangers they posed to smokers, transnational cigarette manufacturers put pressure on the Taiwanese government when it was preparing an anti smoking campaign for its citizens. They applied similar pressure on promoting smoking advertising in Korea.  The result?  Among the male teenage Korean population the percentage of smokers increased from 1.6 to 8.7 percent.

Bishop William J. Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival, has been taking actions founded on the idea that being a person of faith means fighting for justice. Video from TIME Magazine.

Since those who smoke die on the average seven years before those who do not, we need to ask: Do American corporations kill citizens of poorer countries seven years before their time? What right do they have to do that? After the silicone breast scandal resulted in the American government stopping their manufacture, major ads appeared in Guatemalan newspapers for silicone breasts—from American companies. 

When corporations “downsize”—which means to fire as many workers as possible—are they demonstrating a kind of sadism also?

The eye of capitalism. Photo by Sahand Hoseini on Unsplash.

Managers who do the firing often feel the pain of the fired. As one CEO put it to Fortune Magazine, “You get through firing people the first time around, accepting it as part of business. The second time I began wondering, ‘How many miscarriages, is this causing? How many divorces, how many suicides?’ I worked harder so that I wouldn’t have to think about it.” 

William Dugger, a management analyst, predicts the following scenario for corporations in the future:  ”Taken to the logical conclusion, when 100 percent of the stock is treasury stock the corporation will own itself. It will have dispensed entirely with shareholders from the species Homo sapiens. To whom or to what would it then be responsible?”  

What happens then?  “Could a corporation entirely dispense with not only human ownership but also human workers and managers?…What would it be then?… It would exist physically as a network of machines that buy, process, and sell commodities, monitored by a network of computers…. It would be responsible to no one but itself in its mechanical drive for power and profit.”

“The greatest form of violence is poverty” -Gandhi. Photo by Muhammad Muzamil on Unsplash


Does the growing gap between the haves and have-nots reveal a  power-over/power-under dynamic which is essentially sadomasochistic?  It underscores the origins of violence—which are more often than not injustice—and it lays bare the dynamics of violence actually operating in our world today. 

Sadism is a misuse of imagination; it is using our imagination to torture others and to take pleasure in watching others in pain. Sadism is a distortion of our God-given gifts of creativity and imagination—a creativity meant to be put to the use of compassion, community and the Common Good–not destruction.

By its very etymology, com-passion is about passion-with.  It is not about passion over; or passion under. People marching against sadistic policing are marching in favor of a vision of beloved community where truth and justice matter.  And equality and fairness matter.  And black lives matter.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Sins of the Spirit, Blessings of the Flesh: Transforming Evil in Soul and Society, pp. 261-263.

See also: Matthew Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion..

Banner Image: Homeless man asleep on bench in Largo di Torre Argentina, Roma, Italy. Photo by John Moeses Bauan on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

What examples do you recognize of corporate or public sadism? 

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2 thoughts on “Corporate Sadism at Work”

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    I am reminded of the campaign several years ago by Nestle’s to market baby formula to women of Third World countries as the “modern” way to feed their babies (instead of breast feeding as they had been doing). Unfortunately, the company never took into account that in order to reconstitute the formula powder these women needed safe and clean drinking water. That wasn’t available, leading to disease and even death. Thankfully Nestle changed their ways, but only after a boycott of their products. What other kinds of “campaigns” do we never hear about in countries far from our own?

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