it's kind of hard to say since we're all looking sick
and the last man standing ain't going to draw no breath
paper citizens know nothing of fault or regret
there's flames on the river again
that dance as we're both shivering
they burn through the snow, rain and wind
and the match holder ain't ever going to sort it out
my risk, it has been determined for me
with these legal fictions we keep the poorest company
this was given to many
it was taken by some
this was given to many
this - it was taken by some
the punishment is always cheaper than the crime
I was taking a shit at my friend's house and reading her latest issue of MacLean’s magazine when I got the idea for this song. I’m not really friends with this particular publication - it takes an unexpectedly time-consuming bowel movement or a walk-in clinic waiting room for me to even consider picking it up. So needless to say, I don't remember the cover story, what I do recall of this 50-some-odd page magazine is a short editorial near the back. It seems the fine people of Guelph Ontario had been attempting, with limited success, to keep a Wal-Mart from being built in their city. They weren't eager to subject themselves to the local-economy-killing-retail-juggernaut and sought to preserve their city's cultural essence by vocalizing and acting upon their distaste for what they considered to be a potential threat. They won at first, but eventually their elected officials allowed a store to be built. After a period of success, the owners of Wal-Mart wanted to expand the store but, again, the people of Guelph let it be known how much this pissed them off. This is where the story stopped and the editorial began. John Whiteman, or whatever the fuck his name is, was there in MacLean’s magazine to defend poor Wal-Mart. the way he saw it, Wal-Mart’s rights were being infringed upon. Sure, a large number of Guelph's citizens opposed the erection of a new outlet, and its subsequent expansion, but didn't Wal-Mart, as a store, have the right to grow up in Guelph too? I immediately found this notion to be both absurd and frightening. This nimrod actually believes that the rights of a corporation (a fucking idea on a piece of paper) are equal to those of an actual human being. Astounding, but understandable. Corporations, after all, are legally viewed as people. It’s how they're designed. a bunch of dudes incorporate a company, thus relieving themselves of any personal responsibility for the company's actions, and imbuing this company with all the legal rights of an actual human. It’s crazy but it's true. And as melodramatic as it sounds, this is how Exxon, shell, Monsanto, Syncrude, Wal-Mart et. al have been able to fuck over the people of this planet, and the plane itself so successfully. Physicist and environmental activist Dr. Vandanna Shiva once said, "the corporation, as a legal person, is really the beginning of all the treachery of our time." I, for one, think she's right. The problem boils down to the fact that the corporation is the dominant institution of this day and age, and it is an institution with one goal: to make money. And, by now, it is common knowledge that as a result of this institution's legal standing and agenda, millions of people have been hurt, and the basic things we require to live (air, water, soil) have been either spoiled or outright stolen.
Now, don't get me wrong. This song is not intended to be some high and mighty rant. I’m not suggesting we should all stop buying coffee and clothes and just move up to north and build ourselves cabins and try to subsist on an ethically informed system of hunting and gathering. that would be silly. how could we afford to purchase the land from the men that already own it? if I was saying that, then I would just be another leather-jacket-clad hygienically challenged punk singer screaming, 'down with corporations' on a CD that just happens to be distributed by a multinational corporation. Because Hostage Life has already released two CDs on Underground Operations, and those CDs were distributed by Universal music (perhaps you've heard of them). We get royalty cheques and mechanical cheques from Universal, small ones mind you, but we get them. We, as a band that drives a gasoline fueled automobile to corporate-sponsored music festivals, are entrenched in this system. In my real life I work for a multinational corporation. I purchase products and pay for services provided by corporations. We all do, because there is little choice in the matter. It is almost impossible to live day-to-day without being affected by the most intrusive and pervasive entity of our time. This, however, is a good reason to pay attention to what is going on and to speak out and act out when we disagree with what we are seeing happen. From the abuse of workers to the degradation of the environment, and subsequent health ramifications that affect the public, the current system we have built is in dire need of an overhaul.
The Cuyahoga river, for example, has long been a symbol of corporate indifference. more than once (please note - more than once!!!!) the river caught on fire (please note - caught on fire!!!!) due to high levels of industrial pollutants. yes, a fucking body of water caught on fire. all because several different corporations chose to dump their raw waste into that river. doing this, of course, made perfect sense for the people who actually made the decision. it was a pretty common practice around the time the Cuyahoga caught of fire. in fact, the Cuyahoga fires were hardly isolated incidents. plenty of rives caught on fire during the 20th century. the Cuyahoga fires were just the biggest and provided the most photo-ops.
The job of the corporation is to make money for its shareholders. treating the chemicals that these companies were dumping into the river, or finding an alternative way to dispose of them, would diminish the companies' profits. that's a big a no-no. when an institutions' sole motivation is the bottom line, it makes sense to embrace practices that will cause harm - as long as you make money. it doesn't even matter if those practices are illegal. In the corporate world, breaking the law is justifiable if the punishment is less than the profits that can be acquired. just look at Syncrude and how much of Northern Alberta they have destroyed with their oil sands project. Over the several years that the company has been mining and refining bitumen they have produced miles and miles of toxic tailing ponds - some of which are now visible from space. In 2008, about 500 ducks landed in one of the ponds and suffered brutal, agonizing deaths. Photographs of the birds covered in toxic sludge were seen around the world, forcing the provincial and federal governments to react by laying charges against Syncrude for their degradation of the environment. Now this is a nice sentiment, and our elected officials should be praised for trying to make an example of this company. Unfortunately the punishment hardly fits the crime. Under provincial law Syncrude faces a maximum fine of $500,000. Under federal law it faces a maximum fine of $300,000. That's $800,000 if they are found guilty and receive the maximum penalties for their actions. Now, to me, you, and most of the world, that's a huge fucking number. But it is literally peanuts to the company facing the penalty. In 2008, Syncrude reported $1.5 billion in profits. It is ridiculous to think that a measly 800 grand is going to force them to clean up their act, much less their mess.
I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that corporations are evil. why should I? corporations are not living things. what they are is a tool that allows men to realize their greed. they are a fictional construct that shields selfish men from the responsibility of their actions. they are institutions that have been given the same rights and freedoms as people so that a limited number of individuals can make obscene amounts of money. even when the law isn't on their side, the heads of these corporations have been able to use their wealth and influence to plunder the world. and it is all done in the name of greed. some of you reading this will point out that capitalism is the real problem here, and you'd be right to do so. this song, and the poorly structured essay that accompanies it, however, are smaller in their focus. This song is about one part of the problem. This is about the corporation as person - the paper citizen - and how its rights and status should be revoked.