Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Murdoch Cream Pie Inquisition: A Broader Perspective!

Despite what the news panel pundits may say, the Murdochs and Rebecca Brooks pulled off a victory yesterday. Their appearances before the UK parliamentary 'spanish inquisition', left the 'inquisition' looking rather toothless ... unable to penetrate the fortress of corporate governance, which itself has largely become the practise of a sad collection of manoeuvres designed to externalise risk. Simply put, 'passing the buck' into an oblivion of doors within doors, it appears, seems to defeat the effectiveness of such parliamentary efforts to reveal the truth behind activities in the private sector. In some senses, a new mafia - the propoganda mafia - had its first public showing today; a family oligarchy of sorts - a perfect picture of soap opera proportions. Perhaps the politicians had underestimated the power of the propaganda-makers, as every question was expertly evaded - with the utmost sincerity of course - frustrating the proceedings into an endless series of veiled accusations and rebuttals that resembled a never-ending baseline rally in the longest tennis game in history. The only truly exciting moment was the cream pie moment; when a member of the public drove a shaving cream filled pie holder into Rupert Murdochs face while yelling something about him being a 'greedy billionaire'. 

Yet Newscore's share prices have risen on the New York Stock Exchange, "bargain hunting", according to Hala Gorani of CNN - prospecting on the survival of the  'too big to fail' Murdoch family media empire. After all, 'News of the World' is just 1% of the entire business operation that fall under the media empire that has had a profoundly significant impact upon the politics of both the USA and the UK in particular, but with tentacles that reach far into the politics of countries far removed from the centres of global power. It is truly a global media corporation - one that takes political positions and exercises power in the political domain with deliberation and purpose, and as Murdoch would have us believe, principle.

Rupert Murdoch is truly a global political force to be reckoned with, one that could quickly gain the ear of almost any sitting president (or even monarch or dictatorship) in the world. His calculated confession, expressing how 'humbling' this day was, the 'most' humbling day of his life ... revealed what was in reality a multiple message from Murdoch - he is both humbled, appalled, betrayed ... and of course, not responsible (primarily) for any of the illegal actions taken by members of his company. The 'company' as a legal persona, has been penalised ... it is no more, but the human beings who made the decisions are not responsible. What a fascinating quandary is thrust upon the unsuspecting public. Is it the individuals within the company who are responsible, or is it the real-life principles and practises that govern their behaviours responsible? Or is it both? 

Make no mistake; Clark Kent, Peter Parker and Lois Lane were all hauled before the court of public opinion today. And no doubt those in the public who are outraged will get more coverage, but there is a large majority of people out there who think, "well what would you do in that position - I think she handled it pretty well considering ...", and the old 'spiderman cum puppet-master' and the rookie journalist both played out their heroic roles; taking bullets from each other to the end. Not to be outdone, when the cream pie made its way into Rupert Murdoch's face, the wife of Rupert Murdoch leaped to his defence, planting what seemed to be a right hook (not left - as our ineffective committee later noted) upon the protester - who, by the way, acted in the true tradtion of the 'courts of public opinion', establishing a 'kangaroo court' atmosphere just long enough for the publics' lust for revenge to be sated through this small measure of humiliation being meted out upon the media moghul. In reality, his sullen receipt of the cream pie may have actually endeared the public to him, his age, vulnerability and humiliation becoming all too apparent amidst the interrogative atmosphere of the 'inquisition'.

But the real story here is not about the media alone. It is about public institutions, and how their cultures have changed in the transition to the neo-liberal 'market economics' era. The grand reduction has involved explaining human behaviour and society at large as governed by the irreducible and inherent 'self-interest' of human individuals, groups and societies. Yet this is largely an economic theory-led misconception, that superficially draws on evolutionary biology to establish what is falsely put forward as a 'Darwinian' perspective. The truth is that Darwin identified that chance mutation and variation had to come together to provide evolutionary advantage. Mutation and chance variation could just as easily go the other way, like cancer cells do, escalating the trajectory towards the end, robbing life instead of giving it.

And that is what happened with sector institutions and organisations all over the globe over the past thirty years in general, but over the last twenty years in particular. All institutions, from the military, to the state, and to the private sphere (consisting of individuals, organisations, business and enterprise) and civil society have all transformed signficantly over the past twenty years. Nowadays, ex trade union leaders are billionaires, and NGO's see themselves as funding and consultancy rivals instead of partners. All of them have political ambitions. Like it or not, we are already in the era of the transdisciplinarian - senior police officers and senior press officials swop places in each others industries without raising an eyebrow, kind of like military-defence industry personnel swops; appointments that service the dual interests of the sectors whether it be to the detriment of society as a whole or not.    

Bush and Blair both ushered in the era of the media politican reigning off the dumbed down vote. Blair was a consummate master of the 'tv politican' role; one that involved giving the public critical soundbites that crystallised the essence of their political positions. Bush wasn't nearly as successful outside of the USA. While Blair played the media field with ease, Bush was a disaster on the international stage,  but working within his limitations, he still managed to reach the 'average Joe' in the United States. This would prove enough for two terms, if you believe he actually won the second term (you know, that whole Florida thing!). Their collective responsibility for the changes the world has endured cannot be underestimated. They were key players in the propagation of a system of operation that prescribed to the idea that politics was a game where one 'played to win'. With their grand, over-funded campaigns they have set the precedent for modern democratic elections as primarily dependent on the amount and type of press airtime and coverage they are able to capture. They had their partners ... and Rupert Murdoch was one of the most powerful that they ever had, in terms of ensuring their political survival.

Despite all the carefully thought out books on 'management theory' and organisational dynamics, the real trend was towards the embodiment of power positions and dynamics within and between organisations, sectors and institutions. The real change was one where access to, and the ability to wield power, as an imperative, became paramount in pursuing 'success' as the ambitious have named it. That is, success that means triumphing within the system of corrupt governance, or slightly outside of it at best. And it is success that matters at all costs - an everest that needs to be conquered, scaled at all costs in the pursuit of the perfect life. It is, in reality, a Greek tragedy in the making. And that is what has unfolded across the world since the late 90s. Enron, Anderson, Xerox, etc. were the first to fall, violating the markets with the 'creative accounting' that everybody else, ironically, was also pursuing in their own sectors and organisations.

Plausible deniability is everything in the corporate world, and the Murdoch Cream Pie Inquisition have had their first taste of how elusive those in charge of corporate governance can prove themselves to be. What the politicians are either ignorant of, or themselves fail to understand, is that in the great majority of institutions and organisations today, the ability to externalise risk, responsiblity and blame amongst corporate leaders knows no bounds. They can frustrate anyone enough to escape responsibility and have an uncanny ability to pull the wool over the eyes of the many they know share their values and principles ... that ultimately it is each man for himself, and we stick together only when we need to. It is not a value system or set of principles from which healthy social or economic systems are born - it is a subset masquerading as a whole, a simulation of reality ... a good act, but an act nonetheless.

Yet accountability is felt more by those shoplifting food items than those in power. The simple fact is that if you're wealthy and powerful you can evade prosecution and responsibility for the worst of crimes. The banking system is a good example of this. They created toxic debt collatoralisation instruments and perpetuated them. With the trust of investors and homeowners exploited to the hilt they proceeded to collapse the entire global financial system, largely without consequence to themselves. They have been refinanced, given bonuses and given the go-ahead to invent more crazy schemes as long as they remain 'too big to fail' and no doubt they will oblige. No doubt they will find even more crazy schemes to stay afloat during the crisis, and as they've already shown, little regard will be made for social well-being on the whole in the process.

The same can be said of the military, health and educational institutions - their increased privatisation, and institutions within the business, industry, commerce and finance and banking sectors. Simply put, they are all run along the same ethics that govern corporate organisational conceptual frameworks, and have similarly created areas in which plausible deniability can be created (admittedly, to various degrees of effectiveness - some powerful individuals do go to jail). The world is dominated by diverse and plural realities across spatial and temporal scales of difference. These heavily inform the context of everyday popular reality governing the lives of those located at the centres and fringes of global power. Yet, the broader changes that institutions have undergone have had, and continue to have, a profound effect on lives everywhere across the globe.

Legalised torture is one example where the military has utterly failed as an institution, and it is not just the US military who is to blame here - there is an entire global system of military leaderships that wield torture as an instrument of power over its charges, negating the goal of ensuring the protection of society. Organisations employ people with contracts that include phrases that require them to go above and beyond their eight hours a day, eating into their rest, recreation and family lives leaving workers and employees stressed and more prone to health problems. The health sector has become (not unlike the banking sector) a collection of financial mechanisms designed to create profits that far outstrip the value provided to those requiring healthcare and inflates healthcare costs beyond measure. Educational and research institutions have attempted to 'corporatise' research operations with dismal results - endless trains of useless research that has no real impact beyond the organisations themselves. NGO's have also attempted to simulate corporate governance, leading to a 'clientilism' that in practise serves their own needs as organisations more than the public interests they claim to represent. They have become self-interested, risk-externalising 'machines' that operate with blinkered vision where it suits them. Principle, and creating real value, come last.

Global press monopolies have a large amount of power over political and business establishments alike. Yet, they are operating by the very same principles that lie at the very core of the logic that underpins conventional organisational models in different sectors alike. The real problem is not with the press, but with the institutional cultures that have been cultivated within society, and which has filtered into organisations across sector divides. It is the prevailing system of underlying assumptions, often held as intrinsic 'truths' that lead to the behaviours that lie at the core of essentially corrupt behaviours, and the real problem is this underlying system of truisms and our inability to interrogate them. It is the pervasive assumptions that govern the systems of organisational governance that have led to this mess, and singling out the press for punishment is ultimately a distraction from the real foundations that lead all sectors, from banking to healthcare, to operate unscrupulously. Singling out one sector for the Guantanomo treatment won't change the rules of the game. We can either purposively transition, or wait out the inevitable collapse or revolution that will make broader change necessary. Perhaps a full global collapse of institutions is necessary before a comprehensive rethink enters the political and economic arenas. One thing is sure, the problem is the deeply entrenched underlying values and beliefs that govern organisational behaviours that lie beneath all the politically correct rhetoric, and the circus we witnessed yesterday is hardly likely to make any real difference to how things are done by those in power in the world we live in.