I made the joke earlier that, at the end of 2016, someone asked God to stop killing celebrities. She listened, and spent 2017 revealing the creeps.
This could be– I use the words could be, because predicting the future is impossible and the risk of future embarrassment is high when one tries to do so– the end of an era; it’s possible that 2017 is the high water mark for Corporate America.
I will probably never be a billionaire. It’s not my inclination. If I could get a reliable middle-class life by writing, and never have to subordinate in the false name of “work”, I’d probably do that instead. I care more about cultural influence and personal integrity than a bunch of expensive toys I’d get used to in fifteen minutes. Yet I know that others are not like me. There are people in the world who wish to dominate, to humiliate, and to grow in power without bound. It’s not material wealth that drives them; like anyone else would, they bore of the toys quickly. It’s the subordination of the world that energizes them: a private view of a well-bred, Ivy-educated girl willing to debase herself.
We can’t end sexual harassment in Corporate America without ending Corporate America. This is no obstacle; we should end them both.
Let’s take note of what we’re up against. Harvey Weinstein infamously said, “that was the culture then.” With more secrecy in it, it’s the culture now. Understand this: to the sorts of people who become corporate executives, there is no such thing as an “abuse of power”. What we call abuse, they call power. Their imagined right to use their social and economic position for sexual gratification is, for many of them, the executive perk they care the most about. They’ll give up the private flights and bully pulpits before they give up hope of debasing a woman (or, in some cases, a man) half their age.
Everyone gets funneled into the corporate game, and most decent people hate it. Some decent people beat the odds against them and succeed, and even after that, they hate it. Yet there are a few people who are energized by endless social competition, zero-sum status games, and the plethora of pointless nonsense that characterize high bureaucratic capitalism. They will win. The whole process takes energy from normal people until they cease to compete, but there are some who gain lift from it. They don’t mind “working” 100-hour weeks because the courtiers’ games are the only thing they care to do. They’ll always have an advantage. It cannot be fixed. Narcissists and psychopaths will, in the current system, inexorably win and drive out everyone else.
This is why I mock so-called “corporate feminism”, the Lean In nonsense. Of course, corporate feminism is not completely self-contradictory. In theory, a matriarchy could exist that is an oppressive as the patriarchy that exists today (which is, though this does not excuse bad behavior, relatively mild compared to patriarchies of antiquity). Such a society could be just as corporate as this one. A vision of corporate dominion coupled with female supremacy would be internally consistent. But, to most people, feminism means female equality, not supremacy. Gender equality is not compatible with the corporate system as it exists today, because the projection of power matters, more than merit and more than anything that might otherwise be a source of power, and society will always deem one gender more capable (contrary to reality, which seems to have endowed the genders with roughly equal amounts of competence) and powerful than the other. The only major difference between men and women is that we look different (obvious and underwhelming, right?) but the post-truth corporate system runs on appearances.
Furthermore, the corporate system cannot survive without executive payoffs that decent people would consider distasteful and wrong. Seven- and eight-figure salaries are not enough. People get used to those, mighty quick. After three months, a person’s salary becomes, to him, an objective entitlement. Material wealth is not enough for these people; they must dominate.
One might say that if a model of society requires people to be mistreated, and that this falls disproportionately on one-half of the population that tends to hold less power for historical reasons, then we ought to scrap that model of society. I agree. Let’s end executive capitalism. In Scandinavia, managers work for companies; in the U.S., companies work for managers. Let’s become more civilized. Do we really need an overpaid, self-indulgent feudal overclass? I doubt it. Society would run better without those idiots in charge.
It is possible– I do not say certain or even likely, but possible— that 2017 represents a high water mark for the self-indulgent corporate capitalism that Donald Trump has exemplified for the past forty years. I’ve heard people crack jokes about “Hollywood executives”. Don’t make that mistake; it’s not just Hollywood. We hear the Hollywood stories, because those tend to have prettier women and uglier men involved, but this runs deep and for every creep who gets caught, there are twenty who’ve gotten away with it. Our system exists in its current form because the most powerful people go to work for reasons other than money (they’ve got enough). Take away their perceived “right” to abuse power, and they’ll lose motivation and drop out of the system, and that’ll be good for everyone. Our society is broken in more ways than I can count right now; we’ve got a lot of earnest work to do, in order to fix it.