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When I read Charles Koch's Editorial in the Wall Street Journal, I was struck by his use of the terms "collectivist" and "collectivism" as if they were the 21st century's most loathsome four-letter epithets. I was truly mystified by his choice of words. All of my adult life, I have been employed as a problem solver in technical fields requiring the ability to diagnose complex relationships. Over those years, I have developed one overarching rule: When you set out to solve a problem, make sure you begin at the beginning. That way you stand a chance of finding solutions, rather than endlessly managing symptoms. And so I set out to find what is at the center of all this Kochinalia, where does it begin? Follow along as I wander down a path towards a possible answer...

So why did his use of "collectivist/ism" so intrigue me? The Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, "n.-a political or economic theory advocating collective control especially over production and distribution; also :  a system marked by such control."  Now that does indeed sound like something that the leader of a vast enterprise might chafe at. But this definition reflects the word as transmuted by about a century and a half of various and sundry reactions to industrial capitalism. (Inner voice: Deconstruct further. Get closer to the beginning.)  And so I turned to the root of the word collectivism: collective, adj.-shared or assumed by all members of the group.

I had arrived at a point I could deconstruct no further. I felt I was at the beginning.  The puzzle was this: All actions by human beings of any significance are collective actions. Procreation is not a singular activity. Neither is a conversation. Even a soliloquy has no value if it is not witnessed in some way; read or heard or described; it needs at least one "other." The creation of a society and a government are collective acts, regardless of the virtue of the society or the benevolence (or lack thereof) of that government. And most especially, a large corporation controlling vast numbers of industrial companies is a collective activity. Surely Mr. Koch is not so silly or vain as to think that he is solely responsible for every activity and decision of his enterprises. I would think that not even the mightiest efforts of his brother could fulfill what Charles could not accomplish on his own each day. He must have some sense of awareness of the collective nature of his enterprises. (inner voice: another paradox rises) How could he cherish his enterprises, but so disparage the collective efforts that made them possible?

And so I looked to many different groupings that have had a history of success in human society. Schools, religions, sewing circles, companies, corporations, unions, legislative bodies. All engage in decision-making processes.  Most obviously about future courses of action, and at least subconsciously, they make decisions regarding the preservation/perpetuation of the organization itself. There are many ways to do this, but once it is decided to make collective decisions through the act of voting, then how the vote is counted matters; not just in the quality of the decisions so derived, but also because how the vote is counted directly impacts the preservation and perpetuation of the organization.

The pairing of unions/corporations seemed somehow appropriate to the task at hand. Both are collective, and have many shared interests. In fact, when both exist within the same company, they cannot survive without the other. Perhaps examining this pairing would be useful, as both types of collective activity are ones that Mr. Koch is quite familiar with and might inform the opinions he expressed.

In considering the activities of unions and corporations, there is one process fundamental from inception in both organizations: Decisions are arrived at collectively, most frequently through the casting of votes. But there is one fundamental difference: In a union, the shop steward gets one vote, the same as the lowest seniority entry level worker; in a corporation, votes are awarded based upon ownership shares in the corporation. The principle of one person, one vote is totally foreign to the world of corporate management.

Is it any wonder that men who were born and raised into a corporate world to be the inheritors of that corporation should feel entitled to "their fair share of the process" as they deem it by the "worth that they have contributed"? Does the concept of corporate personhood do anything to dissuade such a belief? Indeed, it reinforces that belief by conferring upon the corporation a value equal to that of a human being as regards rights and privileges. It infers that a corporation's values and principles are the equal of human values, that somehow they are as innate (God given, if you will) as those our society confers upon people. So it is not so great a leap of logic in the mind of the corporatist to expect more "votes," more access to the political process.  It is not unfair or immoral. To them it is part of the natural order of their world.

Curiously, if either of the Koch brothers were acting as an individual, all their money and power could not endanger our society, for it takes even more collective activity on their part to create an existential threat to our way of life. It is not humanly possible to physically lift the amount of cash they dispense in furtherance of their beliefs. They need profitable businesses to continue refilling the coffers. It takes legions of companies and employees to dispense such wealth--if just to do the bookkeeping. More companies, more employees to write, produce, and distribute their messages. Their activities pose such a dire threat precisely because they are magnified a thousand-fold through collective activity. And a new paradox emerges: The Kochs' collective activity is being protected through articles of incorporation that convey personhood and constitutional protections designed for an individual even though the collective activity seeks to deprive individual human beings of their rights.

One person, one vote.

So why does Mr.Koch disparage collective activity when he engages collective activity as well? Perhaps because in those other activities, the ones he sees as a threat to "my vision for a free society," votes are not allocated based upon shares, and so he cannot control the outcome. He seems to prefer collective activities in which he controls outcomes, regardless of the will of the majority of those engaged in that activity on his behalf.

One person, one vote.

Such a curious notion. On its face, it might seem a clarion call to the "rugged individualist" from Ronald Reagan's History of the United States that Never Was*. The principle of one person, one vote is both the reason for and the proof of the importance of equality and balance in the decision-making process guiding any organization that exists for the benefit of all its members. It not only serves the obvious purpose to decide many and sundry things, it is essential to to the preservation and perpetuation of the organization itself. If any organization routinely makes decisions collectively through the process of voting, then a sense of fairness and equality is necessary in order for any and all, from time to time, to sublimate personal desires for the good of the group.

One person, one vote.

Through their governance practices, corporations instill and nourish the sense that some voters deserve "more votes" than others. It is an easy leap from "more votes" to "more input in the political process." Corporate governance practices may even encourage some to rationalize an ethic that permits an idea such as "If I can't get more votes at the ballot box, I will make my one vote more powerful by taking the right to vote from others." If we are to restore equality in our political processes, it is essential that we remove the principal of "corporate personhood," if only to begin the process of eliminating the incubator for such thinking.

One person, one vote.

It is so strange. We come into this world, naked and alone, we leave the same way. All along the way, we depend on a complex set of interrelationships for our very existence. And yet, we remain intensely individual, ever unable to share a thought with another human being in such a way that it is understood exactly as we know it. We are at once social and alone.  

One person, one vote...  the best way to honor both the individual and the society of which they are a part.

  *Don't go searching for this tome.  Though Ronald Reagan authored and quoted from it often, it does not exist.

Originally posted to cinepost on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 09:07 AM PDT.

Also republished by Changing the Scrip and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  "Free" to Koch=free to pass my costs on to you (10+ / 0-)

    Pollution?  Koch doesn't want to bear the cost to prevent it.  He wants to pass the cost of disease and poor quality of life off to the people who live near his plants, and record the cash he takes in as profit.  The Kochs are vile, wicked men.  

  •  They're Birchers (8+ / 0-)

    Their father was a major backer of the John Birch Society, the furthest far right lunatic fringe, and he twisted and corrupted the minds of his children with bedtime stories of communists under the bed.

    That's why we get these little gold nuggets that feel like they've lobbed at us from 1953, the Kochs haven't updated their user manual since then. They probably can't imagine a worse thing in the world.

    This revolution is not scheduled!

    by harrylimelives on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 11:02:11 AM PDT

    •  It is such a strange psychology... (10+ / 0-)

      Their father made his fortune equipping Stalin's oil industry, yet he despised communists.  My father worked for an industrialist who proudly displayed the medallion he got from Richard M. Nixon's CREEP for a $100K donation, yet he sold a machine line to Fiat that was installed at their Kama River plant in Russia that made all the engine blocks for the Russian Army trucks that rolled into Afghanistan.  Conservative industrialists are a strange breed.

      “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

      by cinepost on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 11:14:48 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Fred was also a founder of JBS. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mikejay611, smrichmond

      At the first meeting in 1958.

      Their version of "Obama was born in Kenya" went to even more serious slanders: "Dwight Eisenhower is a secret communist agent" and "Mamie is a drunk." Also the Warren SCOTUS were commies for weakening America with Black civil rights.

      Paranoid, yes. Hateful. Twisted. A scam to get money from Fred, almost certainly. It worked.

      "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- Rand Ryan-Paul von Koch

      by waterstreet2013 on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:02:37 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "Collectivism" is a Randroid bugaboo. (4+ / 0-)

    Unfortunately, like Rand, they utterly fail to see that they, too, engage in "collectivist" behavior.

  •  One person, one vote, Afghanistan 2014. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cinepost, buffie, waterstreet2013

    And an exceptionally powerful expression of it too:

    Also the daughter of Sayed Mansur Naderi, spiritual leader of the Ismailis in Afghanisan. The guy who pronounces where the collective Ismaili block vote will go.

    inner voice: another paradox rises.

    Way.  

  •  Most Excellent Diary (7+ / 0-)

    Everyone in America should have this Dairy made available to them. We laughed when one Billionaire said on TV during an interview  he felt that the number of votes each person should be entitled to cast should be based upon the number of dollars they pay in taxes.

    This is exactly what these Corporate minds are working diligently to bring about in our Democracy.

    Corporations are indeed collectives, but being a collective does  not make that collective a Democracy,  On the contrary, we cannot amend the policies of corporation if we are not share holders.Citizenship makes us shareholders of the US.

    Perhaps we should redefine and nullify the statutes as they relate to corporations and make them subject to the same laws as individuals since SCOTUS has deemed them as persons.

    Let us sue them as persons, beginning with pollution of air , rivers and streams by the Koch Brothers,  and all the rest.        

    •  As I was writing this journal, a thought came... (5+ / 0-)

      I wish Justice Ginsberg would have asked Hobby Lobby to appear before the bench. Not its representatives. Hobby Lobby.  "I want to ask Hobby Lobby about its faith. Not yours. Hobby Lobby's."

      And thank you for your recommendation... it is my first serious attempt at a diary.

      “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

      by cinepost on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 05:22:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It is a word used frequently (7+ / 0-)

    by rabid anti-communists, Bircher-types and Rand acolytes (see quote from Wikipedia, below).  He is dividing the nation into two realms, those who follow his vision, and a particularly vile group, the Collectivists, that happen to include all of us.  In my opinion, it is the most significant word in his essay, and is a window into his particular brand of insanity.  His vision is the good, and everything else is intolerable evil.  Consider it proof that he is at war with us.

    From Wikipedia:
    Ayn Rand, creator of the ideology Objectivism and a particularly vocal opponent of collectivism, argued that it led to totalitarianism. She argued that "collectivism means the subjugation of the individual to a group," and that "throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing the common good." She further claimed that "horrors which no man would dare consider for his own selfish sake are perpetrated with a clear conscience by altruists who justify themselves by the common good."

    •  None except capitalist tyrants that is ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ColoTim

      "no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing the common good"--the "greed is good" tyrants are still tyrants. Something Ayn and her acolytes like to forget. That is why Orwell was both anti-totalitarian and democratic-socialist--and me too, proudly.

      garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

      by Galtisalie on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 07:33:43 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  LandOLakes is a coop.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mikejay611

    and pretty capitalist.  Are they collectivists?

    You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

    by murrayewv on Sun Apr 06, 2014 at 08:41:41 PM PDT

  •  This is one of the most thoughful (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Lonely Texan, buffie, Galtisalie, annan

    diary's I have read in a long time.  Thanks!

  •  Beautiful essay! (7+ / 0-)

    Thank you for this.

    In a union, the shop steward gets one vote, the same as the lowest seniority entry level worker; in a corporation, votes are awarded based upon ownership shares in the corporation. The principle of one person, one vote is totally foreign to the world of corporate management.
    This rings so true. Once met a 1%er CEO and his wife on a small cruise. When we tipped the crew, I mentioned that they shared it out alike. He not only disagreed, he was certain that the captain took more than the bartender. He was wrong which I know for a fact. (I always talk to the workers wherever I go.) In his world, equality did not exist.

    We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

    by occupystephanie on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:18:51 AM PDT

    •  You have given me an idea... (5+ / 0-)

      I was wondering what to do next, and your story of how the 1%'er makes me think that addressing the value of work in our society might be a good place to go.

      “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

      by cinepost on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 01:44:35 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  love to spark ideas! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ColoTim

        The other part of that story is his wife criticizing his Board for their first act of the year of giving themselves a raise. He said they deserved it. When I asked why, he said they "made the hard decisions". They have a real outsized concept of their contribution.

        cinepost, if I am not following you already, I am following you now.

        We have it within our power to make the world over again ~ Thomas Paine

        by occupystephanie on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 10:01:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  How's chances of a flier ??? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie

    The gist of this diary with a single cartoon or a graphic, plus a 25- to 50-word summary.

    "One man, one vote vs. Money votes."

    Something like that for a header.

    Any chance of seeing that ??? The way to beat the Kochs is getting large numbers on Americans involved.

    Spend $5, give 2 hours. that's to print 100 fliers and hand them out to neighbors, shoppers, etc.

    "Stealing kids' lunch money makes them strong and independent." -- Rand Ryan-Paul von Koch

    by waterstreet2013 on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 09:21:45 AM PDT

  •  cinepost, thank you, "one person, one vote" (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mikejay611, Galtisalie, Gowrie Gal

    "deconstruct no further", great diary, I have nothing to add.

  •  cinepost, in the US voting age Americans are (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie

    not encouraged to join or participate in the process, imho.

    Family members of your generation tell me I am a Don Quixote with windmills in the mind.

    •  There are so many ways to join in. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie

      As many as there are people.  I do wish everyone who could would vote.  But even social conversations about acceptance, the place of education in society, the value of work, etc., are a way of joining in.  That is what my 15 year-old grandson does.  (I can't wait for the day that he registers to vote.)

      “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

      by cinepost on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 02:00:00 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Love your analysis (0+ / 0-)

    But Koch's use of the term "collectivist" actually has a much simpler explanation.  In a comment on my diary about the Koch editorial from jb oahu, it was pointed out that the term has pejorative baggage from its use in the 50s to denigrate Communists and other left-leaning miscreants by the right wing.  It was 50-yr old code, which apparently former Birchers would pick up on.  Of course, not being a Bircher, it meant nothing to me.

    'Tis with our judgments as our watches, none go just alike, yet each believes his own. - Alexander Pope

    by liberaldad2 on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 02:32:30 PM PDT

  •  Yep, as some others have said (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annan, ColoTim

    The term "Collectivist" is code for Communist.

    So if you think billionaires shouldn't be allowed to spend unlimited amounts in election campaigns, or that there should be a higher minimum wage, you are akin to Josef Stalin, or perhaps Pol Pot.

    What could be more obvious?

    The Koch essay also pushes this Cold War era anti-Communist rhetoric further where he defines "Collectivist": "(those who stand for government control of the means of production and how people live their lives)".

    "Government control of the means of production" is again a phrase from Marxism and the Cold War which basically means that all major business and manufacturing is centrally planned and run by the government.

    Of course, he seems to be talking about Obama, the Democrats and the broader American left as the "Collectivist" villains, except the vast majority of these "Collectivists" don't actually believe in "government control of the means of production". Some corners of the left might but not most Democrats and certainly not Obama. The American left, as far as the economy, basically wants a mostly private economy with a more generous welfare state and a government that works in the interests of the poor and the middle class rathe than the rich.

    But yes, he's using anti-Communist rhetoric from the Cold War era.

    •  Well actually ... Not all of us ... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      annan

      "The American left, as far as the economy, basically wants a mostly private economy"--socialism is still around and making a come back because of CINA--"capitalism is no alternative" for dealing with the problems of our one shared planet. Don't believe the TINA hype--"there is no alternative to capitalism." Smart democrats from Orwell to Einstein thought otherwise.

      Embrace us. We won't bite and we help the Democratic Party to stand up and fight. Jerks like the Koch Bros. are engaged in class warfare.

      garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

      by Galtisalie on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 07:47:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Fair enough (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Galtisalie, ColoTim

        I did say there are some. But I think the point stands that at least a large majority of the people Koch is trying to paint with that "Collectivist" brush do not even actually believe in the idea he presents as its definition.

        •  True ... As long as my voice and those like me (0+ / 0-)

          can be repressed, people will not realize the economy can and should be democratized for the good of all.

          I'm good with your points. Thanks for your openness to my crotchety anti-capitalist critique.

          garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

          by Galtisalie on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 08:38:39 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  A rose by any other name. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Galtisalie, Gowrie Gal

    We do many strange things to words.  In part because language is a living thing.  I was hoping do draw a distinction between the words "collectivism/collectivist" and the idea of collective activity.  I did not wish to revisit the history of labor movements and the reactions to them, that is better left to scholars in the field. The labels that the words became (that is the living language part of the equation) tend to fix ideas in place, and what I wanted was to look at the activities of management and labor from a social perspective to expose the hypocrisy of those who used those labels. Perhaps I did not draw that distinction clearly or deeply enough. I am hoping through this essay and others that will follow to examine socio-political actions and behaviors while avoiding the labels that fix our thinking in harmony with those made the word a "label."  I hope to do better next time.

    “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

    by cinepost on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 06:05:54 PM PDT

  •  Wow. Great diary. I love the point about the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Gowrie Gal

    necessary relationship of democracy and equality and the tie-in to this:

    "If we are to restore equality in our political processes, it is essential that we remove the principal of 'corporate personhood,' if only to begin the process of eliminating the incubator for such thinking."

    I would repost your diary at one of my hard democratic lefty groups, but I don't to make you guilty by association in our "collective" mindset--because you're such a good writer and thinker you need to write a diary more than once every two years!

    Anyway, I'm now following you. Nicely done!

    garden variety democratic socialist: accepting life's complexity|striving for global stewardship of our soil and other resources to meet everyone's basic needs|being a friend to the weak

    by Galtisalie on Mon Apr 07, 2014 at 07:21:48 PM PDT

    •  Thank you for your kind words... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Galtisalie

      ... and yes, I have another in the hopper right now as a matter of fact.  Need to let it steep for a bit....

      “The aim of mankind should be to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”--Edith Hamilton (1867-1963)

      by cinepost on Tue Apr 08, 2014 at 09:07:44 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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