Monday, April 30, 2007

Capitalism, the Human Person, and America (Part I in a Series)

Well, I have returned after a hellish week of work. I was unable to post on Friday because I was basically bed-ridden thanks to an immune system which was impaired by sleep deprivation.

Since my days as an EDI-programming intern at U.S. Steel, I have thought about the goods and ills of Corporate America, by which I mean large corporations in America. Wheedling away in my cubicle, I remember feeling like a worthless cog in a giant machine that had no major axis, only a direction of profit, although even this direction was somewhat missing from my little corner of the large world of steel production. Coders throughout my area worked on new projects which were guided by those above (although there was doubtlessly some interaction in this process). However, a few “blessed” individuals like me were given the pleasure of merely fixing the mistakes of the past and implementing quick-fix programs which would be here today and gone in three weeks.

In such an environment, self-determination is nearly crushed under the weight of the machinations of the corporation. The true driving force of each day was definitely not the work which I was doing but was instead always drawn from the hope I got in my interactions with those in my work group. I remember many days of drawing from the wisdom and wit of those older than me and also passing on my paltry wisdom of X12 and AISI COMPORD to those who were newer to the institution. These interactions gave me some sense of self-determination, some sense of choice in my actions, and thus unleashed me from what was often a daily routine of coding.

While America has been the context for such big businesses as U.S. Steel, it also remains a tutor for such businesses and offers an important lesson. John Stuart Mill would argue that in choosing man makes himself realized most fully. I will admit that in many ways I cannot controvert this assertion. While Mill was a British philosopher after the days of the American Revolution, his ideas are much in line with the individualism which grew up in America. Concomitantly, his primacy of freedom can speak to the American world of work through the lenses of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” particularly in the term of “liberty.”

To be an American is to assert the dignity of the individual first, but not at the expense of the whole. Indeed, for the American, it is precisely when the individual is so recognized that the whole functions most fully. This means that the individual must have Mill’s idea of self-determination, freedom to choose and actualize their person, a freedom which certainly comes with its own rule of judgment against its abuse. This would mean that stifling environments which exist at times in Corporate America should be improved with systems which are more embracing of American freedom. However, this begs the question: “What are these systems and what makes them advantageous?”

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