Psychologists, social theorists, and philosophers have all attempted to answer the question of why people remain in abusive relationships. It is well documented that people, especially women, will stay in relationships that have been abusive for years, sometimes decades. Instead of simply walking away or filing for divorce, humans will create all kinds of rationalizations for the behavior of the abuser and for their refusal to leave.
“He only does it because I deserve it…..Deep down, he really loves me….He’s going to change some day, I know it…….It’s only because he had a difficult childhood, I need to be compassionate…..If he didn’t have me, he would have nobody, what would he do”?…… I can’t just abandon him”…….And so on.
This unwillingness to extricate ourselves from abusive relationships carries over into our relationships with governments, institutions, and corporations as well. It is human nature to cling to the familiar and habitual even when those habits are destructive and inimical to our self-interest. Many of us develop ‘brand loyalty’ over the course of our lives. We tend to trade in our old Honda for a new Honda. We throw out our old Adidas shoes for some new Adidas shoes. We root for the same sports team that we grew up with even though we moved away from that city 30 or 40 years ago.
But what do we do, or what should we do, when faced with evidence of corporate or institutional malfeasance and corruption? When is it time to punish corporations for reckless and immoral behavior by withdrawing our financial support for them? It appears that we humans have almost as difficult a time divorcing these companies as we do our abusive partner.
The catholic church, McDonald’s and Facebook
About ten years ago, when yet another huge scandal erupted within the catholic church, the daily headlines were filled with scandalous stories of hundreds, perhaps thousands of priests who had been accused of molesting young children, mostly young boys. As horrifying as these stories of molestation were, what was equally or perhaps even more horrifying was the additionally uncovered fact of a church cover-up. The bishops at the very highest levels of the catholic hierarchy in America and other countries knew very well that this child abuse was occurring, much of it inside the churches, and yet did nothing to stop it. In fact, they colluded to hide the crimes from the eyes of police. One could say, without exaggeration, that much of the catholic church was nothing more than a sophisticated pedophile ring.
There is no greater crime in this world than stripping a child of his innocence prematurely and traumatizing him for life. And this was happening on a vast scale with the trail of guilt leading right back to Rome and the doors of the Vatican itself. During the height of the news coverage of the latest scandal, I recall reading a story with the provocative headline: “Why in the world is anybody still catholic?” The writer of the article detailed the scope and nature of the crimes committed within the church and the refusal of the Vatican to take responsibility for its priests and even on many occasions to enable them to continue in their predatory actions. The writer asked the simple and straightforward question: If that is not enough for you to divorce the catholic church, then what is? It was, and is, a fair question. If catholics really believe that the church is capable of reforming itself, then they are as delusional as the battered wife of 20 years who thinks her husband can change. Sadly , a large number of catholics worldwide cling to the notion that if they leave the church, they are leaving god. They still have not grasped Jesus’ main teaching that the kingdom of god lies within you.
Last month a food scandal in China rattled the stock value of McDonald’s, along with Yum! Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut) and Starbucks. A local news organization had smuggled a hidden camera into a meat processing plant which sold its products to McDonald’s and others. They filmed some workers scraping meat off the floor to package and sell and others mixing old, outdated meat with fresh meat. The story quickly went viral and the fast food companies scrambled to go into recovery mode as sales in China and Japan tanked. In the immediate weeks following the release of the story, many McDonald’s restaurants in both of those countries were empty. However, the impact of the crisis appears to be limited to those two regions and there is no reason to believe that sales will not bounce back in a few short months as the scandal blows over. Here in Southeast Asia, the McDonald’s restaurants are as busy as ever as consumers seem blithely unconcerned with what is happening in our giant neighbor to the north.
NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION:
What was lacking from most of the coverage of this latest story was any perspective. This is hardly the first time that McDonald’s and other fast food conglomerates have been accused of using substandard products, especially meat products. Investigative reporters and writers have been covering this for decades. John Robbins’ pioneering work in books such as ‘Diet for A New America’ and ‘The Food Revolution’ covered these topics in detail, as did ‘Mad Cowboy’ and Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation.’ Movies and documentaries such as ‘Food Inc.’ and the movie version of ‘Fast Food Nation have also reached a mass audience.
Executives at McDonald’s will make some superficial changes, perhaps change suppliers and engage in their usual spin. But the core of their business model demands large quantities of cheap, low quality beef. That is not going to change. Ever. What was uncovered in China is happening right now in many other locations around the world. Perhaps another intrepid reporter will take a hidden camera into more giant meat factories. When will we say ‘enough is enough’ and quit giving this seller of toxic ‘food’ our hard- earned money?
Last month, a story broke on the news wires about Facebook implementing a large study on its users, without their knowledge or consent. FB wanted to see if it could alter its users emotions by manipulating their news feeds. The vast majority of the stories which resulted from this embarrassing leak were variations of “How dare they do that?” Indeed, I don’t recall reading a single editorial or blog where someone tried to defend FB. And yet, what real fallout actually occurred at FB? Specifically, how many of its billion or so users ‘filed for divorce’ and deleted their accounts? If my students, colleagues, friends, and family are any indication, not many. In the two or three weeks following the initial story, I noticed all of my students logging on and going about business as usual. They are willing to ‘forgive and forget.’ FB’s well documented casual disregard for its users rights and privacy is nothing new. This latest outrage will only fuel the ever present rumors about the company’s close relationship with spy agencies such as the CIA and NSA. But the abused partner, er customer, will rationalize this behavior away, and be content, for now anyway, to keep this relationship going.