Are Corporate Bodies Really Alive? - Part I Print E-mail

A Big Body Primer
for the Magic 10%
(a manuscript in progress)



Are Corporate Bodies Really Alive?

Learning to See Earth’s Dominant Species

Big Bodies Rampant
Big Bodies Rampant

  Revelatory Readings of Big Body Reality from David Korten, Ralph Nader, Ernest Callenbach, Michael Crichton, David Sloan Wilson and many more

Organized & Developed by W. David Kubiak of Big Medicine


"A fascinating conceptual breakthrough."

- - David Korten


"An extraordinarily imaginative

and important idea."

- - Howard Zinn


"One of the most interesting minds on the planet!"

- - Howard Rheingold


"Eloquent, innovative and important"

- - Jerry Mander


"Blessings on those who dare to revision the foundations of our common life. Strength, endurance, and quick-firing synapses to those bold minds, as they confront the Big Bodies now dominating our society and despoiling our planet. The work of insight and reconceptualization may seem lonely at times and abstract, but it benefits all beings, for it is essential to the Great Turning to a sustainable civilization. So may these audacious ones know the gratitude of Gaia and her generations, and may they harvest the gifts of all Buddhas and bodhisattvas, devas and dakinis – gifts of clarity and gladness in the far-reaching work they undertake."

Joanna Macy


This book is dedicated to the planetic immune community, the inexplicable 10% of you hailing from every age, race, culture and profession who take distant suffering to heart, and are (mysteriously) moved. If you have ever been active for a righteous cause, felt remote pangs for a perishing land or people, or experienced a shattering moment of erotic identity with another, others or the Other Itself, this book may change your life. It will certainly transform the way you look at the world and the forces now ravaging social reality, and show you how to make your congenital compassion a lot more cost-effective, too.

As for the rest of you - well, sure, everybody else is also welcome, but if you don't feel a really visceral need for new political arms or answers, you probably won't understand or appreciate much of what we have to offer. There are indeed aspects of ki or attention theory (upon which this volume is largely based) that have dramatic implications for our personal health, sensuality and evolutionary heading, but that story will have to wait for another time and book...

Table of Contents


       ANCESTRAL TAKES ON BIG BODY REALITY..................................................................... Here


THE ENTERPRISE AS SUPERORGANISM by Dr. Laramie Wyshenski..................    ......... Here

THE LIVING COMPANY by Arie de Geus............................................................................. Here

PRELIMINARY MEDITATIONS.................... ........................................................................ Here

TELL ME SOMETHING NEW by Kevin Kelly........................................................................ Here

LOOKING FOR LIFE IN BIG PLACES by Ernest Callenbach............................................... Here

SMALL STEPS TO BIG THINKING by Tom Atlee................................................................ Here

ORGANISMIC APPRECIATIONS by David Korten............................................................... Here

SOCIETIES AS ORGANISMS by Lewis Thomas.................................................................. Here


       INTRO.................................................................................................................................. Here

THE KI PAPERS by W.D. Kubiak


E PLURIBUS YAMATO................................................................................................ Here

THE JAPANESE ART OF MINDBINDING.................................................................... Here

INTRODUCTION TO ATTENTION STRUCTURE by M.B.R. Chance & Clifford Jolly.....  .. Here

PAY ATTENTION by Matthew De Abaitua........................................................................ Here

LUSIONS compiled by W.D.K.


OF SLIME MOLDS AND SALARIMEN...................................................................... Here

               IDEOLOGY & ANTHROCULTURE...................................................................... ..... Here


BIG BODY GENESIS........................................................................................................ ....... Here

INTRO QUOTES................................................................................................................ ...... Here

EXPLORING GROUP SELECTION: by David Sloan Wilson.......................................... .... Here

Intro: How Big Bodies Evolve and Why it is Relevant to Modern Human Affairs..    .. Here

Levels of Evolutionary Selection Groups vs. Individuals............................................. Here

THE CORPORATION AND THE REPUBLIC by Scott Buchanan....................................... Here

BIG BODY ANTHROCULTURE................................................................................................ Here

INTRODUCTION...................................................................................................................... Here

THE ORGANIZATION MAN by William Whyte.................................................................. Here

Classrooms, White Collars & the Decline of Manliness by Patricia Sexton................. ..... Here

THE BIG BODY BLUES: History in Your Pants by WDK................................................... Here


CHINESE EUNUCHS The Structure of Intimate Politics by Taisuke Mitamura.................. Here

ENVIRO-HORMONES: Scientists speak on Alchemical Emasculation....................... Here

Peter Myers on Our Stolen Future............................................................................. Here

               Frederick Vom Saal on Ubiquitous Anti-Androgens................................................... Here

BIG BODY PATHOLOGY: Effects on the Eco-Social Surround..................................  ...... Here

INTRO....................................................................................................................................... Here

FACING UP TO BIGness – Michael Crichton.................................................................. Here

        RETHINKING THE CORPORATION by Virginia Rasmussen............................................ Here
REGAINING HUMAN CONTROL......................................................................................   .... Here

       DECENTRALIZING & DEMOCRATIZING BIG BODIES by Shann Turnbull....................... Here
       FULL DEMOCRACY by Brian Beedham.............................................................  ............ Here




Ancestral Takes on Big Body Reality



"The task is not so much to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what nobody has yet thought, about that which everybody sees."

- - Erwin Schrödinger


“Does not the only way out of our dead-end lie in introducing boldly into our intellectual framework yet another category to serve for the super individual?... Biology will not be able to generalize itself upon the whole of life without introducing new concepts, that it now needs to deal with certain stages of being which common experience has hitherto been able to ignore - in particular that of the "collective". Yes, from now on we envisage, beside and above individual realities, the collective realities that are not reducible to their component elements yet are in their own way just as 'objective'...”

- - Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


"Now, if the cooperation of some thousands of millions of cells in our brain can produce our consciousness, a true singularity, the idea becomes vastly more plausible that the cooperation of humanity, or some sections of it, may determine what Comte calls a Great Being."

- - J.B.S. Haldane


"A power has risen up in the government greater than the people themselves, consisting of many, and various, and powerful bodies, combined into one mass, and held together by the cohesive power of the vast surplus of the banks."

- - John C. Calhoun


"I hope that we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."

- -Thomas Jefferson


"I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country:.. corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."

- - Abraham Lincoln


“This is government of the people, by the people and for the people, no longer. It is government of corporations, by corporations and for corporations.”

- - Rutherford B Hayes


"The government has ceased to function, the corporations are the government."

- - Theodore Dreiser


“The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government... (and) we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

- - Dwight D. Eisenhower


“The solution is to make sure people stay hungry, the killer instinct always prevails and you're after market share. If you're going to be successful, you've got to have that attitude.”

- - Dennis Malamatinas, Burger King CEO


“Our priorities are that we want to dominate North America first, then South America, and then Asia and then Europe.”

- - David Glass, Wal-Mart CEO


"Nothing vast enters the life of mortals without a curse."

- - Sophocles






The Enterprise as Superorganism
by Dr. Laramie Wyshenski

The 1997 Fourth Wave Group Annual Perspective

Copyright©1997 Fourth Wave Group, Inc.


The Living Enterprise

A business enterprise behaves like a living entity. It feeds, grows, propagates, communicates, and struggles to survive. Like nations, ideologies and religions, an enterprise seeks to distinguish itself from competitors, invigorate its internal life force, and expand its influence over its environment.

Howard Bloom, in his perceptive book, The Lucifer Principle, identifies five fundamental concepts that underlie the forces that have shaped both biological and social evolution for millennia. Fourth Wave Group extends Bloom’s concepts to explain the behavior that an enterprise exhibits when it interacts with society, other businesses and its employees. We project a positive impact that expanding connectivity—both technical and cultural—may have on business behavior. Emerging is the tantalizing possibility of business competition without the traditional "carnage" that is associated with it.

The Lucifer Principle

According to Bloom, the five fundamental concepts that underlie fundamental biological and social forces are:

  • replicators: self-organizing and propagating entities

  • superorganism: an organized whole that is composed of disposable parts

  • memes: ideas that propagate through host organizations

  • neural net: the collective mind of the organization

  • pecking order: a dominance hierarchy within or among organizations

Genes and their products, such as a tree and its leaves, are examples of replicators. Replicators reproduce themselves, in the words of Bloom, "so cheaply that the end results are appallingly expendable." Their offspring, in effect, become disposable parts of a larger entity, the superorganism. Although leaves are essential to the tree, they are also routinely shed. In the human context, nations have historically sacrificed, without compunction, their most vigorous young males in the defense of their borders or ideologies.

Memes, as replicating ideas, "live" within human organizations that espouse them. They exist, for example, as political ideologies, religious faiths, nationalism, and social prejudices. The host organization, through which memes propagate, need not be formal. A neural net is, in Bloom’s words, a "group mind that turns us into components of a massive learning machine."

Pecking order, as an artificial or power-based dominance ranking, stimulates competing individuals and organizations to dedicate energy to the superorganism. No one wants to be in "last place," and whatever or whoever is "number two" is driven to try harder. Through the dynamics of pecking order, the superorganism ensures its internal evolutionary fitness. Successful components are retained, and weak ones are eliminated. Concludes Bloom:

The superorganism is often a vile and loathsome beast. But like the body nourishing her constituent cells, the social beast grants us life. Without her, each of us would perish. That knowledge is woven into our biology. It is the reason that the rigidly individualistic Clint Eastwood does not exist. The internal self-destruct devices with which we come equipped at birth ensure that we will live as components of a larger organism, or we simply will not live at all.

We strongly recommend The Lucifer Principle for what reviewers have called "a courageous perspective" on the forces that shape civilization...

The Enterprise as Superorganism

In The Lucifer Principle, Bloom does not directly address the commercial sector of society. Nevertheless, Bloom’s concepts can be extended to show that the business enterprise exhibits the characteristics of a superorganism that incorporates all five of Bloom’s concepts.

A business enterprise is self-organizing. It grows and replicates itself as "profit centers" and subsidiaries. All of such offspring of the superorganism are expendable for the benefit of the enterprise as a whole. Downsizing and divestitures are common, and they can be ruthlessly executed. The book entitled "Corporate Executions" (Downs, 1995) examines such business practices and their consequences...

Each enterprise has an identifying meme at its heart. The meme might be, for example, the concept of reliable overnight delivery of packages. The corporate meme, particularly if it is expressed as a mission statement or corporate logo, rallies employee and customer allegiance to the enterprise. The corporate meme is propagated through the offspring of the corporation.

The business enterprise "thinks" through the minds of its employees. Employees at all levels dedicate some portion of their intellectual energy to the success and competitive progress of the enterprise. The neural net of the enterprise is exercised through communication events, such as meetings, phone conversations, and electronic mail.

Bloom’s fifth concept, pecking order, is well established within most business enterprises. The dominance hierarchy that Bloom describes is evident from the names of common employment categories, such as senior executive, middle manager, project supervisor, service representative, and administrative clerk. Compensation and perquisites parallel the stratification of employment categories. The enterprise dominance hierarchy continuously evolves through ruthless internal and external competition. One is promoted and "moves up the ladder," or one moves on, presumably to compete elsewhere on a different ladder.

Although the examples above focus on the individual enterprise, Bloom’s concepts apply equally well to groups of enterprises. Pecking order, for example, is evident from rank-ordered categorizations of individual enterprises within an industry. The petroleum industry, for example, recognizes "major oil company," "minor oil company," and "independent producer."

The Impact of Connectivity

Bloom is not particularly optimistic about deterring the historically aggressive and competitive behavior of the superorganism. He notes that such behavior does diminish in intensity if arbitrary boundaries or distinctions among groups can be dissolved. When the "in" group is enlarged to include "enemies" or "competitors," there is less incentive to behave aggressively or defend long-standing dominance hierarchies...

The common element among the few optimistic examples that are offered by Bloom is connectivity. Organizations that communicate, cooperate and share are more likely to behave positively toward each other. The enterprise superorganism is no exception.

Connectivity is progressively expanding. Regional and global treaties and agreements, such as those described above, are examples of cultural connectivity. Examples of technical connectivity include Internet network infrastructures and satellite-operated cellular phone systems. Internet-based activities are a product of both technical and cultural connectivity. The Internet also stimulates cultural connectivity through the sharing of information and knowledge...

As a result of generally expanding connectivity, the "self-organization" of the enterprise is becoming more efficient and extensive. Corporate command-and-control structures are collapsing into "flattened," locally-regulated operational groups. Alternatively, parts of the enterprise may be "spun off" into independent organizations, in which the parent company may have an ownership interest, but not necessarily an operational involvement...

Through connectivity, internal "disposable parts" are gradually becoming "interchangeable" or "shared" external parts. Because of cooperatively designed standards, enterprises can more readily use off-the-shelf products and services. The petroleum industry, for example, is bringing on line more than twenty regional and commercial content repositories. As a result, the industry’s common knowledge asset can be more efficiently shared...

"Memes" now propagate and evolve faster than ever before. Because the Internet supports near-instantaneous global communications, no geographic region or culture needs to be isolated from the world community. In principle, there are very few physical limitations or barriers to the flow of ideas. New products and services can be advertised and sold globally. Customer service can be provided from anywhere, at any time of day or night. Enterprises can more quickly detect and act upon opportunities and risks...

The enterprise superorganism’s "neural net" is becoming more broadly-based, and potentially more intelligent. Enterprise staff can tap into data bases, libraries and on-line consulting services. They can communicate better with both business partners and competitors. Through feedback via the Internet or electronic mail, customers can help guide the evolution of the enterprise’s products and services...

Connectivity is likely to deliver its most severe impact to dominance hierarchies that reflect "pecking order." Connectivity inherently challenges and weakens artificial boundaries and power-based rankings. Such boundaries and rankings are maintained by restricting the distribution of privileged information and knowledge primarily to "upper" ranks of the hierarchy. Many enterprises now recognize that the value of information and knowledge is more fully realized through sharing...

Connectivity generally improves the employee’s awareness of events and options within and beyond the local working environment. Informed employees, like an informed political electorate, resist arbitrary control and dislike surprises. The business enterprise, or course, is not a democracy, but its employees are always free to emigrate.

Civilizing the Superorganism

What is emerging from the recent expansion of connectivity is the tantalizing possibility of business competition without the "carnage" that is often associated with it. The decline of traditional forms of competition is already occurring both among and within superorganism enterprises. Hostile strategies and aggressive tactics are gradually giving way to cooperation and sharing.

Many businesses have already discovered that cooperative expansion through connectivity, in many cases, delivers more value than detached, competitive plundering. Joint ventures are becoming more common. Competitors are more willing to share infrastructures and to work to expand markets that can be mutually cultivated. Traditional business boundaries are fading. Today’s competitor may simultaneously be a customer, a supplier, and a business partner.

The "pecking order" within the enterprise is being challenged as an Industrial Age anachronism. The traditional hierarchical relationship between the enterprise superorganism and its component parts is perceptibly unraveling. What is being rewoven in its place reflects balanced control and symbiotic interaction. Employees, for instance, now have more choices with respect to their working environment. Telecommuting and flexible schedules, for example, are routinely available options.

Some of the shift in the employer-employee power balance may be attributed to the recent general improvement in the global economy, which has spawned a shortage of skilled workers. However, connectivity technology, such as video conferencing, is giving both employers and employees realistic alternatives to the conventional nine-to-five, cubical-based work environment. Employee loyalty is no longer a given factor in the work relationship. Many individuals now preferentially identify themselves with their profession, rather than with their employer....

Evidence is accumulating that connectivity has permanently altered the environment within which the enterprise superorganism lives. Cooperativeness and inclusiveness, which once were lethal business traits in the Industrial Age, are essential to the success of today’s complex business partnerships. The enterprise superorganism is slowly learning that it need not be blindly driven by the five fundamental forces of Bloom’s "Lucifer Principle."


We expect that the advantages derived from connectivity will progressively moderate traditional aggressive business behavior. The intelligent enterprise should quickly comprehend the implications of this trend and establish its reputation as a "civilized" superorganism.


- END -


Reviews & Excerpts from "THE LIVING COMPANY" by Arie de Geus, a lifelong Royal Dutch Shell insider. It presents the clearest statement yet of corporate self-awareness and manifest destiny:


by Arie de Geus


Excerpts from the Prologue

The Lifespan of a Company In the world of institutions, commercial corporations are newcomers. Their history comprises only 500 years of activity in the Western world, a tiny fraction of the time span of human civilization. In that time, as producers of material wealth, they have had immense success... Yet, if you look at them in the light of their potential, most commercial corporations are dramatic failures-or, at best, underachievers. They exist at a primitive stage of evolution; they develop and exploit only a fraction of their potential. For proof, you need only consider their high mortality rate. The average life expectancy of a multinational corporation - Fortune 500 or its equivalent - is only 40 or 50 years. This figure is based on most surveys of corporate births and deaths...

We commissioned the study, written by two Shell planners and two outside business school professors, to examine the question of corporate longevity. From the very first moment, we were startled by the small number of companies that met our criteria of being large and older than Shell. In the end, we found only 40 corporations, of which we studied 27 in detail, relying on published case histories and academic reports. We wanted to find out whether these companies had something in common that could explain why they were such successful survivors. After all of our detective work, we found four key factors in common:

  1. Long-lived companies were sensitive to their environment. Whether they had built their fortunes on knowledge (such as DuPont's technological innovations) or on natural resources (such as the Hudson Bay Company's access to the furs of Canadian forests), they remained in harmony (sic!?!) with the world around them. As wars, depressions, technologies, and political changes surged and ebbed around them, they always seemed to excel at keeping their feelers out, tuned to whatever was going on around them..

  2. Long-lived companies were cohesive, with a strong sense of identity. No matter how widely diversified they were, their employees (and even their suppliers, at times) felt they were all part of one entity... Case histories repeatedly showed that strong employee links were essential for survival amid change. This cohesion meant that managers were typically chosen for advancement from within; they succeeded through the generational flow of members and considered themselves stewards of the long-standing enterprise. Except during conditions of crisis, the management's top priority and concern was the health of the institution as a whole.

  3. Long-lived companies were tolerant... particularly of activities on the margin: outliers, experiments, and eccentricities within the boundaries of the cohesive firm, which kept stretching their understanding of possibilities.

  4. Long-lived companies were conservative in financing. They were frugal and did not risk their capital gratuitously...Having money in hand gave them flexibility and independence of action. They could pursue options that their competitors could not...

Defining the Living Company Gradually, these factors began to change my thinking about the real nature of companies... I now see these four components this way: Sensitivity to the environment represents a company's ability to learn and adapt.

1.Cohesion and identity, it is now clear, are aspects of a company's innate ability to build a community and a persona for itself. 2.Tolerance and its corollary, decentralization, are both symptoms of a company's awareness of ecology: its ability to build constructive relationships with other entities, within and outside itself. 3.And I now think of conservative financing as one element in a very critical corporate attribute: the ability to govern its own growth and evolution effectively. 4.I am convinced that the four characteristics of a long-lived company are not answers. They represent the start of a fundamental inquiry about the nature of commercial organizations and their role in the human community...

The Shell study also reinforced a concept I have developed since my student days: to consider and talk about a company as a living entity. In this, I do not stand alone. Many people naturally think and speak about a company as if they were speaking about an organic, living creature with a mind and character of its own. This common use of the language is not surprising. All companies exhibit the behavior and certain characteristics of living entities. All companies learn. All companies, whether explicitly or not, have an identity that determines their coherence. All companies build relationships with other entities, and all companies grow and develop until they die. To manage a "living company" is to manage with more or less consistent, more or less explicit appreciation for these facts of corporate life...

As we will see throughout this book, to regard a company as a living entity is a first step toward increasing its life expectancy. This book is about the idea of the living company, its philosophical underpinnings, and the power and capability that seem to come from adopting it...

What, then, does managing a living company mean on a day- to-day basis? The path to the answer starts with another question, the question of corporate purpose: What are corporations for?

Financial analysts, shareholders, and many executives tell us that corporations exist primarily to provide a financial return. Some economists offer a somewhat broader sense of purpose. Companies, they say, exist to provide products and services, and therefore to make human life more comfortable and desirable. "Customer orientation" and other management fashions have translated this imperative into the idea that corporations exist to serve customers. Politicians, meanwhile, seem to believe that corporations exist to provide for the public good: to create jobs and ensure a stable economic platform for all the "stake-holders" of society.

But, from the point of view of the organization itself-the point of view that allows organizations to survive and thrive-all of these purposes are secondary. Like all organisms, the living company exists primarily for its own survival and improvement: to fulfill its potential and to become as great as it can be. It does not exist solely to provide customers with goods, or to return investment to shareholders, any more than you, the reader, exist solely for the sake of your job or your career. After all, you, too, are a living entity. You exist to survive and thrive; working at your job is a means to that end. Similarly, returning investment to shareholders and serving customers are means to a similar end for IBM, Royal Dutch/Shell, Exxon, Procter & Gamble, General Motors, and every other company.

If the real purpose of a living company is to survive and thrive in the long run, then the priorities in managing such a company are very different from the values set forth in most of the modern academic business literature... Exploring the ramifications of managing an entity that is alive, with the intent of handing it over to one's successors in better health than when one received it, is deeply gratifying...

- END -

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The Living Company was named one of the Best Business Books of the Year (1997) by: -Business Week,The Financial Times, Management General, and Quality Digest

BUSINESS WEEK, July 14, 1997 "Biology is turning up in the strangest places. Just consider Arie de Geus' THE LIVING COMPANY. De Geus employs biological metaphors in order to analyze corporate management... and draws upon experiences from his nearly 40-year career at Royal Dutch/Shell Group....Provides an interesting challenge to basic assumptions about the way companies work."

NATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY REVIEW, Autumn 1997 "A seminal book that should initiate far-ranging discussions regarding the nature and purpose of the company."

"This profound and uplifting book is for the leader in all of us. As we imagine an organization to be a living being, so it becomes one.."
--Dr. James F. Moore, Chairman of GeoPartners Research Inc.


Preliminary Meditations


"Those whose conceits are seated in popular opinions need only but to prove or dispute; but those whose conceits are beyond popular opinions have a double labour: the one to make themselves conceived, and the other to prove and demonstrate. So that it is of necessity with them to have recourse to similitudes and translations to express themselves."   - - Owen Barfield


"I have found the writing unexpectedly difficult, although its ideas and intentions are simple and straightforward.... I cannot better express the problems which have challenged me, and which my readers must challenge, than in the splendid words of Maynard Keynes in the preface of his General Theory:

The composition of this book has been for the author a long struggle of escape, and so must the reading of it be for most readers if the author's assault upon them is to be successful - a struggle to escape from habitual modes of thought and expression. The ideas which are here expressed so labouriously are extremely simple and should be obvious. The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones, which ramify, for those brought up as most of us have been, into every corner of our minds.

"Force of habit, and resistance to change - so great in all realms of thought - reaches its maximum in medicine, in the study of our most complex suffferings and disorders of being; for we are here compelled to scrutinize the deepest, darkest, and most fearful parts of ourselves, the parts we all strive to deny or not-see. The thoughts whoughts which are most difficult to grasp or express are those which touch on this forbidden region and reawaken in us our strongest denials and our most profound intuitions." - - O.W.S. (Dr. Olivia Jacks)



Kevin Kelly


I am entirely convinced that businesses ARE organisms in almost any sense of the word "organism" one wants to choose. I hold it to be true. There is lots of anecdotal observation to support this conclusion.


I know the metaphor is true; what I want to know is, in what way true? I don't have anything against metaphors. In times of great uncertainty, a good metaphor (and this one is good) can be more powerful than facts. I employ metaphors in this manner, and think much progress depends on crafting the right ones.


I crave some data to back it up. And by data I don't mean just numbers. I mean understanding, structure, finesse, subtlety, details, distinctions and the like. My appetite for some deep support for the notion parallels my aversion to more metaphorical talk about it.



by Ernest Callenbach


The insight that corporations are a kind of organism that has infested our modern world is not original with me. I claim only to begin the task of spelling out the natural history of this unique life form as we encounter it today. We might suspect that corporations are a life form because of their name: a corpus, in Latin, is a body. But the realization has been slow to dawn...

To understand an organism, we must study:

  • its genetic script and how it is transmitted

  • its structure and physiology

  • its food or energy sources

  • its metabolism, including its ingestive, digestive and excretory systems

  • its evolutionary origins, as far as we can determine them.


Only then can we understand its ecology - its place in the biological universe...

Corporations relate powerfully and intricately with other aspects of their environment, not only the biological world but also with the lives and behavior of nations and international organizations. They control immense physical and monetary resources. Immortal, in principle, they live on far beyond the lifetimes of their founders or any individual human participants...

Corporations can seem abstract and incorporeal, despite the overwhelming power we know they mobilize. Their control over the human cells that make them up is largely invisible to our conscious minds. But as it grows more absolute, this control also becomes more obvious to those who learn how to see it...

Corporations are special kinds of living beings. In one sense they appear to be utterly fictive (legal fictions), created by acts of legislation and maintained only by the allegiance of other organisms, namely humans. In daily reality, however, as we know from the experience of practically every moment of our contemporary waking lives, they have not only the physical reality of comprising persons, technological/ architectural facilities, and communications capabilities but immense force. They act as organisms for concerted purposes with predictable patterns of behavior. We constantly speak of corporations as if they were living beings; the business pages are full of news and speculation about what individual corporations are up to. Such manners of speaking indicate our folk wisdom about corporations, and I believe folk wisdom here is perfectly correct...

Corporate beings have evolved over a considerable history and doubtless they are evolving even now, as all living species do. However, until we grasp their present strategies for survival and proliferation, we will be utterly unable to predict their future - much less combat their dominance.

 - END -



by Tom Atlee


Co-Intelligence catalyst, Tom Atlee offers sage structural and strategic counsel as well as reminding us of the enduring epiphanal potential of cooperative endeavors - the brightest side of the (collective) force. - Editor


1. Some living systems (e.g., forests and nervous systems) are not organisms at all. Many organizational consultants and execs are already discussing corporations as living systems and empowering corporations with what they learn. Activists are arriving late to this conversation and can learn from it. I believe we should not limit ourselves to the metaphor of "organism." As useful as it is, we should not hesitate to examine corporations more generically as "living systems."

2. Living systems are filled with feedback loops of many kinds. Feedback loops provide a useful way to understand a living system in strategic terms, answering the question "Where can we intervene to increase (enhance), limit, or balance the factors that are important to us?" Since corporations exist in social/ political/ economic contexts, it behooves us to address, as well, strategic feedback loops in our social, political and economic systems (which can also be viewed as alive).

3. Perhaps the major limits on most populations in nature are (a) food availability (including 'turf') and (b) predation (including sickness -- predation from within). Individuals and species seek to enhance (a) food and turf and reduce (b) predation and sickness.

4. Intelligence is perhaps the most powerful and flexible way nature has yet devised to enhance (a) food availability and reduce (b) predation. Corporations are consciously developing their corporate collective intelligence (called "organizational learning" in corporate circles) to control more food-source turfs (markets, polities) and reduce predation (competition, regulation). Meanwhile, parasitized communities and societies are not taking action to increase their own very discombobulated collective intelligence (e.g. ivory tower academia, shallow entertainment-based media, adversarial democracy), and so make easy prey.

5. It would be wise to pay some attention to our society's collective intelligence -- our COLLECTIVE ability to see clearly what's going on, to reflect on it, to learn from it, to make sensible decisions regarding our collective fate, and then to take appropriate, coherent action, as an alive, intelligent [collective] entity. Wherever this collective capacity is undermined, we will be "co-stupid" (sound familiar?) -- and therefore be predictably unable to deal with our collective challenges, opportunities and changing situation. The more collective intelligence we have, the better we can handle EVERY issue.

6. Corporate predation undermines our collective intelligence. Corporate control of mass media, politics, academia, human gatherings, physical space, etc., make it increasingly difficult for powerful conversations among diverse parties to generate shared public wisdom and coherent public will. Without that capacity, our fate is sealed. Recognition of the reality and importance of collective intelligence can help us identify particularly fruitful targets for action.

7. Perhaps the most important missing ingredient in our political system is a way for "The People" (collectively) to clearly witness and reflect on themselves and their changing circumstances. Existing feedback loops -- mass media, opinion polls, intelligence gathering, academia, elections -- are all distorted or broken in important ways. Without the ability to collectively self-reflect, we are reduced to an incoherent mass of semi-autonomous individuals and competing interest groups, unable to develop any shared big picture, synergy or useful collective identity. We need powerful innovations to correct this and a broad effort 0n many fronts. (to be expanded...)



by David Korten


My thanks to David Kubiak for his insight into the important implications of the Big Body problem and his leadership in generating this inquiry. As he repeatedly notes, the idea that corporations are living bodies in their own right is not new. However, even those who share this insight have generally failed to address its full implications—myself included.

Indeed, aside from likening the corporation to a cancer cell that due to a genetic defect fails to recognize that it is part of a larger whole and seeks its own unlimited growth without regard to the consequences, I've tended to resist the idea that corporations are living bodies. In part this resistance stems from my argument that only living beings have natural rights and that corporations are only legal contracts, legal fictions, with no life of their own. It thus follows logically that they therefore can make no claim to the same natural rights enjoyed by real persons.

Given my concern with the need to strip corporations of any pretense of natural rights, I have been reluctant to see a corporation characterized as a living body as it seemed to negate the logic of my argument. At the same time I have attributed to them the characteristics of a cancer, a cell that forgets it is part of a larger whole and pursues its own growth in disregard of the consequences for the whole. The thought has also occurred to me that it is as if alien beings have taken control of the planet to their own ends.

Somehow the alien beings analogy seemed too much like science fiction and too little like reasoned analysis, until I read Kubiak's charge to our discussion group:

...our species shares the biosphere with an exponentially larger, more powerful and rapidly evolving life form that may not necessarily share our values or aspirations.... these bodies' scale and activities now pose a clear and present danger to our cultures, environment ...[and] evolutionary future.

Now we are dealing with more than an analogy. We are dealing with a logical extension of the logic of life's own processes. Wow!

It opens the mind to new ways of thinking about the nature and reality of the corporation in relation to living systems—for example the mechanisms of its internal control.

How one thinks about the mechanisms controlling small bodies, such as the person, will likely influence how one thinks about the nature of Big Bodies as biological organisms. Kubiak relates that the Hindu Brahmins' perceived of society as a body in which they functioned as the brain. To the extent that we view the brain as the body's control center, with its orders disseminated through the nervous system, we may tend to look at the hierarchical organization of Big Bodies as wholly natural.

I'm just reading the manuscript of Dr. Mae-Wan Ho's stunning new book, Love of The Magician. All of the following quotations attributed to her are from this manuscript. Ho associates the idea of the brain as the body's central control mechanisms with the passing era of the machine as guiding metaphor. She begins chapter 9 by noting that:

The mechanistic world view officially ended at the beginning of the twentieth century [with the general acceptance within the scientific community of relativity and quantum theory], but the profound implications of this decisive break with the intellectual tradition of previous centuries have largely been ignored.

Ho suggests that as we move ahead to a new age of the organism as the guiding intellectual metaphor we are coming to understand biological organisms in very different terms that focus on its capacity for radically decentralized and democratic self organization. She describes the organism as:

a domain of coherent activities, perceiving, generating and structuring space and time. Its boundary is dynamic and fluid, expanding and contracting with the extent of coherence. An organism could be an individual, a society, or indeed the whole earth and beyond.

I have been deeply influenced by Ho's work, which provided much of the inspiration for my most recent book The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism.

We are coming to see that the innate creative processes of the cosmos follow a constantly repeating pattern leading to a joining of simpler wholes into ever more complex and wholes with new potentials greater than the sum of their parts. This is a pattern common to organisms and life's evolutionary story, but wholly alien to machines. From the work of Lynn Margulis we learn that simple cells comprised of highly complex and varied molecules merged into larger, more complex and able cells, which combined into multi-celled organisms that joined in communities and ultimately into eco-systems. Each new whole takes on a life of its own with a volition and character distinctive from those of its component life forms. It should be no surprise to find that we humans find ourselves inclined to join together into larger bodies, families, communities, tribes, a vast variety of affinity groups, nations, and legally defined corporate bodies—each of which seems to function with a life, even a consciousness, that exists beyond the life and consciousness of its individual members.

We know well that some living organisms contribute to the full and healthy function of the whole, while others such as cancer cells are destructive of the very bodies on which their own existence depends. By coming to understand Big Bodies as organisms we may gain new insight into the distinguishing characteristics of healthy Big Bodies that contribute to the full and healthy function of the larger society from those of pathological bodies that mimic cancers, consuming the life energy of society in the mindless quest of their own growth.

We humans tend to form these composite life forms unconsciously, or at least in ways that lack an explicit consciousness that we are creating super organisms that with time will come to function with a volition of their own beyond our conscious control and that may or may not serve our individual and collective interests. Indeed, given the destructive rampage in which some of our most powerful Big Bodies are engaged, a conscious understanding of the nature of these organisms may be essential to our collective survival.

We must also be mindful that the process of forming new organisms does not stop with individual super organisms such as the mega-corporation or the nation state. Intent on destroying life to make money, these super organisms are themselves joining together—using mechanisms such as the World Trade Organization—to create the meta-organism we know as the global economy, which is perhaps the ultimate pathological life form. The focus of both the super and the meta-organisms on destroying life to make money demonstrates their primitive, pathological and sensually handicapped nature.

The contemporary alliance of the super organisms of corporation and state to create the meta-organism of the global economy presents a chilling parallel to Fascism, which involved an authoritarian alliance of big government and big business in the quest for Empire in Italy, Germany, and Japan. Furthermore, with specific reference to Italian Fascism, historian Edward McNall Burns notes that "The people were represented in the government, not as citizens inhabiting definite districts, but in their capacity of producers," [Emphasis added.] much as the global economy recognizes people not as citizens, but only as consumers.

As I reflected on David's discussion of the Japanese concept of attentional Ki, it struck me that the structures of these super- and meta-organisms, both internally and externally (their control of media, advertising, and education), have the ability to deflect the Ki, or the attention of our life energy, from its natural course in order to co-opt it to purposes contrary to healthy living function. Money and our dependence on money are key to how this deflection is achieved. Generally the individual is attracted to seek employment in the larger corporate bodies less by a natural sense of affinity with their purposes and other of their members, than by a need for money. Furthermore, most corporate bodies use money quite explicitly to direct the Ki of the individuals who work for them to purposes not their own. It is a form of coercion more subtle and less likely to be perceived as coercive than for example placing a gun to a person's head and issuing an order. It is none the less a form of coercion, especially in the case of people who have few options, such as those forced to work in the global economy's sweat shops for less than a subsistence wage as their only means of survival.

This insight led me back to Mae-Wan and her examination of energy flows and coherence in living organisms. Living organisms have a distinctive capacity to maintain energy in an active and coherent state instantly available for use where ever it may be needed within the body. This coherence is achieved in part through instantaneous communications processes involving the liquid crystalline structures that seem to be characteristic of living organisms—at least at the cellular and multicellular level.

The capacity for instantaneous communication across the whole of the organism's being helps to account for life's extraordinary capacity for radical self-organization to achieve ever higher levels of coherent complexity with no central control points or ruling hierarchies. In Mae-Wan's words:

A mechanical system has a stability that belongs to a closed statis equilibrium, depending on controllers, buffers and buttresses to return the system to set, or fixed points. It works like a non-democratic institution, by a hierarchy of control: a boss who sits in his office doing nothing except giving out orders to line managers, who in turn coerce workers to do whatever needs to be done. An organism, by contrast has a dynamic stability, which is attained in open systems far away from thermodynamic equilibrium. It has no bosses, no controllers and no set points. It is radically democratic, everyone [for example, each cell in the multicellular organism] participates in making decisions and in working by intercommunication and mutual responsiveness. Finally, a mechanical system is built of isolatable parts, each external to and independent of all the others. An organism, however, is an irreducible whole, where part and whole, global and local are mutually entangled, mutually implicated.

I find special significance in Mae Wan's discussion of the relationship between freedom and the coherence found in multicellular life.

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One comes to the startling discovery that the coherent organism is in a very real sense completely free. Nothing is in control, yet everything is in control.... Choreographer and dancer are one and the same....Freedom in the present context means being true to ‘self', in other words, being coherent. A free act is a coherent act....being true to self does not imply acting against others. On the contrary, sustaining others sustains the self, so being true to others is also being true to self. I venture to suggest, therefore that a truly free individual is a coherent being that lives fully and spontaneously, without fragmentation or hesitation, who is at peace with herself and at ease with the universe as she participates in creating, from moment to moment, its possible futures.

Perhaps this is the key to distinguishing between health and pathology in a Big Body. The healthy organism is a truly coherent self-organizing entity—its inner and outer relationships defined by natural affinities free from coercion, hierarchy, and identifiable control points. The greater the demonstrated capacity of the Big Body to achieve and sustain self-organizing coherence in the absence of a controlling authority, the more we may presume that its relationships are defined by natural affinities and the natural flow of Ki (attention or conscious life energy) among its participants. The healthier we thus may presume it to be. There more the Big Body is subject to coercive direction by a controlling hierarchy with a capacity to deflect Ki from its natural course to advance purposes other than those freely defined by the body's constituent individuals, the more likely that the body and its purposes will be pathological in terms of the interests of all but the privileged minority that captures the Ki of the many to serve the ends of the few.

This theory of Big Body health and pathology necessary rests on the premise, documented in Part II of The Post-Corporate World: Life After Capitalism, that life is a fundamentally cooperative enterprise—in sharp contrast to the premise of conventional Darwinian theory and its economic derivative: neoliberal economic ideology.

This suggests that the question of Big Body health may center on the contrast between self-organization and hierarchy as organizing modes. If so, it points to the institutional task ahead as one of strengthening self-organizing Big Bodies to displace and ultimately eliminate Big Bodies defined by coercive hierarchies. The goal would be to create radically democratic self-organizing societies purged of pathological corporations. This will require schooling ourselves in the arts and values of self-organization. Perhaps this is central to the next step in human evolution.


Footnote 1: There are those who will argue that this analysis presents an outmoded view of corporations. They will maintain that the more successful corporations forego hierarchy in favor of self-organizing processes much like those described above. Those who so argue miss the fact that by the legal nature of the corporation any authority delegated to self-organizing units of the organization can be instantly and arbitrarily withdrawn by the corporate CEO and the participants dismissed without recourse. Though hierarchy may be temporarily rendered less visible by the decision of a central authority it remains ever present. Indeed, in a public traded corporation if the groups that are allowed to self-organize direct their energies toward any value or need other than short-term shareholder profits and the CEO does not act to bring them into line the CEO is likely to be fired by the shareholders. The corporation's structure precludes an internal coherence based on real freedom. I suggest that the corporate form, by the inherently authoritarian and hierarchical nature of its legal structure is alien to the healthy living body and properly considered to be a social pathology.


Footnote 2: While I consider the thesis that self-organization in life tends to be healthy and coercive hierarchy tends to be pathological to be a first step toward discriminating between healthy and pathological Big Bodies, it is only partial. We know, for example, that there are in nature many pathologies, such as the cancer cell, viruses, and infectious bacteria, that are self-organizing. In this instance perhaps we can identify the pathogen by the fact that it destroys the body on which its own existence is dependent—revealing a lack of coherence beyond its own boundaries.


This leads us to the related question of whether there are examples of coercive hierarchies in nature that from a non-Darwinian perspective are beneficial to the well-being of the individuals so ordered and the larger whole of which they are a part. Perhaps the central nervous system. Perhaps the dominant wolf in a wolf pack. Do they rule from their individual will? Or do they merely reflect and serve the will of a larger whole? The way we are conditioned to think by the standard models of science does not encourage us to ask such questions.


Afterthought: I am fascinated by some of the related questions this discussion raises. For example do Big Bodies have their own consciousness apart from the consciousness of the individuals that comprise them? That we do not directly experience the consciousness of any being other than ourselves does not mean others do not experience it as well. I cannot directly experience your consciousness. I can only infer its existence from observing your actions and extrapolating from my direct experience of my own consciousness. If I could experience it directly then it would be our consciousness and we would both lose our sense of individuality. It seems to me entirely plausible that all organisms manifest some form of intelligent consciousness—including Big Bodies.


-END -



 Societies as Organisms
by Lewis Thomas


Viewed from a suitable height, the aggregating clusters of medical scientists in the bright sunlight of the boardwalk at Atlantic City, swarmed there from everywhere for the annual meetings, have the look of assemblages of social insects. There is the same vibrating, ionic movement, interrupted by the darting back and forth of jerky individuals to touch antennae and exchange small bits of information; periodically, the mass casts out like a trout-line, a long single file unerringly toward Child's (Bar). If the boards were not fastened down, it would not be a surprise to see them put together a nest of sorts.

It is permissible to say this sort of thing about humans. They do resemble, in their most compulsively social behavior, ants at a distance. It, is however, quite bad form in biological circles to put it the other way round, to imply that the operation of insect societies has any relation at all to human affairs. The writers of books on insect behavior generally take pains, in their prefaces, to caution that insects are like creatures from another planet, that their behavior is absolutely foreign, totally unhuman, unearthly, almost unbiological. They are more like perfectly tooled but crazy little machines, and we violate science when we try to read human meanings in their arrangements.

It is hard for a bystander not to do so. Ants are so such like human beings as to be an embarrassment. They farm fungi, raise aphids as livestock, launch armies into wars, use chemical sprays to alarm and confuse enemies, capture slaves. The families of weaver ants engage in child labor, holding their larvae like shuttles to spin out the thread that sews the leaves together for their fungus gardens. They exchange information ceaselessly. They do everything but watch television.

What makes us most uncomfortable is that they, and the bees and termites and social wasps, seem to live two kinds of lives: they are individuals, going about the day's business without much evidence of thought for tomorrow, and they are at the same time component parts, cellular elements, in the huge, writhing, ruminating organism of the Hill, the nest, the hive. It is because of this aspect, I think, that we most wish for them to be something foreign. We do not like the notion that there can be collective societies with the capacity to behave like organisms. If such things exist, they can have nothing to do with us. Still, there it is. A solitary ant, afield, cannot be considered to have much of anything on his mind; indeed, with only a few neurons strung together by fiber, he can't be imagined to have a mind at all, much less a thought. He is more like a ganglion on legs. Four ants together, or ten, encircling a dead moth in a path begin to look more like an idea. They fumble and shove, gradually moving the food toward the Hill, but as though by blind chance. It is only when you watch the dense mass of thousands of ants, crowded together around the Hill, blackening the ground, that you begin to see the whole beast, and now observe it thinking, planning, calculating. It is an intelligence, a kind of live computer, with crawling bits for its wits.

At a stage in the construction, twigs of a certain size are needed, and all the members forage obsessively for twigs of just this size. Later, when outer walls are to be finished, thatched, the size must change, and as though given new orders by telephone, all the workers shift the search to the new twigs. If you disturb the arrangement of a part of the Hill, hundreds of ants will set it vibrating, shifting, until it is put right again. Distant sources of food are somehow sensed, and long lines, like tentacles, reach out over the ground, up over walls, behind boulders, to fetch it in.

Termites are even more extraordinary in the way they seem to accumulate intelligence as they gather together. Two or three termites in a chamber will begin to pick up pellets and move them from place to place, but nothing comes of it; nothing is built. As more join in, they seem to reach a critical mass, a quorum, and the thinking begins. They place pellets atop pellets, then throw up columns and beautiful, curving, symmetrical arches, and the crystalline architecture of vaulted chambers is created. It is not known how they communicate with each other, how the chains often times building one column know when to turn toward the crew on to adjacent column, or how, when the time comes, they manage the flawless joining of the arches. The stimuli that set them off at the outset, building collectively instead of shifting things about, may be pheromones released when they reach committee size. They react as if alarmed. They become agitated, excited, and then they begin working, like artists.

Bees live lives of organisms, tissues, cells, organelles, all at the same time. The single bee, out of the hive retrieving sugar (instructed by the dancer: "south-southeast for seven hundred meters, clover - mind you make corrections for the sundrift") is still as much a part of the hive as if attached by a filament. Building the hive, the workers have the look of embryonic cells organizing a developing tissue; from a distance they are like the viruses inside a cell, running off row after row of symmetrical polygons as though laying down crystals. When the time for swarming comes, and the old queen prepares to leave with her part of the population, it is as though the hive were involved in mitosis. There is an agitated moving of bees back and forth, like granules in cell sap. They distribute themselves in almost precisely equal parts, half to the departing queen, half to the new one. Thus, like an egg, the great, hairy, black and golden creature splits in two, each with an equal share of the family genome.

The phenomenon of separate animals joining up to form an organism is not unique in insects. Slime molds do it all the time, of course, in each life cycle. At first they are single amebocytes swimming around, eating bacteria, aloof from each other, untouching, voting straight Republican. Then, a bell sounds, and acrasin is released by special cells toward which the others converge in stellate ranks, touch, fuse together, and construct the slug, solid as a trout. A splendid stalk is raised, with a fruiting body on top, and out of this comes the next generation of amebocytes, ready to swim across the same moist ground, solitary and ambitious.

Herring and other fish in schools are at times so closely integrated, their actions so coordinated, that they seem to be functionally a great multi-fish organism. Flocking birds, especially the seabirds nesting on the slopes of offshore islands in Newfoundland, are similarly attached, connected, synchronized.

Although we are by all odds the most social of all social animals. Perhaps, however, we are linked in circuits for the storage, processing, and retrieval of information, since this appears to be the most basic and universal of all human enterprises. It may be our biological function to build a certain kind of Hill. We have access to all the information of the biosphere, arriving as elementary units in the stream of solar photons. When we learn how these are rearranged against randomness, to make, say, springtails, quantum mechanics, and the late quartets, we may have a clearer notion how to proceed. The circuitry seems to be there, even if the current is not always on.

The system of communication used in science should provide a neat, workable model for studying mechanisms of information-building in human society. Ziman, in a recent "Nature" essay, points out, "the invention of a mechanism for the systematic publication of 'fragments' of scientific work may well have been the key event in the history of modern science." He continues: "A regular journal carries from one research worker to another the various...observations which are of common interest... A typical scientific paper has never pretended to be more than another little piece in a larger jigsaw - not significant in itself but as an element in a grander scheme. This technique, of soliciting many modest contributions to the store of human knowledge, has been the secret of Western science since the seventeenth century, for it achieves a corporate, collective power that is far greater than any one individual can exert." With some alternation of terms, some toning down, the passage could describe the building of a termite nest.

It is fascinating that the word "explore" does not apply to the searching aspect of the activity, but has its origins in the sounds we make while engaged in it. We like to think of exploring in science as a lonely, meditative business, and so it is in the first stages, but always, sooner or later, before the enterprise reaches completion, as we explore, we call to each other, communicate, publish, send letters to the editor, present papers, cry out on finding.

- End -

from Live of a Cell Penguin Books, New York, 1978



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