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Nazis as Corporate Drones

November 22, 2012 24 comments

I often spend a lot of time reading about various versions of the same historical events to gain a better perspective of what actually happened. While doing so is neither easy nor conclusive for events that occurred hundreds or thousands of years ago, it is somewhat easy for events within the last 100-150 odd years. The prevalence and volume of record keeping by more than one party to an event let us reconstruct the near past with a pretty high degree of accuracy- and this brings me to the topic of this post.

My analysis of various streams of available evidence suggest that most Nazis (defined as paid employees of the Third Reich) did what they did because they were good corporate drones.

I am certainly not the first to suggest that most of the Nazi leadership were just following orders- however horrible they may have been. Hannah Arendt made that observation in her 1963 work- Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Indeed, extensive interviews and first-hand accounts of many people in senior positions in the Nazi hierarchy, such as Rudolf Hoss, suggests that most of them were not unsually anti-semitic. Curiously enough, most of these followers were also quite aware of the nature and impact of their actions.

Which brings us a peculiar question: How can a person who is not intrinsically ‘evil’ end up participating in and excelling at something in which they are not particularly interested?

While it is easy to understand the actions of the raving anti-semitic minority among Nazis, it is not easy to understand the full range of motivations for people like Eichmann or Hoss. And, it is even harder to understand the motivations of your average Nazi- who, face it, usually joined the party to improving his career prospects. Nor is the phenomena of average people becoming murderous thugs for improving their career prospects limited to Nazis. Scores of Russians who carried out Stalin’s orders (whether they involved murder, torture, forced labor or starvation) were no better than their German counterparts. The Japanese soldiers and administrators who enslaved, abused, tortured and killed millions of Chinese in the 1930-1945 period were also cut from the same metaphorical cloth.

So what does any of this have to do with modern corporations and the ubiquitous ‘corporate drones’ that seem to inhabit and thrive within them?

A part of the answer lies in understanding the nature of modern corporations and their similarity to other social institutions and arrangements. I am, once again, not the first to note that modern corporations have more than a passing resemblance to feudal societies, plantations and other ‘top down’ totalitarian systems of governance and social organisation. If anything, corporations seem to combine the worst elements of all three- from the intrigues of feudal society, exploitation of plantation-type forced labor and ‘top down’ we-known-better-than-you paternalism of conventional totalitarianism.

It does not take a genius to figure out that moderately ambitious personalities with little ability for independent thought, but just enough brain-power to carry the task they have been assigned, will flourish in such institutions.

The personality, behavior and aptitude of your average higher management types are therefore interchangeable with concentration camp or gulag commanders. The middle management types in modern corporations are the functional equivalents of the lower level of management in the death factories run by Nazis, Soviets and Japanese during WW2. You average corporate drone would be perfectly at home as a valued and trusted employee at a Nazi, Soviet or Japanese death factory.

You know something else.. after being caught doing all those horrible things (which they knew were horrible) they would initially express surprise at the ‘true nature’ of their job. They would go on to blame corporate culture, bad leadership and the need for obtaining timely promotions for justifying their actions. However they would show considerable pride in the quality of their work, even if that work was murdering a few million people who they barely knew. They would then try to tell you that they were good family men (or women) just trying to earn a good pay and timely promotions. All of this would be said with great sincerity and earnestness- largely because they actually believe in everything they told you.

The unpleasant truth is that a majority of people are incapable of abstract or interdependent thought, regardless of the results of their so-called ‘IQ’ tests. I would go so far as to say that those who score well on ‘IQ’ tests are better at fooling themselves. Most people have no concept of objective reality and will enthusiastically follow any conman (or conwoman) who feeds them enough table scraps to buy their loyalty. These drones will create complex mythology, narratives, rituals to justify the most bizarre behavior and decisions made by their superiors or leaders.

The biggest differences between modern corporations and genocidal totalitarian movements are that the later had more fashionable uniforms and better sounding job titles..

What do you think? Comments?