Woke capitalism, like the #MeToo movement before it, is in self-destruct mode.
You may recall that last year, Disney threatened to boycott Georgia if the state passed a pro-life “heartbeat bill”. Arguing that the slated legislation was an injustice to women’s “reproductive rights”, Disney vowed to stop all film production in Georgia if the law was passed.
A little over a year later, Disney completed its filming of Mulan in communist China. And not just any part of China: Mulan was filmed in Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities are reportedly being held in internment camps.
Earlier this year, footage was leaked out of China showing Uighurs being shuffled on to trains in scenes hauntingly reminiscent of Nazi Germany. The West now has credible evidence that the communist nation is inflicting unspeakable human rights abuses against political dissidents, from forced abortion and sterilisation, to execution and organ harvesting.
In the end credits of Mulan, Disney even went out of its way to thank the Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Safety for their cooperation in the film’s production. The same Turpan Municipal Bureau of Public Safety that allegedly runs the Uighur internment camps.
Put politics aside for a minute and ask yourself honestly: is Georgia or communist China more deserving of Disney’s boycotts?
Cynical and duplicitous don’t even begin to describe it.
The Disney scandal taps into a much deeper problem that must be addressed. Though we pride ourselves on free markets and freedoms more broadly in the West, dictatorships have somehow snuck in through the back door. Not through our governments, but through woke corporations—or what political philosopher Elizabeth Anderson calls private government.
Citing many examples of “authoritarian governance in our work and off-hours lives”—all of which are, legally speaking, above-board managerial practices—she alleges that “most workers in the United States are governed by communist dictatorships in their work lives.” Up to one quarter of American workers even label this a form of “dictatorship”.
With ever-expanding workplace agreements and codes of conduct, employers are now able to minutely regulate their workers’ speech, dress, recreational activities, and almost anything else they choose to create conditions around.
All this might fly under the radar if it weren’t for the fact that big brands are now taking overtly political stances on all the big issues of the day—whether “white privilege”, Black Lives Matter, the thin blue line, the rainbow flag, or the Orange Man in the White House.
With so many Western workers employed by these corporate giants, what we have inadvertently created is a form of communist dictatorships within capitalist empires. And like their 20th-century forebears, they politicise everything.
Anderson writes that we should be more concerned that these big-brand “private governments impose controls on workers that are unconstitutional for democratic states to impose on citizens who are not convicts or in the military.”
The most prominent and egregious example of this that we’ve seen in Australia is of course Israel Folau. Few people enjoyed the tone of his social media posts. But the idea that Rugby Australia could tear up his $4 million contract for paraphrasing the Bible away from the footy field was spine-chilling for every Australian willing to think beyond just religion and put themselves in his shoes.
Fortunately, Folau won a settlement from his corporate overlords—but not before his reputation was in tatters and his Australian career over.
In an ideal, truly “free market” world, all of us would be independent artisans selling our goods and services to each other and employing only a few people at best. But the Industrial Revolution with its economies of scale have put such societies in the history books.
We can’t reverse pedal and get back to “the good old days”. But we can certainly make some improvements on the current status quo. That begins by corporations no longer pretending to be persons, with single-minded political viewpoints that somehow speak for their thousands of employees.
Let’s get politics out of the boardrooms, off the sporting fields, and away from the silver screen. Leave political viewpoints where they belong—in the public square, and in the hearts and minds of free-thinking individuals.
This will solve two problems. It will dispense with the kind of double-dealing that Disney is most recently guilty of. And it will actually make our shopping and sport and shows fun again.
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Kurt Mahlburg has studied architecture and theology among other interests of philosophy, history, surf, the outdoors and travel. He spent several years in Indonesia and has worked as a young adults pastor. He is now a teacher, a freelance writer, the Features Editor of the Canberra Declaration and contributes regularly at Caldron Pool & other online publications. He hosts his own blog 'Cross + Culture' at KurtMahlburg.blog.