8 Lessons We Can Learn from the Transnationals

Craig Chalquist, PhD


In the same measure as the conscious attitude may pride itself on a certain godlikeness
by reason of its lofty and absolute standpoint, an unconscious attitude develops with a
godlikeness oriented downwards to an archaic god whose nature is sensual and brutal.
--CG Jung, Psychological Types

Fight the big corporations. Kill the multinationals. Break up the conglomerates and the consortiums. The problem of how to do that preoccupies more and more of us as helicopters hired with oil money drive natives from villages, artificial plant genes enter our rivers, and the bottom line defecates swallowed ecosystems as toxic waste.

Permaculturalists like to say, however, that “the problem is the solution.” So do depth psychologists. Informed by the psychological work of Janet, James, Freud, and Jung, we look upon symptoms as signals of things unlearned, indications of what we have yet to make conscious.

If transnationals are not only hierarchies of power or “authorities of darkness” (as the ancient Gnostics would have seen them) but psychic manifestations as well, how might we imagine them differently?

The motif of Initiation reinvents itself spontaneously in every human culture. Animal cultures too perhaps. It’s archetypal. And in many legends and myths concerning initiation, frightening threshold guardians block the seeker from transition. The idea is that only those capable of mastering the monsters prove themselves worthy of survival and deeper journeys.

To would-be initiants the sharp-toothed guardians of Hades offer important lessons. Not so much the transnationals who do the financial work of the world everyday without incident (good news being less reportable than bad), but the malignant bodies eating the flesh of everything and everyone they encounter. What might we learn from them today? To paraphrase Henry Corbin, how might we transmute their idolatry into iconography?

Lesson 1: The Repressed Body Returns as a Zombie.

For centuries Western civilization has institutionalized the divorce of heart from head and body from mind. Apollo, the god of reason, and Dionysus, the god of passion, weren’t on speaking terms even though they shared a shrine at Delphi. This legacy of ruthless mentalism had to have repercussions, collective ones.

It’s no accident, then, that the word “corporation” derives from corpus, “body.” The court decision that gave corporations the status and rights of human beings originated in Santa Clara County, the former “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” since congealed into silicon. Disinhabiting the body does not make it vanish: it rematerializes symptomatically as a giant counter-body, a transational vampire, a “zombie bank” full of “toxic assets.”

Lesson 2: Undeveloped Vision Stares Back through Electronic Eyes.

Nor is it accidental that transnationals are allowed to control the mass media: instruments of vision, creation, and dream. The mirror reflects us, but the electronic screen pulls us into its murky depths. What might they reveal?

Transnationals are the inevitable outcome of the following false beliefs: Imagination is only for impractical dreamers unless it can be made to pay. Creativity can be bought and sold. Empathy is for sentimentalists. Lived stories can’t stand up to data. Art is mainly for museums and civic murals. Math deserves funding, the humanities don’t. What can’t be counted doesn’t matter.

The eye that has lost its sense for beauty finds itself confronted by the security camera. To the degree our invalidated inner senses go to sleep, unused because sadly discredited, voyeurism triumphs as outward mass surveillance.

Lesson 3: The Cavalry Isn’t Coming.

Why? The corporations own them, like BP ordering the National Guard--"Always Ready, Always There"--to keep curious reporters away from certain beaches in the Gulf of Mexico. Imagine writing letters to presidents and representatives “elected” by transnational campaign donation money to implore them to protect us from transnationals.

Imagine further that instead of waiting for help from above, we put all that energy, hope, faith, and idealism back in ourselves where it belongs....and learned how to ride our own ponies.

Lesson 4: “Systemic” Self-Blame Disempowers.

“We’re all to blame because we all participate in the system” ignores the crucial fact that the system is hierarchical, which means that a tattered urban kid can’t be anywhere near as responsible for political decline or environmental catastrophe as the shareholders of the transational hiring workers to bulldoze his neighborhood.

Paralyzing oneself by shouldering the same portion of blame as socioopaths in suits who order villages set ablaze or who recklessly trade with other people’s life savings is not systemic thinking, nor is it an example of self-scrutiny, both of which would be better served by asking truly systemic questions like, “Why do we collectively need and enable transnationals?”

Lesson 5: Centralized Power Elevates the Corruptible.

Societies with authoritarian power structures set themselves up for corporate control. Hand over your power for long enough and someone will be glad to pocket it.

“Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss...” is predictable until the yearning for bosses is done away with altogether. Perhaps we don’t need leaders or heroes nearly as much as skilled facilitators of the wisdom of the community ready to make its own decisions on how it wants to live.

Lesson 6: Magical Wishing Manifests Nightmares Instead of Dreams.

Transnational corporations are the offspring of religious inclinations so heavenly that they manifest as flagpoles and skyscrapers. The utility mast is a degenerated steeple. The farther we travel off the earth in our minds, the stronger the need for a psychic counterweight that brings our focus back home. Transnationals buy up what we no longer appreciate or revere, poison the waters we overuse, level the forests we take for granted.

To the degree we believe that beneficial activities like chanting, praying, journaling, or meditating will automatically solve the crises overshadowing our time, a task for which they were not invented, we are closet corporatists, our innocent ideas about detachment and transcendence only thickening and materializing the transnational shadow that overcompensates and parodies them.

Lesson 7: Lone Individualism is Dead.

Transnationals demonstrate what can be shaken and moved when groups of people band together for common cause. The lone genius who will explain the universe to us, the charismatic guru with a phone line to heaven, and the muscular hero arrived to save the day have no power to do much but parade a dead mythology of comic book figures.

The real question today is not, “What difference can one person make?” The real question is, “What will it take to leave behind the superheroic ideal, an ideal that only deepens the sense of impotence, and get together to foster ideas and dreams?”

Lesson 8: Acting Only Locally Invites Domination Globally.

Part of what makes transnationals so powerful is their global reach. They trespass at will the borders, boundaries, legalisms and customs that hem in the rest of us.

Does not this reach invite us into a more transnational web of relations? Into a frontier, cosmopolitan, transboundary consciousness deeply appreciative of place, indeed, but not tied to it or limited by it?


The world’s initiation traditions agree that “growth” often consists in what we grow up enough to rid ourselves of. We have our cut work out for us.

If we can learn that exalting the bottom line only elevates the falling coinage Freud compared to feces, that benevolent-seeming authority figures won’t rescue us, that matter and flesh and the corporeal world deserve our full attention, that we can live without oil--even if every economy in the world crashes down--but cannot live without fresh water, good soil, and healthy forests and oceans, that true power is relational rather than positional, that our cities and communities belong to us and not to the Invisible Hand that grabs, and that we are relatives to everything living and ought to act like it, then the earth-flattening transnational dinosaurs which have taught us so much will be free to join their extinct saurian brethren in the underworld, where their remains can provide fuel and materials for clean and just civilizations only dreamed of.