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I’ve been re-watching Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth via Netflix. It’s like church for me. If church was like this, I’d go every week. Campbell’s ability to see the forms that project the shadows on the wall, his talent for finding the same metaphor in every culture and every era is amazing. And what has been interesting about watching this the second time around is how many of his themes and metaphors fit naturally into the issues that concern me the most in organizations and modern corporate life.

This set of interviews was done in the late 80s, and talks a lot about how Campbell was a big influence on George Lucas and the Star Wars (original) trilogy. He discusses how in western culture, dragons are metaphor for intellect without body connection – a state which results in unchecked greed and insatiable hunger. He also thinks that Darth Vader, a man who has almost completely disconnected from his body and the natural world in order to maintain power, is a metaphor for oppressive systems that dehumanize us.

While I think Campbell saw this as metaphor for oppressive governments, I think the corporation has become one such system. Though it’s made up of people who are probably largely ethical and decent, we all get paid to work for the profit of others, and the concerns of those “others” must transcend our own connection to what is natural and right for ourselves and those we love. I’ve struggled a great deal in the past year with the fact that what might be the ethical or loving thing to do in a personal relationship is often considered unprofessional in work relationships. Campbell’s framing of the dragon or system as that which removes us from our bodies, and so removes us from our eros; our vital, living presence in our own existance, seems incredibly apropos of what the corporate system is doing to our humanity as a society. Why else does company after company, even the ones touted as the most ethical, get caught in governance and ethics scandals?

How can an organization that is structured to subjugate the needs and concerns of those who run it be anything other than dehumanizing, if that which makes us human is that which allows us to have compassion for ourselves and others?

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