ENTERPRISE VS. BUSINESS
Culture does not recognize the bounds of an enterprise, a political border, or other theoretically closed system. Culture can be transmitted across any real or abstract expanse, as it is created and maintained by people in how they communicate with and relate to others. In this way, it is possible to imbue social, economic, and political systems with the cultural values upheld within interpersonal relationships; humans can shape culture from the personal to the systemic. While cooperativism is often approached as theory and practice for organizations, the values espoused within the philosophy are necessarily applied to the level of the individual and interpersonal. A cooperative can help to create an environment that protects and sustains culture, the culture within the cooperative is ultimately a reflection of the culture and attitudes of the people within the cooperative. “Social formulas are only effective to the degree that those in whom they are embodied live up to them” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 14).
ENTERPRISE VS. BUSINESS
One of the key ways to ensure the primacy of the person in a cooperative is to divorce the notion of cooperative practice from a specific structure. The ubiquitousness of capitalism and its values throughout all aspects of our lives have fostered a business ontology, or the sense that the only way to organize society is into units of “business” that are then supported by a neoliberal nation-state system.Business ontology and its companion concept, capitalist realism, is outlined in greater detail in the “Dirty Words” section of “Words Mean Things.” The business ontology aspect of the overwhelming creep of capitalist ideology into lives of people throughout the world has had a deleterious effect on the Cooperative Movement, similar to the impact of the application of concepts like transactional value within personal relationships and self-worth. Nowhere in the Cooperative Identity is cooperative activity restricted to or defined as “business.” Limiting the cooperative imagination to goods or services only being shared via fiscal transactions in a government regulated marketplace effectively prohibits cooperativism from its full expression as a philosophy facilitating the social evolution of humanity. “Ideas and the mindset they entail and promote are no less indispensable to the proper functioning of our cooperatives than their facilities and machines” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 51). Cooperativism can apply to how family systems function, how communities manage natural resources, and how people can govern themselves without interference by external actors; it is a theory and practice that can be applied to nearly every aspect of human life. All of these endeavors and forms of relation can fit under the umbrella term “enterprise,” which is the term used within the Defining Statement of the Cooperative Identity and does not limit cooperative activity to any sector or structure. While the immediate work of many cooperators may very literally be the maintenance of a market-based business they are operating cooperatively, cooperators can and should aspire to much more beyond business, which is necessary in the collective enterprise to build a better world free of coercive and oppression.
Capitalist culture has come to demand a tempered kind of behavior and presentation in workplaces and other public group settings. This expected “professionalism” typically demands that people censor themselves by “code switching” (e.g. using only “appropriate” language and demeanor), only share “appropriate” aspects of their lives and personality (i.e. compartmentalization of the self), not openly display emotions, avoid conflict at all costs, as well as adopt an “appropriate” mode of dress and aesthetic. The often unspoken norms of “appropriateness” to which professionalism conforms are synonymous with white, Western (e.g. patriarchal, white supremacist, Christian), capitalist culture. Thereby, these standards of behavior and presentation alienate and even shame those people whose methods of communication and culture deemed “inappropriate” (e.g. Black, indigenous, people of color, queer, femmes, poor) in the professionalism framework. This standard even ultimately harms those it was designed to serve, particularly in its repression of emotional expression and mental health. Particularly in workplaces, in which many people spend roughly half of their waking life, ignoring the mental health of workers is both ineffective and inhumane. There has been a recent turn towards workplace “wellness” among some corporate leaders, however this shift remains profit-motivated, rather than motivated by a desire to genuinely support the true health and wellbeing of people.1 Similarly, professionalism seeks to avoid potential conflict or discord – a regular part of everyday life, and in doing so does not allow for nor teach people how to have frank discussions around moral or ideological topics. Some of the harm of this denial of open discourse within the Cooperative Movement, specifically, is detailed in the “Dirty Words” section of “Words Mean Things.”
- 1 A prime example of this perverse practice are the “ZenBooths” recently introduced in Amazon shipping and distribution centers. These are phone booth sized, windowless and dark boxes outfitted with a fan. Workers experiencing stress are encouraged to go into the boxes for a few minutes in order to calm down enough to return to work.
Culture flows from people, their actions, and their relationships with others, and takes the form of shared values, behavioral norms, language, and relational obligations. A person, then, evolves their individual identity based upon their various cultural affiliations - through community, they are able to see and know themselves.. “People are the foundation of all things. As the people are, so will their society be. If people are just, upstanding, generous, noble, and honest, society will also be just, upstanding, generous, noble, and honest” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 14). This notion invites complexity to cooperativism by its emphasis on the importance of the individual, perhaps confoundingly so, given the collective nature of the philosophy. Father Arizmendiarrieta explained this well: “Cooperative philosophy rejects both the collectivist and liberal [i.e. individualistic] conceptions of human nature. It recognizes the unique value of the individual, but insists that the individual cannot be totally him or herself without entering into creative, spiritual, and materially productive relationships with the world to which he or she belongs” (1999, 98). How each individual in a cooperative embodies and enacts cooperative behavior and communication dictates, in spite of structure, whether or not the culture within the organization is truly cooperative.
The addition and subtraction of people, their personalities, and their influence in a cooperative - through membership transitions - has one of the biggest impacts on a cooperative’s culture. “Cooperativism is not about changing a company’s owners or managers, but transforming its nature and social function” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 98). If a given cooperative simply switches the role of an employee to a worker-owner – without nurturing and ensuring a change in mentality and disposition, the culture within the enterprise is likely to remain conventionally competitive. In some of the larger and wealthier cooperatives throughout the world, it is relatively common for the cooperative to prioritize hiring high-level workers with experience in enterprises that are similarly wealthy (which are typically not cooperatives), rather than in enterprises that are cooperative. In doing so, these enterprises are prioritizing other experiences (e.g. managing large financial portfolios) over cooperative skills and orientation, thereby bringing in competitively oriented personalities to the cooperative which often serves to degrade the culture over time. This has been a significant factor leading to demutualization or the death of many cooperatives.1
- 1 Nadeau, E.G. and Nilsestuen, R. (2004). Strengthening Cooperative Business Structures: Lessons Learned from Demutualization and Cooperative Conversions.