Knowledge is a weapon. So please consider contributing to build our arsenal. We accept no corporate or foundation funding whatsoever. Please make a donation.
On Corporate Power | On Environmental Foundations: An Interview with Cory Morningstar
In his latest column Michael Barker interviews Canadian writer and climate change campaigner Cory Morningstar about the debilitating impact liberal philanthropy has had on the environmental movement.
December 17, 2012
By Michael Barker
(Photo by: 350 Copenhagen)
Cory Morningstar is a Canadian writer and activist. She believes in direct action and initiated the grassroots group: Canadians for Action on Climate Change, a member of International Climate Justice Now! She also works with ClimateSOS activists. Prior to working on the People’s Agreement in Cochabamba, 2010, Ms. Morningstar, collaborated with Ms. Joan Russow, former Leader of the Canadian Green Party in writing the document Time to be Bold which was one of the documents referred to in the creation of the People’s Agreement.
Her most well known piece of writing was published after the Copenhagen disaster and is titled: EYES WIDE SHUT | TckTckTck exposé from activist insider. Oils Sand Truth named it “One of the most important articles Climate Campaigners will ever read…”
Michael Barker (MB): Could you explain what you see as the main differences between hard and soft power?
Cory Morningstar (CM): Simply put, hard power is coercing via force, whereas soft power is coercing via manipulation and seduction: like a slow, methodical, death dance. There are no organizations in a better position to employ soft power methods than those that comprise the non-profit industrial complex.
MB: I tend to think that most writers have neglected emphasizing the importance of soft power, most specifically that of philanthropy, in legitimizing and extending capitalist relations: what are your thoughts on this matter?
CM: I believe that most writers avoid the issue at all costs precisely because they, too, are financially compensated by these very same so-called philanthropists. This results in a cohesive silence straight across the board: a fact not lost on the hegemonic powers that control and shape information flow via foundation funding.
MB: When do you first remember reading or hearing about critiques of liberal philanthropists and their foundations? What was your initial reaction to such criticisms? Here, I am predominantly thinking about the former “big three,” the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations.
CM: Many years ago I became absolutely perplexed as to why the NGOs were “fighting” for what would amount to, essentially, worthless policies in the face of ecological collapse. Working both within and outside of the complex, I would ask point-blank questions to the most influential people of the dominant NGOs; the answer was always the same. Silence. Initially, I was surprised that there was so very little criticism of a “movement” that has become a failure of epic proportions.
Then I started really trying to figure out what was going on, which led me, first, to your work. When I began ingesting the information, it was like a breath of fresh air. I discovered history, critical thinking and common sense. Truth had finally surfaced. It was only then that it all began to make complete sense. After years of research, I believe I have acquired a very comprehensive understanding of the non-profit industrial complex and whose interests it serves first and foremost, those of the Ford, Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations et al.
MB: Following on from the last question, could you briefly explain what you think about the academic/activist literature that is critical of liberal philanthropy?
CM: Corporations, via their foundations, successfully train their chosen “leaders”/sycophants to depoliticize and pacify movements while framing critical thinkers/nonconforming activists as “radical” (in a derogatory sense), non-team players, unpatriotic, etc. In essence, one is booted out of the champagne circuit, stripped of their “prestige” (or the possibility of acquiring prestige), and deemed a pariah.
Of course, it goes without saying that anyone in a position of influence who receives grants or foundation money will be severely chastised or simply cut off from their funding. For this reason I have great admiration for those who possess the courage and tenacity to speak the truth, which is desperately needed if we are ever to collectively evolve instead of continuing on the rapid descent into self-annihilation that we witness today. Exceptional must-reads are the book Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism by Joan Roelofs and the recent essay “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” by Arundhati Roy.
MB: How would you describe the general impact of liberal foundations on the evolution of research within universities and on intellectuals more generally?
CD: It is my belief that the impact has been debilitating beyond measure. Worse, it is not only underestimated by society, but I would go so far as to say that the co-optation of growth and intellect is not even recognized by society. We like to believe that Euro-Americans are the brilliant ones (after all, we’ve been battling Nature for eons and winning): yet collectively we (the supposedly educated) are destroying our own habitat at an ever-accelerating speed. Those chosen for positions of power, which accelerate our demise via the industrialized capitalist system, are cherry-picked from the Ivy League.
Corporate control (via direct funding and foundation funding) has resulted in a cohesive silence on almost everything that flies in the face of common sense. Creativity has been grossly stifled. Critical thinking has been framed as confrontational while submission and obedience are deemed admirable.
I covered this topic more extensively in part 3 of my investigative report on methane hydrates (The Real Weapons of Mass Destruction: Methane, Propaganda & the Architects of Genocide) under the subsection Universities as Bedfellows| Moral Nihilism. [Excerpt: “Corporate funding effectively silences dissent and buys legitimacy where none is deserved. The corporate influence and domination, like a virus, crushes imagination, strangles creativity and kills individual thought. Education pursued for the collective good is dead. Transcendent values — dead. The nurturing of individual conscience — dead. Ethical and social equity issues are framed and accepted as “passé.” Political silence reigns. Moral independence within educational institutes is being effectively decimated. It is of little surprise that empathy has declined by 40% in college students since 2000.”]
MB: Do you think anti-capitalist activists can strategically utilize liberal foundation funding to develop an anti-hegemonic movement for social change?
CM: No. Absolutely not. Many activists convince themselves this is possible, yet in the end, foundation funding always ends up resulting in self-censorship, understanding that at any given moment the funding can be withdrawn.
Small organizations may be able to gain some successes, yet if they do reach a position of power whereby they can actually influence public perception and ultimately pose a risk to those who maintain dominant power, they will quickly be dropped, isolated or destroyed from within, similar to Gloria Steinem’s work with the CIA that decimated powerful Black feminist groups in the 60s.
Perhaps Andrea Fraser (artist and professor in the art department at the University of California — Los Angeles) states it best in an article that, while focused on the arts, speaks meaning/intent-wise to the environmental “movement”/non-profit industrial complex. In her article 1% Art — Who are the patrons of contemporary art today?, she writes: “Progressive artists, critics and curators face an existential crisis: how can we continue to justify our involvement in this art economy? At minimum, if our only choice is to participate or to abandon the art field entirely, we can stop rationalizing that participation in the name of critical or political art practices or — adding insult to injury — social justice. Any claim that we represent a progressive social force while our activities are directly subsidized by, and benefit from, the engines of inequality can only contribute to the justification of that inequality.
The only true ‘alternative’ today is to recognize our participation in this economy and confront it in an open, direct and immediate way in all of our institutions, including museums and galleries and publications. Despite the radical political rhetoric that abounds in the art world, censorship and self-censorship reign when it comes to confronting our economic conditions, except in marginalized (often self-marginalized) arenas where there is nothing to lose — and little to gain — in speaking truth to power.”
Further, an underlying, perhaps subconscious, yet very real racism (or at least a complete obliviousness to “other”) very quietly hums along beneath the entire system — resulting in the Euro-American dominated environmental “movement” acquiescing to the industrialized capitalist system. Thus the reality of those oppressed and exploited on the receiving end of the system is an inconvenient fact that is ignored at all costs by practically everyone (predominantly the privileged white) within the complex.
MB: You are currently co-writing a book with Gregory Vickrey; could you tell me a little about this work in progress?
CM: In a world of bread and circuses, I call this work the book that no one will want to read, as the environmental movement itself is defunct in a warm cocoon of collective denial — alongside a society that is distracted with irrelevant nonsense. Therefore, I’m not convinced there is any urgency in completing it. I have volumes of information already written — it is a matter of setting aside the time to organize it all and edit it.
In spring to fall I am not efficient in my writing/research as I spend almost all of my time outside in my gardens and with my youngest daughter, who just turned twelve. She is my highest priority. In the winter, I tend to cocoon myself within my lair, so with luck and much discipline, I may complete it this coming winter*. Although Gregory and I write extremely well together, he is over-extended with responsibilities, having successfully saved many tracts of land from development this year. We continue to communicate. He has a great mind, which I respect very much.
MB: Many thanks for speaking to Ceasefire.
[*This interview was conducted by email in July 2012]
I didn’t have to worry about loss of funding. All of it came from my position as a professor at a state college, which provided sabbaticals and travel funds, as well as long summer vacations for research and writing.
However, I wasn’t much appreciated there. My tenure and promotion proceeded fairly fairly because we had a good union. On the other hand, I was demeaned by the American Political Science Association, from which I resigned.