EMERGENCE OF CORPORATE AGGRESSION
In an economy in which a planning period of a mere three months can be described as the "short term," and the "long term" may not exceed a year or two, corporate leadership can perceive a threat to their job security on an ongoing basis. To cope with the pressures of time, the metaphor of war is often applied to describe the mode of corporate operations.48 Murphy observed that "As a matter of social practice, the reality of conflict resolution in the United States today is largely a violent one.49 In the last two decades in particular, Americans have demonstrated an increased reliance on violence as a method of resolving conflict. This is true not only in terms of military intervention in political crises, but—perhaps especially—in terms of . . . the reality of everyday life." Today, expediency and efficiency are typical and universal measures of effectiveness and success. Davis and Meyer described how three factors, speed, connectivity, and intangibles, drive the increasing rate of change in the economy.50 In a fast-changing milieu, where time is deemed to be a scarce resource, the pressure of expediency and efficiency do not allow time for the acquisition of knowledge, education of those involved or affected, or application of wisdom. The language deployed by corporations when communicating about strategic issues is often one of linguistic violence, wherein the message is often twisted to perpetuate unjust influence over stakeholders. For example, the description of a product may overemphasize its positive functional qualities, and mask the unwanted or even harmful effects of its use. Consider the case of toothpastes. They often use abrasive materials to scrub plaque off the teeth. Softened silica, chalk, and baking soda are some of the substances used for this purpose, often in combination. However, during the 20th century, the addition of pumice to the toothpaste was not unknown. Dental products that used pumice would promise white teeth and "sex appeal" to the user, without reference to the harm done to teeth through the loss of dental enamel.51
Bureaucratic organizations are designed to deal with change with maximum efficiency, and systems are designed to overcome delays. The human fallibility of the individual is overcome through dehumanized processes. The metaphor of war describes competition as the enemy. The implications for corporate communications, in terms of its mode and content, are profound. Dehumanization can lead to aggressiveness.52 Aggressiveness occurs "because dehumanization makes the universal norm against harming other human beings seem irrelevant. If the 'other' is less than human, the norm does not apply."53 Coercive strategies are frequently implemented to bring about desired outcomes even as corporations take pains to articulate and communicate their visions of the future and their missions within society. Corporations seek to control and manipulate, or at least influence, the cognitive domain of their stakeholders so as to enhance their image and be deemed reputable as quickly as possible.54 However, there remains a gap between corporate rhetoric and the reality of executive behavior. The gap generates skepticism and distrust by consumers toward the corporations. This causes much of the corporate effort to boost reputation to become counterproductive.55 The recent corporate scandals mentioned earlier attest to the continued and widespread lack of top management commitment and communication skills as major challenges to corporate social responsibility.
In an adversarial mode of interaction, corporations have an advantage over consumers. Vendel0 suggested that in the emerging knowledge economy, the evaluation of product quality prior to its purchase is vague and partial.56 He cites software companies, investment bankers, and management consultants as examples wherein the significance of reputation derives from the fact that it is difficult for customers to observe or evaluate the quality of products before purchase since production takes place only after purchase. He explains that "There is . . . asymmetry in information between customers and software companies concerning the actual expertise possessed by the software companies' employees. Customers, thus, have imperfect information about software companies' abilities to handle and fashion the information technology so that it fulfills their information-processing needs." With the stakeholders already at a disadvantage, corporate advertisement is often viewed as a coercive and sometimes even violent form of persuasion designed to promote the objectives of the corporation. The objective of its rhetoric seems designed to overcome resistance by consumers or other stakeholders. Impersonal and anonymous, it promotes bureaucratic predictability.57 Yet it is expected that in the marketplace, as in any public realm, one "shares words and deeds, thus contributing [one's] share of action and thought to the fabric of human affairs . . . where issues are decided in a way worthy of free [people]: by persuasion and words, not by violence."58