By Eugène E.

LGBT apostles have been busy in Australia, which has become the latest ideological battleground pitting those who are trying to defend certain values and retain a modicum of normalcy in society against those who believe that the world will be a much better place if humans collectively decide to walk upside down. Same-sex marriage is not yet legal in Australia on the federal level, so the LGBT lobby has been working hard to convince the recalcitrant Aussies to get on with the times and join the merry rainbow-festooned carnival. To give credit where it’s due, that part of Australian society opposed to same-sex marriage has not been voiceless, so the governing administration has had to tread carefully. To that end, the powers that be came up with the idea of a postal survey to be sent out to everybody on the electoral roll to gauge where the citizenry stand on the issue. The survey is voluntary and non-binding, but if the majority of respondents vote in favour of equal marriage, legislators will be prompted to try and grant their imprimatur to same-sex unions. For the Australian opponents of same-sex marriage, it is an uphill battle. They are not just fighting the LGBT lobby; they’re fighting Australia’s corporate world and its parent company, World Inc.

In an earlier blog post that dealt with this topic (“The Dark Side of the Rainbow”, November 2nd), I briefly mentioned the insidiously complementary relationship between the growing influence of Big Business and the LGBT movement in recent decades. Insofar as the removal of restraints is concerned, World Inc. and the LGBT lobby can be said to be politically aligned. This need not be seen as a paradox. Big Business, as I wrote, is libertarian in spirit. Big Business is typically rootless and needs to be so to stay agile: a world with borders implies a world of limits; and Big Business doesn’t like limits, not least because they tend to suggest limits on profits. The same distaste for limits causes Big Business to support hedonism, for this particular lifestyle is very conducive to consumerism. The zest for pleasure, the desire to live for today, the mantra of carpe diem – it’s the stuff the perfect consumer is made of. Financial imprudence is encouraged: fiscally moderate consumers are lousy consumers.

The LGBT lobby is also allergic to limits, not least because they tend to translate into limits on the equality that sexual minorities feel they’re entitled to, regardless of whether it is justified or not. The LGBT movement views limits as an impediment to the normalization and institutionalization of its kind of sexual pathology, and an affront to its raison d’être. Equally, the LGBT movement promotes hedonism, since the opposite of hedonism – moral sobriety – gets in the way of the LGBT doctrine.

In short, the largely apolitical Big Business and the very political LGBT movement have something in common. (This is not to forget that LGBTs are a serious market, and Big Business adores serious markets). No need to be astonished, then, by the fact that the corporate world has been quite active in lending its support to the rainbow cause in Australia, as elsewhere. Employees of the Australian banking leviathan Westpac have received an internal (and apparently misleading in its use of statistics) e-mail encouraging them to vote yes to same-sex marriage – no pressure intended, all very democratic, of course. Westpac’s CEO has also been quite vocal on the issue. Evidently living by the adage that one ought to put his money where his mouth is, the CEO of Qantas, the airline, has pledged to donate a cool million or so of his own money to the campaign. And that’s only what has come to light so far. How much do we not know? What was the extent of the pressure exerted on Australian politicians? How much money has changed hands? What kinds of backroom deals have taken place out of the public eye?

When corporate giants start to weigh in on social issues, you can no longer count on having a healthy debate. Money not only talks; it buys and sways. We’re dealing with multinational enterprises equipped with the resources, expertise and experience to run the most sophisticated marketing campaigns – and influence perceptions. The reach of these corporate giants exceeds the reach of many national governments. It’s not a group you can “outlobby”.

The plot gets decidedly more Orwellian, though. Apple and other technological behemoths have also come out strongly in support of legalizing gay marriage. A company like Apple or Google is not just an ordinary multinational corporation. Its products are more than just household brands: they’re not only indispensable to the daily life of a modern individual the way a fridge or an automobile is, but they also give their architects and creators access to vast reservoirs of confidential information about the products’ users. This is extraordinary power, and regulators should not be asleep at the wheel. Yet asleep they are: in a more alert climate, a company like Apple would have never been permitted to contribute to a debate on a major social issue.

The fact that Apple, a company whose assets are greater than the GDP of Portugal, whose ability to control and manage data is nonpareil, and whose access to and control over the most intimate parts of an individual’s life are unprecedented – the fact that a company of that caliber is allowed to steer public opinion is very disconcerting. More disconcerting still is the fact that there is hardly any willingness to illuminate and question this grotesque corporate meddling in affairs that lie far beyond the scope of any commercial organization.

Multinational corporations have no business getting involved in social issues – and not only on account of the disproportionate power they wield. Multinational corporations are amorphous, rootless, extranational entities with no sense of accountability to anyone except their largest shareholders. As Australia edges closer to legalizing same-sex marriage and thereby securing its place on the Ship of Fools that is contemporary Western civilization, the EU is taking Ireland to court, alleging that Eire has provided some €13 billion in illegal tax benefits to Apple. If the allegations are true, it will hardly be the first time that Apple has been embroiled in tax avoidance controversy. Some corporate citizen.

It will only get worse. To stay ahead of the curve, an Apple or a Google needs to anticipate the user’s thoughts, wishes and desires; the next logical step – and the ultimate goal – is to shape and control the mind of the user. Successful social engineering is just another ambition for the denizens of Silicon Valley. It is not my intention to demonize these corporations. They make excellent products (indeed, yours truly is an avid user of iProducts) – no small feat. But great products do not provide license to influence public debate on social issues, and Big Business should not under any circumstances be allowed to do so, particularly given the kind of client data it can tap into. The intervention of regulatory bodies is desperately needed. But this kind of regulatory oversight requires courageous leadership – a precious commodity at a time when Western countries are ruled by politically impotent, unimaginative pygmies unable to conceive of a future beyond the next election campaign.