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Corporations & Our Collective Shadow: A Conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Martin - Podcast Transcript

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In this blog post, I share the transcript of my recent podcast interview with Dr. Elizabeth Martin to explore the controversial US Supreme Court Decision, Citizens United - through a depth psychology lens.

Introduction by Dr. Deborah Lukovich:

In this episode, we're going to talk about corporations – through a depth psychology lens, of course. You've probably never thought about your relationship to this unnatural entity that through a controversial Supreme Court decision referred to as Citizens United was granted natural and inalienable individual human rights. Rights that once we're not even granted to certain human beings in our country. There are lots of experts out there who have illuminated how this has wreaked havoc in all sorts of ways.

But you know, me, this interview is not about what is consciously known, rather, it is a discussion about what the collective unconscious is trying to make known for its own purpose, which is also unknown. Even if you haven't thought deeply about corporations, you likely have some strong feelings about this man-made entity and quite possibly some specific companies.

Your feelings may reflect a mixture of disdain, appreciation and even hope since corporations exist only because they were created by human beings. They are psychological extensions of human beings. Corporations express, and mirror back, what wants to become conscious, but is not. Corporations can be seen as a collective shadow that absorbs all sorts of projections and their leaders can come to represent those projections or even become swept up in the archetypal energies that are seeking new expression through them and the entities they run.

I never thought about the Citizens United decision as being orchestrated by Hermes the Greek God as Trickster, but after digging into my guest’s research about the landmark Supreme Court opinion, I now see it as a needed wakeup call and warning to a complacent citizenry, which has projected responsibility for maintaining its rights onto what could be considered a father figure.

We often must become separate from a part of ourselves to become more conscious of pieces of ourselves and the historical context. My guest’s research presupposes a kind of unconscious desire to reunite with a part of us, and that this Supreme Court decision is part of that process, prompting a circling back after having gained consciousness of something new.

I think you're going to be even more intrigued about this topic after my interview with Dr. Elizabeth Martin,whose research about this topic has illuminated a possible hidden agenda beneath what for many has felt to be a tragic blow to Democracy.

Elizabeth Martin is a seasoned executive with over two decades experience stewarding organizations and groups toward their strategic operational and financial potential. She is a senior vice president leading strategy and innovation for Optum serve the federal health services business of both Optum and United health group. In this role, Martin works to modernize the American healthcare system, advance quality care, and empower patients to take ownership of their healthcare experience.

Elizabeth is licensed to practice law in both New Mexico and Texas. She is an attorney former CEO of a $430 million managed care company and business consultant specializing in operational management and systems building Elizabeth received her law degree from Boston college, her business degree from Creighton university and a PhD in cultural psychology from Pacifica graduate Institute.

As you can see, Elizabeth has been intimately involved with corporate entities and her research makes her a perfect voice on how to explore, gain insights and integrate the unconscious aspects of our relationship with the corporate structure that are seeking consciousness. Oh, and Elizabeth is another one of my PhD buddies. We were in the same cohort at Pacifica to secure our master's PhD degrees in depth psychology.

So, let's get started. Welcome Elizabeth, how is your summer going or your week or your day or what's going on in your life right now?

Dr. Elizabeth Martin:

Oh, Deb, it's so great to see you.

Dr. Deborah Lukovich:

So, the first question is meant to ease people into looking at this topic through a depth lens. As depth psychologists, we are often amused with how psyche orchestrates events meant to lead us towards consciousness. I think your background interesting. Could you share a little bit of your story and how you were called to Pacifica Graduate Institute and what prompted you to research the Citizens United Supreme Court opinion as a psychological image to explore.

Dr. Elizabeth Martin:

It's a great question. I wouldn't necessarily put amusement and Citizens United in the same sentence, but we'll see where we get at the end of this call.

I think I've always been moved by curiosity in life. Why do people do what they do? Why do I do what I do sometimes? I think to understand that I went into business, which is a microcosm of the greater macrocosm of culture and power imbalance. Business is an interesting petri dish in which you can really learn different aspects of life and how people show up. And from there, I sort of rounded out that circle in studying law, and that turned into curiosity in how people relate, how people argue, how people compromise.

Then all of that got packaged in an interesting place. In the late nineties, I suffered a catastrophic brain aneurysm, which I wouldn't recommend, but what was so critical about that is I think I was book smart in understanding curiosity in how people work, but I hadn't quite figured out a way to feel my way into those experiences. So, it took that event to put my brain on hold for a bit and feel my way into all those spaces in between of how people show up. And because of that, a whole new landscape opened, and it needed a new language. It was something that I didn't have, I hadn't learned in school. And so ultimately it led me to Pacifica. I was seeking a new language to describe what I was feeling and what I was seeing.

And I think the words of Carl Jung and depth psychology in general and Pacifica and where we met, it was the final piece that brought it all together. So, what does it have to do with Citizens United <laugh>? Well, I think there's the opinion of Citizens United is the Supreme court opinion, but the image of it, what it encompasses, what motivates us as citizens, as consumers with our jobs, power differentials, our nation, our environment, all of that is baked into that opinion. It seemed to me an ideal image of where to merge, not only my innate curiosity for how people are in the world and who they are in the world, but also how we come together. And then this blend of depth psychological language, it's all in that opinion.

Dr. Deborah Lukovich:

Oh, I love it! Many of us found Carl Jung at a moment of crisis. He came to me via a mind-blowing synchronicity during a time when what I was unconsciously repressing about my marriage was starting to sneak into awareness. For many, Carl Jung just shows up suddenly, right when you need him and the language of depth psychology to make sense of what the mind can longer make sense.

You point to something that Carl Jung is all about, a balance between the masculine and the feminine. So, and especially as women, we have really learned how to be quite good at the masculine, the intellect, linear thinking, goal orientation and that sort of thing. So, you know, there hasn't been generally access to the language of the feminine. It's not straightforward, it's not direct, rather full of paradox, meaning two things can be true when it doesn’t make sense to the mid. Paradox is felt in the body. And it's mysterious. I love that!

I love how you worked that in and how your experience is a living example of Carl Jung's theory. This reminds me back, in our second quarter, it’s a funny story, but illustrates the notion of what it means to follow the energy. You might remember that during a residential visit, I felt like I came out of the closet during Susan Rowland's class when we were sharing ideas for papers and. I was shy and I was so embarrassed to say that I wanted to write about what I called the Fifty Shades of Gray phenomenon. It was the range of emotional reactions that was intriguing to me, not really the story. I had never even read the book until I listened to people talk about it and after the first film version.

I’m sitting there embarrassed, and Dr. Rowland says, “Well, I suggest you follow the energy,” and sure enough, there were things that wanted to become conscious.It's like psyche tries to seduce us in a way or even trick us into following something. But we don't know why, which of course makes perfect sense because what wants to become conscious is unknown to us. I love how it was the emotional reactions that were what tipped you off. Click here to download a copy of my paper.

First, to ease my listeners into the depth journey that we're going to take, I think it would be good for you to offer a little education about the opinion that we refer to as Citizens United and why it is perceived to be so destructive to Democracy. And what I was really interested is this concept of incongruencies. Then maybe a little historical context related to the corporate structure, because I was also intrigued by so much of what I read in your dissertation, but especially knowing that my intuition has been right that it seems there used to be this sort of sense of community agreement about the purpose and the expectations, and benefits that were to be achieved via this corporate entity.

Dr. Elizabeth Martin:

Sure. As I said, Citizens United in some ways is a cultural gift that keeps on giving and you're absolutely right. The charge, the reaction to the opinion is what tells me there's a lot to unpack there.

So, Citizens United is a 2010 United States Supreme court opinion and what it did is grant inalienable constitutional protections to corporations, meaning it made corporations US citizens for all intents and purposes, except for the right to vote. It also determined that their spending corporate spending was a form of free speech to be protected under the federal constitution as a natural right. One of the first amendment rights. And when I say natural, right, that means human, right. These types of inalienable protections are present in all our founding documents as part of our nation, rights, that are typically endowed by one's creator at birth and relatively free of human interference and manipulation.

So, on the surface sort of when you take that in it's really quite shocking. Like many of the nation's founding principles, the Citizens United opinion is a classic example of: It says one thing – I'm holding up the First Amendment, right, for free speech – but it means something completely different.

The decision upholds our fundamental First Amendment, but it does so by actually diluting that right. The opinion offers the right to free speech to inanimate corporations, protecting their speech. Even though they have no physical voice making them citizens, even though they're not human. The opinion endows an unnatural entity with natural rights, even though the corporate entity was never naturally born. This is what I mean about incongruencies. It's like, well, what is going on? But the opportunity with an incongruence like that – when you say something different than what you mean – is that it opens the possibility of other perspectives to come in.

And this is where I think the history of corporations is really interesting. The end of the opinion pictures that corporations are citizens with the right to free speech. It's actually not too far off than how they started 2000 years ago in Rome, which is where the first corporation was invented. They were created as extensions of human beings. They were imaged and shaped and created to specifically serve human and community need at scale, to deliver food, to deliver water. And because of that, they were limited in number closely regulated. They had to prove that they were in the public interest. Those were fundamental requirements. So, corporations were created by humans in the human image and fashioned as tools or extensions for us to be accountable to our greatest needs. It's an interesting history and what ultimately the opinion ends up imaging at the end of it.

Dr. Deborah Lukovich:

Wow! Uh, yeah, I never knew that. And as you say, it also confirms what you're saying. We have lost touch with that, that we, as people, human beings created this entity to better serve ourselves. And it has been turned on its head where it feels more like we are serving the corporation. I think this is valuable for people to know. This is not something I learned in business school. I went to business school, I studied finance. I never learned about the origin of the corporate structure. Thank you so much already!

One of the four lenses you used to explore this topic was archetypal psychology, which was founded by archetypal psychologist James Hillman. I was never personally a natural when it came to having a mythic sensibility but over time, my capacity to call on a myth to explore the material that emerges from my unconscious is growing.

Could you talk about how the Promethean Myth helps us reorient our current view of corporations, beginning with a high-level overview of the myth and how you worked with it to explore our relationship with corporations. And then, I love how you also touch on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, which that for sure is going to be more familiar for people. My listeners are going to get a crash course in how to work with symbols and metaphors and how to integrate it into considering what this opinion really means for us. Because I think many of us are struggling right now with what to do with this situation. We do need a new way to look at things.

Dr. Elizabeth Martin:

Sure. Let me explain it this way. And it's probably because I am a lawyer that it was interesting how Prometheus came into my thinking part, as well as Frankenstein. I mean, if anybody's watched a legal show on television, we know that this concept called precedent matters, that those things that happened before actually inform what's currently going on today. So as a lawyer, I take an oath to be faithful to the letter and spirit of the law in all my affairs. So, if I'm going to look at a Supreme Court opinion, such as Citizens United, it means I also must look at other Supreme Court opinions that came before Citizens United, because past is prologue. How did those cases inform it? That's what we mean by precedent as a depth psychologist, our work is not all that different. It's just that we use precedent that stretches back to the beginning of time, back to millennia, looking at those ideas and images and patterns in human experience, the psyche that proceeds, influences, and shapes our existence.

And this is where the Promethean myth and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein comes in. These are classic stories, but they are also the psychological precedent of Citizens United. Both stories take something Divine – Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans; Frankenstein co-ops from lightning, the gift of life, the spark of the Divine and creates a creature. So, both take something that is considered Divine and bestow it to those unworthy. This is the same genetic composition that's in Citizens United. The corporation takes an inalienable right, a natural right endowed to every human, by virtue of their birth and hands it over to corporations, entities that some of us would perceive as unworthy, but the connections don't stop there.

The fire that Prometheus steals from the gods is considered in myth to be the basis of all human creativity and the myths. Ultimately, whether it's James Hillman or anyone who takes myths seriously, these were stories that reflected externally the internal dynamics going on in our human psychology. These stories, there's something about Prometheus stealing this spark of the Divine and giving it to non-gods, to humans. And that spark of the Divine, we might call that in music, a muse or artwork, all the way to innovation that a corporation creates, right?

Humans might create these things, but the idea comes from some other worldly place. This is the lesson of Prometheus and Frankenstein, which are the lessons of Citizens United. And if we forget that our heritage is where we get this creativity, what we do with it, how we honor it and how we use it is critical. In fact, you could say, this is where a lot of the problems start, when we don't recognize that it's not about us individually and our self-interest, but it is in service to something greater,

which is what these original corporations were created to be, in service to the collective.

Dr. Deborah Lukovich:

Oh my gosh, I love it! So not to be a spoiler, but do these myths also give us some direction in what to do now, where we are after a decade of fallout from this decision. Do the myths suggest how to explore, approach, look at it. Is there a lesson in those myths that can point us in the right direction?

Dr. Elizabeth Martin:

That's, that's the good news. You know, the myths in some ways are agnostic. They can point you to what works and then what doesn't work. You and I had a dialogue about Henry Ford. This is a perfect example because I think you had mentioned that Henry Ford was an individual, love him or dislike him, his original idea of corporations is that all profits that a company earns get channeled back into providing housing, clothing, childcare support for its workers, for the community. Well, low and behold, his shareholders had something else to say about that. His shareholders primarily being Dodge, the Dodge brothers, who were shareholders of the Henry Ford corporation. And in 1919, they sued Henry Ford. And they said your responsibility comes to us as shareholders, not your employees.

That was a precedent to Citizens United, but in some ways, Henry Ford got it, I mean, he believed in a manner quite like how Rome crafted these entities, that if they served the broader good, rather than the broader harm, we were all better off because they were created as extensions by with, and for us. But as with everything human, that represents both a blessing and a curse. Great innovations often do get corrupted by our self-interest and power. And they're not corporate interests, they're human interests.

Dr. Deborah Lukovich:

Right. Oh, I didn't know that whole story. I just latched onto this thing that I heard about Henry Ford. I'm like, yes. I went to business school, a Jesuit university. It was 1991 when I graduated, and then I went off to become a financial planner. It was about four years later, and I had hired an intern from my alma mater. And whoa! had business school changed. I literally argued with this college student, explaining that corporations exist to create a product or service that people need, they treat workers well to make that product high quality, and when that goes well, shareholders end up making money.