Some things that it might surprise you to discover don’t exist in the material world:

Here is a list of things that it might surprise you to discover don’t exist in the material world:

  • Countries
  • Businesses
  • Corporations
  • Institutions
  • Laws

All these things are abstract legal entities that don’t actually exist in the material world. Rather than physical objects or things they are merely concepts invented by human beings and linked to a set of rules and codes of human behaviour related to power and that are enforced ultimately by brute force by the strong over the weak.

Mountains, rivers and seas exist in the material world. People, animals and plants exist in the material world. Buildings exist in the material world, as does furniture, machinery and equipment (like guns and tanks for example), but an institution like ‘the army’ doesn’t exist because it is only an idea created by human beings – it only exists as an idea in human minds.

Even documents of incorporation that apparantly bring many businesses or institutions into existence, only exist as pieces of paper. A scientific analysis of the pieces of paper would reveal only their chemical make-up, perhaps how they were made and that the paper had scrawls of liquid drawn onto it some time after it was first made.

The writing on the documents, the intellectual conceptual content of the documents, the thing that gives the documents significant meaning to us, has no material manifestation other than the scrawls of ink on the paper. We know, if we can decipher the scrawls, that they are a code invented by human beings to record and communicate human ideas to each other across time and space; i.e. the scrawls of ink on the paper are coded representations of thoughts that otherwise originated in and only exist in human minds.

Perhaps to some the idea that countries and businesses ‘don’t exist’ in the material world will seem ridiculous. But to a rat or a mouse, or a bear or a reindeer, national borders simply don’t exist, these creatures just wander where their needs and instincts take them oblivious to human abstract constructs like ‘borders’. Unless there is a physical fence a border is simply a line on a map, i.e. an abstract representation of human power relationships.

Similarly, you may protest, how can businesses not exist in the material world? Surely almost everything is made by businesses, and sold by businesses, transported by businesses and serviced by businesses? How can they not exist in the material world? Well, have you ever tried to find a business? And I don’t mean find the headquarters or a particular outlet or branch; they are simply buildings, often built for a different purpose, that are temporarily occupied by ‘the business’. No, I mean think about it, how could you ever find ‘a business’? Well you couldn’t could you? B’ecause it doesn’t exist in the material world.

But even if this is true Chris, I hear you cry, then so what? Well, this is an important idea because we are constantly told that ‘businesses create wealth’, that ‘businesses create growth’, that ‘businesses innovate’, that ‘businesses react to the economic climate’ and so on and so on. But as I have already suggested businesses don’t exist so they can’t and don’t ‘do’ anything. No, it is not ‘businesses’ that create wealth it is people; it is not businesses who react to the economic climate it is people who react; businesses don’t innovate or downsize or rebrand or restructure or any thing else! Businesses don’t ‘do’ anything and people do everything, the good and the bad, the kind and the selfish, the greedy and the negligent, it is people who ‘do’ these things and only people.

Schools and Universities don’t educate young people; universities don’t exist in the material world, they don’t ‘do’ anything. It is people who educate young people, people who organise curriculum and people who charge fees.

Hospitals don’t care for the sick; hospitals don’t ‘do’ anything. It is people who order the bandages and clean the floors and care for their fellow men and women, who wipe their arses and clear up their sick… people, not institutions or corporations, people.

So the next time you are given an order by your employer because it is ‘the company’ or ‘the institutions’ policy, remember that what this actually means is that a person or a group of people have given this order, not an abstract entity or a force of nature that no one can control, but a group of real, specific individuals who can be named and identified, have decided they want things done this way.

And the next time you hear a politician banging on about how ‘business’ will save the world remember ‘business’ won’t ‘do’ anything but people might if we give them a chance.




About I Am Not A Number

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders. In 2008 he was appointed as the Senior Lecturer in Recorded Media in the School Of Music & Performing Arts at Bath Spa University. He currently presents, Agitpop, a pop & politics radio discussion programme on North Cotswold Community Radio He is currently the Communications Officer for UCU at Bath Spa University and a UCU SW Regional Rep at SWTUC.
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