Corporate Spirituality and the New Meritocracy Lie

I’m glad the topic of “corporate spirituality” is getting mainstream media attention, though a short blog post really doesn’t do it justice. Orthodox capitalism, especially now that its market values have colonized our very identities online, is not good for spirituality. It turns the whole effort into a sinister parody of itself:

Recently, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella gave some shocking advice to a young businesswoman who was concerned that her male peers were passing her up for promotions: Don’t question the systemic sexism of corporate America, just trust in “good karma” to get you ahead. While his attitude made waves in the blogosphere, in fact it accurately represents a form of spirituality that is becoming popular in the West. …

Of course, this is just the new-agey equivalent of the same old meritocracy myth that’s been floating around America since at least the 19th century; that in the land of the free, anyone can become rich if they just work hard enough, if they use the right brand of elbow grease.

There’s so much to unpack here. What I really want is an entire book of the history of corporate officers using spirituality to motivate profits. Let’s limit it to the USA, for the theoretical author’s sake. I want a detailed map of the turn from Christian/Puritan values to post-‘60s Eastern-ish pabulum in corporate speech. I suppose it’s worth noting here that Satya Nadella is Indian, but I still think appeals to “karma” are de rigueur for white CEOs.

Corporate spirituality has taken hold of the rank-and-file as well. Meditation, of a pretty rigorous sort, even, is rampant in Silicon Valley companies, but it’s definitely promoted for “productivity” reasons. Actual enlightenment is not profitable in the quarterly earnings report sense.

Van Valkenburgh’s post is also worth reading for its reminder that, thanks to the conspicuous consumption of identity on social media, we can all get a piece of corporate spirituality. “Overall, I am happy that my Facebook friends and yoga moms are finding spiritual enrichment,” Shawn van Valkenburgh writes, but “[e]very religion can get appropriated by the West’s consumerist ideology.”

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