The “why business” question was one I was asked a lot during my undergrad, largely by people who had known me for some years.
And it’s true that I’m a bit of an odd figure in the MBA classroom these days. Middle aged, fat, no makeup, jeans and t-shirts. A bandanna tied over unkempt hair. I am very liberal, staunchly in favor of regulating businesses, in favor of taxing businesses and the wealthy. I am an environmentalist. I am a feminist, and I talk about racialized violence and the oppression of the disabled and the poor. I have zero interest in an executive position; in fact becoming an executive sounds boring in the extreme to me.
I am an artist, I am a writer, I am a creative worker. I am angry and sad and I’m a class clown type. I am poor. I am a person with a disability. I am queer, I am an Emma Goldman fan.
One person, a checker at a nearby grocery store, gave me a sidelong glance. “Taking the system down from the inside. I like it.”
He wasn’t far from the truth, honestly. But the idea of “taking the system down” feels a bit far-fetched to me.
I have come to believe that commerce and enterprise are baked into human behavior. Business would continue to exist in some form even if we were to belly-flop into a post-scarcity economic system. And it should! Business is good.
I started my college career as an art student, and promptly dropped out. When I went back to school as an adult, I decided to major in Business Administration because I thought that what was missing from the arts curriculum was business acumen. After all, most people who enter the arts as a profession is at some level going to have to be a business person; there are contracts to manage and rights to manage and taxes to pay. We end up working for ourselves at some point.
Also, I am a novelist with close to zero interest in working with the big five publishers; I was likely going to have to figure this out on my own.
So I went into business. Once immersed in the business curriculum, I fell in love.
I knew I wanted a master’s degree after graduation. I asked my English department advisor (I minored in creative writing) whether I should pursue an MFA, and her response was, “Nah, you already know how to write.”
So I applied to an MBA program.
I questioned whether this was the right course of action, and I still do. Am I too weird to get a reasonable job in this field? Will I have to femme it up just to get by? Will I have to move away from my adopted hometown?
But sometimes we must move as the spirit bids.
I opened my essay on my MBA application with a quote from Andy Warhol:
“Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business. They’d say ‘money is bad’ and ‘working is bad’. But making money is art, and working is art – and good business is the best art.”
Andy Warhol’s philosophy of mass producing art lead to a democratization of artwork, allowing any of us to have art in our homes, in our lives. It turned art into something practical and absurd at the same time.
I was accepted into the program.
My view of business is that it’s intrinsic to the human condition. Commerce has been a part of our daily lives for as long as we have record, and there’s evidence to argue that commerce structured our societies even before history’s record begins.
Having a hand in business means having a hand in societal structures, at least as much as being in politics or mass media. The fact of the matter is that if people like me eschew the study and practice of business as “evil” and “inherently corrupt,” we are giving up the chance to have a hand in shaping society. By giving that up, we are necessarily putting that power in the hands of those who do not think like we do. Who do not see business as an opportunity to shape a better society. Who do not consider the shape and well-being of our society at all.
So in a way, I guess I see it as my responsibility, especially seeing as so many of my peers have zero interest in the whole thing. We are guilty of allowing the already wealthy and corrupt into positions of incredible power by abdicating our voices in business. Sound like a familiar story? Because we’ve done it in politics, too. By believing the American political system to be inherently evil, we have handed it over to the people most likely to use it for their own ends.
This doesn’t mean I’ll take the business world by storm. I have no interest in running a billion dollar company or becoming a figure on the national stage, even if the national stage would have my weird ass on it at all.
But we can use these skills on the small scale, bettering our own communities, opposing businesses that aren’t in keeping with the well-being of our citizens and fostering programs that leave us all better off.