Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, a near-governmental corporation which seems to control facets of society wherever the character looks.
So in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring the DHARMA initiative
The Department of Heuristics and Research on Material Applications Initiative was a corporate-run project in the Lost story world.
As the Oceanic 815 survivors explore the island, and begin to unravel its secrets, they find that much of what’s going on involves this secretive organization, and the nature of the organization and its goals on the island become a big part of the mystery that kept viewers coming back to the story week after week.
The DHARMA initiative is not a commercial entity itself. It is funded, and to an extent, controlled by the Hanso Foundation, which is a commercial entity, and seems to be involved in smuggling, extortion, and other criminal activity. Not much is ever revealed about this company in the Lost canon, but we know that for whatever reason they chose to fund DHARMA.
The initiative was founded by a team of scientists from MIT, who wanted to find a way to save humanity by altering the The Valenzetti Equation. In the lore of the show, Valenzetti was a talented mathematician, and apparent psychohistorian. He developed a formula which could be used to determine the approximate time left to humanity before it self-destructed, by combining statistics and other figures from various other fields of research.
Of course, none of the actual math is revealed to the audience, as it would just be a bunch of technobabble anyhow, but it is revealed that ‘the numbers’, a sequence of numbers which come up multiple times throughout the show, are important to the calculations.
It’s decided that the only way to figure out how to increase these numbers, and extend the life of humanity is to establish a secret research facility at which the best minds can work in peace. They find ‘the island’, which is apparently already covered in strange anomalies, and has a long and troubled history already, including a ‘native’ population of survivors of various shipwrecks over the ages.
The scientists build their facility on this island, establishing as many as 14 different research stations in various fields of science, including several fields of fringe science, including Parapsychology, and Utopian Social Construction, among others, some perhaps unrevealed by the show as only 10 out of 14 divisions of the initiative were ever shown in the canon.
Unfortunately everything the Initiative discovers is destroyed years before Oceanic 815 crashes on the Island.
Whatever conclusions they may have come to, whatever advances they may have made is lost, when one of the members joins the natives, and helps them to overthrow the Initiative, killing everyone at the facility, and taking over the land for themselves, complete with modern buildings and furnishings, and a path to travel to and from the island safely.
As other corporate entities in fiction, DHARMA is a symbol of greed, but it is a greed of a different kind.
DHARMA does not want money, they want knowledge. They seek to unlock dangerous secrets of the universe, ones which seem mystical and magical, and are revealed finally to be associated with a pair of seeming deities who have long inhabited the island. They are attempting to "play God," and just as Doctor Moreau, are destroyed in the end by the beasts they tried to civilize.
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at Umbrella Corporation. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.