Monday, February 28

Every Person Is a Corporation

For-profit corporations, which are a form of institution that currently dominate American government, social life, and culture in virtually every conceivable aspect of their existence, have enjoyed "legal personhood" since the end of the nineteenth century.
As such, corporations are "free and independent" beings. This fictional sovereignty grants them protection by the Fourteenth Amendment's rights to "due process of law" and "equal protection of the laws"--rights originally entrenched in the U.S. Constitution to protect freed slaves, but rarely used to that original effect (16). This fact gives added meaning to Ralph Nader's oft-repeated quip that George W. Bush is essentially a giant corporation disguised as a human being. It also, and for that same reason, invites a corollary claim that I have yet to see stated simply, but which, I would wager, would serve to explain a great deal about the dominant political and social culture of the United States of America. That claim is one whose logic appears to infiltrate every policy that is fashioned by the Bush Administration and can be put into explicit language as follows:

Every person is a for-profit corporation.
Isn't it worth stating this outlandish, impossible assumption in such a simple form, so that we and our fellow citizens who keep it in mind might be less vulnerable to the pernicious consequences of its relentless application? One has to admit that not only is George W. Bush a giant corporation, because all of his policies and most deeply-held beliefs have been pounded down over the years into a rigidly doctrinal obedience to the corporate mission of self-interest and profit-seeking at the great expense of all other designs and values (human, social, environmental, labor, health, etc.), but that, under his watch, and under the increasing corporate-control of U.S. federal, state, and local government over the past forty-odd years, all U.S. citizens have, willy-nilly, and no matter what their political beliefs or political activism, lurched toward corporate personhood, like so many sea-faring travelers who have swayed and tumbled to the lowest end of a wave-rocked ship.[1]

Such thoughts came to mind as I finished reading Joel Bakan's The Corporation, the remarkable 2004 book on which the documentary film of the same name was based.

In discussing "the world's first corporate-sponsored human beings" (see, Bakan concludes with the following words:

The idea that some areas of society and life are too precious, vulnerable, sacred, or important for the public interest to be subject to commercial exploitation seems to be losing its influence. Indeed, the very notion that there is a public interest, a common good that transcends our individual self-interest, is slipping away. Increasingly, we are told, commercial potential is the measure of all value, corporations should be free to exploit anything and anyone for profit, and human beings are creatures of pure self-interest and materialistic desire. For in a world where anything and anyone can be owned, manipulated, and exploited for profit, everything and everyone will eventually be. (138)
Have you ever thought of yourself as a corporation? I invite others to read Bakan's book, or to see the film on which it is based. Both documents, which are very similar in their structure and argument, will allow you to measure just how far participation in American society compels you to conform to this horrific assumption. It will also allow you to see George W. Bush and his Administration less as a well-organized band of ideologues whose selfish interests run contrary to the interests of the American public as a whole--although this description certainly does fit the group nicely--than as a symptom of a much larger shift in American society as it is represented through the gaudy light of its corporate media, and as it seems increasingly to conform to this well-packaged, sick image of itself.

Quotes from Bakan, Joel. The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, 2004).

[1] Consider, by contrast, the deceptive "tide that raises all boats" metaphor, one that is wholly debunked by the actual state of affairs during the booming 90's, in which 26% percent of the U.S. population subsisted on poverty-level wages and "more than 30% of U.S. households [had] a net worth--including homes and investments--of less than $10,000" (142). This and like maritime metaphors need to be subverted, so that they reflect economic reality, and not corporatist propaganda.