Corporate personhood

“You’ve got to stop thinking about this stuff all the time,” said Sekhnet just now with great concern.   Living on the dark side, and marinating in it this way, takes its toll.   A ticket to the madhouse.  Say you are shining a light into the darkness and a friend may from time to time cluck sympathetically about something you illuminate.  It is still a ticket to the madhouse, I realize that.

This will not be a history of corporate personhood in American law.  We can condense that history to its essence by outlining how corporations acquired more personal rights than most American citizens.   After the Civil War, which is still being waged by sometimes powerful people we benignly call racists today (though there are, of course, some very fine racists, the finest racists), Congress forced the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments down the throats of the militarily defeated Confederacy [1].  Forced to ratify these amendments in order to receive federal funds to repair their decimated infrastructures, the former slave states signed on, but bitterly, and determined not to be enslaved by these punitive laws.   

The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery, “involuntary servitude”, except, coyly and significantly, as punishment for certain crimes.  The 14th Amendment ensured that no state denied citizens the full rights of American citizenship.  The 15th extended the franchise to black men, though it would be almost a hundred years until a federal law was passed, the famous Voting Rights Act, so that black people could actually cast ballots.

The 14th Amendment was used, mostly unsuccessfully, by former slaves being fucked over by repressive state laws.  The Amendment’s scope was severely restricted by a series of Supreme Court cases in the decade immediately after its ratification.   In its intended role as a civil rights remedy, the 14th Amendment was effectively nullified for almost a century.   Unless, of course, some state interfered with your right to use a navigable interstate waterway.  I know of no case brought for that infringement.  There were few remaining causes of action for individuals under the unappealably reinterpreted 14th Amendment.  

Of the hundreds of cases brought under the 14th Amendment in its first fifty years, a few dozen were complaints of discrimination against black citizens.  They rarely brought any good result, because the Court had severely restricted application of the 14th Amendment almost immediately.   The bulk of the 14th Amendment cases were brought by clever lawyers for corporations, aggrieved “persons” for purposes of the 14th Amendment, deprived of the human rights of citizenship that were guaranteed to all Americans by the Amendment.   As the families of lynching victims found no relief in federal courts, corporate “persons” won a series of important cases, until we got to where we are today.

Bill Moyers said it all very succinctly a few years ago.  “I’ll believe corporations are people when the state of Texas puts one to death.”   These bulletproof legally created persons, many of them too big to regulate, jail, not bail out with taxpayer funds when they are in financial trouble, etc. do not get the kind of power they do by not being willing to break a few heads when necessary.  We know what kind of person the corporate person is: a psychopath.   Like sharks they have only one imperative: to move forward and eat.  

Actually, that is unfair to sharks.  They are only swimming in the ocean God gave them, doing what nature provides, occupying their place in the food chain, trying their best to survive. [2]   Corporations, by contrast, have created the legal ocean they swim in, made nature itself conform to their desires.   Their desire is only one two-part thing: profits and power.

Why rattle on about this, belaboring the obvious?   Corporations make our laws, laws that protect business interests, and the sacred feelings of these lawyer-made “persons”, above the interests of the ordinary human citizens.   It is not only in America, corporations are now global and have no particular allegiance to any state or nation.  Yeah, yeah, we know all that, but it’s the only game in town, why go on and on about it?  Because of how it shapes the world we live in, I suppose.

Advertising is essentially propaganda, one-sided, persuasive mass communication to advance a worldview, in the case of advertising, a product.  Advertising is commercial propaganda that shapes our values.  Living in a culture where advertising is ubiquitous and unavoidable it is easy to see this relentless influence machine as part of nature.  It is not part of human nature, any more than the occasional mass murder is just part of the human condition.   The irresistible urge to grab a pitchfork, or a torch, and head out to the lynching — just human nature, regrettable as it also is.  Corporate personhood is just some gigantic force acting on all of us that we are unable to do much about, outside of, hopefully, profiting by investments in the most successful ones, if we have the money.  Better to think of other things, if we can.

So, again, why am I kvetching about corporations today?  Because more and more interpersonal human interaction is now based on the corporate/psychopath model. Never apologize, justify, shift the conversation.  Don’t admit wrongdoing of any kind, counterattack.   It’s not truly a lie if it is effective in advancing your cause.   Bad shit happens, nobody’s fault, even if it is done in our name, with our money.   There are two sides to every story, equally valid, except that your side is irrelevant bullshit.    All men are created equal.  Free market.  They hate our freedom.  Freedom is on the march.   

Natalie Portman, a dual American-Israeli citizen, recently turned down an invitation from the state of Israel for a prestigious award with a $2,000,000 check attached.  That’s four MacArthur  genius grants, if my math is correct.   She said, through her spokesperson, that she could not accept an award from Netanyahu’s government.  That government is aggressively  conducting an endless and often brutal occupation of Palestinian territory, the brutality has escalated in recent months to the Israeli army’s ongoing shooting of unarmed civilians in Gaza.     

Portman’s principled stand has provoked outrage among the loudest official voices of American Jewry .  We jerk our knees, instead of engaging in honest discussions about complicated, and horrific, issues of human rights, decency, basic fairness.  This clamp-down on real debate is the corporate mode.  Portman, say influential American Jewish public relations firms, is an anti-Semite.  You’re with us or against us.  Black or White.  Jew or Anti-Semite.

Every psychopath in the world can relate to this formulation.   Psycopathy 101.  It’s our way or the fucking highway, asshole.   America right or wrong, kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out.  

Simple is better, we feel.  There is so much incredibly complicated injustice and horror in the world today that we simply can’t expend emotion on too much of it.  Anything that doesn’t touch us directly we are usually glad to exclude from our universe of moral worries.    That Palestinian teenager shot in the head by an Israeli sniper recently, the long shot caught on camera, along with the hooting of the sniper’s colleagues, impressed by his amazing shot?  Maybe the boy shouldn’t have been so fucking infuriated at the anti-occupation protest earlier that day.  OK?  Good enough for most of the world, sad to say.

While I was writing this I had a call from a 212 area code.  The woman identified herself as working for the corporation that provides my health insurance.  For security purposes, she said, she needed my phone number.  I told her it was the same number she had just dialed.  She called me Eeloit instead of Eliot, suggesting that she was calling from a country where nobody is named Eliot.   She informed me that she could not continue the conversation unless I gave her my number.  She acknowledged that I had every right not to give the number and told me I could call back to find out why they were calling.

A great weariness falls over me as I try to tell this little anecdote as quickly as possible.   To save myself the hassle of being on hold while they valued me as a customer,  I gave her the number she already had, barked out my date of birth.

 “Thank you for that, Eeloit.  The reason we are calling, Eeloit, is to confirm the address we have for you.  Your last invoice was returned to us by the Post Office as undeliverable.”

Umar, you fucking piece of shit, was my first thought.  Umar is the gratingly polite supervisor of my local post office, a man offended that a customer would complain about a properly stamped business mailer being returned to him.  It could have been Umar, on his way to an early shift, leaning on my buzzer at 5:30 a.m. the other day.  Or, like the insurance invoice sent to me and returned to sender, it could have simply been random stupid stuff that happens in our random world.  

Whatever the case, the nice woman who called me from Hyderabad said she’d be unable to send me the returned invoice, in it’s marked envelope, so that I could make a formal complaint to the federal postal inspector about the interference with my mail delivery.  She understood why I’d want it investigated, but, unfortunately, Eeloit, we cannot contact the mail department, they are the ones who would have received the returned bill and there is no way to contact them.  I am only calling to inform you that your invoice was returned to us.

Even if you live a comfortable middle class life in America, there are many frustrations, of course.  These frustrations increase the lower you are on the income scale.  If you are well-to-do you will still sit in brutal traffic, even if you are in a comfortable car with a great sound system.  Frustrating as hell, but somehow, it is different from being on public transportation that simply stops dead while you wait in darkness in a tunnel.   After five minutes an announcement comes on. “Thank you for your patience, customers, and suck a big one while we wait for this unexpected train traffic ahead to clear up.  We should be moving shortly.”   It’s hard not to recall, at such regularly occurring moments,  how much money the CEO of this poorly functioning public corporation makes.

 The CEO will talk about all the great improvements they are making to the infrastructure of the greatest mass transit system in the nation.  I guarantee that cocksucker has never spent an endless twenty-five minutes creeping between two local stations because “we are working harder to serve you better.”  His chauffeur uses an app that routes his limo around traffic, I’m quite certain.  If you never need to ride the subway, or do it once in a blue moon, these things will not bother you nearly as much as someone subjected to this daily.  

The same goes for anyone never kicked off a government program by mistake, say health insurance, which can take months to have reinstated.   Hard as hell  to fix those kind of mistakes, though people with insurance through work will never have to deal with them.  Poor people’s lives are famously more stressful, and shorter, than middle class lives, deal with it if you want to live like a fucking monk.  Otherwise, get the job your education and skills qualify you for, make some money, buy a house, and a car, and gold-plated health insurance and shut the fuck up.

“Are you done torturing yourself yet?” Sekhnet calls from the garden [3].  The garden is really coming along out there as Spring seems to finally be springing.   There are buds on the trees, the farm is beginning to come alive again.   She is right, of course, but also– fuck, this is not rocket science I’m doing here.  It seems entirely possible that people can begin to….  

Ah, what the fuck am I talking about?  Along with millions of others I read Jane Mayer’s powerful best seller The Dark Side, which gave excruciating detail about the well-justified, still defended, secret American torture program.  The last word on that was our president saying ” with the best of intentions, we tortured some folks, best to move on”.   Jeremy Scahill’s brilliant best seller Dirty Wars clearly sets out the hellish new paradigm of American power– secretly killing those who might hate our freedom wherever they may be.  The response to Scahill’s expose was a new president universally applauded by the mass media for dropping tons of explosives in some part of the world every time he feels really cornered.

I’m going to change any hearts and minds with these pieces read by a dozen people here and there?

Better to go out to the garden, or on a plane to a beautiful place where I can forget, for a few days, at least, the relentless corporate killing field our world has become.   If you live well enough, you can get yourself to forget that the only thing necessary for evil to flourish is good people doing nothing.  And now, a word from our sponsor.


[1] It is noted by war historians that the Confederacy, whose soldiers fought bravely, usually against larger armies, only lost the war because of the numerical superiority of the Union, and its superior wealth.

[2]  In fact, in the moral contest between sharks and the masters of the earth who named ourselves “wise ape”, the sharks win.  Human commercial fishing outfits routinely catch sharks in nets, cut their fins off, harvest any other salable parts of the mighty fish, and toss them back into the ocean to drown.  Sharks maim and kill a handful of humans every year, in their desire to eat.  Since humans tell the story, sharks emerge as vicious corporate persons, except infinitely more primitive.

[3]  this is a wholly invented bit of dialogue, a paraphrase made under my unofficial poetic license.  OK, Sekhnet?

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