photo: Mat McDermott
Out at the Occupy Wall Street rallies in New York I've seen a number of signs urging the end of corporate personhood, pointing out that corporations aren't really people--even though under United States law they are in fact legal persons. It's a popular meme, and one with which I certainly sympathize. After all, revoking corporate personhood would be a large step towards ending the stinkingly corrupt political and financial system the US has gotten itself into, as well helping end rampant environmental degradation.
But for the moment let's consider a quick thought exercise: If corporations were biological "people", instead of just legal people, how would we other biological people treat them?Psychopathic is the first word that pops to mind -- certainly deeply anti-social, and way beyond what the UK calls an ASBO offense. Corporate behavior isn't just drunk and disorderly, urinating on public benches, or consistently playing loud music annoying the next door neighbors. It's pathological.Corporate people clearly show little regard for either their family (other corporate people) or their relatives (the rest of us) or their neighbors (all the other living creatures on the planet) or their neighborhood (the planet itself). Corporations would be considered severely self-centered, violent people, only concerned about immediate sense gratification and personal gain.
If any of us behaved like that, regularly fighting with family members, physically and verbally abusing relatives, killing off neighbors without a second thought, and then burning down all the buildings on the street, we'd be locked up.
Sometimes they appear to care, occasionally helping an old woman across the street, sweeping up the block, or pitching in at a school fundraiser. But it's only when they realize everyone else is supremely angry at them (though they don't understand why, being unable of understanding others' emotions or even caring that they don't).
At such events, we'd all look at them with suspicion and the more enlightened among us would try to extend compassion to them--clearly something in their upbringing wasn't right and led to these anti-social tendencies.
We'd try to get them help. And if they wouldn't get help willingly, in the worst cases, we'd institutionalize them, for their own safety and the safety to the people around them. Afterwards we'd severely limit their ability to do such harm ever again.
Since the courts think corporations are people, let's start treating them that way.