Jun 15, 2014
The Bodhisattva Marshall Plan, Part 2: Eliminate Phony People
by Charles Carreon
They move among us, non-humans without feelings or emotions. Huge, omnipresent entities looming over us, controlling the systems we depend on for survival and identity. Their logos are more familiar to suburban children, and as beloved, as the family pet. For children in particular, immense corporations provide the stability and meanings that support life and condition growth.
Criticism of corporations is emotional and legalistic. It takes no great wit to kindle anti-corporate ire, so flagrant, and ubiquitous are corporate crimes and misdemeanors. And we are now all comfortable with the fact that the legal doctrine of corporate personhood exploded full blown one day like a disgusting boil erupting on the forehead of the Supreme Court, a pustulent mass revealing the uncleanness within. So no need to go into that.
Neither the Court nor Congress will ever move to explode the legal fiction that companies are people, a notion that is so wrongheaded a solution to the question of how to style the status of a non-human entity in litigation that you know that's not why they did it.
They did it so rich people could clone themselves. Because rich people have so much property that they benefit by hiding their ownership. Back in the 1900's, if all the factories, oil fields, railroad cars and company towns that old John D. Rockefeller owned had "Property of John D. Rockefeller," painted all over them, instead of "Standard Oil," human jealousy, provided with that type of fuel, would have exploded in outrage. As it was, with his power and wealth concealed in Standard Oil and its innumerable sub-corporations, the rage could only smolder, and it took government prosecutors to reveal how one man was imposing his vision of life on America. And in that vision, John D. Rockefeller was the smartest, best person to own everything. He would put it all to what the economists call the "highest, best use."
How could one man own everything in sight? Well, when it came to extracting, refining, transporting, wholesaling and retailing petroleum products, he did. He fixed prices, drove other oilmen out of business, and put the nation's productivity under his heel. But when the Department of Justice charged criminal violations of of the Sherman Antitrust Act, did it charge John D. Rockefeller? Was the man behind the scheme convicted for the crimes of monopolization and price "fixing," i.e., gouging the public? No, "Standard Oil" was. How nice, since if John D. had been convicted, he'd have found it most inconvenient to occupy a prison cell for even one afternoon. Whereas his corporate clone, Standard Oil, could easily join Marvin waiting for the collapse of the Milky Way Galaxy at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and endure the 500,000,000 year wait with greater equanimity. Poor Marvin, though mechanical, still has a brain, but Standard Oil, the clone of John D. Rockefeller, has none at all. Corporate law gives to those having property the power to create new legal persons, companies that stalk the earth, pursuing "their own" interests. By this power to create simulacra of human beings, imbued with rights but not susceptible to pain or punishment, the "tail" of money has truly come to wag the "dog" of human existence, and the right to commit profitable crimes with impunity is now the law of the land.
Ironically, once the people who created mega-corporations lose their place on this earth due to the inevitable process by which human bodies turn from walking, talking, living beings into rotting piles of ordure, their corporate creations live on by the power of the accumulated wealth that they "possess." These non-humans are essentially unguided, once launched into existence with no mind or sense, merely the mechanism for accomplishing whatever the greed algorithm describes as the pursuit of profit. Individual humans latch on to the lumbering beasts as best they can, seeking roles as oilers, mechanics, maintenance drones, while elites vie for positions in the brains of the beast.
When a beast seems likely to topple, like General Motors, or the entire banking sector, government leaders become more alarmed than they were when they learned that Kennedy was dead, that Nixon was a crook, or that Reagan was demented. All those things can be dealt with. But the collapse of a major corporate giant? The heavens will fall! Who will save us, if not the great gods of non-existent corporate Olympus? Hands are wrung, the government coffers are squeezed for the last drop of funding to pump precious billions into the corporate veins, because Daddy is on his deathbead! Those who save a corporate giant from death, as Bush II saved the banks and Obama claims to have saved GM, receive the true honor of the nation -- massive campaign contributions.
Day in, day out, the TV, radio, papers and Internet remind us -- all good comes from the abstract logos, all good people serve the corporati, and the greatest of all humans are the CEOs, the "job-creators," as their worshippers have named them. Leave aside that corporate profits always rise when jobs are cut, the corporati celebrate their faux creativity, talking from all sides of their mouths about how they have brought us cultural advances that make us truly modern, and render the discovery of fire inconsequential. But modernity is a trope that is constantly recycled in the mechanized world of continuous overproduction, and nothing is so modern as the latest retro style. Anyone who thinks that the corporati are providing us with anything new would have been impressed by the vastness of Mussolini's army, that marched 'round and 'round the city of Rome, and past the reviewing stand again and again, until at last Il Duce was satisfied that the world was duly impressed with his martial display.
The only cachet comes from bigness. To be small, individual, alone, is sad, pathetic, flirting with nonexistence. In our brief, firefly existence, we cling for constancy to the logos that have been there for us forever -- Coca Cola, GM, Chase, Starbucks, Safeway, WalMart. Corporations produce sweet drinks, soft foods, shiny cars, glowing screens with animated characters, and everything else in your whole life. Or so they say.
Actually, corporations do nothing. Coca Cola never handed you the change when you bought a coke. McDonalds never asked if you wanted to supersize that. Avis didn't try harder, and even though Hertz was #1, it didn't know it. Corporations are phony people. They don't exist. It's a mass hallucination. Like the Matrix. Find me a corporation, grab one by the balls, squeeze them 'til they burst. Never happen. Corporations have no balls. And yet, the corporate managers have our balls in a box, because we humans foolishly participate in this ridiculous charade, and agree that when people join their efforts together, and file some papers with their company name, henceforth that name becomes a person. Meanwhile, the people running the company become anonymous and act with impunity. That's a recipe for social self-destruction, as action without consequence becomes the norm, and anyone who commits a crime without corporate cover is an idiot.
People should get the credit for what people do. And people should get the blame. But who do you blame at "Monsanto" for its endless efforts to monopolize the business of plant genetics by bribing Congress for favorable legislation? (Monsanto used to be called "DuPont," until its handlers realized that telling people the name of the family that owns the corporation is just asking for undesired publicity.) The people who run "Monsanto" should be held to answer for what they do when they're pretending to be a corporation. But they aren't. "Monsanto" is responsible. But Monsanto doesn't exist, and its lawyers and executives bear no personal, moral responsibility for their unethical behavior. No moral constraints can be brought to bear, and if they are somehow discovered to be involved in corporate wrongdoing, they are simply fired, and the corporation continues on, as blameless as Mother Mary. Why would the Supreme Court punch a huge hole in the legal responsibility of business like that? Make it possible for people to do something bad, then just say "Harvey did it"?
The GM Cobalt scandal is a recent example of how this hole in the responsibility net claims lives until the thump of bodies hitting the concrete becomes a regular thing. If a small company selling used cars killed a dozen people by selling cars with deadly defects, the owner would go to jail tout suite. Not so at GM, though. In an institution that big, responsibility is always distributed so widely amongst the multitude of decisionmakers earning the big bucks to make the tough calls, that ultimately deadly defects turn out to be of mysterious origin, orphan events without ascertainable causes, bad shit emanating from some mysterious gremlins afflicting the organization, but not wearing nametags. In a corporation, when you go looking for bad apples, you find nothing but oranges. Right now, we're hearing that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, possibly the only regulatory agency with less teeth than the FDA, is imposing the "largest fine the agency can impose" for sentencing unsuspecting young drivers to a randomly-occurring death sentence. And how big is that fine? A whopping $35 Million dollars! Yeah, that'll teach old GM! That's .01 percent of the $35 Billion GM made in the first three months of 2014. Big deterrent, huh? Yeah, I tell you what -- GM, get out of the way. That deal is too sweet not to cut the rest of us in.
Hiding the people who do the killing for profit that corporations embrace in search of that "improved bottom line" is a very effective strategy. Not being able to find "the right guy to answer that question" is so well-established that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have a provision to deal with it. If you want to know what a company thinks about anything relevant to a lawsuit, you just notice their deposition as "Mr. Frito-lay," and tell them what questions you need answered, and Frito-lay has to produce someone to testify on that topic. That's the easy way to establish "corporate knowledge" in litigation. But just because there's something in the law called "corporate knowledge" doesn't mean there really is a corporation, knowing anything. There's people, in corporate buildings, wearing corporate outfits, knowing things. And in a world where those people hold power to totally screw up lives and destroy property doing stuff for Harvey, since Harvey is just a socially-agreed hallucination, real people need to be held responsible. Off with the mask, Harvey. Let's see some ID.