Saturday is the anniversary of the Citizens United decision that held up the idea that corporations are people. I know of no individual person that agrees with this decision – ok, Mitt Romney unashamedly says, “corporations are people my friend” in this clip. How can this be? How can any human deny their own species of its unique place in the world? I will break down the ideas behind this concept and try to make any sense of this point of view. Meanwhile I’d like to make some suggestions on how to start this conversation.
In that clip, Romney is explaining that the money from corporations goes to people, therefore they equal people. For all of us, not just presidential candidates, we tend to ignore facts and use what we can to justify our positions. While for many of us that argument rings hollow, perhaps he has actually convinced himself that because people work for corporations that they are the same. Each of us can construct a worldview that reinforces our own desires and beliefs and when confronted with outside opinion – it sounds crazy. This supporting argument is rather weak because in fact a corporation cannot put on a shirt, take a breath, and has no DNA. Any grade school scientist could come to the conclusion that indeed corporations are not humans. The actual values that cause folks like Romney – and our Supreme Court – to make these justifications, actually stem from their worldview that authority is the supreme moral compass. This authority ultimately rests in their belief in God, which might mean a Christian – or Mormon – one, but it also might mean a deitized view of money. In the Christian world view, many believers feel as if God rewards those that are righteous and punishes those that are evil. This leads to a lack of compassion for the downtrodden; far be it from some human to go against what God has put forth. “Rewarding” those “evil doers” (such as the unemployed, uninsured, and destitute), with programs like food stamps and unemployment checks is actually going against God. In the case of deitized money, anything that goes against allowing someone to accumulate more is like denying them access to God.
So how can you have an argument with someone about this in a non-hysterical, civil, manner? Speak from your values. Progressives tend to value empathy above all else. We see the unemployed, uninsured, and destitute and feel their pain. Progressive Christians feel like it is their duty to do “God’s work” and emulate the compassion of Jesus. They don’t see the downtrodden as “evil doers”, but just folks that have been through some tough times. Progressives hold the value of social responsibility in high regard and endorse the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats”; they also might see themselves in the downtrodden – perhaps they’ve appreciated help when they were at a low point and they want to pay it forward, spread good will, and promote peace.
Ask a conservative, “Why do you feel that way?” and then actually listen to them. Ask them if they feel that the unemployed and destitute should be punished. Keep cool and avoid being reactionary. Maybe they feel that the unemployed are lazy – it speaks to their value of a high regard for the “bootstraps” grit of autonomy. A Progressive response to this is to recall their high priority on the values of equality and opportunity – the unemployed don’t want hand outs, they want to work, they simply don’t have the opportunity to do so. When your debate opponent begins parroting talking points and/or a pundit or career politician, call them out on it, say that you want to hear about their feelings on the subject – not just the party line. Force them to step outside the comfortable zone of Washington ping pong politics and to get into their own heads and hearts.
Some folks are very uncomfortable searching their own belief systems and must look to someone else for their opinion. We’ve got to stop this, it only plays into the hands of those that profit from nasty confrontation and it is dividing our nation ever deeper. Corporations don’t have feelings, but they do grow. And like a storybook monster in the closet, they especially grow when fear, greed, and domination is the rule of the day. As Americans, we must stop this pattern. If corporations are legally people, why shouldn’t they be held to the same standard as the rest of us when it comes to the damage they can do – the film The Corporation uses a psychological analysis (outlined by the World Health Organization) and came up with a diagnosis of “psychopathic” when evaluating corporate behaviors. Ask anyone supporting the corporate personhood claim why we should allow any corporate “person” to not only harm other people, but subsidize it to do so. A quote from the forementioned film’s synopsis:
The operational principles of the corporation give it a highly anti-social “personality”: it is self-interested, inherently amoral, callous and deceitful; it breaches social and legal standards to get its way; it does not suffer from guilt, yet it can mimic the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. Four case studies, drawn from a universe of corporate activity, clearly demonstrate harm to workers, human health, animals and the biosphere.
We can’t expect instant harmony between the polarized camps our society has established. Talking and understanding takes time and patience – something many of us don’t feel we have much of – but, bickering and reactionary snipes certainly isn’t bringing world peace anytime soon. We’ve got to remember that we are all human, we breathe the same air, walk the same earth, and have loved ones. It’s not all or nothing, take baby steps to establish some trust and rapport. We are the only ones who can save us from ourselves.
Along those lines, get involved in the action today. There is a push for a Constitutional Amendment that would strip corporations from their personhood status and protections. Please contact your representatives today; start here and here.