Occupy Wall Street has pushed a lot of – perhaps undefined – disassatifaction to the fore which, from my relationship-centric POV, really boils down to one problem: corporate America, you have boundary issues!
What Corporations Say
What’s good for us is good for everyone.
Back Up And Tell It Right
To be clear about something upfront, I don’t think there’s anything fundamentally wrong with corporations; rather, I think there’s something fundamentally wrong with the legally defined relationship between corporations and humans. The Supreme Court, since the early 20th century, has been treating corporations more and more like humans. To me, the Supreme Court has utterly failed to consider one essential question in granting these rights: what are the characteristics by which we define “human”?
The problem with the Supreme Court’s assessment and with American laws in general is that they’re very focused on what corporations should receive but not at all focused on what should they give up in exchange. This get/give exchange is inherent in human law because human law is predicated on the notion of other people – you can park at a meter but not all day because other people might want to park there too; you can have a BBQ but not in your apartment living room because other people might get hurt or their property damaged if there’s a fire; etc.
This sense of other people puts the brakes on some of our more selfish inclinations and can be summarized in two basic behavior-mitigating characteristics that corporations lack and which the law and the Supreme Court currently fail to take into account: size and sociality.
Size, aka Goliath Meet David, David Meet… Oh, I Guess He Already Ate You
Unlike corporations, humans don’t enter the world with a battalion of attorneys. For that reason, it’s rare that the law gets involved when humans settle differences with each other – we do this thing called “working it out” or, when working-it-out tanks, “dealing with it.” By contrast, human-on-corporation dispute resolution always involves either (a) the human losing the dispute or (b) the human paying for an attorney.
The problem is the David-and-Goliath financial inequality – human earns $40k, corporation earns $4 billion – which allows corporations to use the cost of engaging the legal system as a means of bludgeoning humans into submitting to corporate will (I’m looking at you, Monsanto!).
Barring a few exceptions, real humans are, basically, equal in size, meaning while sure there’s variation in income, physical strength, intelligence, etc., we’re all really just a bunch of Davids. The law needs to address this size inequity between humans and corporations by squeezing Goliath’s power down to David’s level, like by requiring corporations to pay our attorney fees upfront during disputes which can then only be reimbursed to the corporation if the human loses, a situation which might cause corporations to think twice – just like humans do – before stonewalling on settlements or taking things to court.
Sociality, aka But I Want It Now, Daddy!
Laws aren’t there to tell humans how to behave. Rather, laws are a function of how most humans behave most of the time anyway; laws are a consequence of the millions of years of evolution that resulted in us being the only species on Earth to cooperate extensively with groups of unrelated individuals. By contrast, laws ARE there to tell corporations how to behave because, in the absence of laws, corporations would behave in their own self-interest regardless of the consequences to those around them.
What we call “morals” or “ethics” are really just the constraints we evolved to put on our own behavior in order to reap the huge benefits we get from being in a group. It’s why we teach 2-year-olds to share; we rein in their natural instinct to keep everything for themselves so they will be better able to integrate with and connect to other people.
Sociality is why humans don’t need laws telling us not to steal; humans (barring some people obviously) don’t steal BECAUSE we’re human. By contrast, if there were no laws against stealing, corporations would be stealing from us and from each other nonstop. Along the same lines, a corporation would never give an anonymous donation because what would be the point (Exhibit A: Idol Gives Back) – how could the corporation get something out of it if it didn’t tell all the humans the amazing thing it had done? Humans, by contrast, give anonymously all the time because we have evolved with an inherent sense of relating to each other, feeling each other’s pain, and extending ourselves and our resources to each other with no thought of ever getting anything in return because sociality is a core component of our humanity.
This lack of inherent sociality is why corporations often get labeled as “greedy” or “evil” – because if a human behaved as self-centeredly and uncaringly as corporations do, that’s how the human would be labeled. Corporations aren’t human; thus, they can’t be “greedy” or “evil” either. However, because they’re not human, they have no idea how to behave among humans. The law, then, needs to remedy this by constraining corporate behavior so it more approximates the natural give-and-take of actual human beings. I believe part of Occupy Wall Street’s frustration is that Congress seems to be operating from the deeply bizarre perspective that we humans need to adapt to corporations’ non-human needs as opposed to forcing the non-humans to behave like the rest of us.
To put it another way, Mitt Romney and all you others who think corporations are people, let me just say, if you wind up with the terrible circumstance of having a heart attack, I hope, for your sake, that you are surrounded by, oh, a subway car filled with total strangers rather than a bunch of your corporate donors.
How About This For A Start
So Occupy Wall Street and 99%-ers, here are three demands (though believe me, I’ve got pleeeeeeeeeeeeeenty more, but this blog post is already getting too long), the ones related to size and sociality that upset this particular human; feel free to pass this on and/or add to it the ones that matter to you:
- Pass laws preventing corporations from using my humanity against me. Yes I’m a human – I’ll make mistakes, I’ll get sick, I’ll make controversial lifestyle choices, I might be bad with paying off my credit cards, with dieting, with doing illegal drugs in my free time, with being kind to my friends. What does any of this have to do with me getting or keeping my job?
- No mass consumer contract can ever take away or limit my rights. When, exactly, did we waive our right to trial by jury in favor of arbitration? How’d that shizz go down? Or how about this seemingly innocuous one: Amazon, via the Kindle, has decided to eliminate the “first-sale doctrine” (the law that allows people to give away or resell their books). Um, really? Hey, Amazon, if you want to prevent me from donating my Kindle books to hospitals or giving them to my mom, from selling them on Ebay or lending them to friends for whatever duration I choose, take it up with Congress, but who the Hades are you to eliminate a federal right just because you stuck some clause in a licensing agreement? The point of the first-sale doctrine, like many human laws, is sharing and giving up some self-interest in favor of a larger whole (see Sociality above). How come some self-serving corporate licensing agreement can override the balance of individual versus societal needs that forms the basis of our Constitution?
- Get rid of limits on civil suit damages. Since you can’t put corporations in prison, the only meaningful punishment to a corporation is money, and, if the money amount isn’t commensurate with a particular company’s finances, the company won’t feel it. Civil amounts that would be ridiculous in David-on-David disputes – $5 million! – would barely be a rounding error for most Goliaths. Because humans (like juries and appellate judges) have such a hard time grappling with one human receiving so much cash, how about this: instead of juries awarding damages in dollar amounts, they award them as a percentage of a corporation’s 5-year average gross. That way a jury, without having any idea whether a company grosses on average $10,000 per year or $10 billion per year, could give a damage payment of, say, 12% or 20% or 3% or whatever the jury felt was fair irrespective of how much real money that percentage translated into. Congress’ weird notion is that somehow corporations will be treated unfairly by vengeful juries. In other words, Congress’ belief is that a system we entrust with being able to put aside bias in order to take away human life and liberty is somehow incapable of putting aside that bias when it comes to judging corporations. Really? Let me get this straight – corporations are the ones that require Congressional protections from humans? Huh. Who decided we humans were incapable of judging corporations fairly and that therefore corporations shouldn’t be held to human standards?
Bottom line: in Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi universe, even robots have three laws controlling robot-on-human interactions. So shouldn’t the non-humans in our present-tense real-world universe have a few as well?