Nevertheless, corporate bodies frequently make strategic business
decisions that cost lives but render profit. The infamous "Ivey Report"
at General Motors stands as one of the most dramatic recent
examples of intentional manslaughter-for-profit. In that 1973 report, a
GM engineer calculated that human casualties from fuel-fed fires cost
the firm a mere $2.40 per vehicle, based on the cost of potential
lawsuits. GM executives deemed this acceptable, as part of a
cost-cutting initiative, then kept the report secret for 25 years, until
they were caught lying about it in front of a federal judge.
Rarely do these acts result in criminal charges. Some might argue that
antitrust actions seem similar to "capital punishment" for offending
corporations, but the rules of antitrust are murky at best, and rarely
invoked. Instead, most white-collar crime gets pursued through civil
actions, i.e. punished through fines, not convictions. Moreover,
consider how the FBI makes a point to track precise crime statistics
throughout the US. Their annual reports create media headlines, but
strangely enough, corporate crimes are specifically not reported.
Let’s take that point a step further. Based on a three strikes rule, some
"inner city youth" (see below: 14 Amendment) face serious prison
time after subsequent convictions for possession of marijuana worth
less than a good steak dinner for our friends driving the luxury SUVs.
You can read about those stats in a CNN factoid. However, a
corporate body can select a business strategy, knowing it will kill
hundreds (in the case of GM with Ivey) or even thousands (in the case
When a person takes of Union Carbide in Bhopal) of innocent people, earn immense profits
a life or a large sum of by employing that strategy, and yet never face a single criminal
money, they face charge. You might find a few token examples reported in the press,
indictment, conviction, particularly the most blatant ones, but you won’t find statistics about
imprisonment, parole, these crimes. Even the simple academic pursuit of studying corporate
or even execution. crime appears to be one way for a young professor to be denied
Since a corporation tenure, or worse.
lacks any physical
Once upon a time, corporations in the US were not granted
body, it cannot be
personhood and better yet they had to exist under a constant threat of
placed in prison...
punishments – specifically death and taxes – if they did not obey the
laws of the land. The United States Constitution of 1789 did not
corporate bodies mention the word "corporation" within its text, and federal corporate
frequently make law simply did not exist. Ostensibly, corporations were hated things in
strategic business those days, having been the organizational structure for British
decisions that cost colonies, and so they provided a "whipping boy" during the American
lives but render profit. Revolution. One senses an air of protest against corporations in
post-revolutionary America – against them gaining political power in
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particular. State legislatures held rigid control over the life and death
(and taxes) of corporate ventures, and they flexed that control under
the direct guidance of the populace.
However, methinks the Lady Liberty doth protest too much.
Consider the story of an English physician named John Locke, whose
political theories had profound influences on the American Revolution.
Dr Locke argued that corporate bodies represent the political will of
their members, and are therefore a fairer and more dynamic structure
in the long run than political systems run by hereditary nobility. Some
might argue that American colonists were perhaps less upset about
their overlords’ corporate practices than they were about not sharing
in profits. The leader of the new US government was even called a
president, a term previously used not in government, per se, but rather
to honor regional executives of the East India Company, the very first
corporation "born" in London, England on the last day of the 16
Another ironic point, which the history textbooks might fail to elaborate,
was that Justice Black made his observations not long after the US
was about to engage in a second civil war. Socialists, communists, and
populists of many flavors rose up in pockets of armed resistance
against corporate interests during the Great Depression. The US
Supreme Court averted civil warfare through a questionable move in
1937. In that decision, now called "The Switch In Time That Saved
Nine," corporations adopted enough tenets of socialism to avoid civil
war: allegedly, they gave employees the right to a 40-hour work week
along with some other bennies, and then invented a new tradition
called "corporate culture." Though it would take another sixty years to
prove, in return we lost the right to a judiciary that can successfully
contest the will of corporate interests, except in a few showcase
I could go on about the political and legal fallout of 118 U.S. 394, right
up to another landmark year of 1995, but you can read about that
elsewhere. Something strange happened in 1886 – something pivotal
that rejected a century of major events in US history which had
contested the corporate form, and projected ahead into a century of
governmental drift until almost no human collective could, through
government alone, contradict these new and different beings.
Setting differences aside for a moment, consider how might a biologist
describe this new species? As luck would have it, some legal theorists
who analyze corporate law actually have applied techniques borrowed
from biology. Gunther Teubner, in particular, built on work by social
Not to wax theorist Niklaus Luhmann to apply autopoiesis – a biological theory
conspiratorial, but used to describe how a system self-organizes. Dr Luhmann suggested
one should not that a group of persons tends to exhibit a "group individual" or
believe the history zeitgeist, which then perpetuates on behalf of that group, to an extent.
books issued in public Dr Teubner also examined how some corporate law develops for no
schools (i.e., those observable reason other than to perpetuate more corporate law (and
produced and by the way, he’s quite a fan of 118 U.S. 394)… in short, observing the
subsidized by zeitgeist at work.
Luhmann’s "group individual" corresponds closely to the "legal person"
without asking a few
defined for a corporation. Either notion provides a clear example of
what is esoterically described as evocation, or in other words, the
process of summoning a spirit. Zeitgeist, spirit, demon, djinn, golem,
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image. servitor, tulpa – take your pick, depending on the root culture. Each
term describes suprahuman sapience and immortal powers (read:
freed from either death or taxes) followed by cautionary tales scattered
throughout human cultural mythos. Perhaps we could learn a thing or
two from the wisdom of the ages.
Actually, the notion of evocation runs quite true to the original cast of
corporate form. Alchemical advisors to the British Crown during the
16 century appear to have set the stage for creating the first
corporations. Their esoteric work focused on a place called the Royal
Exchange of London, with the intent of establishing (read: evoking) a
contemporary fiction called the "Brytish Impire." Much to the contrary,
as of the 1560s the Brits were perpetually broke, let alone anywhere
near to becoming an "empire." Nonetheless, certain royal advisors
needed cash to be able to keep buying lots of occult books, among
other things. Up popped a new belief based on the glory of England,
rallying ’round their Virgin Queen, a new hope based upon a fiction –
the "Brytish Impire" – printed in manuscripts that were adorned with
engravings of the Empress surrounded by alchemical symbols.
Now if you take a look at the twenty-three or so canonical operations
from Renaissance-era alchemy – transmuting being only one – you’ll
find incorporatus (Latin for "embodiment", and the root for
"incorporation") as a practice for aggregating component parts into a
corpus (Latin for "body"). What a no-brainer there. I could go into
detail, but one can read about that elsewhere. We were talking about
biology, not demonology…
I first stumbled on the phrase corporate metabolism in reference to
Swiss management consultants trying to describe how corporations
adapt to new flows of information. Their obvious analogy equates
information flows inside a corporate structure with energy flows inside
living cells – muddied, problematic thinking, given a more realistic
view of "information," but a potentially useful analogy. If one considers
how corporate form can be compared with a biological system, what
do both share in common?
Consider how the most basic tenet of corporate strategy, creating a
"barrier to entry" to block competition, parallels what a cell wall
provides for the most primitive critters, the single-cell protozoa.
Three necessary conditions for corporate organization – (1) chartered
company, (2) limited liability, and (3) joint stock – provide means for
externalizing risk while perpetuating wealth for shareholders. That’s a
mouthful, but it renders the corporate form valuable. Risk is the big,
hairy problem in business; it generates cost. Risk in the biological
realm has much to do with entropy, i.e., death and extinction.
Strangely enough, one contemporary approach in physics, the study
of dissipative structures, addresses how complex, open systems can
Consider how the FBI dissipate or externalize entropy in some cases. In other words, it
makes a point to track addresses how evolution in physical systems can be modeled.
Biologists find this rather useful. So do corporate bodies; the study of
precise crime statistics
throughout the US. autopoiesis in law focuses on such complex, open systems. Math and
Their annual reports computer simulations used for researching evolutionary biology may
create media become quite useful for modeling how the corporate form develops
headlines, but and responds to particular conditions.
Early protozoa eventually aggregated together into primitive multi-cell
corporate crimes are
parazoa, such as sponges… which biologists call "colonial
organisms." The process of incorporating under a charter similarly
reported. aggregates business resources into an initial structure that resembles
a sponge. In an odd twist of semantics, the first three or four hundred
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years of corporate endeavor focused precisely on colonial activities,
much like Nike and others still do today.
Management consultants use taxonomy to categorize the complexity
of corporate structures. So an H-form describes a "holding company,"
like the early days of East India Company, and akin to a sponge. A
more complex U-form describes a "top-down" structure, like Standard
Oil before antitrust, and also akin to an invertebrate. An even more
complex M-form describes the modern "transnational," such as Ford
or Exxon – akin to a spoiled brat.
The applicable analogies go on: metastasis, i.e. cancer, parallels the
dynamics of franchising… corporate self-defense reflexes occur
through a process of sublation… allometric scaling, or multi-
dimensional encoding, parallels how global firms operate in multi-
dimensional spaces simultaneously… bacteriophage as a means for
asexual genetic transfer parallels how corporations exchange their
"genetic" material: contracts, bylaws, patents, etc.
A detailed list would be far too long. One of the few artifacts to defy
known biology concerns how corporations can share vital
components, but that is a bionic fairy tale for another day. In short, a
qualitative (and perhaps quantitative) biological model emerges for
describing the corporate form. I call this species/model Ceteri.
Most all of this story is true, except the part about corporations
becoming another sentient species. There’s no way that could
possibly be true, unless one happens to believe in demons… Authors
of the precursory corporate business plans seemed to have pegged
their hopes and dreams on summoning a helpful spirit or two. The
venerable US Supreme Court gave credence to this belief in a ruling
that was declared without debate and has never since been
challenged. Contemporary legal theory revisits this numinous theme,
in hauntingly familiar echoes of old mythos. As far as the "science" of
corporations-as-species goes, they present a relatively new sentience
which is not quite artificial intelligence, per se, but more like unnatural
In a perverse way, it warms the heart to think of all those happy,
suburban, god-fearing Americans rushing into their two-hour
commute, SUVs jamming metro freeways as they race toward
corporate office complexes, then toiling away for hours of grief in
cubicle hell… in service of the likes of seductive Belial, powerful
Asmodai, mighty Furfur, or even the curiously-named Gäap.
Frankly, I’m kinda fond of demons. Cute little buggers. Who could
resist a name like "Furfur"? I’d much rather learn to work with such a
fiction, since the manipulation of corporate interests almost demands
that kind of belief. It is perhaps more effective, more operative, taken
People must live with
with a large grain of salt, than assuming an uninformed disbelief – à la
Locke, who helped get us into this political nightmare, or his
death and taxes. Yet intellectual heirs, who spew a curiously agnostic milieu of corporate
corporations do not socialism with religious fervor through the likes of corporately-
necessarily ever "die" endowed NPR, PBS, etc.
and, in many cases,
they avoid paying On the other hand, protesting in the streets, or in the legislatures,
taxes. does little to slow a demon, and actually tends to feed their ephemeral
maws; something called abulia forms a big part of corporate
Click here for a bigger image. metabolism. Fortunately, more subtle means exist for bridling such
beings: old fictions and religions inform us about conceits which the
new fictions and religions belie.
Corporations, like the demons of their simile, may behave like
sentients, perhaps, but at about the sentience level of a spoiled brat.
And, as anyone who’s ever served time as a sibling likely knows,
knocking down an obnoxious, spoiled brat can feel quite satisfying
and yet lead to huge "judicial" problems; but they can be caused to fall
Nothing is omnipotent, unless you believe so. But that’s an almost-
completely-true story for another day.
Many heartfelt thanks to Ann Walther for help with editing the draft.
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