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The Corporation

The Corporation, which just won an audience award at the Sundance Film Festival, is a film that explores the following question:

In law, the corporation is a “person”. But what kind of person is it?

Unsurprisingly, a corporation doesn’t make for a very well-adjusted individual (emphasis mine):

Considering the odd legal fiction that deems a corporation a “person” in the eyes of the law, the feature documentary employees a checklist, based on actual diagnostic criteria of the World Health Organization and DSM IV, the standard tool of psychiatrists and psychologists. What emerges is a disturbing diagnosis.

Self-interested, amoral, callous and deceitful, a corporation’s operational principles make it anti-social. It breaches social and legal standards to get its way even while it mimics the human qualities of empathy, caring and altruism. It suffers no guilt. Diagnosis: the institutional embodiment of laissez-faire capitalism fully meets the diagnostic criteria of a psychopath.

I don’t think all companies are like this, but it certainly is an interesting idea to explore. In The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins asserts that the larger organism exists in order to propagate the genes and not the other way around as we, the organism, had always assumed. In the same way, corporations have traditionally thought of themselves as the most important entities in the economic ecosystem, but it might be more healthy for society in general to think of them as the organisms that ultimately benefit the humans that comprise them (humans = the genes in the corporation organism).

This thought fits in nicely with one of my favorite quotes on the subject of business from Ludicorp’s about page quoting Charles Spinosa, Fernando Flores & Hubert Dreyfus in Disclosing New Worlds: Entrepreneurship, Democratic Action and the Cultivation of Solidarity:

A business develops an identity by providing a product or a service to people. To do that it needs capital, and it needs to make a profit, but no more than it needs to have competent employees or customers or any other thing that enables production to take place. None of this is the goal of the activity.

Thanks to Devin for the pointer towards The Corporation, which will also be out in book form as The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.