Corporate Personhood
by Gary G. Kohls on 06 Mar 2010 1 Comment

“Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property. Corporate personhood is the legal fiction that property is a person”- Anonymous


The infamous NeoConservative, anti-democratic [US] Supreme Court “Gang of Five” (SC5) has further strengthened the already powerful and over-privileged status of the corruptible multinational corporations. The SC5 has made into law the absurd notion that corporations deserve the same rights as individuals.


Oh, there was a brief bit of anger and outrage over this monumental, democracy-threatening decision, which was quickly drowned out of the public consciousness by another well-timed, mainstream media-orchestrated “tempest in a teapot” - the Japanese auto giant Toyota’s recall of tens of thousands of accelerator pedals - that apparently has never caused any serious accidents. One wonders if the struggling competition at General Motors or Ford is behind the furor.


If there is any justice in this country (which should no longer be taken for granted), the following question(s) must be asked - and answers demanded:


If corporations have the privileges of personhood shouldn’t they also bear the same responsibilities and incur the same punishments for infractions as individuals have?


Peace and justice activists briefly applauded when the citizens of Shapleigh, Maine protected their water rights last March from the insatiable water-extracting corporate giant Nestle (see video and more information at:


Nestle, one of the most infamous multinational corporate exploiters, has no allegiance to Maine or Wisconsin or any other locality where they try to put down their water extracting equipment. When the water is gone, so is Nestle, and so is Coca-Cola and Perrier or whatever other soft drink-selling corporation that extracts the people’s wealth for the benefit of their shareholders and their predatory corporate executives. The good citizens of Maine recognized the foxes that wanted to get inside their henhouse and did the right thing, winning one for David against the behemoth Goliath.


This little victory for justice should illustrate what must be done if this disastrous Supreme Court Gang of Five decision is allowed to stand. The future of the nation and our children is at stake.


It is important to understand that the allegiance of all corporations is to their shareholders, executives and management teams, and not to the people whose lives and health depend on the sustainability of their land, water, air and food supplies. Most shareholders are never directly affected by the theft of local resources, the extraction of wealth or the destruction of already struggling local communities who might be fooled by a few jobs that will disappear when the resources are depleted or the corporation poisons the environment and the people to death, the profits dry up or worker wages are cheaper somewhere else.


The mess that is left behind will not be the corporation’s problem, no matter what it says prior to the pull-out or the bankruptcy, because a merger or acquisition will eliminate the legal obligations of the company. 


Wal-Mart’s profits mostly go to the handful of billionaires and investment firms somewhere in Arkansas or Wall Street and not to fund healthcare benefits for the poor employees. Human rights benefits are left to the taxpayers while Wal-Mart legally avoids what should ethically be their corporate obligation to support their workers. Wal-Mart uses a loophole in the law by not hiring full-time workers and then paying the part-timers subsistence wages that force many of them to apply for welfare which is a cunning cost-shifting tactic. Is this just unethical corporate behavior or should it be called criminal?


The home office of Coca-Cola in Atlanta profits from the water that Coke steals from anywhere it can extract it, including as a particularly egregious example, the starving and suicidal farmers in drought-stricken India, where millions of gallons of Indian water from aquifers and farmland irrigation sources are being sucked out of the ground to meet the artificial demand that has been created for the sickness and obesity-producing soft drink that contains two cents worth of ingredients that is then sold for as much as the market will bear from their loyal and addicted consumers. (The toxic and addicting substances in most soda pop include caffeine, high fructose corn syrup, phosphoric acid and caramel-coloured artificial dyes which are all added to fizzy water. The diet pops often contain the equally toxic substances Splenda [sucralose] or NutraSweet [aspartame], with a whole new set of illnesses caused by those sweet synthetic chemicals).


Coke’s predation of India brings to mind another corporate crime that has never been brought to justice. The infamous 1984 Union Carbide/Bhopal catastrophe that killed 25,000 slum-dwellers, left 100,000 more permanently poisoned, with uncounted numbers of people since then who must live on the poisoned soil, have to drink the contaminated water and breathe the poisoned air. Every person that has been exposed to the Bhopal plant environs since 1984 is chronically ill; the mothers delivering malformed babies and dead fetuses because of the cyanide pesticide residues that cannot be removed from the water or soil. Union Carbide, the American corporation responsible for the disaster, has consistently shirked its moral responsibilities to the suffering victims. It finally sold to the equally infamous Dow Chemical, the company that brought us Agent Orange, silicone breast implants and a multitude of other toxic products.


Union Carbide’s corporate executives have been subpoenaed to appear in Indian courts for their crimes. They have repeatedly refused to appear and are therefore in contempt of court. There are warrants out for their arrests in India, just as there are warrants out for the arrest of citizen Henry Kissinger for his part in international war crimes in Chile, East Timor, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, etc.


The common denominator between human criminals and criminal corporations like Union Carbide, WalMart, Dow, Monsanto, Enron, etc is that they are all just as afraid as Kissinger, Bernie Madoff, Ken Lay and others of their ilk are in facing the music. Neither these corporations nor these individuals have shown any genuine remorse for the massive human suffering they have caused.


There are mental illness diagnosis for people who try to evade the law, refuse to admit blame for their crimes, refuse to show up in court when subpoenaed, refuse to accept responsibility for their crimes, try to plea bargain to minimize punishment when they finally get caught and then show no remorse when convicted.


The diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel, the recipe book for mental ill health diagnoses, is “sociopathic personality disorder” which is, for all intents and purposes, essentially the same as “psychopathic personality disorder”. Both are criminal disorders and happen to be virtually incurable because the disordered persons (as well as corporate sociopaths for that matter) never feel truly guilty, nor do they try to change (unless they are court-ordered to do so, in which case they usually only pretend to try to change). Typically rehabilitation for the most severe sociopath fails miserably, although the charming sociopath may fool the treatment team into thinking progress is being made.


By and large, the most criminally-minded sociopaths must be locked away to protect society. So another set of questions need to be asked about what to do with corporate “persons”.


Shouldn’t non-human sociopathic corporations be treated just like human sociopaths, perhaps with long prison sentences, confiscation of property or even capital punishment? (I hasten to add that I am against capital punishment for individuals, but corporations are not human, don’t bleed and don’t cry out in pain during the execution. “Disappearing” corporate “persons” will not result in the irretrievable deaths of potentially innocent people.


What about the crime of rape as applied to corporations? Rape has several definitions, including the following ones that are in my dictionary: “1) Any violent seizure or hostile action against a weaker opponent; 2) to rob or plunder; 3) the act of seizing and carrying off by force”; and the common one most people think of, 4) “the crime of having forcible sexual intercourse without consent.” 


What about corporate robbers and plunderers that meet the definition of “rapist”? And, while we are talking about serious felonious acts, what about acts of homicide (intentional or accidental) and the involuntary slaughter of the land. And what about the mass murder, often to extinction, of the creation and the creatures that have every right to co-exist on our dying planet?


What about the known lethal poisons that thousands of chemical companies wantonly and knowingly discharge into the water, air, soil and into the mouths of unsuspecting healthcare consumers (in the form of potentially dangerous individual medications and the various combinations of drugs that have never been tested for safety even in the rat labs?


What about the mineral companies that blow the tops off mountains in Appalachia or the Philippines to extract more economically the resources beneath and then claim innocence when the living things downstream die off from the poisoned water and toxic sludge that slides into previously pristine streams that once provided safe drinking water for people, irrigation water for farming and a healthy natural environment for fish and wildlife?


Shouldn’t corporate plunderers be stopped before they destroy life again? Shouldn’t they be arrested, tried and punished just like the human predators all of us civilized people despise? And shouldn’t there be monetary restitution to the victims from the assets of the victimizer? And what about thieves and liars, whether inhuman or human?


Shouldn’t corporate thieves be treated the same as human thieves? Shouldn’t pathological liars be called out about their lying? Shouldn’t we refuse to believe a corporation or person that has lied to us or poisoned us previously? What about the lies and poisonings by Merck, Pfizer, Eli Lilly? And what about premeditated crimes? Shouldn’t such criminals be stopped before they offend again? Shouldn’t the sub-lethal flavour-enhancing toxins or poisonous preservatives in our non-organic food be banned?


And shouldn’t some of the most dangerous, albeit legal, synthetic chemicals so cavalierly marketed by BigPharma be recalled just like Toyota’s “rarely dangerous accelerator pedals”? Shouldn’t the corporate pharmaceutical suppliers and sellers of such potentially lethal substances be stopped just like the street corner pushers of illicit drugs are stopped? What about the corporate pushers of the cocaine-like Ritalin and the amphetamine Adderall, dispensed so commonly to little children whose brains haven’t been hard-wired yet?


What about corporate junkies, those companies and executives that are addicted to their profits, their prestige, their products, their corporate jets, second vacation homes and their quarterly bonuses? They may not know that they are a danger to their spiritual selves and the spiritual selves of their families and employees. Shouldn’t there be interventions planned for them just as we intervene for some of society’s addicts, who are also unwittingly on the road to ruin?


The answer, in a fair society, should be yes to all these questions, no matter how often the smiley-faced, well-dressed corporate spokespersons, in their damage-control role, claim that their companies are ”responsible citizens”. We sucker for that line at our own peril.


But we all know that corporations are NOT people! I wonder if the best approach for society in dealing with those inanimate entities that look and smell like they are doing something shady, is to, rather than applying the standard (fictional) constitutional guarantee for human persons that they should be treated as being innocent until proven guilty, we should judge the most ruthless corporations as being guilty until they are proven innocent.


I like that notion. I have often advised my psychologically traumatized patients who were abused by authoritarian parents to only give respect to those authority figures who have truly earned it and deserve to be treated with respect. No guilt for not loving or obeying your victimizers! Just being in a position of authority shouldn’t make any difference if there is abuse involved. Find a non-abusive person, family, community - or business - to relate to. I only do business with those companies that deserve my respect.


Being suspicious of sociopathic entities is an important strategy to follow if one is to protect oneself from getting cheated or otherwise victimized. Staying out of a sociopath’s grasp is the proper thing to do, even if the person or corporation is charming. Staying clear of anybody or anything that you suspect has no conscience makes tremendous sense, since conscienceless entities are also likely to be liars, thieves, rapists and murderers.


That is why the tactic of boycotting corporations who have gotten away with murder or thievery, have been successfully used in the past. Corporations hate it when that nonviolent strategy is used, but in our largely brainwashed, advertised-to-submission victims of corporate greed, only small minorities of people recognize that they are being victimized. The victims of corporate theft seem to be unaware and apathetic, probably too distracted to understand that they are being conned.


The unethical concept of corporate personhood has massively benefited Big Businesses in the US at the expense of us untermenschen, and it’s been going on, and getting worse, for over a century. Multinational corporations are increasingly in control of the White Houses and also in the US Congress. Both political parties are guilty of being seduced by corporate money and power, although is seems like the Republicans have been 100% guilty for quite a long time whereas the Democrats still have a small courageous minority still resistant to being bribed by powerful and obscenely wealthy corporations.


And now the third branch of the federal government has been bought. The Supreme Court actually has always been heavily influenced by corporate power. It has always had sizable numbers of blatantly pro-corporate members, depending on which political party was in control of the White House when a justice retired. The pro-Big Business GOP has of course placed right-wing, pro-BigBusiness justices than the more left-wing, pro-democracy, small business and labour-oriented Democratic Party.


By exercising the privileges of personhood while simultaneously refusing to accept the responsibilities (especially for the damage corporations have done to the planet) has finally exhausted all the easily exploitable resources and easy solutions for the impending shortages of arable land, potable water and breathable air. Corporations have finally put the planet on the verge of irretrievable destruction. The guilty, greedy multinational corporations are also causing national bankruptcies. Recessions and depressions; and they don’t seem to care – except for when the crises they have caused present a way to make more money. The motto seems to be: “grab what you can and let the devil take the hindmost.”


The out-and-out criminal acts of powerful corporations are hardly ever punished appropriately. Wrist slaps are all too common when lawsuits are brought in front of pro-business judges. When there are consequences for reckless business practices, the company will often just move offshore, leaving the messes to be cleaned up by somebody else, - just as one would expect of a sociopath.


The brazen action of the “Gang of Five” in the Supreme Court has come close to being the final nail in the coffin of the mortally wounded body of constitutional democracy. Given the fact that corporate personhood is now law, it is past time that we finally insist that the transnational corporations be treated as severely as human criminals are treated. We need to exercise our ethical duty to preserve and defend the planet from all enemies, foreign or domestic, human or corporate; judicial or congressional. We need to protect the water, soil, air, food supply, the rights to affordable, sustainable health care and the pursuit of happiness. The future of our children and grandchildren depend on it.


[Please join the effort to impeach the SC5 by accessing the following website: And then demand that Congress act quickly to pass legislation to reverse the damage done]

Dr. Kohls, MD, is involved in peace, nonviolence and justice advocacy and resists fascism, corporatism, militarism, racism and other movements that are anti-democratic 

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