Taking Our Language Back From Corporate Culture
(Written April 2001 and never published)
The founding fathers of our nation never intended for the institution called "corporation" to have any authority over we the people at all. The word "corporation" appears nowhere in any of the nation's founding documents. Yet today, most Americans accept that the corporate "it" has enormous power and authority to shape our lives, and we assume that it always did.
Today, we can barely tell the difference between the rights of an actual person and the supposed rights of a corporate "it", as both are now protected by many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. (The "corporation" won "personhood" in 1886.) Both we and our corporate creations are guaranteed free speech and property protections, are protected against unreasonable search and seizure, and cannot be hindered in our writing of contracts with each other. Of course, the problem with this is that corporate "persons" aren't persons at all. They're really just property, owned and managed by investors, stockholders, and directors, with the actual "workers" somehow mysteriously left out of the decision-making loop, even though without them, the corporation would be hollow, worthless, and meaningless. In effect, our judges have given Constitutional "rights" to "property", which i'm sure you'll agree is pretty silly.
Imagine how different society might look if we, the real people, what i like to call "people with skin", stopped playing this shell game, and started treating corporations like the legal fictions they really are. With no legitimate rights. With no legitimate authority over us. (As it once was prior to the late 1800's.) Merely as the tools of a sovereign people, like a toaster or a toilet. You don't boycott or plead with or punish your toilet when it refuses to do its job. Why should we treat our subordinate corporate creations any differently?
With that idea in mind, let's explore how our language creates reality - it's one of our most potent ways of making sense of our world. And when we use the language of corporate personhood and legitimacy, we learn and reinforce that reality. How might our language change if we re-thought our relationship with the corporate "it"?
* What are McDonalds, Disney, Ben and Jerry's, and Philip Morris? They're all corporations, NOT people! Yet we speak of them as if they were the guy down the block in that big office building: "Philip Morris refuses to stop selling cigarettes to third world kids." Remember, they're just legal fictions. So let's get used to saying the word "corporation" every time we name one. (Give it a try - it's addictive!) Let's also refuse to personify the corporate "it" and instead identify the group or person who is actually making the decisions. (e.g. "Philip Morris corporation's directors are refusing to stop selling cigarettes to third world kids".) Corporations can't demand, want, object, refuse to, etc - only their directors and shareholders can, because corporations really don't even exist, except on paper! This distinction helps us stay clear in our thinking about who's real and who's just a toaster.
* Let's stop confusing private property and corporate property "rights". The first one is protected by the Bill of Rights. The second one only exists because the corporate "it" won legal "personhood" in 1886. Giving corporations property "rights" is as crazy as saying that racial equality is provided for by giving African Americans separate waiting rooms and lunch counters. It took 50 years of legal and cultural struggle to reverse the Supreme Court's "separate but equal" decision, and it may take just as long to de-link "corporations" from "rights", but until we succeed, let's defy corporate "rights" rather than give them the respect we do today. If we no longer condeded that corporations had legitimate property "rights", how might this impact our campaigns against them? If we no longer conceded that corporations had legitimate free speech "rights", how might we respond differently to their propaganda?
And let's stop saying the "privatizing" of electricity, water, etc - it's "corporatizing" not privatizing. To call it privatizing again accepts that corporate property is private property, which it's not.
* Corporate doublespeak has infiltrated our daily lives - "conventional food" for example. Translation: the stuff in the supermarket covered in carcinogenic and toxic chemicals (YUM!). Imagine participating in a daily act of totally legal civil disobedience - we could start calling "organic food" simply "food" which, until the 1950's was exactly what we did call it, and "conventional food" could become....(fill in the blank).
Here are a few more examples, try to think of your own, and then start SAYING THEM:
* "free trade" is really "corporate managed trade"
* "protesters", "stakeholders", and "consumers": We're "citizens" or "people" first, aren't we? Let's stop referring to ourselves with these culturally demeaning terms. And the reverse is also true: corporations can't be "good corporate citizens" because they aren't even people!
* "conventional media" and "alternative media": Since this is still officially a democracy, and the airwaves are still owned by you and me, why do we call unaccountable corporate-owned media "conventional" and democratically managed and funded media "alternative"? Are we 'We The People' or aren't we? If we are, then let's start calling our media "mainstream media", and the other stuff "corporate media".
* "workers vs environmentalists" and "jobs vs environment" are phony opposites which pit one group of citizens against another, which is exactly how corporate leaders have designed it, and we shouldn't fall for it. If we are going to divide and conquer, how about instead saying "local communities comprised of many groups including workers and enviro's vs absentee corporations".
* "pirate radio": Why do we call it that when we're simply putting out a radio signal on airwaves owned by we the people? How about "people's" radio instead, or simply "radio stations"? The real pirates are the media corporations that lease OUR airwaves for free, and then monopolize all the frequencies.
* "defense companies" are really "military hardware corporations, "forestry companies" are really "forest clearcutting corporations" and "health maintenance organizations (HMO's) are really "dis/ease maintenance organizations".
* "Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP)" is really a "habitat devastation plan (HDP)".
Can you think of other phrases invented by corporate propagandists that you've been saying effortlessly for years? Stop that!
I hope this list has amused and alarmed you. I encourage you to expand it via your own life experiences. The long-term goal is to assert our authority as 'we the people' over our subordinate corporate creations. And the very first step is to learn to choose our words carefully and consciously, and begin to speak truth about corporate power and authority in all of its disguises.