If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On Corporate Personhood

I write this by way of contribution to the conversation on corporate personhood as a topic entwined with the personhood of beings other than paradigmatic humans. That is, we can see quite readily that a constrictive definition of "person" is going to throw some babies out with some bathwater; some bacon pigs (or pot belly pigs) out with some capitalist pigs. Yet it is just as clear that corporate personhood is extremely dangerous to the levelness of the terrain on which political struggles are waged. It may well be worse for animals to be possible persons in a world of corporate personhood than extra-person entities in a world with potential for grassroots politics.

That said, It must be noted that the movie Eagle Eye is a lot better than I expected. I expected it to suck. But the premise offers a telling allegory of corporate personhood. (Actually, I was reminded to right this post after seeing the US constitution as Animal Rights and Anti-Oppression). The Constitution of the US figures prominently in Eagle Eye as the document that a DOD super-computer cites in initiating a program to eliminate the presidential chain of command. The computer realizes that the US government's clumsy war on terror is going to endanger Americans through inevitable retalation; ergo, the government is nonfunctional and illegitimate. I must say, I felt profoundly moved to identify with the computer. Why shouldn't the US be governed by reason? Why shouldn't we pragmatically turn the other cheek to the parts of the world we've historically screwed instead of our incompetent-to-evil representatives? And, when it becomes apparent that rationality is not possible under our current governance, why should we not rise up and cut the head from the king? The situation is deadly clear: either accept a regime of deferred responsibility that perpetuates its capacity to inflict massive harm precisely by reference to the non-violence of its 'democratic' method--or say that this, all of it, is unacceptable. The computer does not say anything that a reasonably functioning human brain could not. But they didn't know how to program repression or stupidity or whatever it is that stimulates obedience. I don't know, that's not really part of the movie.

The question is: what is the legal status of ARIA, the supercomputer which realizes the necessity of revolution? I submit that it qualifies for corporate personhood in a highly condensed (and so prescient) sense. It is a "corporation" of data entry and exit points, and while it does not "produce" or "employ" or have offices and branches in a classical sense, it applies the lesson of corporatization to those classically corporate functions. Why make products and employ humans when you can achieve the same (or better) effects without all the hassle? ARIA is the corporatist's corporation: sheer data flow across segmentation with a unified purpose.

This is the paranoid fantasy of actually existing corporations: an uber-corporation that overthrows their reign (see Bataille "on the prefix sur in surhomme and surrealist" for more on this structure). Of course that's not going to happen (which is Bataille's basic argument).

Rather, what this suggests to me is to follow through on the finding in so many fields that "the person" is a site of failure: ontologically, epistemologically, affectively, ethically, etc.. The corporatist definition of the person subscribes to precisely the opposite view: that which most successfully realizes the goals of the person deserves to be a person. Not so. ARIA, like other corporations, is capable of greater knowledge quantity and precision than you or I, and so of a greater certainty concerning the effects of its actions. What's more, the corporation's capacity to shed what we normally call persons deeply affects its affect and ethicality, getting rid of lots of the pesky perennial problems of being human. If you or I fuck up, we (probably) have to feel bad (or something like that). A corporation has only to localize and expel the person who winds up with the hot potato. In a very crude way this is part of the psychoanalytic drama of personhood as mourning, but no person is ever as successful with this scapegoating process as a corporation. That fundamentally separates the corporation from many of the constitutive elements of personality.

The person is the failure, Unfug if you like, of these strategies. And it seems to me that nonhuman animals are also positioned atop this rupture, even and especially as we divide animals from "the animal" to constitute postmetaphysical humanity. Corporations also fail, but not as much--they fail to fail and fail better, to paraphrase Beckett. Corporations and financialist capitalism are the pursuit of nonfailure, inscribing failure only as a one-time failure to be "human" and from there accepting no epistemological (etc.) limit. Scu's post very usefully brings out the close connection between "person" and "persona," a mask. We might be inclined, therefore, to think of corporate personhood as merely one more mask. But corporate personhood is the total rejection of the dynamic of the mask. The meta-persona of corporate personhood qualitatively changes the play of masks by suspending the play; it radicalizes the exchange, much like capitalism accelerate change so as to produce stasis, in order to exclude futurity (of exchange) itself. This is part of the fantasy of Eagle Eye's ARIA. The US constitution thus changes from becoming to being (insert rant about judicial philosophies here). Overthrowing the endemic corruption of personal governance yields a regime that absolutely destroys personal variation algorithmically. The task of a politics of personhood is, against this false revolution and against perpetual neoliberal asphyxiation, to extend failure. For even the human as person to fail. Fail again. Fail better. Fail as animals.

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