Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

I sure wish this image reflected reality

W.J. Astore

Back in January 2010, I wrote the following article for Truthout in the aftermath of the Citizens United decision.  Despite recent mass protests driven by murders of blacks such as George Floyd, not much has changed.  Police reforms are stalled at the federal level, and a racist president continues to inflame even as he seeks greater power.  Americans are told change will come via the ballot box, but when politicians are essentially owned by citizen-corporations, changing a few faces in Congress or even the Oval Office will change little.  As George Carlin explained to a skeptical audience: “You have owners.  They own you.”  And so we are reduced to certain roles in society, mainly as consumers but also as warriors and prisoners – or so I argued in 2010:

Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

This week’s Supreme Court ruling [Citizens United] that corporations are protected by “free speech” rights and can contribute enormous sums of money to influence elections is a de jure endorsement of the de facto dominance of corporations over our lives. Indeed, corporations are the new citizens of this country, and ordinary Americans, who used to be known as “citizens,” now fall into three categories: consumers, warriors and prisoners.

Think about it. Perhaps you’ve noticed, as a friend of mine has, that the term “citizen” has largely disappeared from our public and political discourse. And what term has taken its place? Consumer. That’s our new role: not to exercise our rights as citizens (perish the thought, that’s for corporations to do!), but to exercise our credit cards as consumers. Here one might recall President George W. Bush’s inspiring words to Americans after 9-11 to “go shopping” and to visit Disney.

Think again of our regulatory agencies like the FDA or SEC. They no longer take action to protect us as “citizens.” Rather, they act to safeguard the confidence of “consumers.” And apparently the only news that’s worthy of note is that which affects us as consumers.

As one-dimensional “consumers,” we’ve been reduced to obedient eunuchs in thrall to the economy. Our sole purpose is to keep buying and spending. Corporations, meanwhile, are the citizen-activists in our politics, with the voting and speech rights to match their status.

At the same time we’ve reduced citizens to consumers, we’ve reduced citizen-soldiers to “warriors” or “warfighters.” The citizen-soldier of World War II did his duty in the military, but his main goal was to come home, regain his civilian job, and enjoy the freedoms and rights of American citizenship. Today, our military encourages a “warrior” mentality: a narrow-minded professionalism that emphasizes warfighting skills over citizenship and civic duty.

And if that’s not disturbing enough, think of our military’s ever-increasing reliance on private military contractors or mercenaries.

The final category of American is all-too-obvious: prisoner. No country in the modern industrialized world incarcerates more of its citizens than the United States. More than 7.3 million Americans currently languish somewhere in our prison system [awaiting trial, on parole, or in jail]. Our only hope, apparently, for a decline in prison population is the sheer expense to states of caring and feeding all these “offenders.”

There you have it. Corporations are our new citizens. And you? If you’re lucky, you get to make a choice: consumer, warrior or prisoner. Which will it be?

11 thoughts on “Corporations Are Citizens — What Are We?

    1. Some 40 years ago, when I worked in a resort one summer, the newly “business” educated owner—who was several bricks short of a load in the first place—decreed that people who came in the restaurant were not “customers” or “guests,” but “consumers.” This term definitely originated as a new corporate-speak buzzword. It disturbed me then, because of the implications and the mindset behind it: reducing people to mere revenue sources. The owner exemplified this mindset by treating diners as things rather than people. Now, four decades later, that ugly mindset has gained supremacy.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Unveiling the schema in ottava rima

    Oath of Avarice

    I pledge allegiance to the corporation:
    A “person” as the judges have proclaimed,
    And place this “him” or “her” above my nation
    Whose Constitution “he” or “she” has maimed
    Pursuant to no legal obligation
    Except immunity, however named,
    For those investors in their campaign suites
    Who’d rather that we call them our “elites.”

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2014

    Liked by 2 people

  2. “Bob Segar & The Silver Bullet Band”: I’m not A Number?– I take my card and I stand in line To make a buck I work overtime Dear Sir letters keep comin’ in the mail I work my back till its racked with pain The boss can’t even recall my name I show up late and I’m docked, it never fails I feel just like a spoke in another big wheel Like a tiny blade of grass in a great big field To workers I’m just another drone To Ma Bell I’m just another phone I’m just another statistic on a sheet To teachers I’m just another child To IRS just another file I’m just another consensus on the street Gonna cruise outa this city, head to the sea Gonna shout out at the ocean, hey its me And I feel like a number, feel like a number Feel like a stranger A stranger in this land, I feel like a number I’m not a number I’m not a…

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  3. Let all right-wing corporate Democrats “take a knee” (along with Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer) while raptly reciting:

    The Boobie Pledge of Subservience
    (from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-linguistic retreat to Plato’s Cave)

    I offer my obedience
    I pledge undying love
    To any symbol formed to serve
    The needs of those above
    Who rightly feel that I deserve
    The fist inside the glove

    I stand and mumble publicly
    With fear upon my brow
    Lest some mistake my silence for
    An insufficient vow
    Let all who see and hear me know
    How easily I cow

    Authority need never fear
    I swear I know my place
    I pledge to take the gauntlet slapped
    Across my beaten face
    The Seizure Class knows I’ll accept
    Chastisement with good grace

    About such things as freedom, I
    Have not the slightest clue
    By birth and class it’s come to THEM
    I know that it’s THEIR due
    To hand me down instructions as
    To just what I must do

    And so I promise faithfully
    To play my scripted part
    Each day I’ll chant Two Minutes’ Hate
    To finish, from the start
    Until I love BIG BROTHER from
    The bottom of my heart

    I swear to do as I am told
    I will not think too deep
    I’ll huddle in conformity
    Just like the other sheep
    To take my whipping like a slave
    And utter not a peep

    I pledge to stand up every day
    Within my schoolroom class
    And mouth my mantras on demand
    Without backtalk or sass
    Until the program makes me a
    Compliant, docile ass

    I swear upon my loyalty
    To stuff my head with fat
    And place my nation “under” “GAWD!”
    Supinely prone and flat
    With me then going “down” “beneath”
    And “lower” “under” that

    I swear to go to Sunday School
    Upon the public dime
    Each morning in my homeroom class
    I’ll mouth my dreary rhyme
    And if I leave out words
    THEY can Indict me for my crime

    I pledge and vow and promise that
    I’ll swear from dusk to dawn
    And never fail to chant or moan;
    To never blink or yawn
    And with each cry of “GAWD IZ GRATE!”
    My own soul I will pawn

    The Papal bulls and fatwas tell
    Me all I need to know
    Which isn’t much because I see
    I’ve nowhere left to go
    I swear to never set my sails
    Against the winds that blow

    The Popes, Imams, and Rabbis tell
    Me what and where and how
    The master’s overseer tells
    Me which row I must plow;
    To toady, genuflect, and crawl;
    To grovel, scrape and bow

    I’ll train to “hurry up and wait”
    And do the Bulgar drills
    To stand at rapt attention dressed
    In military frills
    Just point me and I’ll drop the bomb
    No matter whom it kills

    I pledge and promise on my word
    To do the things I ought
    To work for lower wages
    So my labor comes to naught
    I swear to vote Republicrat
    To prove I can be bought

    The Party keeps us all at war
    Which makes us quake with fear
    And so we give up all those rights
    Our ancestors held dear
    Which saves our enemies the need
    To take them from us here

    But I won’t think of bygone days
    The past I’ll just rewrite
    I’ll call my history “old news”
    To make it pat and trite
    Which sleight of mind will help me keep
    Its lessons out of sight

    With this capitulation I
    Agree to sell my pride
    Before I even own it or
    It grows too big to slide
    Into the shabby, craven cave
    Wherein I must reside

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2005

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  4. Your “Consumers” concept hit home with me. Reminds me of the Matrix…all the humans living in a make-believe world while being used as mindless power generators.
    Call-back to your “Guns – Lots of Guns” piece…


    1. We do “consume” an amazing amount of guns and ammo. And when you think about all the gun-related gear. My brother-in-law was heavily into reloading, and the equipment you need is impressive.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. W.J.A.’s decade-old monograph brings a chill, perhaps because it marked and identified the beginnings of a new moment of transformation in American society. Not everyone noticed such a portent, and there remain many still stuck in that inelegant past.

    The German middle class certainly did not recognise such dangers in the early 1930s. Their economy was actually recovering, as fascist ignorance seized the upper hand in that Wiemar state when summoned to do so by the profit hungry captains of industry.

    A similar reluctance to face truth and analise events can be identified in the U.S. now, and in the UK where also, the philosophical method of Positivism dominates current intellectual discourse. But such old fashioned formal thinking with its fixed and dogmatic worldview obstructs critical thinking to assess the “new”. And so, erroneous concepts arise which exclude real dialectical process as the key to explaining the motion and rhythm of change in the external world (nature – including social humanity).

    This gives rise directly to the famous “individualism” which excludes the concept of contradiction as a unity of opposite tendencies in transformation within phenomena. But a new generation seems not so bound by ancient shibboleths.

    Black Lives Matter began as a response by African American communities to their racist murder as a strategy to terrorise society from a Fascist Authoritarian state bent on dividing society so the better to impose deepening austerity on the majority population in due course. Yes, things do change!

    But that’s a failed strategy and now we note that European Americans have joined their brothers and sisters, galvanised as they increasingly suffer the same bleak prospects in their ghettos also.

    In a letter to his friend Karl, Frederick Engels pointed out that things seemed to appear twice in history: first time as tragedy; second time as farce. Never one to miss a smart observation, Mr Marx reiterated this and has become somewhat famous for doing so.

    Hitler’s grim savagery was indeed a tragedy for humankind. But the rise of the New Fascism of Trump, Bolsonaro, Modi, et al., in all its vulgar championing of ignorance, stupidity, and violence has in many ways, the true ring of farce. Not that there’s anything funny about the Global Corporate Dictatorship which enables it all and consciously promotes it.

    Distracted by petty differences in appearance between GOPs and Neoliberal so-called Democrats, many older citizens (yes, real people are still real citizens) trapped in Positivist methodology limit their outlook to thinking (or to be more precise, to not thinking) the boundary of possibility has been fixed within the present manipulative class dictatorship. The truth is, that by learning and using dialectical analysis, it quickly becomes clear that the present uprising against the failed U.S. federal state and its system demands creation of an alternative visions to transform the body politic, the crisis-wracked economic system, and to achieve the social equality which modern humanity needs, to survive as a species in stewardship of, and harmony with, nature. And that’s not even to mention the very real life-threatening possibility of ecological extinction. (While the still maskless Donald utters banalities and his bombastic British collaborator Boris actually caught Covid-19!)

    America (and Ireland for that matter. and the rest of the world) urgently requires a democratic revolution by which these regressive class dictatorships (some masquerading as “democracies”) can be transformed by the mass of the people into real democracies capable of expressing the real needs of these real people – and delivering them. We must educate with political reality therapy.

    One thing is certain, the old “normal” is not possible anymore. The young and multicoloured BLM campaign is transforming into a real movement for change across the whole world.

    Our job, as intelligent people, is to commence advocacy for critical thinking, sweep aside this regressive Positivism, and begin to imagine a transformed society where all are equal in reality, in economy, in social participation, in education, and in harmonious unity for progressive change.

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