When I was in college, lo these many years ago, I took a course that turned out to be formative for me, called Jung, Myth and Lifestyles (from the same brilliant and big-hearted woman I took my Environmental Literature course with, the poet, literary critic, and environmental activist Nancy Corson Carter). One of the many worthwhile texts she assigned was a book called Betwixt and Between: Patterns of Masculine and Feminine Initiation. It focused on what it termed the liminal (transitional) period of adolescence, when one is neither still a child nor yet an adult, and the rites of passage used in myriad societies to ease and mark that transition. And I tell you this simply to introduce the concept, because I posit that America, as a nation with a very short history, has entered its own adolescence, it’s own liminal period, in which it is no longer what it was, an experiment in democracy, and not yet what it will become. (I’m not the only one who thinks so. Read this interview with Jungian culture critic James Hillman about America and a shift from one age to the next.) I can’t say what America will become (and neither can he), but I can hope that it will eventually evolve into a real democracy, one in which all people are honored and granted the freedoms originally promised in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, with a government truly of the people, by the people, for the people. Currently we’ve got a government of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations. Which has been the case for a long time, well before the Citizens United case that granted corporations the right to spend unlimited amounts of money as political speech, but what makes things interesting, what makes clear that we soon face a national rite of passage, is the fact that people are waking up to this reality.
We’re not only waking up to it, but we’re waking up to the fact that this corporate influence has penetrated our body politic through forceful means. If you’ve read up at all about the corporate corruption of politics, you’ve probably heard about a case decided by the Supreme Court in 1888 granting 14th-amendment personhood to corporations (Southern Pacific v. Santa Clara County). Fascinatingly, this article at Truthout dismantles that bit of common legal knowledge and shows it to be a heist of our system by a rail-road man who took advantage of his position as court reporter (at the time, much, much more than a stenographer), most likely with the encouragement and cover of another rail-road man on the bench, to insert language into a headnote that seemed to grant them personhood. It’s actually not part of the official decision, which intentionally did NOT rule on the 14th-amendment issue; it wasn’t caught and corrected because the justice who wrote the actual decision died before the record was published. So there needs to be some serious revision of our law. It’s going to be interesting to watch how this plays out, since all of the later cases that took that headnote as precedent should be revisited; at the very least, they must acknowledge that the precedent was NOT set, and hear arguments on the matter (and handle all present cases without falling back on that false precedent).
Corporate control of our politics has been part of the geo-political paradigm for over a hundred years. Those who benefit from this arrangement, shareholders or highly paid officers, politicians, and even some workers who choose to sign up to be wage slaves, convincing themselves that it’s for the best (and while we always have more choices than we imagine, I recognize some people have more choices than others), may think that it’s a good thing, and want to keep it that way. But one way or another, it’s going to have to change, and here’s why: corporations are capable of evil human persons simply can’t manage, and they’re killing us and the planet. Seen the cancer rates lately? Imagine what they’re going to be for our children, our grandchildren. How about when all that nuclear waste starts leaking out of its poorly designed containers, along with all those industrial chemicals that turned out to be toxic and persistent?
That article about the 14th amendment (added to the constitution, you might remember, to prevent the return of slavery, to grant human rights to people of all persuasions) started with this excerpt from an address to the Ohio 1912 Constitutional Convention by William Jennings Bryan:
The first thing to understand is the difference between the natural person and the fictitious person called a corporation. They differ in the purpose for which they are created, in the strength which they possess, and in the restraints under which they act.
Man is the handiwork of God and was placed upon earth to carry out a Divine purpose; the corporation is the handiwork of man and created to carry out a money-making policy.
There is comparatively little difference in the strength of men; a corporation may be one hundred, one thousand, or even one million times stronger than the average man. Man acts under the restraints of conscience, and is influenced also by a belief in a future life. A corporation has no soul and cares nothing about the hereafter….
The article, an astounding and important piece of real journalism, is Chapter 1 of a book called Unequal Protection: How Corporations Became People and How You Can Fight Back, by Thom Hartmann (they’re serializing it). I think I’m going to make the $30 donation so I can receive the book version, with the subtitle, “The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.” Because, as this first chapter makes clear, it IS a theft of human rights. And yes, humans, real, human persons, have been enslaved in this system that has taken from us one of our most basic human rights: the right to clean air, water, and living soil, the most basic aspects, the sine qua non for the pursuit of happiness.
Thanks to information technology (something that’s turning out to be harder to control than the plutocracy might like), people are becoming aware at an exponential rate, and thanks to Wall Street’s hijacking our economy, catastrophes like the BP ecocide (about which I’ve had this and that, etc., etc., to say) and now, (egads!) what’s happening with those reactors in Japan, no one can pretend that these corporations are proper national or world citizens. They take all the profit but own none of the risk. And they risk our very lives, and pay us just enough to keep us from rising up, never enough to feel like free people. And they make a practice of grinding the soul to little pieces so that it won’t speak up against the evil things they do. They cause us to live in fear, of job loss and poverty, of each other.
But God-given (inherent) as liberty is, it’s stubborn. It doesn’t take to suppression forever. Though fear of hunger or violence will keep a people in check for a time, eventually it becomes intolerable and somebody sets themselves on fire on the oppressor’s doorstep and sparks a revolution. I’m not hoping anyone shows up and torches themselves in the Halliburton parking lot. Heaven forbid, especially since I’m pretty sure those hardhearts would be completely unmoved, and our corporate-controlled press would fail to report it (thank goodness for Al-Jazeera, or Tunisia and Egypt would never have thrown off their despots…whether they manage democracy remains to be seen. They’d stand a better chance if they’d listen to their women). As it is, because Bahrain and Saudi Arabia are allies and keep us supplied with oil, I doubt these disturbing pictures of what security forces are doing now to quell the democratic uprising in Bahrain are going to get much press here, unless it’s by citizen journalists.
But there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Anonymous’s hacktivism is a sign of what’s to come: people rising up and using cleverness to overcome corporate might (as well as shutting up guano spigots — a term borrowed from poet Sam Hamill, harsh, but apt, in this case — like the Westboro Baptists, those hatefreaks who picket at solider’s funerals because “God Hates Fags”). The revolution won’t involve guillotines, but email accounts and bank transfers. And civil disobedience, by individuals like Tim DeChristopher as well as organized actions by groups like Peaceful Uprising, which he helped found.
And in the end, it’s going to involve a real change in thinking. Just like we need to move from patriarchy to gylany and from plutocracy to democracy (and I mean real democracy, not just the ability to vote for leaders who turn around and represent the interest of these few, gigantic, transnational corporations…there’s no such thing as semi-democratic any more than there’s such a thing as semi-faithful…what we have right now is a form of corporatism that some even dare call fascist), just like that, we need to start thinking in a different way about what makes a successful economy. What’s righteous is that some of our youth are already thinking this way, and they’re leading their own revolution, all over the world, determined to run the old fools out of their ivory towers. I love the name of their movement: Kick it over.
It remains to be seen what kind of rite of passage we’re going to experience. War can be a rite of passage. In Betwixt and Between, often the masculine rites of passage involved mock battles or real trials like the Sun Dance, on this continent, which involves hanging from pierced flesh until the flesh parts and the young man falls to the ground. I say we go for a more feminine version. More of a blessing by water and pollen than a trial by fire. Let us have a bloodless revolution in which we stand up and make our voices heard, without cease, united in the desire to forge a livable future out of the mess left to us by over a hundred years of corporate dominance.