The question of personhood


fyi: I thought this topic was important enough to post on both of my blogs at the same time.

Ever since the Supreme Court decided that corporations were persons in Citizens United vs. the Federal Election Commission, there has been a perceptible uproar over the decision across the country. I too, find it frustrating (and sadly ironic) that corporations could be identified as persons.  However, as most urban planners know, many zoning codes group corporations, partnerships, firms, and other multiple-person entities in with “persons” in the rules of language construction. This was a way of reducing repetitiveness and wordiness in the ordinance. I think few, if any of us, ever imagined the concept or definition of “person” spinning out of control to actually start defining a corporation as a person.

Instead of writing about how bad the Supreme Court’s decision was (in my opinion), I have been giving the issue of “personhood” some further thought. Here is what I have come up with along with a few questions:

  • Persons have a soul, whereas corporations constitute the collective spirit of its employees and owners, which is most often reflected through its management and the board of directors and is spelled out in items like a mission statement or incorporation paperwork.
  • Persons have one heart and mind, whereas corporations reflect the collective thinking and feelings of the employees and owners, which is expressed through management or the board of directors..
  • Persons live and then die, while corporations often exist in perpetuity, unless they are badly managed, chose to close, or merge with another firm.
  • Persons feel remorse, while individuals within corporations may feel remorse. But, the corporate entity tends express its feelings (remorseful or otherwise) in public through spin doctors, press releases, advertisements, and attorneys.
  • Persons pay for their crimes when caught, while corporations too often hide behind a bevy of attorneys, drag out litigation, and then pay fines without admitting any guilt.
  • Persons are individuals with personal aspirations, while corporations comprise a collective group of individuals working toward largely common/uniform goals and objectives (e.g. the Borg from Star Trek).

Questions:

  • If corporations are considered persons, then why are they then not subject to the same rules/laws as persons? Examples could include tax rates, deductions, residency, national service, health exams/screening (financial) when receiving assistance, and responsibility for their actions.
  • Are our interpretations or meanings attributed to the words “anyone,” “someone,” “personal,” “personality,” “persons,” or “personable” going to need to be altered?
  • By determining corporations are persons, will one of the unintended consequences be the de-humanizing of people?

That last thought (question) alone should scare the daylights out of each and every one us. For when people are dehumanized, they can be treated as commodities instead of individuals.

Given all the factors and questions listed above, I cannot grasp how “anyone” possibly can conclude that corporations are persons? Instead, I believe a better term would be that corporations, firms, companies, and the like, be identified as an “entity.”

This entry was posted in culture, human rights, zoning and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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