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ETpro's avatar

If corporations are people, are they psychopathic people?

Asked by ETpro (34242 points ) September 8th, 2012

Joel Bakan’s book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Power was written as a research project for the Mark Achbar film, The Corporation. The book studies the development and exercise of corporate power from its roots in the 16th century to today. It concludes that the corporation of today is legally constituted to act as a psychopath; relentlessly pursuing its goals of increased profits and higher return to investors without regard to any harm that pursuit does so long as it doesn’t hurt the corporation.

Is he right? If so, how could we revise the charter of businesses so they weigh citizenship and the common good along with their own self interests?

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16 Answers

Coloma's avatar

I think so, of course not ALL corporations have this mentality, but, most do.
I have heard that sociopathology is actually an evolutionary advantage, and I certainly think it is on the rise on a personal and corporate level.
As survival becomes even more competitive it makes sense that ruthless pursuit of power and resources will increase. The ” as long as I get MINE, to hell with the rest.”

Hey, sometimes even I, little miss integrity, toys with the idea of a life of crime. It does seem that towing the straight and narrow really doesn’t pay off except in ones conscience. lol
I have been joking for years about opening a retirement brothel or becoming a drug dealer, I could do a Martha Stewart stint, cushy federal prison. haha

Bill1939's avatar

If corporations were people, I would say that they are sociopathic. However, I believe that corporations are not people. The first words of the United States Constitution are “We the People of the United States”. Given what The American Heritage Dictionary says, unless one stretches the meaning of ‘a living organism’ and ‘metabolism’, I do not know how the U. S.Supreme Court can say corporations are people.

The dictionary says, “people (noun). 1. Human beings considered as a group or in indefinite numbers: People were dancing in the street. I met all sorts of people.”

It also says, “person (noun). 1. A living human being.”

Lastly it says, “Life (noun). 1. Biology. (a). The property or quality that distinguishes living organisms from dead organisms and inanimate matter, manifested in functions such as metabolism, growth, reproduction, and response to stimuli or adaptation to the environment originating from within the organism. (b). The characteristic state or condition of a living organism.

flutherother's avatar

Corporations aren’t people, which is a truth that I hold to be self evident.

wonderingwhy's avatar

In general I’d say he’s right. Fix it by recognizing companies for what they are, constructs and desires around which people are gathered in an effort to realize them. They have no rights. They are extended the courtesy of existence solely to the benefit of society, can be treated in any way society deems acceptable, and have no recourse save dissolution. Start there and move forward.

Unfortunately society generally tends towards short-sighted, self-gratification, and is strongly in keeping with the axiom “more for less, now”. Point being, if you want to change corporations’ focus that’s easy, but to do so you have to change peoples’ focus, that’s hard.

mazingerz88's avatar

Some of there are. But it’s each of the corporations lever manipulating men and women behind the curtain that are actually “psychos”.

ETpro's avatar

Another take on the question. It’s a documentary called I Am Fishhead. It’s 78 minutes long, so I haven’t had a chance to watch it through yet. But it appears to be aimed squarely at the corporations and governments that do act like psychopaths.

dabbler's avatar

I think sociopath is more accurate than psychopath when describing U.S. corporations.

There is the lovely new B Corp style of business entity.
May they live long and prosper.

In Germany, more than 50% of the members of a corporate board must be representing the employees. They make very different decisions about benefits and layoffs and C-level compensation.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

Of course they are.

ETpro's avatar

@Coloma I am really referring the the multinational mega-corporations that are beholden to investors and must produce higher quarterly profits every quarter or watch their stock prices tank. And much of the executive compensation is in the form of stock.

I disagree that sociopathy/psychopathy is on the rise. In the time of Genghis Kahn, Alexander the Great, etc, psychopaths were routinely selected as leaders of nations.

I strongly disagree that psychopathy is a survival trait. A world dominated by psychopaths would be a world where megalomania ruled. And in King-of-the-Mountain, only one competitor can win. Psychopaths do not even care about their own progeny or spouses. If that trait were to become dominant, it would assure the extinction of humanity. It is diametrically opposed to survival, and so will not survive evolution.

@Bill1939 How true. It shows how inept the 5 Con Men are to be Federal Judges of any sort, and certainly to be Justices of the Supreme Court. Their only concern is partisan politics, and using the power of the court to defeat democracy and establish single party rule.

@flutherother Well said.

@wonderingwhy A profound analysis. Thanks.

@mazingerz88 What the writer was getting at is that the very US charter of large, multi-national corporations requires by lay that they act in a psychopathic manner. Those top officers who refuse will simply be replaced.

@dabbler The word sociopath is poorly defined and generally taken to be interghangable with psychopath.

@Simone_De_Beauvoir Thank you.

mazingerz88's avatar

@ETpro And to think I read they’re teaching ethics to business students now. Makes me wonder.

amujinx's avatar

This question and the responses just kept making me think of this scene from a classic comedy. I think it shows in a scant 5 seconds the response most multinational mega-corporations would have to anything that would limit their push to power and profits.

Coloma's avatar

@ETpro It would seem so, but, some evolutionary psychologists are claiming the evolutionary advantage. Martha Stout speaks of this in her book ” The sociopath next door.” Of course there is no new news under the sun, but it certainly seems sociopathic behavior is becoming more the “norm.”

ETpro's avatar

@Coloma Scoiopathic behavior was totally the norm during Classical Greece, Rome, the invasion of the barbarian hordes, the dark ages, the Spanish Inquisitor. Somebody’s just trying to sell books if the claims it’s more prevalent today. It is less prevalent, and in most cases it is criminalized today whereas it was encouraged in the past.

dabbler's avatar

Maybe the recent 30-year tide is the death rattle of the reptile-brain types for whom there is less and less room as the warm-blooded take over.

Coloma's avatar

@ETpro well, we will never know if the moguls of thoses eras were of a sociopathic nature or merely a sign of the times, barbaric behavior initiated by the barbaric, divide and conquer, mentality of those historical periods. One interesting fact is that, without reason or understanding, an incredibly high, the highest number of sociopathic killers emerge from the Pacific Northwest in america. Why is this?

ETpro's avatar

@dabbler I certainly hope you are right. And I think you probably are.

@Coloma I have no idea why that is, but I am in the midst of a study of the psychopathic personality for a book I’m planning to write on cults. If my studies lead to a postulate or better, I will let you know.

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