His Holiness, Inc.

In order to understand modern corporations, forget everything you thought you knew about them and replace it with this one simple premise: A corporation is the same thing as a god. Now go read the business page of the newspaper, and notice how you react.

The CEO is the high priest of his particular god, who may war against the other gods. If you make offerings to certain gods, at certain times of the year, then you may get a return above 12 percent in the market, and your faith will be rewarded with lucrative dividends. The works of each god are great, and they have dominion over different aspects of life: Some preside over our dissemination of ideas and others make our food and cleaning products. We, as mere mortals, must never anger these gods, for they can smite us into bankruptcy.

One thing is irrevocably clear: Corporations, like gods, do not “exist” in the real world. They are ethereal beings that we can only perceive through their works.

Xerox is not anywhere in space, and you can never shake hands with McDonald’s or IBM. At most you can interact with their priests, who interpret their will. But you cannot challenge them, as they are beings separate from us.

Ironic, then, that these beings, occupying no space and having none of what we call “life,” are legally persons, according to the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Originally meant to give citizenship to anyone born in the United States, white or black, it abolished the idea that a person could be property. Lawyers brought new gods into being by arguing that the same amendment meant that property could be a person.

Corporations cannot die, feel remorse or make any action that does not have the goal of profit, yet are legally equal to you and me. Considering the teams of lawyers and astronomical budget that corporations have at their disposal, they are indisputably more powerful than us. This power, coupled with their immortality, has enabled the corporations to become gods.

The word “corporation” is derived from the Latin word corpus, which also means substance, flesh, body or corpse. This name now gives a substance to something that is not corporeally real, a legal relationship between actual people. This relationship has grown to be more important than people themselves, and the rights of corporations often trump the safety and welfare of the individuals that constitute that very relationship, as the whims of gods supercede the needs of those who worship them.

These gods rule us with an unswerving will to make us consume, for it is in our consumption that we pay our homage to them. This is why one of the most powerful wings of any corporation is the marketing department.

In the groundbreaking documentary “The Corporation,” filmmakers Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott examined the question: “If corporations were people, what kind of people would they be?” They determine that the psychotic state of a corporation is due in part to its inability to understand the long-term effects of its actions on others.

They interview Lucy Hughes, a high priestess of Initiative Media. She describes a study on “the nag factor,” and how her god wishes it to be amplified. This study determines how best to manipulate the undeveloped minds of children so that they will make their parents buy them a toy. For, the corporation’s studies clearly show that children who nag their parents once a week are 58 percent more likely to have the toy bought for them. Hughes describes her deity’s demands as entertainment: “You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying your products. It’s a game.”

Initiative Media and other corporations do not care that imbuing an impressionable child’s brain with flashing lights and slogans will make a significant social deficiency in the adult the child will grow into; they are above such petty concerns. The slogans that become mantras of greed only increase the power of the gods.

Likewise, McDonald’s does not care whether or not a Big Mac is good for you, so long as you buy one to make His market share rise. The only reason He would care about the nutritional content of the food sold in His name is if it became an issue to consumers and negatively impacted quarterly sales. If not, then the cheapest and most profit-bearing ingredients are all that the gods need.

Corporations were originally created for short-term projects, such as building a railroad line or a library. When the project was finished, the corporation would dissolve. If any corporation began to act against the public good, it could be ordered to dissolve by the state, a body of representatives elected by the people.

Sadly, this “state” no longer has any control over corporations, thanks to the 14th Amendment. Can anyone seriously imagine the Senate calling out Microsoft and ordering its death? Pshaw. Mortals have no power in the face of gods.

Chaelan MacTavish can be reached at [email protected]