The Corporation as Psychopath

by Yule Heibel on January 13, 2004

Sometimes there’s nothing quite like radio, especially CBC: Sounds like Canada

This morning I heard an amazing clip from a recent documentary film called The Corporation. It’s based on a book, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (check this link, great article), by Joel Bakan, a law professor at UBC, and was produced by Mark Achbar, whose other credits include Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media and Two Brides and a Scalpel: Diary of a Lesbian Marriage.

Ottawa Indymedia also has an article, with additional links to related sites. And there’s a trailer.

The film questions the sanity of an institution that has been given the legal status of a person, but one with no concern for human values. Considering the power that the institution holds, and its psychopathic personality, the documentary uses case studies to explore the impacts that the corporation has on our environment, our children, our media, and even our genes.

The excerpt I heard on this morning’s radio broadcast came from a Wall Street trader who commented that seemingly every trader’s first thought, when 9/11 happened, was fixed on what the price of gold would do (go up, naturally) and how or whether he or she was invested in gold. He added that during the first Gulf War, the price of oil went way up, and that the current invasion of Iraq was again seen as a business opportunity by traders. He and his colleagues hoped that Saddam would do something really terrible, that he would torch the oilfields completely, because that would just drive the price up even more…

The following goes some way toward describing the film’s approach:

To understand why the movie has made such an impression on audiences in this country, and stands to make an even bigger impression abroad, you have to understand exactly what this film-making mod squad has accomplished.

Through interviews, archival research and a cheeky use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the psychiatric biz’s Bible), the film-makers not only explore the strange history of the corporation and its legal rights as a “person” — a very bizarre result of the Emancipation in the United States — but they go so far as diagnosing this man-made entity as a “psychopath.”

Chapter by chapter, they explore a simplified definition of antisocial personality disorder (the term ‘psychopath’ doesn’t actually exist as an illness in the DSM) and apply it directly to their research findings.

When they discover corporations are indifferent to the consequences of their actions, they check off another trait. And so it goes, until they check off every symptom of generalized antisocial psychosis — from indifference, to manipulative behaviour, to the inability to distinguish lies from truth. [More…]

Not exactly uplifting, but then again, it’s also a fact that Peter Pan can’t really fly.


Joel January 14, 2004 at 2:55 am

We’ve been skating over similar topic matter, though I spent my time reflecting on the prophecies of H.G. Wells and how we have come to fulfill them.

Anonymous January 14, 2004 at 8:33 am

this, to me, goes to the heart of our industrial disease. Until we can overturn the corporation-as-legal-entity laws, I don’t see how we can effect much change. Even people with power within corporations are helpless — were they to try to curtail the psychopathic behavior, they’d be let go in favor of someone else, someone who could turn a blind eye in favor of, yes, profits over people. And of course, this applies to the CEO of America, also known as the President.

Jon Husband January 30, 2004 at 10:40 pm

You’re absolutely right. Bruce. As a lapsed mgt. consultant who spent a lot of time in the exec fattening pens of multinationals, I know there are actually a fair number of good solid human beings in there – and if they act up too much, the hook !

Mind you, at some level everyone always has choice – and as I grew older, I lost more and more respect for those who chose to stay. I walked – immeasurably poorer for it (semi-broke today), but way more alive, and my soul sleeps well at night.

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