Today I heard a commentary on the American public radio station NPR that made my blood boil red. Remarking on the recent scandal and out of court settlement between the US government and SPCS on charges for money laundering, the commentator argued that the bank shouldn’t be held to standard fraud charges because “banks don’t commit fraud, people commit fraud.” Why is this so galling? Because in 2010, the American Supreme Court decided that corporations, unions, and various other groups are people and therefore have a right to free speech through their campaign contributions. In other words, the Supreme Court took a posthuman turn, recognizing the existence of other beings beyond the human (corporations, unions, activist groups, etc). Well enough. We shouldn’t begin from the premise that posthumanism entails what is good. It recognizes reality in recognizing that there are nonhumans with their own interests and that there are “aliens among us” already in the form of intelligent cognitive beings that might depend on humans but which are not themselves humans (a central theme of Kafka’s literature).
So what’s the problem here? On the one hand we’re told that these alien beings are persons (not the same as humans) and therefore are entitled to the rights of free speech through their campaign contributions; while on the other hand we’re being told that when such “persons” commit fraudulent crimes they shouldn’t be held accountable because only humans commit crimes, not banks (which the Supreme Court already defined as persons). You can’t have it both ways. If we recognize a corporation as a person, then they should be subject– whatever the economic cost –to all the same laws and penalties as any other person. We should make the bank go before a court and upon finding it guilty, place a form or document in jail that prevents them from practicing business or any other interactions over the course of their sentence. If a state has capital punishment, we should be able to execute a corporation, union, or any other organization. If they are persons, we should be able to put them in solitary confinement. Indeed, we should be able to examine their mental fitness and institutionalize them, demanding therapy.
If we are to be posthumans, then we really have to be posthumans. We have to consider the ethical machines of nonhuman machines such as animals and corporations, and we must also subject these other machines to our ethical and political machines. We need to have serious discussions about the rights of these various entities and develop our incorporeal government machines accordingly. The worst part of this whole story is that no one will be held accountable. The bank won’t be brought up on charges because the governments fear that it would have too much of an economic impact and “because banks don’t commit fraud, people do”. The bankers won’t be held accountable because it is believed the banks did it. That 1 billion dollar settlement? It’s coming out of the pockets of shareholders. No one that matters is held accountable because we’re playing a double game as to just what counts as a “person” or “agent”. What a world we live in.