Beasts in the Boardroom

A brief introduction to corporate psychopathy.

Edward Abbey
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.
‐Edward Abbey

Our good friends at Wikipedia define psychopathy, thusly:

"Psychopathy, also known as sociopathy, is traditionally defined as a personality disorder characterized by persistent antisocial behavior, impaired empathy and remorse, and bold, disinhibited, egotistical traits."

If we delve deeper, we find that psychopaths lack any sort of affect or emotion.  They have no feelings, like remorse or guilt.  They lack anything we’d call a “conscience”, essentially, and commit horrendous crimes, often without being troubled, at all.  We also call them sociopaths, as Wikipedia notes.  Either way, they’re bad news.  We can all agree on that, no matter what we call such a person.

In order to understand corporate psychopathy, we must understand the entity known as the corporation, first.  Like our other invention, money, it helps to look at the roots of corporations, their history, their origins, their original purpose and similar facts.  Corporations were first conceived as a way of pooling resources to accomplish a particular task.  Such a task might be the building of a road or bridge or some other sort of infrastructure.  These entities were normally founded, and funded, by a pool of shareholders.  So, any profits they might reap, on their particular undertaking, were shared among these same shareholders, as might be expected.

It should also be noted that corporations were always very limited in their activities.  For example, if a corporation was given a charter to grind wheat to produce flour, they couldn’t decide, later, to also go into the bread-baking business.  Not without another charter, they couldn’t.  So, they couldn’t “diversify”, as corporations do now.  They were often temporary entities, as well, in these early times.  They might last no more than a few years, by charter.  Perhaps, they might have a charter for a few decades, at the very most.  But, such an arrangement was exceedingly rare.  Once a corporation’s charter ended, it was no longer a legal entity and could no longer legally carry out its function.

Also, the shareholders were entirely responsible for the losses a corporation sustained, as well as being entitled to any profits garnered by the outfit.  There was no concept of filing bankruptcy and leaving creditors in a lurch, then, as is so commonplace, now.  There was, however, a very strong concept of debtor’s prison. This fact, as well as the distinct possibility of being tarred and feathered, kept most corporations in line, most of the time.

From those relatively modest beginnings, several hundred years ago, corporations have morphed into something very different than they once were.  For one thing, corporations are legal persons, now.  However, they are a very unique sort of person… very unique, indeed. You see, a corporation has only one purpose, only one reason to exist.  It’s not to build a bridge or a subway or even a space ship, as it once was.  A corporation exists for the sole purpose of making a profit for shareholders. Not only is that its sole purpose, it is also its primary legal responsibility.  In fact, rather than in theory, that’s the only responsibility a corporation truly has. In theory, rather than in fact, a corporation is bound to uphold and obey the same laws all other legal persons, like us, are obligated to uphold and obey.  In practice, however, the fines for illegal conduct are just the cost of doing business, figured into profit/loss projections, well ahead of time.

Oh, that’s another unique thing about these particular legal persons.  They can’t be imprisoned, can they? Also, they can’t be executed, either… put out of business, that is.  That would be the equivalent of a death sentence.  However, one can only suppose such a thing.  To dare suggest such an idea would mean *gasp* robbing millions of innocent stockholders of their property.  It seems that’s… illegal. There isn’t anything, at all, ironic about that, is there, then?

For practical purposes, we’ll be leaving this topic, now.  Those practical purposes are, most specifically, that we don’t feel it’s necessary to strain, too terribly much, at the task of convincing the public that corporations are, both by nature and in deed, hideous and voracious beasts.  They are, in fact, sociopathic, in every sense, as well as in the most extreme senses imaginable.  For those seeking a more nuanced and complete discussion of the subject, we highly recommend "The Corporation", an outstanding documentary which proves the case of psychopathy, in all major corporations, beyond any doubt, whatsoever.  For those who have the stomach for horrific crimes, this documentary ably describes corporate murderousness in South America, The Empire Files: Chevron vs. the Amazon - Inside the Killzone.  We warn you, though.  This film is simply appalling. The subject matter is extremely disturbing, to say the least.