Saturday, October 22, 2011

Thom Hartmann: Introduction to Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights

Unequal Protection: Introduction
Thom Hartmann

From the introduction to Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights.


It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.

- Anne Frank, from her diary, July 15, 1944

This book is about the difference between humans and the corporations we humans have created. The story goes back to the birth of the United States, even the birth of the Revolution. It continues through the writing of the Constitution and Bill of Rights in the 1780s, and reaches its first climactic moment 100 years later, after the Civil War. The changes that ensued from that moment continue into the 21st century, where the results continue to unfold. And very few citizens of the world are unaffected.

In another sense, this book is about values and beliefs: how our values are reflected in the society we create, and how a society itself can work, or not work, to reflect those values.

Intentions and culture

A culture is a collection of shared beliefs about how things are. These beliefs are associated with myths and histories that form a self-reinforcing loop, and the collection of these beliefs and histories form the stories that define a culture. Usually unnoticed, like the air we breathe, these stories are rarely questioned. Yet their impact can be enormous.

For example, for six to seven thousand years, since the earliest founding of what we call modern culture, there were the stories that “it’s okay to own slaves, particularly if they are of a different race or tribe,” and “women should be the property of, and subservient to, men.”

But as time goes on, circumstances and cultures change: beliefs are questioned and aren’t useful begin to fall away. This book will raise questions about some of our shared beliefs, asking, as many cultures have asked throughout history: “Do we want to keep this belief, or change to something that works better for us?”

The story of corporate personhood

Here we find the nub of this book, continuing a theme in my earlier writings. In The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, I identified those stories (among others), and suggested that true cultural change comes about when we first wake up to our own self-defeating beliefs…and then go about changing them. I also pointed out that the story that “we are separate and different from the natural world” is a toxic one, brought to us by Gilgamesh, then Aristotle, then Descartes, and it no longer serves us well.

In The Prophet’s Way, I detailed how the story that “we are separate from divinity or consciousness” can perpetuate a helplessness and a form of spiritual slavery that’s not useful for many individual humans or the planet as a whole. Mystics tell us a different story through the ages - the possibility of being personally connected to divinity. I suggested that, for many people, the mystic’s story could be far more empowering and personally useful.

And in my books on Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD), I suggested that neurologically different children are actually a useful asset to our culture (using Edison, Franklin, and Churchill as classic examples), and that we do ourselves a disservice - and we wound our children in the process - by telling them they have a “brain disorder” and tossing them into the educational equivalent of the trash basket. (And the most recent studies sponsored by the National Institutes of Mental Health are explicitly backing up my position.[i])

In Unequal Protections I’m visiting with you the stories of democracy and corporate personhood - ones whose histories I only learned in detail while researching this book. (It’s amazing what we don’t learn in school!) Corporate personhood is the story that a group of people can get together and organize a legal fiction (that’s the actual legal term for it) called a corporation - and that agreement could then have the rights and powers given living, breathing humans by modern democratic governments. Democracy is the story of government of, by, and for the people; something, it turns out, that is very difficult to have function well in the same realm as corporate personhood.

A new but highly contagious story

Unlike the cultural stories I’ve written about earlier, this last story is more recent. Corporate personhood tracks back in small form to Roman times when groups of people authorized by the Caesars’ organized to engage in trade. It took a leap around the year 1500 with the development of the first Dutch and then other European trading corporations, and then underwent a series of transformations in the United States of America in the 19th Century whose implications were every bit as world-changing as the institutionalization of slavery and the oppression of women in the holy books had been thousands of years earlier.

And, in a similar fashion to the Biblical endorsement of slavery and oppression of women, this story of corporate personhood - which only came fully alive in the 1800s - was highly contagious: it has spread across most of the world in just the past half-century. It has - literally - caused some sovereign nations to rewrite their constitutions, and led others to sign treaties overriding previous constitution protections of their human citizens.

To Read the Rest of the Introduction

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