Daily Archives: August 14, 2012

Corporate Corpus

The awkward Supreme Court ruling, known as “Citizens United,” has generated a lot of discussion about corporations being people. Note that this 2010 ruling did not establish corporations as people; that’s been on the books since the early 1800s. The Citizens United ruling allowed them to spend vast sums of money as “free speech.” Anyone not terribly alarmed by this and what it implies for our political future isn’t paying attention.

Note also that the laws granting corporate personhood did not grant corporations full rights as people—it did not make them as people—but granted them some of the same rights that people have. For instance, corporations can enter into contracts, enforce contracts, sue and be sued. The idea, basically, is that a group of people should have some of the same Constitutional rights that individual people have.

However, it seems clear to most that the Citizens United ruling went too far. Justice Stevens, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said:

“At bottom, the Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self government since the founding, and who have fought against the distinctive corrupting potential of corporate electioneering since the days of Theodore Roosevelt. It is a strange time to repudiate that common sense. While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

As I said, anyone not alarmed by this isn’t paying attention. It’s scary. Very scary. And we’re about to see the effect of that ruling in the coming election. For the first time, corporations will be able to pour vast amounts of money into politics. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Which all got me to thinking. Corporations aren’t people, you can’t treat them as literal persons, but you can have some fun casting them as bodies. This thought was partially in response to a new “smart” elevator system put in at work. The announcement of the new system came along with a kind of sales pitch. That’s often a bad sign when they have to pitch something as pedestrian as elevators. It’s an even worse sign when they tart the language up improbably.  Did you know that elevators are the “nervous system” of a building?

Yeah, neither did I. And I can’t quite find any way to make that simile fit. Are the riders supposed to be nerve signals?  If so, which are the pain signals, and which are the pleasure signals?  Are some riders heat signals while others are cold signals?

Actually, I can think of some people who would be well-cast as “stubbed my toe hard” signals. And come to that, I guess I can think of a few people who are pleasure signals.

But never mind. Marketing lameness at its finest (which is to say at its most content- and reality-free).  But it did get me thinking about the corporation as a body. And that connected back to something I’d been pushing at work regarding IT, which, sadly, my company has seen as a “necessary evil” and a cost with no real return. That, gladly, is beginning to change, no real credit to me.

The point I’d been trying to make for years now is that IT is the skeleton of the body. Out of sight and perhaps not very attractive, but without it the body ain’t goin’ nowhere! IT provides the infrastructure upon which a modern company is built. IT, really unlike any other division, is a part of every employee’s every day (if not every hour). IT also participates in every widget manufactured, every bill sent, every bill paid, every shipment sent or delivered, every paycheck and every email. I would say that no other division would, upon mysteriously completely vanishing, end the corporation.

Many years ago I was told that, “If we lost computing power for seven days, that’s it, we’d be out of business.”  There’s even a story about the time a massive power failure nearly did just that.  (These days, power generators and other backups prevent that sort of problem.)

So, if IT is the skeleton, what are the other parts?

It seems clear that top management is the brains, although one might also include the top scientists and researchers.  Seems like middle management might be the nervous system. They carry and distribute the brain’s decisions out to the body, and they can be a channel for information (pain and pleasure signals) going back to the brain.

The blood of a company, I’m thinking, is money. Accounting. There is a two-way flow, money spent, money earned, that resembles the flow of veins and arteries.

I’m stuck on the lungs and respiration. There’s a two-way flow there as well. Good gas in (lovely oxygen) and bad gas out (ugh, carbon dioxide). Smokers use the lungs to absorb the chemicals they’re inhaling, so we need an analog that represents gas-exchange as well as the ability to absorb certain substances. Maybe HR plays that role? They’re responsible for hiring and firing (breath in, breath out). Can we say HR stimulates the body (puff, puff) by bringing in various HR functions?

And then there’s the liver and the kidneys. They deal with eliminating waste, so perhaps we cast the groups that take out the trash and clean up in that role.

There’s also the alimentary system, and I can’t help but see the cafeteria and other food services (and the dish washing and the food trash) in that role. Seems a natural fit.

Finally we have the arms, legs and face. The first two are the employees themselves. They’re really the ones that do the actual work. The face, obviously, is marketing and PR—often called the “face of the company.”

Perhaps, as with many late night ruminations, this doesn’t really work.  As I write this in the cold hard light of day, it does seem a bit less interesting and compelling than it did at 2:00 AM when sleep was elusive.  But it’s my blog, and if I wanna write meaningless nonsense, I can!

And IT is the skeleton. The all important, going nowhere without us, skeleton. So give us a little respect, dammit!