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Person, Inc.

January 21, 2010

In a much needed victory for rich assholes everywhere, the Supreme Court has ruled that the U.S. government cannot limit political spending by corporations in elections.

A corporation is, as the word indicates, a body, or “corpus”, that “rations” goods and services, such as access to your doctor or democratically elected representative, or both, as it sees fit.

Etymological accuracy notwithstanding, the court, as usual, split down party lines, between those for justice and those for profits. (That would be Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas in the majority, Stevens, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor aginn’ it.)

From the NYT:

“Justice John Paul Stevens read a long dissent from the bench. He said the majority had committed a grave error in treating corporate speech the same as that of human beings.”

Are corporations persons? They are made of corpses, they want to be on TV, and they shit all over the environment, so it might seem that they are.

But what makes a person, Mr. Lebowski?

Animals have desires. But they’re not people, however fur-less. The Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt argues that caring about the desirability of one’s desires is what makes one a person. More precisely, he contends that a person is someone who has “second order volitions”.

To wit:

A first order desire is wanting beer. People have conflicting first order desires, of course. A second order desire is wanting to want beer. People can also have conflicting second order desires. (That’s what makes S+M possible, I think.) A ‘will’ or ‘volition’ is the effective desire- the desire that one actually acts on. A 2nd order volition is wanting a certain desire to be one’s will.

The unwilling drug addict has a 2nd order volition; he wants to not want drugs, and he wants to act on his desire to not have drugs. The unwilling drug addict is a person.

But if you just have impulses without reflecting on them, and without considering the desirability of your desires, you’re not a person.

It follows that teenagers aren’t people.

And neither are corporations. They have impulses, and drives- to make profit. They want nothing more than to make profit. But do they consider whether it is good to want to make profits? Do they not want to want to make profit? Pshaw. Pshaw I say.

Corporations aren’t people. Teenagers aren’t people. Neither should talk, or spend money.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Alek permalink
    January 22, 2010 1:15 pm

    I have nothing to add, or to subtract. Just wanted to say great post, Jonah.

    • JoJo permalink
      January 22, 2010 2:31 pm

      thanks! (but it’s JoJo who deserves the credit.)

  2. Alek permalink
    January 22, 2010 7:40 pm

    ahem… of course… what did I say?


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