Superopinionated is the personal blog of Courtneys Stanton. Based in Portland, Oregon, their posts examine life through the lenses of addiction recovery, intersectional feminism, and mental illness.

Super Opinionated Power Club 16 -- Live from Open Source Bridge

A thing I struggle with is accepting reality. I don’t want to estimate how much of my emotional strife comes from me being unable to accept the state of the world in one way or another, but probably whatever percentage isn’t tied up in dealing with events from my past, is that. Which bring me naturally, to Citizens United.


I’ve had a really hard time with this for five years. A corporation is, literally, a tax status that a group of people can use because it is more efficient and less risky for them when dealing with their (they being human beings in this sentence) business finances. That’s all a corporation is. If I’m doing business for myself, or with a group of other people, and it becomes useful for me to do so, I can (and probably should) incorporate -- form a corporation. Once it’s no longer useful for me, a human being, to operate that way, I can (and probably should) dissolve the corporation. That’s the natural lifespan of a corporation in my outdated understanding of what a corporation is/was -- it exists as long as it serves a purpose to its founder (creator).


Obviously, the nature of the corporation has changed significantly since my dad was teaching me about all of this (and the stock market, with my first little stocks and bonds in elementary school...I wanted Apple, he insisted on IBM, thanks Dad :/), both in cultural understanding and in legal status. It’s been this new legal status that has allowed me to understand the slower, broader cultural status shift, even though I’ve worked at 501(c)3s, LLPs, LLCs, and Incs for almost my entire career.


Corporations currently carry (some of) the rights of citizens in the United States, on one hand. They also in return do (some of) the civic duties of a citizen. (Someone else can argue with y’all about whether corporations past a certain size ever actually pay taxes, or enough taxes. (They don’t.)) In part due to this very withholding of funds from the government (in theory), corporations take on (some of) the tasks previously reserved for communally funded “public good” like research and development into new fields (eg: Google’s driverless car, which won a $2 mil DARPA grant...thanks, I’m sure that covered *all* the costs on that one, DARPA).


So hold onto that thought and now think for a second about the last time you had to interact with a corporation, as an outsider. No, here, suffer with me -- I once spent five months going back and forth waiting to see if a large media company’s legal department was going to approve a two-sentence improvement and clarification of their pre-existing language regarding open source software. Let me repeat myself: they already were on board with open sourcing the code, the language just needed to be cleaned up a little. It took five months to get a “I guess nobody’s going to respond for the actual sign-off, so we’re going to pass, sorry” out of my contact.


Once someone works for a corporation, they are no longer operating as a person, because people don’t behave that way, or at least at that speed. And, honestly, employees at startups don’t act like that, it’s part of their terror/charm. I’ve started taking corporations much more at face value, thinking of them in the terms they use to describe themselves, and assuming that their values are actually what they say they are.


Corporations are immortal, but not unkillable. They care a great deal about being thought of, and think about themselves to a far higher degree than anyone outside of the corporation, including other corporations. They care about literally nothing other than their own perceived image and making money - sometimes to the point of removing all concept of moral good and creating or funding a separate nonprofit corporation to address those concerns. They conceptualize two categories of humans, and the categories are seemingly not at all porous: consumer/user and worker/staff.


Staff at corporations cede their individual autonomy and humanity while working and replace it with becoming a single transmitter in the consciousness of the corporation itself -- my contact could never make a decision, he could only take information and relay it inward. I have been a part of a couple of fairly large group neural networks (corporations) at this point, and seen how a pod grows wary at making decisions beyond an unspoken threshold, even if a few people in that particular group are pushing for something. The Company’s Best Interests hang over everything, even if it’s something that clearly harms everyone in the room (eg: corporate women’s groups who find themselves arguing against the company disclosing employee diversity statistics).


Corporations are not people but they are beings of a kind that use people as a distributed computing network. Each person is a point on the network, capable of very limited autonomous decision-making, with greater processing and decision-making power available deeper in the network with larger groups of people assembled. So, businesses as AI, ho-hum, this isn’t new.


But back to how those companies are legally (sort of) citizens and (sort of) acting in the stead of government. ~*~This is what made me finally understand why people care when Jony Ive’s job title changes~*~. The Apple AI system runs a huge chunk of our (or at least my) life, and if one of the larger system points gets changed or upgraded, I guess that would be a big deal to a lot of people! At last, I kind of can see why anyone who doesn’t work at Company A or Company B would care that an SVP at Company A is now going to be an SVP at Company B! (Unless you’re just a gossip-monger. Do you.) The movements of AI are inherently kind of nerve-wracking and interesting.


Of course, we had this with governments before, but with the US government getting more and more British aka hidden, and corporations being allowed to vertically integrate to a degree that I personally find repugnant, we’ve now got multinational corporations operating with some of the rights of the citizenry but none of the boundaries of a person, because we haven’t actually codified those very well.


A corporation wouldn’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater, but it would (will, has) contaminate your water supply, your air supply, the very ground under you. Spill oil. Spill oil again. And again. I feel like this is how conservatives see the world all the time, but the AIs make conservatives of us all. “Look, I don’t *want* people working in factories so depressing they’re flinging themselves out of buildings...but that’s how it has to be to get a new iPhone.” (Yes, Apple fixed that. Once it got international attention. Because Apple cares...reactively. But it’s not like they’re going to go out of their way to insist on ethical behavior from business partners, because That’s Not In The Company’s Best Interests.) Republicans don’t *like* people starving and homeless...they just don’t want to fund programs to end poverty and homelessness. The empathy stops before it reaches you. A corporation may not *like* that it’s only got 10% women in its senior management...but it’s not like it’s going to fundamentally *change* itself. Against Self Interest. Etc.


I think and feel that there’s a number for any industry, and once you’re there, that’s it, that’s as many people as your company can have while the people in it are able to stay people while staying employees. I won’t pretend I know what it is for manufacturing, or really anything outside of the software sector, because I haven’t worked outside of corporate IT and computer software development. But once you get to the point where everybody at the company doesn’t know what everyone else at the company is, like, eight people, at least for me, I have to ask why you need to be bigger. Are you trying to defend yourself and save lives? Did you get called upon by your community to solve a Great Problem of Our Time? Or are you just helping an immortal citizen get a little richer and a little more famous?

Super Opinionated Power Club 17 -- SomethingWins

Super Opinionated Power Club #15 -- Hey what's up hello