Corporate personhood, the Turing test, and free speech
There are basically two statements that sum up the Supreme Court ruling on the Citizens United case. 1. Corporations have the same rights as American Citizens. 2. Money is the same thing as speech.
If a corporation has the same rights as you or I, and I have the right to say whatever I want in the political process, then a corporation has that same right. Now if I have the right to buy airtime to support my candidate, the corporation has the same right. In a pure free-market system, we each have exactly the same right to spend a hundred million dollars getting our person elected.
We run into trouble confusing our economic system with our political system. Votes don’t exist in a free market. Each citizen gets one and only one (and corporations get zero – they aren’t really citizens). Buying or selling votes is illegal, although there is certainly a market for them.
And the issue of “rights” is confusing here. Because while I and, say, Exxon Mobile have the equal right to spend a hundred million dollars on advertising, only one of us has the opportunity.
Democracy requires curtailing free-market influence. That is, we can’t treat the democratic system as a capitalistic one. We limited the power of small states over large ones by making congressional representation proportional; we similarly need to limit the power of small groups of people (rich ones and corporate ones) over the masses (people who can’t afford to spend billions of dollars on the political process). Thus unlimited, unaccountable campaign contributions are obviously a bad idea for democracy, although they may be good for capitalism.
At a deeper level, this whole idea is flawed from the outset. Alan Turing developed a means of knowing when computers will have evolved sentience. The Turing Test checks the computer’s ability to converse with a human being without the human being knowing that they are conversing with a machine.
I propose the same test for anything that wants the rights of a citizen. Corporations are composed of people, but are not people – they are abstractions. Abstractions cannot speak at all, thus they cannot pass the Turing test at this time. When a corporation makes a statement or releases an advertisement, this speech comes from humans.
I would go on to propose that an abstraction, since it is imaginary, cannot communicate anything in any way. It has no desires, dreams, beliefs, wishes or intentions to protect. Such motivations are the sole projection of their CEOs or boards of trustees. In short, people. And those people have only the rights that I have – i.e., limited campaign contributions to prevent democracy from becoming capitalism.
I would further propose that something that cannot “speak” does not have the right to free “speech”. With no beliefs, there are no beliefs to protect. With no ability to express any beliefs, there are no expressions to protect. The question is moot.
The real question is, who benefits from all of this?
The question is an existential one. We are protecting the rights of something imaginary, a legal concept, at the cost of the rights of actual humans. When we say something that does not exist is equal to ourselves, since if a = b then b = a, we deny our own existence. By giving away our political power in this way, we ensure we do not exist politically, and become irresponsible for the politics of our country. In our unfreedom we can deny our power, justify inaction, and disengage. Perhaps by failing to protest at a large scale, we all benefit from this decision.
-- Jason Dias