Several books have been published about Google’s questionable business practices in the last few years. The mounting criticism is having some repercussions: In South Korean the government voted a law against Google and Apple’s app payment monopolies. Recently an “Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy” was signed by President Biden to reign in on a small number of dominant internet platforms [that] use their power to exclude market entrants to extract monopoly profits, and to gather intimate personal information that they can exploit for their own advantage. How did this overreach by Google happen? And what does it mean for the political landscape of the world going forward? In order to find some answers a look at the conflicting nature of a “U.S. Person”, defined as a lawful permanent resident or a corporation, reveals interesting aspects of a divided self in the body politic.
Since the nineteenth century moneyed corporations have seen their power increase and used it to influence government policies. During the past century corporations have embarked on a media campaign to promote the status of the consumer while overshadowing the state of the citizen. With the introduction of World Wide Web, the power of Big Tech has increased exponentially to such an extent that global corporations are challenging the legitimacy of nations-states and their respective constitutions.
By amoral is meant neither moral or immoral, but lacking in moral capacity. Alphabet (GOOG) is a corporation, as such it has a legal definition of “artificial person” as opposed to a human being defined as “natural person”. The definition reflects a fundamental difference between an artificial person, as an amoral entity, and a human being who is born with a free will and a moral aptitude to choose between good and evil.
Sergey Brin and Larry Page have endorsed the company’s motto Don’t Be Evil because as individual human beings they have the ability to discern ‒and express‒ the difference between what is good and what is evil and make appropriate decisions. This human prerogative outlines the fundamental difference between a natural as opposed to an artificial person. The distinction is illustrated by what former Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt replied when asked how does a company like Google determine what is evil? He said: “Evil is whatever Sergey says”.
When an individual becomes a shareholder of a moneyed corporation he or she abdicates his or her individual sovereignty as a moral being and becomes incorporated into an association that is defined by its charter. Consequently the greater the number of shareholders the greater the dilution of morality. The only concern of a moneyed corporation is to increase its market share and its stock valuation.
The Spoken and Written Word
An essential principle that defines a human being versus an artificial person is language.
Language re-produces —re-creates— reality. Society is only possible and only exists through language; and through language the individual.
Emile Benveniste, Problems in General Linguistics
Benveniste also describes how stories about the creation of the world relate the divine power of language. In Genesis 1:3, God literally uses his speech to create the world. Language is God’s primordial tool. Without it he could not reveal his existence, neither could he communicate to his people the world described in the Bible. It might be inferred that before the first words of Genesis are written there is nothingness, and before the order of syntax is put forth there is chaos.
Gen. 1:3 And God said…
In similar fashion, numerous ancient myths provide a good example of the creative power of the divine word. In ancient Egypt the god Ptah of Memphis, in a comparable fashion, created the world through his spoken word. While Sumerian myths describe how divinities first plan their creation by thinking, and then the world comes into being through the power of speech.
In the first verse of the Gospel of John, the apostle identifies Christ with the Word in the beginning. The verse is an important confirmation about the nature of language in God’s creative endeavor.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God.
The point Benveniste is trying to make is that although language has a mysterious beginning, and for many a divine origin, it reflects the unique human faculty to communicate. More so, it is the ability to create and re-create the world we live in to enable the spread of our human cultural heritage; like mythology, religion, music, science, math, software codes and hypertext markup language, so on and so fort.
Corporations use language for advertising purposes to promote products and services to entice sales and generate profits. Ads are also used to modify behavior by converting people into loyal consumers. It’s safe to say that the language used in ads to portray a product does not reflect the real thing but is a make believe it’s a real thing. The product becomes a mediated artifact. The language of advertising has become the prevalent voice of mainstream media blurring the boundary between fact and fabrication promoting an artificial reality disconnected from the natural world.
Who Is Speaking and Says What?
At the SEC Registration Statement of Google’s IPO, Larry page in his Letter from the Founders wrote the following:
Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains. This is an important aspect of our culture and is broadly shared within the company…
We will live up to our “don’t be evil” principle by keeping user trust and not accepting payment for search results…
Larry Page spoke as a moral individual. It is assumed that he believed his intention to do good when he wrote the letter. However, a fundamental change occurred when Google was incorporated. The change alienated the two creators from their creation setting the stage for a divided self between moral individuals and an amoral association. Another change occurred with Google’s IPO. It widened its fiduciary duty to shareholders located all around the world making the corporation global in scope.
Once incorporated, Larry Page’s good intentions were no longer relevant. The motto became an emblem of Google’s moral predicament. The corporate charter and the language of advertising took over leaving behind any moral prerogative previously held by the individuals who created the search engine.
The meaning of person has been carefully manicured since the Robber Barons. The ensuing court battles since then have created a deceptive confusion about the definition of an elusive someone. In 1886 Chief Justice Waite cut the argument short in court when he ruled that corporations are legal persons. What he omitted to do was define what a person is.
The court does not wish to hear argument on the question [whether corporations are persons]. We are all of the opinion [that they are].
Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite
The original Latin meaning for person is persona, a mask worn by an actor. One must keep in mind that the mask is a prop that allows an actor to perform a theatrical impersonation. An actor does not embody himself as a human being but is a mediated character. The misunderstanding of what a person is also stems from the fact that the Latin meaning of corporation is corpus or body. The word body in this sense does not mean a physiological organism commonly understood as a human body, but a society or an association.
Here the person is one of the “things” about which we speak rather than itself a speaking subject… The person, therefore, remains on the side of the thing about which we speak rather than on the side of the speakers themselves who designate themselves in speaking.
Paul Ricoeur, Oneself As Another
Paul Ricoeur explains that a person is a “thing” that we speak about, not a “thing” that speaks back to us. By definition a person does not have the ability to partake in a conversation. And it might be inferred that an artificial person does not have the physiological capacity to speak. And as such it does not have the same First Amendment rights as “people” have. This characteristic is exemplified by the joke: I’ll believe a corporation is a person when they put one in jail.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Furthermore, a corporation cannot procreate. This is illustrated by the oxymoron of corporate citizen. Citizenship is granted either by birth or through the process of citizenship, a ceremony that involves taking the pledge of allegiance to the United States of America.
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The Fourteenth Amendment: First Article
Sergey Brin was born in Moscow in 1973. Russia was still part of the United Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). His family immigrated to the US in 1979. He later became a citizen. To become a US citizen Sergey had to recite the pledge of allegiance. As for Larry, it is assumed that in the course of his life he recited the pledge of allegiance to the flag, the symbol of the nation-state.
With Google’s IPO Larry Page and Sergey Brin’s stake in the company caused a change in their individual integrity. They became involved in two separate ruling systems. As citizens they are subject to laws enacted by the government of the people. And by being major shareholders of Alphabet they submit to rules defined by the rules of the market.
Many of us own shares in varied companies or mutual funds, have an IRA or ROTH account, or receive benefits from a pension fund that is invested in the stock market. Over the decades the overwhelming speculation in the stock market, made by a wide range of market players, has given corporations a dominating role in all aspects of our lives, especially in government.
Marshall McLuhan explained; it is the medium ‒the corporation is the medium of all economic activity‒ that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. In other words, corporations were successful in promoting their doctrine on governments with the incursion of non-elected corporate appointees in crucial government positions. The intrusion has enabled the implementation of an alien corporate doctrine that is a direct challenge to the U.S. Constitution created by the Founding Fathers.
The conflicting influence is evidenced by a “pandemic” where global agencies, private institutions, corporate media, charitable foundations and NGOs ‒aligned as a body of global corporations‒ used the authority of government to imposed their medical agenda and remedy without an open, transparent and scientific debate. As it happens, the policies that have been enacted have favored stock evaluations of global corporations at the expense of the safety and health of the population at large.
A Divided Self
Google dominated the World Wide Web by comoditizing users’ private data. It distorted human communication with advertising and encroached on human rights in the process.
Educated citizenship today requires more than an understanding of government, which is just the tip of the iceberg of social organization. It also demands an understanding of the companies that influence our government and culture. The firms that order the Internet and direct the flow of capital have outsized influence in Washington.
Frank Pasquale, The Black Box Society
What lays ahead is a conflict between We The People as a mystical body versus a divided self U.S. Person representing global corporate interests rather than citizens.
By mystical is meant a people having a spiritual character by virtue of a union that transcends human comprehension. A union that includes people of different ethnic backgrounds, language, age and varied religious beliefs who are inspired and guided by the principles of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness and by being connected to the land and their respective communities.
In contrast to a franchise economy that is estranged from the people and the location from which a corporation extract its profits.
Corporations, which should be the carefully restrained creatures of the law and the servants of the people, are fast becoming the people’s masters.
President Grover Cleveland
The warning President Grover Cleveland gave during the State of the Union Address on December 3rd, 1888, fell on deaf hears. As a result the Congress faces a battle to stop a global U.S. Person from taking over the whole body politic.