A Broken System? Corporatism and Community Rights
December 28, 2020
Is the world falling apart, or is it waking up?
We are confronting systemic racism amid a pandemic and, combined with an unprecedented level of growing financial devastation, it has exposed the gaps in our socio-economic order and delivered them to our doorstep. No longer can we afford to hide from the symptoms of a sick society that can’t afford to be managed by interests that put profit before people.
This is Corporatism
Corporatism is the control of a state by large interest groups. It is the sickness at the root of our society, and as I will layout in these words, it is the bedrock upon which the United States has been built. In other words, given the pain and problems surrounding us, the system is working exactly as it should.
Everyone can now see the challenges we face, and many of us can grasp and even generate solutions. Yet, the changes that we are asking for are rarely discussed at a high level. The angst and unrest that we are experiencing are symptoms of an underlying reality that thrives in the shadows and that preys on our prosperity.
Rather than unifying around the resonance of our shared values, the body politic is fractured by a divide and conquer strategy engineered and implemented by the powers that be, which results in a general public that is angry, sick, and tired. We are in a place beyond coincidence and conspiracy theory, in a twilight zone of citizen journalism and self-reflection that will define the future of Earth.
Change Is Necessary
We cannot continue to do the same things and expect a different result. It is time to step into our agency and begin building the change we want to see with our own hands, hearts, and minds. In social science, agency is defined as the capacity of individuals to act independently and make our own free choices. Collectively, we have walked away from our agency, instead, deferring to “experts” that do the bidding of corporate interests in the realms of health care, science, agriculture, the economy, and beyond.
This broken system is no longer capable of holding us, and the stress is surfacing and bursting at the seams. The pressure may feel like humanity is on boil, but I believe that we are bounding towards an abundant future capable of delivering healthy human life, and supported by ecosystems that have the opportunity to exist, flourish, and thrive.
This vision of abundance will not be accomplished by business as usual, and it will not happen for us. It can only be realized by people willing to elevate above fear and find courage in the face of tremendous resistance and uncertainty, and who are motivated to do the work of building a new system that makes the existing one obsolete.
The Bottom Line
If we do not change the way that we are engaging the Earth and ourselves, we are facing the inevitable collapse of our species. This is not meant to be fearmongering, more an accurate assessment of our circumstances. Some data:
- More than 70% of the American diet is processed, and only 1 in 10 eat enough fruits and vegetables.
- More than 75% of rain and 93% of urine contain the toxic chemical glyphosate.
- Now more than 50% of people will get cancer in their lifetimes.
- From 1 in 10,000 in the 1970s, now the CDC says 1 in 54 children are diagnosed with autism.
- At 4% of the population in the 1960s, now 54% of children are diagnosed with a chronic disease.
Statistics like this communicate a grave threat to our way of life beyond what our economy and public health institutions can handle. The most concerning part is that the metrics are getting worse – faster – and the experts do not seem to have an answer.
On all levels, instead of re-evaluating our approach, we double down on treating symptoms. We accept the equation of the lesser of two evils and abandon ourselves in the name of pharmaceutical logic, conventional wisdom, and toxic rescue chemistry. Today, it is plain to see that our republic has been reduced to a theater for the “elite”, yet we choose to check out or look away. Ultimately, we don’t have problems with public health or pollution; we have a democracy problem.
An Eye-Opening Project
Recently, I had the opportunity to beta-test a new online course on the topic of Community Rights, a movement that is working to recognize and protect the inalienable rights of natural and human communities. It was a transformative experience to learn the intimacy of our history in this light, and I want to share with you some of what I learned.
The word “corporation” is never mentioned in the Constitution, yet somehow, corporatism has manifested corporate personhood and stacked 150 years of legal precedent on top. The corporatist foundation that steered the birth of America is obscured by the emphasis in traditional histories on the external struggle against England and the unity of the colonists in the Revolution. There is no doubt that this sentiment was alive. Still, according to an honest study of history, the American Revolution was championed primarily through those interested in its ownership.
Corporations are a human invention. It was not until the 17th century that they began to focus on making money as a means of financing European colonial expansion. Companies like the East India Company and other corporate charters that ran the American colonies were used by the imperial powers to maintain draconian and ruthless monopolistic control of trade, resources, and territory around the world.
The Occupy movement brought the concept of the 1% to the mainstream. But Howard Zinn writes in his book, A People’s History of the United States, that the same was true with colonists even before the birth of America. In 1687, there were ~6,000 people who lived in Boston. According to tax records, out of the ~1,000 landowners, there were 50 or so rich individuals (~1%) who owned 25% of the wealth.
The Colonial period was like a feudal kingdom where colonies operated as societies of contending classes jockeying for the spoils and opportunity of a new world. For example, in the 1690s under Governor Benjamin Fletcher of NY, a full ¾ of the land available in the state of New York was granted to only 30 people.
In the 1700s, the colonies grew fast, with a population of ~250,000 in 1700 compared to 1.6 million by 1760. Of course, slavery fueled this expansion, with black slaves accounting for ~8% of the population in 1690 and up to 21% in 1770. Even racism has its roots in corporatism, where a small group of rich white men used fellow human beings as property to further their power and profit.
Resentment to corporate power from colonists grew, and once we finally declared independence from England in 1776 and pledged allegiance to our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we moved towards the establishment of our first Constitution called the Articles of Confederation. The Articles gave Congress the authority to generate treaties and alliances, maintain armed forces, and coin money, but states retained broad power and independence.
In the Articles of Confederation, the central government could not levy taxes and regulate commerce, and it also did not establish a president or call for a judicial branch. The newly formed citizens saw a single leader as similar to a king in the monarchy they just revolted against and viewed a Supreme Court that could be manipulated by special interests as a danger to their newfound sovereignty.
The 1780s were the “Critical Period” where the rules were written as we go, and the swell of national feelings grew. The Federalists Papers of James Madison and Alexander Hamilton served to persuade people towards the centralization of power in the federal government that culminated in our current Constitution. Written in 1787, ratified in 1788, and in operation since 1789, the United States Constitution is now the world’s longest surviving written charter of government.
In many ways, the forces that worked from the inside to consolidate power in the federal government were the same forces working from the outside to take advantage of the legal landscape being created by the American Revolution. This impulse was used to write our history right up to the present moment. Coming to terms with this is the challenge of our time.
At first, incorporation was granted to enable activities that benefited the public, such as the construction of roads or canals. Still, for the most part, states imposed conditions that allowed them to control the impact of corporate power. Citizens imposed limitations such as forcing charters to be regularly renewed, establishing citizen authority clauses in state laws and constitutions, allowing shareholders to remove problem directors at will and even requiring a company’s accounting books to be given to a legislature upon request. All of this would be unheard of today.
The story of explicit corporate power starts in 1886 in one of the most severe blows to citizens’ authority in our history from the Supreme Court case called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company. From this point on, the 14th Amendment, enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves, has been used to routinely grant corporations constitutional “personhood”.
The rest, as they say, is history. Modern Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United and Hobby Lobby are nothing new; they are simply the icing on the cake of corporate power in the United States. The special interests that serve as the mechanism of decision in society have whipped us up into a political frenzy with a manufactured battle between left and right, while the powers that be sit on the sidelines in the owner’s suite eating popcorn. It is, at the same time, brilliant and crippling.
But there is a solution to this seemingly existential problem. The Community Rights movement and a legal precedent called Rights of Nature represent a strategy of law that seeks to dismantle the corporate stranglehold over life and logic. If corporations can have rights, why not Mother Nature?
In concept, the strategy involves passing local laws without regard for state and federal laws that protect people in the face of corporate personhood. Breaking rules under threat of being sued by global corporations may sound radical, and in some ways it is, but this is also how the abolitionists ended slavery, women accomplished suffrage, and most recently, how cannabis is becoming legalized. Cities and counties made up their minds by passing local laws, then states followed, and finally the federal government. This is how our system is supposed to work.
As they also say, the winners write history. To take control of our history, we have to confront corporate power. Corporatism cannot stand if we are to live in a world of healthy human beings.
So let us open and free the colonized mind, and remember that awareness is the necessary first step towards change. Do the research, dig deeper, tell a friend, and if you want to change the world, vote in local elections and run for local office.
He now works as a consultant in his new project Be Agriculture where he helps new and seasoned growers take their agronomy to the next level. What we think, we grow!
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