Universal Translator

Friday, November 4, 2011

Time for a Butlerian Jihad

A central part of the back-story to Frank Herbert’s science-fiction masterpiece Dune is the “Butlerian Jihad,” which occurred 10,000 years before the Dune story.  As Herbert explained, the Butlerian Jihad  had been a “crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots . . . .  Its chief commandment [was] ‘Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind.’”

I flashed on that early this morning whilst reading about the constitutional amendment recently introduced by six senators (all Dems, naturally) to overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.  Essentially, the amendment would allow the federal government and the states to regulate the amount of money that may be poured into campaign donations made directly to candidates for office.

Which is great and all, but does not go nearly far enough.  What would really be helpful would be a constitutional amendment making it clear:  No, Corporations Are Not People.

Of course, no one thinks the actual, limited amendment proposed by these six senators will go really ever even get close to being adopted, in large part because of the vast power corporations themselves can bring to bear to prevent its adoption.  So it is even more unlikely that an amendment could ever be adopted that would strip away from these legal fictions the rights and protections – but not the liabilities, never the liabilities – that are accorded to them as “people.”  Under our political system, corporations are now de facto “super people” whose political clout renders the ability of “people people” to in any way restrain corporations vanishingly small.

I then had a brief, happy, science-fictiony thought of a point sometime in the not-too-distant future when – our corporate overlords having taken things too far – the actual “people people” rose up and had a jihad much like the one imagined by Frank Herbert.  Except this time the chief commandment would be:  “Thou shalt not create a legal fiction in the likeness of a person.”

Well, as always . . . I can dream.

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