The Yoga Wisdom of Corporate Personhood

By Chris Fici

As most of you probably know, the corporate entity is the most dominant “person” in the world today. Since an1866 decision by the United States Supreme Court gave corporations the same rights of personhood as natural persons under the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the corporation has come to dominate our global society.

In that same time frame, the idea of our collective natural ecology has been slowly depersonalized.  Whereas many previous cultures and traditions viewed the environment as a mutual personality in harmony with the physical and spiritual aspirations of the people who lived upon the land, today the relationship between economy and ecology remains largely one of exploitation.

The entire human experiment on this planet now rests on whether we can reverse the tide of personalizing the corporation at the expense of depersonalizing the environment. If we cannot restore to our ecology the very rights of personhood we have placed on corporations, then none of our profits will be sustainable. Indeed, the very infrastructures of our society will not survive.

This is not to sound strident, or to discount the enlightened economics of many of our fellow readers here at Good-b, but there is a serious sense of urgency which must be confronted with all the courage and spirit we can muster.

In the bhakti-yoga tradition of India, of which I have been a practitioner now for over a decade, the sacred nature of personhood is at the essence of belief and practice.  Every living being, and the collective fabric of life itself, is endowed with a personhood that is their very spiritual essence.

In the great Hindu classic The Bhagavad-Gita, it is said by Krishna that:

The humble sages, by virtue of true knowledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].[1]

Without this vision, this anchor of the personality, then there is an emptiness in which emotion, reason, and devotion cannot enter. My own practice is helping me to rediscover the importance of seeing our world in the terms of the most intimate sense of the person. This has helped me to rediscover the bridge between my spirituality and the activist vision of the world I want to participate in.

The issue of corporate personhood vs. natural personhood saturates the many debates over the direction of our society, not the least in the American presidential debate, where Mitt Romney is on record as saying “corporations are people too.” Barack Obama replies that “Corporations aren’t people. People are people.” This goes well beyond the zingers of a presidential campaign. The statements of these two candidates reflect a cultural battle in the economic and ecological fields that lay at the heart of the future of humanity.

The acclaimed documentary, “The Corporation,has famously laid out a compelling argument that the corporate personality is a deeply unhealthy personality. In the film, the corporate entity is shown having many of the same symptoms of a psychopathic personality.

The way that the corporate person has tended to treat the natural person has created a existential crisis, in which the ‘tipping points” towards a torrid future on this planet may have already been passed. Noted author and ecological activist Bill McKibben laid out with forbidding clarity the “terrifying new math” resulting from our depersonalization of the natural world.

For the corporate entity, the tendency is to see the constituents of life only as numbers and assets, potential profits and potential obstacles, to put the economic bottom line ahead of any other consideration. The entire harmony of life is thrown entirely off-balance in the direction of those few with the power and ability to exploit the world around them for their own self-interested ends.

The tendency of the corporate entity is to see the opulence of the natural environment as resources to be privatized, owned, used by whatever means to increase profits. Ideas of the Commons, of seeing the land as potentially divine or of belonging to the Divine, of the land being of the public trust of the people, is thrown aside in favor of depersonalization and commodification of the ecology that sustains us.  The world around us becomes simply another branding opportunity.

The depersonalization of the natural world now extends to the level of our genes, to the very substance of life itself, creating a giant petri dish of which we are the subjects to an experiment whose results are still very much up in the air.  As economist Jeremy Rifkin mentions in The Corporation, biotech companies treat the natural genomes as a utility, looking for any kind of “buried treasure.”

The essential idea is that the personality of the corporate entity looks to the natural world not with a vision of harmony, but with a vision towards an unhealthy competition that is truly destructive. To reverse this tide, all of us, including those of us working within the corporate system, must work to re-personalize our relationship with the natural world.  The personality of the corporate entity may not tend towards morality and harmony, but the people who make up the corporate entity can act in a human, personal way.


Chris Fici is a Yogic Scholar and a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  

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