U.S News reports that children’s and infant’s liquid Tylenol was knowingly sold containing heavy metals for over a year. McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which is a subsidiary of the Johnson & Johnson company, was given a federal criminal charge over the issue – to which the company plead guilty. The contaminated medicine that was sold was over-the-counter, so an unknown number of people purchased it and gave it to their children, thinking it was a safe product.
Nickel, chromium, and iron particles were integrated into the liquid medicine during the manufacturing process and the company knew about this for at least a year – yet, did nothing to prevent or correct the contamination. To resolve the case and get the Justice Department to back off, Reuter’s reports the company agreed to pay a $25 million fine. It continues to make infant and children’s liquid Tylenol. …
Here’s where the terminology gets fuzzy: “the company knew about this for at least a year”. More precisely, some people “working for the company” knew about it but did nothing. So exactly who or what is to be held responsible? That depends on whether you want to reduce such abuses or simply shuttle fiat tokens from one branch of the fascist state to another. The responsible person is normally the decision maker(s) but in this case the “decision” amounts to a default collective inaction where no decision is made at all and the responsibility is projected onto the economically and intellectually expedient legal shorthand of corporate “personhood.”
In a natural context if one collectively autocatalytic network of chemical reaction cells “knowingly” poisons another then other CA networks gather to judge and constrain (or stop) the functioning of the first for the purpose of reducing such activity in the future. The first CAN can’t point to some subset of its neurons as the culprit and reduce their allocation of glucose or excrete them as punishment. The CAN is treated as a unit of responsibility, because whatever internal processes caused the behavior in question is understood to be a property of the whole, not of its individual cells. (unless you’re a quackiatrist of course)
On the other hand, if a CAN poisons a large number of unincorporated cells in its environment, there is no provision for constructing or allotting responsibility at all unless other CANs’ functioning is impaired due to their inability to incorporate or otherwise exploit the unincorporated cells in question. Aside from token gestures to “human rights” and “democracy”, this is the state of human-corporate relations.
Obviously corporations aren’t people. They are immortal, they are above responsibility for their human consequences as such, in fact they are unconscious of humans as moral agents at all. Their internal structure and dynamics is never open to question as a matter of allocating responsibility, except for their responsibility to convert external resources into external waste products and transfers of fiat currency to their human owners. It is their nature to exploit humans as they see fit without mercy. They are like olympian gods, making monumental decisions and occasionally waging cosmic battles far over our heads. But if you follow the light beam back to the projection booth, you’ll find it’s all a silly show put on by the scam artists that understand how such scams operate. The power of the illusion lies solely in its ability to alter the behavior of people based on their belief in the illusion.
If we are to allocate responsibility onto corporate decision makers as we do with each other, we first need to turn off the projector.
P.S. don’t tell my epidermal cells that they’re expendable cannon fodder in service to my neural cells.