Corporate Personhood: Animal Firm

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1) Supreme Court rules that at least in political campaign finance, corporations are people, too.

2) New York Magazine publishes a feature by John Homans with the cover headline "A Dog Is Not a Human Being. Right?" on evidence that many people say Wrong. To quote what Paul Newman never said, "Coincidence? I think not."

Scientific trends are blurring the boundaries of personhood. In some interpretations, shared DNA brings us closer to other animals, and even plants. Professor Marc Feinstein of Hampshire College, with a Ph.D. in human linguistics, has been studying the communication of dogs and even sheep. On the legal side, Oxford University Press will soon be publishing a third edition of Christopher Stone's classic Do Trees Have Standing?; New Zealand even has "The Rights of Rocks." And some distinguished ecologists and evolutionary biologists argue for insect societies as "superorganisms," as in the recent book by the Pulitzer Prizewinners Bert Hölldobler and E. O. Wilson, reviewed perceptively by Michael Ghiselin. So the law may ultimately consider corporations not merely people, but a superior form of human life. Meanwhile, accelerating discoveries of extraterrestrial planets have encouraged many astronomers to revise upward the odds of contact with distant beings, one even suggesting that at least very simple ones might be here already. If trees do indeed have standing, should space aliens not share inalienable rights?

Seriously, what really connects the Supreme Court decision with canine politics is the growth of animal welfare organizations and the surprising tension among them, as described by Mr. Homans:

They're empathy enemies, at each other's throats like so many packs of wolves. The rescue people don't agree with the animal-welfare people, and both can't stand the animal-rights people, as traditional dog regimes like the American Kennel Club try to hold on to their privileged positions. It's a struggle for the Future of Dog a little like Russia in 1917, with weakened conservatives and radicals of many stripes, all trying desperately to invent a future.

Whatever the effect of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission on actual election results or policies, I suspect the biggest net winners will be advocacy groups, the already surging moral entrepreneurs of the Left and Right, with massive fund raising campaigns. And for the media: the judicial branch's own stimulus plan.


Photo credit: Alex McClung/flickr
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Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

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