We made artificial beings out of corporations and they suck
We've created a golem with capitalism. We breathed life into corporations, gave them personhood, by letter of the law. We had them do work for us, including colonizing, enslaving, and exploiting other human beings. Now they straddle the globe and their emissions are breathing death into us all.
According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, a Golem is a person made in an artificial way.
Since the Roman empire, countries have been creating such artificial persons by official act (indistinguishable from magic anthropologically). This concept of legal personhood is well-established in modern law. Today almost anyone can create these artificial beings and their power spreads over and above any sovereignity. They're called corporations, from the Latin word meaning "embody, make or fashion into a body." Like a golem. Exactly like a golem.
Under the American empire these artificial beings even have political rights, preferential rights in fact. As the US Supreme Court wrote in 2010 "we are convinced that, in the end, this corporation has a constitutional right to speak on this subject." As Justice Scalia wrote, "to exclude or impede corporate speech is to muzzle the principal agents of the modern free economy."
We have truly created a golem, and the story of the golem does not end well. As the aforementioned Encyclopedia continues "According to these legends, R. Loew [some dude] created the golem so that he would serve him, but was forced to restore him to his dust when the golem began to run amok and endanger people’s lives."
In a modern retelling of the story, a family of Hasidic Jews go to a gangster, Tony Soprano, for a favor. As the son tells the father, "You're creating a Golem, a monster to do your dirty work, like the Rabbi in the story. He'll destroy you."
And destroy they do. As the dissent to that Supreme Court decision notes:
The basic premise underlying the Court’s ruling is its iteration, and constant reiteration, of the proposition that the First Amendment bars regulatory distinctions based on a speaker’s identity, including its “identity” as a corporation.
In the context of election to public office, the distinction between corporate and human speakers is significant. Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it.
The fact is that corporations have an entirely different metabolism to human beings. Corporations don't need the air, they don't need health, their lifeblood is only wealth and profit. In short, capital. If you consider capitalism a golem that we share a finite Earth with, our metabolisms are fundamentally incompatible.
As Karl Marx wrote in 1867,
As Hadas Thier continues in her book A People's Guide To Capitalism:
“Since Marx’s and Engels’s time, a far deeper crisis has befallen the earth’s ecosystem. Among our most timely and life-threatening challenges is that of climate change. Fossil fuels, which first became the dominant form of energy during the Industrial Revolution, now dominate the world economy, and threaten our planet’s survival. We’ll discuss some of these critical issues in future chapters. But for the time being we see that capitalism could only break through as a world system on the basis of conquering both humankind and the planet and subjugating both to its profit motive.”
Marx describes the both rapacious and productive growth of capitalism in terms of capitalists (ie humans) but I think in 2021 it is important to give the golem his due. Capitalists are merely the ones that sold humanity out, and the deal is almost done. Corporations have legal rights, political rights, they have power. We can call them what they are. Artificial intelligence.
Corporations are already treated as artificially intelligent by human governments. They already exercise huge amounts of control over those governments and move far freer than any human across the Earth. As the Supreme Court dissent states "we noted that corporations have “special advantages—such as limited liability, perpetual life, and favorable treatment of the accumulation and distribution of assets."
Corporations are effectively immortal, they can keep accumulating capital, and they have political rights without responsibilities. Do you feel evenly matched as a meat-based human being? Has the golem not gotten out of control? We are in fact at the climax of the golem story, when the creator must act to avoid certain destruction. As Rabbi Jacob Emden wrote,
When the Rabbi saw that the creature of his hands grew stronger and greater, because of the divine name written on a paper stuck to his forehead, R. Eliyahu, the master of the name, was afraid that he would be harmful and destructive. He quickly overcame him and he tore the folio on which the name was written and separated it from the forehead, and he fell as a lump of dust, as he was [in the beginning], but he harmed his master scratching him when he took up the writing and separated the name from him.
As Moshe Idel writes, "the Rabbi was afraid that the ever-growing Golem would destroy the world." He described "the cosmic danger involved in the uncontrolled expansion of the creature". And so we must be afraid today. The fact is that capitalism requires endless growth. This is fundamentally and obviously incompatible with a finite Earth. Something has to give. The great productive capacity of capitalism will simply kill us if we don't socialize the beast.
This cancerous growth started under colonialism, but y'all didn't notice because it was happening to colored people and our land. But now it has come for our entire climate, and the golem of growth will not get us out. It is in fact the problem. As I've said, the metabolism of capitalism is incompatible with our animal metabolism. It is, in fact, antithetical to human life. Thus we cannot find a way out through capitalism. We have to get out of capitalism to survive.
We have frankly messed with powers beyond our ken by putting corporate seals on globe-spanning AI and setting them above ourselves. As some other Rabbi from Prague said,
His seal is the creation of man... R. Eliyahu, the master of the name, who made a creature out of matter [Golem] and form and it performed hard work for him, for a long period, and the name of 'emet was hanging upon his neck, until he finally removed for a certain reason, the name from his neck and it turned to dust.
Because we have created persona ficta as corporations, we are becoming persona non grata on our own Earth. We have to return this ungodly power to the dust before it makes ashes of us all.
- Encyclopaedia Judaica (Fey-Gor), Fred Skolnik
- CITIZENS UNITED v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION, SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
- Denial, Anger, Acceptance (S01E03), The Sopranos
- Golem: Jewish Magical and Mystical Traditions on the Artificial Anthropoid. Moshe Idel
- A People's Guide To Capitalism, Hadas Thier