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reifying zombies – corporations are people

July 12, 2014

Exophase: “You Can Vote to Have a ‘Real Zombie’ Included in Dead Island 2: Collector’s Edition: by David Sanchez

you can also vote to have a “real zombie” included in the collector’s bundle.

I have no idea what that would actually be, but I voted for it and against everything else on the list at the Dead Island 2 Collector’s Edition: Community Survey.

Meanwhile over at the Washington Post’s the Volokh Conspiracy, there is a wonderful debate raging between Sasha Volokh and David Post. Arguing in light of the Hobby Lobby decision about corporations as people or with the rights of people, and they invoke the wonderfully Marxist word “reify” as ‘to make into a thing’, or ‘to make real’ (and in Pinocchio who wants to be a ‘real boy’?).

Volokh argues “A corporation is more nearly a method than a thing“:

the corporation shouldn’t be reified. A corporation is fictitious, just a convenient shorthand we use for people doing business together.

Post responds “Let’s not “reify the corporation”? Really?” that:

the law has been “reifying the corporation” for well on these last 200 years or so – treating them as separate and distinct legal persons apart from their shareholders and employees and officers, “treating the abstraction as substantially existing” – and that to stop now would involve a rather profound transformation of a very wide swath of American law.

Volokh responds “Reifying the corporation, in law and in fact”:

Obviously the law ought to reify the corporation for most purposes. Whenever it’s convenient to ignore the corporation and look to the people, the law ought to do so.

the law should “reify” the corporation in the sense of treating it as its own thing most of the time for most purposes, but we shouldn’t; and the law should ignore the corporate form whenever it’s convenient or necessary to do so.

That’s a fascinating dichotomy, that law should reason differently than the people do.? Volokh concludes:

it’s quite plausible that Congress wouldn’t have wanted to abandon the standard presumption that “people” could include corporations.

This question of personhood seems highly relevant to the question of zombies. The zombie is fiction but it is real nonetheless. A real zombie, is like the constructive fiction of corporate abstraction. The question is always of when we choose to reify it, and perhaps reification is always a matter of convenience. Not simple choice but related to the conveniences necessary to adapt to the environment.

zombie ilya somin

Ilya Somin is also involved in this Volokh Conspiracy debate and most recently posted “Missing the point on Hobby Lobby – rejoinder to David Post” but unrelated, yesterday Somin posted “The Economics of the Undead” about a new book on undead economics that includes a chapter from Somin:

In recent years, political scientists, philosophers, and literary theorists have all written major books and articles about the undead. But despite being the “dismal science,” economics has lagged behind in the study of this great menace to human civilization. Ditto for most legal scholars. But the newly published Economics of the Undead: Zombies, Vampires, and the Dismal Science, edited by law and economics scholars Glen Whitman and James Dow, is changing all that. It answers all the ghoulish questions about the law and economics of the undead that you were always afraid to ask.

My own contribution to the volume, “Brain-Dead vs. Undead: Public Ignorance and the Political Economy of Responses to Vampires and Zombies,” may be particularly helpful to both Buffy fans and vampires. It explains how widespread public ignorance undermines the effectiveness of government responses to the undead menace in stories as varied as Buffy and World War Z. Vampires may be interested in my analysis of why they are better positioned to take advantage of voter ignorance than zombies are. As I discuss in the chapter, the dangerous public ignorance portrayed in numerous tales of the undead is an exaggerated, but relevantly similar version of the widespread political ignorance that haunts real-world democracies.

Now, we could dispute that first paragraph somewhat (as another commenter on the article already did), but Somin’s promoting his new publication so he’s entitled to some puffery. Meanwhile, his work on public ignorance seems highly relevant to any public discussion of Hobby Lobby. Here again he uses that word “real”, so-called “real-world democracies” being haunted by the zombie ignorance, a less real-world, a perhaps fantastical alternative.

We saw the issue of “real zombies” in contact with Sarah Palin’s criticism of zombie plans and in light of her “real America”. Much like McCarthy era accusations of un-american activities, these labels are reifications of fiction. We are always reifying our versions of the world and too often based on convenience instead of logic. Reality isn’t logical, reality is what we make it.

It takes a talented lawyer to argue that the law should reify corporations for convenience but that we-the-people should not. Such an argument requires holding law apart from society and being able to conceive of those two realities. Most people don’t do that, we would prefer a greater degree of coherence. Instead corporation-people seem like a zombie entities and the public ignorance continues.

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