The Corporation: An Evolutionary Dead End?
I always listen to talk about artificial life with a little mirth. The way I look at it, we have already spawned a line of artificial beings: corporations. They share a host of traits with the more biological denizens of the world. They mate and self-replicate, they grow, they set and pursue their own goals. Even the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes a corporation as a person. When Hitler said he saw Nietzsche’s Superman and it scared him, sometimes I think maybe he had just come from a meeting with his corporate sponsors.
We might want to ponder how the new corporate super-organism fits in with evolutionary theory. Evolution describes nature as a self-organising, or adaptive system. That just means that you have a whole bunch of parts, or fragments, that adapt to the environment and organise themselves into organisms. These organisms then organise themselves into still more complex organisms, and so on. Proteins combine to make cells, cells combine to make organs, organs combine to make people, and people combine to make- corporations?
We are generally taught that this process is a function of “survival of the fittest”, fittest implying strongest. The most aggressive and domineering actor in the process carves out a niche and proceeds to conquer nature. This is supposed to explain the “rise” of man and western corporate imperialism as the height of progress and the end all of evolution. Unfortunately, this ideology is not really found in Darwin. It is mostly the product of corporate funded PR firms and think tanks and was devised by members of the British aristocracy to justify their Empire and their brutality.
Darwin explains survival of the fittest as a process of “natural selection”; the fittest are those chosen by Nature to survive. This is a fine observation of creation in action but does not really explain anything. One theorist who shed some light on the workings of natural selection in progress was Kropotkin. He noticed that actors in nature tended to be successful who co-operated with each other. He called this theory “Mutual Aid”. Kropotkin was political theorist as well as biologist, and his Mutual aid also happens to form the backbone of anarchism. Kropotkin is not so much taught in schools because no corporate funded think tanks wish to have such ideas in circulation.
It just so happens, however, that modern scientists have found that Mutual Aid is exactly how nature works. There are many examples but one of my favorites is a test for artificial intelligence called “The Two Prisoner Problem.” It is a simple test, but from a small change in starting conditions a vast number of outcomes are possible: So many possibilities that the system is considered unpredictable, or chaotic. Since chaos is the nature of nature , chaos theory is used to model evolution, and the test was designed by scientists to mimic the process of evolution.
The test goes like this: Two men have committed a crime. They are taken to the jailhouse and asked one at a time who committed the crime. If one rats the other guy out, the other guy stays in prison. Whoever stays out of prison is considered to have done better on the test. They are a “success” and chosen by nature. The answer, of course, is for both prisoners to not say a word and both get out. We know this because our brains are also chaos computers and we can figure it out rather quickly. Writing a computer program that has to learn and adapt to pass the test serves to formalize Kropotkin’s idea within the mathematical theory: It gives a scientific mathematical model of mutual aid in action.
The structure of DNA, the growth of cells, our heartbeats and brain waves, even the orbits of planets are all modeled by chaos theory with Kropotkin’s “mutual aid” built in to the process. It would appear God is an anarchist. Nature is by design chaotic and self-organising. The key to success is for autonomous actors to co-operate and adapt to a changing environment.
You might notice that corporations, however, don’t really fit this model: Instead of self-organising from co-operation of the parts, the parts are forced into order through domination. Corporations are centrally controlled, whereas the universe is formed of autonomous actors. Where nature strives towards ever greater complexity, the corporate model obliterates the opposition and extends uniformity. Instead of adapting to the environment, corporations destroy the environment.
Which leads me to my point. When corporations pursue their goals unchecked, they become awfully destructive: Hitler, Mussolini, and the some might even say the American corporate state show the awful capacity of unchecked corporate rule. An example in evolutionary theory would be a virus that kills the host too quickly. The host dies before it can pass on the virus and the virus dies along with the host: an evolutionary dead end. Thomas Jefferson must have been aware of this principle. He tried to warn us of runaway corporate domination. It’s hard to imagine, but a full two hundred years ago he wrote, "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country." Many consider Jefferson an anarchist who accepted government only as a necessary evil, a means of decent men co-operating to maintain their liberty against those who would dominate them. Jefferson may have feared for our liberty, but if we take the corporate organism in its evolutionary context we might be more concerned. As the evolutionary dead end, we should hope that nature de-selects it before, like the virus, it kills the host.