The Supreme Court in Washington, DC. Photo by TexasGOPVote.com.
Anyone with eyes probably has no clue that arguments for one of the most consequential Supreme Court cases in the history of this country have been issued within the last month. No matter what portion of the media caters to your interests or your guaranteed parking spot in the fringes of the political spectrum, no one on cable is giving the emotionally affecting Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum case any significant air time. The Internet’s coverage counts a few bloggers and, from what I’ve been able to google, a few mentions from the left-leaning Huffington Post.
Which is strange, because if the ultra-popular “Kony 2012” campaign tells us anything it’s that young America is motivated by what pulls at their heartstrings, right? Especially if it has to do with poor, helpless Africans that our western, save-them-all altruistic hearts can feel better about saving (because, by golly, who else could?).
After all, anyone with a heart can sympathize with how the widow of a slain Nigerian protester who will be soon taking on the evil-is-putting-it-nicely oil giant Royal Dutch Petroleum in the halls of the highest court in the land. In a case postponed earlier this month to the court’s next term starting in October, this brave woman will be living out the ultimate David v. Goliath legal contest to determine whether corporate personhood should apply to abhorrent crimes against humanity overseen by companies operating in foreign countries. What crimes, you ask? Oh you know, just some extrajudicial executions. Yes, I just used the words extrajudicial executions. That means the parent company of the popular Shell brand participated in the legalized torture and murder of individuals who protested expansion of their oil ventures in the region.
I know it’s been a little while since Auschwitz was turned into a museum, so go ahead and reread that last paragraph a few times to let it sink into your conscience. To make a long story short, the Dutch-based company tag teamed with one of the most corrupt and maniacal governments in the eastern hemisphere (which is saying a lot) to commit unspeakable horrors that simply shouldn’t be possible in 2012.
As the justices listen to arguments over whether or not multi-national corporations can be held accountable for these sorts of horrifying exploits, the left is clamoring for a CEO lynching. By all accounts, their anger is justified. In reading that HuffPo piece on the subject a few weeks ago, all the blood in my bleeding heart started to boil at visceral temperatures – but then a sobering thought occurred to me.
Given the political makeup of the Supreme Court and their penchant for asinine rulings in the name of constitutional originalism, there’s a good chance that poor Mrs. Kiobel might lose her case. (For specifics on the legal complications of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch, you can read this clumsily formatted but clearly knowledgable blog.) Of course, such a ruling would be tragic and infuriating. So tragic and infuriating in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the entire left went up in arms to support a constitutional amendment that would end corporate personhood once and for–wait a minute… Is anyone thinking what I’m thinking?
Indeed, what if – and let me prepare you all for a morally hard-to-swallow ‘what if,’ here – Mrs. Kiobel did lose her case. Is there a chance that a greater, more utilitarian social justice might be served to humanity instead?
Stay with me. Think about the state of social activism in the last six months. The world witnessed one of the largest socially progressive grassroots movements ever to take place, and it took place just about everywhere. In the month of March alone, we’ve seen a massive outcry against a brutal African warlord who no one could name no more than three weeks ago.
Even more impressive about “Kony 2012” was that a particularly sketchy nonprofit led the campaign with a budget big enough to burn on a multi-million dollar, high definition 30-minute documentary and hand out generous salaries to their executives…. but not big enough to provide realistic, life-saving assistance to the tortured children they supposedly support.*
With that backdrop, just think of the potential fall-out from Generation Facebook if the Supreme Court says Royal Dutch Petroleum isn’t liable for the atrocities that occurred on their watch. If properly activated by the right outcome, the powers of SuperPACs and the ineffable damage that the Citizens United decision has caused to our political process would be undone faster than you can say “Stop Online Piracy.”
I know the frankness of my argument here may come off with a layer of unconscionable crass a la Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, though not nearly as funny, even if there is some truth to my point. (Well, more so than the good that could come from feeding the poor with their own children.) But most who read this article can at least agree on one thing: Even if Mrs. Kiobel wins her case, it will not be enough to halt the untenable evil that corporate personhood will still pose to our society, and by proxy, the world.
As cited as the principal reason for postponing the case, there is considerable distance between the legal principles being discussed between the Kiobel case and Citizens United mostly for two reasons. First, because of the Alien Tort statute, which permits U.S. courts to hear violations of law on foreign soil. Secondly, because the constitution’s position on personhood for things that don’t have a pulse is about as explicit as its position on vaginas (which is to say, not at all).
If drastic action is necessary to make those distinctions explicit then a list of plausible solutions would have to include a massive, social media-stimulated movement against the extraneous and irresponsible freedoms corporations now enjoy. Above all, it should be a protest that makes the latest witch hunt for Joseph Kony look like a poorly attended bra burning; by which I mean, it should last longer than three weeks and mean more than selling a few hundred thousand wristbands.
If any single collective of people are capable of such a protest, they’re currently on Facebook, not donating a dime to a worthwhile charity, but instead rigorously sharing a 30-minute video in the hopes their congressmen will do at least one of three things they were never designed to do (which are: A. listen to anyone without a lobbying license, B. care about innocent children being murdered in an African country with no significant ties to oil, and C. do anything about it that could possibly make a difference that President Obama hadn’t already ordered be done six months ago).
Though social media activists may be laughably inconsistent in their attentions and remain painfully ignorant of real world issues, their broadcasted beliefs have some serious value. After all, they’ve managed to save Planned Parenthood from defunding in a budget crunch and get Rush Limbaugh to apologize… twice. Any one of these feats is about as difficult to pull off as amending the constitution, so why not put it towards where their attentions can do substantive good right now?
In all seriousness, I pray the Mrs. Kiobel succeeds, if only so that her suffering will not be in vain. That said, if Royal Dutch Petroleum ends up winning their case, I’d be horrified to see the millions who “like” Barack Obama’s re-election campaign sit quietly as excuses for their apathy and ignorance grow fewer and fewer.
* As Invisible Children admitted they had done with their “Kony 2012” video, I’m dramatically oversimplifying their actions to draw attention to their overwhelmingly suspicious charitable practices.