Sunday, December 20, 2009

Avatar

I saw James Cameron’s new movie last night. (And it really is Cameron's movie: he gets sole screen credit, not only for direction but for writing, and shared credit for producing and editing.) As with Aliens and Titanic, among the villainous characters is a business corporation and a character who obviously represents the (evil) corporate point of view. What makes the business corporation in this movie so evil? Well, it engages in the following practices: using military force to invade and conquer foreign lands, slaughtering wholesale numbers of the inhabitants and burning their dwellings, all in order to steal their property.

As I was sitting through its 162 minutes, my mind began to wander from the vulgarly eye-popping sights on the screen: Gee, I thought, I can’t think of a single business corporation that engages in those particular practices. Office Depot doesn't, and I'm pretty sure Mircrosoft and Dell Inc don't either. Still, such behavior has been far from uncommon throughout history. I can think of any number of corporate bodies that have, to one extent or another, engaged in these very practices.

When I got home, I consulted my research assistant, Ms. Google, for some examples. What we came up with includes, to give a woefully truncated list: the Kingdom of England, the Mongols, the Russians, the Spanish, Umayyads, the French, the Abbasids, the the Almoravids, Portuguese, the Achaemenids, the Sassanids, the Japanese, the Romans, the Uyghurs, the Macedonians, the Ottomans, the Italians, the Dutch, the Germans, the Shaybanids, the Byzantines, the Khazars, the Bactrians, the Belgians, the Assyrians, the Malians, the the Carolingians, the Merovingian, the Thai, the Swedes, the Khmer, the Avars, the Kanems, the Bulgars, the Akkadians, the Ghanians, the Bagans, the Hyksos, the Visigoths, the the Lydians, the the Ostrogoths, the Hittites, the Armenians, the Carthaginians, the Babylonians, the Aztecs, and the Incas. This is not to mention whole series of Chinese states, Indian states, Persian states, and Egyptian states too numerous to mention (they are also confusing because sometimes overlap). Last, but hardly least, there is of course the United States of America.

These corporate bodies are, of course, all states, or proto-states, or markedly state-like entities. These practices are the sorts of things that states do, and have done for thousands of years, going back almost to the beginning of the neolithic (about 12,000 years ago). They are not the sorts of things that private, voluntary associations such as business corporations do.

This is a phenomenon I've noticed many times. In trying to express in a satisfying way their hatred of business corporations, in conveying their extreme moral indignation against them, storytellers like Cameron often end up making them sound like governments. Why would that be, I wonder?

Update: I just noticed that someone at LewRockwell.com has written that Avatar is libertarian on the grounds that the corporation in it is "really a mine-state." I would say that there is no evidence that Cameron noticed this fact, nor that it garbles his lumpen-leftist message.
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