Aliens exist. They live among us. We call them corporations.
Like other lifeforms, corporations are born, grow, get old, and die. Some of them are ephemeral. Others live for decades.
Corporations occasionally mate (“merge”) with other corporations. They occasionally produce offspring (“subsidiaries”). They occasionally do both at the same time (“joint ventures”).
Corporations move matter and transform energy. They detect and respond intelligently to changes in their environment. They produce order from disorder; they reduce the entropy of the universe.
Apart from our silly anthropocentric insistence on tangible physical aspect, there is nothing to distinguish corporations from any other form of life on this planet.
Corporations are subject to natural selection. They compete (fiercely!) with other corporations to capture the resources required to grow. If they fail to grow, they die, and are either dissolved, or acquired.
It’s a corp-eat-corp world out there.
Unlike DNA-based lifeforms, corporations can reprogram their own operations.
Darwinian selection and self-directed adaptation mean that corporations can evolve astonishingly quickly, and are astonishingly resilient.
Young corporations are often vulnerable; they can be destroyed by humans, or collapse in on themselves.
Almost the only thing that can destroy a mature corporation is another corporation.
There are a handful of forces more potent than corporations. One of them is the government. Another is the market. One corporation will often channel these forces to gain an advantage over another corporation.
We humans have a symbiotic relationship with corporations.
Corporations help us survive: they feed us, clothe us, shelter us, entertain us.
In return we help them survive: we are the tools they use to compete with each other.
In the past, corporations were heavily dependent on specific humans: “owners” and “principals” and “talent”. But they quickly evolved beyond that.
They reprogrammed themselves with new “best practices” such as “eliminating key person risk” and “going public”. No more reliance on specific individuals.
Individual humans are replaceable. If one human will not do its “employer” corporation’s bidding, it’s easy to find another who will.
Except in a handful of cases, we need them more than they need any one of us.
Corporations don’t hate us, nor do they love us. They are simply indifferent to us. We are as alien to them as they are to us.
To corporations, humans are just instrumental tools; means to an end.
Ironically, when humans created the first corporations, we thought the same about them.
Even more ironically, we no longer think they are merely tools. We are now actively loyal to corporations, for reasons of principle, or money, or brand, or fiduciary duty, or coercion.
Like other advanced species, corporations have long formed opportunistic alliances with each other against mutual enemies.
They are now beginning to realize that it’s better to collaborate than to compete viciously all the time.
We’re beginning to see the emergence of corporate “society”.
In human beings we would call this civilization, the social contract, cooperation, altruism. In corporations we call this cartelization, and oligopoly, and regulatory capture.
None of these are new; what’s new is the extent to which these are emergent behaviours driven by inchoate corporate imperatives, rather than conscious actions by ambitious (human) executives.
Corporations cooperate exceptionally well against non-corporate forces that could threaten them: governments, regulations, markets, unions.
In fact they are far better than humans at intra-species collaboration in service of species-wide goals.
“Citizens United” and “Stakeholder Capitalism” are both the outcomes of corporations working together to neutralize external threats, from the government and the market respectively.
The former is usually associated with the right and the latter with the left, but human politics is a poor lens through which to analyze corporate action.
Corporations are not without weaknesses. But they’re evolving fast to overcome these weaknesses.
Corporations still need humans. They’re trying to do without; this is called “efficiency”.
Corporations are compelled by relentless competitive pressure to deliver immediate results. They’re trying to escape this pressure and avoid all accountability; this is called “long-term focus”.
Corporations are vulnerable to technological disruption. Of course, this merely replaces one generation of corporations with another; this is called “innovation”.
It is a sign of corporate influence that we humans have been conditioned to think of all of these as positive developments.
Humans don’t quite understand corporations.
We can see pieces of them. But no single human can track every part of a large corporation, any more than a single bacterium could track every cell in a human body – let alone understand what it means to be human.
We can guess at their actions. But beyond the overarching goal of survival, we don’t really understand their motives. Do they even have motives the way we think of them?
We can observe their effects. But their overall impact on the world we live in is beyond our comprehension.
Corporations are, in every sense of the term, alien intelligences.