At its best, science fiction imagines a future that illuminates the present, but on the subject of the social role of the corporation, science fiction has long been backward-looking, out of touch with the reality it would analyze. The cultural imagination at large shares this error, though it is difficult to say how much this defect in science fiction is a result of the cultural error and how much it is the cause. But it would be difficult to overstate how deeply the specter of the villainous corporation shapes American political thought. The influence is more visible the farther to the left one moves along the political spectrum. Occupy Wall Street was probably at least as much influenced by science-fiction visions of corporate dystopias as it was by any kind of organized political thought. There were unmistakably Maoist elements to Occupy, but the sinister connotations of the very word “corporation” are by no means heard by only those ears attached to the addled heads of committed leftists.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? was set in 1992, Blade Runner in 2019, yet here we are, well into the 21st century, and there is still no colossal Tyrel Corporation bestriding the globe, and nothing like the corporate sovereignties of Jennifer Government. As myth, the corporate dystopia remains undiminished in its power. But the function of myths is to illuminate reality, and the reality is that there is no Tyrel Corporation today, and none on the horizon. If you want to know what the corporation of tomorrow looks like, don’t think Cyberdyne — think Groupon.
…The fetishization of the political through regulator-heroes such as Jennifer Government relies on the point-counterpoint of corporation and state; without the threat of the monolithic, immortal, all-powerful corporation hovering silently in the cultural background, the rhetoric and philosophy of (for instance) Elizabeth Warren is faintly ridiculous. Which is not to say it is entirely indefensible in every particular — Senator Warren is right in demanding to know, say, why nobody at HSBC has been charged with a crime as a result of the bank’s money-laundering case, which involved such worrisome entities as Mexican cartels and Saudi financiers of terrorism. (Senator Warren might think about addressing some of her questions to the president rather than browbeating his underlings at a politically safe arm’s length.) But the overarching narrative — if not for the far-seeing, brave, and selfless heroes of the political class, we’d end up living in the world of Jennifer Government — is a fantasy, and a childish one at that.
I’ve never understood the “progressive” mindset that fears big corporations more than it fears big government.