The Me in We

How group emotions and issues of collective identity change the world.

Big Money in Politics

Are corporations citizens?

Americans resist thinking about the psychology of money or psychoeconomics. What, for instance, about our collective denial regarding campaign finance?

The was a sea change in campaign finance in 2010 when a divided court ruled 5 to 4 that corporations have the same rights as individual voters. The Supreme Court’s decision, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission overturned decades of campaign finance law by enabling unrestricted and anonymous corporate donations to electoral candidates (e.g. bribes).

The ruling legitimized the fantasy of corporate personhood. It declared that corporations, rather than being legal constructs, are equal to citizens with legal rights. It thus increased the tight grip corporate CEOs, Wall Street executives, big oil, unions, health insurance and pharmaceutical companies have on our electoral process.

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“American democracy is now for sale to the highest bidder, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Court.” says Susan Lerner of commoncause.org 

How do we so easily forget the 2007-08 financial crisis wreaked by the deregulation of banks and the abuses of privatized wealth? Is this collective repetition compulsion?

The court defended the Citizens United ruling by arguing that campaign contributions should be protected as free speech. Through a broad interpretation of the First Amendment, it treated corporate speech rights as the same as that of you and me. The 2012 presidential election will be the most expensive in history (40% higher than the last presidential campaign) with the cost of advertising estimated at 9.8 billion in television and radio commercials, online pop-ups. More money renders certain voices louder, corrupts the democratic process and denies our human plurality.

Money is not speech although it seems a dream thought in our fantasy of corporate personhood. The Fair Elections Now Act aims to reverse this distortion of democracy by money by advocating publicly funded elections rather than those funded by private donations. Participating candidates seek support from their communities, the people they are supposed to represent, rather than from Washington, D.C. Federal candidates are freed from the grind of constant fundraising in order to focus on what people of their communities want.

When our government protects the American people from the clamor of corporate interests and regulates the flow of money in the political marketplace fit acts as superego, a moral instrument of the body politic -- much like the moral function within the individual psyche.

Running counter to this sense of collective conscience are the values of individualism and capitalism extolled by the US. Free market forces are, metaphorically, the “id” of our economy -- leading to greed, domination, and sadism. Dependency and the role of the caregiver are devalued in our national household. We mythologize the solo entrepreneur. Such habits of thought define our social relations as much as our social relations define these habits of thought.

A healthy the superego requires love, what Freud called Eros. A loving conscience originates in the preoe,dipal relation between primary caregiver and child, in infant’s identification with the nurturer. (_Freud, Women, and Morality: The Psychology of Good and Evil_, by Eli Sagan)  We thus learn to love as we have been loved. Conscience is the component of the superego that allows one to feel for another, to hear another’s voice. It is the force that drives social progress and the development of enlightened moral values. It helps us find a healthy balance between social responsibility and self care.

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Follow me: http://www.twitter.com/mollycastelloe

Molly Castelloe, Ph.D., is a New York based author specializing in group psychology and theater.

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