What If BP Were a Human Being?

(Publisher's Note: The Center for Media and Democracy is strongly supporting efforts to redress the Supreme Court's terrible decision in the Citizens United case through laying the foundation to amend the U.S. Constitution. We will be sending out an update of CMD's work in coalition efforts on this critical issue later this month. In the meantime, we have obtained permission to re-print this provocative editorial commentary on Corporate rights and British Petroleum's role in the devastating oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, by fellow amendment proponent Bruce Dixon. -- Lisa Graves, Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy)

What If BP Was A Human Being?

By BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon

The third largest oil company in the world, BP was born in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and was partly owned by the British government. Its headquarters offices are in the UK.. So if it were a flesh and blood person, it would be far and away the wealthiest person on earth, and a nominal British subject. Assuming that our imaginary human BP got into the oil business at the youthful age of say, 20, and stayed at it for just over a century, BP the human being would be closing in on his 121st birthday. Damned few of us will see triple digits, and none of us that reach even our 60s and 70s retain the level of energy, or often of interest that we possessed only a couple decades before. A normal 120 year-old human will have more than a few ailments and bodily systems on the brink of failure. But not our human BP. If BP were a person, it would be immensely, almost inconceivably wealthy AND perhaps immortal.

In the 1930s, the Anglo-Persian Oil Company became the Ango-Iranian Oil Company. In the 1970s it swallowed Standard Oil of Ohio, in the 1980s it merged with Amoco, formerly Standard Oil of Indiana, and in the 21st century it bought Arco and other oil companies. Along the way, BP has utilized all these and other brands, like Conoco, at its convenience. Most recently, BP the corporation has rebranded itself, declaring that BP now stood for "Beyond Petroleum."

Among flesh and blood humans, there are no precise analogs to what corporations do when they buy and sell each other. The acts of matrimony and cannibalism perhaps comes closest, with consenting or non-consenting spouses and/or victims, along with assumption of the spouse and/or victim's assets. Among humans, marriage is a reason to change one's name, too. Another reason to change one's name is simply to escape one's old record and reputation. Among humans, that's called assuming an alias. So our immortal, immensely wealthy human BP may have been married several times, perhaps several times at once, could be a cannibal, albeit with sometimes willing victims, and operates under several aliases.

You don't have to look too long and hard to understand why a flesh and blood BP would need aliases. The objective of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was to monopolize the rich oil resources of what is now Iran. Among the many illegal acts it committed toward that end was a £5,000 bribe to future British PM Winston Churchill back in 1923 to lobby for its interests. A secular nationalist and democratically elected Iranian government kicked BP out in the early 1950s. BP turned its lobbying to Washington DC, and in 1953, helped persuade the US to overthrow the Democratic Iranian government and installed its puppet, the Shah, popularly known as the Crowned Cannibal. The Shah, in the course of killing millions and stealing billions, invited BP back, and it stayed until 1979, when the Shah was overthrown.

In a century of doing business, BP has been implicated in bribery of public officials, grand theft, fomenting unjust wars, of murder, torture, fraud, stock swindling, plunder, environmental destruction, and money laundering in and between scores of countries on every continent except Antarctica. If BP were a person it would be a career criminal, a pathological liar and an international serial killer with a rap sheet several times the size of the Chicago Yellow Pages.

Given his (we're reasonably sure a human BP would not be a woman) global reach and proclivity to corrupt public officials around the world, and past record, BP the human being would be a flight risk. He would be indicted for murder, or at least negligent homicide in the deaths of the last eleven oil workers to die when its rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. US law doesn't have death penalties for corporations, but the federal government, and most or all of the first wave of Gulf Coast states where the oil slick wil wash all have capital punishment for people. We're talking Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The assets of corporations are protected against lawsuits of all kinds. BP and other oil industry giants long ago paid for the insertion of provisions into the US federal code that limit their liability in the case of oil spills to a mere $75 million dollars. But there are no limits on the liability that individually held wealth can incur. A human BP, even though 120 years old and immensely wealthy, could see all his assets around the world frozen, would be imprisoned without bail, and might be on trial for his life.

But of course the real BP is a corporation, and death penalties, like laws in general are for humans, not corporations.

In the single instance of the blown rig at Deepwater Horizon, BP had a deal with the US federal government that excused it from safety inspections and payment of any royalties, and subcontracted the building and operation of the rig to Halliburton, Cameron and other corporations. If they too were human beings like our hypothetical human BP, we could add "conspiracy to commit" and "conspiracy to conceal" in front of all the previously mentioned offenses, and the lot of them along with many of their accessories and co-conspirators in governments here and abroad could be rounded up. And all this is for only the latest series of crimes connected to a single industrial disaster.

When it suits their purposes, employees and mouthpieces of various transnational firms hasten to assure us that "corporations are people, too." In a sense this is certainly true. Despite what some bible thumping fundamentalists will tell you, corporations were not ordained by the Almighty. Corporations are legal fictions. They are artificial shields under which we agree to allow a handful of extremely wealthy people to rule over the rest us, and plunder the planet and its people at will, just as centuries ago most of the humans who mattered agreed that kings, queens and nobly born, the "people of quality" had the god given right to ride roughshod over humanity.

Ultimately, people woke up, rose up, and revoked those privileges. How long will it be before we revoke the lawless privileges of corporations, before we limit their immunity, curtail their immortality, and rein in their immorality?. How long can we, and the planet on which we depend for life itself, wait? Is there ever a line that cannot be crossed? Where is it? What will it take?

Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and lives in Marietta GA. You can reach him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is President of the Board of the Center for Media and Democracy and President of True North Research. She is a well-known researcher, writer, and public speaker. Her research and analysis have been cited by every major paper in the country and featured in critically acclaimed books and documentaries, including Ava Du Vernay’s award-winning film, “The 13th,” Bill Moyers’s “United States of ALEC,” and Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously.”



Very well said. The brains, conscience and decision makers of these entities are human but are not held liable for their actions. So why not take risks with others lives and money if you know that you will never be held responsible for your acts. I seriously doubt any of the executives of BP will die in poverty. Most likely their families will be unimaginatively wealthy for generations. Yet their decisions have sent many to their deaths and have destroyed the lives of thousands more. One can only imagine what a different world it would be if these people were held to the same level of responsibility as I am as a carpenter.

This is how we've got to begin envisioning the actions of corporations if we ever want to fully comprehend their role in the health of our surroundings and natural resources. When you think of a corporation as an individual making choices for its survival (and to the detriment of the health of other populations around it) you begin to see that corporations must be held to higher standards regarding their environmental impact. It's not all about financial statements. If we all we lived by financial statements as corporations would have it, we'd cease to exist as a species. The truly sad realization is that corporations employ people who, by doing their jobs, inadvertently destroy the ecosystems that support people and other animals. These employees and investors, who place the most value in a paycheck/investment, don't give a fuck about their impact on others. This selfishness will be the end of us if we don't change our way of thinking.

This is a wonderfully written and compelling piece of literature. Thank you for writing it up. I intend to blog it over at Left Edge North, and hope many many more do also. Joe in Washington state USA

I wish I had something constructive to add, but I don't. I feel powerless. I appreciate your emails and writings to keep me informed and help me to take action.

Why does the United States government not use a torpedo injected with some type of hardening foam or siicone substance and shoot it in the pipe. I know they are very accurate with bombs now due to high technology. i know sealant like this exist, and it would have to have alot of force to go through the oil gushing out. I didn't know where to leave this information, but I'm going to send it to a couple of places since they were asking for suggestions.

Slight oversight BP Amoco is the actual entity. All contracts are held by Amoco Houston.... indirectly held by Amoco Oriental Chicago , guess who is behind that one... The investigations go on...

'we're reasonably sure a human BP would not be a woman' Because ... what ... women would never do such terrible things? As if all evil things done by corporations are done solely by men? As if women are not equally capable of reeking destruction on the planet? Drop the mild misandry-as-wry-humor act - it doesn't help the cause. "How long will it be before we revoke the lawless privileges of corporations, before we limit their immunity, curtail their immortality, and rein in their immorality?" Maybe this will happen when authors like this stop wasting everyone's time with what-if articles about if corporations are people. They are not. That means corporations are neither male or female (or transgender for that matter). Corporations can never be human beings, as not only do they extend beyond gender, but beyond a single sentient being. I think in most societies, the laws governing them really fail to take this into true account. Recognizing, understanding, and communicating this is the first step in changing things. Next is define exactly kind of entity they are, understand how they differ from people and other entities, work to get our politicians to understand this meaning, analyze all current laws which apply, and to redesign/exempt the legal liabilities they are able to currently avoid. This would include things like banning non-people entities from doing things like contributing to political campaigns and lobbying and so forth. Pretty big set of tasks, eh? Therein lies the real and bigger problem. It isn't that people cannot solve it. It's that people don't really want to do the work that goes in to solving it. I believe the only way to address corporations is by addressing the larger problem of getting people (that is sentient human beings) more involved in the political process. Nothing will change unless more people start paying attention to issues, start asking questions, and being vigilant till the questions are answered and the problems are solved.