Corporate Interests

Agreement entitles Whanganui River to legal identity

This post comes to you from EcoArtScotland

Companies have ‘personhood,’ ie. a legal identity equivalent to people in the sense that they can enter into contracts and agreements (see Wikipedia article). This is a subject of considerable argument, and there are several campaigns to remove this status.

On the other hand in New Zealand there is a move (reported in the New Zealand Herald here) to give a river the status of a person, for the river to have a legal identity.  If we accept that all things have agency, not just human beings, this legal recognition of the personhood of a river, developed from the indigenous knowledge tradition and by the Whanganui River Iwi, is incredibly important.

To give a river (or presumably a mountain, valley or island) this status of personhood is important because it repositions us, human beings, within the environment, rather than over it.

Where the problem with corporate personhood is that it requires the law to respect corporate interests as equivalent to the interests of people, the positive benefits of giving at least some natural features some legal agency or status as persons is potentially transformative.

The recognition of indigenous knowledge traditions is of course also enormously positive and challenging to Western epistemologies.  If the river is a person, what does the river know, and how do we value that form of knowledge.

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Jon Stewart and the Art of Responsibility


This will not be the first place you’ve heard of Jon Stewart’s interview with Jim Cramer, of Mad Money, on the Daily Show. This may be, in fact, one of the last places you’d expect to see it mentioned. This is a blog about environmental art. The Daily Show is a mainstream political comedy show. The interview was largely about finance, investment, and the economic crisis (which are not separate from natural resources, blah diddy you know the drill . . . )

But as comedian, Stewart provided an invaluable service. He called Cramer out. He urged Cramer and his network to use their visibility and connections for the public good, and not in service to investors, corporate interests, or mere ratings. He chided Cramer for misusing his powerful influence.

And that’s the essence of its relevance. At we’re constantly seeing artists who are using their craft as a tool for the public good, whether with education, aesthetic power, or literal utilitarianism. They’re doing it with the planet in mind, defending rivers, forests, communities, connections. Jon Stewart is defending the very nature of work, the transparency of media, and his parents’ retirement fund.

To all of those who voted to cut NEA funding: I defy you to look at the body of work on and not understand the public service that artists provide. Tell me that Jon Stewart lecturing Cramer like our nation’s Cultural Daddy isn’t achingly important. Come to grips with the incredible responsibility that comes with the work of culture. And I say: boo-yeah. Now let’s get some work done.

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