Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

Logo Stickers Are Awesome

At Signals vs. Noise they quote Jason Kottke:

A favorite conversational tidbit was that when you buy fake electronics in Hong Kong, they ask you which logo you want on it (Sony, Panasonic, NEC, etc.) and then affix the proper sticker. Awesome.

Then Jason Fried says it's not awesome, and it's theft and all that. He is wrong: this is totally awesome. Why? Because it's absurd and silly, but also shows a rather bizarre interaction with branding. Clearly the consumer realizes that the Panasonic sticker does not make the TV into a Panasonic; and yet not only do they want the sticker put on, but people come in with a preference for which brand of absurdity they desire. This all probably came about because brands were a class signifier, but it's amusing to see it morph into something else. Anyway, Jason Fried concludes...

You know, everyone wants corporations to be more like people -- more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment, etc. Yet we're not as quick to treat corporations like people. We want to see what we can to do scam them. We want to see what we can do to take advantage of them. We call it awesome when people take their brands or their IP. Respect is a two-way street.

I can't decide what about this paragraph is wrong. And yet the paragraph makes no sense to me. I simply can't parse the logic.

Well... I guess I think that we have ethical obligations to other people, and we have zero fundamental ethical obligations to corporations. Any obligation we have to corporations is derivative of the obligations to people; if hurting a corporation hurts people, then that's wrong. If a certain legal structure (like trademark) creates a more civilized and predictable market where producers can build deserved reputations, and that helps people, then that legal structure is good. But there's no way in hell I'm going to give corporations the same consideration I give humans. The more I think about it, the more offensive the very idea is to me. If I was religious, I would find the very idea an offense against God. Literally -- I do not think that is too extreme of a stance. To give corporations that consideration is to say that humans are capable of creating entities as deserving of moral consideration as humans themselves are deserving; it is to bestow as much importance onto our creations as onto God's. But I don't believe in God, I'm just a humanist, so I can't use such lofty language... but I still take the human part very seriously, and find Jason's moral logic to be deeply flawed.

Anyway, I digress... I don't really think it would be good if you get the sticker of your choice in the US. In part because it's just stupid. But when brand turns into class, it makes me happy to see people subvert that brand, as it subverts class distinctions in some way as well. It's a little disappointing because it also is driven by class, driven by vanity and a person's aspiration to be something they are not (in this case, a consumer of more-expensive electronics). But the subversion also unintentionally removes a tool of class distinction, reduces the distinction itself to absurdity. And that is awesome.

Created 14 Nov '05


I totally agree with your position on whether one should "respect" corporations. Consider the Sony rootkit affair: had some lone hacker distributed a rootkit which got installed on numerous computers, they'd be facing jail time in various countries and hefty fines. If Sony don't manage to wriggle their way out of penalties, what's really going to happen? Will anyone be "doing time" for their corporate strategy decisions? Nope. Will Sony be barred from trading in various markets? Nope. And any money they have to pay up in damages will clearly be levied in the prices of subsequent products and services. The stock price will dip for a short while before it becomes evident that unethical corporate behaviour is rarely punished, or at least not for very long.

"Corporations are people" is just a convenient scam, engineered by irresponsible and unethical capitalists who'd rather have some imaginery entity's neck on the block rather than their own when being called in to account for their disgraceful behaviour.

# The Badger

> Will anyone be "doing time" for their corporate strategy decisions? Nope

Well, no, but there is also the court of public opinion.

If people hoist a collective international gesture at Sony, they could eat some serious quarterly losses.

The global economy is a chaotic system. The managerial decision to use a rootkit shall turn out un-cheap, indeed.

# Chris

Well, no, but there is also the court of public opinion.

Yeah, that's a good punishment indeed. That's why when people do bad things, we accept that it's good enough punishment that other people know they've done wrong. The peer disapproval is good enough.

# Ian Bicking

In regards to Jason Fried's comment, I think that one can argue that you should respect corporations just like you respect people. However, just as when someone else disrespects you, you are going to disrespect them or at the least, not go out of your way to treat them with respect. When a company is a socially-aware and responsible company, I will then treat them likewise.

# Andrew

[My response from the SvN post]

You know, everyone wants corporations to be more like people — more responsible, more honest, more respectful of the environment, etc. Yet we’re not as quick to treat corporations like people.

You’re confusing motivations here. We don’t want corporations to be more like people. We want people to be themselves, and stop hiding behind corporations.

The corporations themselves are not people, and when we treat them as if they’re the same as people, we get the disconnect of “brand identity”, corporation with protected free speech, and other madness.

# Ben Finney

"[W]e have zero fundamental ethical obligations to corporations."

Don't you think we should respect their tangible property? If ABC, Inc. owns a laptop, I think it'd be pretty unethical to smash it to pieces.

That said, Fried seems to be half a step away from imply that we, as individuals, aren't entitled to any more ethics or respect than what we accord to corporations.

And that's bullshit, but I wouldn't be surprised if some folks subscribe to that theory. It sounds a lot like the rationale behind Sony's rootkit.

# Joe Grossberg

This is slightly off at a tangent, or at any rate a far extrapolation from, your original point, but: suppose we ever "build" something that passes the Turing Test. "Build" in quotes because I think such a think is more likely to come from a not very controlled evolutionary/growth process than from any kind of top-down design - shit, sentient perl! - than from any kind of top-down design. And therefore "God" for some value of the term is agruably involved.

But anyway, if such a thing does come into being, being the product of a human-initiated process, is it then in any sense a "person" entitled to respect?

Note that I don't think this is on the verge of happening. I am not some kind of Kurzweil-style millenarian loony.

# Alan Little

Big +1 - nice!

# Mark Nottingham

The Supreme Court seems to differ from you... starting sometimes in the '30s, I think, when they started giving corporations quasi-human status

# sureshvv