CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, October 2, 2023

Diamantis on Representing Corporate Evil

Mihailis Diamantis (University of Iowa - College of Law) has posted The Monster Within: Representing Corporate Evil (Forthcoming in Evil Corporations (Penny Crofts ed., 2024)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Prosecutors speak on our behalf when they bring corporations to justice, but the sterilized vocabulary they use is too often devoid of outrage, disgust, or urgency. In their telling, corporate crime is an economic byproduct of broken information channels, deficient compliance protocols, and misaligned incentives. Corporate offenses become externalities we must manage rather than “murders,” “thefts,” and “assaults” we can combat. Victims become “casualties.” We, the lookers-on, become a disengaged audience, apathetically watching reruns of moral, physical, and financial menace.

But prosecutors may not be entirely to blame. They know full-well how to foment moral disgust toward human villains. Corporate villains are very differently constituted. 1) They are commercial enterprises that lack the familiar hallmarks of moral agency. 2) The crimes they commit are often engineered by a small group of rogue insiders. And 3), even as corporations harm us, we owe our livelihoods and consumer comforts to them. In light of these attributes, narratively framing corporate misconduct in amoral, economic terms may seem unavoidable. With it, our sense of moral urgency disappears, along with our political will to push for change.

This chapter argues that prosecutors could do better. A rhetoric of corporate evil is possible. As proof of concept, prosecutors need only visit the theater. Horror films solved the catch-22 of morally ambiguous evil decades ago. Three archetypes of horror cinema—zombies, demons, and werewolves—raise rhetorical obstacles analogous to those that corporate prosecutors face. Directors of those films instill their audience with loathing toward antagonists that are borderline examples of moral agency, that act with an alien inner compulsion, and that blend harm with help. By turning to the greats of horror, even economically-attuned prosecutors may find tools for talking about corporate evil.

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