This unit includes the complete second edition of the novel, The Prisoner’s Dilemma and a 27-page learning and discussion guide.
It is suitable for social studies, business, ethics and political science classes and it will engage readers and teachers alike.
The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a provocative story about what happens when private citizens try to sue corporations. When a poorly maintained truck loaded with tons of concrete loses its brakes, careens down a mountain, and collides with a school bus, killing 25 children, and the teacher, the parents decide to sue. They quickly learn they cannot sue because a Supreme Court case from the late 1880’s protects corporate leaders from personal liability. While it is possible to sue corporations, it is not possible except in the case of criminal activity to sue corporate leaders even when they make decisions that create major damage or loss of life. The case lands in Supreme Court where the fate of millions could depend on the single swing vote of a Justice.
"Provocative! Controversial! Corporate America certain to declare a fatwah on Hathorn."
"Hathorn had better hire a bodyguard when this book hits the stores! Explosive! An all-nighter!
"I never realized the truth until after reading this book. The reader will never, ever see American business in the same way. A paradigm shift that promises to make corporate America sit up and take notice."
"A great effort in connecting the Gilded Age's dark side to our current social and economic nightmare."
"Send a copy to Bernake and Edward Liddy (CEO of AIG)"
Anne Marie Vedda
"An intelligent cerebral read. Tones and energizes your brain."
Rebecca Floyd Mark Twain House
"A complex legal argument with a heart-wrenching human drama. A real page turner."
Karen Klein, Former board member, Connecticut Authors and Publishers Association
“A fiesty, hell-raising story! The ultimate conspiracy.”
Teresa King, The Bookcove, Pawling, NY
"I loved it. I especially liked the way the story built as it progressed toward the end. Good dialogue...lots of good information communicated, complex ideas and points of view and suspense as well as good character development."
Terry Tillman, 227company
SUGGESTED DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
For middle and high school students
1. Is privacy protected by the constitution? Why or why not?
2. How does an originalist Justice on the Supreme Court interpret the Constitution?
3. Susan tells her 8th grade class, “Do you know that there is a group of nine people in Washington that can tell you what to do? They can support or deny laws that tell you what you can and cannot read. This group can tell you when the police can arrest you or have to let you go. These people can take away your most basic civil rights in the name of national security. They can make law or change law as well as destroy laws or enforce them. Appointed for life, they answer to no one. These are probably the most powerful people in the country if not the world. More powerful then the President or Congress, they are appointed for life and unless they die, resign, or are impeached cannot be removed from office.”
How do you feel about all the power the Supreme Court has? What checks and balances are there for the Supreme Court? Should the Court have all this power?
4. In George Orwell’s book, Animal Farm, there is a set of rules. One is: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others. The Declaration of Independence says all men are created equal Are all men created equal? What does that mean? Does it mean that all are “born equal?”
The Declaration does not use the term, “Born Equal.” It uses the term “Created Equal.” Is there a difference between the two terms? What are the implications of this distinction?
5. If as some people say, a corporation is a person, does that mean that the Creator “Created” a corporation to be equal to a person? Or did man create the corporation? Does corporate personhood violate the spirit if not the intent of the Declaration? Is it sacrilegious to call a corporation a person? Does that title usurp the powers of the Creator?
For College Students and Adults
1. What is the meaning of the statement in The Declaration of Independence that reads, “All men are created equal?” Does this apply to corporations? To animals?
2. What is the Prisoner’s Dilemma? How does it relate to the story?
3. How can one escape the prisoner’s dilemma? What does it mean when Phillip J. Eby says in the Epigraph “the only way out of the Prisoner's Dilemma is for somebody to not defect, to not sell out their dream because they're afraid of being sold out first.…Somebody has to go first, and be willing to accept the consequences.”
Is it possible or even desirable in today’s world to follow that path? What are the consequences for one who does take that road?
4. The theme of justice vs. mercy is implied throughout the story. Which dominates in today’s legal system? Should it be reversed? How could it be reversed?
5. How does the gilded age impact us today? What are the long-term implications for today and going forward into the future?
6. Madison argued that the original intent of the framers must be based on the ratification debates rather than the debates at the Constitutional Convention. What do you think?
7. How does an originalist justify a literal interpretation of the Constitution if there are no Framers around to ask?
8. In Chapter 45, Susan and Killiam are interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Susan says the following: When we first began this lawsuit a couple of years ago, we wanted nothing more than to punish those person’s responsible for their negligence. Over time we realized that punishment was not the answer. Rather, it became more important to send a loud and clear message that those putting the public at risk will be held accountable.
Let me put it another way. It’s not about punishing Mighty Meadows. It’s not even about punishing Taney Smith; it’s about accountability. We wanted to make it clear to all those who seek to profit at the expense of the public welfare that they will be held accountable and responsible for their actions. It was justice we were seeking, not money. We knew it was time we Americans stood up for ourselves. Therefore, after much research and hard work by our Attorney, David Killiam, and others we decided to go a different route. We knew it would be difficult. We didn’t know how difficult it would be.
What are the personal changes that the parents and Susan have gone through? Have they replaced anger and revenge with the desire for justice and accountability? Is it possible that the parents could move to acceptance? Even forgiveness?
9. In Chapter 30, Smith has decided to roll on his fellow cohorts. This chapter also shows Smith descending into irrationality by running across the parking lot. What does this act show us about Smith? Is this a final downfall and if so, is it a result of a character flaw? Or could this have been avoided had he acted differently at some earlier point in his life? If Smith has a fatal flaw, what is it? How free was Smith to avoid this end?
Below are a few of the themes, motifs and symbols used throughout the story:
THEMES, MOTIFS AND SYMBOLS
THEMES: themes are the fundamental and universal ideas explored in a literary work.
The banality of evil
“One further point,” Killiam said. “When the 14th amendment was drafted why did the writers use the term ‘person’ instead of ‘natural person’ that would have made the whole issue of corporate personhood irrelevant?”
Michaels looked at the jury once more, as he made his final point. “Senator Roscoe Conkling testified in an earlier 1882 case that while he was a member of the Senate committee that drafted the 14th Amendment in 1868, he intentionally inserted the word ‘person’ instead of the correct legal phrase, ‘natural person,’ ‘to ensure that corporations would one day receive the same civil rights Congress was giving to slaves. House Representative, John A. Bingham, also did the same.”
John Michaels testifies how unscrupulous politicians manipulated the Fourteenth Amendment. Certain corporate lackeys had falsified Court records and allowed their interpretations to sneak into the writing of the Fourteenth Amendment. It was not that this evil done was so overt as to arouse opposition; rather, it was sneaky and sleazy. Hidden under the dark of night. Banality at its worst. The concept of hidden evil is called “normalization.” Normalization is the tacit acceptance of unspeakable acts that have become routine. “This is the way things are; how things are done; this is the real world.” It is easy to rationalize the unspeakable when jobs, status or money are involved. “If I don’t do it someone else will.” Terms like “collateral damage, incidents,” are used to lessen the moral impact.
As I write this in the aftermath of the explosions at Massey Coal Mines in West Virginia, the investigation goes on. A memo sent out by Don Blankenship, the CEO in 2005, says: “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e., build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever), you need to ignore them and run coal. This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills.” Is this a blatant example of the banality of evil.
Alan Gates as a child was raised a Roman Catholic but after his military career, while in private law practice; he had an experience that changed his life forever. He was the counsel for a defendant in a murder case. As a Roman Catholic, he generally supported the death penalty but this case was different. The client was a mentally retarded man who was accused of murder and rape. After extensive interviews and sessions with the defendant, he became convinced of the man’s innocence. It was clear to him that his client not only was innocent of all charges but also was incapable of committing the crime. He came to believe in not only the client’s innocence but in his basic goodness, his gentleness and kindness. Nevertheless, the client was convicted of the crime and was sentenced to death. Gates lost several appeals and eventually his client was executed. Gates was horrified that such a good person could suffer this fate. This led him to question the goodness of God. For a period, he went through a time of agnosticism, questioning the existence of a higher power. How could a beneficent, merciful, all-powerful being permit such a travesty of justice?
MOTIFS: motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices used to develop the major themes.
Is corporate personhood a Gilded Age construct that has seen its day? Is it time to get rid of this idea? In other words, is corporate personhood an example of a “postmodern” paradigm? The story seems to suggest this.
Postmodernism is the belief that there is no objective reality, but reality is determined by the individual. In other words, the only recognized authority is a person’s interpretation through their experience of the outside world—this is an oversimplified definition of postmodernism; the formal definition and its discussion would take up more than half again this paper.
Although it seems that many would submit to an outside authority, e.g. the church or the legal system, in practice most admit that when authority violates human decency or fairness, they will not only reject that authority, but often will question that authority’s right to run things. Consider the use of birth control by many practicing Roman Catholics.
Does The Prisoner’s Dilemma present a postmodernist point of view? By claiming that the authority of a Supreme Court decision and the legality of corporate personhood that have existed from the Gilded Age for 130 years have outlived their usefulness, the story rejects the legal authority—the Supreme Court and its 1886 the Santa Clara Decision—and suggests an alternative.
To the extent that The Prisoner’s Dilemma advocates a Constitutional Amendment overthrowing corporate personhood, it could be argued that the novel is merely substituting one authority—a Constitutional Amendment— for another—the Santa Clara Decision—and is not really representing a postmodernist point of view.
Certainly, at the time of this writing, there is a hatred of Wall Street and its power.This anger is shown in proposed legislation regulating the financial markets. Is this merely a reaction to the financial meltdown or is a symptom of something deeper? Is the behavior of groups like the Tea Party another, although opposite, reflection of the anti-authoritarian uproar? Whether this resistance to corporate hegemony expresses itself by a majority of the public or only by a minority such as the Tea Party may depend on the wisdom of our legislatures and their handling of these issues.
SYMBOLS: symbols are objects characters, figures or colors used to represent abstract ideas.
Lilly Pond is a place where one can find rest and relaxation, participate in joyful interaction with friends and family and refresh oneself spiritually. As such, it represents an oasis from the everyday world of jobs, bills, and obligations. Lilly Pond is destroyed by pollution and development and is sacrificed for the benefit of a corporation.
Taney Smith abuses Xanax, a prescription drug used to reduce anxiety. Smith uses the drug to cope in a world ruled by madness and greed. His dependency illustrates the need to survive in an environment opposite to that of Lilly Pond.
Below are the chapter summaries and analysis for chapter 13 and chapter 25:
Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis:
The parents and Killiam stand on the steps of the Federal District Courthouse in Hartford; they are holding a press conference. The purpose of the conference is to announce that a lawsuit has been filed but not against Mighty Meadows as everyone expected but against the officers of Mighty Meadows.
“Let me be perfectly clear.” Killiam says. “We are not filing a suit against Mighty Meadows, Edifice Wrecks, or any other corporate entity. Rather, based on documented evidence such as memos and other material, we are filing a civil suit against the individuals who we believe were directly responsible for this tragedy. They are Taney Smith, the CEO of Mighty Meadows, Nate Kirkland, the CFO of Mighty Meadows, and Arthur March, and Lead Attorney for Mighty Meadows. We are suing these individuals for $15 million each. We are also filing suit against the Board of Directors of Mighty Meadows for $10 million each. Additionally, we will be seeking $8 million in damages from all stockholders who hold 12 percent or more of Mighty Meadows shares.” They pass out handouts explaining the legal rationale for this suit and they take questions.
They also announce they have formed a non-profit organization and a website where those interested can send contributions.
This is a turning point in the story. Hathorn has upped the stakes. The plaintiffs have crossed the threshold, the point at which there is no return. This is an important chapter because it lays out clearly what is at stake. Because the lawsuit is so unique, the media cannot ignore it. There is simply too much attention paid to it.
Chapter 25 Summary and Analysis:
This is the center of the book and the story. Michaels engages his class in an activity known as the prisoner's dilemma. The game is a metaphor of life in the twentieth century. It is designed to teach students that the normal assumptions they hold about everyday life may not always be accurate. The class learns that the prisoner's dilemma is everywhere. It is used to implement foreign policy, play the stock market, and even in the workplace. We can now see the prevalence of the prisoner’s dilemma throughout the book.