The Commodification of Personhood

Image by Josua De (

By Risa M. Mandell

Public relations used to be all about image.  That was way back when Kennedy was telegenic and everything and everybody had to project an image.  Then it became about brand.  Just like the branding iron burned into the flesh of young cattle to identify who owns him or her.  And of course, Jews, such as my family and I, had we lived in Nazi-occupied territory, would have been rid of our meaningful names and branded with a meaningless number.

So, given these associations, it is curious that ‘branding’ appears to be all the rage.

It is said that Donald Trump is a brand though one may wonder what distinguishes his brand from any assortment of tawdry products.  Martin Buber’s “I Thou,” that is, relating to another as a being with subjectivity, is quaint next to the funerary finality of the burnished brand, unable as it is to transport the beholder anywhere but back to the brand itself.  It is self-referential without being layered or textured.  Nothing is folded.  There is nothing to unpack.  It is one-dimensional, being from and about only itself.  It is bereft of otherness and difference to its own diminishment.  A box of Tide is a box of Tide is a box of Tide.

A brand is unlike the eyes of the other, those of our own or any species with whom gazes are exchanged.  There is no Thou here.  There is only I, I, I.  The eye comes smack up against flat surfaces.  There is no space to reflect, to wonder, to explore.  What you see is what you get.  In this universe, where price and value are confused, a person’s worth is conflated with their investment portfolio.  And perhaps, in the near future, not all humans will be regarded as persons.

The pediatrician-psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott discerns our aliveness and indeed, the catalyst of the human cultural endeavor, as awakened through the trust of the dependable other.  Emmanuel Levinas, the French philosopher, addresses our obligation to one another, the essence of our ethos, in the-face-of-the-other; the naked, defenseless face implores, Don’t Kill Me.

These three—Buber, Winnicott, Levinas—all address the value of the other as necessary in becoming an ethical self.

The other is at risk in the new regime.  The tolerance of difference is at risk in the new regime.

Image by Alani Radali (

The approach to being-in-the-world of the Humane Party is resonant with the ethical positions of Buber, Winnicott and Levinas; moreover, the Humane Party includes all living beings and all entities of the earth in its platform.

“Defend the nation’s air, land, and water resources against further contamination and depletion . . .”
“End inhumane, scientifically indefensible, and economically unsound exploitation of other species by humans . . .”
“Abolish the property status of (’emancipate’) other animals . . .”
“Grant legal standing and personhood to all other animals, such that an animal’s liberty can be procured by way of a habeas corpus proceeding and his or her rights can be enforced through a duly authorized legal guardian.”

The Humane Party’s vision is of a humane legal system in which all beings are free from exploitation, discrimination and abuse.