I think I have spent more time arguing on behalf of Mike Merrill than any other person I disagree with. Ever since my piece on Mike this spring, I have had to explain his project to many people.
Friend or Family Member: “What are you working on, Chris?”
Me: “I am writing about Mike Merrill, a guy who sells shares in himself, like a corporation.”
Me: “Well, like, you can buy shares of KMikeyM, his corporate self, and then you get to vote on decisions he makes based on how many shares you have.”
F/FM: “You mean, you can tell him what to do? Like what?”
Me: “Um, well, he has held votes about whether or not to become a Republican, what kind of clothes he should wear, and who he should date…”
F/FM: “That is so wrong/stupid/illegal/inappropriate/offensive/etc.”
At which point, I have to fight back on his behalf—a scenario I would never have imagined when I first head about his project or thought about writing original piece. It was supposed to be a hatchet job lamenting the corporatizing of American life. But as I learned more about why he decided to undertake the project, I became more and more fascinated with what he was trying to do and more and more inclined to push back at well-meaning others who would take potshots at him without first engaging the complicated, challenging project on its own terms.
Here was a man who had undertaken a (hypothetically) life-long commitment that would shape the very terms upon which he existed. He would take decisions made by others—perhaps even people with little interest or intellect—and then enact them as if they were his own, all based upon his faith that this would not only end in acceptable results, but actually better results than he would have attained otherwise.
Chewing this over late one night with TJP editor Eric Sundrup, he put his finger on it: that sounds like us…the Jesuits, that is. Don’t get us wrong, there is, of course, something significantly different between placing one’s faith in the Author of It All or in the rationality of markets. And I still firmly believe that KMikeyM plays into our American tendency to sell things that ought not be sold (I’m looking at you, Black Friday). But there is always a certain empathy I have felt with those who have given up everything for the sake of one special something.
Which is why when Merrill himself contacted me after the essay was published, the wheels in my head started turning. I wanted to do an interview with him, to get him to tell his own side of the story. And so here we present to you the fruits of that interview: Mike Merrill’s own take on what he is doing, why it is defensible, and what lessons we all might learn from a corporate person.
Do you remember edutainment from your childhood trips to the local science center/funtorium? If so, you already know how this works: You pick a question, and then you get to ask Albert Einstein’s animated head any question you want (as long as it is one of the three pre-prepared questions on the list). Except in this case, you’re asking questions of Mike Merrill’s real head and getting relevant excerpts from the interview.
And for the completists among us (or avoidant students looking for a way to kill 12 minutes as finals approach), feel free to check out the full interview as well! Who knows, maybe by the end you will be the one defending a certain corporate person to family and friends.
And for the completist/procrastinator, the full interview:
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Editor’s note: the cover image for this piece is taken from www.KMikeyM.com