Relative Afternoons: part III

Discussion in 'Writing' started by JoRingo, Dec 12, 2003.

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    Capitalism vs Equal Distribution (part III of Relative Afternoons)


    During a class lecture our discussion turned to an aspect of capitalism I had never heard of. He called it “the equal distribution on knowledge”. I’ve read a couple of entire books about capitalism and never came across it. Captialism: The Unknown Ideal, by Ayn Rand, is a favorite I’ve read and referenced for years, yet I was confused by this phrase a little more every time he used it. He spoke of the free market principles and individual efforts that are the basis of capitalism. I had no doubt, by the other things he was saying, that he fully understood capitalism, but then he would use that term again.
    I eventually had to ask if he meant an equal opportunity to gain knowledge rather than the distribution of it. He didn’t. He meant to say that knowledge must be shared completely between the parties of a transaction, and that without this “distribution of knowledge”, there could be no true capitalism. He claimed that a non coercive and agreed upon price was not enough. If one party had knowledge that the other didn’t, then the transaction was fraudulent. I think I’ll continue to accept Ayn’s view on this. She said, “In a capitalist society, all human relationships are voluntary. Men are free to cooperate or not, to deal with one another or not, as their own individual judgments, convictions, and interests dictate.”
    I gave him numerous examples that I thought proved this “distribution of knowledge” to be both unrealistic and against the principles of capitalism. I asked him if the owner of a grocery store is responsible for telling me that I can buy the same goods, at a lower price, in another store. I asked if a car dealer could sell me a vehicle on Friday when there was a sale starting on Saturday, or would they be required to refuse any and all sales and inform me about the savings available the next day. I asked him if those who read the newspaper’s financial section are allowed to profit from their knowledge of stock prices and values, or are they required to share that information with others. He didn’t really have a response to these except to say that in a truly capitalist system all products would be required to have spec sheets with them so that customers could compare them. The fact is a truly capitalist system would never require companies to do anything with their products. Capitalism lets the market dictate production, quality, quantity, cost, and even how knowledge is distributed.
    He said more than once that he supports the ideals of capitalism in its purest forms, but then he claims that the countless neon lights, storefronts and advertisements that line our roads are “perpetrated on us” and that we have no control over it. Are his students to understand that if we don’t choose to trade with a company that they will stay in business anyway? A good teacher would make sure that his students recognized that those companies and advertisements would not exist if not for their marketability and people’s personal choices. I think he has it exactly backwards. If anything is being perpetrated on anyone it’s the customer’s choices being perpetrated on the business owners.
    This may seem like I’ve taken a quote out of context, but he said this about advertising. “There are many things that are not illegal; that should be.” He said, “Show me something in advertising that isn’t fraud.” “Show me an advertisement that is strictly informational in character.” Well, they’re not required to be strictly informational in character. Some of them are, and some of them are not. Capitalism respects an individual or a corporation’s right to advertise their product as they wish. The consumer can find information to his or her satisfaction before purchase, or they can simply choose to purchase elsewhere.
    He continued by saying that “In court, the statement is ‘will you tell the truth…the whole truth…and nothing but the truth?’ You see, anything less than meeting those standards certainly can be, and is, defined as fraudulent”. Again, he said this about advertising. Is he actually suggesting that advertising be held to an oath equivalent to that of a court of law? Well, goodbye Ronald McDonald, Dow’s Scrubbing Bubbles, and Dentyne’s cinnamon gum so powerful your breath actually becomes visible.
    Customers with common sense can accept an exaggeration or entertaining hyperbole in an advertisement; depending on the product of course. We can accept that in a silly commercial the dog’s ears fly up when he sees the food bowl and that the lipstick will always catch the eye of a gentleman. It would be a stretch to call any of these ads fraudulent. They’re full of image over substance and fantasy over realism, but they are not fraudulent.
    I don’t know that I can reasonably assume that Professor Txxxx doesn’t understand capitalism’s free market practices, but it seems to me that the only other alternative would be that he just doesn’t want his class to understand them. I don’t know what to think.

    Relativism

    I do believe that our opinions are based solely on our individual perception and perspective. I agree that no single view of an event or object can be exactly the same. We all have an individual view of the universe. The professor and I agree on that, but where we disagree and the arguments begin is when he accepts that all of these perspectives are equals. For example, he asked the class if Iraq was better off since America removed Saddam Hussein from power. I said, “Of course”. As I might have suspected his relativist perspective could not allow him to accept that Saddam’s removal from power was absolutely good for Iraq without pointing out that it wasn’t good for everyone in Iraq. I believe that absolutes can exist beyond an individual’s view of them. To end the murder and torture of Iraq’s people was absolutely good whether some choose to accept it or not. I guess the intent of his question was to point out that he believes that nothing can be absolutely true or real because there are always different perspectives. It is his belief that all views and perspectives must not only be heard, but must be accepted as valid. “There are no water tight compartments in this class. No water tight compartments in my mind either…I hope.” He’s got that right. Although I know for a fact that the professor is against murder and torture, the ebb and flow of ideas and perspectives going around in his mind, without solid foundation, allow for his acceptance that violations of human rights can legitimately be seen as either good or bad; depending on whom you ask. Saddam’s removal from power cannot be said to be absolutely good because, as the professor stated, “There is no general state of affairs”.
    I guess realism and relativism cannot occupy the same mind at the same time. He really stunned me one afternoon when he asked the class what they thought of the idea that the present does not exist. He said, “There is no present” and that the past, present, and future were one. A student added that each time we recognize a present moment, it becomes the past. That’s a fine observation, and it’s true enough by itself, but it also serves to prove the existence of the present. It is only in the present that one could think of the existence of such an exchange.
    I could have guessed that it would only be a matter of time before “Radical Randy” would contradict this notion that there was no present. I waited about a week or so. He started a conversation about how no two objects can occupy the same time and space. I asked him to explain then why he believes that the past, present, and future are one. He said, “Well, we never experience the past; except in the present moment. We never experience the future; except in the present moment. And in fact we never experience the present moment because as soon as we have the present moment, it’s in the past.” That’s confusing enough on its own, but it got worse. He added, “And anything we have that’s historical in nature has to be brought into our consciousness in the present.” Well, then I guess the present does exist after all. I knew that long before I came to his class, but maybe it just takes some people a few hundred more laps across the theoretical pool before they jump to any conclusions.
    In conclusion, I have to say I have no regrets about taking Professor Txxxx’s course. I fully realize that my level of understanding of the text and lectures was completely up to me. It was my responsibility to maintain a level of interest that was advantageous to learning. I do not need to be tested in order to learn, and the fact that Professor Txxxx had no desire to measure achievement did not provide an excuse to be lazy. I do admit that my motivation was washed-out by the knowledge that any improved effort on my part would result in the same grade.
    I did enjoy the opportunity to see first hand the inconsistencies of relativism and perspectivism. I’m really glad I took this course as an adult. I don’t even want to imagine what I might have believed as a 19 year old kid having not yet spent a decade reading Ayn Rand. I think Ayn can sum up my thoughts very nicely. “There can be no compromise on basic principles or on fundamental issues. What would you regard as a ‘compromise’ between life and death? Or between truth and falsehood? Or between reason and irrationality?” -JoRingo
     

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