Saturday, 12 July 2008

And There Is Discord In The Garden, Tonight

I job-searched and did some random calling earlier on wednesday and some company called me back yesterday while I was still at camp. Eunos, 1845h today, I was told, so I headed down for the supposed interview.

As it turned out, it was some MLM business slyly disguised as "various positions available, earn up to $800 in 2 weeks" in the Classifieds, which I suppose I really should've guessed. But it didn't turn out so bad because this is, afterall, not the first time I've been 'tricked' (of sorts) into ending up sitting at some seemingly casual round table in a lobby-like office with posters of products and good performance workers on the walls.

In fact, I ended up talking to one of the high-flyers in the company one-on-one for my interview, and she turned out to be my NYJC and SMU senior who was from SIS and had graduated already. So while she gave me her usual rundown of the MLM-skeptics' review, I guess I stunned her by throwing in some of my personal principles and philosophies and why I wouldn't wanna join or be the right person for MLM even though I don't frown upon it and am hence not a skeptic, validating my point by referencing stuff I've been reading. And then I said that it's not the first time I've been approached by MLM people and that I could probably recite to her the pyramidal staff hierarchy and tell her what products her company sells.

When I was done with what I had to say, there was a brief semi-awkward silence but I knew it was because she knew she had absolutely nothing to say that could convince me to be a part of it. So we ended up chit-chatting about school and life and all kinds of random shit, and I started dictating the conversation somewhat. I really struck a perfect chord when I pointed out that it's important that we do what we believe in and not listen to other people and end up in a "dead-end 8-5 job" and she fervently agreed. MLM people seriously like to hear stuff like that hahar. It's quite amusing when the supposed manipulator gets manipulated.

For a moment the conversation revolved around me for a bit and when somehow she asked me what I was reading, I could almost feel the thud of her jaw hitting the table when I brandished my "Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies" and "The Beauty Myth" books and I think I was smirking at the typicality when she took out her book titled along the lines of "How to Seal the Deal" or "How to Stay in Charge" or something like that.

We exchanged numbers and she said that while she's disappointed that I can't be a part of her team, she's happy that she has made a new friend. It's been a mildly fascinating evening where I felt like I simply wasted her time in the bigger scheme of things.

It's been awhile since I last took a long walk through town plugged into my MP3 player, so I zen-ed out and strolled from City Hall through to Orchard. I've always found escape in the surreality of being completely alone in a crowded place, and with the music volume up and people walking almost shoulder to shoulder at some parts along the streets highlighted by fancy lights, it recreates a sensation of being underwater, almost drowning, knowing that it's turbulent as hell around you but you can't hear a thing, like you aren't a part of it or anything at all.

I'm one-third through Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies and I'm done with Morality of Markets. It was interesting reading about how economists argue for the free market and some of their premises are actually quite ingenious. But because it is difficult to set in stone a schema of sorts for the concepts of ethics and morality, many arguments get pushed to their limits and end up being philosophical debates by virtue of their largely normative values. The gist is that any form of coercion against personal freedoms and rights, which are supposedly divinely endowed, is considered immoral and hence government intervention, which is basically seen as the right to use force, is also considered immoral. The idea is that the free market, with perfect competition and all that jazz, will provide the best form of wealth creation and ensure that people abide by a code of moral ethics in the long run because in order to survive you have to be cooperative, trustworthy, benevolent etc with the aim of serving your fellow man and ensuring that you get what you need in return.

However, I just find it hard to completely buy this argument because the reality is that there are way too many hopeful assumptions here. People are not angels afterall. I have a hunch that these arguments were formulated only because a response was needed primarily against state intervention and the generally romanticised and strict adherence to religion, which is largely perceived to be against the idea of material gain, private enterprise and capitalism.

We can point to the workings of the free market that result in shit happening like sustained poverty in third world countries and even the Darfur conflict, with the Sudanese government benefitting from China, India and Japan's trade patronage. A fatalistic balance can result if everybody's utility is met, even if these incur devastating externalities.

So far, Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies has made the very cogent point that economists equate happiness with utility, but happiness is hardly a utility because while our needs are met, we may not be any happier (would it be death by lethal injection or hanging, sir?).

A personal favourite from

Don't anthropomorphize computers - they hate it.

Audio Candy:
Gina René - U Must Be


Daedalus said...

A very interesting point about market economies. Is there a solution?

Jose said...

I guess I have to say that the expected perfect solution, of sorts, is for us to live in a perfect world. But because we are perfectly imperfect (I hate using cliched paradoxes but it serves its purpose) by nature, it is a given that a 'perfect' solution, as fervently proposed by modern economists and free market advocates, wouldn't yield the desired outcomes.

I suppose a degree of moral guidance is still a necessity for us to behave while utilising the positive mechanisms of a free market economy, given the liberties and freedom it provides to people to run their own shows. I think if anything, no matter how far-fetched or improbable this sounds, a sound civil society coupled with morally upright governance holds the prerequisite key to a society that runs well and efficiently with a democratic and free market system.