Workplace Rent- Seeking Honorable Mention

 

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In my previous blog entry, I discussed the topic of rent-seeking in the office. I detailed three common forms of workplace rent-seeking. However, there are several other notable forms that I feel are worth mentioning.

 

Withholding Information:

 

This is more so applicable in the training process.  The specifics of internal procedures are often colloquially referred to in an office setting as “tribal knowledge“.  Individuals who are either paranoid or not confident in their position with the company will withhold information in the training process. They may refuse outright to properly train new hires. They may only provide a portion of the correct information. They may monopolize specific train materials. Through creating artificial information asymmetry they make themselves look more valuable and decrease their chances of being terminated. Making themselves the default team subject matter expert.

 

Candy Bowl: 

 

As the old saying goes you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. There is some validity to this statement. The candy bowl can be seen as either a trap or a peace-offering. Either way, it detracts from the true nature of the individual who maintains it. Typically, they are a very disagreeable and temperamental person. To soften their image they attempt to appear charitable by proving communal bowl filled with sweets.  If your peers like you, you can get away with a lot. More accurately if you can bribe your peers after being nasty to them you can continue to get away with a lot. If your co-workers don’t have any lingering issues with your boss will keep you around. Why? If you aren’t disturbing the group dynamics there isn’t any reason to deliver punitive actions.

 

Plastering Your Cubicle With Positive Quotes: 

 

Anyone plastering their cubicle walls with quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi is someone to avoid like the plague. If you make your workspace a billboard for inspiration quotes you most likely have a few skeletons in your closet. To be so extreme with advertising one’s proclivity towards positivity should be a red flag. An indicator of someone attempting to manipulate human psychology for their gain. It is meant to distract from their overt from their negative behavior. It falls into a similar behavioral category as self-promotion. The objective is to have others focus on what is most salient and not what is factually true.

Workplace Rent-Seeking

 

 

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Introduction:

One of the core principles of Public Choice Theory is the concept of behavioral symmetry.  Behavior symmetry can be best defined as

“… the same behavioral model of human action must apply to all decision-makers regardless of institutional setting (public or private).” (Shughart II & Wardle, 2020, P.594)

This conceptualization firmly reflected in James M. Buchanan’s proclamation of  Public Choice Theory being ” politics without romance“. Meaning whether you work in for the government or a private corporation your incentives generally don’t change. Working as a bureaucrat doesn’t dampen the allure of a high salary or generous benefits. Many people tend to view politicians and government employees as working towards the common good. Ignoring the fact that their decisions are not immune to self-interest. Demonstrating that this faulty assumption about civil servants is nothing more than a halo effect. The belief that government employees are striving towards a higher moral good than individuals employed by a corporation is illusory. People respond to incentives regardless of their occupation.

 

Considering the previously described application of behavioral symmetry, it wouldn’t be outlandish for a phenomenon that transpires in the public sphere to occur within a private institution. To take it a step further, to even claim that it takes place on an individual level. As in actions taken by a single person versus a solitary institution.  Could the principles of Public Choice even be applied to the individualized interactions of workers in an office environment? Certainly! After all, incentives do not change. We are merely changing the environment and the scale of transactions.

 

The concept of rent-seeking tends to be commonly reflected in the behavior of office workers. What is rent-seeking? It can be described as a person or organization attempting to secure wealth without creating generating any productive output. Generally, this is done so by seeking an institutional advantage. Gordon Tullock, the theorist who developed this theory, utilized the example of tariffs to demonstrate a practical application for this concept. Governments typically do not impose tariffs on their own, but rather due to lobbying pressure from interest groups. Tullock referred to this variety of behavior as “wasteful” (Tullock, 1967, P.5). As a side note, Tullock may have been the architect rent-seeking, however, it was economist Anne O. Krueger who coined its name’s sake back in 1974.

 

Based on my observations of working in a corporate office there are three prevalent forms of workplace rent-seeking. This list includes: self-praise/  verbal demolition of co-workers, brown-nosing, and creating busywork. Any action or omission of action in the workplace is overtly economic. No one works for free. The only difference is scale. Many of these behaviors are anti-competitive. At work, your co-workers are your competition. All of these behaviors are attempts to secure gains without creating any additional wealth. Through damaging the image of co-workers or the individual improving their image, they are gaining potential job security which protects their paycheck. Typically, at the expense of the employer because this behavior does not distract from employees doing their jobs.

 

Self-Praise and Verbal Demolition of Co-Workers:

As the saying goes talk is cheap. Unfortunately, empty words have carried more clout than they should out on the sales floor. Anyone can pat themselves on the back and expound upon the “superior” customer service they provide. Especially when the boss is present. Much of this bluster, whether it is factual or not, skew popular perception. It is easier to take things for face-value than to look below the surface. If someone is persistently selling their skills and value to the company, it is easier to believe them than to validate their claims. Even when faced with contrary metrics many managers still fall into the folly of accepting the shameless self-promotion of these under-performing employees. This acquiescence is generally also reflected in the perceptions of this subpar employee’s peers. Despite all of the opposing evidence they will express a favorable opinion of this individual. Making the manager less inclined to terminate this individual. The manager would not want to jeopardize group dynamics. However, baseless self-promotion does is nothing but counter-productive and a waste of company resources.

 

The devious foil of Self-praise is the verbal demolition of co-workers. Portraying co-workers in a bad light to distract from an individual’s performance deficits. One common example is proliferating gossip and rumors. Even to be so brazen to fabricate formal complaints regarding interactions with individuals. For example, a false sexual harassment complaint filed with human resources.  Gossip being on the lower end of the scale and fraudulent human resource reports being a more extreme form. Going to great lengths to assassinate the character of your co-workers requires a great deal of time and effort. It could be suggested that it would even be easier to just do your job. Versus wasting everyone’s time and resources with such puerile and sophomoric attempts at subterfuge.

 

Brown-Nosing:

 

Complimenting the boss, attending all of the social functions you are invited to, pretending to be his friend, laughing at all of his lame jokes. Brown-nosing, sucking-up… this behavior goes by many terms. No one every engages in brown-nosing without having a specific set of ends. Whether it would be the boss overlooking poor performance or giving other forms of preferential treatment. Such as being picked over more qualified candidates for a promotion. Why work harder when you could just work smarter? It is easier to go get drunk with your boss at a happy hour and pretend to be his best friend than to do your job. It is astonishing how many people in management fall for these naked attempts to curry favor with them. Then again an entire encyclopedia could be written about the psychology behind this mystifying phenomenon.

 

Creating Busywork:

 

The image of busy workers is synonymous with productivity.  Is this always the case? Not always. Sometimes workers will generate work or purposely utilize inefficient methods to complete tasks to create the perception of productivity. Some employees will go so far to create arbitrary tasks they will intentionally do their jobs incorrectly. Their pointless busywork would be correcting their own mistake. As perverse as that sounds, I have seen it with my own two eyes! Unfortunately, perception tends to carry more weight than substance.  Even if that perception is illusory.

 

A more traditional example of this rent-seeking tactic is to intentionally procrastinate and then do all your work at the end of the day. To create the illusion that you are busy and working hard.  Versus addressing action items as they come in throughout the day. Generating the image of having a mountain of work to do makes it look like you have a heavier workload. Making you less susceptible to being ousted out in the next round of layoffs. While counter-productive these methods aim to mask the fact that their position is nothing more than a redundancy.

Unlawful Assembly and The Limits of Free speech

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My own opinion is enough for me, and I claim the right to have it defended against any consensus, any majority, anywhere, any place, any time. And anyone who disagrees with this can pick a number, get in line, and kiss my ass.”
― Christopher Hitchens

 

There are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
― James Madison

 

 

There is a fine line separating protected speech from destructive behavior. Many onlookers have questioned the efficacy of peaceful demonstration (see comment below the article).  After all,  in the tragic death of George Floyd, the government has violated its contract to the people. In a Lockean sense, we exchange unfettered freedom for state protection of our rights. This theoretically voluntary arrangement is undermined when state power takes primacy over contractual  fulfillment. Outrage is certainly warranted. Especially when those who have sworn to protect this social contract are the ones benefiting from the institutional loopholes. However, what is the appropriate course of action?

 

Qualified Immunity has protected scrupulous police officers from being accountable for their transgressions.  Putting into question whether America still holds its founding ethos of Classical Liberalism in high-esteem.  If public officials can violate our rights with little to no repercussions, our experiment has failed.  Giving credence to all of the subterfuge and rent-seeking behavior that distinguishes Public Choice Theory.  We as a society pay the cost for the few that benefit from this privileged legal status. We pay for it through the sacrifice of our civil liberties. Demonstrating the concept of “concentrated benefits and dispersed costs“.  In some instances, we require protection from our designated protectors. Creating an atmosphere of pessimism and incredulity. Amounting skepticism of justice and equality under the law in the United States. Leading the most disenfranchised Americans to resort to violent demonstrations. If the microphone or the pen does not convey your point, maybe the sword will.

 

That is not to say that all of the protests in reaction to the murder of George Floyd have been violent. I applaud my own community of Maricopa, Arizona for keeping demonstrations civil. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for every community.  Every community should keep their conduct civil. Despite the violence perpetrated by state actors. Why?  Because looting and wanton vandalism is not a vocalization of injustice. Its a deterioration of civilization. It is an erosion of the informal norms and values that keep our passions in order. It merely victimizes innocent parties. The business owner that had their store looted did not participate explicitly or implicitly in killing Mr. Floyd. How is this action even remotely connected to the issue at hand? Or even justifiable?  It isn’t. Sure, there are probably proverbial “bootleggers” hiding under the moral guise of demonstrating against police brutality. Creating the perfect pretext for taking advantage of the situation.  There are those on the side of the “baptists” who believe the use of force is justifiable, even when directed at uninvolved third-parties.

 

Destroying private property in protest is not justifiable. If anything it mirrors the same folly of police brutality. Both are property rights violations. Hence, why crimes against person and property are often parceled together. This is far from a novel concept in Libertarian thought. Many proponents of a natural rights approach have already made this observation. We as autonomous actors are owners of ourselves. In turn, we own our bodies. As slavery has long since been abolished. An adult of normal intellectual capacity possess self-ownership. Meaning they can choose what they ingest, read, listen, and so on. Involuntary and undue harm induced by injurious actions taken by a second actor is a clear property rights violation. While more of a peripheral violation, the destruction of a storefront is nevertheless a similar transgression. In other action, you are depriving the elementary freedoms of the individual. However, the property rights pertaining to “self-ownership” takes primacy.

 

Putting aside these abstract philosophical tenets, violent protest is not justifiable under current law.  The First Amendment of the  U.S. Constitution is not absolute and does have a number of notable exceptions.

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

For instance, the use of  “fighting words” is not protected speech under the First amendment.  This legal term was defined in the case Chaplinski V. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942).  This excludes words mean to incite violence or other forms of unrest. The Arizona chapter of the ACLU has a running list of varieties of prohibited speech. There are a number of well-defined restrictions when it comes to protesting demonstrations.  Which includes civil disobedience, any dangerous actions, obstructing roadways without a permit, harassment, or interference with private property.  Violation of any detailed criterion will make the demonstration an unlawful assembly.

The statues explicitly pertaining to unlawful assembly and riots in Arizona state law include the following.

ARS 13-2902:

A. A person commits unlawful assembly by:

1. Assembling with two or more other persons with the intent to engage in conduct constituting a riot as defined in section 13-2903; or

2. Being present at an assembly of two or more other persons who are engaged in or who have the readily apparent intent to engage in conduct constituting a riot as defined in section 13-2903 and knowingly remaining there and refusing to obey an official order to disperse.

B. Unlawful assembly is a class 1 misdemeanor.

 

ARS 13-2903:

A. A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which disturbs the public peace.

B. Riot is a class 5 felony.

 

Both laws are quite clear on the defining parameters of acceptable forms of protest. Neither statue condones the destruction of private property. Individuals who were not involved in incidents of police brutality should not be punished by the fallout of violent demonstrations. I should note that not all of the protests have been violent. I fully acknowledge this point. Any instance of violent protests is unacceptable. Mirroring the fact that police officers using excessive force to subdue a suspect is never permissible. Either action violates the natural rights of the victim. The Non-Aggression Principle asserts that we should not inflict undue harm on others any such action is inherently transgressive. However, this philosophical tenant does not apply to self-defense. The only circumstances under which violent actions are ethical is in self-defense or defense of your property. Under any other contingency, you are the one at fault.

 

Please note that I am equally repulsed by the abuse of police power as I am by the violent protests.  I would surmise are not as prevalent as the media portrays.

 

There are also examples of police officers assaulting peaceful protestors.

Letter to the Editor- Coast to Coast Riots

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Published by Pinal Central.
Dear Editor,

 

As the old saying goes two wrongs do not make a right. Nothing excuses the atrocity committed against George Floyd. However, this reprehensible action does not reflect law enforcement as a whole.  This as with all instances of police brutality is a shameful outlier. The situation should be handled with justice served through proper legal recourse.

 

The folks who are frustrated by these occurrences do have a right to express their opinion. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution protects the right to peaceful protest.  What the various protests across the county have devolved into is undefendable. Looting, vandalism, violence, and other varieties of wanton chaos. Most of these reactions are  fueled by visceral outrage. Such reactions are not responsible nor constructive avenues for enacting change.  Destructive actions can only make a bad situation worse. No amount of unfocused retaliation will bring about reform or justice for Mr. Floyd. It will only hurt more people.

 

Continuing this cycle of violence and destruction helps no one. I would urge all demonstrators to emulate the peaceful protests of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Two of history’s most influential protesters never restored to violence. They both lead the way to genuine reform without compromising on civility . Measured and nonviolent communication carries more weight than reactionary rage.  Both Gandhi and Dr. King were living proof.

My Mind Has Been Bought and Sold By The Ghost of David Koch

 

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To the perceptive reader, it is conspicuous that the title of the essay is a sarcastic quip. This is not intended to be a diatribe against a man who is no longer able to defend himself due to his passing last summer. Rather this is a pointed argument against those who fixated on the invested interests in the Libertarian movement. This critique isn’t just relegated to the Libertarian movement but, any ideologue that promotes laissez-faire economic policies. The core assumption being that such convictions can only be perpetuated by the motive of avarice. If you have faith in markets over government institutions you have either been bribed or manipulated by the wealthy businessmen that fund pro-market think-tanks. Such misconceptions are commonly echoed throughout American culture. Along with a litany of other anti-market biases plaguing the collective consciousness of the average citizen.

 

Advocates of free markets are not chess pieces or hand-puppets of the Koch brothers. The irony is that rarely do those who express skepticism of markets address the motives of those sowing anti-market bias. Making me wonder if they entranced under the spell of a community activist or a power hungry bureaucrat. Much like affluent businessmen the government administrators respond to incentives. I hardly doubt anyone chooses to head a government department or ascend to the upper ranks of union leadership for truly altruistic purposes. Odds are benevolence isn’t guiding them but power and money. Generally the same motives ascribed to successful entrepreneurs and investors. Why is the bureaucrat and the union leader automatically perceived as having purer intentions than the businessman? When both the upper tiers of the public and private sectors have the same incentives for advancement. The only difference is that the public sector is funded by tax dollars.  This realization makes me wonder who is the one with the genuinely dogmatic views of markets? Unwavering faith in unions and government only being oriented towards “inherent good” is the definition dogmatic. Especially when you dismiss their salient agendas.

 

The myth of the grand network of Koch brother bribed academic institutions is on many grounds erroneous. For one, most establishments of higher learning lean left politically. The left-wing bias on college campuses is well documented. Only 9 % of surveyed faulty identified as being conservative [1]. It is certainly disingenuous to pretend there is some crazy right-wing/Libertarian conspiracy spearheaded by the Koch brothers. In stark contrast to popular perception, George Mason was pro-market prior to receiving any Koch money. It should be noted that it is public knowledge that the Koch brothers donate to George Mason and its affiliated research institute the  Mercatus center. A GMU faculty member wrote an opinion piece a few years back indicating that the donor relationship was “driven” by the economics department [2]. The circumstances behind the donor relationship may be unique to this one school, there are litany of other organizations and schools that the brothers donate to. The very fact that the dynamics of this relationship veer away from what is popularly believed  is imperative to understand. The notion of greedy billionaires are paying off professors to proliferate the theories of Hayek and Tullock evaporates in light of the truth.

 

Many of academic watchdogs shrieking in outrage over a pro-capitalist presence in higher education needs to realize/acknowledge they have their own donors as well. There are think tanks that range from advocating for comprehensive ideologues to  single local issues. In other words, you have invested interest backing just about any political philosophy in existence. The odds that your cherished belief system is free of the influence of wealth donors is not only naive but inaccurate. If supporting a certain set of beliefs will not increase their bottom line it will aggrandize the donor in other ways (more political influence or power). At the very least money being a core motive is easy to understand intellectually and morally. The lust of for power is much more unsettling.

 

Surprise, surprise! Left-leaning think tanks have their own high profile mega donors.  Few people (who operate on reason) are pontificating upon the conspiratorial machinations of these donors. This alone demonstrates a giant gulf in academic bias. If we have right-wing donors it is a crisis. If we have left-wing donors no alarms are raised. Which could lead one to believe such complaints are more partisan  than  a genuine concern for academic bias. Beyond the sheer hypocrisy, it may be usefully to examine the donations received by left-wing research institutes. For instance, the left-leaning Brookings Institute in 2019 received over 1 million dollars in donations from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Brookings Institute, 2019, P. 45) [3]. In 2018, the Gates Foundations provided over 2 million dollars in donations to Brookings Institute (Brookings Institute, 2018, P. 45) [4]. One could spend an innumerable amount of time collecting data linking the Gates foundation to a litany of various left-leaning institutions. It would only serve the same function of  connecting the dots in a disjointed attempt to fabricate a conspiracy.

 

Regardless of your political propensities it is very likely there is a donor with deep pockets funding the cause. Even the populous right has their big time financial backers  The Trump administration owes a great debt to the Mercer family in my humble opinion.  Making the observation that the vast majority of Libertarian-leaning institutions is funded by the Koch brothers is aimless. It is merely reaching around in the dark in a last ditch effort to diminish the credibility of organizations such as the Mercatus center.This attempt is not only is a partisan assault it is futile. Most fact checking websites find the research and articles published by Mercatus to be factual [5]. Does their ideological orientation really matter if they are publishing valid research? This leads me to believe contriving the narrative that the Koch brothers are pulling the strings on autonomous organizations is merely a desperate ploy to obscure facts that poke holes in anti-market rhetoric.

 

The arrogance displayed when such opponents claim that market orientated types of ordinary means have been “brain-washed”  is  awe inspiring. Most of these self-proclaimed “free thinkers” possess ideas that clearly did not originate from their own critical thinking. Sounds more like they are parroting the bombastic and hyperbolic talking points of labor unions, left-wing think tanks, community organizers, and liberal politicians. These folks are not re-inventing the wheel, but rather are regurgitating the agenda of invested interests. Interestingly enough what they claim those who are  right-of-center are doing. In order to avoid a circular argument, I will not continue to direct such claims at those are skeptical and hostile towards free-market capitalism. In contrast, I will state that the diffusion of ideas is not an isolated process. Ideas are generated the accumulation of information presented through mediums of communication. We typically file it away mentally as being either being valid or invalid. From this we tend to form our worldview.

 

To assume that you are a free thinker and that the opinions and observations of others exerts no influence on your views is a delusion. At best, is a twisted and fractured  piecemeal assembled form of relativism not fitting into a comprehensive philosophy. At worst, you are a devotee to a specific political philosophy, but are too blind to see this. The self-perception of being a “free thinker” is so compelling you are willing not ignore that you do belong to a tribe. For example, if you agree with 85 % of the Democratic party’s platform, you are a democrat. Anything else is an appeal to the bias of wanting to believe that you are more unique and individualistic than you truly are. Hence, my frustration with individuals who shelter themselves under the label of  being an Independent. Are you truly independent? If all candidates and positions on one side of the fence are completely abominable and the other half of the divide is completely reasonable. Guess what… you are not an Independent.  I would expect someone who is truly political independent to have more diversity in the policies they support.

 

The free thinker illusion provides a sense of sanctimony to anyone who wants to claim Libertarians and Conservatives are merely puppets of big business. One point that they tend to over look is that they anti-market types have donors with deep pockets. Also that their point of view has been carefully crafted by intellectuals on their side of the divide.  Considering I am not a billionaire I must be mistaken or hoodwinked by these greedy interests. It isn’t that I have been inspired by F.A. Hayek, Gordon Tullock, Ludwig von Mises, etc. It was my gullibility that allowed me to be manipulated and then  unwittingly become the mouthpiece for ideas that keep big corporations afloat. Maybe if I see the light I will see that error of my ways.

Social Media – A Virtual Cave

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The topic of reality is one that has been highly discussed in the discipline of philosophy. From the extensive discourse has generated a litany of postulations pertaining to the nature of reality. A natural corollary of examining reality is the extent to which our perception of reality is a delusion. How do we know what we believe to be real is truly real?  This is a daunting question that humans have been grappling with since the days of  Greek antiquity. No other than the philosopher Plato. Plato provides a firm demonstration of the illusory nature of reality in The Allegory of the Cave [1].

 

In a nutshell, The Allegory of the Cave details a group of people held captive since infancy in a cave. The only visual stimulus they have “shadow puppets”. Produced by the fire-light silhouetted hand gestures of their captors. The prisoners only know the forms of our world through these two-dimensional figures projected on the cave wall. As we all know from our own experience with shadows they lack texture and detail. Only provide a general outline of the for of an object. One day, one of the prisoners breaks free from their shackles and decides to leave the cave. That prisoner was in for a shock.

Blinded by the blaring sunlight the prisoner’s eyes adjust to the lighting of the external environment. Then realizes the true vibrancy of the world outside of the cave. The prisoner comes to the realization that the “shadow puppets” projected on the cave walls were only a caricature of the true objects. For example, a shadow puppet of a tree does not convey all of the veins in the leaves or the crevices and grooves in the bark.  Upon this monumental discovery, the prisoner comes back to the cave to announce his new findings to his captive peers. Unfortunately, they were not receptive to this new perspective of the world. The looked at him as if he was crazy. Defended the validity of perceiving the world as depicted on the cave walls. They continued to intently watch the motions of the shadow puppets on the cave wall.

 

The Allegory of the Cave demonstrates some important points about human perception. Clearly, the shadows simulating the animals on the cave walls are not an accurate representation of their actual forms. We can believe that we know the true form of the depicted animals, however, due to our faulty perception, we do not have an accurate account of their essence. The prisoners believe that they were seeing a dog, however, it was merely the shadows being formed by their captors. By referring to the shadows as a dog does not mean they truly comprehend the essence of a dog. What a dog truly is. It is possible to gain knowledge through perception. However, there is a gulf between our perception and truth [2]. Meaning there is a giant gap between true knowledge and illusion.

 

Illusion tends to be a problem that has continuously plagued humans in the pursuit of truth. On a biological level, we are susceptible to optical illusions.  This is a by-product of evolutionary adaptions that help facilitate easier navigation of our environment. The human mind has a limited capacity for sensory input, therefore our eyes are designed to operate on preassumptions.  Hence, why we tend to enjoy looking at the Impressionist paintings of Claude Monet. We are reading into the painting with our perceptual assumptions. His painting is comprised of a myriad of loose, formless, and broad brush strokes. Anyone of us would swear up-and-down that we see a sailboat or a springtime picnic. In reality, our brain is imposing that form on the sensory input. Such misconceptions are innocent in terms of visual aesthetics. In areas where moral considerations are more pressing, this can be dangerous.

 

Throughout Machiavelli’s flagship book The Prince there are multiple references to perception being more important than reality. He clearly asserts that appearing to be righteous takes primacy over actually being so (Machiavelli, 1532, Transl. Mansfield, 1985, P. 62) [3]. This sentiment is quite often reflected throughout modern society. The idiomatic statement “fake it until you make it” a perennial favorite of every aspiring salesman. Above all, this reflects a dishonest mentality and a facade that cannot indefinitely be maintained. Due to our strong proclivity towards a plethora of biases, we will continue to trust those exuberating confidence over people who are competent. At least until charade starts to unravel. Needless to say, we are wired to fall into the trap of faulty perception. If we are easily tricked by smoke-and-mirrors it is reasonable to question the validity of our perception.

 

While Plato may have used The Allegory of the Cave as an abstract model it still has countless potential for real-world applications. One of the best examples is social media. I really could not even fabricate a better example of a metaphorical cave. The emergence of the occupation of social media influencer has only compounded the extent to which reality is distorted. Even for the average social media consumer you only get a brief glimpse of their life. Often it only details vacations, happy hours, good times with friends, and rarely displays hardship. This brief snapshot of your friend’s life is somewhat illusory. It only illustrations only a fraction of the story. It does not detail the mundanity of day to day life or family disputes.  As people we all have struggles. What those struggles are and their magnitude is what varies. No one has a perfect life. Therefore, I would suggest stop looking at the exploits of your Facebook “friends” with envy. Realize that odds are their life isn’t much better than yours.  In fact, theirs could be worse. Hence, why they are putting up an impenetrable front.

 

In the instance of social media influencers, this effect is only compounded. They are frequently paid to promote a service or product through the channels of social media platforms. There is nothing inherently wrong with that. I am a proponent of capitalism after all. It should be noted that many of these influencers are also paid to embellish upon their lifestyle. Make it seem as if they have more freedom, wealth, and sex appeal than what they actually possess. Ultimately, a great lifestyle is the best selling point for a product or brand. Regardless of the truth of the matter. This contrived lifestyle does not convey the actual truth of the influencer’s lifestyle. You do not see the behind the scenes pressures of appeasing a brand’s aggressive marketing department. Nor do you see the pitfalls of fame. Fame brings a level of Scrutiny that few mild-mannered people can adequately weather. This was the same point that Adam Smith illuminated in his book Theory of Moral Sentiments. The trapping of fame often comes with profound drawbacks. The lavish life portrayed by the kings and queens of  Snapchat does not include the bad and the ugly aspects of their lives.

COVID-19 and The Rejection of Civility

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Amid all the chaos spurred by the COIV-19 outbreak, the deterioration of civility seems inevitable. People are being reduced to quarreling and fight over toilet paper. Conflicts over cases of bottled waters and other forms of provisions are becoming more prevalent. Such emergencies have the proclivity to bring out the worst in people. Similar occurrences aren’t relegated to this one instance. Look no further than the looting that transpired during Hurricane Katrina. The line between civilization and lawless chaos is razor-thin. All it takes is one natural disaster or national emergency to shift incentives away from cooperation to antisocial behavior.

 

Social Psychology has a litany of various theories to help explain the descent into pillaging and violence. Describing the psychological mechanisms driving mob behavior does explain the behavioral element of such actions. However, it fails to address the deeper moral questions of the “temporary” erosion of civility. It is reasonable to question whether this loosening of societal standards would be temporary if the precipitating circumstances remained. This question can only be indulged with pure conjecture. I would be so bold to suggest that the circumstantial decay of social standards serves as an indictment on the Enlightenment.

 

I am not addressing concepts of the Enlightenment but the intellectual movement of the whole. It was the thinkers of this era that lead us from the barbarism of the dark ages to the relative calm of modernity. To avoid falling into the trap of the Whig interpretation of history, the Enlightenment did not nullify classical philosophy. Rather expanded upon it. The Enlightenment is what orientated the Western world towards poverty rights and the rights of the individual. Neither can be validated in a climate of wanton destruction and disregard for your neighbor. In times of panic, we revert to our fight-or-flight reflect negating reason, principles, and decorum. Reducing our behavior to that of Neanderthals. Fear is antithetical to reason. Making it caustic to the clear thinking required to respond in a civilized manner. Causing us to plummet to the mentality of primitive man.

 

Many may see this phenomenon of “disaster panic” as a temporary rejection of Enlightenment ideals. I would argue otherwise. I would contend that many people never acquainted with the moral considerations or etiquette required for civility. There are a lot of people that behave rudely even under regular circumstances. Compound their incentives for boorish deportment with fear, society unravels rapidly. Which makes it reasonable to question whether the Hobbesian conception of human nature is true. It appears as if the rule of law is what typically constrains transgressions such as assault and looting. It should be noted that in the instance of the present crisis that this isn’t necessarily true. In most municipalities throughout the United States, law enforcement agencies are still operating. The fear of punishment can be ruled out as a constraint on antisocial behavior. But such behavior demonstrates a deep-seated lack of respect for property and fellow person.  Vandalism and theft demonstrate a lack of respect for property rights. Violence and confrontation displaying a lack of respect for our fellow person. Behavior falling short of the movement inspiring liberal values. The precepts that helped levitate Europe out of the squalor and pestilence of intellectual and physical serfdom.

 

What enforces mutual respect of person and property are informal social norms. Once panic sets in the strength of these norms are greatly reduced. It isn’t true respect, but rather an overt avoidance of opprobrium from our peers. Which does not demonstrate a true comprehension of person-hood or natural rights. Rather punishment avoidance. Merely an informal form of punishment evasion. An individual possessing a true understanding of natural rights would be able to reason why it is wrong to punch someone over a pallet of toilet paper. Not abstaining from such an action due to the consequences of legal or social punishment. Classical thinkers tended to believe that action in of itself wasn’t righteous unless the intention of the action was also righteous.  While we are veering slightly from the thought of the Enlightenment there is still quite a bit of truth here. If respect for person and property is not instilled in us on an intellectual and moral level it will not remain resolute. When the comfort and security of modernity frays so will our courtesy and civility. Then comes the downfall into a primitive mindset.  Hence, why I question if humans ever really adopted or even understood the ideals of the Enlightenment. Because if we did we would be able to better manage our savage urge to pursue self-preservation. If so, we would be reduced bludgeoning one another over toilet paper.  Then again, such conduct has been evident over so much less. Such as a $5.00 toaster on Black Friday. This leads me to postulate that we do not even a time of crisis to witness such regressions.

 

Universal Healthcare- Not All That it is Cracked Up to Be

*** A reblog from our sister site***

 

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Dear Editor,

As it is now 2020, an election year, it is increasingly important that we examine the empty promises of aspiring politicians. The drive to socialize medicine under the friendly veneer of “free healthcare”. To witness the glories of government healthcare all you need to do is step foot in a VA hospital. The inefficiencies and low quality of care are painfully apparent.

However, our neighbors to the north in Canada have socialized medicine. Surely Canadian patients are receiving better care than we are in the United States!  Not so. Per the Fraser Institue, the median wait time to receive treatment from a specialist was 21.2 weeks in 2017. A 113 percent increase in the wait time for treatment in 1993. While there are many things that are admirably about Canada, their healthcare system isn’t one of them.

The increased interval of the wait times to receive treatment is one consideration that is largely ignored by the advocates of Universal healthcare. It looks great on paper but ultimately fails in implementation. I am only addressing the allocation of services, I am not even venturing into the challenges of funding such a massive program. A policy based upon good intentions, but that doesn’t mean it will work.

 

*** Published in the Casa Grande Dispatch***

 

 

 

The Trojan Horse of the Office Candy Bowl.

 

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Photo by Caio Resende on Pexels.com

 

Often, seemingly innocuous gestures have far less innocent motives behind the facilitated actions.  Many may think that such incredulity reflects a negative perception of human nature and to some extent paranoia. I would repudiate this notion claiming such an assertion is not necessarily a sweeping generalization, but rather a manifestation of an observed behavioral pattern. My observations are not generalized delusions nor phobias, but an acquiescence of the less savory aspects of the human condition. Pertaining to the opinions of others, the line between naiveté and irrational skepticism is razor-thin. However, any individual capable of complex reasoning would assume it to be reasonable to not accept actions at face value.  Whether or not we cast doubt upon the seemingly kind acts of an individual is generally based on specific social cues.  Are the actions congruent with the person’s overall temperament? What do they have to gain from behaving in such a manner?  These among other inquiries provide us with the context and precedent of whether to question the actions of another person.  While it is important to not be the victim of gullibility it is equally important to remember that most of the interactions do not yield zero-sum gains.  Generally, positive interactions and transactions are mutually beneficial, providing the longstanding moral justification of capitalism over planned economies.  It isn’t pernicious to maintain a healthy layer of doubt to insulate yourself from exploitation.  Especially, if upon analyzing the context of the interaction, it becomes evident that the individual may have ulterior motives for their actions.

 

This principle is generally exemplified by mundane and slice-of-life examples. Generally, the workplace is a sphere where such examples are rampant. Examples as the temperamental co-worker with positivity quotes brashly plastered across their cubical is a prime example of the previously mentioned questionable behavior. Clearly, their disposition does not match the image they are attempting to portray. For the obtusely gullible lacking in awareness of the fine nuances of social cues, may fall prey to such transparent predation.  However, most socially mature adults will see right through patently obvious posturing. A thinly cloaked subterfuge that the susceptible minority will fall for. An equally ubiquitous, but slightly more calculated ploy being the communal office candy dish. Even the most profound satirists that have ridiculed the tedium of life as an office worker (Scott Adams, Mike Judge, Ricky Gervais, etc.) never adequately addressed. While one should never paint with a broad brush, where there is a reoccurring behavioral pattern there is a glimmer of truth. All too frequently the individual putting out the candy dish is an individual drowning in abject misery. Bitter, backstabbing, and often inordinately critical to the point of condescension.  An individual who does not see any moral fault in proliferating gossip either for entertainment or to improve their political stature within an organization.  All those attributes are either obscured or softened when faced with the prospect that the same person is providing free candy to the office. As any hunter can thoroughly expound upon is the fact that any effective trap requires bait.

 

It should be noted that while the true motives of an individual can be truly known, for our own benefit sometimes we need to risk making an erroneous assumption. Especially in circumstances where there isn’t the risk of monetary loss or the consequences are so grave it could result in death. From the standpoint of deductive reasoning, it can be ascertained that there are two main rationales for the reuse of the candy bowl. One conspicuous driving force could be to foster a positive image for purposes of deception.  The analogy of the proverbial trojan horse comes strongly to mind. In the Trojan War, the ancient Greeks utilized the gift of a giant wooden horse filled with soldiers to infiltrate the parameter of Troy. Infiltration being the operative term. The innocuous gesture acts as a point of entry, allowing individuals to let the guard down and become susceptible to attack.  We can assume that “Janet” isn’t all that bad even though she throws her co-workers under the bus every chance she gets.  The candy dish either soften the blow or completely obscures it. Candy acting as a pacifying agent due to the human flaw have the propensity of enjoying sweets. Which really sheds some light on the colloquialism of “sugar-coating” something speech. If you can shroud injurious intentions with positivity on a superficial level, most people only fixate on the positive. Versus conceiving the fact that in the grander picture, the positive act of providing free candy is minuscule when weighed against the levity of the discord this individual has caused. Once you have gained the trust of your colleagues, you have penetrated the outer parameter of the kingdom of Troy. Making it much easier to execute upon exploitation.

 

The other motive that can be inferred by the spectacle of the free candy dish is that it is being utilized as a means of reinforcing their low self-esteem. On a subconscious level, they understand that they treat their co-workers poorly.  Out of deep-seated fear, that they are universally disliked within the office building they engage in acting upon this self-serving endeavor. Utilizing the results as qualitative and quotative barometer of public perception of them.  Little do they know in this despite an attempt to gather cohobating evidence that they are well-liked is based upon a potentially erroneous assumption. The variable of accepting free sweets and the individual’s actual opinion about the provider of the candy are mutual exclusive. Even though it is feasible for there to be overlap neither are connected in any causal or even correlative manner. All that is achieved in this perspective scenario is that the ill-tempered office worker putting out the candy is fighting an uphill battle with their own cognitive dissonance. In a hasty attempt to blatantly lie to themselves to grapple with the harsh reality that their behavior pushes people away. Such behavior is truly a salient example of the quirks of the human mind and how to reason often displaced by the multitude of various emotional needs. The gap between emotion and grounded reasoning does have the potential to veer into the territory of pathology.

 

I will admit to the fact that the majority of what is previously detailed is technically conjecture rather than concrete facts. However, most of the patterns and details described are so common that they are borderline archetypical. If there is any truth in my assertions, what would incentivize the dishonest behavior of this reoccurring personality type?  I would state first I pass no direct criticism upon capitalism nor upon private corporations. Private in the sense that they are separated from the government subsidies and other varieties of governmental corporatism. Like a governmental structure, a corporate office is not immune to corruption and is subject to the vice of human flaws. When people see potential short-cuts to gain more status within the company (accompanied by the prospects of promotion and salary raises). Typically, management and human resources will do little to stifle such behavior unless there is ample chance of litigious threats due to the consequences. It appears as if the potential for corruption is an integral condition of any hierarchical stratified organization of people.  Such a hierarchy in a private company is at the very least due to voluntary association and people are free to find a new job as they please. When the state is utilized to distribute goods, the hierarchy is backed by compulsion. The threat is reinforced by the barrel of a gun.  If dissatisfied with the corporate culture of your current employer, at the very least you are free to find a new employer or even to start your own company.

A CRITIQUE OF POP-CULTURE

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INTRODUCTION:

As it may be salient to many observant individuals that western society, most notably American society is on a steady decline. It has been noted for decades the decline in the quality of the American education system, standard of living, the American economy, and even in regards to basic decorum. I do not want to sound like the dark profit brings to light all the flaws of American society nor do I want to necessarily attribute blame in one specific area. Even if I felt like there were a few root causes of this treacherous downward spiral, it would be difficult to prove they are attributing to the demise of American society with absolute confidence. However, I believe we can all come to the consensus that there is a grave issue when we have our young adults in society ingesting Tide Pods for notoriety on social media. Just from anecdotal observations of people in general, while I am far from a genius, the “dumbing-down” of America is glaringly evident. Just watch the videos where Youtube personality and conspiracy theorist, Mark Dice, walks the boardwalks of Southern California asking people basic questions in regards to American history, current events, politics, etc.

 

For the record, I do not profess to be particularly intelligent, so I do understand that I am at risk of ” throwing stones in a glasshouse”. Seriously, note all the grammatical errors I make in my blog posts. However, I am the only one that is overwhelmed with trepidation when confronted with the reality that our general population is more concerned with the exploits of Kim Kardashian than the U.S. economy? It feels as if we are so preoccupied with the distractions and frivolity that we have completely lost track of what is truly important.  Now living in a free society we have a choice of what kind of books, publications, websites, and other forms of media we chose to consume. I personally feel that far too often people chose to engross themselves in trappings of mindless pop-culture versus attempting to educate themselves or self-improvement. I understand that is a form of escapism, however, you cannot isolate yourself from reality and there not be any negative repercussions. The lack of common knowledge and lack of intellectual curiosity is all too common in this current era in time could be reasonably attributed to our cultural fixation with pop-culture. However, I do not want to make an erroneous over-generalizations, but this is merely a theory. We should not underestimate the pitfalls of our self-induced complacency, keep in mind every great society has its fall from grace. From the Ancient Romans to the British Empire, the laws of gravity apply. Particularly with the Roman Empire, the excesses of orgies, wine, and unadulterated gluttony sealed their fate. While the excesses of contemporary American society due differ from those of the Roman Empire, they are still distractions that can lead to our downfall. I feel that the below quote from  British  historian Arnold Joseph Toynbee really expresses this point well:

“Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.” [1]

 

ARTICLE:

 

Now the article from  Psychology Today was published back in 2009, it is a little dated, however, it is just as applicable today as it was nine years ago.  The article: Popular Culture: We are What We Consume, certainly points to the detrimental effects of pop-culture on society. In the article, Dr. Jim Taylor defines “real” culture as being as “an expression of our collective experiences”. Instead of being reflective of our genuine collective experiences, the majority of popular culture is produced by corporations to make us into impulsive consumers. Most of the “must-have” items and media content was not demanded by consumers but rather marketed in a manner to persuade the consumer that the product or media programming is essential. For example, Facebook anticipated consumer needs prior to the demand and was marketed as an essential social media platform. Considering that these derivations of popular culture do not reflect our actual experiences, Taylor refers to it as “synth culture”, synth as in synthetic or fabricated. While we find pop-culture as engaging, it’s analogous to eating junk food, just on a cognitive level.  Most of the advertisements for products are merely pushing us to buy products by presenting a distortion of reality.  Most media programming in the pop-culture realm does not emphasize good morals or attributes, but rather the negative aspects of humanity. For example, reality television displays people behaving badly.  Glamorizing lust, deception, confrontation, just to name a few of the negative values that such programming presents to the viewer. While pop-culture that reflects our collective experience tends to reinforce positive values such as social cohesiveness versus lust, greed, etc. [2]

DISCUSSION:

 

The article referenced above certainly illustrates how popular culture has been manipulated by corporations to conform to a marketing plan. It also certainly illustrates the negative impact of pop-culture in regards due to the negative values that it instills in us and we internalize as a society. It certainly is appropriate to parallel pop-culture to food, because much like food and tangible products we are consumers of pop-culture. Part of it has to do with the intermarrying of popular culture with consumer culture and elaborate marketing fixated on everything from traditional consumer products to social media platforms to traditional media such as television programs. However, another aspect of this phenomenon is the fact that when we consume culture either consciously or subconsciously we integrate the culture we consume into our thoughts and values. To a certain extent, we allow it to influence us. While someone may choose to watch a documentary to become more educated may be a cultural consumer conscious of the impact, they are equally as impacted by the culture they consume as the individual who passively watches reality television and is unconsciously integrating the negative behaviors exhibited in that specific type of programming.

The fact that the technical name for a T.V. show is a “program” is quite intriguing if you really think about it. I have heard many individuals in the New Age movement reflect upon this fact. So just for the sake of transparency this far from a unique thought. It is slightly conspiratorial, which is something I personally try to avoid. However, particularly  Ralphie Smart, psychologist, life coach, and founder of the New Age Youtube channel Infinite Waterstouches upon this topic in a sufficient manner. Smart asserts that since we consume media, it influences us in the same way that food does when we ingest it. So he analyzed the fact that it is referred to as a television program. A program as in the T.V. show is trying to convey a message or set of values to us, as in how you program a computer. It certainly is an interesting premise to grapple with, however, I can see how a skeptic would think it veers into tinfoil hat territory. However, when you think about the negative impact of the messages conveyed in our T.V. shows, social media, movies, etc and the downward trajectory of society is it really that outlandish? It is hard to say, however, it is certainly an interesting concept to explore.