Contemporary futilitarianism

Feel “used” lately? There are apparently those who think you should:

It’s a commonly expressed sentiment that “we’re all users;” alternately, that “we’re all prostitutes.” The idea, of course, is that with the exception of whatever pure-subsistence farmers remain in the world, each of us sells something — his labor, his skills, or his brainpower — to earn his living. We “use” the desire of others for what we can do to produce income for ourselves, “just like a prostitute.”

This quasi-condemnation of Mankind is among the foulest propositions ever to gain currency among us. It relegates the one and only way in which men could advance from the bloody savagery of the jungle — the division of labor and subsequent specialization of men into our many distinct trades — to the plane of venality. For what does it mean to say that Smith is “using” Jones? Doesn’t that imply that Jones’s desires are of no moment? That Smith is trying to get Jones to do something that is in no way in his interests, and indeed might be against them? How does that match up against the requirement, in a free and open market, that both participants in any transaction must regard it as beneficial to them on net balance?

The “free and open market” is the problem, according to proponents of this foul proposition: in any such market, there is competition, and therefore there will be unequal outcomes, which are deemed unacceptable in this day and age. “Fairness,” doncha know.

Of course, if life were actually fair, then your below-average outcome is, by definition, your fault. So there’s a definite disconnect between fairness and “fairness,” which governmental mutts are more than happy to exploit, knowing that Smith and Jones have day jobs and therefore aren’t able to spend forty hours a week inventing grievances for the government to redress.

Inevitably, this traces back to Marx and “to each according to his needs” — except, of course, for those who have oh-so-willingly tasked themselves with deciding what those needs are supposed to be. “Eight point five,” says Dante, checking their itinerary.


  1. McGehee »

    8 July 2013 · 1:33 pm

    Even a pure-subsistence farmer has to play on the desires of others to get what he wants — even if only in the form of a sign on his fence that says, “Trespassers will be shot.”

    It’s called “communication,” and one may notice that the “we’re all prostitutes” crowd are pretty big on playing on the desires of others to get what they want.

  2. fillyjonk »

    8 July 2013 · 3:45 pm

    I guess I prefer the image of a mutualism – yes, the bee has to do work to get fed by the flower, and vice versa, but without transferring pollen, the bee is gonna wind up starving, and without feeding the bee, the plant is gonna wind up without offspring. And in many mutualisms, each gives up something that’s easy for it to get, in return for something that it’s hard for it to get.

    In other words: I’d rather work a few hours teaching biology to college students and then pay the money I earned to a dude who understands electricity, than to risk my life trying to fix the damn ceiling fan myself.

  3. McGehee »

    8 July 2013 · 4:07 pm

    “I was told there’d be no economics.”

    /the “fairness” crowd

  4. Francis W. Porretto »

    9 July 2013 · 4:37 am

    Mutualism is a good approach to it, Filly. It’s really what the market is all about: you serve your own desires by serving those of others.

    There are some excellent words just itching for their turn on the nation’s bumper stickers. Mutualism is one such. I also like collaboration, which is the state of affairs a market economy brings about when we band together to achieve something none of us could achieve alone. And isn’t it interesting how competition and collaboration can coexist — to everyone’s benefit?

  5. Tatyana »

    9 July 2013 · 8:56 am

    “Exploit” is the correct verb to be tied to “use”. “Collaborate” is close to “exchange”.
    In transaction between Smith and Jones S. only “uses” J. if he exploits him. Doing this S is playing against his own long-term interests, sowing revolt – but he thinks he can get away in time before getting hurt (nope. karma is a bitch).
    If S and J are engaged in mutually respectful exchange (of labor, domestic duties, job performances, etc) and conditions are clearly stated and diligently followed – then what’s there to complain about?

  6. CGHill »

    9 July 2013 · 9:14 am

    According to the old joke, under capitalism, man exploits man, while under communism, it’s the reverse.

  7. Tatyana »

    9 July 2013 · 10:03 am

    I didn’t get it. Are you sure that how it’s told?

  8. Liberty's Torch »

    9 July 2013 · 11:28 am

    Usings Part 2: Users And Borders…

    The esteemed Charles Hill linked to this piece, and added a spot-on observation…

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