The Bum and the Professor: A Hypothetical Conversation

Bum:  “Spare some change?”

Professor:  “No.”

Bum:  “Not even a quarter, or a nickel?  No change at all?”

Professor:  “Sorry. If I had some, you can rest assured that I’d give it to you, but I just don’t have any.”

Bum:  “Why can I ‘rest assured’ of that? I don’t know you.”

Professor:  “True, but I know you, more or less. I have spent decades lecturing and writing on the plight of the underprivileged. So I understand your hardship enough to know that if I honestly had any money to spare, I wouldn’t hesitate to give it to you at once.”

Bum:  “All these decades you’ve spent lecturing and writing about someone like me, did no one ever pay you?”

Professor:  “Of course they did.”

Bum:  “And yet, you haven’t got a quarter or nickel to spare with the guy that earned you a paycheck?”

Professor:  “I resent that remark. I’ll have you know that I have given a large sum of money over the years to various charities to help people in need.”

Bum:  “Good for you. That still doesn’t put either a quarter or a nickel in my hand, right now.”

Professor:  “You’re judging me for not being able to give you money, right now? A bit self-righteous for a man who spends his days begging for a portion of other peoples money, don’t you think?”

Bum:  “No judgment here, honestly. I’m just following your train of thought, which I admit can seem pretty ‘self-righteous’. Probably about as self-righteous as being told that someone knows me, just because they’ve written something about poor folks here and there.”

Professor:  “I see. Well, allow me to clarify: While I don’t know you personally, I do understand, because of my extensive research and studies on the subject, the hardship that comes along with residing within the parameters of today’s socioeconomic hegemony.”

Bum:  “Parameters of what?”

Professor:  “Socioeconomic hegemony.  It’s a phrase I coined in one of my papers. Roughly it means that the conditions of a person’s environment are so dominating that they are naturally setup to be disadvantageous to the underprivileged in said environment. You understand?”

Bum:  “I understand what you said. I don’t understand what good it does to have it said.”

Professor:  “Identifying and defining a problem is the first step to having it resolved.”

Bum:  “When did you first write this?”

Professor:  “About 30 years ago.”

Bum:  “How long until it starts to ‘resolve’ the problem?”

Professor:  “It doesn’t work that way.”

Bum:  “Why not?”

Professor:  “Because social theories aren’t meant to fix people’s problems just by the power of the pen.  People have different perspectives, and one social theory can yield an innumerable sub-theories on how to implement reforms. Not to mention, there is always nuance to consider.”

Bum:  “So some other guy can come up with a different ‘social theory’ about the exact same problem your social theory talks about, and his would be just as good as yours.”

Professor:  “I think you’re getting confused, remember we’re talking about hypothetical thought experiments here.”

Bum:  “So they’re imaginary.”

Professor:  “No, they are normative descriptors of reality.”

Bum:  “How do you know they’re describing reality, if they haven’t been tried out yet?  That is what hypothetical means, right?”

Professor:  “It’s more abstract than that.”

Bum:  “I bet. But I still don’t see the point of coming up with all of these social theories, if they can’t actually resolve the problems they’re addressing. Seems to me like a man might as well be doing nothing and still get the same results.”

Professor:  “I told you, social theories recognize a problem and allow for the future assembly of working models to be implemented by society.”

Bum:  “Hypothetically.”

Professor:  “Yes, hypothetically.”

Bum:  “See that building over there? 30 years ago I was part of the crew assembling the foundation of dozens of buildings just like it, all over town. Most of them are still around. People can use them, live in them. They can like them or hate them. But they can’t ignore them. If they decide to get rid of them, they have to put some physical effort into removing them from the spot we put them on. You understand what I’m driving at?”

Professor:  “Not really, no.”

Bum:  “Before we put down the foundation, when we were barely carving out the dimensions on the ground, the buildings were what you would call hypothetical. Now, 30 years later, I guess someone a little better with words than me, would say that these buildings are ‘descriptors of reality’, at least in the little, tiny spot of reality where they stand. You couldn’t describe the area where these buildings are without mentioning the buildings themselves.”

Professor:  “Okay, I get what you’re driving at, but you’re wrong. This is completely different from my academic discipline; you’re simply not comparing like with like.”

Bum:  “Yeah, probably. All I know is that 30 years ago, we identifies a problem: no building in this spot. Now, 30 years later, problem is resolved: building is there, whether someone likes it or not. 30 years ago, you identified a problem; now, 30 years later, you’re identifying of the problem all those years ago hasn’t done squat to resolve whatever problem it is you felt needed to be identified in the first place–because if it had I wouldn’t be sitting here like this, would I? So, let me ask you, are you sure your social theories are actually describing reality, or are you just defining reality to your liking, and cramming your social theories into it so you can have something to lecture people on?”

Professor:  “My theory is sound, but to understand it properly would take many years of study.  Hence, this conversation is inconsequential. Here’s your quarter, and have a nice day.”

Bum:  “Much appreciated, good sir. You have yourself a good one, too.”

“Have-to-Marry” vs. “Will-Never-Marry”

Have-to-Marry: “Marriage is a great personal bond between two individuals, and provides a person with added stability in life.”

Will-Never-Marry: “Marriage is an archaic institution, founded on a misplaced desire to placate familial and/or societal expectations, instead of the desires of the individual itself.  Rather than offering stability in life it makes the individual more readily complacent with a less fulfilling life.”

Have-to-Marry: “You’re confusing contentment with complacency.  For a person to be content in life is for her/him to finally have gained the maturity to appreciate what they have in the moment…”

Will-Never-Marry: “At the expense of all that they could have had were they not legally chained to the wellbeing of another person.”

Have-to-Marry: “To refer to marriage as being chained is a cheap piece of rhetoric.  Marriage in today’s society is, more often than not, a contract of affection and trust between individuals.”

Will-Never-Marry: “Except when it’s not.”

Have-to-Marry: “It’s faulty reasoning to look at exceptions and pretend that they represent the whole.”

Will-Never-Marry: “But these exceptions (such as when marriage is entered more for utilitarian reasons than sentimental ones), are a prominent part of the deal in our society.  If marriage is all about affection and love, why accompany it with things like tax breaks, better mortgage rates and healthcare packages at all?”

Have-to-Marry: “The fact that society has put in place material incentives to make marriage an appealing prospect for individuals doesn’t negate the truth that people who marry are gaining personal–i.e. psychological and spiritual–benefits from the act.  It only means that people were astute enough to construct a society that recognizes the beneficial elements of the practice, on the community as a whole.”

Will-Never-Marry: “Which are what again?”

Have-to-Marry: “Marriage symbolizes to the community that you have a steak in the long-term well-being of said community.  The act of committing to one person shows that you are willing to set aside your egocentric interests and can consider the good of others as well as your own.  This breeds a certain level of trust and respectability in most people’s eyes.”

Will-Never-Marry: “So (as I said before) you should get married to appease societal expectations?  So that the people around you will trust and think well of you as a person?”

Have-to-Marry: “Not just for those reasons, but on a macro level they certainly ought to be factors to consider.  Humans are social beings; it’s how we’ve survived this long.  And if we are to continue to survive we have to commit and trust one another.  Marriage is one of the ways (though, admittedly, not the only way) we do this, on an individual level.”

Will-Never-Marry: “Human beings survived for hundreds of thousands of years prior to the advent of marriage.  Not to mention that for the majority of the institutions existence it served more as a business venture between families, rather than a demonstration of either love, maturity, or trust.”

Have-to-Marry: “That’s a very simplistic rendition of the complicated history of it all.  Regardless, it’s irrelevant to the discussion of the benefits marriage affords to the individual, and by extension society, today.”

Will-Never-Marry: “You brought up history, so I’m just following your train of thought here.  It’s pretty much a given that the segment of society that favors a particular practice will argue how this particular practice is indispensable for the ‘wellbeing of society’ (whatever that means).  The same line of reasoning can be made (and has been made) to argue in favor of establishing a single state-enforced religion, a monarchical government, or various forms of slavery.  The proponents of all of these institutions have always resorted to the old canard that sans said institutions the society or community would not function properly, and might even descend into disarray.  The truth is that if people started to abandon any currently common social practice, the only outcome that we can predict is that the practice would just seize to be common.  That’s it.  In Western societies today we no longer frown down on premarital relationships; the stigma once attached to it has been all but removed from people’s psyche.  So to claim that we wouldn’t have affection or commitment between people without marriage, on a social or individual level, is unfounded speculation at best.  And putting aside societal imperatives for a moment, given that there is no longer a stigma concerning premarital relations, please tell me what specific benefits I, the individual, gain from marriage (besides a couple of utilitarian financial incentives)?”

Have-to-Marry: “Every single study, every single survey, every single bit of data done on the subject, clearly shows that married individuals experience greater health (physical and mental) and longevity than non-married individuals.  This holds true even when one compares them to cohabitating non-married couples.  I might only be able to speculate as the reason why this is so, but you can’t pretend that this fact is untrue just because we don’t know all the variables involved.  At the end of the day, we can look at the data and conclusively point to the fact that married people report better health, and that married people are living longer (it’s not as if we can fake the latter, right?).”

Will-Never-Marry: “Correlation doesn’t equal causation.  The advent of marriage as a social practice in human history also correlates with the advent of slavery; however, to therefore imply that one causes the other would be as fallacious as the reasoning you displayed in your previous remark.”

Have-to-Marry: “As of this moment the common denominator for all this data is marriage.  If you can find a better explanation, by all means do so, but until you do society is under no obligation to discard the most reasonable explanation that is currently on offer for the data observed.”

Will-Never-Marry: “But it’s the validity of the cited data that I’m calling into question.  You’re ignoring that I began this conversation by mentioning that marriage makes people complacent with what they have.  When you invest that much of your identity into something of course your going to self-report higher satisfaction with the decision, but there is still no means by which to differentiate between those who are reporting there sincere beliefs, and those who have willingly self-deluded themselves into a stupor because the prospect of admitting their dissatisfaction is too great of a personal failure to bear.  As to the issue of longevity, of course you’re going to live longer when you have another person in every waking moment of your private life discouraging you from taking any potential risks in life.  Being bubble-wrapped in a monotonous life of adequate mediocrity hardly counts as a fulfilled life; no matter how long it lasts.”

Have-to-Marry: “Tell me, how exactly are these speculation of yours against marriage any more valid than my so-called speculations in favor of marriage?”

Will-Never-Marry: “Simple.  You know that my opinions are authentic, because I don’t have a spouse breathing down my neck about what opinions they think I ought to have.”

Have-to-Marry: “Maybe if you did you’d be able to come up with a more mature counterargument.”

Will-Never-Marry: “You can’t prove that.”

The Collectivist vs. The Individualist: A Conversation

Collectivist:  “Society cannot exist without the collective effort of the entire group working as a single unit to provide for all members of the population.  And the only fair means by which this system can function is if measures are taken to ensure that all persons within society are given equal opportunity and equal advancement in life.”

Individualist:  “Society is not dependent on the collective effort of its population as a whole to either function or advance forward, but the accomplishments of a select few individuals who are innovative enough to create means and opportunities by which they personally (and society secondarily) benefits from these individual accomplishments.”

Collectivist:  “No man is an island.  And every individual who has ever innovated anything did so through the direct or indirect assistance of a countless number of other individuals who make up the collective of society, and they deserve to share equal credit for the final outcome they helped bring about.  Henry Ford’s automobile would have never been mass produced if it wasn’t for the worker in the assembly line.  Individual innovations are meaningless acts of mental masturbation without the muscle to bring them to life, and the population as a whole are the muscle on which individual innovations depend on to exist.”

Individualist:  “The worker making a living on the assembly line wouldn’t be working and making a living on the assembly line, if Henry Ford hadn’t come up with the idea first.  These groups of people didn’t collective come up with the idea (or any idea for that matter) on how to either make a living, or contribute to society; they depend on the individual to come up with it first.  If a functioning society and productivity is the end result being sought, than individual innovation is still the antecedent that thinks it into life.”

Collectivist:  “But can’t you see that these individual innovators you’re referring to are also an obvious part of the collective population, and thereby also benefit from the collective effort of the group.  Sure, it’s individuals who think up the innovations all of society benefits from, but thoughts are meaningless and useless until they are produced by someone.  And historically that someone has always been the mass populace.”

Individualist:  “Working under the direction of individuals.”

Collectivist:  “Yes.  So what?’

Individualist:  “Without the guidance and innovations of an individual few society stagnates, because the collective population does not collectively create anything beneficial for society.  This is why society values these individual innovators more, and rewards them with a higher rank in its social hierarchy.”

Collectivist:  “A rank earned through the physical work of the people who make the individual innovators’ higher place in the social hierarchy possible.”

Individualist:  “Physical work which wouldn’t have existed without the innovations of these few individuals.”

Collectivist:  “Innovations which would never be realized if it wasn’t for the lowly members of society doing the grunt work to create it.”

Individualist:  “The fact that the other chess pieces play a role on the board in no way invalidates the greater importance of the King in the overall game.”

Collectivist:  “But if no concern is given to strengthening the position of the other chess pieces the King is left vulnerable and exposed.  Important or not, left individually the King is doomed to fall, too.”

Individualist:  “But acknowledging this still doesn’t diminish the higher value of the King in the game of chess.  It is still the King that is held in higher regard than the Pawn, the Knight, or the Bishop.  And it is still the individual that is held in higher regard in society than the collective masses, because individuals are what move society forward.”

Collectivist:  “You’re forgetting that a ladder can’t stand upright without its lowest pegs.”

Individualist:  “You’re forgetting that a ladder is useless if no one ever climbs it.”

Collectivist:  “A world where only the few rise, is a world where opportunity for advancement will seize to exist as the few in power will horde everything for themselves.  What you’re proposing is oligarchy!”

Individualist:  “A world where no one falls, is also a world where no one rises!  If everyone always stays on the same level, there will be no achievements and no advancements.  We can’t all rise collectively, but we can certainly plateau together.”

Collectivist:  “I’d rather plateau as a unit, then watch a minority segment of the population rise at the expense of the majority.”

Individualist:  “And I’d rather watch at least one individual rise above the herd, than have a society made up solely of equally mindless sheep.”