Eight Paradoxes and Curiosities of a Deeply Unmodern World

1. The First Paradox of Technology. A program or gadget created for reducing problems (e.g., Windows ME or the mobile phone) often generates an equal or excessive amount of problems. From texting while driving to debugging an operating system whose effectiveness was dead on arrival, tech-evangelists often overlook these glaring negatives of technology.

2. The Second Paradox of Technology. A program or gadget used to reduce labor costs at one point increases labor costs at another. The unemployment line is one place where technological ingenuity is paid for by disposable workers.

3. Environmental Paradox. “Waste saving devices”. The bathroom air hand dryer is the most ubiquitous example of this paradox. While it reduces paper waste, it does not reduce the use of electricity to power it and the fossil fuels used to produce that electricity.

4. Market/Financial Paradoxes. There is no such thing, in current or idealized constructions, as a “free market”. In current versions, taxpayers subsidize the risky bets of corporations and big finance. Also, “inflation” exists in any market. Price is a form of inflation because it must be set to maximize profit. In strict truth, the consumer does not solely pay for an isolated product or service: the labor that went into the product’s creation, its transport to an outlet of distribution, and the seller’s desire to profit from the sale of the product must all be paid for. So the “price” of a thing is always a distortion—a “lie” for a better word—that the consumer is simply inclined or disinclined to believe is warranted: the lower the cost, the more acceptable the lie; the higher the cost, the less acceptable the lie. Capitalism is a system in which truth really does not matter; instead, it is a system in which price, which is always an intended distortion and not simply one determined by supply and demand, is a lie that we are more or less willing to pay for.

5. Market/Financial Paradoxes continued. For ideal markets—those unhindered by the state—no business would ever survive in such a market if it did not have the benefit of government: government too is a consumer that relies upon the products and services of business. But from the standpoint of subsidies, no business would reject the assistance of the taxpayer in subsidizing its losses. No one rejects free money, not even businesses whether such money comes in the form of a tax cut or government subsidy.

6. Education and the Labor Force. With each passing day, education seems to become less relevant in the labor market. The rule of thumb for the last ten or so years is that employers are reluctant to hire educated workers because they feel they would jump ship more quickly for a higher paying job than the company dunce. So the rule is to hire more and more dunces cheaply and therefore produce an inferior product or service. But hiring is also a function of the “deathwatch” (will the euro fail?) or “electionwatch” (Hollande or Sarkozy? Romney or Obama?) which really are not rational factors for determining labor needs: instead, they are “what if” factors (see paradox 7 below).

7. “The Knowledge Economy”. Dusty old universities have yet to be replaced by the fly by night technical schools specializing in application development, web programming, and whatever other technical skill set that purportedly is in high demand. That’s because universities have long been incorporating such fields into the university curricula. But the main premise of the idea of a knowledge economy, the notion that intellectual labor would eventually replace manual physical labor, has yet to come to fruition. I know far too many unemployed professors, programmers, and graphic designers who think otherwise (see paradox 6 above). Ingenuity or knowledge does not necessarily drive markets; as we are learning during current times, whether the market succeeds or fails largely depends upon what investors think what may happen in future markets: an entirely speculative mindset among investors is what, in addition to supply and demand, sways markets. This is why free market enthusiasts need to be wary of their enthusiasm for the market: contrary to the idea that the market is governed by a sort of rational mechanics, speculation can often not have a rational basis but yet still drive markets.

8. The conflation of “free speech” and “values”. The crazy aspect of the current debate over whether businesses have a right to support a cause is that Citizen’s United versus the Federal Election Commission is largely ignored in this spectacle: our courts have now allowed businesses to freely finance elections, under the cloak of “free speech”, and poison our democracy with candidates beholden to the almighty dollar as opposed to democratic principles. I like my fried chicken sandwiches but that does not mean that I need to continue to subsidize, through my patronage, a business that actively funds interest groups and political candidates who promote values that I do not accept. I’ve seen somewhere that people have construed the rejection of Chick-fil-A’s business by northern mayors as an attack on southern culture. This sort of framing of the issue is fraught with hilarity. The war between the north and the south ended two centuries ago and I think that only some misguided southerners believe that the north and the south are still at war or some misguided northerners who, as cultural dilettantes, have some sort of sentimental, romantic yearning for the return of southern purity. In any case, southern values are not necessarily conservative: recall that the Civil Rights movement, one of the most liberal movements in our history, was led by southerners. As a native southerner, I reject the contention that southern culture and southern values are by definition enclosed within and defined by a conservative domain of political beliefs.

No one is saying that businesses cannot announce their political or social beliefs. However, the affirmation of one’s political identity never ends there. Instead, businesses and individuals tend to work to impose their beliefs on others. So if Chick-fil-A or other businesses fund campaigns or candidates to undermine the laws of states that affirm the equality of its citizens, then such businesses are not going to obtain my patronage. It’s their loss, not mine.

For those of you who “defiantly” attended the “eat in” at Chick-fil-A (yes, this is a unmodern age when people think significant, meaningful protest involves patronizing a business that works to actively disenfranchise other human beings), just remember that eating too many chickens, especially fried chicken, raises your cholesterol count.

Harvey E. Whitney, Jr. is working on his dissertation in history at Florida State University. He has taught US history, Western Civilizations, and Modern Global history at Tallahassee Community College, Northern Virginia Community College, and Howard Community College, the history of western science at Florida State University, symbolic logic at Ohio University, and digital multimedia and graphic design at Sanford Brown College in Boston, MA. Read other articles by Harvey.