Will We Face “The Price of Everything” Era?

There are two current cases that finally drive me to write down this article. First of all, when one of my friends gave me a screenshot picture about those who offer service to be your couple when you are going to a wedding party or other parties that you have foreseen that you will be asked about “when you get married?” The second case does seem more serious than the former. I took the case from the BBC website telling a story in Dubai that the government there offers one gram of gold for those who are success in reducing one kilogram of their body weight in a 30-day of exercise. The Dubai government thinks that this incentive will work to fight against obesity that lingering the country.

At a glance, it does seem that there is no something to be objected in regard with both of the cases. Is it wrong to pay someone to be your couple just for a while? Since you pay him/her for both of your good, could it be considered as wrong action? Furthermore, by giving gold as incentive, is not it a good idea to drive people to hinder obesity and drive them to a more healthy life? But both cases cannot be only highlighted from such a point of view. There is a more deep strong objection, as Michael Sandel strongly puts it, namely a society that is currently paving its way toward a market-society rather than market economy.

What Money Can’t Buy?

The subtitle of this article is actually derived from the book written by Michael Sandel. For those who never read the book, let me give you a brief view about the book. In the book, Michael Sandel says that actually we are now living not only in a market economy but also in a market society. Market society can be easily described as society that is driven mainly by the market mechanism and it could be said: money.

Market society strongly depends upon cost-benefit analysis but the analysis’ basis is money. Thus, you must put a price tag for every single thing that you have in your life including a price tag for yourself when you are dead or when you are suffering severe injury by accident, for example. In a market society, everything is valued by money. The more valuable the things, the more expensive it will be paid.

The interesting parts of the book lay on the examples Sandel gives to his readers. But, for me individually, the most interesting example lies not in the book rather to his former book “Justice” in regard with the case of Ford Pinto gasoline tank. For those who are interested to know the detail of the case, it can be easily found out by google. There you could find many articles describing the case, including the ethical issue of the case. But in order to explain briefly the case, I would like to give you a short explanation.

Engineers in Ford had been aware the vulnerability of the gasoline tank of the Ford Pinto when it collided with another car coming from the rear. But, “company executives has conducted a cost-benefit analysis and determined that the benefits of fixing it were not worth the eleven dollars per car it would have cost to equip each car with a device that would have made the gas tank safer.” To sum up the cost-benefit analysis, this is the calculation posed by Sandel in his book.

 

Benefit

Cost

Occasion

Price

Occasion

Price

Life lost

$200,000/life

Adding safety device

$11/car

Injury

$67,000/injury

Estimation Number of life lost

180

Amount of cars

12,5 million

Estimation Number of injury

180

Total

Around $49,5 million

Total

$137,5 million

 

From the table, it is clear that the cost outweigh the benefit that will reap. Based upon this calculation then the company decided not to adding a safety device and this case went to surface after “more than five hundred people died when their Pintos burst into flames and many more suffered severe burn injuries and then one of the burn victims sued Ford Motor companies for the faulty design.”

In Indonesia, there are also real examples when money can buy everything including justice. Corruptors in this country can easily bribe judges in order to flee from law enforcement. There are also cases where our corruptors’ prisons are indeed very luxurious just because they can pay much money. Prison that should have to be a place where justice is preserved is then altered to a place where injustice is hold up. It does seem that prison can be more correctly said as the place of perversion of justice.

When we back to the above cases, it is clear that money does seem can buy everything. It can buy a couple just for several hours and also to be used as incentive to a healthy lifestyle. The question is: is a couple a matter of money? Will there be a moment where I could use my own money to buy my future wife? Furthermore, should I always be incentivized by money in order to preserve my own good life? Should I release my consciousness and succumb to the money in order to achieve healthy life?

Human beings and their dignity

When we talk about human beings, there is something that is currently often neglected: human dignity. It is often get disappeared because of we are now living in a market society where dignity can be simply quantified by money. Thus, what does matter is no longer about dignity but rather about how much money I should pay equivalent with your dignity.

A question about human beings’ dignity can be proposed by a simple question: when there is a human being died, why do not we consume his/her flesh? Tracing his/her evolution pathway, is it correct that human beings are the latest evolution of animal? And why does, on the other hand, we can easily consume steak made from cow, chicken, and so on? Do we actually have the same nature, namely animal? Why should put differences to human beings?

Consider this thing: if we value an animal is merely a thing that can be utilized to be consumed, we want them to be formed as what we desire. Thus, no problem will arise, for example, when they died since we will freely consume them. But, if we exalt an animal as our god, for example, we are very reluctant to kill them. We rather choose other animals to be consumed. Even the dead-body of such an animal will be well-cured and should naturally diminish. What is the thing that we can actually pick up in this matter?

The answer lays in the dignity and how we put others in this matter, especially human beings in our current circumstances. When we put a non-utilization paradigm upon others, we are very reluctant to utilize others since we know that it will harm their dignity. The case is same with human beings. Human beings are not merely things that can be freely utilized by others as Kant points out: human beings cannot be utilized as means to achieve end. Rather, human beings are end in themselves. Human beings cannot be considered based upon what they are useful for. They should be valued in a more transcendental and holistic way since possibilities is always within them. This means that human beings are free and can choose their own path to achieve their good equipped with reasons, affection, and so on. Hence, we exalted them because they are priceless by their dignity. The further question is then: why should we are nowadays put price tag on human dignity?

The answer can be put upon the fact that our current circumstance does not realize the moral limit of the market as Sandel points out. When everyone thinks that he/she could buy other’s dignity and utilize them to his/her individual end, everyone will follow. This is a vicious circle. Since no one is reluctant to live alone and rather follow their peers, everyone will also follow majority who think that money can but everything. This then puts market society in the rise.

A further question will be asked: why can people put dignity as a commodity? The answer lays in the fact that we are now living in what Erich Fromm calls a having-mode structure. We are now overwhelmed with the paradigm that we are what we have and not we are what we are. With the premise that “we are what we have,” it is clear that I will be valued based upon what I have rather than what I should be as human beings. It may be very potential then to throw away dignity in order to have material things so we will not be viewed as inferior by others.

This is the simple example of vicious circle that lingers our society: having-mode structure will lead people to become greed since the more I have, the more other will value me. Thus, those who have much means will do everything efficiently to use other to have more. And on the other side, those who lack of means will sell everything include their dignity to have more means to have more. Indeed, both of them are downgrading their value as human beings since they neglect their dignity as human beings that are actually priceless and not based upon material things.

Thus, should we always walk in this kind of market society? Should we always put a price tag in everything? I am no longer amazed then if one day no one will do anything voluntarily just because they are not incentivized. No one will think about how to be a good human being by conducting healthy lifestyle except one gram of gold will be given upon them and also no one will think to find his/her own couple that he/she will spend the rest of his/her life since they may think that everything can be bought including couple. No one will value love as a transcendental value and no one will value human dignity as priceless either. In such a future, everything will be price tagged and there is a guide book named “The price of everything” that will be a guide to make a policy, to conduct justice, and so on. And in that era, we never remember what we ought to be as human beings.

 

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