|The Slow Strange Death of Economic Man|
- Published on Monday, 29 September 2014 11:40
David Fincher, director of the film Gone Girl, complains about the ‘whole f**ing likeability thing’ affecting how audiences receive his films. Characters he argues must be good or bad, not a saint with a serious flaw or weakness which makes him or her morally ambiguous.. The blurring of good and bad is morally ‘unsatisfying’ to the modern audience. The real world, however, is full of morally ambiguous characters like you and me, and moral complexity like Palestine and Syria. To head in the opposite direction - towards satisfying people - is yet another strand of a bigger argument about the slow strange death of economic man.
Economic man is a new creation. Adam Smith, the father of Economics (and also a moral philosopher) wrote his great book, The Wealth of Nations in 1776. It was only as the industrial revolution gathered momentum in the nineteenth century that economic man was born - that is humankind largely seen as satisfaction-maximisers and profit-maximisers, where we live to consume and have happiness measured in desires articulated and then satisfied. Workers change labour for wages and then pay for goods and services which they determine by their choice votes in a great big economic democracy. Or at least, so the theory goes.
Of course, this idea is a fiction: workers are exploited by capitalists; governments control some resource allocation in all societies, even our so called free market economy; the rich have more wealth votes than the poor and human beings are by their very nature not best served by utilitarian philosophy. This is because we don’t rest our biggest life decisions on utilitarian assumptions - I don’t maximises pleasure and minimise pain when I visit my dying mother, I don’t eat Mars Bars up to the point where I start to feel slightly sick and I don’t simply consume to satisfy my desires. I consider the interests of others, I operate by ideas of duty for duty’s sake (visiting my mum), I recognise that the experience of pain may be a good and necessary thing (ask the athlete competing in the Olympics) and most significant of all, I know deep down that my own welfare rests upon often costly co-operation with my neighbour and fellow citizen. Click below to read more...Add a comment