Means and Ends

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Harding College made a number of propaganda films designed to extol the virtues of capitalism vis-a-vis the Red Menace of communism. A number of those videos are available on YouTube.

The most amusing is Make Mine Freedom:

The message: Believing in things will only lead to trouble. Also: our divisions and problems can be solved by uniting together for an anti-communist lynch mob.

We also have Meet King Joe:

Message: Stop complaining, workers! You've got it better than anyone else in the world, and the reason is because of all the capital that American businessmen have lavished on you!

Why Play Leap Frog?:

Message: Your high wages are why everything costs so much, but if you go beyond your regular duties to improve plant efficiency, there might be a small bonus in it for you. Maybe. Unintentional Message: Creativity and productivity-enhancing innovations on the part of workers will result in small wage gains, which will be shared by all the workers, while the owners will reap the lion's share of the benefits. And the workers better be grateful for it!

But this is my favorite of them, Going Places: Fun and Facts About Business:

There's an idea, which I first saw expressed by Immanuel Kant, but could have come from elsewhere, that the height of irrationality is to confuse means with ends. That is, we come up with things that we want, and we derive ways of getting those things. We behave irrationally when we lose sight of the ultimate goals and being pursuing the means for their own sake, possibly to the detriment of our initial goals.

Example: You want to be healthier. You're overweight and decide that the best way to get healthier is to lose some weight. You do so, and eventually you reach a healthy weight. But you become obsessed with weight loss, and the idea that weighing less is always better. Weight loss becomes the goal in and of itself. You lose more weight, become underweight, and it has a negative impact on your health. You've confused ends and means, and have pursued your means to the detriment of the ultimate end.

This cartoon provides an excellent illustration of the principle. Freddie wants to go fishing, but can't because his family is poor and he has to stay home and make soap. He hates making soap and decides that, if he can find a better, faster way of doing it, he'll have more time for fishing. He spends years at this before he comes up with something. The soap sells quickly and he needs to make more. Soon he expands his operation and builds a factory. He begins selling his soap on national markets. He becomes a billionaire industrialist. He gets indicted for price-fixing.

And in the end he never gets to go fishing! In fact, the cartoon makes a point about this! "You can go fishing any time, Freddie!" But he doesn't. Freddie is consumed by greed, by the all-encompasing desire to make more, to improve his status, to keep up with the Sudsos. And for what cause? So he can make even more money. He never gets to go fishing. He loses sight of his dreams. He is the ultimate tragic figure of capitalism.

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This page contains a single entry by Zach published on February 19, 2008 8:55 PM.

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