Part III--Ethics and the Institutions of the Fourth Civilization

Chapter 8

Technology and Economic Institutions

All of the regular seminar participants are present for this session with the exception of Eider. Nellie and Lucas have each been interested in purchasing a used car, and the two of them have arrived in class from a trip together to a local automobile dealership.

Dorcas: I don't understand the term "automobile." How can something be self-mobile?

Nellie: Think of it as a horseless chariot, Dorcas.

Lucas: It has an internal combustion engine, wheels, brakes, and a method of steering the whole thing.

Dorcas: I think I got more out of Nellie's abstraction than yours; but thanks anyway, Lucas.

Professor: So how did you two make out in the car market?

Nellie: Typical bunch of crooks--they tried the old bait-and-switch on us.

Lucas: Well, we went down to Mammoth Motors in Aldergrove to look at a used '74 Python they had advertised for $500. When we got there, the saleswoman says: "Well, we only had one of those, and it's sold. How about an '82 Anaconda for $1250 or an '84 Diamondback for $1795?"

Nellie: Then, while we're looking at them, we see the Python parked over in the next isle with the sign still on it.

Lucas: Yeah, and when we ask about it, she says: "Well, you don't really want to buy that car anyway; these are much better."

Nellie: So we say, "We'll think about it."

Lucas: Then she says: "Well, you're going to buy cars from us anyway."

Johanna: A little presumptuous of her.

Nellie: For sure. Well, that crack soured us both on the whole outfit, so we left.

Dorcas: The car was broken?

Nellie: No, just the sales force. Bunch of insincere snakes.

Dorcas: There was wax in the crack?

Nellie: Different kind of crack, Dorcas.

Johanna: Sounds like they could use a little lawsuit.

Ellen: Forget that. There's no point in suing anyone unless there's at least $10,000 involved; anything less isn't worth a lawyer's time.

Johanna: But these car dealers shouldn't be allowed to get away with that kind of thing. What kind of place is this Mammoth motors, anyway?

Nellie: It's one of Lester T. Flood's Weepster dealerships.

Lucas: Is that the guy who became the mayor and then got his property re-zoned for a car lot?

Ellen: Good old Lester T. Non-Disclosure himself. He had that ownership so well-hidden that nobody even knew it was his land until it was too late. Then he said it was in his wife's name so it wasn't really a conflict.

Dorcas: What is non-disclosure?

Nellie: Try the New Testament book of Acts, Chapter 5.

Dorcas: Ananias and Sapphira? They claimed to be giving to the Church the whole price of the land they sold, when it was only a portion.

Nellie: Right. Non-Disclosure is a name for lying about your business deals in order to gain an advantage.

Dorcas: I take it this Flood is well known.

Johanna: He's the one who owns the pornography stores isn't he?

Lucas: Now, don't be too hard on the guy. That's just a chain of ordinary newsstand concessions.

Ellen: More than half their stock is pornographic magazines. The guy is a monstrous enemy of women.

Lucas: But, if he didn't sell those magazines, someone else would. There's nothing unusual about his business.

Johanna: You're defending him? I suppose you buy little-boy fantasies from his stores too.

Lucas: (flushing) I can't afford magazines period, so why would I even go into his stores?

Nellie: (quietly) What about his martial arts store?

Lucas: (defensively) It's the only place I can get my foils and sabres.

Dorcas: People still fight with swords here?

Nellie: (to her) Lucas is a champion fencer. It's a demonstration sport. I do it too. Nobody gets hurt. (turning to Lucas) What else does he sell there?

Lucas: knives, karate garments...

Nellie: Guns?

Lucas: Yes

Nellie: And, you know him, don't you, Lucas. Tell us where.

Lucas: (reluctantly) He goes to my guardian's church.

Ellen: That's just lovely, isn't it. Here's this guy who runs shyster auto businesses, gets into conflict-of-interest in politics, exploits women, and sells guns for his weekday activities and where is he on Sunday? He washes the blood of his victims off just long enough not to get it on his hymn book.

Lucas: He's very generous.

Ellen: Oh, sure. You shake hands with him in church and I bet you have to count your fingers afterwards.

Johanna: (to the Professor) Tell us about that offer he made the university last year.

Professor: Well, as you know, we're pretty hard up for cash here at MUSHEAT, being a private university. About a year ago, Flood approached the board with an offer for a two million dollar endowment if we would name the new science building we need after him. He also wanted to develop the land he owns next door. It's zoned agricultural but if the university went partners with him and bought it, then it would become subdividable. He would have split the profits with us as well.

Lucas: (with interest) How much?

Johanna: Another five million. Tell us what happened next.

Professor: The Board of Governors turned him down.

Lucas: You're kidding. Why would they care where the money came from?

Professor: The vote was unanimous. They asked the faculty, too, and there wasn't one of us who hesitated. The money would have saved the institution from near bankruptcy at the time, but no one wanted it.

Johanna: And that's why I enrolled here. This place had some convictions. I may not agree with them all--in fact they're mostly the opposite of mine--but that's better than wishy-washy opinion poll-following liberalism.

Nellie: It seems a few other people were happy too. Enrollment is up thirty percent this year and applications by sixty percent more for next.

Professor: There was a lot of publicity that none of us anticipated, but there may be other factors involved as well. The economy has improved a lot in the last two years.

Ellen: No thanks to companies like Weepster, even setting aside the local leeches like Flood.

Lucas: But, doesn't the auto industry drive the economy?

Ellen: Mainly for the benefit of its capitalist owners and managers. Look at Weepster Corporation itself. They paid Lee Nader, their president, nearly fifteen million dollars last year in salaries and stocks.

Lucas: He turned the company around.

Ellen: (emphatically) Nobody's services are ever worth fifteen million. That's money out of the pockets of his workers, the shirts off their backs, and food out of their kids' mouths.

Nellie: I think you're overdoing it, Ellen. After all, you can't speak to these issues without a conflict too--you are a union organizer.

Ellen: I help the oppressed to achieve justice and equality.

Lucas: It seems to me that you union leaders are the chief obstacle to both. You oppose progress at every step, and that's detrimental to your workers in the long run.

Ellen: Eventually, the workers must control the means of production.

Johanna: Then, let's privatize government services by selling them to the workers.

Ellen: No. That's just a capitalist trick.

Lucas: One that would result in all the union-run businesses going broke.

Nellie: Or, if they did apply proper business techniques for a change, it would translate into more efficiency, hence fewer union members and less power for people like Ellen.

Professor: I have to call a halt now. We'll return to the topic of government next time. Here are last week's assignments.

The Professor returns their recent essays and then leaves. The students shuffle through their work for a few moments and then Ellen remarks to no one in particular:

Ellen: I wonder how Eider did on this?

Lucas: Who?

Nellie: (with forced casualness) Oh, she's another student who comes sometimes. Come on Lucas, let's go have a chat with Alicia.

The two leave, and Dorcas also departs, leaving only Johanna and Ellen.

Johanna: Do you get the feeling we're being manipulated by the author?

Ellen: I know I'm real, but I wonder about some of the others. Is the futuristic stuff in this book fiction or non-fiction?

Johanna: Guess we just have to wait and see.

The Fourth Civilization Table of Contents
Copyright © 1988-2002 by Rick Sutcliffe
Published by Arjay Books division of Arjay Enterprises