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Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 2:18amSanction this postReply
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To avoid these unjust situation, you need to focus on the fact that a conflict of interests is created. 
A conflict of interest can be best sorted out through better communication in my opinion. Especially as you are talking about "little injustices". Of course, depending on your personality - what one person sees as a conflict of interest, another may not. When that judgement of values differs between the two people they will most likely cease to be friends if it is an important enough issue for them.

In the Lobster example:
You could say, "would you mind if I ordered a Lobster? I don't want to abuse your generosity. If you prefer I can pay for half of it."

If both are honest about it, this would diffuse any potential conflict.





Post 1

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 5:57amSanction this postReply
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Communication solves so many problems.  Good advice, Joe.



Post 2

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 6:15amSanction this postReply
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Whenever someone brings up the abuse of generosity on picking up tabs, it reminds me of a dinner I had with two young, poor objectivist acquaintances (in their early 20s), whom I told that I'd pay for their meals at a Chinese restaurant.

Without blinking, one blithely ordered the duck (the most expensive meal) and the other ordered the plum sauce mandarin beef (the second-most expensive meal). The look on their faces when they were eating these delicacies almost made their abuse worthwhile. I was fascinated that there seemed to be not even the least disturbance in their moral universe for ordering so far up the menu -- and without being close enough to me to be able to do so without a tinge of conscience.

Most of the time, though, I have terrific experiences with Objectivists, who either ask if they can have the more expensive meal, or do something for me afterward, or offer a little to help out with their expensive meal, or who are already so close to me that they know I would want them to get the most expensive meal if they wish. (Aquinas and I eat a business lunch together pretty often and know that we can order two of anything (or everything in Aquinas' case) on the menu because it all washes out and because we know how responsible the other is and how much we love each other.)

But I always know that in any such scenarios that if I don't put limitations on what I say, then I must abide by my word and pay up at the cash register. I just may never offer again. ;-)




Post 3

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 7:01amSanction this postReply
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David,

I thought your story was a good example. Someone on another thread (was it J.J. Tuan???) talked about this and the zero sum mentality. I'll have to go find it and put a link here as well.

Ethan




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Post 4

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 11:10amSanction this postReply
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Hello everyone.  1st post here, and I'm enjoying the site so far.  I just wanted to say that when I offer to pay for a meal I do so without begrudging someone their choice.  If the most expensive item on the menu will cause you financial pangs or begrudgement then dont offer to pay.  Likewise, if I offer to pick up the tab, it's my treat whatever the tab may be.  If someone is worth the price of the shrimp but not  the price of the lobster dont make the offer.



Post 5

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 12:36pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks, Ethan. I'll take a look at that.

Jody, you are right, of course, but it is common etiquette, I think, to order something along the middle or upper-middle of pricing when someone else is paying -- unless it is someone you know well and you know they don't mind. Otherwise, saying something like, "You know, I'm thinking I may get lobster, so let me give you a hand with the tab."

At that point, I can say, "No, are you kidding? I got it."




Post 6

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 1:30pmSanction this postReply
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David,

It was in J.J.'s article here: http://solohq.com/Articles/jj/Crappy_Buffet.shtml Which Joe also linked in this article. I shold have just fololwed his link, instead I kept reading and forgot to check it out when I was done.

Ethan

(Edited by Ethan Dawe on 6/09, 1:36pm)




Post 7

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 1:54pmSanction this postReply
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Marcus, it's true that communication can solve the problem sometimes.  The lunch example is fine.  But I gave more examples than that.  The Atlas Shrugged motor company is a huge conflict of interest, and communication isn't going to solve their problems.  Similarly with lending the money, communication isn't quite good enough. 

The person borrowing has to make countless decisions before he can pay it back, and each one will pit his own interests against that of the lender.  He can make educated guesses at what the lender would find an acceptable expenditure, but instead of optimizing his values he'll always seek to be well below the asshole-threshold.  They can discuss every expenditure between them, which is better communication as you suggested, but that would be even more painful.

Plus, as I said, there's another solution.  You can avoid the conflicts of interest entirely.  Why try to alleviate the problems that come with a conflict of interest when you can simply remove them?

Now if someone else creates the conflict, by suggesting they'll buy you lunch, your idea of offering to pay (or pay half) can fix it.  But there may end up being other concerns in your attempt to repair it.  If he says no, he'll pay for it, is it because he's fine with it?  Or because he doesn't want to look cheap?  Or because he already offered and doesn't feel right about taking it back over a few extra dollars?  Etc.

The point is that once the conflict is there, you have problems.  Communication may at times alleviate the conflict, but it may not be that simple.  Isn't it best to avoid it?

Ethan, I already linked to that it my article. Just saw your last post saying you saw it.  Nevermind.

Jody, welcome to SOLO.  You said you'd be willing to pay for the most expensive item on the menu when you treat someone to lunch.  I could ask whether you'd be willing to let them buy two of those items, since there's always ways a blank check can be abused.  But that misses the point of my article.  If it were just the rude guest who abuses your offer, you may be willing to pay that cost once.  But my article points out that when a conflict of interests is created, the considerate guest is affected as well.  They have to worry about abusing your generosity.  It doesn't matter that you may be willing to pay for it, if they're not sure about that.

And really, when you offer to take someone to lunch, are you really expecting them to buy the most expensive meal, appetizers, drinks, etc.?  You may be prepared to spend it, but is that the same thing?  Maybe it is.  Maybe you go in fully expecting to pay $30 for a lunch for someone else while you spend $6 on yourself.  But if your guest is considerate, do you think they'll assume that?




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Post 8

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 2:50pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the welcome Joseph.  In answer to your question: yes, if someone offers to pay for my meal I assume they are familiar with the restaurant and possible costs, so while I would not take that as carte blanche to buy a round for the house, I would assume that if I order the porterhouse instead of the petite sirloin they will not bat an eye.  Maybe it's because I only offer/am offered a "my treat" meal with those I'm closest to.  Strangers would have to treat themselves.  I see your point, and I suppose I could get a Humean surprise at any time, but those I would make such offers to I know well enough to know they would not take advantage-and I dont see ordering what you like taking advantage if I have made the offer sans stipulation.



Post 9

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 6:14pmSanction this postReply
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Joe:

You hit the nail on the head when you said ...
Maybe you go in fully expecting to pay $30 for a lunch for someone else while you spend $6 on yourself.  But if your guest is considerate, do you think they'll assume that? [Emphasis mine.]
In another thread, I asked whether self-interest stops at our own skin, or includes the interests of others. I answered it this way:
NH: Most people are endowed by nature with qualities which make them care about the welfare of other people. If morality is to be derived from the nature of human beings, the value of others must be included in that morality. That is also in our own self-interest, which does not stop at the boundary of our own skin.
 
http://solohq.com/Forum/GeneralForum/0486.shtml#10
The issue you raise would seem related to the issue of how far self-interest extends. It may be in our narrow self-interest-of-the-moment to "maximize" every opportunity, to squeeze every ounce of value for ourselves from a friendship or a business deal, but is it in our long-term general self-interest? Not usually.

Consideration for others - a genuine caring about what's good for others as well as for ourselves - usually results in a better life for all.

Nathan Hawking




Post 10

Thursday, June 9, 2005 - 9:07pmSanction this postReply
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Good article Joe. But have you ever thought about it from the Marx-esque perspective of "your gain must be my loss?" What consequences does a zero sum mentality have on those who see themselves as victims?

One consequence that is immediately obvious to me is the concept of retroactive equality, i.e., any past misfortunes must be made up for by aid in the present. For example, person A didn't have access to the quality of schooling as person B. A and B are applying for the same job and A isn't as qualified or able as B. However, because A was at a disadvantage in background education he should be favored for the job to make up for past inequalities. This easily flows into "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" (not by coincidence a Marxian idea) and the problems that arise from it.

I think it is then pertinent to ask, how does one show that life, or more precisely capitalism since it is most often accused of exploitative acts, is not necessarily zero sum? I'm thinking specifically of those who defend Marx's idea of the alienated worker, where simply being a wage earner is to be exploited no matter how much the person earns.

Incidentally, I was called racist because, in the above example, I argued that A and B should be judged on equal ground as to who would most likely do the job better. It should be noted that nothing had been said of race previous to that point. I am unable to comprehend the mindset that led to the accusation.

Edit: After rereading the posts I realized that it was Ethan who started talking about zero sum and not Joe. Sorry. My comments still stand though.
(Edited by Sarah House
on 6/09, 9:19pm)




Post 11

Friday, June 10, 2005 - 7:07amSanction this postReply
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Hi Sarah,

Actually it was J.J. Tuan who was talking about zero-sum mentality in people in her article "Crappy Buffet" that Joe linked to in his article.

You asked:
What consequences does a zero sum mentality have on those who see themselves as victims?
Without the time to go into a detailed answer right now, I'll say that the consequences of zero-sum mentality are the similar to the consequences of any incorrect philosophy: it harms your life. People who see things in a zero-sum way are setting themselves up to reject the harmony of interests. They are out to take as much as they can from everyone, because that's the only way to get ahead. Altruists are in the the same boat, but worse. They are constantly trying to reject values to be moral, but to live this just doesn't work consistently. Therefore they are mentally conflicted with any actions they take to survive. In both cases, the situtation is very depressing to the person who thinks that way. Perhaps I'll have a chance to add more later.

Ethan

(Edited by Ethan Dawe on 6/10, 1:27pm)




Post 12

Friday, June 10, 2005 - 9:00amSanction this postReply
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Hi Joe,
Now if someone else creates the conflict, by suggesting they'll buy you lunch, your idea of offering to pay (or pay half) can fix it.  But there may end up being other concerns in your attempt to repair it.  If he says no, he'll pay for it, is it because he's fine with it?  Or because he doesn't want to look cheap?  Or because he already offered and doesn't feel right about taking it back over a few extra dollars? 
Not really. In my opinion if someone can't communicate with me openly and honestly then that person is a pathetic poser and does not deserve to be my friend in the first place. That's not to say that I am oblivious to someone else's sensitivity or awkwardness about something, but when asked directly, a friend has the obligation to answer me honestly. They don't have to answer the question if they don't want to, but they should say so if that is the case.

The point is that once the conflict is there, you have problems.  Communication may at times alleviate the conflict, but it may not be that simple.  Isn't it best to avoid it?
No, I find it is best to confront the thing head on. Don't suffer in silence! I mean, if you can't share thoughts and feelings with a friend, what sort of friend are they?

Shouldn't true friends respect one another as equals and trade value for value?




Post 13

Friday, June 10, 2005 - 12:34pmSanction this postReply
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Jody, with close friends, you may not have anything to worry about.  And maybe they'll know that they can buy whatever they like when you're buying.  But generally, the considerate guest is going to worry about spending too much.  And the worrying comes from this conflict of interest.  If you don't want them to worry, you can avoid it entirely.

Nathan, I agree that consideration for others can be beneficial.  But of course, that's not a blank check.

Sarah, I think Ethan answered you.  And you can read the article he mentioned.

Marcus, we're coming from two different perspectives.  Let me try to close the gap a little.

You talked about communication, but I see that as a very difficult proposition.  It's fine for me to say I'm willing to pay $8 for your lunch.  But how much less willing am I to buy the lunch if it's $8.25?  Or $8.50?  Or $9?  Or $10?  The problem here is that we have a scale of values.  You could potentially graph it as a function.  Up until some expected price range, it the "cost" of the lunch may seem about the same. You don't really care if they buy a $6 lunch or a $7 lunch.  But as you get higher and higher, how much more do I care?

Now, how do you communicate that?  Communicating how strongly you value something is difficult in the first place.  You can sometime do it by comparing it to something you value about the same, but that assumes you have it clear in your own head.  But how do you value the whole range of things?  It's difficult.  And the fact that it's a subtle change over time is tough.  You could always say:

Up to $8 - complete acceptable and I wouldn't think otherwise
Up to $9 - A little more than I expect, but you're a friend so I won't let it bother me
Up to $10 - A little more.  Starting to get a little surprised.  But again, I did offer.
Up to $12 - Okay...that extra appetizer was pushing it, but maybe this is normal for you and I should have known better before offering.
Up to $14 - Okay...I'm starting to question how good of a friend you are.  Of course, I'm willing to pay, but this is the last time.
Up to $16 - I'll never do anything nice for you again
Up to $18 - I'm not going to call you ever again.  I want nothing to do with you.
Up to $20 - You sick, sick bastard!
Up to $25 - My goal in life is clear now.  I must destroy you.
Up to $30 - I'll torture you before I destroy you.
Beyond $30 - We'll have to cleanse the earth of your entire bloodline.

But honestly, this is simplistic.  It's very difficult to communicate that.  More likely you'll say what Jody said, "...when I offer to pay for a meal I do so without begrudging someone their choice".  And that's because when you offer to buy someone lunch, you don't expect them to eat a small salad and drink water for a grand sum of $2.50.  You want them to be comfortable ordering what they want, and not worrying about crossing a line.  But since it's difficult to convey your own value hierarchy to them, what will they end up doing?  They'll try to err on the side of caution.

The whole point is the conflict of interest.  One man's gain is another man's loss.  You know that each additional dollar you spend is costing the other person.  But you also know that each additional dollar puts him closer to the point where he won't be happy with having offered you lunch.  Each additional dollar you spend is costing you good will in the relationship.  Knowing that, the considerate person will try to keep his costs very reasonable.  It's exactly because the friends want to trade value for value that the considerate person will want to be very careful.  He's trading good will for free food.  And the rational guest will know that the good will is worth a lot more than a side order of french fries!




Post 14

Friday, June 10, 2005 - 1:34pmSanction this postReply
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Joe,

How can I be aware of a conflict of interest unless it is communicated to me?

I can only know if there is a potential conflict if the friend somehow indicates their values or preferences to me.




Post 15

Friday, June 10, 2005 - 2:31pmSanction this postReply
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Marcus, you can be aware of a conflict of interest when you recognize that your gain comes at a loss to someone else.  That's all you need to know to see that there is a conflict.  It may be, as in the lunch example, that up until some amount of money they actual prefer you benefit.  The point of my last post was that there isn't a clear and perfect cut off line.  And generally, people know that.  I'm sure if someone offered to pay for you, you wouldn't ask for extra meals to take home with you.  Some examples are obvious.  But there's a gradual progression from willing and happy on one side, and resentful and angry on the other. 

My point is that there's no need to have this basic conflict.  There's no need to create a situation where the lunch guest (or money borrower, or factory worker) needs to weigh his own benefits against the loss of a friend.  When the friend offers at the end of the meal to pay, you don't have to worry that you're taking advantage of them.  They weren't obligated to offer, and that they have shows clearly that they think it's worth it.  But if they offer before, you constantly have to worry, not just about your own set of values, but about the values of the other person.  Why go through the unnecessary trouble?




Post 16

Friday, June 10, 2005 - 3:34pmSanction this postReply
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Joe, Ethan:

I did read the article and no, my question wasn't answered. At least, not to any degree of satisfaction. Ethan, I know you said your answer was just preliminary so I hope you don't take this as an attack on you, which it isn't. I don't like cookie-cutter answers. That's what I got. And my second question wasn't even addressed!

Perhaps I'll just start another thread on the topic.



Post 17

Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 6:22amSanction this postReply
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Joe, post #13's Table of Grievance Escalation just kills me! You can buy me lunch anytime. Esp if choosing Lobster to Eggs Benedict might mean I toy with my children's destiny... what stimulating company!




Post 18

Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 8:55amSanction this postReply
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Sarah,

I'm working on a more satisfactory answer right now. It may be until tomorrow though.

Ethan




Post 19

Saturday, June 11, 2005 - 4:19pmSanction this postReply
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Joe - interesting perspective, and I definitely agree with your loan example (as I ran into precisely that problem once).

But I have a quibble with your meal example. I think it is actually fairly complex, and depends upon the nature of the friendship, people, finances, etc.

I admit that it might be just me, but I'd rather know up front what the "deal was." If someone offers to pay for me afterwards, that would make me feel quite awkward. In general, I wouldn't want them to, but fighting over it would be in (excuse the pun) bad taste too!

You tackle the case where a conscientious person orders below his preferences to avoid burdening his friend. But such a conscientious person might equally feel bad if, after ordering a more expense than average meal, was suddenly faced with their friend paying for the meal. Your rejoinder might be: well, then offer (insist?) on paying the difference. OK - but, conversely, if the deal is proposed first, I could equally well say that I would kick in some money because I wanted to order Finney's freshest fish French fried.

All this is a rather wordy way of saying that I think your loan example is much better than the meal example!




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