Commercial Analysis

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A Frozen Abstraction

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This commercial is an example of the fallacy of the frozen abstraction. It treats one moral code – altruism – as the moral code, and thereby precludes the existence of any other. It also treats one type of way that money can go from one person to another – stealing – as the only way money can do that, and in doing so conflates trade with stealing. The two conflations – altruism as morality and trade as theft – are interrelated, of course. If you hold, as the altruist does, that it is your moral obligation to help others, then if you do not (or if you do, but compensate yourself for it) then you are stealing from them.

The people who constitute “the banks” are not their customer’s slaves. They exist to serve their own ends, and they do so by offering a service and asking to be compensated for performing it. Why is this immoral? Altruism has no answer. It simply asserts that it is, as if it were self-evident. But that assertion is internally inconsistent. If it is immoral for “the banks” to take a fee for holding your money, since they (allegedly) could just hold it for free – as this commercial demonstrates – then why is it moral for you to benefit from them by giving nothing to them in return? You could just hold it yourself. If “the banks” are evil and selfish when they ask to be compensated, would you not be equally evil and selfish if you were to receive their service for free?

What this commercial really demonstrates is not altruism, but benevolence. To agree to help a stranger in an emergency – even if there is no clear benefit to oneself – is far, far different than to, for example, do so day-in and day-out, in perpetuity, for the rest of one’s life. One is benevolence, the other is altruism. The man in this commercial did not agree to watch the money because he felt morally obligated to sacrifice he time for another. Just as banks do when they agree to take you on as a customer and hold your money for you, this man actually did what he did for selfish reasons (even if he were to say otherwise when directly asked). His moral obligation was to himself – which is why he helped someone else. Benevolence towards others presumes that people are basically good. Basically worth one’s time and effort in an emergency (and certainly someone would have to be dealing with an emergency in order to ask a stranger to hold $100,000 in cash for him). It presumes that emergencies are not the norm of life, and so to help another when they happen is only to protect a value (even if a very indirect one, as in the case of a stranger). It’s an investment, basically. Just like a bank’s investment in you when it agrees to do business with you. It expects a mutually-profitable outcome – and so do you when you agree to help a stranger in an emergency. The stranger gets to (hopefully) resolve his emergency, and you get to live in a world where there is one more decent, productive, unharmed person walking around (to say nothing of the “karma effect”, which refers to the fact that if you wish to live in a worlds where people are courteous and benevolent towards you, you must be that way towards them).

The fact that a bank – Ally – is willing to participate in twisting these already very twisted concepts even further – and to ad on an extra layer of distortion by explicitly claiming that not only is trade immoral, but that it’s also basically stealing – is despicable. They have committed treason to the very morality – the moral code of rational self-interest (not altruism) – which is the basis of all business simply for the sake of some short-term approval by an altruist public, and therefore a bump next quarter’s revenues. Whatever extra, added regulatory and financial oppression Ally – as part of the business community – experiences as a result of an ever more altruistic public voting for anti-business politicians, they will have no right to complain. They will have brought it upon their own heads.


Written by commercialanalysis

June 21, 2012 at 3:26 am

Posted in Finance

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