Friday, March 15, 2013

Good Business



(the story "Entropy" expanded)

- When you stir in the oil floating at the top of a jar of peanut butter and you change direction of your stirring, from counter clockwise to clockwise or vice versa, you don't undo the mixing.
- Like running a film backwards.
- Have you ever wondered why not?
- Isn't it an example of entropy?
- If we were plowing a field, and after digging one furrow changed our mind, and went back the other way, no one would expect anything other than an even deeper furrow being dug, not the return of an un-plowed field. Why expect any different with the peanut butter?
- I don't know.
- The peanut butter is contained in the jar. The jar acts as a sort of memory device. We imagine that every part remains in contact with the others, that the regular effects of our regular action are preserved there to be undone. In the case of the open field we can see the piles of soil thrown out of the way to both sides of the channel are only added to by our reversed direction. We don't undo the mixing.
- Ok.
- With the first circular movements the peanut butter closest to the spoon is displaced and moves away, then the peanut butter now newly closest is moved, and it passes on the movement to the formerly closest, and then with the continuing motion of our spoon the newly closest is moved, etc.... But when we change the direction of the spoon we move only the closest of the peanut butter without undoing all the changes upon changes we have already done. We start at the beginning again of an new avalanche of changes, which in fact disrupts the order of the other direction's avalanche of change.
- Creating entropy.
- And order too. We like our peanut butter evenly mixed. Every time we change directions we create more entropy, more order.
- Why do we talk about entropy if we also are creating order?
- Because our order is a simple reversal. It is done by "rule".
- All our science then creates disorder, our laws, our culture. Pollution, overpopulation, nuclear weapons. Is that what you mean?
- That too, but I was thinking of the disorder introduced into human nature itself.
- How?
- For example, buying and selling, the usual way we exchange things. I give you this, you give me back that. The two actions are supposed to be equivalent, and we make a lot of effort to make sure they are, otherwise we feel cheated. But making a direct return is like attempting to un-stir the peanut butter.
- You mean having to give when you don't want to?
- Yes.
- The rules force us to do what we don't want. That's the point.
- We have to subdue our evil nature?
- Yes.
- And if instead, far from being evil, we are stirring up the world by our attempts in the direction of sympathy, good will, creativity, and suddenly we are stopped dead by the rules of exchange? And all the good we have accomplished so far is not only not continued but, like happens in the jar of peanut butter, is dispersed in the simple order of the new direction?
- We just have to live with it. Do the best we can, be honest with each other.
- You know, before I came home I was in Israel for a while.
- I've heard.
- If ever there was a place where exchange was creating chaos out of human nature Israel is that place.
- They're dishonest?
- Well, that's what's interesting. Everyone seems to be a genius where ever you go, cashiers in the corner store, bus drivers. Everything is discussed, everything is in contention. You get the idea that the result of all this discussion ought to be fairness.
- And it's not?
- No. They have a saying: before you buy, Israel is a democracy, after you buy, Israel is a dictatorship. Living there you learn to pay more attention to things, and like the Israelis to have contempt for the things you are paying attention to.
- They cheat because they have contempt for exchange? And that increases entropy?
- Decreases entropy.
- Why?
- Because you are aware of the war that is going on. Exchange pulls you one way, you push back, but for your own reasons.
- If to make more money that's only another rule.
- Yes. The reason has to be good.
- How do you know your reason is good?
- It's not easy. In Israel everything I had was in the contention for exchange, everything right down to my own body which like all other things has to do its own giving and taking with the world. This computer here is from Israel. A friendly puppy knocked my old one off my lap and down crashing to the ground. I went shopping for a replacement, and found a store with a lot of used laptops. The usual PhD. dissertation level discussion with the shop owner ensued, then preliminaries completed he asked me what happened to my head. I explained to him my theories about exchange, how I was walking down the arcades of this very street a couple nights before when a man looked at me strangely as he passed from the opposite direction, I turned to look some more, and next thing I know my head is bouncing off a pillar of the arcade. Before that I'd had two telephones stolen I didn't want in the first place and got cheated when I bought but my English students insisted I have, and the afternoon before I bashed my head I was walking down the street trying to keep my face out of the sun. Suddenly I was brought to a stop by the side of a utility box city authorities decided to plant in the middle of the sidewalk. My long-time possessed fountain pen, stowed as usual in my breast pocket, snapped in half, ink dumped over my favorite shirt. All this in the space of weeks. Even my books were disappearing from cafe tables. The place was at war with me.
- And you were losing.
- I was losing out in the exchange, me who thought himself pretty wised up, with all my experience dealing with watches. But I wasn't really losing. Israel kept me thinking. It was bracing, like the incoming rockets that landed in the neighborhood while I was in Tel Aviv.
- Did you get cheated with the new computer?
- Not much at all.
- What was wrong?
- The battery that was supposed to last an hour and half by the next day was lasting 15 minutes and by the day after only a minute.
- You went back to the store....
- I didn't consider it. I'd taken my broken pen to the authorized dealer. They asked me where I was from, when I was going home. Why? I should get the pen repaired in L.A. In Israel they'd charge me more than the pen cost new. Why? It's Israel. You hear that all the time in Israel.
- "It's Israel." They really say that?
- Yes.
- How can they stand it?
- With continuous discussion, debate, contention. Contention allows individuals to hold themselves together.
- But not as a country. So you got out of that mess and came back home. What about your computer?
- I looked on the internet. Batteries were not available from the manufacturer. Other companies offered original batteries and non-original. American sellers of original batteries warned against fakes from overseas. Used batteries were also offered, original used, non original used, and presumably fake original too. I decided that the "original" battery from China, though cheap, was probably fake, since my battery said made in Japan, and the new original offered in the U.S at four times the price was too expensive. A used original battery from the U.S. seemed the best bet.
- Weren't you ashamed, sinking so deep in this entropy of exchange?
- No. I guess I'd become an honorary Israeli, flourishing in this world of real and fake, old and new, original and substitute. I ended up buying a battery on Ebay. When I went on line to pay I saw the seller had put another for sale, and wrote asking him to combine the shipping, offering one price for the two. The seller counter offered, I counter offered. The seller got upset, wrote: pay within one hour or the deal is off. I wrote, send a new invoice for the 2 batteries. Invoice arrives, but lists only one, the additional cost of the second battery added to the shipping. I write, please note on the invoice there are two batteries being sold. Seller replies he's had enough of this, pay now or forget it. I answer, reconsider adding the two words. Seller gets offensive. I write, sorry you feel that way. Seller gets more offensive. Adds a few racial and ethnic slurs. (The auction account I was using belonged to my friend whose last name might be Italian or of a Southern continent.) Unanswered, seller adds veiled threats.
- You never got your battery?
- I found a company operating out of Nevada that had the same 2 batteries at a lower price. I gave them a call and a human being came to the telephone within a minute. The batteries arrived 2 days later. One was good, one wasn't. I wrote the company. They answered within an hour, and sent a replacement which arrived 2 days later. That battery was bad too. I wrote the company, and they again are sending a replacement.
- Their honesty in exchange must be ruining your life. Increasing entropy.
- I think instead their being honest in a dishonest world is gratuitous and creative. An act of generosity.
- Or simply good business.