Negotiating… The back and forth between two seemingly equal participants… The interchange of wills struggling for supremacy, at last arriving at a mutually beneficial agreement: that is the popular conception of the art of negotiation, and as with the popular notion of the self-made man, it’s nothing more than a crock of shit. Negotiating is tied in with our collective, individualistic ideal, one which says that it’s up to the employee or the shopper to decide for themselves, assuming that all is fair and equal in the worlds of labor and product consumption. In the world capitalist’s environment, opportunity is spread fairly among all people; they simply have to fight for what they want. In this magical world of opportunity, any one of you, even you, can become a self-made millionaire.
Life, as most of us accept, is much more complex, and nuanced; opportunity exists for some, while limited for most others. To consider people as being self-determined, and unconstrained by limitations, we give ourselves an out for unethical behavior, placing the impetus on others to negotiate fair wages and to preclude themselves from being scammed; it is in this sense that the scammer can sustain his self-esteem while easily abdicating responsibility for his crimes. Protecting one another is a sin, and to the capitalist, it’s costly. For in a society of great wealth, the means of amassing it constitutes exploitation and stealth, convincing the public that they too can become rich and that it’s their moral duty to care for themselves. They exploit male pride and our pervasive sense of individualism, needing to do little to convince the man who won’t dare ask for directions that he ought to be the caretaker for his family.
As we go down the rabbit hole of “entitlements” and “big government,” rather than finding a nefarious plot to conquer the minuscule details of our daily lives, we discover security and safety, regulations which protect us from trusts (and their subsequent over-pricing, as with the cable companies), the poverty of unemployment, absurd medical bills in cases of health crises, and scams. We erroneously believe that we’re capable of handling ourselves in a wild west type scenario, but sometimes, it’s okay to ask for directions, and more often than not, we need to. I am not an expert on banking and loans, and I’m certainly not immune to scam artists, so I’d prefer it if there were a set of guidelines preventing predatory lending and being ripped off by common thieves. In our uncritical assessment of the marketplace, we tend to forget that we aren’t experts in most subjects, not even when it pertains to simple directions. Therefore, we need a government which protects us, and if that means less free enterprise, then so be it. What is it that we would actually be losing?
Free enterprise is conversion therapy; free enterprise is alternative energy companies knocking on your door and selling you a lie; free enterprise is reiki energy therapy, homeopathy, and EMDR; free enterprise is predatory lending, where loans with increasing interest rates are given to the poorest and least educated; and, free enterprise is the invisible hand of capitalism discovering ways to underpay its labor force. You see, the art of negotiation, in a labor market which includes unpaid interns, contracted workers, and low-salaried, entry-level employees, is less of an art and more of a scam: the illusion of choice, and the illusion of power. The game has always been rigged and the power lies with those who affect its rules. Negotiation becomes murkier when we acknowledge how stacked the other side’s deck is. In business, as in life, you’ll find that the people who have will do whatever they can to maintain their lot. Free enterprise, upon closer inspection, is farther away from the ideals of the great myths on which America was founded. Free enterprise is costly.
For those of us who struggle with social anxiety, negotiating can be torment, as we try to explore our value relative to the current state of the market. If we were to be honest with ourselves, most of us would admit that we struggle with assertiveness, especially when first entering the labor force; our salaries, and our livelihoods, shouldn’t depend on our psychologies, nor be hindered by them. If we wish to create a just society, if we really want to be fair, we should rid ourselves of negotiation, creating, alternatively, a set of guidelines for fair compensation all across the labor spectrum. I hope that you’ll forgive me if I choose to focus on treating my patients instead of creating arguments for a raise. Fairness is paying someone what they’re owed, without the burden of negotiation.
Which side are you on, boys? Which side are you on?…