Two Gentlemen of the Piazza: A Twitter Encounter

The following dialogue is a reconstructed and embellished adaptation of an enjoyable Twitter argument I had with @DexterRoy527, a conservative who despised me. In this fictionalization, myself and Mr. Roy527 are played by two gentlemen flâneurs, who meet in the piazza at midday. I am represented by the character of “Barnes,” while “Humboldt” stands in for Mr. Roy527.

It is midday in the piazza. Barnes and Humboldt, two gentlemen flâneurs, arrive separately. Each is on his daily post-croissant saunter. Exhausted by the effect of the sun’s intense heat, they seat themselves in the gazebo to recover.

After sitting quietly for several minutes, Barnes exhales and speaks aloud to no one in particular:

Barnes: Ah, I am very much looking forward to the socialist utopia…

Humboldt, aghast, replies forcefully. The following dialogue commences:

Humboldt: Barnes, if you truly believe what you have just said, you are the most ignorant man who has ever lived. Already we live in a world where people lie about uselessly and contribute nothing; how much worse would it be under socialism! Then they would truly be unmotivated.

Barnes: Oh, goodness, Humboldt, I don’t intend to take away their motivation.

Humboldt: Your blessed socialism would take away motivation by definition! But I bet those Marxist professors in your graduate school would be extremely proud of you for thinking otherwise.

Barnes: Well, as for those professors of mine, how I wish they were Marxists! No, they are watery liberals. Very disagreeable indeed. But regarding motivation, I myself am a socialist and am extremely motivated.

Humboldt: Bah. From where is this motivation of yours derived?

Barnes: Why, dear Humboldt, from enjoyment! Being productive is enjoyable. The pursuit of riches is not the only stimulant to action, you know.

Humboldt: That may be very well for a member of the loafing professoriat like yourself. But what of the men who do the dirty jobs? The hog-catchers and shit-sweepers? It cannot be from sheer enjoyment that they rise each morning and take up their nauseating tasks.

Barnes: Humboldt, those men have a very simple motivation. Their motivation is that if they do not do their jobs, their families will starve. The shit must be swept if the children are to be fed.

Humboldt: Aha! So it is the remuneration that motivates. Their motivation would cease in your beloved, unworkable socialist utopia!

Barnes: Humboldt, my friend, if you are comfortable with threatening people’s families in order that they work… But let us talk seriously. I wish to eliminate all of the vile jobs. And until such time, the people who do them should be handsomely rewarded. At the present moment, those who do repugnant work receive negligible scraps, those who do enjoyable work are given riches untold.

Humboldt: Ignoramus! The worst jobs are not the least compensated. It is those who work in shops and hamburger-joints that are the least paid. Those who go down mines are well-paid. Facts and socialism do not appear to go together.

Barnes: Oh, Humboldt, you can’t be serious. Look at the agricultural labourers! Do they not pluck fruits for a pittance? There is a tendency, even if it does not hold in an absolute inverse spectrum between enjoyability and pay.

Humboldt: Well, now, you’ve gone and proved my point, haven’t you? If the worst jobs pay the least, it’s a strong motivator to work hard to move up! Your socialism has no such motivator, it is nothing but planned mediocrity!

Barnes: Oh, Humboldt, we all know capitalism is a tremendous machine for motivation and productivity. Our own Karl Marx paid tribute to capitalism’s extraordinary power in his Manifesto. But Humboldt, humans are motivated by many things, like love, beauty, country, pride, jealousy, and simple enjoyment.

Humboldt: I know what you’re going to say next. “From each according to his means, to each according to his need.” We have heard the freeloader’s mantra!

Barnes: Humboldt, you misquote. It is “from each according to his ability.” Calling upon each to give according to his ability strikes me as anti-freeloader.

Humboldt: But Marx himself certainly freeloaded. The man never had a real job, not even an office! And yet you hold him up as a saint!

Barnes: Well, his comrade Engels managed a factory. Perhaps we should listen to Engels instead, since he was a wise and seasoned entrepreneur.

Humboldt: I do not see why you are jabbering about Engels. Engels is irrelevant.

Barnes: I am pointing out that if we evaluate people’s arguments by their life-backgrounds, we could discount Marx but would have to listen to Engels. Which is absurd.

Humboldt: I did not say we should evaluate people’s arguments that way.

Barnes: Then why discuss Marx’s employment history?

Humboldt: I did not say we should discuss Marx’s employment history. I said we shouldn’t listen to Engels.

Barnes: I think you might have gotten in a bit of a knot, Hummy darling. But look, the point here is that under your capitalism, only a few can win while the many must suffer.

Humboldt: Suffer! Suffer what?

Barnes: Poverty, dear Humboldt. Poverty. Oh, and working fourteen-hour-days in factories that catch fire.

Humboldt: Bah. You deploy a fallacy! Only a few can win? Why, ten years ago, we had but forty-two billionaires. Now we have ten times as many! More people are succeeding every day!

Barnes: And what fraction does four-hundred represent out of the total human population?

Humboldt: Irrelevant! The point is that it has increased tenfold!

Barnes: But you are wrong to say that only “a few” are not the winners. Four-hundred versus forty is no change at all. Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-nine-nine percent must still lose!

Humboldt: But the existence of these billionaires proves that it is possible to become a billionaire.

Barnes: Possible for all? Humby, be serious!

Humboldt: I have to say, I honestly doubt you have done a day’s work in your life.

Barnes: Of course I haven’t. Work is a misery. I avoid it at all costs. I hope others can someday be as privileged. I hope to eliminate unpleasant work through the use of technology, so that all may pursue only that which is intrinsically pleasurable. Are there many manual jobs that you foresee not being eventually replaced by machines?

Humboldt: But that will take an extremely long time, Barnes. It will be hundreds of years!

Barnes: We do not know, Humboldt. We must be modest in our predictions. The world of 2015 would have been difficult for those in 1915 to envisage. And frankly, if there is socialism in 200 years, I will be an extremely happy man. In the life of the universe, such a span is but a blink. I see the socialist project as working gradually toward this end state, which eliminates menial work.

Humboldt: “The socialist project!” Do you hear your foolishness? And just how do you propose to reconcile this project with the Constitution?

Barnes: Why should I be interested in reconciling it with the Constitution?

At this point, the gazebo, which the city had recently privatized in order to raise revenue, collapsed. Humboldt and Barnes found themselves unable to escape the wreckage. Finding a leftover half-croissant in Barnes’s coat-pocket, they sustained themselves for two weeks before expiring. Energized by Barnes’s gracious sharing of the croissant with an enemy, the people of the piazza were converted to the cause of international socialism. The gazebo company was municipalized, a statue of Barnes and Humboldt embracing was erected on the site of their deaths, and all was forever glorious.

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