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Subverting reality

| Friday, April 23, 2021

Not too long ago, I was dreaming up ideas for a potential thesis topic, and the notion of “subverting reality” came to mind. I initially thought of the phrase in the context of existing uncomfortably within systems that we cannot immediately change. We subvert reality when we resist the systemic forces that tempt and pressure us into simply resigning ourselves to complacency, hopelessness or nonexistence. This can be as small as private affirmation of one’s identity or as large as a nationwide profit-sharing co-op. We can resist the way things are by proving it’s not the way they have to be.

The CEO of Gravity Payments, Dan Price, made headlines in 2015 when he took a million-dollar pay cut to raise his company’s minimum annual salary to $70,000. Many derided the move as a terrible business decision (among other ridiculous critiques). Ultimately, time proved the critics incorrect, but much more interesting and terrifying is the incredulous uproar caused by the move. U.S. culture is plagued with extreme individualism, and this actually makes many of us angry when we see others benefit as a result of anything other than their own directly proportionate effort. Naturally, this is an absurd fallacy which leads us to blind spots in reasoning, but it is perfectly indicative of the culturally-sadistic assumption that one’s economic benefit must be zero-sum: In order for me to make a buck, someone else has to lose it. Now, most prominent economists would argue that this is simply not the case: Everyone can actually benefit simultaneously, but that’s a much larger and more contentious debate that I will let Roemer, Przeworski and G.A. Cohen handle for me.

But many people hate to hear this. It sounds idealistic, unrealistic and dare I say it — socialist! Setting aside for a moment the astronomical misappropriation and fear-mongering that still surrounds that term (stemming in no small part from our country’s national campaign against the word’s connotative cousin during the Cold War), it cannot be denied that at the very least this economic statement — that we all truly can benefit simultaneously in an economy — is often given little to no legitimate consideration in modern business contexts. But why?

When business is taught with only one philosophical through line, and that unitary, oftentimes unspoken philosophy is never explicitly debated or critically approached in any mandatory component of the education, the system largely produces strict capitalists with little tendency for critical reflection. Specifically at Notre Dame, by the time we reach junior year’s “sequence three” courses and are finally exposed to the macroeconomic evidence that the wealth gap is only widening at an alarming rate and that the real wage has not increased in over 40 years, it’s far too late. By this point, the vast majority of the class has already committed to the philosophy of strict capitalism and received two or three job offers from top corporations, making any opposing philosophy even less appealing due to anchoring bias and a sunk cost fallacy.

Obviously, we all have to make money to survive, and I’m not exactly advocating we all take a vow of poverty; I am simply arguing that it would serve to benefit business students (and society at large) if curriculums included critical discussions regarding the underlying philosophies that drive the systems we otherwise study so fervently.

Subverting reality. It sounds so catchy I went straight to Google to see if someone had already coined it or at least written on this topic using the same language. I was surprised to instead discover an article from a social epistemology collective framing the phrase in a much more pessimistic light: It describes the ongoing subversion of reality resulting from the crumbling of truth itself, specifically in the context of the Trump presidency. The author, Adam Riggio, diagnoses our current era as “post-truth,” pointing to an abysmal lack of public trust in both the media and the government. These are both fascinating notions, each with its own respective field of study and both almost as elusive and convoluted as the idea of nationhood. Of course, this was vastly different from the way I had initially imagined the term, but I think it parallels nicely. After all, the first step to changing something is acknowledging that there’s a better alternative, an objective truth to the better reality that we are trying to instate.

Jeremy Yoder is a junior and be reached at [email protected] by email.

Show Some Skin is a student-run initiative committed to giving voice to unspoken narratives about identity and difference. Using the art of storytelling as a catalyst for positive social change across campus, we seek to make Notre Dame a more open and welcoming place for all. If you are interested in breaking the silence and getting involved with Show Some Skin, contact [email protected] by email. 

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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