standing Letters

Do you ever wonder about the schmoes who spend their waking hours figuring out ways to hoodwink us? I’m talking about the guys/gals who create clever defaults for Amazon. They bilk shoppers who qualify for free shipping with full shipping costs because these shoppers don’t know to undo the default and find and check the “free” box before hitting “place order.” These unwitting shoppers turn over an extra $10.95 or more to Amazon.

Then there are the iPhone updates I try to avoid. Still, Apple has figured a way to download these “updates” without my explicit consent. I’m always apprehensive because a minefield needs to be navigated with each download — new features I don’t want that will cost me money if I hit the wrong button. When I decline connecting to the iCloud, for example, I hit “cancel.” Only “cancel” in iworld means I want to opt out of declining.

Are these enemy combatants dressed in slick suits, upwardly mobile chic dresses; or do they work out shady schemes attired in comfortable sweats and flip-flops?

Are these the folks higher education was supposed to civilize and arm with humanistic values? If so, we’re a long way from Kansas.

My father, a Chinese diplomat and statesman, brought me up with the idea that one’s life can be dedicated to working for country, God, or oneself. An idealist, a breed that is virtually extinct, he viewed working for oneself, though the least honorable of the three, to mean being in business. Though he was familiar with scurrilousness — he was an idealist, not stupid — I doubt he dreamed that a humongous and growing subsection of “being in business” entails concocting schemes that barely skirt the law, schemes that are becoming known as “dark patterns.” Of course, some schemes cross the line, i.e. the 5,300 Wells Fargo employees who set up fake customer accounts.

I keep waiting for a pendulum swing back to sanity and goodwill. Another possibility, however, is that we’re caught in a paradigm shift. We may be stuck permanently in the “evil” extreme, with no predictable return to the good side.

Yet, I am a forever optimist. I expect that at some point greed will become tiresome. The folks who already have too much will become bored with accumulating more; corporations will adopt new approaches that consider customers and employees, versus turning over every rock to enrich shareholders and themselves. After all, in 2021, we’re a tiny dot in the timeline of civilization.

Over the long haul, we have been privileged to have Dr. Jonas Salk among us. In a 1955 interview, he answered the question, “Why are you not seeking to patent your polio vaccine?” with “Could you patent the sun?” Compare that to oxycodone and the Sacklers. Then there is Albert Schweitzer, who devoted his $33,000 Nobel Prize in 1953 to creating a leprosarium in Gabon.

But everything hangs on whether we are caught in a paradigm shift.

Phoebe Huang


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