Excerpt from The Good, The Bad and The Difference by Randy Cohen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Good, The Bad and The Difference

How to Tell Right from Wrong in Everyday Life

by Randy Cohen

The Good, The Bad and The Difference by Randy Cohen X
The Good, The Bad and The Difference by Randy Cohen
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2002, 288 pages
    Mar 2003, 256 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt

The centrality of shopping is seen in the clash between those who cherish "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and the "life, liberty, and property" crowd. Indeed, the sanctification of property "rights" by the latter group has contributed much to human misery. It is difficult to make an ethical case for those whose worship of property has led them to challenge, for example, the very idea of environmental protection laws.

Such private property extremists dwell in a fantasyland of the rugged farmer living in isolation, on his autonomous homestead, out in the wilderness, where his actions affect no other person; except, perhaps, in the case of Jefferson and his slaves. But here on Earth, a more powerful case could be made that this solitary farmer is not so solitary, that his fertilizer washes off his field into the stream from which, many miles away, others must drink; that his produce is brought to market on roads others must pay for, in a truck that spews fumes others must breathe. He learned to do his crop calculations at a public school; he follows crop prices on-line, using the Internet created by government researchers.

It is environmentalism that provides a counterargument to the worship of private property, and it is a morally superior argument, not because it proposes a more austere lifestyle, but because it recognizes that we each live among others, affecting and being affected by one another. While honorable people may differ about any particular policy, this much seems unarguable. Those private property fanatics (to whom the current Supreme Court is increasingly and distressingly sympathetic) act unethically, not just because they espouse greed and relentless self-interest, but because their assertion of autonomy is intellectually dishonest. That is to say, that there can be no meaningful ethics that does not consider human beings as social creatures.

It must also be noted that profit is not the loftiest goal to which we can aspire, nor are commercial exchanges the most deeply satisfying human encounters. Much as one enjoys the mall, there is something to be said for the library or the school, the theater or the park, or indeed for the bedroom. Even in nineteenth-century London, that proud capital of a mercantile empire, the English dreamed of traveling to Italy; one reads so few novels where a woman from Tuscany yearns to live nearer the London Stock Exchange. A society where all human interaction is a form of commerce is hardly a society at all. In other words, if I ran my life the way I ran my business, it would barely be a life at all. Although I'd give more of my friend's coffee mugs with my picture on them. And I'd have a jaunty and memorable catchphrase to sum myself up. And my name would be written in an instantly recognizable typeface.

This is not to decry commerce, but to assign it a more reasonable place in human affairs. Johnson himself was not averse to commerce, which he knew improves the condition of humanity in manifold ways. After the death of his friend Henry Thrale, Johnson pitched in enthusiastically to help Thrale's widow sell her husband's brewery, showing an understanding of the buyer-seller relationship that presaged modern advertising's awareness that it must sell the sizzle, not the steak:

. . . When the sale of Thrale's brewery was going forward, Johnson appeared bustling about with an ink-horn and pen in his button-hole, like an excise-man; and on being asked what he really considered to be the value of the property which was to be disposed of, answered, "We are not here to sell a parcel of boilers and vats, but the potentiality of growing rich, beyond the dreams of avarice."

But Johnson did not let his commercial zeal compromise his integrity, nor did this most sociable of men lose his awareness of himself as a person living among others.

  • 1
  • 2

Copyright Randy Cohen. All rights reserved.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...
  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The House of Broken Angels
    by Luis Alberto Urrea

    The definitive Mexican-American immigrant story from an acclaimed storyteller.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Sorry, we do not currently have an active wordplay!

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.