That the Profit of One Man is the Damage of Another

This is the mercantilist notion that Montaigne latches onto in order to absolve and reassure anyone who feels any twinges of guilt or regret over benefitting at the expense of another. He says that this notion, so far from being condemnable, is actually in keeping with nature and therefore unavoidable. How can we condemn one person for profiting at the expense of another when “no profit whatever can possibly be made but at the expense of another. If we condemn one person for such a gain, we “should condemn all gain of what kind soever.”

“And, which is yet worse, let every one but dive into his own bosom, and he will find his private wishes spring and his secret hopes grow up at another’s expense.”

I was hoping to come up with some clever way to get around these general assertions in describing my recent friend-making activities, but it seems that they are stated in such a way that Montaigne could easily riposte any of my objections.

So this week, I made a particular kind of profit, yet not monetary. I started making some French friends! Wednesday I ate lunch with a couple profs d’EPS (Education physique et sportive), “PE teachers,” and then joined them in their weekly sports club, which is a time for middle schoolers to play pick-up sports with the oversight of teachers. Instead of oversight I provided them with a shining example of American throwing prowess, for which I paid dearly the next day in the exhaustion of the right half of my body. But Wednesday afternoon no one was safe from my dodgeball cannon. (Don’t worry, no one was hurt—too badly.)

Thursday was the celebration of the Beaujolais Nouveau, which occurs the third Thursday of every November. There was a little soirée after school for the teachers. I profited from that, too, but it was at the literal monetary expense of the collège. Of course, the administration of collège also benefited from a boost of teacher morale, so what would Montaigne say about that? After this soirée, there was a more exclusive soirée at the apartment of the profs d’EPS. I spent the evening drinking wine, eating pizza, and speaking French. From what I can tell these are the three favorite soirée activities of French people. They really like to sit around in a circle drinking wine, chatting, and eating all sorts of French-ified pizzas, with cheeses you’d be hard-pressed to find on a pizza in the States, like bleu cheese, chèvre, and brie. Of course, I profited from this at the hosts’ expense. Yet everyone tried to make them accept some money and they still refused. (Montaigne, we may not be able to obliterate the framework of your argument, but we sure can punch massive holes through its veneer credibility!)

Then Friday I went with two teachers from Hippolyte R­émy, Isabelle my roommate, and Loïc the guy she’s gotta thing for, to the house of Fred (a woman), who was initially my mentor teacher before family problems complicated things. We stayed there from 8 PM until 2 AM. I profited from hours of French conversation, some high quality Belgian beer, dinner. At Fred’s expense, I suppose Montaigne would say. Yet it was obvious that the company was good for her considering her currently fragile and recovering mental state.

So it was quite a week. Hanging out in Coulommiers can be good. I think there are very few other English assistants in the Paris region who have been so fortunate. If I’m profiting like I am, it’s at whose expense? Am I sucking the well of profit dry in Coulommiers and keeping it all for myself?

4 thoughts on “That the Profit of One Man is the Damage of Another

  1. Cody says:

    Most economists today would contend that the profit of one man usually brings the profit of another, i.e. voluntary trade benefits both sides. Is it helpful to read his essays even when you disagree with his conclusions?

    • jamesrnelson says:

      I think it’s fairly widely accepted that it’s extremely beneficial to read the ideas of those with whom you disagree. The thing with his essay was that it didn’t really seem to account for people’s desire to trade. He was making the literal observation that when money changes hands one person has more than s/he previously had and the other person has less.

  2. Patrick says:

    Go on, take the money and run!

  3. Allison says:

    Mmmmm, brie pizza.

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