What are your thoughts as you read the exchange between the radical and the young engineer in Player Piano?

The radical and the young engineer are not arguing directly, but through the confused figure of John Averageman. The radical argues that Averageman is worse off now than he was before, because his wages have fallen precipitously. The young engineer argues that Averageman is better off because he has access to marvels of technology that would once have made an emperor gasp with astonishment (and this will be even truer in the future). This argument is intended to dazzle and delight its audience, but the reader is supposed to see through it as a form of propaganda.

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The exchange between the radical and the young engineer in Player Piano is not a direct argument. It is mediated through the confused figure of John Averageman, who is forensically examined by the radical and then cross-examined by the young engineer, as though they were in court. The subject of...

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The exchange between the radical and the young engineer in Player Piano is not a direct argument. It is mediated through the confused figure of John Averageman, who is forensically examined by the radical and then cross-examined by the young engineer, as though they were in court. The subject of their dispute is whether Averageman was better off under the system of the Labor Union advocated by the radical or under the new corporate system controlled by engineers and managers.

The scene is presented in a very one-sided manner. This is done blatantly enough to make the reader, if not the audience in the book, rebel against the playwright's propaganda. The radical is hectoring and obnoxious; the young engineer modest and likable.

The radical makes the point that, under the new system, Averageman's wages have tumbled to less than a third of what they once were. At the same time, the salaries of engineers and managers have skyrocketed. The young engineer replies that Averageman is far better off than he was before because he has the benefits of technology:

Your honor, the point I was trying to make was that John, here, since the star in question has risen, has become far richer than the wildest dreams of Caesar or Napoleon or Henry VIII! Or any emperor in history! Thirty dollars, John - yes, that is how much money you make. But, not with all his gold and armies could Charlemagne have gotten one single electric lamp or vacuum tube!

The audience in the book is dazzled and delighted by the truth of the young engineer's arguments. The reader, however, is supposed to see through his sophistry, for his point is true but irrelevant. It is evident that a working-class person, John Averageman, now has marvels of technology that would once have made an emperor gasp with astonishment (and this, of course, is even more true now than when Player Piano was published in 1952), but the fact that technology has advanced for everyone is a separate issue from the income inequality the radical is addressing. The reader is intended to revolt against this elision and to see the spurious arguments of the young engineer, and the playwright, for the propaganda they are.

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