Saturday, 25 September 2010

The story of Stuff

I have been reading Annie Leonard's book of this title and I have also seen the Youtube films that pick holes in the film of the same name. Some of the points the critics make are completely valid, but compared to the welter of information in the book, they are not (IMHO) terribly significant. Anyway, the critic resorts to the puerile technique of labelling the film./book 'communist' - expressed by playing the Soviet National Anthem over footage / stills from the film, thereby undermining his own cedibility.

There is much striking material in the book, but one particular piece has stood out for me. This is the approach of over using fire-retardant to support the industry that makes it, rather than because it's necessary to retard fire. This would be simply wasteful if the chemical was otherwise harmless, but it is in fact pathogenic.

In a monetary system it is necessary to set up opposition between jobs (ie access to the necessities of life) and sustainability, because sustainability costs money that cannot be spent twice. This is why the RBE makes so much sense. Step outside the mad monetary system, and examine how silly it is to use people to make and flog excess fire-retardant just so they can live ("earn a living"). Lunacy.I'd personally be very happy to pay people not to produce excessive pathogens (or any pathogens if possible), but the monetary system says I'm wrong.

Another way of putting it

We definitely live within the limits of the earth's resources. That's a fact and not up for debate. I would suggest that it's not controversial to suggest that we should not squander those resources, but conserve them, even if not for altruistic reasons. If The Earth is analogous to a space ship or submarine, with a finite water / air supply, then contaminating or wasting those resources is bad for each individual.

What's debatable is whether we attempt to share the planet's resources to the general benefit, or whether we continue to fight over them as if they were scarce - paradoxically making them scarcer as we do it, to make them have a price [that increases].

I would suggest that the basic goals of humanity  should be that each person on the planet has adequate nutrition and shelter and means to maintain his/her health. That's not intended to be comprehensive, but it gives an idea. There are things we might want to achieve beyond these basics, but the principle holds.

To achieve what we want for humanity as a whole, it follows that there is work to do and it seems only fair that each person does their fair share of it. This is not all that easy as people have different abilities individually and over time. No work should be done by anyone or anything unless it furthers humanity's goal of being a successful species in the long term.

If we agree that we should share the work out fairly (even if it's not clear what 'fairly' entails), it makes perfect sense for us to automate / eradicate as much work as possible. Why do it if it's not helping us achieve our goals? Why have futile, or worse, destructive jobs just to get money? Why do the work ourselves if machines can do it quicker, more accurately, and without the need for rest and recreation? Why don't we just do the work that machines can't do.

There's a great deal of intellect being deployed in playing what are really games with money, albeit in increasingly abstract forms. "Options" to buy shares at a certain price at  certain time are just one example of an abstraction from money, which is an abstraction in itself in that its only actual use is to procure resources. Those intellects need to be deployed directly towards  the survival and true prosperity of our species. The games they play are not frivolous as - say - computer games could be seen to be, because money is viewed as a resource in itself, even though it is actually a proxy, or an attempt at a proxy, for all other resources. If those resourced aren't scarce, money doesn't fit in, so the monetary system seeks to make them scarce to fit its world view.