Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Hardship is relative

Living in a developed economy can blind us to the far more acute and chronic problems faced by our fellow human beings. How many times have I felt an injustice because my internet connection has randomly stopped working, or my PVR has failed to record a TV programme I wanted to watch? Embarrassingly many is the answer.

Even further afield in my own milieu I see suffering that I can't comprehend, and which vastly overshadows ny irritations and setbacks.

Pull back the focus to a world view and we see sights so harrowing that it is a challenge to write about them even in abstraction. The death of innocents from war, disease or starvation; the witnessing of those tragedies by those nearby (physically and emotionally) and impressionable is truly gruelling even for the distant observer.

That people should try to escape from such dreadful circumstances seems commendable and admirable. I like to think that I would have the skill and courage should it come to it. Such people, though, if they cross a line on a map are called immigrants, and some argue that developed countries can't spare the space or access to other resources that they need and/or use. Resourced need to be managed, undoubtedly, but is the resistance to 'immgration' more about cushioning oneself against exposure to the immeasurably more difficult circumstances that our fellow human beings face than about a genuine desire to scientifically and equitably marshal resources?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Privatisation of information

It's been rather dejecting picking books off my shelves, blowing off the dust, and looking on to see if any of them are likely to fetch a price. In most cases there are umpteen copies of the book for sale for Amazon's minimum price of 1p (plus £2.80 postage and packing).

It's sad thinking of all the costly books sitting there, gathering dust, and taking up space. No-one else can readily look at them, unless I try to sell them or give them away and this makes them even more of a wasted resource.

Yet, if I don't sell or give away the books now, I can only imagine that their inherent value will sink below even the worth of the fibres they are manufactured from, as the printed book becomes increasingly obsolete.

Some people have a romantic attachment to books - shelves of books create a good impression of scholarliness and the right kind of seriousness - and they can look attractive, it's true, but given the high cost of housing, the space they take up is expensive. Their low tech way of working pales against modern information technology and transporting them as part of giving them away or selling them is environmentally unkind.

Not that the books I have look attractive as shelved. There is a trace of order in the way are arranged, but this is based on their subject, not what they look like. To have them ordered aesthetically would require them to be indexed and their shelf location recorded and I'm not prepared to spend time doing that (am I?).

The ease with which texts can be distributed technically with modern communications means that in order to protect the intellectual property of the author, some kind of digital jiggery-pokery needs to be applied to stop the text being freely available. This was easier to limit with physical books owing to their bulk and comparatively poor portability and distributability.

But the only reason to try to prevent texts being widely distributed and available is to create scarcity so that a price can be charged. So far as fulfilling human needs by use of the text goes, there is no direct reason for depriving someone of the text in question. Therefore in an NLRBE all text would be freely available, and as the authors, like anyone else, would have their needs met anyway, they wouldn't need to participate in the scarcity creation.