Papal power in the 21st century

Everyone recognises that the pope had a great amount of power in the past.  It is relatively recently that Italy became a whole nation state without direct influence from the Vatican in the way it was run.  Looking even further back the Pope was the head of a network of influence spanning the whole of Europe that wielded the power of excommunication.  Go back to the crusades and the Pope was the guiding force that led Europe into a series of crusades to try and defeat the Middle East.

Those were the days of the warrior church.  In the modern era the ghost of the Holy Roman Empire is seen as an anachronism, a state without an army, and a largely harmless ideology.  While heads of other religions may launch Jihads, fatwas and the like, it seems as though the Pope is little more than an old man in strange robes who simply tries to encourage folk to live life according to the gospels.

Currently the Pope is one of the more innocuous popes.  Speaking out against capitalism and poverty it seems that this is a Pope who can recognise some of our most immediate problems and knows what has to be done with the greatest immediacy to effect positive change in the world.  He has given up the tradition of living in the papal palace and prefers to live in a simple apartment.  It is rumoured that he leaves the Vatican at night to hand out charity to the destitute whilst disguised in every day garb.

Despite all this positivity in the image of our current Pope he still wields an immense amount of hidden power.  In a world where even One Direction have the power to make hundreds of shops sell seemingly endless lines of One Direction merchandise, so that thousands, or millions of One Direction fans can buy money boxes, posters, cushions, mints, etc, it is clear that the leader of a global religion can create huge change with the utterance of a few words.

Thank goodness that we do currently have a Pope who seems to have his heart in the right place.  Unfortunately this is not necessarily enough.  One of the points on which most of the Pope’s critics agree is that the banning of contraception is not a good idea in a world where there are so many sexually transmitted diseases.  Obviously it is not good that people should pick up disease, or even die from disease, and a simple barrier contraceptive would help prevent this in the majority of cases, but I can see the Pope’s point of view.  It has been a long standing rule of the Catholic church that life should be encouraged and procreation is good.  It has also been a long standing view that sex without procreation is purely a pleasure seeking act.  When the greatest pleasure in life is supposed to be God it is natural that competition should be discouraged.  Beyond the usually considered dangers of unprotected sex there is also a further danger far beyond most people’s realisation, a danger that is very far from the kind of outcome one would expect to be encouraged by a church of any religion.

We are all agreed that STDs are not good but the less obvious danger is one that is caused by successful gestations.  At present most first world countries are experiencing a gradual growth in population due to the advantages of the modern world.  In poorer areas of the world there will soon be a much greater amount of growth that could become an issue.  China has for a long time had its rule against more than one child per family; India has one of the most incredibly packed populations in the world.  In Africa great numbers of children are common for the same reason as they were in Victorian England, they offer the best chance of having children survive to adulthood.  Currently population is kept small by diseases but we are rapidly finding ways to cure and prevent these diseases.  We are also finding ways in which to increase food yields.  These are all good things that we should be doing but as more and more of the world’s Catholics are lifted out of a state of nature there are more and more people who do not have the option of prophylactics to prevent large families.

Every life is a blessing and as any parent knows, their children are wonderful, but it is plain to see that some, due to circumstance, do not end up leading lives as positive as others.   This is largely due to attempts to escape poverty or achieve better than that which fate has offered.  A lot of us know what poverty feels like and a lot of us know there are better things out there than we have in our lives.  Some people end up living like emperors.  It is hardly surprising there should be a little jealousy.  Recent years have seen the occupy movement and the recognition of the 1%.  If this is the reaction of the citizens in the first world to the wealthy few who take the majority of the wealth then just imagine what the swelling populations of the poorer nations will feel like when they discover the riches claimed by those few, or even the comfort that many of our poorer people live in by comparison to so many others in the world.

Those folk who have to walk five miles per day to fetch clean water, and who spend most of their income on just enough food to stay alive already know that there are other folk in other nations who are far better off.  It is largely accepted that this is simply the way things are.  Soon, however, with greater leaps in agriculture and better understanding of medicine there will be far larger populations within these areas.  We know from observation of the behaviour in overpopulated areas of our own countries that people become hardened to humanity when there is just so damn much of humanity around.  The appearance of a disgruntled class of people who will begin to feel as though perhaps they have the numbers to take some of that wealth from the greedier nations is almost inevitable.

By insisting on the papal ban of contraception the Pope is likely to be able to add huge numbers to the armies of the future.  By ensuring that there are huge families growing in nations where religion is taken more seriously the Pope is ensuring that there will be hungry and disgruntled young people looking for a way out of poverty at just about the same time that the population growth in the west will most likely be slowing or even reversing.  There may be vast power shifts in our future and they may be vastly exacerbated by this one small proclamation.

Rise and Fall – A short story.

Despite warm temperatures and all the nutrition that could possibly be needed there was negligible life to speak of.  It was only when primitive life forms were introduced from above that a new era of living, consuming, organisms began.  The life that was deposited by the hidden hands from above took to its new environment.  The conditions were perfect to flourish and soon it was as though the party of all parties had begun.  The competition to thrive and stay alive was so much more greatly reduced than if life had simply arisen here by chance.  Many other organisms or creatures would have died rapidly in this environment but the hands from above had been careful to choose the perfect colonists for this little world.  The native residents of the little world, such as pre-existed the invaders, had made little impact on their environment; it may have been that little change would have occurred for some time from their presence.

The new life that had been delivered to settle took so well to their circumstances that soon they overwhelmed any few or little signs of life that had been here before them.  They pushed all aside in their conquest of the entire sphere of their existence.  The nutritive qualities of this place were exceptional, and the growth of the new residents was exponential.  As they developed and spread they interacted with their environment, changing the balance of all that was around them.  Soon the culture was thriving and things were rapidly developing.  The general gases given off by the living escaped into the air in vast quantities as their numbers grew.  Still they thrived and consumed, enjoying their existence in the limited ways that were available to them at their current stage of evolution.

They saw no reason not to do what came naturally.  This was the way they had been made.  They had evolved, to consume and grow, as had all living things; what sin could there be in living by their biological programming.  Soon the community had spread to all limits of the available space.  It was certainly crowded compared to the way it had been when they had arrived.  All lived closely entwined with all; to an outsider they looked like a swarm, perhaps even a single being, intent on consuming all available resources.  Still the gases billowed into the air, at ever increasing rates; belching up into the atmosphere in ways that surely could not be sustainable.

The height of the culture was rapidly reached, and for what seemed like the longest time the production of gases into the air continued.  The speed at which the atmosphere was altered was alarming and palpable.  Perhaps to one who lived within this world the change would not seem so rapid and extreme, but how would it look to one who saw the arrival of the settlers, and did not return until the peak of their success.  Given the overwhelming spread of these visitors, dropped here by an intelligence far beyond their own, and given the dramatic manner in which they spewed gases into the air above them, could it be that there was any way to view their lives as being anything other than akin to that of a virus, eating up all that surrounded it, without a thought for the consequences.

Eventually the effects of all this high living began to be felt.  It had been proven.  The conspicuous and furious consumption was not sustainable.  The environment began to be poisoned and the life within it began to die.  Where there had been so much joy before, now there was death and sickness.  The new inhabitants of this brave new world no longer had the blessing of the ideal surroundings with which they had been gifted.  The irony was that there was still nutrition all around, but it was all now far too poisoned to sustain the visitors.  The world had been reformed, and where they had once thrived and spread with almost limitless vigour, they now began to die.

The toxic environment began to still.  The production of gas into the air gradually ceased, marking the death of all those who continued, striving to endure the existence of living in this impossible place.  Eventually all were dead.  Life was over.  The colony was no longer a colony, it was a morgue, a wasteland.  Desolate.  All was silent, nothing breathed, and there was nothing left to consume the nutrition that still lay there for whoever wished to take it.

The outsiders returned to see what had happened to the colony they had deposited here.  They saw that the outward signs of life that had been spewing into the atmosphere had stopped.  They looked down from above, into the little world, and there were no longer any outwardly visible signs of the beings they had brought and delivered to this place.  The outsider reached down into the little world drawing up some of the substance of the environment and testing it to see what had become of it.  The wine was definitely ready, he would bottle it up tomorrow and everyone could have some for Christmas.

Demonisation of the unemployed harms the economy more than it helps.

IDS LunchingAt the present our society is facing a set of problems that are unique in the history of humanity.  Thanks to a limited understanding of science that we have developed over the last few hundred years we know a great deal about food production, creation of fertilisers, even genetically modifying plants to increase yields etc.  No matter how one feels about all the different technologies and methods in farming it is undeniable that one of the results has been an increasing population.  Combine this with our gradually improving medical knowledge and our growing reticence to send huge numbers of people into wars and you find that the global population is growing massively.

At the same time as this growth is happening we are also developing far more efficient production methods, automation, robots,  vehicles, etc, that reduce the number of people needed to run many business types.  Where an office worker would once have had a secretary, they now have a computer, and type themselves where they would never have dreamed of doing so in the past.  Where deliveries once took days to transport across the country with the use of numerous horses and the supporting services of stables, farriers, etc, deliveries not take a day as one man in a white van drives to their destination.  I need not list all the ways in which modern technology has saved us time and money in the work place because everyone probably has many more examples in their own mind than I can think of.

These developments have of course created work as well.  While we have become more productive it is also obvious that this is hand in hand with massively increased production.  Look back half a millennium and you will see a society where most people owned only a handful of items and most money was spent on food.  Today we probably have more items in our pockets most of the time; look around the room and you will no doubt see hundreds of different things, some of which will be technological marvels that would have looked like magic to that person of half a millennium ago.  Naturally if so many more things are being invented and made then there will be a lot of jobs created by their production.  However, necessity being the mother of invention, there is a huge effort put into the creation of labour saving devices, with the result that we all have a lot more free time than we once did.  With mankind’s constant effort to amass more wealth and safety it is natural that employers will take advantage of some of this labour saving machinery to reduce their work force and lower their costs.

The problem with this is of course the fear that led saboteurs to throw their clogs into the early machines that were taking their jobs.  The spanner in the works of modern economics is rising unemployment.  Humans have a need to work on a deeply hidden psychological level.  While a cursory glance at nature will reveal that most animals spend a lot of time conserving energy and humans have descended from the same origins, it is a tendency towards industriousness that has enabled us to rise to the height we have as dominant mammalian species on the planet.  It is improbable that evolution ever intended us to work like machines for solid days, day after day; the rise in stress related illness attests to this, but we certainly do have a deep seated need to keep busy and be industrious.

King Solomon was regarded as being a rather wise chap. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, King Solomon instructs “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.”  Our industry is something that keeps us happy; when a person sits with nothing to do for too long it does not take long before boredom and depression set in.  The fact that the quote above comes from the bible demonstrates that work is something that has been preached as being important on a moral and spiritual level.  At present there is a moral crusade against the NEETS and scroungers who are not contributing to society.  The seemingly endless recession hand in hand with our healthy population levels and work automation has led to a large number of unemployed people.  The rigours and stresses of modern life and the many new chemicals and substances surrounding us are leading to effects on general mental and physical health that is preventing a great many people from keeping to the 40 hour schedule of the modern work week.  The support that all these people need is being focussed on as being one of the drains on public finances.

Despite the fact that very little public money actually goes to people who are not contributing to society this group makes a convenient scapegoat and forcing them back into work is being touted as one of the many solutions being offered to help us back out of the recession.  There are a number of points that render this approach unhelpful.  Firstly it has long been acknowledged that there is no such thing as zero unemployment.  Zero unemployment would not be desirable anyway as an absence of unemployed and penniless folk would lead to vendors being able to increase prices, which would lead to inflation.  The only way zero unemployment would be possible is if people were not able to leave jobs, as if they did leave jobs they would become unemployed until they found another job.  If people never leave jobs then there is no incentive to try and retain staff by offering a decent wage.  The world where there is zero unemployment is a pipe dream inhabited by indentured servants paying high prices for their goods.  As long as there are unemployed people it is possible to demonise them and use them as scapegoats for the failure of the government’s long term economic plan but in reality most of these unemployed folk are simply hopping from one job to another.  These are all people who are in the process of improving their economic success by moving from inferior employment towards better situations.  They are folk who have become unnecessary in one area of the world of employment but will soon become needed in another area.  This is the free movement between employers that enables the system to keep running at optimum efficiency.  The number of people who are actually targeted by schemes to deal with long term unemployment are a tiny number compared to the official unemployment statistics.  The small amount retained to aid the economic recovery becomes so inconsequential when this is realised that it is nowhere near worth all the newsprint and publicity it generates.

The second undesirable factor in the demonization of the unemployed is the stigma surrounding unemployment.  Those who become unemployed feel such an urgent need to return to the work place that they will accept jobs far sooner than they would if there was not such a stigma.  The problem with this is that people will hurry themselves into jobs that do not pay their full worth.  The evidence for this can be seen in the gradually drop in wage that is being experienced across the country.  Newsnight has said that wages are expected to return to pre-recession levels sometime during the 2020s.  It might not be the haste to return to work that is causing the wages to fall but it is certainly allowing the wages to fall.  It is common for unions to call strikes in objection to the failure of wages to increase, yet here are people across the country rushing into positions with lower wages or with zero hour contracts.  The employers are taking advantage of the measures being brought against the unemployed, even to the extent that employees are being sacked from their jobs and then being replaced with unemployed people who need not be paid the minimum wage.  This is an obvious circumvention of employment law that should not be accepted.  If people were not so eager to escape the stigma of being associated with the tiny minority who are deliberately unemployed then employers would have no other option than to offer a decent wage, and if the unemployed were not forced to work until they could find a job then they would be able to take the jobs that would not be done by the unemployed and unpaid.

The dropping wages that are supported by the increased desire people have to get back into work leads to a far more significant effect that is detrimental to society as a whole.  Where there are lower wages the amount paid to tax is naturally going to be lower.  A larger number of people are going to find themselves below the tax cut off and will not be paying any tax at all.  A larger number of people will find themselves earning less than they would in more prosperous times and will therefore be paying less in tax than they would otherwise.  The working population of the country is massive and all those of us who are earning lower wages would ordinarily be contributing vast amounts to the economy through tax.  At present this money being saved in wages is money that is being retained by the employers; in most instances the employers will be using the services of accountants to find any methods available to reduce the tax they pay.  It is a well known issue that large companies use many different methods to avoid paying tax, yet they are now being given a situation wherein it is becoming possible to retain more of the money they would otherwise have given to employees who pay tax, and the companies are using these methods to further reduce their tax payments.

The lower wages that are being seen around the country are leading to lower spending.  Despite a few successes in the retail sector on Black Friday and Cyber Monday it was noted that spending did not reach the levels that had been expected.  This was partly due to retail fatigue brought on by a glut of possessions, less available spending money and an underlying realisation that even where the public are spending the money we are so much part of the consumer equation that we are becoming products ourselves.  Money that is available is being largely spent on rent and food.  Food is free of VAT so is not contributing to the public coffers.  There is little left over for spending on luxuries and gifts and what there is available is being sucked up by the companies that are closest to being national monopolies.  VAT on luxury items is therefore not forthcoming and the appearance is that there must be a level of collusion between electric companies, gas companies, broadband companies, etc, raising prices year on year, who are all large enough to employ accountants and tax lawyers with a far higher level of skill than can be afforded by the public sector which is trying to retain some of this money.

The result is an economy in decline.

It is evident that a large number of the ‘solutions’ being offered to the problem of recession are being implemented purely for reasons of publicity.  The government wish to be seen as being proactive in finding our way out of the recession.  At the next election it is extremely valuable to be able to say that ideas were put in action that led to a reduction of the deficit and the national debt and greatly improved the lives of all Britons.   At present it appears that the ideas are not leading to the ends that were expected.  Had all the indignities of the last few years actually resulted in economic recovery I would probably feel far more magnanimous towards the current cabinet.  The measures implemented look more akin to the measures of an average driver when sliding on a patch of ice, actively steering in what appears to be the right direction but is actually pushing the car into an ever more extreme skidding slide.  The hands currently at the tiller of public finance are far too heavy to negotiate the delicate task of restoring balance to our economy.

It seems obvious that in an ever changing world we need ever changing ideas to find solutions to the issues that face us.  Imagination and creativity are what is called for in solving the problems of an ever more automated society.  We do not need to be forcing people into graft and labour just so that we can look as though we are being proactive and thereby  gain enough votes for another disastrous four years of governance, we need to be nurturing the creativity and imagination of all those who do not find themselves immediately drawn into the employment situations available.  It is education where we should be focussing our attention.  A line from the Facebook film a few years back was that graduates from Harvard made their own employment.  That is what should be expected of everyone who is at a short end.  We should all be capable of spotting the gaps in the market and thinking of ways to cater to that need.  There is no need to force people into working as little more than slave labourers if they are given the abilities to discover their own uses and their own jobs.  Nobody wants to work for peanuts to further the success of a company that doesn’t even value their contribution enough to offer a fixed contract with adequate hours at adequate pay.  Train the unemployed to make their own employment and numerous problems we are faced with will simply solve themselves.

Charities should not be expected to fill the gaps of poor governance

A stumbling block Russell Brand has come up against a number of times since he started talking about the need to reject our current political system is that he is himself reasonably wealthy.  People question how he can speak about redistribution of wealth, presumably because he has not chosen to redistribute his own wealth.  The situation seems to be that if he were poor then his ideas could be ignored because they are obviously the result of his self interest, but as he is rich his ideas should be ignored as he is obviously a hypocrite.  Recently when speaking about on one topic a channel four journalist asked him about the price he pays for rent in London himself.  When Russell told the reporter that his rent was not relevant to the issue he was discussing the reporter claimed that the cost of his rent was a valid point in a discussion of poverty.

Presumably those who make such assertions to undermine Brand are making the point that if poverty is such a concern then Brand should start the ball rolling by donating his money to the poor or by living in conditions as though he were himself poor.  If it is the second of these two then he would not need his money anyway so should presumably donate it to the poor rather than hording it for no purpose.

However, it is not Brand’s position that the wealthy ought to be more charitable.  Certainly a greater level of charity among the wealthy would be a good thing, not least for the good of their own positive self image.  It is plainly obvious to anyone that has been paying the slightest bit of attention that Russell Brand has been calling out the political system for the past year.  Admittedly he does seem to have a fondness for the idea of anarchy and that people would be able to manage society without governmental oversight, however, I believe he also recognises that in an anarchic system power would very quickly be grabbed by large organisations and the ideal anarchist utopia would not be achieved.  Aside from this is the fact that if one man decides to redistribute his wealth according to charitable ideals but the rest of society carries on as they currently are, then that man may be even less wise than Russell is accused of being by his detractors.

Plainly the ideal that Russell must be striving for is a set of legislative measures to prevent abuse of power and to assist those who are driven into poverty by any failings in the system.  Given the nature of the system that has provoked him to reject British democracy even this currently seems like a pipe dream.  In any event, one of the issues with the current government is their disregard for those in poverty and need.  Public services are rapidly being privatised in what many people believe to be a return to the system as it was before the last world war.  Rather than the eradication of poverty that the last government aimed for the perception of the current government is that there is a grab for profit and advantage at the expense of the country, with the latest report being that aside from her work for charity David Cameron’s wife also secretly holds stock in a company that is being given the opportunity to build on a large amount of green belt land.  Even if this had been declared along with the Camerons’ other interests it would still be shocking.  Undeclared it is on a level with the sleaze that destroyed the last Conservative government.

The solution to poverty that has evidently been in the mind of the Prime Minister since before the general election is that wherever austerity cuts affect the public charities will be able to take up the slack.  Looking back now it is obvious that ‘The Big Society’ as he called it, is society looking after itself.  People may be shocked by the massive rise in the use of foodbanks, but it appears that the Conservative strategy to cope with their increased need is to distract attention until they have become such a fact of life that we have grown used to them.   If there was only one person in Britain who thought that those complaining about poverty should start by giving their money to the poor, it would be David Cameron.

Whilst I am very much in favour of charity, and I am very much in favour of the people in society getting to know each other, and help each other out, I feel it should be done with an overall safety net provided by public services.  At present those safety nets are being taken away and people are dying.  The elderly who freeze to death because they can’t afford heating; the homeless who freeze to death because they can’t afford rent; the family whose children do not attain high academic results because they can’t afford plentiful nutritious food; the workers who have to work on zero hour contracts, who work in an unpleasant environment, who don’t earn enough to cover their costs; those who are falling further and further into debt despite living in modest surroundings and working hard; all these people are being let down by the current system.  Where the slack is taken up by charities it may be portrayed as shameful in the press, but as far as those in the process of dismantling the welfare state, that is one more successful transition.

I do think it is important for everyone to give to charity as it is a beneficial act for everyone’s psyche.  Without charitable acts being second nature the world gradually turns into the kind of uncaring environment that is modern capitalism.  Everything has a value, and money is placed on a pedestal. It troubles me that the damage done to the state welfare system in the name of the austerity measures is being held back by charity.  It is a stop gap measure like stopping up a hole in a dyke with a finger, it is not sustainable.   There are fewer alive every year who can remember the system as it was before the changes brought about by Aneurin Bevin in the 50s but soon we may find ourselves back in that pre-50s system without the safeguards that have been allowed to disappear through the last half a century.

The individuality that allowed people freedom from stress in those days has been wiped out by the constant drive for profit and stream lining.  Cost cutting and overwork drives people into illnesses of stress at subsistence levels of wages today; the next steps that lead to a reduced NHS and harder to obtain sickness benefits will not be able to support the modern worker who is expected to run like a machine.  Charity will only go so far.  Organisation on a societal level should not be left up to the chance that volunteers will be well co-ordinated enough to cope with preventing cultural collapse.

While I buy most of my clothes, books and other possessions from charity shops and give to collectors, and drop coins in boxes it worries me that people are starting to give chunks of money to fill the void left by poor governance in the public sector.  Broad swathes of needs are not catered for by the specific aims of the handful of major charities and as more charities will be set up to cater for these needs as they arise they will be accompanied by crowds of people signing folk up to direct debits in the street, direct debits which will naturally skim a percentage off the top for the collecting professionals before donating to the charity.  Donations that we already know go into the overheads of running the organisation before they even reach those in need.

I would advocate that people think about where they want their money to go.  Charities at present, worthy though they are, are a middle man, separating giver from receiver.  The humanity is taken out of the equation; it has become another soulless financial transaction.  I am sure that people have recognised for centuries that charity is a way of buying one’s way out of guilt or feelings of obligation.  In the modern era it has become so clinical and efficient that many people barely realise their money is going to charity.  When someone buys a shirt or a book in a charity shop, how often do they register exactly which charitable cause they have supported.  This is one reason that I think people should make their charitable giving more personal.  A second reason is that when money goes to a large charity it is money that can be seen publicly.  That is an area where a government minister can see less need to support that section of society.  When there are cuts to be made isn’t it convenient if the cuts can be made where there is a back up money source.

In order that these areas of supported public services do not stand out as good places for the next austerity cut we should give our charity directly to the needy.  I am not saying that people should not continue to shop in charity shops, these serve the secondary purpose of preventing the ecological damage done by constant consumption of new products.  I am saying that if you want to prevent people from starving then try to find out who in your community is hungry, go to your neighbours and tell them that the multibuy deal at the supermarket has left you with too much bread, see who is grateful for the help.  Tell the people in your street that your garden had a glut of fruit, you can’t possibly eat it all, who needs it?  If you care about homelessness then see that the homeless guy in the doorway has a warm meal one night, or a chocolate bar full of calories.  Rather than drop the coin of economic incentive for sitting in doorways into his lap, think about what he needs to stay alive and give him that.  People should get to learn what the issues are, learn where their help is needed, the issues should stop sliding beneath our notice because they are affecting more people every day during this ridiculous austerity drive.

An ethical way to invest in the most ruthless of moneymakers

It can be hard to make a living in modern Britain. Contrary to the prediction of Bertrand Russell we have not all been freed from the bonds of labour. The arrival of labour saving devices has not given us the freedom we expected. Robots apparently do not even threaten jobs, according to some reports each robot leads to the creation of three jobs for those who need them. Given that labour saving computers need constant attention to clean up viruses and malware and find solutions for the bloat of new updates this might not even seem surprising.
Mind you it is possible to buy your way out of the daily grind and thus leave your days open to pursue more fruitful ways of making a living. For the average person perhaps, the promised future in which machines would do our work for us has not arrived. For those who have the money to buy their tickets to freedom from hard work it is quite possible. Obviously a substantial amount of money would be needed to manage this, maybe a decade or two’s wages for most people. A lot of people have managed it. Sometimes they only succeeded because they inherited the requisite amount but others have worked their way into the position through their own cunning and ruthlessness. For some people the very act of buying one’s way out of work becomes a job in itself, even an obsession as they become wealthier and wealthier.
You may have worked out by now that it is the world of shares, stocks and financial trading to which I refer. If you can work out which businesses are going to be successful then you can become wealthy. If you can work out which ones will simply keep on a level then you can potentially bring in an income sufficient to keep afloat. For a lot of people who have to spend their days sweeping, building, digging, driving, painting, vending, etc, there is one obstacle that can prevent them making a living through this method. Aside from needing to learn the esoteric intricacies of entering the world of stocks and shares there are ethical considerations that many find hard to overcome.
Naturally one makes investments in order to earn money. A lot like the days when banks offered reasonable levels of interest except that the levels possible with a good investment can be far more interesting. In order to make money the investment must be in the sort of company that is likely to make more money and pay out dividends. With a free market in which regulation is kept to a minimum the more successful companies are also the most ruthless companies. They are the companies that don’t mind chopping down forests full of undiscovered creatures; they are the companies that don’t mind sourcing their products from unregulated factories where the age of the workers does not concern the owners, or the materials used might have been mined at terrible cost to the environment and the miners; they are the companies that see the law as a set of rough guide lines that can be interpreted in many ways, and if by chance that interpretation was incorrect the payment of a fine will be all the recompense necessary.
There are of course many successful companies that have far more ethical processes than these but those are the companies that must work extra hard to compete with the less ethical companies. The odds are that they will be paying their workers the lowest prices they can get away with and they will pay their taxes wherever is most convenient, as well as cutting costs by expecting their staff to do excellent jobs with old and malfunctioning equipment. Once again I may have painted a picture of a less than desirable company to hitch one’s ethical karma to.
Of course there are many flavours of business, but if a person wishes to buy shares in a company then the companies that are floated publically on the stock exchange do largely fit into these two categories, and for many people with the intelligence to work out where their money will get the best return these ethical shortcomings are unreconcilable. This is one of the reasons why many people never succeed in buying their way out of logging, farming, welding, bricklaying, fishing, etc. For these people the idea of sitting back and letting the money flow in from all these dubious business practices is as unacceptable as sitting in a bedsit on the dole waiting for junkies to come and buy heroin off them. Here we see a potential meeting of morals between the middle classes and the so called scroungers that Ian Duncan Smith is so intent on destroying.
For the people who are still earning their money without supplementation from shares it might seem as though they are the ones left behind by Bertrand Russell’s prediction. They look on the travesties conducted in the name of business and just hope that one day regulations will be put in place to prevent such practices and in the mean time they hope that perhaps consumers will choose companies with fewer ethical violations. They see the banks distorting markets and losing billions only to be bailed out by tax payer’s money and have little recourse beyond tutting and grumbling in the pub later. They would vote for a government that would sort it all out but the political parties have little difference between them and place GDP so high on their scale of priorities that they aren’t going to be the ones to sort it out unless a critical mass of public opinion forces them.
Getting such a critical mass of opinion in a nation is not an easy job for anyone. Pressure groups and charities work hard to force businesses to be more ethical and for governments to create better legislation, but it all blends together into the buzz of daily news. The political parties canvas to gain voters but as the last election showed no party can even gain a majority at present. Since then the political landscape has become even more fragmented. It is difficult to align the wishes of an entire nation so government ends up controlled by whoever has the loudest voices. These are media organisations with their own business interests which tread the delicate path between success and failure just as any other large business.
The solution to the problem of poor ethics in business for all those who have been trying to keep their hands and their morals clean, is the solution that goes immediately against their instinct. It is by investing in the very companies which have these terrible practices that they can guide them towards better ways of doing business. In day to day running of these companies the board of directors makes business decisions based upon rules that are set out in the Companies Acts. These rules suggest they ought to think about broader issues and their effect on their environment but only really so long as they don’t let it stand too badly in the way of returning maximum profit to the shareholder. However the secondary input that guides their decision making is the input of investors at any meetings they attend.
Given that the entire country proves to be problematic even for the Prime Minister to lead or control it makes sense that ordinary people would only be able to make the world better in smaller ways. Start with the world in front of you. At a certain point one begins to realise that doing the washing up or the vacuum cleaning is quite satisfying but makes no real long term impact on the world and the problems that afflict it. Conveniently if it is possible to save or raise even a small amount of cash it is possible to step into those companies that appear in the newspapers every day. Those things that people vote to change in elections can be changed from within the companies themselves. Admittedly it is still necessary to have the backing of many other like minded thinkers, but far fewer than in a public election. Alternatively simply raising enough money can give one investor the voting power of many.
Without the force of legislation there are few ways to change the behaviour of a company. Consumer action works to an extent but is often easily exhausted and difficult to affect by repairing company behaviour. Only by getting power inside a company itself can one be most assured of getting close to having a positive influence over the way that company conducts its business. By attending shareholder meetings one stands a far better chance of meeting other shareholders and of affecting their thought processes. The more shares a person owns and the more ruthless the company in which they have bought the shares, the more potential for good they can create in shareholder meetings. A side effect of this method of trying to make a better world is that those dividends are received by the people who are working hardest to prevent the companies in question from doing any further harm. That is the way to buy into Bertrand Russell’s prediction without breaking one’s moral principles.

Free Speech

The dogmatic adherence to the principle of free speech is in practice, taken to a point of absurdity.  It is free speech that allows me to tell you that the great and famous philosopher and writer Voltaire was recorded to have said, ‘I disapprove of what you say but I would defend to my death your right to say it.  In reality I doubt Voltaire would defend my right to tell you this as it is misinformation.  The quote is actually one from The Friends of Voltaire written in 1906 by Evelyn Beatrice Hall.  The context was not that Voltaire ever said it but that he held it as a state of mind at one particular time.  Evelyn later identified her inspiration for saying this as being the phrase, ‘Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.’  Whether this itself is fully accurate can also be questioned though the most legitimate sources I have uncovered include the Bibliotheque municipale de Lyon, which in turn quotes pages from the University of York.  The phrase Voltaire offered which became her inspiration certainly does exist and it does not seem to suggest that he has any belief in the war of who has the loudest voice that is currently being conducted in his name.

 

Whilst Voltaire certainly did defend the right to expression of ideas it is unlikely that he would advocate the kind of dogmatism that has developed around this principle in the modern day.  As a man of thought, he would have wished that people put thought into every principle by which they live their lives.  Dogmatism is the very thing that took the beautiful sentiments offered by the world’s religions and subverted them in favour of enacting their most egregious and disruptive principles.  If Voltaire were here today and he were to say, “Monsieur l’abbe, I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write” as he did in 1770 on the 6th of February in a letter to Monsieur Le Riche, I think had Monsieur le Riche written back saying, “You’re an idiot, IDIOT IDIOT IDIOT.  Voltaire is a divvy spanner.  Spacko Pillock.” Voltaire might have thought twice about his previously expressed sentiment.

 

Most people will agree when pressed that free speech must have limits.  In the States where free speech is most stringently protected by the First Amendment to the constitution a legal precedent was famously set by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the case of Schenk v the United States, that consideration should be given to the use of the words and whether they were designed to bring about evils against which the government had a right to act.  Holmes complained at later times that this principle was abused to convict people for speech that should have been protected, which shows that it is a minefield picking through legal principles and precedents.  This instance concerned the limit of the principle where a possibility of criminal conviction was possible.  It might be questioned whether a positivist legal principle stands against absolute morality but an example offered by Holmes being that a person should not be protected for shouting ‘Fire’ in a crowded theatre shows that where very direct negative reactions may be caused speech can cross a line into becoming a form of weaponry or disruption.

 

A similar example might be the use of free speech to shout abuse in the ears of a child until their hearing is damaged.  Anyone who would consider this acceptable would find objection from almost everyone.  If someone tried doing this in a supermarket I would hope that they very quickly found democratic opinion was against them.  A line will be perceived, by anyone who does not blindly hold dogmatically to the principle without thought, that there must be a point at which speech stops being protectable and starts to become problematic.  Unfortunately the line is by its nature very broad.  Opinions will be divided in many cases.  Slipknot played 24 hours per day at full volume to break down the will of prisoners would probably be considered as something which could not be protected.  Sadly at one point at least, the objectors did not include the people charged with keeping the prisoners.  Leaving a 12 hour youtube video playing in the bedroom repeatedly chanting ‘badger badger badger badger mushroom mushroom’ before popping out to visit friends is far less offensive but your wife will no doubt consider it to be a serious abuse of free speech soon after you have left the house.

 

There are limits.  What those limits are may need to be looked at individually and based upon the merits of each separate instance but those limits do exist and they can not simply be defended against by offering a mis-attributed quote purported to have been said by Voltaire.  Even if Voltaire had said it, it would still not be absolute.  It would need to be considered according to the context.  In some quarters there is a tendency to abuse free speech in orgion expressivism that could almost be considered a weapon because it demoralises and terrorises the opponents of the speaker.  If there is an area where it can be most greatly defended it is in calm and measured political debate.  The instances in which the dogmatic protection of free speech should not be considered acceptable must obviously include obfuscatory marketing ploys designed to trick money out of people who are struggling to get by, surely it includes uses of speech that make people fear for their safety,  libel and slander are already covered by law, as is conspiracy or the promotion of terrorism.

 

There are of course instances in which the law does make a stand but it should not be considered by civilians that where the law doesn’t intervene free speech is therefore sacrosanct.  The lesser cousin to crime is the tort.  Torts are offenses against people and property that the law does not consider to offend against the public as a whole but the individuals involved; libel and slander are two examples of this area.  They have already been covered by the law but law moves at a glacial pace and simply because someone’s speech has not yet been covered does not mean that it falls under the dogmatic umbrella of free speech.  There are moral standards that must be evaluated and re-evaluated constantly.  Even if Voltaire was the dogmatic defender of our rights to offend and upset each other that people seem to think he was, he had no experience of Twitter, blogging, or the internet.  As an intelligent and thoughtful philosopher he would certainly have re-evaluated such principles in the modern era.  Considering the mis-attribution of the quote it is apparent that we should not need to wait for permission before exercising our own critical abilities.

 

Political point scoring? Politics by penalty shootout.

I am guessing anyone who has found their way to this page has seen Question time this week in which Shadow Cabinet Minister, Angela Eagle MP, was accused of political point scoring in demanding the resignation of Lord Freud for stating that those who were not ‘worth’ the minimum wage due to disability should be permitted to accept a lower hourly wage.

Lord Freud has been quoted out of context in many places.  In reality the question seems to have been posed by a father who was concerned about the future employment prospects of his disabled daughter.  Without this context the appearance is that Lord Freud is a heartless Conservative ogre with little respect for human rights.  I kind of get the impression that a similar description would suit most MPs so I am not going to dwell on it.  I have certainly met many MPs who have impressed me with their humanity but it seems that once they are given positions of power in the executive they have to make choices between their principles and practicality.  For a prime example of this I would consider the pleas to end ‘Punch and Judy Politics’ before the election by Mr Punch David Cameron.  Another example would be the pro-Europe attitudes of many MPs until UKIP started doing well, whereupon their principles were pushed to the back of the shelf.

Certainly one aspect of the Punch and Judy system of politics is that one must always try to stick the dagger in when the time seems appropriate.  Those who succeed in achieving positions of power seem to have got there partially due to this particular skill.  Naturally Angela Eagle would say that Lord Freud should resign; it is probably the opinion of most people in the shadow cabinet that the entire Tory government should resign, so that can’t really be held against her.  Of course she did seem somewhat surprised that her failed attempt on the point scoring goal seems to have been met with complete hostility by so many people that even those who agreed with her (all across the nation) quietly started examining a bit of fluff they hadn’t realised was stuck on their sleeve whilst feigning a moment’s deafness.

Since then there appear to have been a constant barrage of penalty shootouts against Angela Eagle for having used the opportunity to try and make Lord Freud look bad.  Aside from the fact that Lord Freud was doing perfectly well with making himself look bad already it is the Punch and Judy nature of her response that lost her the opportunity to make an extremely valid point.  In fact she did make the exact point she wished to make but it was completely missed on two occasions because the audience was too intent on scoring points against her for her attempt to score points.  The newspapers have now gotten hold of the political football and are hurriedly scoring political points all over the place.  Angela Eagle only tried to score one point and now there are balls flying all over the place.

The one thing she repeated which should have been heard was that it should not be an issue of money.  It was put to her that Lord Freud’s intent was fully reasonable and everyone knew what he had meant, as though what he had meant was eminently sensible.  Angela Eagle suggested that it was a weakness of the Conservatives that they always brought things down to the issue of money.  The point she wanted to make, at which she should have stopped, is that there could be other ways of doing things.  Employers could be shown how their businesses could benefit from the diversity offered by disabled employees.  There could be ways to balance the work done so that those whose abilities didn’t cover all tasks could take up the slack in areas where they might excel, whilst more able bodied workers could cover for them in other areas.  The efforts of disabled workers could be coordinated to make them more effective.  Fittingly this task could be done by someone who had knowledge of what it is like to be disabled, this would enable many disabled people to be employed in this capacity as well.

Some of those were my own ideas rather than ones put forward by Angela Eagle.  The point I wish to make is that she was right to the extent that all issues cannot be solved by simply throwing money at them.  Whilst one way to get employers to take on disabled employees would be to subsidise wages this is not an ideal solution in our current economic climate.  When all that is on George Osborne’s mind is austerity and saving money the first option in any situation should not be to pay out money to deal with every issue on the agenda.  Subsidising the wages of the disabled is akin to paying employers to make the disabled go away.  Whilst it is the disabled who should be getting paid for the work they are doing, it is the employers who are being paid to hide them from public view.  The system would be ripe for abuse.  At present there are a huge number of people with disabilities in employment and the reason for this is that it has been discovered that many people on the autistic spectrum are actually far better than mentally typical people in many technology jobs.  By subsidising the wages of the disabled, government would only be encouraging employers to continue seeking out the best candidates for positions at a fraction of the cost.  Large companies would become expert in sourcing the best candidates for the lowest prices.  Also how would government accomplish the task of grading each individual to judge how great a subsidy they should receive?  Throwing money at situations leaves them ripe for abuse by those who are most adept at abusing situations for monetary gain.

The most ironic thing is that it was a Labour politician who was complaining about the idea of government paying out more money versus a Conservative politician that was suggesting there might be a way of dealing with the issue by the government paying more money.  It is my belief that most of our problems can be solved through methods other than spending cash.  We have all heard stories where the official line in some organisation has been that things must be done in a certain way that costs hundreds of pounds while the people involved have been saying something like, “If you just gave me the £2.50 for the bus fare I would do it myself.”  Again and again we hear tales of ridiculous amount of money being wasted not because the system allows it but because the system demands it.  During the MP’s expenses scandal there were tales that the clerks involved in controlling the expenses were the ones making the suggestions of how best to take the most money.

There are many times in our daily lives when we can see the absurdity of pricing and costs with the implications that they will eventually have on our environment.  I could waffle on for ages about ways in which money could be better used.  I don’t think that Angela Eagle’s point was too difficult to understand; it was just too easy to miss, especially in the noise of the furor over her ‘point scoring’.  Behind the call for Lord Freud’s dismissal she did make a very good point, one I think could be listened too and adopted by Conservatives, Labour, Libdems, Greens, whoever.  Our first approach to solving any political problem should never be to simply throw money at it.  We are all short of money, government included, but one thing that we all have in excess is common sense, but most of us rarely exercise it.

Dear Microsoft, please get it right next time.

Microsoft currently have a mountain of a task ahead of them.  The number of Windows versions in use at present displays a level of fragmentation that would make Android sit up and take notice.  Despite the dropping of support for XP earlier this year it still accounts for a quarter of computers according to Micromart this week.  This is not surprising considering that large enterprises that use hundreds or thousands of XP machines are able to pay extra to extend support.  There are also a large number of home users that are not too keen on spending over a hundred pounds to get a new OS.  I have a computer that still has XP on a partition because it is far more convenient for the support of older software and hardware.  It also means that the computer in question cost less to buy than simply the disc for a new Windows 8 installation.

 

Anyone who has been a regular purchaser of computers will know that Microsoft have a reputation for releasing dud operating systems inbetween every decent OS.  At the turn of the millenium they released such a dud that it has all but been forgotten.  Ask most people what came before XP and their answer will probably be Windows 98.  I have seen some machines that are still running the millennium edition.  Perhaps they will have massive value for rarity, it certainly won’t be for memorability.  After XP came Vista, an OS so universally hated that it currently only has 3% market share.  I had one of the first laptops running Vista and it consistently took 15 minutes from pressing the power button before it would recognise that there was anyone present who wished to do any computing.  Windows 7 was the rebound to an OS that was once again pleasant and useful.  As I have aged it feels like no sooner was Windows 7 released than they brought out the current atrocity that is Windows 8.

 

Atrocity may be a bit harsh as the OS has been significantly improved since it was first released.  It is actually the sort of OS I would be quite happy to use now if it weren’t for the fact that upgrading would cost me more than my desktop computer cost to buy.  When it was first released it only cost £20 for the upgrade.  Cynically I think that may be because it was so bad that they would really have needed to pay people to take it on.  Certainly charging a cheap price wasn’t enough to stimulate take up as only around 12% of users are on Windows 8 compared to approximately half of users on Windows 7.

 

Microsoft are aiming to fix all this with Windows 9, which is due out late next year.  It will be the unification of computer and mobile operating systems.  It will also reverse all the mistakes that were made with Windows 8.  Fingers crossed.  Despite running betas and doing huge amounts of consumer surveys MS somehow managed to completely ignore everyone’s concerns with their last attempt at a new OS.  It is almost as if they deliberately tried to create the worst possible OS because they knew that the Microsoft curse of the alternating success/failure would ruin it anyway.

 

It must be frustrating for MS when they see Apple release a new OS every year and the whole mac using clan clamour to get it so fast that the Apple servers clam up for the whole day.  Once Windows 9 has been released it is my hope that Satya Nadella will learn from the past and will start releasing new operating systems in the same way that Apple do.  Instead of releasing an OS so different that everyone hates it and no one knows how to use it.  They could release new versions every year which change only just enough to include new and helpful features that people want to see.  Instead of releasing an OS that has taken four or five years to develop for a week’s wages they could release an OS that has only taken a year to develop for the amount of cash you might spend in a couple of hours in the pub.  That strategy seems to work for Apple.  That is why almost everyone gets each new update.  People even deliberately go and buy new machines just so they can get the new software update.


If the Windows user base started taking up new updates that consistently, MS would reap the huge benefit that almost everyone would be using just one version of their software.  That has got to make support easier.  The problem in the first place is that Satya Nadella is essentially beginning a new era for Microsoft software.  In order to make it work he needs to get everyone on the same starting line.  The people who are still clinging to XP are not going to drop £100 or more for Windows 9 if they didn’t for Windows 8.  There are rumours that Windows 9 will be offered as a cheap upgrade for users of 8 but really it needs to be offered as a cheap purchase for all PC users.  If it was £20 across the board then MS might succeed in getting most users to adopt the new OS when it is released.  If it was free then they would have even more success.  Once the vast majority of users have been converted the wise thing to do would be to adopt a release schedule closer to that offered by Apple and not try to reinvent computing with each new release.  We may all benefit from change but it is in human nature to resist it.

A new approach to slugs.

I have decided that I am approaching slugs in the wrong manner.  Many folk deal with slugs by poisoning them with various types of slug pellets.  I have always been dead set against this method because anything that eats the slugs will also suffer effects from the poison.  One of the great things about a garden is the birdlife.  In fact the birdlife can be a great help by predating on the pests that plague your garden.  It is therefore not desirable for the birds to be poisoned by pellets all over the garden.

Another method of dealing with slugs is the beer trap.  This has always been my favoured method of getting rid of them because they can sink into oblivion after a night of drinking.  It doesn’t seem like killing so much as enabling.  This illusion is helped by the way in which so many of the slugs seem to just get drunk and then go and sleep it off under the lettuce rather than falling into the beer.

The method that I have found to be most effective is to remove the slugs from the garden.  Sending them all over the garden fence keeps them away from my plants for a while.  Luckily for the slugs I have a nice big grassy patch behind my house for them to spend some time in.  If not for that I would be torn between gifting them to the neighbours and throwing them on to the road at the front.  I feel far too sorry for the slugs to send them into the poisoned death traps of my neighbours’ gardens.  Other folk might feel sorry for the neighbours being invaded by slugs but I have some neighbours who I favour slightly less than the slugs.  The road is also not good as I feel sorry for the slugs hitting the tarmac as they soar over the hedge; I also wince every time I hear one hit a car roof or bonnet and worry what the drivers will think when they come out in the morning.

The problem with relocating the slugs is that they apparently have a rather good homing instinct.  I have therefore decided to focus on my new approach.  It turns out that there are about 25 different varieties of slug in the UK.  We are blessed with the kind of damp weather that most slugs love so they have done very well in our climate.  We are even picking up new varieties that are coming up from Spain.  It can often feel like there is only one variety because they all seem so similar.  We assume that the smaller slugs are younger versions of the big black ones we are used to seeing.  In actual fact it is the smaller ones that are the most trouble.  They are adults and they are a destructive army in their own right.

When targeting slugs it is very easy to go out and pick off the large black ones with a torch late at night.  This can help quite a lot, but it is actually the smaller ones that are most likely to be doing the greatest damage.  There are three or four different species of slug that are around 3cm or smaller and it is these that are the trouble makers.  Any gardener will be used to seeing slugs that are over 10cm in length but from my research it seems that these larger ones are less likely to be causing so much trouble.  

The smaller varieties will feed almost exclusively on things that I would rather grow nice and large to feed myself.  The larger slugs will often favour rotting vegetation, dead animals, and even other slugs.  They will only eat your nice fresh vegetables when they do not have access to enough of their preferred diet.  There are some larger slugs who will prefer nice vegetables instead of rotting matter but they are far less numerous than the tiny 3cm slugs that focus solely on your seedlings.  The irony is that as the larger ones are so much easier to see and catch it is they who have been taking flying lessons while the smaller slugs have been allowed to remain largely untouched as they go around eating my salad leaves.  They have probably become even more prolific in the absence of all the giants I have evicted.

My new approach is to keep the large slugs.  Rather than send them next door I am creating slug ghettos in which they can be put to work creating compost for the garden.  It always frustrates me how long it takes compost to break down.  If slugs are going to help me by digesting it then I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.  I have already noticed that some of them, particularly the paler ones seem to remain exclusively in their ghetto areas.

Step two of my plan which I intend to put into action soon is to cultivate the more favourable of the slugs.  The premium slug is the leopard slug.  It is lucky that it is this slug that is most beneficial for the garden as it is this slug that is most easily recognisable.  The leopard slug is covered in dots and dashes, so that it does look as though it has a leopard like skin.  The beauty of this particular slug is that as well as eating rubbish and rotting waste it will also hunt other slugs.  As a killer of slugs it is welcome in my garden.  There is always the danger that it might on occasion snack on some vegetables but this is a far lower risk than the risk of its prey eating my vegetables.

Hopefully the use of knowledge will lead to a lazier and more ecologically sound way in which to run my garden.  If this works it will back up my basic belief that almost anything can be improved by taking a different approach and using knowledge of your barriers to success in order to design methods to achieve your ends that contain fewer of the usual harms inherent in the prevalent systems in place. 

Looks like I have to save the world again.

I feel like today’s post may be a long one.  There seems to be so much despondency in the world that I wish to address.  Mind you, Barack Obama says it has always been like this, it is just that we never had Facebook to keep us continually informed before.  On the bright side it has come to my attention that there are a huge number of people trying to make things better.  There are the heroes who go to the darkest most dangerous places of the world to try and make a difference and end up getting killed or imprisoned, but there are also the heroes that are making small changes to the world around us that barely anyone ever notices.  In the end I wonder which will end up creating the longest lasting difference.  I like the Tibetan Buddhist approach; it will all work itself out eventually, lets just wait and see.

However, I guess that is kind of point number one on my saving the world score today.  For all the harm in the world there is also someone somewhere who is trying to fix it, they are just not all that newsworthy.  Besides which, if you knew about all the good stuff then you wouldn’t need to go out and buy yourself treats to cheer yourself up, the economy would fall, and big fat suited men wouldn’t be able to enjoy the finest cognacs… as much as they would like.  Rest assured there is good stuff going on.

But don’t grow complacent.  People are sorting things out but it is a big world and it needs a lot of people to help fix it.  Point number two on my world saving scale is that people don’t worry too much about trying too hard themselves because they think one person can’t make enough of a difference, but one person times a billion can.  While that might sound a bit preachy, it is actually beneficial for the individual more than it is for the world.  That’s right, being selfish enough to boost your own smugness with good deeds probably helps you more than the world.  The improvement in your own emotional health has been shown to be dramatic. If however you do genuinely care about the world more than yourself do not fret because if everyone selfishly boosts their own smugness by doing good deeds the result will be a better world as well.  How is that for a win win situation.

When it comes to substantive problems one of the worst at the moment is that people are hungry.  A rise in poverty is causing a great deal of people to need food banks.  Whilst there are a lot more poor individuals out there than most of us feel confident enough to help there is a way in which we can do it through selfish self interest if we all get behind it.  It is nice that the way I have in mind also saves us money, it improves our health through helping us exercise, helping us eat better, and helping us avoid harmful chemicals.  If you haven’t guessed, this is a gardening blog post.

Number one on my list of fears at the moment is related to GMO food.  I say related because GMO food has the potential to really help the world and everyone on it.  If a plant was genetically modified to have a massive yield despite the weather and soil conditions not being as great as they could, and there were no side effects then this can only be a good thing.  The problem for me is that currently the number one genetically modified crop being tried out is Roundup resistant maize.  The first problem with this is that being Roundup resistant it becomes possible to soak this crop with Roundup in order to kill all the weeds that might grow around it.  Now while I may be able to think of many reasons why killing the weeds might not be the best plan, such as the fact that any pests now have no choice but to eat the maize, leading to necessity for greater use of pesticides as well, or the fact that this will diminish the biological diversity of the soil and necessitate the need for more chemical fertilisers, it is actually the Roundup itself that bothers me most.

Roundup is a herbicide and as someone who has suffered from digestive disorders due to imbalance in intestinal flora it has worried me that traces of it on food can kill the flora in the intestines.  I have seen charts that show a correlation between increased use of Roundup and increased hospital visits from people who have conditions involving the digestion.  I have also seen correlations between the heavy use of Roundup in third world countries and the increased depression and suicide of the poorly educated farmers there who do not take precautions against exposure.  If you want to find this information a Google search can easily uncover it.  At some future time I may seek out the links but do not have the time today.

As far as I am concerned I am not too bothered by artificial fertilisers.  A lot of them seem fairly innocuous, though I have no doubt there may be a few harmful ones.  Pesticides bother me less than they might bother other people.  Recent testing has shown that there are foods coming into our country that contain banned pesticides such as DDT.  The most recent report showed leading tea brands which contained a number of banned pesticides and permitted pesticides in higher than permitted quantities.  I think that this sort of thing is more of an exception and I don’t think it is as worrying as the herbicides.  Mostly because people assume something intended to kill insects is going to be more harmful to humans than something intended to kill weeds.  It is the herbicides that are not worried about that may get through in the kinds of quantities that may be problematic.

For this reason I have taken to growing food.  This has a number of obvious benefits.  It keeps me healthy and young to keep having to plant seeds and dig holes.  When research has shown that every additional hour of sitting in a chair after hour number one can knock 20 minutes off your life expectancy then gardening is a good idea if you would like an extra five or so years of life.  It has the benefit of exercising my mind.  An active mind has been shown to keep one alive and more healthy as well, how else do you think judges keep working into their 80s?  Learning different varieties of plants and their properties is far better mind exercise than sitting and watching NCIS marathons, which I have not managed to stop doing.  I need to visit doctors far less often because many of the things that ail the population are caused by things in their diet.  The blind faith that people have in modern medicine is akin to the faith that people used to have in religion or magic.  Whilst medicine is taking a scientific approach, it is still in the stone age compared to our technology.  While you can run experiments on computers in a matter of hours dependent on what you want to know, it may take years to run an experiment involving a human’s health.  Not to mention you would need hundreds of humans in the experiment to be sure and there are also ethical problems with human experimentation, and the impossibility of being able to conduct the kind of pure science one can conduct in the laboratory, and the fact that if you could then it would be largely irrelevant to understanding what happens in the world outside the laboratory.  Almost all modern medicines are derived from things that grow outside in our gardens.  Generally the garden variety is healthier than the distilled and amplified chemical variety.

If everyone was out there then everyone would be working their physical fitness, learning and stretching their brains, eating fresh food that maintains all its vitamins in the minute or two it takes to get from the garden to the front door.  Surprisingly even those who prefer to grow floral gardens rather than vegetable gardens are still growing huge numbers of things that can be eaten or used in some way that can benefit your health.  I remember hearing about one person who worked in a health food store and he was always amused by the fact that people would come in and spend several pounds on a bag of chamomile teabags with its associated CO2 equivalent in packaging and delivery, when right outside the door of the shop there was loads of organic chamomile growing wild and fresh.  If we cultivated our knowledge we would all be saving a few quid at his shop.

A big problem of our disconnect with plantlife is that fewer and fewer people have gardens now.  Fewer people consider it a necessity, they are quite happy to move into apartments or town houses.  If more people insisted on gardens then it would benefit those who did not make the cost savings associated with having a store of free food right outside their house because gardenless properties would drop in price.  Our selfishness therefore has begun to help those who do not garden straight away as their rent drops.  As we no longer need to buy so much from the supermarkets it means that the supermarkets will need to become even more competitive and drop their prices more to try and maintain the sales they currently enjoy; our selfishness once again helps those without gardens.  If less food is being delivered and packaged because we don’t want it then the environment benefits; our selfishness is beginning to save the planet.  If the environment is not deteriorating at the previously expected rate then more money that was being used to save the planet can be diverted into improving public services; our selfishness in smugly growing our own food for our own health and enjoyment is just causing no end of good in the world.  With millions of gardeners growing their own food and saving their own seeds the number of vegetable varieties will increase as new varieties adapt to different climates and become ever more developed for size, flavour, etc;  it looks as though even if we fail to fix climate change we will have plenty of plants that have adapted to it, thanks to our selfish insistence of saving money by growing our own food and seeds.

Like I said before, if only one person tries to make a change then of course there is no change but if everyone tries then solutions are not far away.  The important thing is to realise it is not a chore or a pain, it is something that will make you feel happier, more accomplished and healthier.  What I have outlined in this page is not enough to save the world on its own, but I’m not Superman and I think that it is enough of saving the world to satisfy me for one day. 

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