I will KICK YOUR ASS with my pumpkins
Friday, October 31, 2008
Of course, nothing is sadder than what happens to perfectly good pumpkins later.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:49 PM
Why Money Sucks - and Why It Doesn't
Friday, October 10, 2008
Since a lot of people seem to be very focused on the subject of "money" lately, I thought I'd take this opportunity to present a little Portly Lecture.
(With Extra-Added Bonus Feature: A Number of Sweeping Conclusions Which May Be More Conjectural Than Factual).
The first form of inter-tribal "commodity" money (approx. 9000 -1 bc) was probably livestock/cattle, and some archaeologists/anthropologists suspect that the first form of "representative" money (something that was not the Valuable Thing itself, but rather, an acceptable stand-in for the Valuable Thing) might have been a scrap of hide that represented one cow or one sheep, etc. -- so that you didn't have to actually move the cattle around in order to make the deal -- because moving cattle costs them energy and requires feeding them along the way, and risks them being attacked by predators, etc..
Cowrie shells later had a good go as "money" in a number of cultures (one of the Chinese characters for money is actually based on the shape of a cowrie shell). Cowries and other shells were used as currency in parts of Africa, Asia, and North America. Cowrie shells and later coined money are sometimes referred to as "commodity" money, but I actually think that they were "representational" money as well, for reasons I'll go into below.
Some other forms of "commodity money" (think of this as "stuff that everybody will probably need/use at some point, or which they can trade to someone else who will probably need it) that humans have tried on during the last 11,000 years or so are: amber, drums, eggs, feathers, gongs, ivory, jade, leather, mats, nails, oxen, pigs, quartz, rice, salt, shovel-heads, hoes, various metal ingots, and thimbles.
Why the history lesson? Well, to make one point very clear: Money is nothing more than agreement.
The proof of this is that, even though Cowrie shells were considered perfectly good as legal tender in a wide range of ancient cultures, I'm guessing that you would not be willing to let me purchase your house with them today. (If you would be willing to do so, please email me -- I happen to have some very lovely cowrie shells.)
I find myself particularly bemused when thinking about Cowries as currency, because, although they are pretty and shiny and all, they really have no intrinsic "survival" value aside from any agreement the ancients might have had that they were recognized currency (unlike, say, eggs, salt, or shovel-heads).
You can't eat a cowrie shell. You can't turn a cowrie shell into a tool. Unless you have someone else who agrees with you that they are "money", they are exclusively ornamental.
Which is why I laugh when I hear people rant about the importance of the "gold standard".
Archaeological finds suggest that gold has been used as a form of currency since the 7th century BCE.
My chuckles about the gold standard stem from the fact that gold is so closely parallel to cowrie shells in many respects: Pretty. Shiny. Can't eat it. Lousy for making tools.
In fact, gold's widespread usefulness as a Valuable Thing in its own right (rather than its value as ornament, or any agreements about gold as a currency) is fairly recent -- arriving with the advent of industrial, electronic, and medical uses for gold.
So in the sense of gold's pre-industrial-age value as currency, I actually think gold kind of sucks when compared to cowries as a form of currency -- because gold is heavy -- really heavy -- and the whole idea of agreed-upon currency is to create a portable symbol of agreement so that the underlying barter of goods (which is the true purpose of any representational economic system) is more efficient.
The transport inefficiencies with gold and other metal coinage (why risk a dozen perfectly good oxen dragging some heavy-ass gold around with you as you vacationed in Capri? -- not to mention the danger of robbers) was probably what gave rise to paper money -- and we've been moving toward ever more efficient and portable agreements about money since paper money was first printed in China in the 5th century CE -- we've moved from printed currency to "checks" to paper credit cards and accounts to plastic with numbers to magnetic strips.
But again -- this is all just an agreement -- a rather fragile agreement, as we have been witnessing in recent weeks.
At the end of the US Civil War, Confederate paper money (which started out with a high value at the start of Secession) was valueless -- after the War, these tokens of previous agreement were used to insulate clothing and as litter for hen-houses.
Nowadays, you can buy a set of 13 Confederate banknotes on ebay for around $8 -- but it still isn't valued as currency -- it's been relegated to the pretty/shiny/unusual classification that an ancient trade-bead or cowrie shell has -- because it lacks this one thing:
When I send you a check or a paypal transfer or whatever for xx.xx$USD, it's because we agree that xx.xx$USD=xx.xx$USD or xx.xx₤ or xx.xx$Canadian or xx.xxPesos or xx.xxYen or whatever.
That agreement changes day to day, and here's the first reason that Money Sucks:
You and I don't actually get to be direct, advised parties
to that changing agreement.
We don't. We really don't. Not in this culture, anyway. We go online and look at the rate for today that someone else (not us) agrees that our "money" is worth as compared to other types of "money", or as compared to what "our money" was worth yesterday, and then we either groan or cheer.
And when we try to find out who that "someone else" might be? It's this mysterious something called "The Market". It's no one that we can talk to or negotiate with -- it's this huge, weird system that most of us feel baffled and confused by.
Truth is, though, that "The Market" is nothing but a network of human beings and their agreements, and believe me -- somewhere, there is someone (or a collection of someones) who types in numbers and makes decisions and today, I know that that someone is not me, and that collection of someones is not me and my friends/allies/acquaintances (and if some of you friends/allies/acquaintances out there are in this group of someones, and you're holding out on me here, I am letting you know right now that I am not getting you a birthday present this year!).
The second way that money sucks is this: The vast majority of people on this planet live in societies in which money is pretty much necessary for basic survival. This, in itself, is not a problem, as agreement on a portable method of exchange is handy and efficient and facilitates a wider range of exchanges.
The problem arises because of this: The vast majority of that vast majority exchange hours of their time, and the use of their energy (in varying forms of muscle-power, brain-power, etc.) in order to "earn" money.
As Joe says at 5:00 of this clip: ".... my life. I sold it to you for $300 freakin' dollars a week!"
Again, even this "sale of life" is not, in itself, a problem -- but here's the rub for me:
Let's take two jobs:
Person A is a 22-year-old delivery-driver, making $10/hour.
Person B is a 48-year-old retail salesperson, making minimum wage ($6.55/hour).
(And yes, these are real-life examples based on people that I actually know.)
Each of them are selling hours of their life, with comparable energy-outputs in terms of physical demands.
Where do I find the arrogance to say that an hour of one of these individual's lives is worth more or less than an hour of the other's?
Think of someone you love for a moment. Let's say that they are about to die, and you have the power to ransom them -- for a price. How much would you pay for another hour of their existence? How much for another day? Another year?
This is where the concept of money gets really difficult for me. I simply have a hard time getting behind any system which arbitrarily "agrees" that an hour of one human being's existence can be worth, say, $120/hour (or more), while an hour of another human being's existence can be worth 50 cents (or less).
I've struggled with this concept for a long, long time, and have not yet resolved it for myself to any degree of real satisfaction.
I suppose that makes me a socialist.
When I add the reality that the valuation of what an hour of my life is worth according to "The Market" may change at any moment, with or without my agreement, or the agreement of the person making $120/hr or certainly, the person making 50 cents/hr . . . . . well . . . . . . why do so many people seem shocked that the system is disintegrating? I believe that we all knew that it wasn't fair, or balanced, or even realistic over the long term -- I believe that we all knew this -- for a very long time.
So, now that I've talked about how much money sucks, let me tell you why I think it doesn't suck:
Money, as a pure concept of a mutually-agreed-upon form of efficient exchange, definitely does not suck. If you and I and a whole bunch of other people can agree that cowrie shells can stand in for a number of other things that we might want to exchange easily and portably, I think that's great.
However, I think that there are some things that are currently not agreed-upon in global human society that we should settle -- before we get on with this whole "money" thing:
1) Everyone who wants it gets a place to live that is safe and hygienic.
2) Everyone who wants it gets enough to eat.
3) Everyone who wants it gets serviceable clothing that will protect them from the elements.
4) Everyone who wants it gets medical care and treatment.
Once that's all taken care of, anyone who wants to develop a trade or service for which they charge 200 cowries per hour is free to do so (as long as it doesn't impact the basic right of any other human to enjoy basic shelter, food, clothing, and medical care). I can agree with them (or not) that I will turn over my cowrie shells at their hourly rate for whatever trinket or service they are selling.
I mean -- if we're going to play a gigantic shell-game -- then let's play it with gusto, and consciousness, and mutual agreement.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 1:05 AM
SNTDBIDW -- Worry
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
(Installment #3 in a series)
When I was a kid, I was a bona-fide worry-wart.
Add to this the fact that I was a budding professional insomniac by age 7, and this guaranteed that the night before a big test, or an important school project, I would be laying in bed for hours and hours and hours with eyes so sanpaku that I could have auditioned for the part of mass-murderer in the 2nd grade pageant (of course, if I'd gotten the part, I would have laid awake for hours and hours and hours the night before the pageant, worrying about it).
On one such night, I wandered downstairs while my parents were watching Johnny Carson and announced that, since there was no way I was going to get to sleep ever, I should be allowed to stay up and watch the Tonight Show with them.
At which point, my dad gave me a piece of advice that, if advice could be worn out, would be nothing but bare shreds of advice by now (or perhaps, simply trace advice-residue), so often and so thoroughly have I applied it.
"If you're worried about something and it's keeping you awake, and there's something you can do about right now, then get up right now and do that something. If not, then remember that you've done all you can right now, and get a good night's sleep."If I recall correctly, in that particular instance, the awful, haunting, worrisome thing was a Social Studies test, for which I had done all the studying I could have possibly done, so I went back upstairs and fell fast asleep.
Now, as regards Worrying being Shit Not To Do Because It Doesn't Work, I'm not going to hand you some simplistic "Don't Worry, Be Happy" shit.
I'm going to talk about the merits of refraining from -- or transforming -- Worry based on the original premise of this series -- that the best reason not to worry is that worry doesn't work -- it doesn't actually do anything.
Personally, I think that worry and guilt are two of the most useless pastimes in the world. (Sadly, this doesn't mean I don't engage in these useless pastimes.)
I do not even deign to call them "emotions", because I don't think that they are emotions. I think that they are mental exercises.
Worry is, essentially, a form of fear -- (for what's it's worth, I don't think that Fear is actually an emotion, either, but seriously, if this post is not going to be a nonillion characters long, we're just going to have to save Portly's Definitions of Real, True Emotions for another time, so bear with me for this one, 'K?)
My problem with worry is that, unless you actually harness it as a motivating force (which few people seem to do) I don't see what usefulness it has.
In fact, worry tends to be counterproductive for many (if not most) of us -- giving rise to a certain paralyzed, lethargic state in which the bulk of our energy is channeled into the worrying --and leaving very little energy left over for taking action.
I could go on and on about how this energy-misdirection results in the Worrier taking no action on the thing that's worrying them, thus deepening the cause for worry, but I won't.
Instead, I'm going to move directly into some suggestions about how to stop/refrain from/transform Worrying.
1) Part one of dad's advice has been very effective for me. If I'm laying awake at night worrying, and I can do something that would move the worrisome situation forward for me, I get up right then, and I do that something.
Sometimes, if this is in the middle of the night, this is drafting or even sending an email, sitting down to pay the bills (even if I don't have the money in the bank right at that moment, I actually write the checks out and show any negative balance to myself, so that I have an idea about the actuality of the problem, and have a goal to work toward), or typing out an imagined conversation that I can't actually have right at that moment (because that person would probably be pissed as hell if I called them at 3 am), but that I'm worried about having (this exercise often shows me what anticipated responses from the other person I'm worried about in the conversation).
2) If you're worried about something that you cannot do anything about right now, get that shit out of your head. Stop offering it massive real-estate in your brain. Easier said than done, you say? Well, of course -- but here are some tricks I use:
- Make the "Oh-Shit-Oh-Fuck" list. When I'm truly worrying away about something over which I have absolutely no power (not that anyone might be having that problem right about now, I'm sure *ahem*), I actually follow my worry out on paper. I write down what I'm worried might happen -- I might write: "I'll lose my job". Then I ask the question: "Yeah, and then what?" -- which generally leads to something like: "Then I won't be able to pay my bills", or yours might be: "I'll lose my health benefits, and won't be able to pay for the medication I need". I ask again: "Yeah, and then what?" I follow those worries/fears down to the ultimate conclusion (which is usually something like "And then I'll die") to the greatest extent that I can. I put them on paper. If I discover some part of it that I can actually do something about, I write that on a to-do list. If not, I set the OSOF list aside, and if I come up with something else I'm worrying about, I add it to the list. Then, when the worries arise and seem about to eat me, I glance over at the list and think: "Yeah, I've heard that before" or "Oh -- hey! That's a new one! My! Aren't we creative!" *scribble, scribble scribble*. Sometimes, when I go to bed, I'll actually say: "Goodnight, list -- I know you'll probably still be here in the morning, but if not, sweet dreams!"
- Talk to someone else about my worries (even small, seemingly ridiculous worries). Preferably someone who isn't likely to commiserate with me in the direction of more worrying.
- Make a description of what's actually happening now in my life, and compare it to my worries list. Not as a way of negating the real concerns, or even the ridiculous worries, but as a way of balancing my perspective -- a way of saying: "Yes, I have this worry, and here's what's happening now".
For those of you who follow the idea that thought creates reality, and worry (oh no!) that these strategies will simply resonate the thing that you are worried about, well, this is how I look at it: The worry is already in my head. I can deny that and simply try to "think good thoughts", but I've found that that doesn't really work for me.
When I'm feeling worried, and I try to "talk myself down" with positive affirmations, it doesn't seem to work. I think that it's a way of "shushing" the worries, which just makes the worries more worried, because after all, if they were actually invalid, why would I shush them instead of simply hearing them out and saying "That's not a realistic concern" or "That's a completely valid concern and I'll do everything I can to address it"?
In my recent contemplations of the current economic situation (my own and the nation's/world's), I have come to the conclusion that, should it really all go to the worst kind of shit imaginable in a catastrophic, melt-downish manner that I have no control over, I would rather have spent this time feeling alive and engaged, rather than worried and paralyzed.
I'm not saying that you "shouldn't" worry, or that the worries people are entertaining are invalid or unreasonable -- I'm just questioning the effectiveness of turning a large amount of the rather formidable brain-power that exists amongst my friends and acquaintances to that activity.
I'm attempting to practice something other than worry because I've tried it before, and that shit does not work.
Your mileage may vary.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 9:45 AM
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Yesterday, I got an alert from Amazon Honor-Pay System that $81 had been transferred from my donation bucket to my bank account.
Seems three of you donated anonymously (I had been alerted about one of the four donations I received that wasn't anonymous), and I want to say -- Thank You, from the bottom of my heart.
The last six months have been a bit dicey for us financially, as I'm sure they have been for many of you. I do a lot of the work that I do in the meat-world free of charge as a minister, and rely on my small business to pay my daily bills -- that's my choice and my desire, but my personal business service is of the type that people generally purchase only after the rent is paid and the groceries are secured (as it should be!), so cash has been pretty thin for us.
The fact that folks left donations during this time when I know that many are worried about finances warmed my heart even more, and that $81 brightened my day considerably. That amount is more than double the total amount that I've received in donations in the entire time I've had the donation-box up -- it was a wonderful surprise -- a little miracle on the 1st of a month when I needed a little miracle.
My Beloved said: "Hey! You got paid for writing!" -- I guess that makes me an "author" now. ;)
On the "more good news" side of the equation, we just found out yesterday that it looks as if we've found someone to share our current space with us, so we'll probably be able to remain where we are for the Winter. We were ready to give notice for the end of November (kind of a lousy time to move in the Northwest).
So -- Thank You -- to those of you who donated, and to those of you who read and comment. Your support means a lot to me, and helps me keep on keepin' on.
Posted byPortlyDyke at 8:55 AM