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Last week, we may have ceased to exist

June 5, 2011

A couple of weeks ago Harold Camping predicted that The Rapture would occur. The date came and went. Camping was comprehensively derided and ridiculed. The World cheered.

Our celebrations may have been premature. Allow me to elaborate.

EXHIBIT 1: Nature is worth billions to UK

Experts have calculated the value of Britain’s parks, forests, rivers and wildlife – down to the birds and the bees. I understand that the motive behind this may be honourable – it is saying that these things are valuable. But the implication is that nothing is allowed to exist just because it’s beautiful or simply because it is not ours to dispose of; that it is all right to break up the moon and sell it for scrap. The inevitable conclusion of this discussion is that the destruction of anything is justified, so long as it yields a higher money total than its existence.

EXHIBIT 2: The Rise of Glencore

The commodities trader Glencore, floated in the stock-market (and fast-tracked into the FTSE 100). This is a company that engages in the unethical, evil and perfectly lawful practice of commodities trading – including on food securities. If you wish to know how this works read my article. The flotation made a multi-billionaire of its CEO and multi-millionaires of its traders. All this amid allegations of tax irregularities by the European Investment Bank, no less.

Speculation on commodities and more specifically on food is considered by many commentators to be in large part responsible for unrest in North Africa and pushes many millions around the world into extreme poverty. Or to put it more plainly, people are dying of starvation for Glencore’s bottom line. During the Second World War it was called ‘profiteering’ and those who engaged in it were tried for treason. Nowadays it’s a pat on the back and a billion pound bonus.

EXHIBIT 3: US Agencies Argue over The Value of Human Life

The US Environmental Protection Agency set the value of human life at $9.1m. The Food and Drug Administration thinks this is on the pricey side – their estimate is $7.9m. Meanwhile the Transportation Department sticks with its more conservative $6m estimate. The purpose for the valuation is to determine how much money it is reasonable to spend to prevent a single death. Business concerns argue all three valuations are too high.

The calculation takes into account everything from future earnings and taxation, to blood, sperm or eggs and organs. Astute observers might note that this appears to focus on what a human life is worth to the government, the economy, persons in need of body bits; in short, to others. No mention or consideration is given to what a human life might be worth to the human in question.

EXHIBIT 4: The Story of Little Zheng

A week ago a boy of 17 from Huaishan City in the Anhui province of China travelled to the neighbouring Hunan province without his parents’ knowledge or consent. He went to a hospital – unauthorised for this kind of operation – and had a kidney removed, which he sold for just over £2,000. The deal had been brokered over the internet. “I wanted to buy an iPad 2 but could not afford it,” said the boy to the Shanghai Daily. The boy’s name is little Zheng.

I could be staggered. I could be outraged. I could put my shocked face on; my I-didn’t-think-anything-bad-would-come-from-feeding-dead-cows-to-live-ones face. But I am too sad to manufacture an energetic response; too tired from trying to protect my tiny flame of humanity from a hurricane of science.

So, maybe the old kook was broadly right, after all. Maybe he just got the particulars wrong. After all, isn’t it just another sign of our arrogance to expect that humanity will go out with a big bang? This is as possible a beginning to our end as any other. No Asteroid; no Superquake; no Ice Age. Just a self-realisation, that we are no longer people, but commodities.

Just a young lad in China taking the next logical step in the inexorable path we have charted, by looking at life through the unforgiving prism of a monetary equation. The natural conclusion of a capitalist dogma which encourages the gap between rich and poor to widen, while bombarding ’emerging markets’ with images suggesting only an iPad 2 can make one happy and whole – an iPad made, ironically, in China at a cost of $250 per unit; and retailing at the bargain price of One Human Kidney. The ultimate signature of blood on the Faustian pact negotiated with every parent telling every child: “If you’re good, I will buy you [insert object]”.

Or perhaps – just perhaps – this is some Blade Runner nightmare giving us a glimpse into the future. Perhaps there is time to retrace our steps and make different choices. Better ones.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Alex Connolly permalink
    June 5, 2011 3:16 pm

    I only have a small point to make. Never Let Me Go (I read the book) depicts a dystopian world were some humans are bred specifically for their body parts to be sold on.

    They only difference (perhaps) here is that they are cloned- bred, if you will- for their originals to get the needed body parts following accidents and such. Again though, there is the lack of respect for Human life and the immeasurable things they comprise.

  2. Cath permalink
    June 5, 2011 4:48 pm

    “But I am too sad to manufacture an energetic response; too tired from trying to protect my tiny flame of humanity from a hurricane of science.”

    All I could do was cry.

    “Perhaps there is time to retrace our steps and make different choices. Better ones”


  3. Matt S permalink
    June 6, 2011 11:15 am

    The “unethical, evil” practice of commodities trading, eh? I gather you base that (at lest in part) on your belief that those who speculate in commodities do so at no risk to themselves.

    Sorry, I call total BS. Using your example, not only did I place a bet on limes, I filled my garage with them. If instead of still wanting limes no matter what the price purchasers had said get stuffed, I’ll have lemon, I would have lost on both my bet and on my garage full of rotting fruit. You seem to assume that speculators always get it right, which is an odd and ill-informed assumption to say the least.

    I won’t bore you with the reasons that speculation is not a guaranteed win for the speculator, why is a necessary part of both the food and economic chains and how it helps farmers as opposed to hurt them, nor with a treatise on why speculation is completely different from the profiteering you have attempted to link it to. I don’t think you enjoy splashing outside of the shallow end, from the looks of things.

    I’ll simply say lament the state of humankind, if you will. But if you have to find a boogeyman to blame, perhaps you could take your socio-economic blinkers off, look a bit harder and come up with a more meaningful enemy to rail against than those evil speculators. I know this is just a blog and I can’t expect much in the way of real research, but it’s just plain lazy.

    • June 6, 2011 11:55 am

      That would only apply if the trader were doing so with their own money. They do not.

      The ability to invest in future securities when it comes to food is essential only to the producer and users linked to the market, because it provides price stability. And that is the way it has been for a hundred years. In the last four years, parties totally unrelated to the market hoarde the securities. This creates incredible price volatility.

      As an ex-trader recently testified to the senate, there is on average $8 riding on each $1 worth of food. The senate, that leftie mouthpiece, came to the same conclusions I did. If you think that is a healthy and desirable state of affairs, please do continue to speculate. Just don’t be surprised when it goes sour.

    • Abaloo permalink
      August 1, 2011 9:45 am

      Oh what a comprehensive pillock you are. But still, continue to patronise us with your “I won’t bore you with…” lines, which not so cleverly hide your own laziness or inability to make an argument. You clearly have greater insight than the rest of us. We will, naturally, bow to you.

  4. June 7, 2011 11:13 am

    I imagine, SturdyAlex, that your critic (Matt S) is probably well down the pecking order in some institution with vested interests (perhaps)? This might explain his bombastic GWB “you’re either with us or you ain’t” tone. Sadly ignorant, but seemingly a product of a system, a gene pool, wired so that it is not programmed in a way that allows for the development of the ability to view humanity as being best served by any kind of even reasonably humane, democratic system of governance; self-interest rules every time; or perhaps someone who simply has a narrow perspective on humanity; we don’t know (perhaps this comment will tempt him to respond again; perhaps not).

    I echo the fears that you have, so eloquently, shared with us in this blog, as well as your balanced view that there is (always has been) a need to speculate for the sake of stability in price and supply.

    I have been a conservative voter all my adult life, because I believe that they are the only ones capable of managing the nation’s balance sheet, taking, as I have, a fairly pragmatic view on the realities of a market economy. I am re-evaluating this position, but, overriding this at present, is a rising fear of the excessive power of the financial forces at play in the global economy, reigning as they appear to do even over governments.

  5. Jean Robinson permalink
    June 7, 2011 11:54 am

    Have you read the Iron Heel by Jack London? Not an easy read but takes the rise of corporate power to a very scary conclusion. Difficult to believe it was written in 1907 – could have been written yesterday. (Free on Kindle ).
    Alias Count_stuff on twitter

  6. Steve Finney permalink
    June 14, 2011 1:03 pm

    Sturdyblog, You have a heart & are capable of empathy, so therefore can experience joy. I have known some of these people, who are not capable of experiencing these emotions. They are driven by a lust for power & riches, other people are merely stepping stones to this end. It is estimated that 1% of the population are sociopaths, & in the US only 17% are in prison. It is also estimated that there are significant % who work in business. The characteristics of most psychopaths are suited to that environment. There was some shock at the psychological studies that were done on the Nazis who were imprisoned at Nuremburg, most were respectable family men & very law abiding. They were just following orders, but none were capable of any empathy, especially for the so called untermenschen.
    The story you recounted hurts, but that is what makes me human, without empathy we are only animals, who are blamelessly, basically appetite, but unlike them we also have reason, but unfortunately this is often perverted into self-justification. To me the power/money junkies are bereft of the qualities that make this shit hard life worth living, they just make the World a worse place to live, dog eat dog etc.
    I know a couple of, in Bob Dylan’s words, ” Old men with broken teeth, stranded without love” they have everything the material world can offer. They hate me because, despite the struggle, I manage to still find joy amongst the tears and I rejected their false philosophy.
    Here is a link , 5 steps to tyranny, it includes ” Millgrams experiment” ( why most of us are sheep ) & points out why there are so few dissenters, such as yourself.

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