Archives for the month of: January, 2005

At my adult ed class we discussed globalisation and political economy, the need for nations to balance their public spending, production and export, and manage their currency exchange values. The idea of the developing world becoming more like the western economies in order to thrive the free market.

I asked the tutor: why do we promote poorer nations joining the free market if we know that there are always losers in the free market, and the losers will probably be the poorer nations? Surely a global economy isn’t such a great aim. She replied that it’s the way things are going, it’s a trend not a goal.

On the one hand we have well-meaning thinkers producing models of how things are (Maslow) and some also saying how things should be (Marx). Many of these models can only be roughly retrofitted to history. But we stride into poorer cultures with our theories and models and practices and think that we’re helping them; that our experience can inform theirs, and help them. All well-meaning.

The global economy waxes and wanes, while we apply meaures and counter measures to keep it manageable. In truth it’s like controlling water, we can make it go up, down, fast, slow, hot, cold, but it has it’s own logic. And while we employ fiscal and economic experts to study what’s going on, we’re saying to the poorest peoples of the world “come on in, the water’s lovely!”.

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Western liberals (like me) seem to value other cultures by their levels of public services (health, education, housing). We talk about public services as the bedrock of a healthy society. A country where the richest dine silver service and visit the opera but the poorest are homeless and illiterate is not “developed”. But that’s what Britain was like, and still is like. We only had the NHS since the 1950s!!! By then we’d had the industrial revolution and were deep into mass production and export. We didn’t build the schools before the universities.

In ny shakey understanding of Marx, he said that an economy has a base and a superstructure. If the base produces enough value to run well and create capital (surlplus value) then the state should reinvest it in improving the areas above the base. The workers shouldn’t hungry while the state builds millenium domes for entertainment purposes. This is how-things-should-be-run based on how things has worked in history. (This is very sketchy – search google for “marx base and superstructure” for a more reliable explanation!)

Maslow’s heirarchy of needs (see info on University of Tennessee subsite) is about what humans need, psychologically. It says they need food, shelter and warmth, then above that comes everything else. The model is supposed hold for all people, to show thei instinctive needs. But from a historical perspective, 99.99% of cultures had temples before hospitals, art before schools.

Perhaps what a nation needs to thrive conflicts with what an individual needs to thrive.

Perhaps this is Marx’s critque and I’m still catching up.

The other day I had an opportunity to speak to a political economist who worked as an MEP for 10 years. She was teaching an adult education class: I had licence to ask my niaive questions so I did.

Q: When a country is poor, why doesn’t it just print more money?

A: Because it could suffer from hyperinflation.

Q: I understand that, that the value of notes and coins gets reduced, but if it happens throughout the country, doesn’t the value of things stay constant? Doesn’t a loaf of bread have a certain value to a nation, regardless of how many dollars, euros, yen it costs?

A: When you get hyperinflation it makes people panic, then they want to get their money out of the banks. The banks always have less cash in the vaults than on their books, and many of their holdings are out on loan, so if people rush on the banks the system collapses

So the measures against hyperinflation aren’t about maths as much as managing human behaviour. Interesting …

Here’s one to think about …

Do you picture yourself in time? I don’t mean conceptually. I mean, if someone asks you what you did last week, do you see your calendar page for last week, with appointments on? Do you jump straight to the day you went out for a good meal and see the food on the plate and your partner smiling.

I visualise time a bit like a ladder, or a railroad track, with the past behind me and the future ahead

Time1_1 When I ask people, it seems they all visualise time in different ways, including not visualising it at all

I wonder if anyone has researched this? I wonder if it is related to why some people are organised and others are scatty, and why some have memories of elephants and others of goldfish.

For the record, i’m usually organised, but perhaps overly concerned with knowing what’s going to happen. My visualisation isn’t very helpful for seeing ahead. Maybe I need to reprogramme it to alieviate my anxiety about the future!

There have been several documentaries lately about bible codes, the real Jesus, who wrote the bible etc. I was brought up athiest, with a whole alternative set of values and explanations. I can’t imagine what it’s like to believe in God.

  • Do you feel a presence of some huge being looking over your shoulder as you go about your every day life?
  • When you pray, does it feel like you’re talking to something outside yourself?
  • When you meet people like me, do you think they are missing a whole dimension of life, like living in 2D instead of 3D?

I see religion as a remnant of our stone age brain. In the excellently titled Origins of Concsiousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (ooh! leave that one lying about on the coffee table!) Julian Jaynes suggested that human’s early experiences of self-awareness may have felt so different from everyday sentience that it seemed to some from somewhere else. For example, seeing all the reasons to attack another human yet feeling that it would be "wrong", led humans to feel there was another presence in their minds. the presence of gods.

Very few people in western culture claim to directly experience the voice of god these days, (does he speak French?), whereas 1000 years ago many more did seem to experience god that way. I doubt our brains changed much in that time. but I like to think that it’s our understanding that’s developed.

I don’t know if I believe that things inevitably progress, or that there’s anything we’re particularly heading for. But the drive of individuals to get to grips with their environment and with each other does take us somewhere better than this. Clinging to a worldview that includes an omniscient omnipresent omnieverything allows people to abdicate responsbility for the bigger picture.

For the past week, every time I close my eyes I see base units, work surfaces and integrated appliances. I’m measured and re-measured the kitchen to see how much storage space we can cram in. There are some universal truths here which will undermine any space-saving plan we come up with.

  • Wherever there is a surface, there shall be clutter (isn’t that the third law of newtonian physics or something?)
  • Wherever there is chrome, there shall be additional chrome items purchased to “finish off the look”
  • It’s stupid to keep a piano in the kitchen anyway

Now where did I leave that MFI catalogue? …

It’s January 1st 2005 and this is my first blog entry.

I have no idea if I will keep this up or not. It’s an experiment in whether my blog will be as interesting as the thoughts in my head. I have always secretly suspected that everyone thinks their own inner lives are richer than other people’s. I suppose that’s why the classic modern novels are interesting to read – you want to know if the narrator experiences life like you do. Of course, it may be that I’m still a Holden Caulfield and still have the world view of a teenager, in which case my immaturity will be painfully recognised by any readers of this blog.

Either way, let’s hope this experiment in blogging doesn’t show me up to be a 21st Century Mrs Dalloway, faffing about trivia and understanding nothing.