Daily Archives: September 11, 2010

What’s Good For The Goose Is Patronizing The Hell Out Of The Gander

I came across Technomads.net today. Apparently this is a ‘movement’ of people who try to minimize how much stuff they own, and almost religiously emphasize the experience of life over its consumerist detritus. There’s a New York Times article and everything.

This is a really interesting and positive idea, and its good people are questioning the extent our stuff lock us into situations which we wouldn’t choose if we walked into them from scratch. But I can’t get over how self-righteous the messaging is.

The website’s tagline begins ‘BE EVERYWHERE. GO ANYWHERE. GET RID OF YOUR STUFF AND BE HAPPIER BECAUSE OF IT’. The first post says ‘Savoring life starts with a mindset’.

Humans have this built-in mechanism where we mistake our preferences for principles. You want to give up your home in LA and spend a few months at a time living in various awesome cities around the world? Have a blast. But there’s no indication that other people would be happier if they did this.

I’ve lived like a technomad during my time in Copenhagen, not out of any BoingBoingian religious dogma, but just because I’m always subletting apartments. I move every six months on average, so I don’t buy anything I’ll have to take with me. Personally, I really like my stuffless existence. The impermanence removes a lot of the buy-maintain-repair-replace stress I had in my stuff-oriented life back home.

But this lifestyle isn’t for everyone. Lots of people would find moving to a new apartment every few months and living surrounded by other people’s stuff a lot more stressful than, say, owning a couch. People pride in their homes and their permanence. That’s totally fine. There’s nothing wrong with creating a warm, inviting beaver dam where you feel comfortable.

There’s no principle at play here, only preferences. If you like being a technomad, go be one. If you’re a nester, do likewise. It’s nice that the technomads are drawing our attention to the fact that we don’t have to own a bunch of stuff, but I don’t think most people would actually  consider a garage sale and one-way tickets to Berlin a recipe for de-stressing.

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Why Journalism is Bad, In One URL

http://www.politico.com/click/stories/1009/potus_goes_ringless_at_presser.html

If the story doesn’t make you want to puke, the ‘UPDATE’ will

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Fat-Flation

As if it wasn’t hard enough to be skinny nowadays:

I love the audacity of lying about something that is an objective measure.

Apparently, there used to be a law in Egypt that said if the temperature got above 40 degrees, work had to be canceled. Every time the temperature got up that high, the government just lied and said it was 39 degrees, even when it got up to 45 or more. This shows the same dictator-grade head-in-the-sanding.

This should be a lesson to all those free-marketeers out there. You want to give more societal responsibility to organizations that won’t even be honest about what an inch is? At least the communists only lie in words, not in numbers.

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Conscience Do Cost

By coincidence, I read the following two articles back to back on a plane last month:

Charles Fishman, “The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know.”
Michael Pollan, “An Animal’s Place.”

The first one is about how Wal-Mart almost singlehandedly  incentivized American companies to move their production abroad. Companies making products to be sold at Wal-Mart were told over and over again by their biggest customer that they had to drop their prices. If you stick-and-carrot efficiency for long enough, pretty soon you can’t justify paying a bunch of Americans 5 bucks an hour to do something a Chinese dude will do for 1.

If Wal-Mart doesn’t like the pricing on something, says Andrew Whitman, who helped service Wal-Mart for years when he worked at General Foods and Kraft, they simply say, “At that price we no longer think it’s a good value to our shopper. Therefore, we don’t think we should carry it.”

Wal-Mart has also lulled shoppers into ignoring the difference between the price of something and the cost. Its unending focus on price underscores something that Americans are only starting to realize about globalization: Ever-cheaper prices have consequences. Says Steve Dobbins, president of thread maker Carolina Mills: “We want clean air, clear water, good living conditions, the best health care in the world–yet we aren’t willing to pay for anything manufactured under those restrictions.”

In other words, we all want to live in a country where we can all have good jobs, beautiful nature and working infrastructure. But we don’t want to pay for it.

The second article doesn’t, ostensibly, have anything to do with the first. It’s about our food production system, and how it’s making us all sick. You know the drill: Factory farms bad! Micro-bio-loca-ganic farms good!

Salatin’s chickens live like chickens; his cows, like cows; pigs, pigs. As in nature, where birds tend to follow herbivores, once Salatin’s cows have finished grazing a pasture, he moves them out and tows in his “eggmobile,” a portable chicken coop that houses several hundred laying hens–roughly the natural size of a flock.

The hens fan out over the pasture, eating the short grass and picking insect larvae out of the cowpats–all the while spreading the cow manure and eliminating the farm’s parasite problem. A diet of grubs and grass makes for exceptionally tasty eggs and contented chickens, and their nitrogenous manure feeds the pasture.

A few weeks later, the chickens move out, and the sheep come in, dining on the lush new growth, as well as on the weed species (nettles, nightshade) that the cattle and chickens won’t touch.

This is self-evidently true and wonderful. If all farms in the Western world operated like this, we’d all be healthier, not to mention less morally culpable in the kind of animal cruelty that only Wal-Mart efficiency can inspire.

But, like the 8-hour day and the minimum wage, sustainability costs. Creating a food system that prohibits inhumane practices essentially creates workers’ rights for animals.  I’d be totally fine with that, but if all the factories have been shipped overseas by rising costs in the West, why won’t the same thing happen to all the farms?

To me, this is the central dilemma of the capitalism we’ve set up for ourselves. We as citizens want our chickens to be able to live like chickens, our cows to eat grass, our pigs to have bottomless slop to slip in. But as consumers, given a choice between happy chicken breast and torture-farm chicken breast, we choose the cheaper, every time.

It’s not just farms, of course. Our decision to choose cheaper, as pointed out in the Wal-Mart article, is why our countries don’t have factories for clothing or cars or IKEA anymore either. As citizens, we want access to jobs that let us buy a house and see our kids a few nights a week. As consumers, we want the cheapest option possible, even if it means a 78-hour workweek for that dude in China.

Economic theory says the middle class was created when Henry Ford started paying $5 a day. That was a huge salary in 1914, and it instantly transformed his workers into consumers. Maybe in the  last 20 years, that transformation’s finally complete. We’re so busy celebrating the victorious consumer that we forget his victory is over the worker. And that they’re the same person.

In other words, somewhere in Flint, Michigan, right now, an unemployed autoworker is trying to choose between two pieces of chicken.

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