Sunday, April 20, 2008

Working the basics

David Seaton's News Links
It has been my experience that one of the most useful ways of taking apart a problem is to start with the simplest, most obvious things. Nothing is too obvious and humble not to be worth intense examination and rumination, till it yields its substance. Sherlock Holmes did little else

Conclusions arrived at trying to make sense of the most basic and obvious facts are solid and difficult for sophists to refute.

So If we are going to follow Confucius's advice and "rectify names" and reinvigorate our vocabulary we probably should start by having a clear idea of the most basic truths about our species.

For example:

Human beings are made up of about 66% water, which is considerably less than American beer, but still quite a lot. Sweating and peeing take their daily toll, so that water lost must be replaced:
expert opinion has it that,
To maintain a high level of health and efficiency even in ideal environments, a minimum of two quarts of clean water per day per person is the generally accepted rule of thumb. In very hot or cold or very dry environments, or if you are physically active, two quarts of water a day may not be enough to sustain life over a period of days or weeks.
I think its important to meditate on that passage, because as the BBC says,
Two-fifths of the world's people already face serious shortages, and water-borne diseases fill half its hospital beds. People in rich countries use 10 times more water than those in poor ones. The present is dire: the future looks so grim it must be entirely unmanageable. Cut it how you will, the picture that emerges from today's data and tomorrow's forecasts is so complex and appalling it can leave you feeling powerless. The world cannot increase its supply of fresh water: all it can do is change the way it uses it. Its population is going to go on increasing for some time before there is any prospect it will stabilize.(...) Because the world's water supply is finite, most of life's other necessities are finite as well. In China it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to grow one tonne of wheat. If we do not learn to live within our aqueous means, we shall go hungry as well as thirsty. A world where consumption was a means to survival, not an economic end in itself, would have enough water to go round. And polluted, inadequate water might kill its children a little more slowly. (emphasis mine)
And after water comes food. As I'm sure you have read, there is a severe world food shortage at the moment. Here is how Caritas describes it:
Across the developing world there are only eight to 12 weeks of cereal stocks left and grain supplies are at their lowest since the 1980s. The UN World Food Programme has issued an urgent appeal for $500 million to respond to the dramatic increase in food and fuel prices. Rioting in response to massive food price increases has broken out in countries as diverse as Egypt, Bolivia, Indonesia and Senegal. Violent unrest in Haiti spread to the capital after protesters stormed the presidential palace last week, demanding that the government lift taxes on rice and beans. At least five people were killed . In a country where 80% of people earn less than £1 a day, the price of basic foodstuffs has soared by more than 50% since last year. Only Somali and Afghanistan have a higher per capita daily deficit in calorie intake than Haiti. The food crisis in Haiti is so intense that there is a real danger that the government and United Nations forces will not be able to maintain security if food aid is not stepped up in the very near future. Prospery Raymond, the Christian Aid country representative, said: "The country is at the beginning of a major crisis and there is a real risk of more political violence." He said: "A major contributing factor to the current food shortages are the neo-liberal economic policies that have been required by donor countries." (emphasis mine)
Of course, not everybody is complaining. Here is how "The Street" sees it:
With about 40% of the world's agricultural land seriously degraded and oil prices at record levels, prices of feed poultry and dairy cows are causing prices of wheat, soybean and maize to skyrocket. With overall crop outputs lagging demand, desperate farmers who wish to capitalize off record prices are now using a wide array of organic and inorganic fertilizers to help boost production. With this in mind, we have set up a World Food Shortage Plays portfolio on to help develop stock ideas to capitalize off this global trend. (emphasis mine)
So the basic idea would be that, since human beings have to eat and drink in order to live, any system that keeps a great number of human beings from doing that or that benefits from their misfortune, could be considered an enemy of humanity.

I think that this is called, "arguing from first principals", but, I cannot see that this conclusion is an oversimplification. DS

1 comment:

Kevin E said...

Thank you for all your posts, David, but particularly for this profoundly important one. It reminds me of one of the truest, saddest aphorisms about human nature:

"Why expect people to take advice? Most people won't even take warning."

Still, all honor to the prophetic voice, and some of us still hope against hope for an accession of sanity. Al Gore for Secretary General of the U.N.? Might be a start...