Friday, 3 April 2009


“We read that the traveller asked the boy if the swamp before him had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had. But presently the traveller’s horse sank in up to the girths, and he observed to the boy, ‘I thought you said that this bog had a hard bottom.’ ‘So it has,’ answered the latter, ‘but you have not got half-way to it yet.’”
Thoreau, Walden

I’ve been spending the morning by the fire, listening to a cuckoo in a nearby tree.

Last night a frog sat croaking by the river in the valley below – the silence is so total here that I had no problem in hearing him or her (I’m guessing it was a him out on the pull) all the way up here in the yurt.

The fog has been rolling in and out for the last couple of days.

And in London several thousand people stood shouting about bankers, governments, capitalism and the environment.

Part of me really wanted to be there. Another part of me feels slightly confused at the abstract nature of global capitalism, compared with, say, a cuckoo or a frog.

What does the ‘G’ in ‘G20’ stand for anyway? Gobshites? (I hope so – I love that word). Gnomes? Gnobheads?

And how come it’s G20? When I went to the last big protest in the City, I’m sure it was the G8. Is there some kind of tournament? Is the first round G20, and G8 is the quarter finals?

All I know is it’s a bunch of middle-aged white men in suits (plus Obama), sitting around deciding to do something or other with a trillion dollars. Spend it, I guess.

And there’s another abstract concept. A trillion dollars. How much is that? I can get my head around a fiver. Maybe even a grand. But beyond that it all becomes Monopoly money. My guess is that this is true of the men sitting round that table too. And yet someone has to stump up that trillion. And that someone, in the end, is me and you.

I suppose the point I’m trying to make here is that the economy is in the state it’s in because it has become far too complex. The crops didn’t fail. There wasn’t a natural disaster that wiped out all the houses. The work that needed to be done last year to keep us all thriving needs to be done this year too. And yet we are in a ‘global recession’. The worst since the second world war, apparently.

In the words of Thoreau, ‘Simplify, simplify, simplify!’

When we start talking about hedge funds, futures markets and currency trading, we put ourselves in a situation where greedy bankers with insatiable appetites can pull the wool over our eyes, the government’s eyes, and even each others’ eyes. They don’t really understand the economy either. All they know is if they spend somebody else’s money on X in the next 15 seconds, they make another 50k for themselves.

The economic tumble happened because of greed and too much complexity. The system is set up to make such fluctuations in the economy inevitable.

I don’t think the answer is to have a small number of people sitting around a table talking about a trillion dollars, pretending that they understand what’s going on. If they understood what was going on, they would have been able to pre-empt the recession. No one expects the Spanish inquisition.

I think the answer is to live local lives, in local economies, so that massive global fluctuations cannot happen. In a local economy, no one needs to know how the global economy functions. In a local economy, the people really do have the power. They don’t work at Starbucks for five quid an hour, they own their own land. They don’t have a mortgage that will take 25 years to pay off, they build their own house in a year or less, then get on with the rest of their lives.

This kind of living makes you reliant to some extent on your neighbours (e.g. to help you put the roof on your house, or to feed you for a while if your crops fail), but you are always reliant on someone. Better your neighbours than banks and police and the government. And remember – your neighbours also rely on you. There is a balance of power. You cease to be the little guy.

Anyway, the world will continue on its path. The bankers will continue to do their thing, the governments of the world will continue to do theirs, and the cuckoo, at least for a while, will continue to warm my heart in the mornings.

I have been a protester on several occasions and know a whole bunch of anarchists, climate campers and Reclaim the Streets types. They are intelligent, caring, friendly people. I also know several people who work in the City and they are actually very nice people with good hearts too. I don’t agree with the sector they work in, and I wouldn’t work in it, but to blame the bankers for all this mess is to miss the point. We are in the same system, and if we look at the full implications of our actions we see that the money in our own pockets is just as dirty as theirs.

The entire system must change, and it will only change if we, as individuals, change our behaviours. To blame the other guy might make us feel better (and may have some truth to it) but it changes nothing. If you wipe out individuals but leave values and mental states in tact, other individuals will soon take their places. We need to change hearts, minds, values and therefore behaviours if we want real, lasting positive change. And the easiest heart and mind to start with is your own. So hug a banker, I say. Love em till they ditch the day job. And then hug an anarchist. Ah, what the hell. Hug everybody.


RetaBurrita said...

Amen. Here's is what a trillion looks like:

Padma said...

Hey Reta

Thanks for this excellent link!


tod said...

Very nicely put, Padma. Living local lives used to mean being cut off from the greater world, and the fear was that doing such would retard advancement, make a small community isolated and vulnerable. But is there such a thing as true disconnect these days? Can we not truly live locally yet remain connected via the overflow of mechanical connectors? The trick is to prune our connections to the point where they are helpful tools instead of oppressive taskmasters. Thanks very much for the reminder that this balance exists if we but scout it out.