Friday, May 24, 2019

A Dog's Eye: devolution

At different times in most people's lives there are periods of necessary financial constraint. Sometimes it's a choice in order to save for a big want, like a house for example. Other times it's a situation of lacking money. You can't spend what you don't have, right?* A common expression, often heard during these times is "things are a bit tight now." 

People faced with the need for belt tightening look at ways of saving money. Money smart folks do it regardless of their circumstances. In fiscal feast or famine, they still try to spend carefully. Money, and in particular our various attitudes to it, is a huge topic about which libraries of books have been written. It is not my intention here to add to that volume.

Image result for garage saleHowever, I was recently reflecting on second hand goods. I'm a member of a buy, swap and sell page, and although I am not in the market for anything at the moment, the notifications pop up in my feed. Speaking of food: my current living circumstances have also contributed to these musings. I'm a house sitter, and this won't surprise you, but some people have an awful lot of stuff. Some of it is probably saleable, but I suspect most of it is junk. In either case, I wonder why people hang on to so many useless possessions? I suspect it's either laziness or possessiveness.

I digress. My main subject is the buying and selling of used items and the impact this has on the economy. Early in my first marriage, we had very little money so we accepted a lot of gifts and bought a lot of cheap second hand items. Later, (many years later) ,when we felt more comfortable, we began to purchase new items, albeit often by using credit. At one point I remember deciding that I did not want to buy anything second hand anymore. It became a status thing, for me to go to a shop and buy something new. After years of using old second hand lawn mowers, it was a thrill to go to Bunnings and buy a brand spanking new one in a box.

Image result for new lawn mower
I have almost no desire to buy stuff these days, and of course that's partly due to the fact that I don't have a home, so I have no need for things. There's also the practicalities of needing a place to store stuff.

My life will change when my wife and children join me in Australia. I don't know when that will be (hopefully soon), but I do know it will be a dramatic change. Thankfully, my wife is not very acquisitive or materialistic either so that will make things a little easier. Stuff will be required though, and we will need to discuss how much we can spend, how much we want to spend and whether we should buy new or secondhand.

The outworking of all these musings is excitement, but I did have a thought about economics as well. What would happen if everyone stopped buying second hand goods? If, when we no longer needed something, we simply threw it away? What would be the impact on the general economy if everyone only purchased new products? Alternatively, what would happen if everyone stopped buying new? Interesting thoughts I reckon, and worth some discussion. 

Suppose no one bought new furniture from Jape Furnishings. They would go out of business. Imagine if no one in Darwin bought new furniture. All the new furniture stores in Darwin would close. or perhaps they'd become second hand stores instead. Hopefully, the latter would happen otherwise all the employees of those stores would lose their jobs and then have to tighten their belts and only buy secondhand furniture which would be the only option. If there was only second hand furniture on the market, would prices go up and become prohibitive to those on low incomes, or no incomes like the people who used to work in the new furniture stores.

Image result for economicsEconomics is fascinating. The interconnectedness of the various factors which impact upon economic activity invites endless speculation along the above-mentioned lines. I have a very simple view; perhaps unrealistically simple. You increase economic activity by spending, and you generate spending by creating demand, and one of the ways you create demand is by increasing the population because people need things. If there were no second hand products to meet these needs, then production would have to be increased and that might mean more jobs, and more people with jobs will spend more money.

What do you think would be the impact of the removal of second hand products from the market?

*this is actually not very true anymore. The ease of obtaining credit has made patient saving redundant. Australia now has one of the highest levels of personal debt in the world.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Mirror: Three Hours

Time travel stories, with narratives driven by the need to explore "what if?" scenarios are fascinating. Typically, some error in the past has caused a problem in the future, so with the possibility of time travel existing, someone simply needs to go back in time and fix the problem. Everyone is as familiar with the concept of "sliding doors" as they are with the regrets, often accompanied by shame and disappointment, over poor historical choices. That isn't science fiction; it is reality.

Image result for travellers tv showSearching for something to watch once I had binged on three seasons of Stranger Things, I discovered a show called Travelers. Sadly, it too only lasted three seasons but what a choice show. Briefly, in Travelers, people are sent back to the 21st century to inhabit the bodies and minds of "hosts" via a process called "consciousness transfer". An artificial intelligence being called The Director does the sending and gives these teams of travelers missions to change the future for the better. Of course, it is much more complex than that, as are the relationships the hosts have, and the moral dilemmas they face. Travelers is very thought provoking, cleverly written, suspenseful and genuinely funny at times.

Image result for travellers season 3 episode 3In episode 3 of season 3, the leader of the team upon which the series is largely focused - FBI Agent Grant McClaren - has his memory wiped so as to not suffer the anguish of remembering having to kill a boy who will turn out to be a monster of a man. However, McClaren can't handle the memory holes, so retraces his steps and learns that he spent three hours with this boy, and did not end up killing him. Why? The three hours were of such transformative value to the boy that his future changed, and the Director then spared his life. Regardless of the obvious impossibility of the premise, a remarkable thing happens here, and it is a truth we should grab and hold on to.

This boy had nothing but abuse in his childhood, he was abducted, mistreated, rescued then abandoned to the foster care system in which he suffered further abuse and increasing social isolation. There had been no positive influences in his life. No one stood up for him, protected him, loved him. He behaved badly which caused everyone to shun and revile him as a bad boy: a menace, worse, a dangerous anti social psychopath. He made others feel threatened because he did not feel safe.

Until McClaren spent just three hours with him, talking to him, listening to him, even eating rabbit (the travelers are all vegetarians) which had been trapped and killed by the boy, then cooked on an open fire. This relatively small period of time had a profoundly positive impact on the boy.

We may not be able to travel back in time to correct our mistakes, or the mistakes of others, but we can certainly have a very powerful influence on the future. Investing in relationships now will result in tremendous generational benefits. The impact of our words and actions on other people is often underestimated. We would do well to build people up. to encourage and to inspire them. Emotionally healthy people have healthy relationships, and despite what we are often told, healthy relationships are the heart, soul and spine of society.

Friday, May 3, 2019

The Mirror: Choking on Gnats

Is James Faulkner gay or not? Apparently this is a major issue. His social media post saying he was out with his mum and boyfriend, and his subsequent backflip to clarify the other man was his best mate, has caused a media storm. I'm not sure why I am writing about this, but Israel Folau is facing the music today over his "homophobic" comments on social media, and a lot of people are frothing at the mouth. Both Folau and Faulkner seem to be a cynosure for outrage on the touchy subject of inclusion.

Apparently there are no "out of the closet" homosexual men in either cricket or rugby union, or indeed any of our major, high profile sports. Evidently this is a problem. There are no "out of the closet" homosexual men in my workplace either...should I find one (either by outing them or hiring them) so that my employer can't be accused of homophobia? Every television show now has a homosexual couple de rigeur, so I can recognize the need to have more homosexuals.

I am strongly opposed to discrimination on the basis of sexuality, gender, race or age. The fact there are still people in our country, and you probably know some of them, who still view people who are different from themselves, as inferior is a shameful indictment of humanity.

However, this obsession about people's sexual preferences is surely
a distraction from the main game, and the hysteria surrounding Folau and Faulkner and everyone else who puts their head above water and into the sights of "news" creators* is really annoying. In the information age people's opinions on social media generate more news stories than actual news. I don't even know what "news" is anymore.

Warnings are ringing out now, as if they haven't been ever since the advent of social media, about the need for circumspection with regard to what one posts online. A relatively recent and delightful cliche: "the internet has a long memory" states the proof of your bigotry, your indiscretions, your crimes is available forever - well, not exactly forever. You could lose your job or not be able to get one because of something you once said. You may have changed; not just your mind about a particular issue, but your whole outlook on life might have changed. Nevertheless, apparently you can still suffer the consequences. And there is no statute of limitations.

In two weeks Australia will hold a federal election. What dominated the campaign this week? You guessed it: social media posts. Liberal candidate for Lyon, Jessica Whelan's resignation is the latest example of controversy brought about by inappropriate social media comments, in Whelan's case; anti Muslim statements. Labour Candidate, for Melbourne, Luke Creasey, is under pressure due to his activity on Facebook which included such delightful things as sharing rape jokes and pornography, and distasteful comments about 2012. He might no longer do that, or think that is acceptable behaviour - in fact he said so when he apologized - but too bad. He said it and it can't be unsaid. It's too late. You can't grow up, change your view or adjust your attitude.

Can we talk about the issues now? I mean the issues that really matter. Education. Health. The environment. The economy. Can we have some serious discussion about what really matters? Can we stop focusing so heavily on individual indiscretions and examine the causes of our problems? Can we even agree on what those problems are? Can we stop using band-aids to treat cancers in society? Or are we going to continue to choke on gnats while swallowing camels?

In Matthew 23:24, we read about Jesus identifying this problem. He was speaking to the religious leaders of his time, but of course he was referring to people generally. He was not only saying that our priorities are wrong, but worse, we deliberately foster hypocrisy by participating in "stone throwing" exercises. I don't understand why so many people think Jesus and his teachings are irrelevant and unimportant, but James Faulkner's sexuality is. We would rather discuss Luke Creasey's comment about lesbians and their vaginas than Jesus' teachings about justice and mercy.

Anyway, as we say in Australia: she'll be right mate.

* there is a big difference between reporting on news and creating it. The latter is becomingly increasingly common, and especially evident in sports journalism.