Thursday, September 09, 2010

Of Insanity and the World

August 6, 2009.
September 9, 2010.

That is a long time.
That is about to change.


Two things that caught my eye in the past few days. Well, two themes, actually.

1) Of madness, insanity and the society of the modern homo sapiens sapiens:

I am currently reading, outside of my academic work, two novels that are connected in more ways than one. One of them is Catch-22, the other is Foucault's Pendulum. Granted, it is perhaps not such a bright idea to take on both these giants together, but somehow it feels right. It will take me some time to get through them, and I hope to have a blog post afterwards about them, but for now, let me just quote one passage from Catch-22 which captures the meaning of the title, and the purpose, of the book pretty well:

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

'That's some catch, that Catch-22,' he observed.

'It's the best there is,' Doc Daneeka agreed.

2) Of the Environment, Consumerism, Capitalism and Anti-capitalism:

This video by former Greenpeace activist Annie Leonard was referred to me by Madhushree. I found that there is a series of four videos by Youtube user Lee Doren debunking, or at least trying to, the Story of Stuff video. Here are the links: 1, 2, 3, 4.

I think it is worthwhile to hear both sides of the story, and then if you have the time or the inclination, to look up some of the facts and counter-facts that these people are citing. Personally, I think it is true that we, as a species, are becoming more homo sapiens consumeris every day. I also agree with Leonard's argument about the non-sustenability of a linear chain with one source and one sink, none of which are ideal reservoirs (by reservoir I mean a system with infinite resources). On this point, I think Doren's argument that the resources of the Earth are not finite because the Earth is so big a bit naive. True, the Earth is big. And it has a lot of resources. But are those resources actually extractable? Do we have the technology to be able to do that? Also, if we take, for the sake of argument, that the Earth is an Ideal Source, is it also an Ideal Sink? How much can we exploit it anyway, before it reaches the breaking point? I also do not agree with Doren's hypothesis (I say so, because that is what it is) that price rise will automatically ensure that resources will be rationed. Right! But something else also increases with price, and that is the Cost of Living Index. We can afford to buy petrol nowadays at something like Rs 50/- per litre, while it only cost about half as much twenty years back (not sure about the stats), because our salaries have also increased over the past twenty years, in tandem with the rise of prices. It is a vicious circle: the rise of prices of everyday goods (or is it consumables nowadays) prompts a raise --> a raise implies that we buy more --> the feedback mechanism is activated, and the prices rise because (a) we can afford it and (b) there is greater demand and the same level of supply.

Anyway, too much talk on my behalf. I might say more later, but please do feel free to comment. And the reason I clubbed my discussion on the Story of Stuff with that of the two books is that, in my opinion (and which is not entirely formed yet), they have the same underlying cause/theme.

P.S. Let me clarify that I have not seen all the four parts of Doren's videos yet, but hope to do so soon.