Friday, April 26

Plague of Human Locusts

I think it must be redundant to speak of a locust "swarm" because locusts are just desert grasshoppers in swarming mode, which changes their behavior and appearance.  Anyhow, when really bad times hit desert regions where grasshoppers hang out, the solitary creatures band together in search of food, and this is how they can and have driven farming societies to starvation. 

Human locust behavior isn't new but currency-based societies in the globalized era have made the behavior endemic, a feature of life so ordinary and manifest in so many ways that it masks its horrific destructiveness. But the bottom line for humanity in this era is that everything that can be converted to cash value is up for grabs by swarms of humans who, just as with locusts, won't stop until they've destroyed the source of their sustenance.

So. When they have stolen all the sand from river shores in India, that will finally solve the problem of the sand mafias.  When they have carted away all the mountains in Lebanon to make dirt and rocks for construction projects -- no more mountains, no more worries about the mountain dirt mafias. And when the wood mafias cart off the last of Cambodia's forests, that will certainly solve the problem of tree theft in Cambodia. 

It's a little harder to see how, say, globalized food companies such as Pepsi are engaged in locust behavior, but be assured that when they've finished patenting every type of agriculture product it will be quite evident that Pepsi's snack food division is stuffed with locusts in suits.

Is there any way to stop large numbers of humans from acting like locusts in this era? This isn't really a problem so it doesn't have a solution although it has many problematical aspects. It's not so much our numbers but that such large numbers have to earn money to purchase the food they eat. Genuine subsistence farming still exists in pockets across the world but for the majority of humans, survival comes down getting hold of enough money to stave off starvation. 

Which is to say a great many people have to earn money in any way they can, and if how they do this is ultimately very destructive, the immediate is their problem. It's the same with grasshoppers who swarm but the difference is that while they ultimately die of starvation after chewing through every bit of vegetation in sight, the vegetation can be pretty quickly replaced. Humans have extended their swarming behavior to a vast number of things that keep civilization going and which can't readily be replaced.

The double-edged aspect of currency is that it's such an efficient means of payment that once societies come to depend on it, alternative means -- subsistence and barter systems -- fall into disuse. Once a medium of exchange has no competition, that leads to profligate waste. But as long as there's always some way obtain currency there's no impetus to stop wasting it, and no brake on the means to obtain it.

That's where things stand today for the human race. So this is not so much a problem as a civilization, one that rests on a shaky foundation of market valuations of food rather than food security itself. To put this in graphic terms, you can appreciate that the foundation is shaky when a farmer in the Afghan boonies says he has to go to a city to get a job so he can earn enough money to buy food for his family.

And if he can't get a job in the city? Well, he can always go to work for the Taliban and set IEDs, or work for a dope mafia, or steal sand for a sand mafia or trees for a tree mafia or water for a water mafia, or whatever.

Another way would be to teach the farmer how to do subsistence farming that works for this era and still allows him to sell or barter whatever surplus his farm can produce.

It's not rocket science, you understand. But it's up against a way of life, a way of thinking, that few people question. Yet this way of thinking didn't come about in a few years; it took centuries to establish itself. The good news is that much of the thinking was imposed on large swaths of the world fairly quickly via loan-making development organizations such as the World Bank. What is done quickly has a chance to be changed relatively quickly. 

Indeed, as I mentioned recently, the World Bank is coming round to the 'stay in place' concept, where you teach a more modern type of subsistence farming to jobless starving farmers rather than herd them into DP camps -- or cities that can't support them.

So in this manner and others, some people are feeling their way toward considering King Bhumibol's advice. From In Thailand, A Return to Sufficiency by Shawn W. Crispin, October 5, 2006, Asia Times Online [the link is no longer working]:
The monarch's self-sufficiency-economy concept gained currency in the aftermath of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis. In a now-famous 1997 speech, Bhumibol called on the Thai population to scale back its reliance on exports and shift toward a more self-sufficient, localized economic system, where 25% of the economy would be geared toward local production for individual needs.
"A careful step backward must be taken; a return to less sophisticated methods must be made with less advanced instruments," the highly respected monarch said.
 I doubt his Majesty or his advice was respected in the International Financial Community but cracks appearing in the foundation of our global civilization are today pounding home his point. 

Regarding the currency society -- when you see families earning $117,000 a year in San Francisco designated "low income," this is a sign that we've turned currency into a god, and a stupid one at that. 

Once again, we didn't back ourselves into this mess overnight, and it will take time to back ourselves out. As to whether our forests, mountains, and rivers will be around long enough to see humans scrape together common sense -- maybe we should go ask a locust.


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