Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Paradox of Modern Life and Economy

Off you go into the countryside
There was a time when a very substantial portion of the human population lived off the land in rural areas scattered across the planet. Since the industrial revolution, large portions of human population began to move towards cities to engage themselves in industrial production and other pursuits related to an urban life.  Consumption of energy and industrial production began to increase and with advent of things like antibiotics,  human population too began to increase rapidly. Nations that could produce and consume at increasingly large rates or provide for increasing consumption to other parts of the world grew rapidly. It is here that an inherent paradox and contradiction began to be built into modern economies.

Many realize that the current rates of consumption in the most developed economies such as the US are not sustainable. As resources like energy and materials diminish, the planet may run out of cheap resources. On the other hand if humans begin to reduce consumption and return to simpler lifestyles, the economies will stop growing and sink into recession. It is a case of die if you do and die if you don’t. That is why economists in the US jump with glee when retail sales and consumption increases as it did over the last quarter but that pushes up the cost of dwindling resources like fossil fuels and the economy tends to push back into recession all over again causing repeated dips.

Of the two scenarios, one of increasing consumption and the other of reduced consumption, common sense appears to suggest that reducing consumption, at least excesses and wastages, is the more enlightened way to go. It should be welcomed. However, governments and  economists would prefer that this does not happen because if consumption reduces, GDP growth reduces. The national budgets are a percentage of  GDP, therefore an economy in recession implies that governments would be compelled to either reduce expenditure or go into debt; or go into deficit and monetize the deficit (print more paper money in excess of GDP).But then a day comes when the debt becomes too large to service, some of it is defaulted and cheap debt is no longer available as has happened in Greece.

Incase a government reduces expenditure then it is unpopular with the population as is Greece, Ireland or UK currently. An unpopular democratic government then gets thrown out in a democratic election. In case the government goes into debt, it can postpone its problems for a future government or future date. If deficits are monetized then inflation takes place and that is like an additional tax on all citizens, an invisible tax, that is not shown in the tax returns but hurts much more since it hurts the poor as well as the rich. Since the democratic countries are the dominant ones in the world today hence an economic philosophy that is favored by governments that are elected for short terms prevails. Hail consumption, who cares for grandchildren.The sad truth in some countries though is that they are the grandchildren of past excesses. The future is here.

In the meantime, while governments struggle with these problems some people loose their jobs and end up on the street. In a recent post, John was commenting in his blog that persons ending up on the street and begging are despised. To my mind stepping out of the economy and its stress is not such a bad idea for a person who is willing to enjoy not much more than sunshine and fresh air. However, if a person gets into begging that is despicable since it involves bumming on someone else. It is better for such persons to return to the land and make a simple living out of it.Backed by the government a planned move back to the land can create a huge number of quality jobs and there is a separate post on that called AM farms in this blog. Just search for it using the search tool on the top left corner of this blog.

I presently live in India and have witnessed the rural way of living that is still not very different in some parts to the way of living prior to the industrial revolution. In some cases the life is hard, especially if the weather gods have been unkind (The worst off were those that went into debt from time to time encouraged by modern or traditional bankers, eventually forced into suicide) but in other cases and that is still the majority, rural farmers have a little surplus to tide them over the bad years. They do not have the luxuries of modern societies but they are stress free and happier as a result of it, most times. If they have some surplus they build a cement and concrete house. If they do not have a surplus they build a mud and thatch house that comes for free. It requires labor but the labor is often spread across several years so that it is not a pain. They have no money for medical treatment and medical drugs. Hence they die peacefully without having to suffer debilitating side effects and conditions like cancer. Most are able to grow enough wheat for their own consumption and if you think carefully this is a versatile food grain, a variety of grass that can sustain a human diet. Think of the many forms wheat can be turned into. First there is a range of leavened and unleavened breads. Then we have cookies, biscuits and cake, with a bit of processing one may have noodles, pasta, pizza, khus khus (a North African thing) and a croissant. When one grows wheat then that produces fodder for the cows. Farmers who keep up to four cows end up with at least one that is in the milking stage and that provides butter and more protein or cheese. Once in a while two or three cows begin to produce milk simultaneously and that is the time to sell some milk and get a new wardrobe for the family. When a farmer gets too old to farm, either his son does the farming or he sells/rents his land and lives off that. No wonder more of poor rural persons laugh more often than rich urban ones who are found to be irritable and sulking frequently instead.

When I told a modern economist of an economic model based on reduced growth (that included proportionately reduced government expenditure) for a change, the urban economist laughed heartily. The laughter was a pleasant change. He remarked that a diet based on wheat is not a low carb diet, that he is currently on. None of the farmers I met had ever heard of a low carb diet. When told about it they laughed heartily.  Similar laughter on all sorts of sundry things is common with this lot of unsophisticated ruffians :)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Holy, Holy, Holy

Song of the Angels by W. Adolphe
Once I read somewhere (I forget the reference) that many meetings are like a visit to the toilet. It involves much sitting, noise and eventually the outcome is flushed down the toilet. As Raymond pointed out as a comment to a post in this blog, as regards spiritual matters, much time is wasted in worthless spiritual discussions and arguments. Nothing could be truer. Spirituality involves many things that are felt rather than seen. It also includes abstract concepts and therefore a meaningless argument becomes all the more likely. As a simple example consider how meaningless is the argument between two men about whether a particular actress is sexy or not. What is sexy to one may be repulsive to another, since in such matters much personal experience and taste is involved. Just as beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, spiritual understanding is in the heart of the beholder.

Consider the frequent argument between, theists and atheists whether God exists or does not. Often the argument takes place without bothering to clarify what a person means by God. God is not seen and therefore different persons develop different concepts about God. To one man God, the Almighty, is someone who sits on a crystal throne in a crystal mountain surrounded with shining white robed angels that keep singing – holy, holy, holy. To another person God is merely the entire universe, both the seen and unseen aspects of it. If two such persons began an argument about whether God exists or not it is quite meaningless. If both believed in the latter argument that God is the entire universe then too the argument is meaningless. There is nothing to argue about in the latter case.

The two that regard God as the entire Universe may however argue about the fact that the Universe or Almighty God has an intelligence that can interact at a personal level or not. It might be just dead matter. However this argument too would be futile incase God was such that it left alone those who do not grant it a consciousness and intelligence, and only interacted personally with those who did. If this were the case both persons would be right.

Coming down to more specific arguments two persons believing in God and engaged In a spiritual discussions may begin arguing if God is inside us or we are inside God or if God sits separately on His crystal throne to the melodious chants of holy, holy, holy. On the other hand to a person who believes that God is the universe then all of these positions could be true simultaneously. A mighty king sitting on a throne is also a part of the universe; we too are inside the universe, while some of the universe is within us. We might even regard the Universe as our eternal father since we are made up of elements from it and say that I am inside my Father and my Father is in me, or we might say my father and me are one since the universe is one single entity.

Regarding the Universe as a Father of all of us we could argue endlessly about the fact that a particular saint was the Son of God or not and go to war over it. Or, we might just silently say that he has to be a son of God just as we all are.

We could go on to argue that a mother is a Virgin or not, or that a virgin birth is impossible while a doctor may come along and say that he does that all the time through sperm injections. We might then argue that a virgin birth is with a spirit or matter without defining what a spirit is.

We can then change the topic to whether the soul exists or not and badger a person to death who holds that a soul exists, when all that the poor fellow may have implied with the soul was that part of the self that feels pain and pleasure, joy and sorrow, a part that all life presumably has.

We could make our arguments more intelligent by beginning with definitions but define with the help of words that are not defined, so that in the end the discussion may be like the outcome of the meeting described at the beginning of this post – shit to be precise, if one may use unpardonable language.

As they say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder but the judges of a beauty contest have an understanding enlightened enough to distinguish between a buffalo and a cow, yet spiritual understanding is in the heart of the enlightened and therefore not as easily judged by words chosen to express them, yet when one approaches the Universe with utmost humility in one's smallness not greatness, the Universe may grant that understanding in the heart directly out of  love or grace, so that we may not fret in desperation and fear, just as an infant does when it can not see its mother around, but instead be just as secure, delighted and fearless as an infant is in a mother's bosom. We are already and always in the bosom of Infinity but often too distracted to realize that.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Five Stages of a Human Life

May the life of this sweet baby in the photo be blessed by the Almighty Lord. The beginning of human life is indeed inspiring and full of Joy. With some gentle care and a little foresight the joy may last a lifetime.In order to analyze human life one may use  the analogy of a lifetime with an average working day for convenience. A human life may be divided into five twenty year periods each and compared to the five periods of a working day – morning pre-work hours, morning working hours, afternoon working hours, evening and night. Each period of life involves fun and work. Presently this post is restricted to the work aspect. An important aspect of this work in each stage involves preparation for the following stage of life.

Thus the morning preceding a normal workday consists of getting ready for work. The first approximately twenty years of life similarly involve getting ready for a working life. It is a time to develop disciplined, productive habits as well as acquire education. If this preparation is a useful one then a human being may hope to acquire a decent job and make a success of it.

The next twenty years, up to age forty, may be regarded as the forenoon of a workday. It is the time of life when one is most energetic. If these energies are well spent then one can excel at one’s occupation and rise to senior levels in the next phase. It is also the time to marry and raise a family. A job well done at this stage becomes an asset in later stages of life.

The age from forty to sixty is a period of reducing energies just as it is low in the afternoon of a normal workday. However, it is also a time that one may have risen to a senior position in one’s career. It is wise at this stage to start preparing for retirement. This means deciding upon your retirement home and making an effort to save for retirement. Big cities or their vicinities are the best locations to find a job. However, during retirement a quiet countryside or small town may offer the best post retirement option. The best time to locate a retirement home is now in this third stage of life when one still has sufficient energies and the best possible income to set up a new home.

The fourth stage of life from sixty to eighty may be compared to the evening of a workday. It is time to relax and take it easy. Some are compelled to work through this evening and some choose to work, especially business persons that are self-employed, since they do not have to retire officially. However, just as in a normal day if we work through the evening, we may not be fully up to the task the next day, something like that can happen in a human life too. A soul that has not had the opportunity to resolve the dilemmas and emotional encumbrances of a lifetime at peace is a cluttered one and this may lead to an inappropriate future birth in a new life - a new day of work. A quiet evening - a life in peaceful green surroundings – refreshes far more than a boisterous or busy evening. The results are apparent next morning. An average human life is considered here. There are individual variations and exceptions to what has been written.

The last and final stage of life is from the age of eighty to a hundred. It is comparable to night – a time to go to bed. Some persons are disturbed and excited at bedtime and cannot go to sleep early. They may suffer from insomnia. They stay up late or toss and turn in their beds and suffer the discomfort of being up at a time when they are tired and should be fast asleep, some try counting  sheep jumping over a fence or the money in their bank account as an aid but when sleep comes both these aids disappear as things of imaginations into nothingness. Some chant a mantra of the Lord and the holy vibrations carry them to a new inspiring life when sleep comes.  As they say, 

Early to bed and early to rise makes Jack healthy, wealthy and wise, 
But a  prayer full of faith and love, carries Jack to heaven in a trice.

PHOTO: New Born by Peter Griffin from