Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Enough with star counting.

The basic idea behind enoughism, is that since we have now evolved in the western world technologies to feed clothe ourselves there is not longer need to amass things beyond what is necessary. We can estimate what is necessary for our daily living achieve that point, plus minus some contingencies, obtain it, and consume it. As part of that many practical elements can be brought. Jonh Naish in his book Enough coins the term, introduces the motivation and offers practical alternatives.

For example there is no need for an over the board holiday in which most of our savings go every year. A mini break, of a commute out on Friday, commute back in on Monday morning ought to be more than enough. If you posses a high paid skill all that is needed is indeed to work enough to sustain yourself for the year, and spend the rest of the time homing that skill to the next level. It all makes perfect sense, but the elements at stake here are larger than that. It is indeed an evolutionary coping mechanism that has brought around this hogging or amassing behaviour that is best identified in the start counter, the business man, of The Little Prince.

The analogy is indeed very powerful as it makes the amassing of wealth appear, as what it is, stupid. The little prince in his travels among little planets encounters a businessman who is busy counting.
When asked by the little prince as to why he does it. The man replies that he is counting because then there are his and he can put the number in a piece of paper in the drawer for safe keeping. The little prince inquires then as to what he is counting. The businessman does not really care as to what he counts, he barely remembers the name. He is counting stars.

Like the stars in The Little Prince resources are there for all. Who are we to put a name on them and on the basis of that fake ownership amass more of them. Just like counting stars, that is all we are doing in our modern society, putting a name behind something that is common. Enoughism in this respect does not go far enough, it only states that you have to share, and its much easier to share by letting other people use what you do not consider yours than to retroactively give what has already been yours. Charity, as Zizek puts it, has become the redeeming force of capitalism, you can now buy a coffee ethic at Starbucks and even Lidl has fair trade instant coffee. But again this only helps redeem the fact that we are amassing wealth, in a way which is depriving others.

Our planet is finite, no matter how big the resources are. This finiteness of the resources has not been taken into account in many models and in many studies. As for the business man all that matters is the count, right?  It is true that when tackling a complex problem certain simplifications have to be introduced, without abstraction and reduction the problem may not be solvable. But the awareness that the solution at hand is indeed only a partial solution with certain validity bounds and certain constraints is what is missing. The joke of Jaimito reminds me of this.

The teacher asks the students during the lesson:
- We have an electricity cable, with 5 birds on it. We take a shotgun and shoot two of them. How many birds are left on the cable?
To which Jaimito replies:
- None, miss.
- Jaimito, you must be joking. Think again. We have 5 birds, and we shoot two.
How many are there left?
- Miss, I do not know how well you shoot but after the first shot, even if you hit them both, all the other three would have flown away.

 That is indeed the problem, through the simplification, and the application of abstractions to solve problems the track has been lost back to the original set-up of the problem. If we abstract away in the joke of Jaimito that they are birds on a cable, and only focus on the maths, the answer that the teacher demands is indeed the correct.  But in reality the answer that Jaimito gives is the one that matters.

If we extrapolate this to a very complex derivative or other financial artefact, any relation to the real world is gone by the time it is applied. The businessman only counts, and as he counts he forgets what he is counting. Regulation or regulatory bodies could take on that role, but even then, are they really doing that?

 Enoughism is a good start, but it is indeed a sort of charitable drive which prevents you from putting on your name things that you do not really need. But the stars being counted and being put under each one of our names is something that really brings about the stupidity of the system we live in. How that stupidity came about is very simple, we rely on abstraction without an understanding of what is beneath it. That is what allows us to advance, to progress as a society, but when dealing with the world a better global understanding is necessary.