People Spend 1/6 of their Lives In Front Of the Television

The average person spends 4 to 5 hours a day in front of the television. That means that, in a 65-year period, the average person would have spent 9 years glued to the tube. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? But that’s not all, since there is – on average – 18 minutes of commercial airtime during an hour-long broadcasted television program. Thus, a simple calculation shows that the average person – given that he only watches commercial airtime – spends almost 2,5 years (!) of his life watching commercials on television. Add to that the Tel Sells of this world, and you’ll come to even more years of commercial television usage. So, let’s make this very clear: on a global scale, people are spending more than 1/6th of their lives in front of the television, and possibly more than 1/24th of their lives watching commercials on television.

Imagine what the world could be like if – instead of sitting in front of the television watching commercials – people would be doing something useful with their time: helping their neighbors, teaching their children, taking care of their garden etc. Then we would gain 1/24th of ‘extra’ human life, and even more if we would stop – or at least lessen – our television usage at all. We could in the time saved by not watching television (commercials) help people in Africa, think about what we’re going to do about global warning or play games with friends. We could, instead of watching people promote their books on television, actually read a book. That would surely be a better use of our time, wouldn’t it? Surely it can be pleasant to just relax and watch something on autopilot; to not think about anything for a while. To just let the ‘entertainment’ of television blow you away. But don’t you mind that – in this time that you’re ‘not thinking about anything’ – you’re in fact (unconsciously) being indoctrinated with thoughts and desires about deodorant, ice-cream, cars and beer? Don’t you mind being used as a puppet; companies using your precious time supporting their own wealth?

There are, as always, exceptions to the rule: there are documentaries broadcasted on television that might actually widen your perspective on the world, instead of narrowing it. Documentaries that actually teach you something and therefore might actually be worthy of your time. But – given that there are such documentaries – can’t we just watch them online, without having to suffer from any commercial breaks whatsoever? There are plenty of sites (Top Documentary Films and DocumentaryHeaven, to name only two) that provide you with such documentaries for free. And if you want to watch less educational programs (series etc.), there are equally many sites at which you can stream your favorite series for free. That might save you a lot of time watching commercials; time that can be used to watch more of your favorite series. However, as you might have noticed, many of such series – like Californication – are interwoven with implicit advertisement (Why does Hank Moody drive a Porsche? Why does he smoke Camel?). But that’s the price we’ve got to pay for entertainment.

But what do you think?

The Coercive Power of Money

The Webster’s New Collegiate dictionary defines ‘to coerce‘ as ‘to compel to an act or choice’, or ‘to restrain or dominate by nullifying individual will’. We all have some kind of idea of what it means to coerce someone: to force someone into doing something they don’t necessarily want. When I hold a shotgun to your head, and tell you that you should give me your iPhone, that could very well be interpreted as an act of coercion. But there are also more subtle acts of coercion. If you told me a secret, and we would get into a fight, I could force you into doing something by threatening to make pubic your secret. But there are even more subtle acts of coercion. Acts that all of us experience on a daily basis. And the leading actor in this play is omnipotent and all-known: it is Mister Money himself.

Where does voluntary engaging in a deal stop and coercion start? When you offer me 300 dollars for me to repair your car, I could voluntarily decide whether or not to accept your offer. I might feel forced to do so, since I am short on money, but I am still able to compare the pro’s and con’s of your offer and come to a rather autonomous decision. It becomes a different story when I am an employee of a car repairing firm where you turn to for getting your car fixed. In that case I have no vote in deciding whether to accept your offer. That’s the boss’ decision: I just have to do as he says. But you could still claim that I voluntarily decided to go work for the company, so in that sense my ‘forced decision’ to repair your car would still be voluntary. Note that you could doubt these two examples of ‘voluntary’ action by claiming that, although in theory I might have decided whether to take the job or not, in practice I was more or less obliged to do so. I might have needed the money in order to stay alive, which could have forced me into accepting the job. But Iet’s not focus on that.

Because I want to provide you with a different case, and that is the following: imagine that a big construction company decides to build an apartment block next to where you live. Now I ask you: how much of a choice do you have in accepting this deal? Not much, right? Even though you aren’t offered any money, or anything for that matter, you are still supposed to accept the company’s plans. You have no authority at all. Your ‘individual will is nullified’ by the domination of the construction company. Thus it seems that money can force you into accepting an offer. That is, when parties engage in a deal, even though this deal might be executed voluntarily by the offering and accepting party, the will of other parties is rendered irrelevant. It’s nullified. And although this might not be a big issue if the deal is relatively small (like your neighbor buying a new car), the consequences can be much more severe when the parties involved are big and powerful (like the construction company and the government).

So it seems that money truly is power: coercive power.

But what do you think?

The West versus The Poor: Who is in Charge?

We need oxygen. We need food. We need shelter. We need money. We need so many things, just in order to stay alive. And for as long as we are alive, we are involved in this exchanging relationship with nature. A conversation that we always try to pull in the direction that is best for us. And we have become pretty good in this. We can use nature’s trees to build our houses, we can use nature’s oil to fuel our cars and we can use nature’s drugs to pleasure ourselves. However, there is one natural resource we have difficulty mastering: the human resource.

The human resource is just another resource we need to say alive. However, in contrast to the passive part of nature, we have to be a little cleverer in our approach of the human resource. We can’t just reap the benefits, move on to the next one, and start all over again, right? No, because – in contrast to potatoes – human resources are autonomous; or – in contrast to potatoes – humans understand that they are autonomous. So we have to be smart; we have to use our intellectual super powers nature has endowed us with in order to trick them; in order to make them do what we want. And Bam! There it is: civilization is born.

But let’s – for a moment – shed of the norms and values society has poisoned our brains with; let’s for a moment imagine that we are starting from scratch, and let’s think to ourselves: what would be the best for us? That is: what would be the best for this collection of “Mes” (plural of “me”). What if we could just cultivate people like we cultivate grain? To just have acres full of them, use them when we need them, and move on to the next round? To only extract value without giving anything in return? To use their powerlessness and dependence on us as being their only need we have to fulfill? That would be great, right?

Okay, back to reality: because, aren’t we in fact already doing this? Using the powerlessness of our fellow human beings for our own benefit? The most striking example would be of those people working their asses off in some kind of sweatshop in Vietnam, or any other “less-developed country“. Aren’t we just using their dependency on us – on our money – as being the only reason they don’t leave us? The only reason that they don’t die? Just like grain depends on our water and our fertilizer in order just to stay alive? Aren’t they just as interchangeable as resources like grain and potatoes are? After all: does it matter what piece of grain we put in our bread? And does it matter what Vietnamese made our shoes? The only difference might between grain and Vietnamese is that the Vietnamese might have more potential than the average piece of grain.

But that’s how we want them; vulnerable and fully dependent upon our money just to stay alive. Because the more dependent they are, the less they need. The less they have, the more they can provide us with. And you know what is the best part of all of this? We think that we are fighting the good fight; that we are helping those poor people to stand on their feet. After all, if we wouldn’t be there, those people would have nothing, right? They would die, they wouldn’t be able to take care of their families etc etc.

But is that true? What about those hunters and gatherers we descended from? They seemed to do pretty good without sweatshops, right? They seemed to live a rather autonomous life; not dependent upon “the West” for them to feed their families. Isn’t it that we are in fact preventing those poor people from standing on their own feet? That we are providing them with the illusion of wealth; the illusion of their dependency on us? Aren’t we just rationalizing our immoral behaviors because – in our hearts – we feel that “we are just good people”? Aren’t we changing seats; aren’t we the ones that are dependent on them? And aren’t we the ones that should prevent them from discovering their autonomy? Aren’t they the ones in charge?

Or as Rousseau once said: “Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains”. The only question is: who are the guards and who are the prisoners?

What do you think?

The Difference between Economic- and Real Demand

Both of my grandfathers were farmers and so are two of my uncles. The other family members are all in some way related to the agricultural business. That’s how I – in one of our annual family gatherings – winded up in a discussion with my farmer-uncle about the current state of the agricultural business in Europe. He told me that the farmers – including himself – had to pay wholesalers – which are the parties farmers should be selling their crops to – for them to come and pick up their crops. So: instead of getting paid for cultivating their crops – which seems to be a pretty fair deal – farmers actually have to pay money for them to get rid of their unions, potatoes etc. That’s how low the prices of many crops are these days. And do you know why these prices are so low? Because there is no demand. I repeat: there is no demand. So while there are – as we speak – people are starving in Africa, our farmers have to pay money to get rid of their crops because there would be no demand. This is how far we have gotten in this 21th century of our human civilization.

But let’s take a closer look at the situation: why is there what seems to be a structural oversupply of certain crops? When asking this question to my uncle, he explained to me that the farmers kept on producing this much unions – for example – because they were hoping for some disaster to occur in a country abroad – like a flood in Russia or a drought in Spain – which would make the supply of unions drop, the prices rise and the revenues of Dutch farmers increase. It seems that the act of speculating has crossed the boundaries of the banking sector into the agricultural industry.

However, knowing the farmers’ motives for continuing the supply of unions is not in itself sufficient for coming to understand why there is this oversupply in “the West” and this starvation in Africa. After all, one cannot blame the farmers for trying to make a living, right? So maybe we should put the blame on the Africans. They are after all the ones that are too poor to help our farmers out, right? That’s true, but that is also very twisted. But where to put the blame then? Why is this economic game being played so far away from what we – the human species as a whole – seem to need?

Maybe there is something fundamentally wrong with the economic paradigm. With the economy as being the domain of the profit-maximizing individual. The domain in which the market takes care of itself. The domain of the exchange of goods and services in order for the overall utility of society to increase. Maybe the economic paradigm has lost touch with reality and with why it was invented in the first place: to help us human beings live together peacefully. And since no money equals no goods, and since people are not willing to provide their goods for free, the poor are screwed, right?

But maybe there is a way for the market and ethics to converge. That is: maybe we should stop looking at money as being a universal instrument of valuation and start looking at the goods and services people worldwide have to offer. I can imagine that Africa – because of its climate – has the right conditions for growing agricultural products that are totally different from those being cultivated in the much colder regions of Europe. So why not focus ourselves upon producing and exchanging these goods? No money involved. Just trading the stuff each of the counties is capable of producing with stuff they are unable to produce. We should look for ways in which we – the countries of the world – might be able to complement each other. We have to – as a world – see which countries are – whether it is because of natural resources being present or because of beneficial geographical positioning – most capable of fulfilling a particular task and let each country focus upon performing that task. This is the only manner in which we can fully benefit from the differences that inevitably exist between countries, without ending up in an imbalanced economic situation like we are today. We have all got something to offer each other. That is what we have to realize.

Let’s make this more concrete. Let’s focus upon an example that shows the manner in which different countries could be able to use their regional advantages in creating value. Most of us do agree with the idea that fossil fuels are likely to be exhausted within a couple of decades, right? So that means that we have to switch to other energy sources. Sources like solar energy. And where is an extremely high amount of solar radiation waiting to be caught? A place in which unused space is abundant? Indeed: the African desert.

Think about it. Hereby we could make optimal use of the geographical differences between the world’s countries. In the West we could keep on having “old-school” food-producing farmers, while in Africa there would be an entire new group of “sun-farmers”. This development could turn the idea of what it means to be a farmer upside down. Both types of farmers are producing energy for us human beings. And each of them would focus its efforts on doing what it does best and exchanging these results with other countries.

Sounds good, right? The choice is yours: should we stick to the money-focused, profit-maximizing and individualistic approach currently being applied, or shall we start trying to obtain the most value from the differences that exist on the world and use these differences to create a fair and honest trading scheme.

What do you think?