Friday, November 25, 2011

Perpetual Growth? Yes Please!

“Fomulare, formulare, von der Wiege bis zur Bahre!” (German saying, meaning, "Forms, forms, from the cradle to the grave!")

Finally, after world champion procrastination on my part, and a warning letter on their part, I filled in the form my German health insurance company had sent me, to record my change of status and Keep Them Informed. I didn’t enjoy a second of it, and the process had my wife and I shouting at each other angrily, with our children looking on. Later I posted it. Soon I will have the insurance company’s response. My wife’s and my reaction to this overall hideous experience of staying ‘insured’ was to plan leaving Germany at the earliest convenience. For now, I’ll just chalk that up to emotion. I mean, where would we go?

At around two o’clock this morning, it occurred to me that forms are the perceptive organs of companies, bureaucracies and other organizations. And there is probably a relationship along the lines of; the bigger the organization, the cruder and more insulting the form. Anyway, it occurred to me as I lay sleepless in the 2 a.m. gloom, that The Form is similar to money in that it is a crude and poor measure of value. I am Toby Russell. Only the tiniest fraction of my value can be recorded by ticking boxes on a form. But there I am, split up onto various pieces of paper and as various bits and bytes, scattered across the storage space of various companies and bureaucracies, in Form form, the information on me therein owned by them. It occurred to me, again, that ‘measuring’ people is best done intuitively, organically, dynamically, artistically, scientifically, patiently, flexibly, forgivingly, wisely, and that there can be no prescription for doing so. But we’re stuck with The Form and checking boxes; in fact, more and more of it as the economy grows, or tries to. Because whether in the government or private sector, creating forms, reading them, responding to them, is all Paid Work. And, the more Paid Work there is, the better the world is. The more money changing hands, the richer we are. We all want jobs. We all need money. Bring on those forms. Hand over that money.

The gloom is a fertile place for an imaginative man in a bad mood awake in the wee hours for the second night in a row. I found myself writing a heartfelt paean to my love, Economic Growth. Enjoy.

The year is the future, and Global Government has just decreed, in the interests of economic growth, to sell language to the highest bidders, then establish a public-private partnership by part-auctioning words to the people. Virgin Vocabulary won the lexis, Microten$e won all tenses, and GM Grammar got the rules and punctuation. Buying part-ownership of a word meant earning money for every usage of that word, with 1% of that money going to Virgin Vocabulary for administrative costs. Ownership of tense and grammar was deemed more sensible in wholly private form. The incredible complexity of monitoring language use across the planet was child’s play, due to biotech advances enabling scientists to ensure every human born was genetically equipped with bio-recording equipment, Genetic ID (GID) account, and a Frequency Interface Device for automating money transfers from GID account to GID account. No one needed to worry; the whole thing worked Like Magic.

Still, there were some small problems. Wealthy bidders bought up all the common words, like “the,” “and,” “that,” the pronouns, “thank,” “you,” “no,” “yes,” “please,” “bankrupt,” and the swear words too. The poor got the scraps, like “obviate,” “panegyric,” “extemporaneous,” “antidisestablishmentarianism,” and “abstruse.” Nevertheless, GDP figures showed huge gains in the opening months, so economists could afford to ignore the rising levels of debt among the poor, who were increasingly forced to use morse code, semaphore, sign language and doodles to communicate with one another. State education suffered terribly. However, the poor couldn’t always avoid speaking in the public-private language; private companies and government agencies alike would only listen in English.

“Necessity is the mother of invention!” smiled cloned president Obusha III, and commended the poor for their hard work and making the planet proud, but gently hinted too that socks ought to be pulled up, lest our most precious, commonly owned treasure, language, fall into disrepair. “I love freedom!” he beamed, before stepping back into the White House.

But, as is the nature of things, boom became bust as debt became unsustainable. The initial flush of growth tapered off to become Anaemic, and plans long in the making were finally rolled out before a grateful public. The people were informed that airplanes had been spraying the planet’s atmosphere for weeks, and that this harmless spray was made of a nanobot swarm whose programming it was to barcode every molecule of air in existence, as well as equip every person with a barcode-reader at the back of their mouth. The nanobots had since self-destructed, having fulfilled their mission.

“Mission accomplished!” declared Obusha III.

“We love technology, we love Obusha!” the people found themselves chanting (the only Free Words reserved for Free Use, in that combination and tense, exclamation mark optional).

The government, it transpired, had decreed and conducted a fair and impartial Initial Public Offering, fully automated, which had assigned an equal portion of the planet’s air to every citizen of earth. All were equal owners of air, and the poor set about training themselves to need less breaths per day, and spending more time underwater, somehow. They were up for the challenge, inspired to work hard and move up that ladder.

However, equality is not built to last. Polluted air was bought up by the rich on the Free Air Exchange, its price rose, and the poor living in over-populated, polluted areas found themselves owing more per breath than they earned. Days after the initial public offering, Artificial Air Inc was established, and began selling Synthetic Air Creators (SACs) to those who could afford them. SACs took the form of an ingenious device worn invisibly under one’s nostrils. The devices harnessed zero-point energy from the vacuum to literally rearrange free radicals and other atomic material not covered in the Public Air Act into pure, non-barcoded air. CO2 breathed out was barcoded by the device and owned by the device’s owner. Vegetation processing that CO2 into oxygen was engineered to keep the barcode, and hence ownership, unchanged. Of course, SACs sold like hot cakes. The poor found themselves sinking deeper into debt, and could only afford imitation SACs (if at all), which were unreliable, even to the point of poisoning many.

But it was all GDP growth, thus was good while it was good. Bust followed boom again; you can’t change nature! Necessity is the mother of invention, and the ingenuity of humanity knows no No More. Eyes became recording devices as morse code, semaphore, doodles and sign language became privatized. GDP grew, then tapered off. Smiles, hugs, laughter and winks all fell under the auctioneer’s gavel. GDP grew, then tapered off, this time in weeks as GDP measuring technologies were by now fine tuned down to the nanosecond. Market’s panicked. Mother’s milk was next, then the pleasure felt while enjoying a quiet moment. Biotech delivered the goods the very next day to prevent systemic collapse yet again, by privatizing thinking itself with yet more ingenious brainwave recorders.

At last everything we do, from gazing out of windows, to stroking our beards, petting our pets, feeding our fish, waving hello to a friend across the street, burping, farting, scratching our behinds and everything you can think of, Dear Paying Reader (see below), cost money, and everything that was, was embraced by GDP Almighty.

The End. (Literally.)

You owe me $5,343,694.45 for reading this, which I think is a bargain. (I owe more for writing it, so help a brother out, won’t you!?)


Debra said...

Great post, Toby, it is really inspiring, and may I delicately suggest that you have found your calling ?
It certainly is an excellent antidote to all those earnest young men (and women) with butch haircuts, running around superciliously pointing fingers, and telling us what to do.... (with the best of intentions, of course...)
The elder brother crowd, I mean.
Love it. Keep it up. I'M ENVIOUS...

Toby said...

Thank you, Debbie! However, I may be off to get a butch haircut later today, certainly next week. Like is never black and white. ;-)

Debra said...

Aw, Toby, don't rain on my parade.
And besides.. you are creeping up there towards that age where butch haircuts.... don't SHOW you to your best advantage, I fear. (That said without ever having seen you, however...)

Toby said...

My head is an aimless ramble of lilting and drifting wafts of hair, thinning daily. Not-butch is not good. That combed-over look suits no one on the planet. Scrubbed tundra style is for me.

Don't think of it as rain. Think of it as the warm light of truth! That should do it...

Debra said...

I'll have to take you ON FAITH, Toby...
But I must say I have never seen truth as emerging in a WARM LIGHT.
Cold neons is the way i see it...

Foppe said...

Toby: Just a heads-up: Graeber has a short book coming out in a few days that I think you'll like, called Revolutions in Reverse. In it, he talks about the connection between violence/repression and how it relates to neoliberalism being the ideology of the "post-ideological" (post-1989) age, as well as about the question why the left seems to be so stumped everywhere.
I found it a quite interesting read, and I suspect you will too.

Toby said...

LOL, Debbie.

Thanks for the heads up Foppe, and thanks for stopping by. I didn't know you visited!

Foppe said...

occassionally :)