Turn off the news, change your world

I don’t read the news anymore.

When did this happen? I used to have them all on preloaded tabs – BBC, Aljazeera, The Guardian, Huffington Post… I even used to buy the Independent once or twice a week.

When did I switch off? Well, maybe I didn’t entirely. A lot of stuff pops up on my Facebook feed, though this is inevitably weighted to the sensational or reposts of Upworthy. Blood Upworthy.

Still, my news consumption has gone waaaaay down. Surely this is a bad thing?

Hardly. I can’t think of anything that’s come up in the news that has driven me to act on something, or else has really changed my thinking. How could it? I don’t have my own life in order, how can I really be a change in the world?

I’m reminded again of FW. He had me imagine I was a teabag, trying to make a brew in a jug or a bath by myself. It can’t happen. You can only make the tea in your own cup. Then if that spurs other people to take the plunge into hot water, great – but it always starts with you and your pathetic little cup.

Get yourself in order. I’m not saying you can’t be happy where you are, but unti

Guns, gold, and Jesus

This is a sloppy caricature of a good friend’s belief in what is holding the USA together, with attacks on all three hastening the state’s demise. In Britain we’re already further down the road to becoming a failed state. Forgive me FW, it’s a good springboard to talking about trust.

Guns

FW hates Piers Morgan. In feeling such he is a member of a very large club, but his recent ire was raised by Piers Morgan attacking a gun rights advocate who felt it necessary to keep an AK47 at home. “If he doesn’t like the Second Amendment, why does he stay in the USA?”

Well I think he’s exercising his First Amendment right FW, but you brought up an interesting idea. Do people really need to have the same grade of weapons as their military to protect themselves from the government? I think this was the context of the Piers Morgan interview, correct me if I’m wrong. Keep some assault rifles handy in case DC decides to turn the troops on you. I’ve yet to research when the last time the USA had a command to shoot civilians in peacetime, but for now it’s not important. The important thing is that the gun advocate and FW seem to have no trust in the men and women of the US armed forces not to take up arms on command and start killing civilians. Seriously? The whole army? It’s not a monolithic structure, it’s over a million and a half active personnel, and they all have families, friends, neighbours, churches even! Just a pause for thought.

Gold

FW is a strong proponent of currency backed by a metal reserve i.e. gold or silver, rather than a fiat currency. The problem according to FW is that confidence in a fiat currency is necessarily tied to the subjective confidence of the global market in a state. FW gives an estimate of sixty years from the issuance of a fiat currency to its collapse through loss of backing – loss of trust. A notable exception to the apparent rule is the Iraqi Swiss dinar, which was still used in Kurdish regions even after it was disendorsed by the Iraqi government in 1990. As the supply of Swiss dinars stayed the same or decreased while the new Saddam dinar’s supply increased, it appreciated against the latter. A stable money supply which kept the Kurdish regions safe from the rampant inflation that beset the rest of the country, based on nothing more than mutual trust in paper money. No gold? No problem!

This one example notwithstanding, I can see a much more compelling argument from FW here. We need to rethink how we back our currencies. Returning to a gold standard would increase the price of gold 25-50 times, or else bring about a massive global wave of deflation (I think), and ignores the potential for all sorts of decentralised currencies that our highly connected world allows. I’m not just talking about Bitcoin – take a look at this little report on the future of money by Envisioning, a research organisation based in Brazil.

Jesus

FW is a Christian, and decries the secularisation of the USA and other formerly Christian countries. In his opinion, it’s a loss of belief in moral absolutes that is the catalyst for social decay.

This is a massive topic that I can do no justice to here. What I will say is that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, churches were central social hubs in every British community, which for the most part have been replaced with… nothing. Mind you, the decline of the pub in the UK is also a symptom of a huge shift in the way we live. So there’s two social hubs we’ve lost! I posit that it’s a change in the world of work along with the rise of consumerism after World War Two that has been the real atomising force in our culture. And when you don’t know you neighbours because now you sit at home watching Ant and Dec instead of going out and meeting in groups, how can you trust your neighbours? And when you can’t trust your neighbours, how can you have a healthy society? Consider also that the Nordic countries all score very high on quality of life markers while having some of the lowest reported religiosity in the western world. It may be that FW is making a causation from a correlation, or is making a reduction fallacy, but I can’t say that for certain.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. It just means we need to rethink how we acquire and display our trustworthiness. Here’s Rachel Botsman at TED Global on trust as the currency of the new economy.

When I grow up, I want to be…

Photo by Murdo Macleod for The Guardian

Melvyn Bragg.

What a joy it must be to spend your days reading up on interesting stuff and then getting to throw some questions at a selection of boffins in the relevant subject area.

I’m amazed that I didn’t discover In Our Time until a year or two ago, nerdy child that I was/am. The show, broadcast every week on Radio 4, is pushing 650 episodes on subjects of science, art, history, culture and religion, all free to listen from its archives. If you want a digestible introduction to all sorts of subjects, with the charming dulcet tones of Bragg, then tune in.