Reason for a New Age

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    What you will expect to see here are discussions of politics and tangentially economics. This blog will do its best to present a rational look at the world of today, how the modern world came into place, and the issues that are currently being discussed in the public realm.
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The Growing Food Unit

Posted by publius2point0 on 2010/12/18

A large section of this blog is taken up with reviewing the history of the world, specifically as regards economics and politics. For describing the economies of the earliest peoples, I introduced the idea of the “food unit”. The theory is that every person has a certain amount of essential needs simply to survive. And really, all that we do need to survive is food. Every day, we need a certain unit of food to survive — the food unit. So long as we can attain that, anything else that we gather or collect is free to be traded about as wanted. Of course, any excess is also potentially our reserve store in case of an emergency. Whenever you trade anything, you’re doing so at the risk of your future survival.

The thing to note is that, as the title suggests, the food unit has grown.

While it’s true that we only, technically, need food to survive, as technology has advanced our sense of entitlement to luxuries has grown to the point that we consider it equivalent to “survival”. The earliest examples are probably cooked food and clothing. Our ancestors lived for millenia without clothing and until you get into the very far North, none of it is necessary.

I had a Bible studies teacher in university say that the prohibition against nudity in the Bible say that the rule was there not because the naked body was considered bad, but because you needed clothes to show your station. With someone who walks around naked, you have no way of knowing whether they are high-class or low-class. Thus, God demands that we all wear clothing so that we can look at someone and know how we should treat them, thus keeping society nicely organized and smooth running. While I don’t particularly think that there was an actual god who made this demand, it seems likely that this rule was developed in a time when the move from nudity to clothes-wearing was taking place. In modern day, it simply wouldn’t occur to us, let alone give us the need to put the command in God’s mouth.

As to why cooked food, it’s worth noting that spices and salt were major commodity items throughout history. Asia was conquered by Europe almost entirely for the sake of its spices. Eating the same exact food prepared the same exact way (or not prepared at all, just eaten raw) is apparently a sufficiently cruel fate that mankind is willing to go to massive lengths to correct it. Personally, I have no personal experience of eating the same thing every day so I can’t particularly endorse the idea, but it does seem to be the lesson of history.

Since one of these deals with social organization and the other with the availability of surplus foods to mix and match, it seems a good bet that these requirements for life came in with the first agrarian civilizations, ancient Egypt, ancient Sumer, etc.

But so why do I say that these are part of the food unit? Certainly technology made them possible, but certainly not “necessary for survival”. Well no, they aren’t necessary for survival. All humans do need to survive is raw, unprepared food in sufficient supply. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t convince ourselves that other things are necessary as well.

For millenia, the place of the wife was as a person who made and sowed cloth all day and who prepared food. As pointed out, neither of these is strictly necessary, and yet half of the human workforce since ancient times has been squandered on these two tasks. To me, that shows that mankind viewed these things as being unequivocally necessary.

I think we can also say that shelter is considered necessary. In modern day, everyone must get basic education, they must have some minimal access to medical attention, they must have their own dwelling (not shared), they must have basic transportation, they must have electricity, they must have indoor plumbing, etc.

If we look at statistics for Africa, the modern American will think that the people there are living a life where they simply can’t “survive”. People are packed head-to-toe in small huts, they have to walk several miles to the nearest river, they have no doctors, and so on. We feel a great need to send them charity, because they’re living lives that we consider to be deadly — possessing less than is necessary for survival. Yet, I would be fairly certain that if you compared those statistics to Europe in 1300, the rates of death and disease would be just about exactly the same. We romanticize King Arthur, we don’t think, “For just $1, you can save this poor starving Camelot child!” So again, this tells me that these items of life, which are not strictly necessary, have grown to become part of the perceived food unit for modern life.

The problem with that, isn’t that we end up sending free goodies to Africa, it’s that we produce waste. Similarly to how half of our ancestors were squandered on making useless clothing, we waste a lot of resources on making sure that everyone is getting the new, perceived food unit.

Some things I think do count as a real component of the food unit. A person must be able to bath regularly in modern life. If he doesn’t, he won’t be able to stay employed and he won’t be able to earn money to eat. But on the other hand, an impoverished family doesn’t need their own apartment. If you’re living on minimum wage and you’re stretching your wallet to the breaking point, why aren’t you sharing a barracks-like living space with ten other families? Why are barracks-like living spaces not available to be rented? The answer is because living like that is too cruel — it’s sub-food unit living, according to our modern day beliefs.

The American minimum wage is enough to get transportation in to work every day, to have electricity, water, plumbing, food, etc. But it’s also enough to have your own apartment, to buy smokes or lottery tickets, to buy a TV, etc. That minimum wage is, as I’ve pointed out in a previous blog, the same as what people will accept as a minimum from jobs even without the government mandating it. Modern people won’t accept a wage less than one which gives them all of these things, regardless of whether they are truly necessary in modern day life or not. Without changing that perception, no matter how you change taxation, minimum wages, or whatever else, you’ll continue to have to pay for everyone to live a life much higher in quality than is strictly necessary. The government, charity groups, or someone will figure out a way to leach money over to make sure that everyone has their own house, has a pack of cigarettes, and 10 channels on TV.


2 Responses to “The Growing Food Unit”

  1. Roberta said

    FYI — Homo erectus is known to be the first ‘human’ (actually, hominid) to have fire; charred bones have been discovered where their campfires were and it is presumed that they are the first ones to actually cook their food. Why? It simply tastes better; cooking adds a sumptious taste (and smell) to food. In those days, it was probably only meat that was cooked.

    Our ‘basic needs’ continue to go up (from basically being nude, cave-dwelling, raw food-eating societies) because we discover that we ‘can.’ There is something called progress and humans are the only animals capable of discovering improvements to our living conditions. Once invented, they can never be taken away. It’s the nature of the beast!

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