Philosophical Musings

Philosophical Musings

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Food for Thought part 1

I was getting tired of working, so thought i'd try a different plan. I got a piece of cardboard, & wrote, 'Will think for food' on it & stood on the street. I got a lot of funny looks, but no food. Evidently thought is not valued much in the world.

Then i tried a think tank. I found one of those stock tanks.. pretty common here in Az.. and sat in it & thought. A few cows came by, & i had some good thoughts, but no one offered any food or money for them. I don't know how those other think tank people do it. Maybe it was because my tank was empty.

But the real point of this story is not about thinking. It is about food. I was thinking about food, which i do a lot, & it occurred to me that food is the most important commodity that we exchange for. I think it would be safe to say that food predated money in human history. Food was used more in human exchanges than money, & what we use as money now, is primarily used to buy food. Oh, we buy lots of other stuff, but most of that is unnecessary. The 'Will think for food' sign is silly, but food occupies a great deal of our waking thoughts, & if you're hungry, you dream about food.

The basic needs in life are few. We need air, water, food, & protection. Air is free, for now, so we don't worry about how we will take our next breath. We just take it. Water is plentiful, and fairly easy to find.. though i'm sure in the deserts someone looking for water would have a different perspective. But the point is that for most of humanity & throughout history, water was not a major problem, but food was. And of course, water has extreme significance now in food production. It is essential in food production. For most of human existence, food gathering.. whether it was from the wild or cultivated, took a large portion of our time & energy.

Protection has some different facets. There is shelter protection.. to protect us from the elements. We are fairly dainty creatures, & do not have thick fur coats, or the ability to endure climactic variations without outside help. So we have made houses & clothes to protect our fragile selves with.

The other protection is from danger.. some from wild animals, but mostly from each other. Some people found it easier to take other people's food, clothing, & shelter, rather than work to provide their own. So we built defense systems. We formed alliances with each other to fight off invading hordes trying to take our stuff. We had to protect our food stores & other valuables. We made weapons, built strongholds, & learned tactical maneuvers to protect ourselves. Of course, some of us were on the other side. We made the same weapons & tried to improve them so we could better defeat those with the food stores, so we could take their stuff. Most of our technological advancement is due to either defense for the growers or aggression for the takers.

We grouped together in larger & larger family groups, mostly for protection, then it became more geographical, racial or cultural, and recently we have grouped together in ideological groups. America is more like that. We are pretty diverse racially & culturally, but share a similar ideology about govt, as well as geographical common ground.

Early on, money evolved. We needed an easy substitute for food.. something we could exchange for our necessary commodities. We used pretty rocks, sea shells, bits of metal, or other items that came to represent a value.. a worth that you could use to trade for other things. Food was still the major item we exchanged for. Those who grew a lot of food had the wealth. They were the ones primarily able to buy protection from thieves. They grew more than they needed, & used the excess to exchange for leisure or luxuries. They could hire workers to build grand living quarters, & pay them with food to work in their fields or tend their livestock.

On the taker's side, powerful warriors gained prominence. They were able to invade other nations & take their stuff. Their strength gained them power & influence, & they provided for their group by that method.

As our technology advanced, and as our protections were more effective in providing a safe place to farm, food become more plentiful. It was soon easy to grow, & many people were able to get large crops & a distribution network was created by ships, rails, & roads. Refrigeration made keeping it fresh easier, & freezing, canning, and other means of storage made getting & keeping food easier. Soon, food acquisition became less of a full time job, & people could pursue other luxuries & leisure time activities. Money became more of the standard for exchange. You could work for an individual farmer, or collectives, or corporate ventures, as people pooled their resources to accomplish greater things. Govts increased their power, & used their military might to take the resources of weaker nations.

We all rely on the distribution process, & the ability of farmers to provide cheap food for our survival. When there are problems, famine results. In every area of the world where there is prolonged famine, it is usually a breakdown in the distribution network or the protection umbrella. Sometimes a blight or drought causes it.. but the long term famines in the world are due more to those 2 things breaking down. Civil war is a major cause of famine. The warring factions tend to view their tactical advantages as more important than seeing food grown or distributed. An early tactic we discovered is that if we disrupt our enemy's supply line, it weakens them in battle. And the warriors themselves see their own sustenance as more important than the civilians living in the middle of the war. So the result is famine. People do not have the food, the local money inflates to a useless value, black market supplies of food or other necessities make eating very expensive.

But other things can also create tough economic times. During the american depression, years of drought created the dust bowl, and along with the stock market crash, & other financial shenanigans, the nation was plunged into a deep depression. Food was available, but the means to exchange for it was more difficult to obtain. People worked long days for barely enough food to live on. The time spent working for food increased, & not much was left for luxuries or leisure.

If food is cheap & plentiful, we can pursue leisure & luxuries. If it is not, we work a lot harder just for food. We take it for granted, now, but food has been the central, single most important item people have worked & fought for in the history of man. We have evolved into a complex society, with other things seemingly more important, but if you strip it all down, food is still our most central & daily need for survival.

In America now, we have a fairly inexpensive food supply. We give it away in food stamps & international aid. Our farmers are fairly efficient, as is the distribution network. We get processed food, already packaged for storage. The main value of our work is not just the amount of food we can buy, but in other things.. mostly luxuries.. that are not central to our existence. If anything were to interrupt the cheap food supply, our luxuries would also diminish, as more of our time would be spent hunting & gathering, rather than enjoying leisure diversions. If war, economic issues, severe weather, or political unrest were to upset the farming & distribution network, we could be in a famine scenario very quickly. Money would become less valuable, & luxury items would lose some of their luster. You cannot eat a cadillac. In a scenario where desperation begins to set in, & food scarcity becomes common, especially in the large cities, we would probably see a growth of those spending their time taking from others, rather than producing anything themselves. It might become more difficult to provide a protective umbrella for the food creators, or the distributors. The currency's main value would be in what you can purchase or protect your food.

Food is our central commodity. All other things of value.. homes, manufactured goods, clothing, vehicles, weapons.. are only valuable in that they help you produce your food or provide the protective umbrella. But without food, they are useless playthings.

Probably the central reason for the growth & prosperity of america in the last 100 yrs has been our food production. We have been called, 'the breadbasket of the world'. We produce & export more food than anything else. National protective umbrella devices (weapons) are probably second. All other ventures either support that production, like farming equipment, irrigation, processing, distribution.. or they leech off of it. Our luxuries & leisure time are direct results of efficient & productive farming methods, & the protective umbrella to let it prosper.

Weapons are only useful for protecting food production & distribution, or taking it from others. Weapons are an expense for the food producers.. they have no value in themselves, but only in protecting from the takers. Weapons & national power are only useful as a means of protecting food production, or taking it from others.

There has never been but one question in all civilization-how to keep a few men from saying to many men: You work and earn bread and we will eat it. ~Abraham Lincoln

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