Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Division of Labour -
I cannot possibly link to all the info you would need to read in order to keep up with me in this blog but that article by Jared Diamond is a good place to start. It would also behoove each of you to read "In Defense of Food" by Michael Pollan. These blog topics always begin with an idea for me and then that idea continues to snowball as my internal focus leads me to discover that idea represented in myriad forms all around me for days on end. (It seems coincidental but is, actually, because of my obsession that my perspective is colored, a conversation for another day.)
That said, what I'd like to address is the "division of labor" problem that has been possessing me for a while now. I read a paper the other day by some old friends of mine that infuriated me not because of content, but as a result of omission. They are, I assure you, very intelligent people. However, they are responsible to a system that in order to keep functioning must grow, and in order to grow must attract interest in the form of investment. That system is a University. As a consequence they often fall into the trap of believing what they put in their grant proposals in order to get the funding they need to keep up the good work, keep fighting the good fight. It caused me to question how much of the reductionist science I read in graduate school was incentive based. When it involves crop research it involves food and where it involves food it inevitably affects an industry built up around tricking people into choosing their product. Thats the problem with the division of labor(D of L). It is an invention of society that induces development of a self-reinforcing (positive) feed back loop.
Have you ever considered your refrigerator? What did we do before we had them? Well that was so long ago they probably didn't even have civilization then right? Your grandparents (if they remain alive today (if not my condolences)) can remember a time when refrigerators where ACTUALLY ICEBOXES. They called them that because there was ice in them. A nice "iceman" drove around with ice in his truck and dropped it off at your house, just as the milkman once delivered milk, fresh from the utter. Now what does this have to do with D of L? Its all about incentive. Electric producing companies at that time had a monopoly on light production but that was about it. Producing and distributing electricity was expensive and these companies needed to sell more of their product to more and more consumers to maintain and build their infrastructure. The Electric Icebox is based on compressor technology developed by a guy who wanted to cool textile factory floors so people could work the machines for longer hours (not about their comfort but the machines' capabilities, this is still well prior to labour unions). Did anyone think about the ramifications of this new technology? Sure, the electric companies did. On both the manufacturing and consuming ends, it allowed for a massive new work force to be employed, further diversifying the types and increasing the numbers of jobs available to people who were now spending less and less time finding, preparing, and eating food.
I want you to stop eating processed food but I don't want Campbell's and Kraft to become victims of a change in consumer demand for their product and a weakening economy, because they employ people with children who would probably steal my food and eat it if they did not have their own. They are not going to grow it, to my knowledge they still haven't genetically engineered a Dorito tree. Im sure thats in the offing but we may have to wait a few years. Scientists are trying to stave off disaster from Climate Change by creating another extension of an incentive driven, D of L reinforcing, growth stimulating industrial process. The trick is to grow your own food and eat it, live in a house you built, and use energy you supply to yourself for free. If it seems tough, well, thats because it is.

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