A couple of weeks ago Harold Camping predicted that The Rapture would occur. The date came and went. Camping was comprehensively derided and ridiculed. The World cheered.
Our celebrations may have been premature. Allow me to elaborate.
EXHIBIT 1: Nature is worth billions to UK
Experts have calculated the value of Britain’s parks, forests, rivers and wildlife – down to the birds and the bees. I understand that the motive behind this may be honourable – it is saying that these things are valuable. But the implication is that nothing is allowed to exist just because it’s beautiful or simply because it is not ours to dispose of; that it is all right to break up the moon and sell it for scrap. The inevitable conclusion of this discussion is that the destruction of anything is justified, so long as it yields a higher money total than its existence.
EXHIBIT 2: The Rise of Glencore
The commodities trader Glencore, floated in the stock-market (and fast-tracked into the FTSE 100). This is a company that engages in the unethical, evil and perfectly lawful practice of commodities trading – including on food securities. If you wish to know how this works read my article. The flotation made a multi-billionaire of its CEO and multi-millionaires of its traders. All this amid allegations of tax irregularities by the European Investment Bank, no less.
Speculation on commodities and more specifically on food is considered by many commentators to be in large part responsible for unrest in North Africa and pushes many millions around the world into extreme poverty. Or to put it more plainly, people are dying of starvation for Glencore’s bottom line. During the Second World War it was called ‘profiteering’ and those who engaged in it were tried for treason. Nowadays it’s a pat on the back and a billion pound bonus.
The US Environmental Protection Agency set the value of human life at $9.1m. The Food and Drug Administration thinks this is on the pricey side – their estimate is $7.9m. Meanwhile the Transportation Department sticks with its more conservative $6m estimate. The purpose for the valuation is to determine how much money it is reasonable to spend to prevent a single death. Business concerns argue all three valuations are too high.
The calculation takes into account everything from future earnings and taxation, to blood, sperm or eggs and organs. Astute observers might note that this appears to focus on what a human life is worth to the government, the economy, persons in need of body bits; in short, to others. No mention or consideration is given to what a human life might be worth to the human in question.
EXHIBIT 4: The Story of Little Zheng
A week ago a boy of 17 from Huaishan City in the Anhui province of China travelled to the neighbouring Hunan province without his parents’ knowledge or consent. He went to a hospital – unauthorised for this kind of operation – and had a kidney removed, which he sold for just over £2,000. The deal had been brokered over the internet. “I wanted to buy an iPad 2 but could not afford it,” said the boy to the Shanghai Daily. The boy’s name is little Zheng.
I could be staggered. I could be outraged. I could put my shocked face on; my I-didn’t-think-anything-bad-would-come-from-feeding-dead-cows-to-live-ones face. But I am too sad to manufacture an energetic response; too tired from trying to protect my tiny flame of humanity from a hurricane of science.
So, maybe the old kook was broadly right, after all. Maybe he just got the particulars wrong. After all, isn’t it just another sign of our arrogance to expect that humanity will go out with a big bang? This is as possible a beginning to our end as any other. No Asteroid; no Superquake; no Ice Age. Just a self-realisation, that we are no longer people, but commodities.
Just a young lad in China taking the next logical step in the inexorable path we have charted, by looking at life through the unforgiving prism of a monetary equation. The natural conclusion of a capitalist dogma which encourages the gap between rich and poor to widen, while bombarding ‘emerging markets’ with images suggesting only an iPad 2 can make one happy and whole – an iPad made, ironically, in China at a cost of $250 per unit; and retailing at the bargain price of One Human Kidney. The ultimate signature of blood on the Faustian pact negotiated with every parent telling every child: “If you’re good, I will buy you [insert object]“.
Or perhaps – just perhaps – this is some Blade Runner nightmare giving us a glimpse into the future. Perhaps there is time to retrace our steps and make different choices. Better ones.