Friday 17 August 2018

reductio ad absurdem

IF, in education, you privilege math and literacy as being the key markers for assessment, success & progress THEN all other criteria fade away: your child's dance, empathy, map-reading, cakes, songs, compassion, soccer, sheepdog, surfing, dress-sense . . . all become irrelevant or, at best, hobbies. Good at maths, down with Shagsper and you'll go far; those other attributes of the human condition won't help you. It's all so one-dimensional! and quite possibly self-destructive in a fast-changing world: ask Ken Robinson.

The divil of the free-market capitalist world we live in is that everything can reduced to price. Aldi's milk is cheaper = better than corner-shop's because it is 75c/lt rather than €1.00/lt. It's a lot of work to discover whether Aldimilch is so cheap because of economies of scale and efficiency of their supply chain OR because their volume allows them to nail dairy-farmers to a cross when negotiating the farm-gate price.

Here's an interesting piece-to-camera about supply-chains and globalisation . . . and slave-free chocolate, bitcoin, blockchain and the Internet of Things by Miriam Posner. It gives the lie to the convenient capitalist truth that money is money; nitrate is nitrate; worker is worker. Because some workers are more grossly exploited than others, gold is not gold: some diggings spew more mercury into the Amazon than others. Nobody wants children in Indonesia to work a 12 hour day adding decals to running-shoes. But if you have to buy shoes, would you tolerate a little work by children in the sweat-shop? Is the kid allowed to run 5 km to bring his mother her lunch? If you had to make a choice is it better that the workers are paid a few cents extra if the factory is allowed to dump their surplus glue in the drain out back?  In Ireland, Penney's is famous for its shoddy. You can buy clothing there so cheap that people come from the Third World to buy socks at €1 each; t-shirt, knickers cost a cappuccino; shoes, a pizza. You can go elsewhere and pay more. But you have to pay A LOT more for your socks to escape from guilt about sweatshops in Bangladesh. How do you find out so you can square your ethical conscience?

With difficulty is how! Back in 1958, before most of you were born Leonard Reed wrote I. Pencil [full text and introduction], his classic story about the complexities to economics and manufacture. It is Reed's contention that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make a pencil: so many different materials are required to make it; each combined with cunning and know-how peculiar to the operatives of the machines. The machines are, of course part of the equation, they were designed by an engineer, modified by another; made of parts turned on a lathe, from stock in the foundry, smelted in a blast furnace. And that's just the steel: there is also graphite, wax, cedar, castor-beans, cotton, hemp, zinc, copper, sulphuric acid, ammonium hydroxide. And that's just a pencil: don't even think of tracing your smart-phone or juicer back to its component parts. Freakonomics podcast with transcript about pencils.

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