Sunday, January 11, 2009

Am I Archeologic?

Today after an unplanned run with a running group whose emails I receive, but haven't ran with until now (normally I swim on Sundays, but alas the pool was closed, it helps if I read my email) I decided to string together a few errands. One thing that has been on my list is to take my two boxes of recyclables to the buyback center that have been sitting in the middle of my living room. Being a member Silicon Valley's disappearing middle class, I don't have the space to have a junk room where my recyclables can go, though when company comes I put them in the garage. Conceivably I could get a bigger place, but why when it can be worked around.

(an aside.... you ever notice that advertising for furniture and model homes do not reflect any realistic or sustainable way of living. I love how they show computers and electronics on furniture in the middle of the room and there are no power cords. Nikolai Tesla imagined wireless electricity but there were shall we say issues. We create these "ideal" models of how we are suppose to live and none of them are sustainable. We get thousands of square feet and have to employ subsistence wage slaves to clean out our places. Gigantic castles bankrupted the lords of the 15th and 16th century, McMansions are doing the same.)

But this post isn't about recyclables, but it's about disposables. One of the services that the Sunnyvale SMaRT station offers is electronics drop off (note I did not say recycling) and me being a nosy type (writing is the chronicling of the obvious around us that we are too busy to notice) I took a look at what was in the drop off. And to my shock there was my printer (well not my printer, but my model of my printer) and a pang of recognition took hold. Since I too have in my worst homo economicus manner thought of drop kicking my printer through the uprights. Here's why...

It still works. It is a fantastic printer, had it for the past few years and it works. Plugged into my network and a great workhorse . However, it is running out of toner. I've been shopping for toner and it's $80 freaking dollars and I paid $50 for the thing. Yeah yeah yeah, it's got the stubby toner that doesn't deliver that many pages, but I've had this for 3 years off of the same toner. Now that's the business model, I didn't go to business school but I know that that's the racket, razor, razor blades, blah blah blah. But given the economic situation I can buy a newer version of the printer for you guessed it $50. And here is the rub, the new model and the old model use the EXACT same toner cartridge.

So if I was a rational person, I would buy the new printer for less and give away the old one and failing that, dump it at the electronics drop off. Talk about misaligned incentives. Now I think you can get away with charging more for the toner since that's how MBAs think (razor, razor blades, blah blah blah) (they also think selling risk to others is a good thing, but I won't go there, just a little note, if you piss in the water supply, make sure that you aren't so stupid to do it the water supply that you will eventually drink from. Morons).

So this closes this extremely long and discursive post, some day when we are long gone (at this rate I'm guessing 2027) some alien archeologist is going to look at the vast amounts of working electronics sitting in landfills that are perfectly functional and go wasteful morons. Let's stop trying to figure out how to screw each other over for some Cristal, and figure out how to make an economy that works. Remember, "eco" is the root of "economy" and "ecology" and digging deeper like an archeologist, the origin

First we will look at the root eco, which is derived from oikos, and then we will look at the root nomy, which is derived from nomos.

Oikos (οικος)

Transitioning from the Dark Ages towards the Classical Age, not only did city-states, like Athens and Thebes pop up, but so did large family organizations within them. This family organization in Ancient Greece was called an oikos. Basically, the oikos referred to the house and everything included in the house, such as extended family, slaves, farmland, etc. The responsibility of running the oikos went to the oldest male in the family and it was his responsibility to ensure that the household was well off. Since agriculture was by far the greatest asset that the Ancient Greeks had, farming played a huge role in determining how sufficient an oikos was. Keep in mind that oikos is the underlying inspiration for other words with the root eco-, such as ecology and ecosystem.

Nomos (νομος)

The second part of the word economy comes from the Ancient Greek root nomos. Nomos translated literally means act, law, or principle. The root nomos shows up in other words, like astronomy (the law governing stars) and autonomy (the law governing self). The Ancient Greeks first combined these two roots to form oikonomia, which is just the plural of oikonomos. When the Romans conquered Western Civilization, they replaced -ik- with -ec-, thus making oeconomia. Eventually the o- dropped off throughout history and the word economy was born.


Usually when people hear the word economy, they instantly think of money, Wall Street, giant corporations, and GDP (Gross Domestic Product). All of these aspects that come to mind are integral in order to maintain our system of living, however some might not realize that the word economy literally means “the principles to maintain our house”. Now, whether that “house” is government, Earth, or family is relative.

As we recover from a party that trashed our house, let's start figuring out rules to maintain our house.


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