Hail To The Nihilist

Month: January, 2013

Seth Godin, Philosophy of Marketing & Airports

Seth Godin is a wise man. Not only where marketing is concerned either. He is a philosopher who just happens to specialise in the philosophy of marketing. Here’s one of his latest gems:

Eleven things organizations can learn from airports:

I realized that I don’t dislike flying–I dislike airports. There are so many things we can learn from what they do wrong:

  1. No one is in charge. The airport doesn’t appear to have a CEO, and if it does, you never see her, hear about her or interact with her in any way. When the person at the top doesn’t care, it filters down.
  2. Problems persist because organizations defend their turf instead of embrace the problem. The TSA blames the facilities people, who blame someone else, and around and around. Only when the user’s problem is the driver of behavior (as opposed to maintaining power or the status quo) things change.
  3. The food is aimed squarely at the (disappearing) middle of the market. People who like steamed meat and bags of chips never have a problem finding something to eat at an airport. Apparently, profit-maximizing vendors haven’t realized that we’re all a lot weirder than we used to be.

Read on… 



Response: Vegans to the Rescue

A while back The New York Times ran an essay competition to find an eloquent answer to the question “Why Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?” It’s a serious question that deserves justification. Though, food-industry journalist, Dan Murphy, doesn’t think so. He believes that “such a proposal begs the question of “Why do we have to write essays to justify eating meat?”. Perhaps he’s right. Why do we need to write essays about such things? If people think it’s a worthwhile activity, investing time in deep thought, research and writing, then good for them. But the question is certainly worthy of being posed. Perhaps that is not what Murphy is implying–perhaps its not about the essaying. Maybe he’s implying that the question is not worthy of scrutiny. I hope not for that does beg the question. We can’t pick and choose what is available to moral scrutiny without scrutinising it first. Certain propositions necessarily open themselves to moral scrutiny based on their components. But that’s not what this post is about. This post is about the guts of Murphy’s piece “Vegans to the Rescue”.

I was alerted to this piece by @Willydhunt on Twitter. He linked it to “sustainable” farmer Fiona Lake–with whom I have disagreed on many occasions. An “excellent article” @Willydhunt called it. “Excellent article” and “why meat eating is ethical” in the same sentence. I had to see this. Sure enough, it is anything but “excellent”. It’s riddled with predicable arguments and uses excerpts from various entries in the essay competition as its proof. Whether Murphy interpreted these essays correctly or not, I don’t know. I am going to take them only based on his interpretation.

First there is Jan Cho’s “Eating Meat to Survive” which argues that we ate meat to evolve a big, complex brain giving us the capacity for compassion. Next is Nicolette Hahn Niman, a vegetarian, rancher and environmental lawyer (what a mix!) who argues for soil. Then Tovar Cerulli who argues unhypocritically that because the wheat truck hit a rabbit on its way to town we ought to be more mindful of how animals can fit into the cycle. Former vegan-turned-butcher Joshua Applestone argued for humane meat. And finally, the winner of the competition, Jay Bost, another former vegan, argues for ecology and the inevitably of death.

None of these arguments are new and none need any further scrutiny. It’s been done. They’re all fallacies:

Jan Cho – That’s an appeal to tradition.

Nicolette Hahn Niman – Fellacia necessitas.

Tovar Cerulli –  Perfect solution.

Joshua Applestone – Argument to moderation.

Jay Bost – Strawman.

Actually, to be correct, each has committed a number of fallacies. But again, this is all on Murphy’s representation of their arguments. I might have to go back and read them in their entirety to see whether he got them all wrong–they may be robust after all. As for it being an “excellent” article–I think that says something about the reader if they think that to be true. I contend that there are better accounts out there than this, and the essays it is based on. It just goes to show the cognitive dissonance and lack of critical reasoning evident amongst this set of vocal omnivores.

Anyways, I tweeted a response to @FionaLake and @Willydhunt. Apparently I am a troll for announcing that I am going to respond to it. A few pieces on online bullying on Today Tonight and people are throwing the word “troll” around with abandon.

MAC’s “Be Safe; Be Seen” Campaign

This campaign annoys me. It puts the onus on cyclists as usual. Cyclists are usually in the wrong and ought to pick up their game, it implies. They are not visible so how are motorists meant to see them? This is all fluff. 

Next time you’re on the road observe the cyclists sharing it with you. How are they dressed–appropriately? Most cyclists do make themselves seen. Most encounters I have with cars are a result of a motorist failing to be observant. My favourite, and this happens all the time: parking to the left of a bike lane, checking your mobile before getting out of the car, and just swinging the door open. It happens almost daily to me. What more can I do? Thankfully, when riding near parked cars I ride slow and cautiously. Hence, I have never had a crash. But someday I will and it will not be my fault.

What is Food For?

There is a very important question I feel we don’t ask ourselves often enough. “What is food for?” With the obesity rate at 63% now is a good time to start thinking about the answer.

Food is fuel. It allows us to function. But it has become much more than that. I think food as a social thing is great–it enriches our culture. However, other things have taken away from the importance of food as fuel and we now buy certain types of food over others for convenience and price. We want our food cheap and quick.

In the stimulating documentary, Food Inc., a young hispanic family share their plight of not being able to afford real food. They argue that it is cheaper to buy takeaway instead. All members of the family are overweight or obese. The problem in the US, which isn’t necessarily the case here in Australia, is that many of the components of fast food are highly subsidised by the government. It’s cheaper to produce food that relies on things like high-fructose corn syrup which is heavily subsidised than it is, say, lettuce or tomatoes.

Back in Australia, the quick-and-cheap mob are being pandered to as well. Amidst the price war between Coles and Woolworths things like milk and bread are being dropped to ridiculous levels. However, this price decrease is an illusion as produce prices remain steady. You may pay $1 for a carton of milk but that’s offset by the $3+ you pay for a listless-looking bunch of bok choy. People are led to believe that due to their buying power, the big two are cheaper across the board and that we mustn’t support small and independent as we’ll end up paying more. Wrong. I buy all of my produce from small, independent suppliers and pay much much less as a result.

I think food in our lives needs to be reconsidered. We need to push beyond it being this necessary burden. We need to spend more time thinking about it, making good decisions about it, and not buying the cheapest or most conveient. Do we make our decision to buy a new TV or car this way? No. These purchases usually occur after a thorough research period. We associate cheapness with poor quality. Why don’t we think about food this way? Worse still, we fall en mass for the marketing messages dispensed by the big processed food companies. What food writer Michael Pollan refers to as “edible food-like substances”.

We complain about having such busy lives nowadays but that’s our own doing. Our priorities are such that we work longer and harder. But we make concessions where it really matters. I don’t think food should be one of the things on the hit list. Perhaps TV time should take its place?

I’m glad for how things are heading. Farmers markets are popping up all over the place. Organic is becoming mainstream and cheaper. And more and more people are growing their own–they’re getting back to nature. This is all very romantic. We ought to ask ourselves why we are following these trends? Is it because they are trendy–the thing to do at the current time? Or is it because we have thought long and hard about what they stand for, and how they fit into the bigger picture?

Ask yourself: Is this bag of potatoes, frozen ready-meal or loaf of bread good enough to FUEL mine and my children’s bodies?


Realisations: Tiny Houses in Tiny Towns

I realise that buying a small block in the country and building a small house on it isn’t a concept that will appeal to many people. But the idea of actually owning something and having a great deal of freedom appeals to me much more than an inner city townhouse that requires me to work 40-hours-per-week, in a job that I hate, for the rest of my life, for no good reason.

Why Urban Farmer Novella Carpenter Eats Animals: My Response

I originally posted this piece on my business blog. On reflection, I don’t think that was an appropriate move. So I am reposting it here. 

I stumbled upon Novella Carpenter on Youtube this morning. She set up an urban garden in Oakland, California, out of an abandoned block of land. This is why her story appealed to me so much; it’s a similar to ours. Novella has written / co-written two books: Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer and The Essential Urban Farmer with Willow Rosenthal. She also writes a blog and that’s where I found her piece, “Why I Eat Meat“, which was an entry for a New York Times writing competition, of which bioethicist and philosopher (my hero) Peter Singer was a judge.

Her piece, “Why I Eat Meat“, got me thinking.

Novella wrote:

Last week, someone broke into my backyard and scrawled on my shed, “Don’t Kill Animals—they are our equals.” I’m an urban farmer in Oakland, well-known for raising turkeys, rabbits, goats, ducks, even pigs in my backyard and lot farm near downtown. As a city farmer, I’m used to rubbing elbows—and getting into heated arguments—with vegans and vegetarians. These meat-avoiders don’t want to kill animals. They love animals. Things is, so do I: I love animals and I love to eat them.

The words of a psychopath? In this burgeoning world of designer dogs, pet daycare, and the House Rabbit Society: maybe. But in a world where there is a working relationship between man and beast, no. Increasingly, this world is disappearing; the working animal replaced by pets that are treated like humans.

I read the words again as my dairy goats thoughtfully chewed their cud, a chicken clucked the arrival of an egg, and the meat ducks splashed nearby. Here’s the deal: I feed my ducks and give them shelter—they in turn lay eggs, build nests, and hatch out ducklings. I feed the ducks bugs and excess produce from the garden—and their manure then goes to grow more vegetables. I cull the offspring—process them into delicious roast duck. It’s a cycle. This cycle, this closeness is what I love about farming—and eating meat. It nudges us to think about our role in the cosmos—that one day we too will be food, if only worm food.

Another cycle: my dairy goats. They are bred (which they seem very happy about doing), have offspring which stimulates their milk production. I take some of the milk to drink, and to make cheese and yogurt. The female offspring are retained or sold, the male offspring are processed into meat. I’ve had a Yemeni storekeeper from down the street help me slaughter a young buckling. It involved a prayer and a song. It was, literally, a sacrifice—sacred. I split the goat with the storekeeper who was keen to get the intestines, heart, stomach. His wife would cook their traditional meals with the goat meat; I would make a delicious stew. Nothing was wasted.

Let’s say I took the advice of the graffiti artist to not kill animals, and if everyone else did too—what would that world look like? On my farm, that would mean the ducks would breed infinitely, they would overpopulate the garden, ravage the vegetables and make too much manure; and the young goat buck would grow into an increasingly smelly and feisty beast, making the milk of the does taste foul.

And if proceed to the logical endpoint of a vegan world where we ate tempeh or petri dish grown “meat”: there would be no working animals. No pigs, with their joyous rutting; no chickens scratching for worms; no goats capering. Sure, maybe a vegan utopia would spring up and host a series of “farms” complete with geriatric cows and wizened turkeys, living far beyond their natural lifespan. But would this farm allow for reproduction, a natural process that all animals strive for? What about sick animals?

In the end, domesticated animals are not our equals, they are our creation. We have to take responsibility for them. I do so gladly. I enjoy the antics of the ducks and the goats–of feeding them well so they will then feed me well. I love living in a world filled with animals that remind us that we are part of the cycle, that one day we too will die.

My response:

I’d first like to say that I do not condone the behaviour of the people that graffitied your property. Nor do I condone any other form of property damage or theft. I appreciate there is an army of vegans out there that believe these acts are justified. I do not support this conclusion. Regardless of whether the property is a thing or an animal; it’s property and is therefore legally possessed by some agent. The law ought not be broken, regardless of moral convictions. But the law can be pushed to be changed, and this is the avenue vegans ought to travel.

In this comment I wish to address a few points that you make.

“Let’s say I took the advice of the graffiti artist to not kill animals, and if everyone else did too—what would that world look like? On my farm, that would mean the ducks would breed infinitely, they would overpopulate the garden, ravage the vegetables and make too much manure; and the young goat buck would grow into an increasingly smelly and feisty beast, making the milk of the does taste foul.”

You do go on to dismiss this notion, which I appreciate–though it makes its presense rather superfluous. But, seeing it is there, I wish to share my view which echoes Australian philanthropist turned abolitionist vegan, Phillip Wollen’s: “I’ll cut you some slack – I’ll let you eat all the animals [that already exist], just stop producing anymore, okay?” We both know that we wouldn’t be taken over by the animals as, as you rightly point out, “they are our creation”. However, I don’t think that promoting these species can be justified on the sentimental grounds that you proposed: that the world will be devoid of “joyous rutting… scratching for worms…and capering”.

As for this “cycle” that you mention, it seems to be just another apparent axiom thrown about by those in support of the use of animals. If, indeed, the animals that we use are “our creation” then the only real cycle these animals are part of is one that, too, is “our creation”. Thus, an appeal to nature is indefensible.

Newstart, Budgeting and Eating

I think the amount that Centrelink’s Newstart pays is disgusting. Less than $450 a fortnight. How is anybody meant to live on that? Having said that, if you must, I think one needs to be savvy. I just read Dwayne Pitts story on Sydney Morning Herald. His fortnightly grocery list comprises “mince meat, sausages, milk, bread, bananas, pasta, juice and a soft drink” and costs him about “$70 to $80”. To me, that doesn’t look like money well spent. But Dwayne probably doesn’t know any better.

I read a comment the other day calling for Job Services Australia to be centralised. The case was compelling as it would remove several layers of dead wood, would cost less to administrate as a result and would make it easier for job seekers. Such a department ought to provide counselling and budget assistance. Obviously, people like Dwayne need assistance with their budget.

It’s a common misconception that eating healthy is expensive. I can make a nutrient-packed soup for less than $5 that will yield about 8 serves. Sure, it requires a bit of know-how and shopping around to find cheap produce but making the soup is within anybodies grasp. Pot of water. Stock cube and maybe a few herbs and spices (why not give a few packets of herb seeds to people on benefits?). Veggies. Boil. Blitz in a blender if you’ve got one. If not, eat it chunky. Delicious and healthy. And the varieties are endless–stick to what’s seasonal and you’ll pay less.

Hey, maybe my views are simplistic. Well, they are as I don’t know the circumstances of each and every person. However, budgeting and home cooking aren’t skills that the program teaches. These are soft skills and they are vital. The program instead concentrates on having them find work. And it’s ineffective at this for the most part.

Google Fibre: Cool Ad

Giving It All Up

Status Quo New Years Eve: Count down to get off your face to try and wipe out the thoughts of the wasted year that was.

Status Quo New Years Day: Count down how many days you have left before you go back to that job you hate to buy more crap you don’t need to distract you from the fact you are not living your purpose.

Solution? Fuck it all off and only do what you really want to do every day for the rest of your life.

Never has Durianrider made a more agreeable statement. What’s the first thing a big lottery winner does? Quits their job–save a few that really love what they do for work. Why do they do this? Because they now have the financial security to do what they want with their time. Most of us don’t work because we want to, we work because we feel we have to. Sure enough, most of the responses to Durianrider’s Facebook post are typical of the common thinking. For example:

[O]nly the priviledged ones can do that.


Wish I could! Got a mortgage to pay though!

Whenever I discuss voluntary simplicity with people, these are the sort of reactions I get. And they are usually cloaked in a “Come back to the real world, Paul” sort of tone. In which case, capitalism has well and truly won and we’re all destined to be wage-slaves. We don’t need that much to live yet we think we do and we make that an excuse not to strive harder for what we really want.

When people consider the idea they look at it from their current perspective. “If I earned 1/4 of what I earned now, doing something that I love, how am I meant to service my $700k mortgage and by all them widgets?” True, you probably couldn’t make that work, and that’s why it isn’t just about doing what you want and having more free time, it’s about fundamentally transforming your life. Being thoughtful about every facet of your life. Not doing what you’re use to or what is expected, rather doing what seems to be right. We have the capacity as more and more of us move to living more environmentally-friendly lives. We make decisions every day in order to do “what’s best”, often at great sacrifice.

We all need shelter. The notion of owning one’s shelter is preferable to renting. To own shelter we naturally think that we would need to take out a big mortgage, thus, work a well-paying job in order to service it. I think this is a big problem: relying on debt to achieve one’s destiny. I look to people like Richard Telford for inspiration. He spent $50k of savings, used a wide-range of government grants available at the time, and took out a small mortgage in order to build the eco-friendly home of his dreams. Yes, he did take out debt, but only a small amount. Paid off over 30 years with 7.5% interest, see repayments at about $100/week. Halve that term and double the repayment–and pay a lot less interest. It’s money that he still needs to earn each week but when the average mortgage repayment in Australia is $450/week and rent is $285/week, it equates to a lot less work and more freedom. I’m also inspired by the tiny house movement. People are building their own small dwellings, usually on wheels to overcome council regulations, without going into debt. Most of the tiny house people I have read about don’t own land–they rent a small space in the back corner of friends’ backyards. However, cheap land is available. I’ve seen blocks for under $10k in Tasmania. Maybe it’s not for you, but it’s an option. A 4-bedroom McMansion in the outer suburbs or a shiny 2-bedroom apartment in the city aren’t your only options. Many of us seem to think they are.

I think the great thing about all this is that it isn’t about privilege or being better off. It’s about being open to doing more with less. Hey, I have had a year of it. I went from earning $60k a year to starting my own business and getting by on a fraction of this. I’m use to it now, still maintain a good level of lifestyle–a little more affluent than I’d like, but I am cutting things out–and have much more capacity and appreciation for saving. If I went and earned $60k again tomorrow, I’d be able to save over 50% of it. That’s $30k. Once my debts are paid down, even more. I could buy a block of land with that and build a tiny house. It puts things in perspective, that’s for sure. It may not be the option that I want to entertain, but it’s an option. It isn’t as expensive and gloomy as we’re lead to expect.