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Sunday, September 1, 2019

Do Humans have in-built self-destruct, Best Joke of the Fringe

Do Humans have in-built self-destruct?

I have noticed with increasing frequency the in-built human trait to chuck out the imperfect in pursuit of the better. Out with the old, in with the new, regardless of whether the new is better and regardless of whether the old can be upgraded.

There is no doubt that our instinctive perpetual search for something better is to be admired, and has lead to tremendous progress in nearly every field, but not when it comes at the cost of rejecting good things we already have. We appear to be inflicting more and more damage on many areas of our existence.

Here are some examples:

Environment: Clothing

We purchase many new clothes every year, often to keep up with fashion rather than because we actually need replacement clothing. Shops such as Primark sell such cheap clothing that for some, it has become acceptable to purchase cheap eye-catching clothing that we only ever intend to wear once or twice.

The damage this is doing to our environment is becoming more clearly understood. To source the raw materials such as cotton, vast expanses of the environment are being destroyed, often at great cost to local people. The production processes and the chemicals involved can also do huge damage, none of which is easily reversible. The countries permitting this are usually attracted by the short term gain (employment, tax revenues, etc.) and ignore the long term environmental poisoning which hurts people as well. Short-termism is part of the problem. 

Stacey Dooley reported on some of these issues in her BBC3 documentary. Watch it to understand the facts. It will change your attitude towards clothing.

There is of course a simple solution. We should buy fewer, better quality clothes that will last for years. Let's spend the same amount, but focus on quality. And on saving our world.

Less is more.

Environment: Household Equipment

The massive progress we have made in automating household tasks and using machines to make our lives better has led to a fashion to chuck out anything that breaks and upgrade with a shiny new model, no doubt encouraged by the manufacturers, keen for more sales.

One upon a time, if something broke, you got it fixed. Today, you chuck it out and buy a new one. This applies to washing machines, dishwashers, fridges, hair dryers, music players, vacuum cleaners, kettles, toasters and the list goes on.

I remember when our dishwasher broke and I called someone in to repair it which cost me about £200. A few months later it broke again and we had to buy a new one. I remember regretting paying to get it fixed!

But the lesson is the same as for clothes. If we buy better quality machines, they will last longer. We bought an expensive dishwasher which we used almost every day. It lasted 24 years. Buying a cheap one that only lasts, say 6 years, works out far more expensive. Just do the maths. And on top of that, the cost to our environment of disposing with the old machines remains problematic.

Let's save ourselves money and at the same time help to save the world we live in.

Less is more.

Economics: Brexit

The UK population voted to leave the EU because of some genuine concerns and failures of the EU which I don’t argue with. However, to therefore assume that life outside the EU will without doubt be better is a false and very dangerous assumption. There are repeated examples of this across history where changes are made to something that works, but which is not perfect, leading to a position that is worse than before.

Here are a few more examples from the last 100 hundred years of decisions taken to try to solve problems which ended up making things considerably worse:

US Prohibition, 1920. Eighteenth amendment to the US Constitution banning the sale of alcohol; lasted 13 years, destroying tax revenue and boosting organised crime. 

Return to the Gold Standard, 1925. Winston Churchill, the Conservative Chancellor, trapped by the orthodox economics of the time, restored the convertibility of the pound into gold, which had been suspended in the Great War. It sustained mass unemployment and intensified the Depression, but at least allowed John Maynard Keynes to develop his new economic theories.

The Suez Crisis, 1956. An invasion of Egypt by Israel, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian president Nasser, who had just nationalised the canal. Political pressure from the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Nations led to a withdrawal by the three invaders. The episode humiliated the United Kingdom and France and strengthened Nasser. UK Prime Minister Anthony Eden resigned as a result.

Great Leap Forward, 1958. The collectivisation of China forced by Mao Zedong, in which tens of millions died. 

The Community Charge, 1990. Commonly known as the poll tax, it was a system of taxation introduced in replacement of domestic rates. It provided for a single flat-rate per-capita tax on every adult. It was deeply unpopular and contributed to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. It was replaced by Council Tax in 1993, by John Major's government.

Legacy IT at work, 2003. This is my own example from work. We had an important client service for which our software was not performing as well as it should have done. A Board Meeting was called and a case was presented to replace it with a new shiny system that would be created and solve all of the problems. I was the only one who voted to keep and fix our current system. A fortune was then spent on the replacement which consistently failed to deliver, primarily because the complexities and functionalities required had been under-estimated as had the time and resources needed to create it. 

We need to be very careful about what we wish for. Always seek improvements but don't chuck out something that works merely because it has faults. Seek to repair those faults first. In my experience, you nearly always get a better result. In politics and economics, in domestics affairs, at work, everywhere. Don't be seduced by the attraction of the new merely because it is new.

Edinburgh Fringe Funniest Joke 2019


"I keep randomly shouting out 'Broccoli' and 'Cauliflower' - I think I might have florets" – Olaf Falafel [Subsequently criticised by groups representing sufferers of Tourette syndrome]


“What's driving Brexit? From here it looks like it's probably the Duke of Edinburgh" - Milton Jones [a reference to the crash in his Range Rover earlier this year]

"To be or not to be a horse rider, that is Equestrian" - Mark Simmons

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