Monday, 17 September 2012


Everything in this world is for sale. The very substances that keep us alive are no longer just basic necessities for survival, they are commodities; to be traded, speculated upon and priced depending on the going rate of the market. Yet no one stops to truly question that. We complain that the value is too high that we cannot afford to expend that much on something, we call it unfair, yet we do not stop to consider the system that is at the centre of any of this.

I have spent a huge amount of time over the last 5-6 months thinking of value. I have just finished my dissertation which attempts at an analysis of a Conservation Convention in rhetoric and practice and the one thing that I always came across was that for something to be considered worth conserving it had to have a value. Not just any value as well, a monetary value. The politicians needed to be able to calculate how much saving a particular plant or animal would costs them. The NGOs also worked on a monetary basis, for them the tiger, the panda the rainforest were priceless therefore the little bit of money that they were asking of you was nothing in comparison to the pricelessness of the subject of their rescue.

So what is value? How do we measure it? I honestly do not know, the Oxford Dictionary defines value as:

  • 1 [mass noun] the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something:your support is of great value
  • the material or monetary worth of something:prints seldom rise in value[count noun]:equipment is included up to a total value of £500
  • the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it:at £12.50 the book is good value[count noun]: North American: the wine represents a good value for $17.95#

That is all great but how do we decide that something is of importance and that the value we have awarded it is not too high or low? Value is a social concept, an idea, it does not exist outside the socio-economic and cultural boundaries of society, a dog does not understands the idea of value. In non-human nature the closest we can get to value is the amount of energy and nutrients that are required to grow and perhaps the amount of entropy that produces. Therefore the fact that my popping corn has gone from 86p to £1.32 in the space of 6 months has nothing to do with the amount of water, or sun or soil that has gone into growing that corn. It has everything to do however with the economic system that has grown that corn for my consumption. It has everything to do with growing oil prices, which make harvesting, production and transportation costs higher, growing costs of fertilisers as the potash and other nitrogen based fertilisers used for the growth of many grains soars due to depleting reserves and the growing difficulty of extracting them from deeper into the ground.
In fact I am sure that anyone that does any food shopping has noticed their bills increasing at a rapid rate. Now usually logic dictates that if the price has gone up that is because supply cannot meet demand, the commodity in question is in shortage and therefore the price has gone up; Here are some ‘values’ however that shows that this is not true:  the UK alone throws out 6.7 million tons of food a year. That is 6.7 million tons of surplus food, in a world full of over 1 billion starving people and another billion seriously malnourished.  6.7 million tons of food in a nation of 60 million, a nation with a growing obesity crisis AND growing unemployment AND shrinking salaries. That 6.7 million tons is a unit of value which can measure the amount of gluttony, ignorance, self-indulgence and apathy necessary to throw away 6.7m tons of food. We obviously do not know the value of food beyond the price tag at the supermarket. 

This world where value is a social construct we value the wrong things. The media has spent countless tons of paper and ink on printing pictures of famous people going about their day, walking their dogs, buying stuff, walking down red carpets promoting useless faff created for our entertainment consumption. We value our celebrities. There is the new iPhone 5 which by the way is just a thinner taller iPhone 4s that trendy image obsessed fuckwits will buy in its millions further lining the pocket of one of the most hypocritical companies out there. We value our fashion image. 

Before you accuse me of hypocrisy however here is what I value. I have a Samsung Galaxy SII, an HP mini, a Kindle, and a Nintendo DS; I shop at waitrose and read the Environment section of the Guardian [the rest of that hippy paper annoys the hell out of me]. I am fully aware that I am a self righteous liberal dushbag. The thing is while I love my gadgets I know I essentially don’t need them. They are luxuries that I enjoy, however all but my phone have been generous gifts, what I value is not the items themselves but the people that gave them to me. My wonderful friends whom I love dearly and without whom I would have no value at all. I value the moments of beauty and joy that I am able to save with my phone’s camera. I value the free voice conversations with my family who are 2000km away that I can only have because of my laptop, I value the vast library that I can put in my pocket and carry everywhere because of my Kindle. So to all your out there value is what you make of it, don’t value the wrong things.    

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