Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Let them play

We had a beautiful weekend, just the three of us pottering around at home. Ads and I have some serious work to do in the garden. We spent most of Sunday morning fighting with a section of boysenberry that we had let go feral. We won, but it was a bloody victory.

As soon as we had started working, however, Quincey chimed in with his usual 'I'm bored' mantra. As a keen (and recently frustrated) gardener, this was the last thing I wanted to hear the minute I slipped on my gardening gloves. Grrrr. I wanted to chuck him in the brambles Winnie the Pooh style. But I restrained myself and replied my usual reply 'You're not board, your just lazy. Go and find something to do'. And to my delight he did.

Any modern day parent will understand how truly heartwarming it is to see their kids play in nature, rather than on a screen. It's hard for us parents now, but we have to try. For us, Quin can nag for screens for 45 mins or more. I'm fairly stubborn and I consider this a test of my parenting. Most of the time, together we can push through this and something beautiful happens. He wanders off and finds something creative to do like he did on Sunday. It was a whole little world he had created. I was impressed with his patience - he was working on it for a good while before I found him. He'd also been working on some rather complicated Hero Factory blockade to our front door.

This was all much more fun than boysenberry wrestling so after I took these photos, I played too. It reminded me of how much I love looking for 'mini beasts' under rocks and mulch.

Our lives are not always as charmed as the pictures make it seem, but this was one of those rare and precious mornings. It rained in the afternoon and in the evening we went out with the torch to check on Quin's creation. A snail had moved in! How wonderful!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Spirit Level - book review and an epiphany

This is an amazing book and it blew my mind. Not in a 'Wow this is such a beautiful and well written piece of art' way, because it is as dry as old chips and it took me about three months to read it but it blew my mind because it turns out there actually is a silver bullet to the worlds woes. True.

So I'll tell you about it and you will shrug and go, 'hu, well that's logical', like you always knew it. And yes, it is intuitive to agree that 'equality is better for everyone' but the really fascinating bits are in the details.

First bit of the book is about how the authors are proper type academics. They are don't use tricks with stats and are well clever. By the end of the book I totally agree (Though someone has written a book disputing the facts, which in turn has been disputed). Then they explained that they are looking at OECD countries only, ie only the rich ones. The idea here is that a country needs a certain level of overall wealth to provide basics such as clean water, education etc. But there comes a point when more overall wealth does not continue to provide the overall gains in living standards/health/social wellbeing - there are 'diminishing returns' on overall wealth.. One striking example of this is how now obesity is now generally an illness of the poor. It used to be that rich people were fat and poor people were skinny and malnourished, but now the reverse is true (although fat people can also be malnourished - but you get my drift).

The second bit of the book was all about the graphs (for me, anyway). They looked at a 170 different bits of research on:
  • levels of trust
  • mental illness (including substance abuse)
  • life expectancy and infant mortality
  • obesity
  • educational outcomes
  • teenage births
  • homicides
  • incarceration rates
  • social mobility
and basically came up with the same conclusion: the bigger the disparity in income the more problems exist across society. And so all the graphs looked similar to this:

And then to prove its not a fluke, they repeat it for states in America. 

In relation to, for example death rates for working men, infant mortality and literacy they say that you are better off being poor in a country with lower income disparity than you are being rich in a country with high income disparity. Read that last sentence a few times because its mind boggling!

Then they started going on about how closely class and income disparity are related. I found the bit about violence really interesting. They say that acts of violence are 'attempts to ward off or eliminate the feeling of shame and humiliation - a feeling that is painful and can even be intolerable and overwhelming - and replace it with its opposite, the feeling of pride'. So people with less cash and of lower class feel shame and therefore react accordingly.

They also talk about how in working classes people tend to make poor decisions about what to do with their limited income. Its not that people in OECD countries don't have enough money to purchase food (though definitely some don't), its that they are so pissed off with being poor they want to purchase stuff which they think will improve their social status, like the typical example of people on the dole getting the latest iphones. The book goes on quite a bit about consumerism and how people buy crap to attempt to increase their general happiness and keep up with the Joneses. I can see that this is true. You only have to go to a shopping centre to see it in action (and to a landfill site to see the ugly, hidden end of the journey of unnecessarily purchased crap). But it got me thinking, why are we, Ads and I, different? We aren't rich, we might be a little bit middle class, but we are not upper middle class, and that's only because we went to uni. My parents didn't go to uni, Ads' parents did. But we don't purchase crap because it's stupid. I can, hand on my heart, say that I hate shopping. It makes me feel sick. Stuff is revolting and we avoid it as much as possible. 


Then I had the epiphany.

Are we really different? No. It's the reno, isn't it? That's us keeping up with the Joneses. We are no different to every other well educated, middle aged, middle class, gentrifying, bleeding heart lefty. There are lots of us around these parts. Not all of us have iphones but most of us renovate. 'Hm, how wide are your decking boards?', 'Oh yes, ours are recycled'. Our renos are nearly all finished, complete with recycled decking and a water feature. Even including the new room our house is still tiny compared to most but it was adequate before the renos. We didn't really need to renovate. And geez, it made a heck of a lot of waste (which has been sent to be recycled and salvaged as much as possible, but still). And I had to go to Ikea, the arch nemisis of any good Earth Carers type. Actually I had to go twice because I got the wrong cupboard door or something the first time. Actually I made Ads go the second time for fear I might completely lose my grip on reality if I had to go twice in one week.

It's easy to justify our renovation. We now have a spare third bedroom/sewing room, we used recycled timber, we've added to the passive solar elements in the house, we removed asbestos, we've made frog habitat with the pond and we've made a beautiful space. And yes, I'm sure it will be the subject of our next blog post. But the cost, the waste (two skip bins so far), supporting Ikea, the air miles for the materials, the concrete, the emotional investment... Anyway I'm rambling now and have totally hijacked this book review into a navel gazing post. So to round it all out, The Spirit Level is a super interesting book and made me reflect on many assumptions about society and also my own behaviors. If you are a politician or policy maker in any level this is a must read!

Look out for the posts on our renos! :)