Threshold

When the groom carries the bride over the threshold, the lucky lady is transported to a new condition—there’s a suggestion that the reason she’s carried, rather than walking across, is she appears less willing to lose her virginity.

That may be historically sound (though I doubt it), but the argument is hardly germane these days—only 3% of men and women have not had sex before marriage, according to the aptly named site waitingtillmarriage, but religion pushes the abstinence dogma.

Yet despite religion’s best efforts, our species is not monogamous—in fact, very few are. Scientific American offers a slide show with species that are (mostly) monogamous, but that’s cheating, if you excuse the pun. Monogamy is a threshold, like communism—you can’t be mostly monogamous, and you can’t be a little bit communist.

The creatures in the slide show include humans—that’s downright optimistic. The other species are mostly birds and rodents. Ethologists think that parental investment in birds, and particularly nest-building, plays a big part in being faithful.

One of the lucky(?) few is a species of African antelope called Kirk’s dik-dik. You couldn’t make it up.

So I wondered whether atheists were more promiscuous than other humans. I didn’t find much to support the hypothesis, but Yahoo did rate the bizarre comment below as its best answer.

Years ago I worked for a moving company. We would go into people’s houses, pack up all of their belongings and move them to their new place. Typically, those who had the most religious (usually Christian in this country, the U.S.) items (Bibles, pictures, etc.) in the main part of the house, had some of the most perverted sex toys, equipment, magazines and movies in the bedroom. It became a running joke among us that if you count the Bibles on the bookshelf in the main part of the house and multiply by three, that is how many sex toys (dildos, gags, binders, hand cuffs, etc.) you’ll find in the bedroom. It’s funny how much of a show they will put on of being “wholesome” while being some of the most perverted people in the bedroom. Magazines and movies that depict homosexual sex acts were extremely common to find in those houses.

I’m not sure what to conclude from this, since the topic was Are Christians usually more promiscuous than Atheists?  I offer three possibilities: (i) Atheists hide their sex toys better; (ii) Removals men don’t know the meaning of the word promiscuous; (iii) This is a testament to the demise of Yahoo.

I’m getting seriously sidetracked, because the thresholds I had in mind were economic, not sexual. I suppose the only common ground is that the world economy is pretty fucked, and I’ll proceed on that assumption.

Climate change in Europe. While temperatures increase, economics become chillier.

Climate change in Europe. While temperatures increase, economics catches a chill as interest rates become negative—coming soon to an economy near you.

Economics interests me because everyone swears by it but it doesn’t really work. And the more complex it becomes the less well it does. I’ve often tried to draw parallels between economics and ecology, for instance when addressing the challenge of feeding the world in 2050, with another three billion souls on the planet.

In the successive recessions (or is that recessive successions) after the Lehman collapse in 2008, the major world powers began printing money—actually the Japanese first did it in 2001. The idea is simple, and substantively insane. The central banks inject digital money into the banking system, the magicash  gets lent to businesses, that generates economic growth, which in turn benefits employment and consumption, which in turn generates economic growth.

The insane bit is that, much like monogamy, this has no support base except faith. As long as you believe a green (or blue, or red) piece of paper is worth something, it works.

You can’t do that with food, and everyone gets it. The concept, not the food.

You hit thresholds. If there’s no more feed, you can’t grow more animals. Beef. Chicken. Fish. So the answers are only three.

1. Produce more food.

Ask Google how much. If you type ‘How much food can’, Google suggests: a desert locust eat; a stomach hold; a person eat; you eat. That’s where our concerns are centered, although the desert locust bit…

But Harvard University’s E.O. Wilson worked out the production issue fifteen years ago. The 3.5 billion acres (1.4 billion hectares) of arable land on the planet produce two billion tonnes of grain, and Wilson suggests that if we all become vegetarians, the world can support ten billion people.

I recalculated his number and come to a figure of between three and ten billion for the world carrying capacity—all vegans. If we all ate meat then we’d already be past carrying capacity.

The fishy bit is missing, but it’s irrelevant in a vegan world—one hundred-fifty million tonnes of fish are produced each year, which would only feed two hundred million people—if nothing was used to feed farm animals and pets. Bye-bye Fido.

The carrying capacity of the earth depends a lot on what number you choose for the  grain yield—it varies by a factor of five hundred percent across different countries. And ultimately the yield depends on the nutrients—how much nitrogen, phosphorus, and other elements are available to make food.

2. Eat less food.

Less food for each of us, or less people. How about these palatable buzzwords? Wars, epidemics, eugenics, culling.

3. Eat differently.

A vegetarian diet—a world without farm animals, because we can’t feed both them and ourselves. No more Mr. McBurger.

Meantime we amuse ourselves with the illusion that if the world economy recovers, all will be well. The European Central Bank, much like Vasco da Gama, has sailed into uncharted waters. The twin tools of economists, adjustments to interest rates and to the money supply, have gone nowhere. Interest rates have gone to zero, and now Draghi has taken them lower, so that it costs you to keep your money in the bank.

The zero threshold has been breached, in the hope that consumers will go out and spend money rather than watch it dwindle in the bank—this is the worst possible reason to be profligate, and in the end it reduces reserves and makes banks more unlikely to lend. No problem! Print more money and lend it to the retail banks at negative rates.

And every time the Europeans, the Asians, or the Americans adjust interest rates, the others respond. The whole system is globalized, propagation is too fast, and there’s no capacity for changes to have an effect.

Our main economic weapons, which worked fine in the mid-range, are unusable at the edges. And we’re living at zero edge economics.

But does this really matter? Here’s my two cents.

The world is besotted by the economic question, but we’re asking the wrong question. It doesn’t really matter what economists think or what the economy does, because you can’t print food.

The way things are going, you may be swimming in digital money, but you’ll be lucky if you can find a locust for dessert.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, and Clear Eyes. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

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