What I’ve Been Up To: November ’17 to March‘18 – [3/4]

March, 2018

Hi once more:

I have been writing about selling guitars to China, and some reports on how China has been modernizing.  I’m writing this narrative as I have been understanding it; I may be in error; but as far as I know I’m describing things as they are.  And I was in the middle of the “you don’t have to read this part because it’s too disturbing” section.  It certainly brings me down.  But here’s the rest:

Global warming has also affected rainfall patterns in China, exacerbating a growing series of droughts.  But while there is rain it washes over the mountains of waste I’d cited; it’s all junk that the U.S. can’t dispose of domestically.  In China the water runoff from the heavy metals in the junk, the electronics, the wiring, the motherboards, the switches, the screens, etc. leaches into the ground.  Runoff from rain as well as the low-tech washing, cleaning, processing, and reclaiming procedures used to salvage the gold from the gold-plating of parts, etc. plus the scavenging for other precious metals . . . has polluted the rivers in Southern China.  The water is a horrible color. The water table has been poisoned so that the water for whole provinces is undrinkable; China is now importing water into its cities for the first time. As I said, all of this is occurring on a vast industrial scale.

It is indeed occurring so on many levels.  “Racing to Extinction” is largely about exactly that, but from another point of view than being suffocated in discards.  Part of it touches on the Chinese fishery industry. The most shocking footage I saw is of one of the largest shark fin processing plants in the world; it shows  A VAST ACREAGE OF PILES OF SHARK FINS — mountains of fins of sharks that have been killed by the many tens of thousands (that month!) . . . and that could cover a football stadium several feet deep.  It is all done wholesale, with no thought to depletion of the oceans. It is all part of the same effort that humanity — as exemplified by the Chinese fishing industry — is hell-bent toward.

I was horrified to see these documentaries, and horrified to see what the Chinese are doing.  And feeling bad toward them. Until I realized that they’re basically boring holes in the bottom of the boat that we’re all in . . . and that we (the U.S.) are complicit in this.  There are a lot of American companies who have set up branches in China, and a lot more are fixing to do so. China wants to keep these foreign merchants out, but I think they’ll find ways in.

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That’s about when I stopped being able to draw a line that separates “us” from “them” . . .

. . . and it started me asking where, exactly, do I fit into all this?  

O.K., I’m the clever little luthier who is making beautiful guitars.  Just what do my clients do to get the money with which to buy my guitars?  Is it honest work? Are there shrewd thefts involved? You know, these are questions that one just doesn’t ask.  Don’t even get me started on Banks . . . [except to ask: do you know where the word Bank comes from?  Well, before Banks as we know them existed, moneylenders first practiced their trade during the expanding economic growth and activities of the Renaissance; money was needed for trade, for commerce, for wars, etc.  The moneylenders were mostly Jews – by default, not genetic predisposition — because the Catholic Church forbade all Catholics from dealing with money; money was corrupting and evil. Anyway, before they moved into offices, moneylenders would set up in the town marketplace; they’d have their own spot just like any vegetable vendor, and they’d sit all day long on a little bench or stool that they brought with them, and do business with anyone who came along and needed their services.  At the end of the day they lugged their benches home and counted their money, I guess. The Italian for bench or stool is “banco”, and when you wanted money you would go to “the banco”. So there.]   And just what do the people whom they deal with do for the money that they pay my clients with so that they can pay me?  The thing is . . . the fact is that I am dealing with people who are dealing with people who deal with people who deal with people who deal with people who deal with people . . . who are ruining our air, our water, our food, our relationships with our fellow man, our animals, our land, and our sense of being human.  I have banked with Wells Fargo bank since 1972 – well before many of you reading this were born. This bank is not my friend; it is not your friend; it is not anybody’s friend. It is a criminal enterprise that has opened millions of accounts that their “owners” didn’t know about; and it funds projects that degrade the environment.  Read the news. But is there a better bank for me to move my funds to? [SEE SIDEBAR, BELOW]

You, by the way, are dealing with the very same people.

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*** The difference between Savings and Loan Organizations and Commercial Banks used to be that the former were only allowed to loan out as much money as they had in deposits; the latter were allowed to loan out many times as much money as they had in deposits, under the fiction that the government would cover losses if the bank failed.  This distinction is no longer in effect: S. & Ls (remember Charles Keating?) are now fully as dishonest as the banks are. How does that work? Well, besides helping to finance nefarious ventures that degrade the environment, and bilking millions of their customers as Wells Fargo was recently convicted of, and laundering money, etc. loaning out more money than you have is profitable (so long as the banks don’t all fail at the same time as they did in 1929) but it is inherently wrong.  For one thing, it inflates and devaluates all currency.  See, if the supply of goods is fixed, and the banks create six times the amount of buying power of the actual cash on hand (that’s what credit is, dude: buying power), then it’s the equivalent of having six times the amount of actual cash on hand . . . and prices will rise.  Why wouldn’t they? Result: everybody’s money is worth less – except for those who don’t actually work for a living but make money by getting others to do the real work for them. One of any government’s proper functions is to ensure that there’s a balance between the amount of cash on hand and the amount of goods there are; it keeps prices stable.  There’s a great Hugarian word: csibész (pronounced Chi’-base).  Look it up.

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How is this something to not think about?  And what is my relationship to it? Is my selling guitars into the Chinese market going to help or hinder?  And how?

Well, these are non-questions, I fear.  It’s a global phenomenon that I’m caught up in like a leaf in a river and that I have no influence whatsoever over.  We’re all caught up in it. Even if I sold no guitars to any Chinese dealer, they (I’m sorry to resort to such clichés as “the Chinese”) will buy all the new and used Somogyi guitars that they can find from my dealers and/or private sellers, and Bob’s your uncle.  I’m part of it regardless of whether I want to be or not; if not very much now, then certainly later.

I can almost hear you thinking, hey, wait a minute; the people you’re dealing with aren’t doing anything like that.  What are you thinking? Well, as I said, the fact is that I’m already in the mix.  We’re all already in the mix. How long has it been since you’ve purchased anything NOT made in China?  As every Buddhist knows, I have no control over anything other than myself. Not only that but, as every psychologist knows, I also don’t have nearly as much control over myself as I want to think I have.

Ethical behavior is the only thing that makes sense to me.  But it’s easier said than done.

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It is interesting for me to contemplate all this at this point in my life.  As you know, I have recently had a life-changing event, the significance of which is that I see that I am at the end of my career and my life.  At least, relatively at the end.  And because of this I have a new perspective from which to look back on my life as a whole . . . and to assess its significance, as well as to think about how I want to live the rest of my life.  That realization is that I do not want to work six days a week as I’ve always done.  I want time to think.  I want time to relax.  I want time to do art projects in wood.  I don’t want to have to prove anything to anyone.  I want to be happy, not just busy.   And, largely, I don’t find the prospect of breaking into another new market all that exciting – even without the complications I alluded to above. Been there; done that; got a t-shirt full of sawdust, wood shavings, and sanding dust.

So, it’s seeming to me that the “significances” of my life are several.  There are personal relationships, of course, and family.  There is “growing up and being successful”.  There’s the “being a good person” component.  There is also the “being young and then growing old” one. Some people count the notches on their shillelagh or will have their final bank balance or College Board Scores carved on their tombstone.  And there is also the “how do I fit into the world?” component; you know, the socio-economico-political-cultural-ethical one.  Well, (if Trump and Kim-Jong-Un don’t destroy the world first, that is), I will have trained and taught a number of talented guitar makers who will be important and prominent in that world market.  I will have made that possible.

When I was starting out, years ago, I couldn’t have imagined any of this happening.

This is the end of part 3.  Part 4 is next.