A Fist Full of Sand and the Cockroach – The Age of Resource Scarcity
Posted by intellisg on February 16, 2007
You’re probably wondering what the recent sand embargo by the Indonesian government has to do with cockroaches. Well, a lot.
Cockroaches are masters in thriving in an environment of resource scarcity. Man has been trying to kill them since the beginning of time. In the original script of the ancient classical Indian paramour, “The Mahabratha,” one of the Pandavas Princes mentions only two things would live beyond the end of time – “rocks and cockroaches.” In the 80’s movie, “Scarface” , the main protagonist played by Al Pacino kept ranting, “cockroaches, cockroaches, they’re everywhere!” After that, he got done in by a 6 ft 2 inch, 180kg DEA cockroach with a pump action shot gun.
Every year housewives all round the world spend nearly USD$2.83 Billion on roach sprays alone, that’s bigger than all the combined defense budget of Asean put together! ( we all know they don’t half work). Monsanto, the leading manufacturer of pesticides, projects at the current rate we are going, a can of roach spray is going to have to be a hundred times more potent than what it is today. Not only are roaches just surviving, they are adapting and thriving, and the more we spray them, the more they develop immunity. The score card doesn’t look good for mankind. We who managed to send a man to the moon and space probes to the surface of mars can’t seem to win the war in our pantries against those slippery, smooth and frictionless bugs. They just slip by us like wet glass – they are survivors, they know things we humans don’t, and they have a lot to teach us. It’s a lesson many policy makers, businessmen and even ordinary folk can learn; how to manage in an environment of resource scarcity.
I guess it’s a lesson all of us have come across during our poverty stricken days as students when we realized how important rubber bands, superglue, duct tape and plastic flowers are (now you know why, I never got any dates during my student days). I do admit some take the whole notion of managing in an environment of resource scarcity to ridiculous lengths, such as writing in tighter and fainter sentences to prolong the life span of their writing instruments, or learning a particular way of tying shoelaces, to successfully rotating their sneakers in three year cycles. As for me, it was finding 147 uses for a bar of Lux soap beyond just the three in one cleanser, body wash and laundry detergent. (that could be the reason why I was always a loner in University.)
You get my point: people learn to make do, they get around their limitations by improvising. In this respect, constraints aren’t so much a bad thing as they are opportunities for finding a better way to surmount problems. The densely populated cities of Japan provided the impetus for manufacturers to develop ultra quiet air-conditioners and whisper silent toilets. Resource scarcity, especially the real estate crunch, is also the reason why the big three, New York, London and Paris continue to act as lightning rods attracting those who believe if they can make it any where, it’s in the diverse cosmopolitan cultural hive of city living, where Urdu, Hindustani, Russian, Greek, Italian and of course English is spoken very much in the same breath. Here scarcity, in this case, one’s spatial sense of scale is forced to migrate from the static to the culturally hemispheric. It guarantees that one’s views about life will never ever be the same again. That’s what happens in an environment of real estate scarcity – we all learn to get along better by reminding ourselves how important it is to continually hack away at bigotry, false pride, extremities etc. We mellow, we become rounded even, but above all we become real human beings by reclaiming much of what we had once lost through the process of looking at others and questioning: who are we really?
Resource scarcity also spawns innovation and creativity, people eventually learn to work their way out of their chains. It’s the reason why the most discriminated people on this planet, the Hasidic Jews in Antwerp, still continue to monopolize the lucrative diamond trade. Despite all attempts stretching back to short cake Napoleon’s plan to muscle into their trade by imposing draconian laws (he issued his own “continental order” – now you know why every country after Calais is called the Continent – on how a diamond should be cut in order to muscle into the lucrative diamond trade), those long bearded men in black with their furry cowboy hats simply continued secretly, mysterious, all the while keeping all 400 diamond cutting designs in their head and never once putting them into writing. At the same time, they boosted the trade of Jewish tailoring, who still this day continue the tradition of perfecting the art of concealed pockets. Till today, I still can’t figure out whether I really got a good deal or was conned because I still can’t figure out where those darn those pockets are (that’s really how good they are). Neither did one ball wonder boy Adolf succeed, when he passed the Nuremberg Act seizing the assets and accounts of Jews. Those Jewish cowboys with side burn curls simply learnt to stuff their mattresses with one hundred dollar bills instead of goose down. That’s what happens in an environment of resource scarcity, in this case the denial of ones rights, people just develop photographic memories, they start taking up needle work en mass. They start investing in Osim massage chairs.
People get very smart when they know others are trying to control them by palming their balls with the resource they need desperately. Adolf Hitler and his motley crew discovered this when they passed draconian laws boycotting Jewish businesses and imposing restrictions on chemical films and the sale of photographic equipment to Jewish filmmakers. The Bauer’s, Beck’s, Meyers, Goldwyn’s and Bergers responded by simply packing up like a traveling circus troupe and disappeared and, yes you got me there, only to magically reappear like roaches in LA in the US, where they founded the dream machine, Hollywood, which they control till this day! Resource scarcity simply broadens the horizons of people, nothing stops them from finding alternatives to solutions.
And just in case you think governments can erase a culture and its people by destroying its books, rewriting history, censoring its authors, gagging its intellectuals and building walls to tell them what they should and should not think, remember what Stalin found out when he burnt books in the name of Sovietization. The Bolshevik revolution gave rise to the world of the Samizdat, the flowering of an underground movement of readership that memorized wholesale the poetry of Osip Mandelstam and Anna Akhmatova – gratuitous you may say, but it ought to serve as a reminder reading like breathing is only a means to an end and people will always continue to define their existence even in exile. They will simply find a way, like roaches. They don’t need much space, or even the slightest morsel of leftovers. A little goes a long way in roach land.
Above all, when a race, creed or nation is confronted by resource scarcity, be it water, steel, oil or even something as simple as sand, it simply looks deep within itself and comes full circle, by refocusing on the mundane, like fire extinguishers, exit signage or fire doors, the stuff we typically take for granted, till circumstances force us to use them. To me it’s a return to the rationality, a world away from the lofty sciences of attempting to transmute lead to gold. It’s a common ground where we simply have to grapple with the nuts and bolts and seriously consider whether the sand embargo means we have to simply do with steel structures instead of reinforced concrete, curtain glass instead of sand filled bricks, gypsum boards instead of brick and mortar or honeycomb partitions instead of stone walls. It’s a return to the basic sciences where technicians are as important as scientists, which will hopefully recruit the little people in this fight for survival.
It’s an image that looks to me across the floor of my kitchen whenever I see those little critters eyeballing me defiantly, embodying all the deceit and cunning of an adept survivalist – poised on his haunches, ready for anything, front legs cocked, hindquarters set to spring. Above all, his face grins enigmatically and throughout, from the erect form to the long smirk, ending at the tapered nose with widespread feelers all seeming to say,
“Watch me now boy, and then tell me if you’ve ever seen anything even half so clever.”
The common cockroach, now that’s certainly worth a lesson or two in my book.
(By Harphoon / Astroboy / Politics / History / EP 99023002 -2007 / The Brotherhood Press 2007)
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