Monday, December 17, 2007

Round and Round

As I write this the whole Bali climate conference shebang is nearing its end. The delegates will soon fly home to their respective countries and we'll all get on with leading the same wasteful, disposable lives spurred on by our unceasing competitive materialism and shallow one-upmanship. Shiny new cars and fancy goods will still be spilling off production lines and we’ll no doubt continue to be mollified by the objective purchasing power in our pockets.

The American writer Philip Roth in his famous and otherwise rather smutty book Portnoy's Complaint summed up our condition in one of my favourite quotes thusly:
“Society not only sanctions gross and unfair relations among men, but encourages them... rivalry, competition, envy, jealousy, all that is malignant in human character is nourished by the system. Possessions, money, property -- on such corrupt standards as these do you people measure happiness and success."
It's a pretty uncompromising quote admittedly but one that rings true of Indonesia and the world at large and perhaps one that is becoming increasingly relevant as we reach an environmental impasse.

This is all getting a bit heavy though isn't it? There must be some cause for optimism surely? Well perhaps. I recently stumbled upon an initiative that seems to be moving in the right direction, namely a website called Freecycle.

Now recycling is an old idea. Growing up in the UK (which was way behind the rest of Europe in terms of recycling at the time I might add) my family and I would nevertheless trudge dutifully along to the bottle bank every week to deposit our glassware. The wheels came off the wagon somewhat when I found out that it takes almost as much energy to make a bottle out of recycled glass as it does to make one from scratch. The point is though, that the recycling principle was sown in my young mind.

And now perhaps it is being sown in Indonesia's young mind. Freecycle is a global web site and its Indonesian branch was started in 2004. Basically, people post messages in which they state what they are giving away or make requests for certain items and wait for a reply. Everything is given away free, no money may change hands and new members to the site must offer something with their first posting as a gesture of good faith in Freecycle's principles.

Freecycle seems to offer Indonesia a radical new social paradigm. Partly in terms of the philosophy of recycling but also in the idea of getting something for nothing. In this country, where even hailing a taxi on a random street corner or parking your breakfast in a public convenience has been tapped as a source of income by some one dollar a day underclass chancer, to totally circumvent money in this way is something wholly new (or perhaps a very old?)

Anyway, I joined free cycle recently and posted up my first offer: what amounts to about three quarters of an old PC. Not a bad opening gambit I thought. I scrolled through a few of the other members offers and found such items as:
A key chain made from pewter from Thailand with a Muay Thai fighter picture on it.
A 1980s Berlitz how to speak Spanish travel guide book.

I’m not sure who’s going to trudge halfway across town to pick up those two gems but perhaps someone would be interested. Alas, none of Indonesia's plutocrats seem to have joined the group and posted up their old BMWs but I live in hope.

Freecycle is apparently a fast-growing international movement and was founded in Tucson, Arizona. There are a few rules that should be followed on Freecycle however. Number one states that alcohol, tobacco, firearms or drugs are prohibited on a, "Two strikes and you're out of the group" basis. This strikes me as a bit weird though, when you consider that everything is free. I find it hard to imagine someone posting up a message saying, "I've got half a bottle of whisky in my house that I just can't bring myself to finish, so if anyone would like to come and pick it up..." There should also be no politics or personal attacks on the site although you are allowed to find new homes for pets.

The strangest rule though would have to be, "No Freecycling yourself or your children.” Freecyclers wishing to do this are instead directed to Internet dating sites and told to get their annoying kids, "Involved in after-school band practice," instead. Hmmm, they certainly seem to have all bases covered down at Freecycle don't they?

Actually, I guess you could use Freecycle in order to play a rather malicious trick on one of your pals. He certainly won't be best pleased when he gets home to find that his entire CD collection has been sacrificed to the ideological cause of global recycling.

Ultimately though, Freecycle represents a rather more humane approach to the recycling imperative than Jakarta urchins rummaging around for plastic bottles on stinking rubbish tips. Long may it prosper. Those interested in having a bash should point their browsers at