The fool’s gold in gold

The Thinker by Rodin

I was born upon the fathoms
Never harbor or port have I known
The wide universe is the ocean I travel
And the Earth is my blue boat home

Peter Mayer, Blue Boat Home

Are you paranoid? Good! I might not have swampland to sell you, but I am sure I could be unethical enough to try to sell you some gold, albeit at hugely inflated prices. Owning gold suggests you own something with eternal value. Our currency may get suddenly devalued by ninety percent tomorrow but the thinking goes that as long as you got your gold coins locked up somewhere you still have wealth. You can maintain that standard of living because you own something no one can take away, and whose value none can diminish. You own gold! You are a survivor, you shrewd investor you!

I will grant you that gold will probably maintain its value much better than, say, the Zimbabwean dollar. Gold is pretty to look at, quite malleable, won’t tarnish and it must be worth something or it would not make up the majority of wedding rings. Mine is made of gold too, albeit white gold. It seemed better at the time than a ring from a Cracker Jack box. And since I have gold on me at all times should a financial apocalypse arrive, my wedding ring might buy us some food, a tank or two of gas, and maybe a couple of days in a hotel in our post deflated dollar world. Beyond that my gold wedding ring has far more sentimental value than monetary value. It turns out that its real financial value would be if I sold it for, say, American dollars. Dollars are convenient in pre-apocalypse America in that I can use it for an even exchange of value. Gold: well, not so much. Exactly how do you get change for your gold coin or ring in something that will retain value? It might help if everyone else kept a stash of gold coins too, but of course most of us don’t own gold and if we do it probably won’t be gold coins.

How good will gold be in a post Apocalyptic world? Well, it will be better than nothing but in a post Apocalyptic world when push comes to shove you will gladly exchange a large value of gold for basic foodstuffs and medical supplies. See, it’s that stuff you really need to survive the Apocalypse. Gold has no caloric or nutritional value.

Most people who own gold coins don’t keep them at home because they are worried they will get stolen. Gold coins are worth quite a lot, obviously, with an ounce of gold worth roughly $1600 at the moment. A one ounce gold coin though is probably going to cost you more than $1600. Someone has to make the coin and distribute it, and that’s a profitable business. Curiously no one buys gold with gold, but they do buy it with money, which gold dealers are eager to accept. Money, unlike gold, is fully fungible. Which makes money in general far more valuable than gold, which is why people prefer money to gold.

Some people with enough means pay a banker or a company to store their gold in a vault somewhere. It’s nice to know it is somewhere safe, but it’s unclear if everything goes to hell whether you will actually be able to withdraw your gold. I’m pretty sure most vaults are not safe from nuclear weapons. Even if they are, it’s likely that your banker won’t be around to open the vault. How would you make a withdrawal even if you could get to the bank? Hopefully there would be enough infrastructure in place and you will have an armored car to make the trip safely, providing the bridges have not collapsed and the roads are serviceable. Of course, once you have your bullion you would then feel the need to protect it from theft, not an easy thing unless you own a Brinks truck.

So maybe you need a more fungible form of gold. You could invest in gold stocks. Get a piece of paper that says you own twenty pounds of gold instead. Maybe in a post apocalyptic world showing your gold certificate will let the local black market distributor advance you some credit. Or maybe not. Maybe there just won’t be anyone around to barter for goods with anyhow. In a real Apocalypse, gold will be the least of your problems, because you probably will be dead. We’re pretty sure you cannot take it with you.

Are there reasons to invest in gold? As a hedge against inflation its record is pretty spotty, and people often tend to buy it when it is overpriced, i.e. when they are feeling scared. Perhaps having some part of your total assets in gold makes a certain amount of sense for the same reason some part of your assets should be in cash. In the real world though it won’t be gold that you will use to buy goods and services. It will be good old-fashioned money. You will want to convert your gold into money and use that. And unless gold appreciates in value over time, it’s probably not going to be a great investment.

Gold simply offers the illusion that your worth can maintain value regardless of the uncertainties in life. Rest assured this is an illusion, but perhaps it has some value because you won’t need to regularly pop Valium. Real worth is predicated on people thinking something has value. Moreover, real worth is the consequence of the way society is ordered and your place within in. Worth rests on a complex web of relationships, which must be there for your worth to have value. Worth depends not just on your job and your assets, but in the investment that society makes in civilization. It depends on the networks that make ATM machines possible and people’s willingness to work for a living wage, yes even at Walmart. It depends on roads being there so you can get to where you want to go. It depends on a justice system so the criminals aren’t preying on you and your neighbors. Without these and much more gold is worthless. Which means that chasing gold in the hope that it will keep you safe from calamity is foolish. It is fool’s gold.

As Peter Mayer put it, we are born upon the fathoms. Our home and our standard of living is an illusion. In reality we are living on a boat adrift in the sea, a giant Noah’s ark that we all share. There is no permanence; we are just around for the ride, but it’s a ride that we are all in together, so it behooves us to play nice and share our toys. So if you want to maintain your wealth and standard of living, stop looking at gold and try investing in society instead. Let’s make our world a place where we all have the likelihood to achieve our potential. Let’s keep investing in roads, good schools, new drugs and technological inventions. All these things though depend on a healthy and sustainable natural environment. Which means that our real treasure is not our personal wealth, but our shared natural world.

Now there’s a solid investment.

Enjoying the rapture

The Thinker by Rodin

I woke up this morning, expecting to go to Hell because I had not accepted Jesus Christ as my Personal Lord and Savior (PL&S) ™ only to discover, as I feared, that no rapture was underway. Instead, we have a picture postcard perfect day here in Northern Virginia: blue skies, emerald green grass, birds chirping, with the ground still damp from recent rains. The temperature is 67 degrees Fahrenheit and there are gentle breezes from the West Northwest.

I expected to have forgotten that today was the start of Armageddon, except, surprisingly, a bored press corps took notice of Harold Camping and his followers. So many other End of the World events have come and gone you would think that the press corps would have simply overlooked this latest one. The good news for Apocalypse fans is that in 2012 there is another opportunity, so you can now look forward to that. How do we know? The ancient Mayans said so, so mark your calendar now for December 21, 2012. On this date according to the Mesoamerican Long Calendar, we will have completed a cycle of 144,000 days since the earth’s mythical creation date. My guess is that this end of the world applies only to the Western Hemisphere, so I would definitely move to Europe before then. (Be careful to reside east of Greenwich.)

As a non-Christian, getting my mind around this rapture stuff is hard. This comes from being too left-brained, I suppose. I cannot believe in the personal God that so many people believe in. But if that God exists, then I cannot imagine it being a vindictive God. It seems you have to believe in a vindictive God to accept the rapture. Perhaps the hardest part for me is coming to grips with the idea that so many otherwise sensible people believe this nonsense. These are the same people who will buckle their seat belts because they acknowledge the possibility that some non-deterministic event could cause them to be killed in an automobile, so they best mitigate the risk. And yet they will throw caution to the wind when it comes to something like the end of the world, and orient much of their lives around something that simply will not happen for billions of years.

I also find it curious that so many of those predicting an imminent rapture know that they will be saved. How do they know? Merely through a profession of faith by saying they decree that Jesus in their PL&S? How do they know that their intolerance, bigotry and homophobia won’t keep them out of heaven? Their answer, probably, is that it is simply a matter of faith. Nonetheless, their behavior can be disturbing, particularly when they tell their children that they will not be ascending into heaven with them. Why is it these children are not in foster care? It’s hard to imagine a clearer case of parental emotional abuse.

It looks like I will neither ascend into heaven nor descend into hell today, and neither will those hoping to be raptured. I was sort of hoping those who were yearning for rapture would get their wish. This is because frankly I find most of these people insufferable to begin with, so the world would probably be a better place if they were teleported to a new reality. I’m guessing there is a ninety percent correlation between Harold Camping followers and climate change deniers. If they mysteriously disappeared, perhaps we could take long overdue actions to seriously address climate change. The overwhelming evidence seems to have no effect persuading these people anyhow. Those of us “left behind” have to make the best of the ecosystem that we have, so we might as well earnestly start living in congruence with our natural environment. This can be hard to do when so many people in power are so convinced that the end of the world is imminent that they see no value in protecting our environment.

Meanwhile, I will enjoy the rapture of a wonderful day. Mankind makes its own hells, but Mother Nature provides us with a natural Eden. All we have to do is choose to enjoy it. Today in particular seems to be a day to be outside and surrounded by nature. So that’s where I plan to spend a good part of my day, on my knees pulling weeds. I will be mindful of the nature and wildlife, whose song will ring in my ears, whose earthy smells will invade my nostrils and whose glory is all around me. For me this is the rapture and it is available most days for free and without the need to find it through a holy book. We just have to choose to open our senses and let nature fill us with its wonder.

Burning Jesuses and other signs of the Apocalypse

The Thinker by Rodin

Perhaps there is a good reason why Muslims get so upset with depictions of the prophet Muhammad. Of course, devout Muslims, or at least the Sunni sect, generally consider any depiction of their prophet to be blasphemous. Perhaps Muslims were far thinking. Because if they had an idolatrous statue of Muhammad, it too might have suffered the recent fate of a 62-foot “Touchdown Jesus” statue, which was destroyed by lightning on Monday in Monroe, Ohio. It just would both blasphemous and horrific if a 62-foot statue of Muhammad suffered the same fate.

“Touchdown Jesus” in better days

The quirky statue was a landmark in front of the Solid Rock Church of Monroe, Ohio. It both puzzled and entertained residents and travelers on nearby I-75, but no longer. Only a steel frame now remains. Flames created by lightning striking the statue consumed the structure on Monday. Perhaps parishioners can take comfort in that it was never quite a proper statue, as it depicted Jesus only from the torso up. This Jesus appeared to be a giant, because he overshadows his own crucifix. I guess resurrection of the body can do that to a savior.

God must be pissed because according to that secular rag, The Washington Post, there have been a host of burning Jesus statues in recent years. The city of Golden, Colorado, which I visited twice last week, has a 33-foot Jesus statue. Lightning blew off one of Jesus’ arms back in 2007. Perhaps the largest well-known statue of Jesus, the 133-foot Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro, suffered the indignity of having Jesus’ eyebrows and fingers singed in a lightning strike in 2008.

You would think that Christians everywhere might be reading something into these events. Jesus must have really been sending a message when actor James Caviezel, who portrayed him in the 2003 film, The Passion of the Christ, was actually struck by lightning while making the film. Most likely devout Christians read his survival as Jesus letting us know that he approved of the Mel Gibson version of his life, because he let Caviezel live. Or perhaps Caviezel was technically dead for a short while, then brought back to life by Almighty God. Wouldn’t this be a miracle in itself? Praise the Lord!

As for burning Jesuses, the co-pastor of Solid Rock Church, Darlene Bishop, is glad Jesus took the hit instead of a nearby women’s shelter. So in a way Jesus does save, or at least may have saved the lives of abused women living in and around Monroe, Ohio. However, we do know that lightning tends to find the most direct conductive path between cloud and ground, and this tends to be the highest metallic structure, which was likely the Touchdown Jesus. While the statue’s steel infrastructure kept it strong, it also made it vulnerable to lightning strikes. So perhaps its destruction by lightning was preordained.

Or perhaps this event could have been avoided had the statue been constructed using sounder engineering principles. For example, the statue could have had a convenient lightning rods protruding from Jesus’ outstretched arms. I guess that would have been unaesthetic. Still, given the $300,000 cost of the statue and the $400,000 cost of the amphitheater, both which were destroyed, a couple nearby lightning rods would have been a sound investment. One hates to think how much tithing may now decrease at the Solid Rock Church with its main recruiting tool just an ugly frame of steel.

All these burning Jesuses could be signs of the Apocalypse. I am starting to think maybe the Apocalypse is becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy, since many of those thinking the end is near are often the same folks who also do not believe in global warming. If the Apocalypse is just around the corner, then what’s the point? Drive those Hummers! Flick those cigarette butts out the window as well. You might let some Jesus statues burn as well.

For those looking for them, signs of the Apocalypse are now easy to find. We have what appears to be the worst manmade natural disaster unfolding in all its oil-stained glory in the Gulf of Mexico. We have a Negro as our president. We have Greece, where democracy first flourished, quickly devolving into poverty and near anarchy in a debt-induced death spiral. Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have formed a joint government in the United Kingdom. Arctic sea ice is receding to levels never recorded in our history books.

So I started thumbing through my Bible. 2 Timothy 3 gives signs so that we will know the end of times:

“Men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, disloyal, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, without love of goodness, betrayers, headstrong, puffed up [with pride], lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God, having a form of godly devotion but proving false to its power.”

This sounds like a few Tea Partiers I know, including Rand Paul. Maybe I should be scared. Maybe God is trying to tell us something, and burning Jesuses as well as all those periodic sightings of weeping Madonnas are just confirmation.

I will be watching warily to see which next statue of Jesus draws God’s wrath. Just between you, me and that good Mormon Glenn Beck, I don’t think that owning gold is going to get me admitted into heaven. Time for me to repent, perhaps for the sin of thinking our world is a rational place. It probably would be, except for all us humans.