fig of the forbidden tree
on any interesting cases?" Old Possum asked.
yes, without going into details -- which would be unprofessional --
I've been retained by a fourth party to do some snooping around on the
Bob Ellis paternity allegations. It's likely to be a nice little earner",
simple pleasure is brought to our lives by these little imbroglios of
the great and famous", he chuckled. "Alan Jones being arrested
in the London public toilet, Malcolm Fraser losing his pants in a Memphis
Hotel, Rupert Murdoch's new woman, Gina versus Rose Handcock, Billy
Snedden dying on the job ..."
and then there was Alan Jones getting the shove from the Sun Herald.
You remember, some anonymous person sent him the text of a 'secret KGB
document' from a Frederick Forsyth potboiler and he thought it was genuine
and ran it in his column."
any luck these things end up in the courts where the lawyers manage
to siphon off bucketloads of money and redistribute it downwards."
were strolling down to the park with a magnificent Sydney Sunday spread
out before us. Brilliant sunlight fell all around. A tall blue sky,
washed clean by days of rain, arched overhead. Majestic rain clouds
boiling up, luminous cream and white on top, deep greys underneath,
falling to a far horizon. And it was all free.
sat on the seat under the old Moreton Bay fig -- a huge, spreading tree
with deep buttress roots and massive branches. It must have been planted
well over a hundred years ago.
sure the city fathers who planted them valued them just for their grandness.
They couldn't have known how important they would become for the wild
things that share the city with people. That was just an accident of
aesthetics, a crumb from the human banquet table.
support little colonies of fig birds and at night grey-headed flying
foxes swarm through them, feasting on ripe figs and gibbering at each
other in their weird electronic voices.
you carefully break open a fig you will see that it is not really a
fruit: it's an invaginated inflorescence -- a flower head with hundreds
of little flowers. It's rather like a daisy turned in on itself and
almost tied off at the top. If you look hard you'll often see the tiny,
tiny, wasps that pollinate the flowers crawling around inside the fig.
The seeds themselves are like little flecks of sawdust and the survival
of each species of fig depends on just one species of little pollinating
wasp ensuring that the seeds are viable.
wonderful metaphor, really" Old Possum remarked, "Such a big
impressive thing depending on such a small, seemingly insignificant
one. It makes me think of the whole monetary system".
a pretty big call", I said. "You'd better explain it slowly".
if the wasps died out, figs wouldn't disappear immediately. They'd die
off one by one and it would be only decades later, maybe, that somebody
would notice that no new figs were germinating.
of the seeds as currency -- little round bits of intrinsically valuable
metal -- gold or silver. Our whole monetary system began like that.
Everybody wanted those metals and everybody would accept them in exchange
for something. Monarchs issued them in fixed weights with their likeness
and some impressive words stamped on the face.
it was dangerous to carry such valuable stuff around with you, so merchants
started to keep it safe in their vaults and they issued notes to each
other to keep a track on who owed what to whom.
was a short step from that to paper currency, which was just a promise
by a bank, on a fancy piece of paper, to pay the bearer so much in gold
or silver, if they presented it to the bank. Since it was clear that
not everybody would want to exchange their bank notes for gold at the
same time, you could issue a greater value in paper than you held as
gold in the bank. On that basis the money supply expanded rapidly and
economies got bigger and bigger.
in August 1971, Richard Nixon took the US dollar off the gold standard,
and other countries followed suit rapidly. Nothing much happened because
times were good and everybody continued to have faith in the value of
the paper ..."
is, intrinsically, worth not a fig", I said".
but released from the material reality of gold, there is only the fantasy
value of paper and electronic signals representing paper that doesn't
even exist, and there's faith in the fantasy.
tree lives on and even gets bigger, and it still bears figs, and the
figs have seeds, but nobody seems to notice that none of them are viable
... and sooner or later the tree will die."
Mother of Darwin, you're right", I said, "It's the tree of
the knowledge of good and evil. I won't tell them if you don't".
in Whispers from the mean streets
-- Best of 1999