Monday, February 13, 2012

Long Distance and the Meaning of Life

I have just finished reading Bill McKibben's book, "Long Distance" the story of a year in his life training to be the best skinny-skier he could be, with a coach and everything, during which his father came to the end of his life. The latter was unplanned, and unexpected as his siblings and father had lived to their nineties but he had succumbed to brain cancer at 68.

In the book Bill seeks the meaning of life among other things - like the right wax for his skis at zero degrees Celsius. He ends with completing the metaphor of life as an endurance race. Much of what he wrote stimulated my thoughts and I want to explore them in writing.

The meaning of life is the substance of every book I've ever read implicitly, if not explicitly. Just as life's experience is the mother of metaphor, It is also the fodder of all writing, pun intended.

The daily routine is the core of identity, not singular achievements or unique experiences. Identity is founded in the quotidian, not the rare. Mantras, endlessly repeated, rituals performed until they are rote and literally taken for granted - exactly as they are intended to be, things done without thinking, more define the individual than stunning achievements, like finishing an Ironman, say, or writing a novel, or winning an award, say who we are. One can wear the t-shirt proclaiming the achievement but as days pass it loses its lustre and fades as does the memory of the achievement. It is merely what we once did not who we are, despite Mike or Steve's voice ringing in our ears, Daily workouts, oft=repeated doses of kilometres run, or biked, the constant association of ourselves with the omnipresent bag of workout gear, the bike on the rack behind the car, declare our identity, state unambiguously who we are. As Sartre said, it is what we do that makes us who we are.

Scotia Bank wants dumb customers,

.. they are more profitable.
March 1st Scotiabank puts up chequing account and other fees. The simplest account – a personal chequing account, used by millions of Canadians, goes up to $5.95 from $3.95. Two bucks. That’s 33% increase in fees on your personal chequing account.
Suppose Scotiabnk has 10 million customers across Canada. They ask for $2 more from each person and they get $20 million per month, or $240,000,000 per year – a quarter of a Billion dollars just added to their bottom line. They didn’t have to do a thing to earn it. They aren’t giving any new services for that. They just asked every personal account customer for another $2. It’s that simple.

Now, you can imagine some people may move their accounts to another institution, one that offers no-fee chequing say. Those will be the smart people, who read the notice included in their statement, who realize they just got dinged another $24 per year for nothing. Does the bank care? No. Those smart people were probably their most troublesome customers anyway. If they were also valuable customers, with large debts (interest paying, say) then the bank would probably waive their personal chequing account fees if they asked. If they weren’t profitable customers, then good riddance to them. This is called culling the herd. Raise the fees, get rid of the smart, troublesome customers. Keep the dumb profitable ones.

Scotiabank wants dumb, profitable customers. They want people who don’t make demands, ask awkward questions, like “Why should I pay an additional $24 per year for my personal chequing account anyway? I put my paycheques into it, you don’t give me any interest on that money, yet you get to use it to loan to other people and earn interest, but I don’t get any of that. I just pay fees. Why is that anyway?”

“Good-bye, nice knowing you,” is the bank’s unspoken response. “See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya.”

Also, the fee for using your debit card more than the allowed number of times each month goes up from $0.65 to $1 – that’s right 35%. Of course, you don’t get any additional services for that; it is just profit added to the bank’s bottom line. Thanks, sucker.

Insidiously, Scotiabank has waived debit fees for students under 19 years of age. Why is that I wonder? Could it be to train the youngsters into exclusive use of their debit cards so that when they hit adulthood, they will choose a monthly fee plan instead of cutting back on the use of the debit card?

You see banks don’t want us to use cash. They charge current account holders for depositing cash. That’s right. If you are a business, say, a clothing store, or a photocopy shop, Scotiabank charges you a fee for depositing cash. They say it costs them to ship all that paper to the central clearing house. How troublesome it must be for them. They actually have to count the money people give them for safekeeping. It’s much cheaper to let the computer count the transactions. Better yet, if we can train people when they are young to use a debit card for everything, then when they grow up they won’t want cash anyway, spoils the line of your jeans you know. Then we can ding them a monthly fee to use that debit card and raise it every once in a while. In time we can bleed them dry and they won’t even notice. Remember that story about the frog in the pot of boiling water?