Sunday, January 08, 2006

CVD spells The End of Western Civilization

CONTENT WARNING: Young children should leave the room. Those of you prone to the vapors should not watch the screen while reading.

Life is too often like dealing with a magician. You find yourself distracted by the hand-waving, when the real action is coming from an entirely different direction.

It is very easy to enumerate the threats to Western Civilization: desiccating consumerism, moral relativism, declining fertility. And, particularly since 9-11, the ugly, unshaven head of califascistic Islamism.

That's all hand waving. The real threat to Western Civ is virtually on our doorstep. It will cause Team Estrogen to ask, collectively, "What's a Girl to do?"

When they fail to come up with a satisfactory, to them, answer, we will be so sunk.

CVD. Three letters all of us should view with eyes of fear and looks of hate.

CVD is an acronym for Chemical Vapor Deposition, the term given to a process that will bring diamond manufacturing to a basement near you.
In the back room of an unmarked brown building in a run-down strip mall, eight machines, each the size of a bass drum, are making diamonds.

That's right — making diamonds. Real ones, all but indistinguishable from the stones formed by a billion or so years' worth of intense pressure, later to be sold at Tiffany's.

Sold is the problem. These diamonds, virtually indistinguishable from the "real" thing, will initially hit the market for roughly 30% less than mined diamonds.

In most cases, cheap is good. But not with diamonds. Cheap is a bad, a very bad, thing.

Value and cost do not necessarily coincide. Air is very valuable, but is essentially free. Electricity is nearly as valuable, and almost as free. Pornography, in contrast, pretty much plumbs the stygian depths of the value basement, yet costs a great deal more than air or electricity.

Diamonds are an oddity. They have little intrinsic, and even less actual scarcity, value. Without De Beers aggressively maintaining a diamond cartel that engineers artificial scarcity, their cost would plummet.

And so their value to Team Estrogen.

There is only one reason De Beers has been able to maintain its cartel. We, men, are willing participants in our impovershment. Women need to have a portable relationship signifier (PRS)* whose value derives solely and directly from cost. In order to fulfill its function, therefore, the PRS must be both expensive, and without utility.

Diamonds fulfilled the PRS role perfectly. They are the image of durability, and even small gradations in size signify the economic status of the attendant relationship. When women say "size does not matter," that assertion is trustworthy only with respect to "of what?"

Through a brilliant marketing campaign starting the late 30's, De Beers has provided the answer to "of what?"
[Their] slogan "A Diamond Is Forever" was born, launching one of the most brilliant, sophisticated and enduring marketing campaigns of all time. Without ever mentioning the name De Beers, the campaign set out to seduce every man, woman and child in America with the notion that no romance is complete without a rock -- and the bigger the rock, the better the romance. That men also now had a way to show the world how much money they made was an added bonus.

CVD diamonds will destroy this edifice of Western Civilization, by introducing the Free Rider problem that bedevils honest libertarians.

For as these diamonds reach market, men will be able to faultlessly mimic a PRS of larger significance, both emotional and material, for a fraction of the cost, hence the value, of the "real" thing.

(Speaking of signifiers, scare quotes here signify that the difference between "real" mined diamonds and "fake" CVD diamonds is without distinction.)

So long as there are few free loaders, diamonds will still be able to fulfill their PRS function.

But because the mimicry is so effective, and the cost differential so large (even ignoring that CVD diamonds will eventually become so cheap that they will be given away free with laptop computers), De Beers will be faced with two choices: hope to defend market share by opening its vaults, thereby destroying "real" diamonds engineered scarcity cost, or follow the Dodo to ignominous extinction.

A Hobbes choice for De Beers, to be sure; a plight over which not even a crocodile could shed a tear.

The impact on Team Estrogen is an entirely different matter, though. CVD will devalue existing and future PRSs just as thoroughly.

I'm sure most readers here have heard the saying that when the US economy catches a cold, the rest of the world gets pneumonia.

Well, when Team Estrogen gets grumpy over the loss of their PRS, men will wistfully reminisce about pneumonia's pleasures.


* The author could probably earn a lucrative second income generating TLAs** for the military.

** What does TLA stand for? Why, Three Letter Acronym, of course.

6 Comments:

Blogger Duck said...

Skipper you are the master of the TLA! You have earned the designation MTLA.

Of course in military lingo the PRS would be known as the Signifier, Relationship, Man-Portable, Individual (SRMPI).

But as you mentioned in your article, the diamond shortage was a man-made scarcity enforced by the industry. I know that the Russians are sitting on a mother-lode of uncut diamonds that they've yet to market.

My wife loves diamonds. I made the mistake of buying her an engagement ring that I thought I could "responsibly" afford without going into what seemed like an outrageous level of debt at the time. It was 1/3 karat. I've never lived that down. As you say, the willingness to go into reckless amounts of debt is the whole point of the Signifier.

January 08, 2006 8:10 AM  
Blogger Bret said...

OK, that put a smile on my face. Thanks skipper.

January 08, 2006 10:27 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

When I lived in LA during the middle-80s, there was a Zale's add proclaiming that the appropriate cost of a wedding ring was two-months salary.

Yikes.

In the intro, the magician metaphor ecompasses more than the following included.

For instance: The magician's hand is waving around same-sex marriage; consequently, social conservatives are seeing that as the primary threat to the institution.

Each type of society has its PRSs; most pre-industrial societiesl settle on some variation of dowry.

However, the PRS of post-industrial choice is the diamond, and nothing looks like taking its place. After all, it is hard for a woman to wear a barrel of oil on her finger -- it's that whole upper-body strength thing.

So why aren't the social conservatives screaming about the imminent complete devaluation of the primary symbol of marital commitment in our society?

January 10, 2006 8:57 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Skipper,
It's apples & oranges. I don't think religious conservatives care so much about diamonds, and to the extent they care it would be to instruct women not to make a commitment to marriage based on such a materialistic consideration. I think most religious men are as clueless about women as the rest of us.

For women I think it's about finding out how gaga this guy is about me. Or about how much earning power he can command, but I'm not sure that this is as important as it once was when women did not work. But its stuck in their genes, like it is with bower birds or any other species where the female is looking for some sign of outlandish skill or foolhardy bravery to nudge her int a decision.

January 10, 2006 10:30 AM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Duck:

I was referring more to social than religious conservatives, the latter being a subset of the former.

Peeling away the post's tongue-in-cheek tone, there are possibly some non-trivial implications attending CVD diamonds.

Our culture does place a great deal of significance on diamonds as a relationship signifier because of appearance, durability, and high price (plus very clever De Beers marketing). If high price goes away, the value as a signifier goes away. What will replace it? Does it matter if there is no replacement?

In order for the Left to be even remotely coherent, they must assert that human nature is malleable. If it comes to pass that, in fact, diamonds were just an expensive bauble that clever marketing suckered us into thinking essential, than score one for the Left.

Then there is the economic angle. CVD diamonds can be made in many colors. Just for the moment let's leap to the conclusion that the CVD process will yield the same economies of scale as silicon wafer production.

Doesn't that essentially gut the entire jewelry industry?

Perhaps not an earthshaking consequence, but certainly non-trivial.

January 11, 2006 4:41 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Perhaps this is splitting hairs, but CVD won't destroy the entire jewelry industry, only the providers of "fine" gemstones.

The industry's bread-and-butter has always been the mid-price "pretty bauble" buyer, and the industry will always be able to provide added-value (and retail price) to anything that they set on a ring, in a brooch, or string on a necklace - even petrified wood - even regular wooden blocks.

The only thing that would be catastrophic is if people decide to stop buying jewelry as ornamentation.
Its role as a store of value was abandoned by most long ago.

January 11, 2006 2:01 PM  

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