Saturday, September 26, 2009

Marketing in a Small Town - Interview No. 3

Dmitry Davydov runs a popular Russian-language blog. Periodically we correspond, and publish the correspondence. [Here's the Russian original.]

DD: In the American (and not just American) media, one can periodically read about the barbaric Sharia law, according to which women can be stoned to death. Or about an eight-year-old Saudi girl who was sold into marriage to settle her family's debts. There are entire Web sites devoted to "stupid laws", especially in the southern states, according to which, for instance, it is illegal to have sex completely naked. However, few can see the absurdity and the barbarous nature of many U.S. laws on intellectual property, according to which one can be fined ten thousand dollars for downloading a song or a movie from a torrent (China, Russia and the Ukraine, where piracy flourishes, are considered uncivilized and legally underdeveloped). You once said (albeit in a different context), that those who pay for software are fools. It would be nice to know your opinion of the system of intellectual rights specifically and the U.S. legal system in general. Does it do more harm or good, and why are you convinced that the "legal-police-prison" complex will be one of the first victims of collapse?

DO: One of the main foundational insights of the Anglo-Saxon civilization (if can be honored by the use of such a bombastic term) is that unenlightened people are easier to control than enlightened ones. The effects of this can be seen in the fact that in all English-speaking countries there is a very stable layer of low-class people (the so called "underclass") and, except for a bit of lip service, it does not occur to anyone to remedy this situation. It can also be seen in the eagerness of the elites to impersonate British aristocracy by copying their strange habits and customs, as well as in the worship of the British throne by members of the general public, even in countries which shed considerable blood to win their independence from the empire. This can also be seen in the education system, which, except for the most privileged, strives to teach a trade, rules of conduct and obedience, rather than to expand the mental horizon. Not long ago, the acquisition of certain "dangerous" kinds of knowledge was even banned: for example, sailors on British vessels were forbidden to study navigation, and only officers were allowed to know how to chart a course or to pilot a vessel into a harbor. The same tendency can be observed in the Anglo-Saxon system of justice: the language of lawyers bears little resemblance to normal English, and everything is done to ensure that members of the public are not in a position to understand the meaning of not just the laws, but even of the contracts and agreements which they are forced to sign in order to gain access to employment, housing or medical care. Inconvenient laws are studiously ignored. For example, in the US court system, a jury has the right of nullification: they have the right to reject any law as invalid and to acquit the defendant regardless of his "guilt" under a law they see as unjust. So here's a proven method: If you are summoned as a juror, and you do not wish to serve, all you need to do is write the words "I believe in jury nullification" on the form, and the court will send you home at once! In the area of intellectual property rights, although the original copyright system protected the rights of inventors and authors, now it has become a way to ration access to information depending on one's ability to pay. All countries have to participate in this system to some extent in order to be able to defend and protect their own interests, but they should not be too zealous in the implementation of these laws, which are often inconsistent with the public interest. In the current situation, any attempt by the United States to enforce their system of intellectual property rights against citizens of other countries can be successfully ignored, if correctly assisted by the local governments. As for the legal-police-prison complex in the U.S., there is no longer any need to make predictions: the gaps in the budgets of many states are such that they are forced to prematurely release hundreds of thousands of prisoners. Already in several of the most depressed cities in the U.S. murders are not prosecuted due to lack of police resources. All of this is all starting to look more like ordinary lawlessness than like a system of legal terror.

DD: Recently on CNN there was a report about the U.S. mission to the moon. The Indians are planning to land there in 2020, the Russians and Americans in 2025, and the Chinese in 2030. I think that the popularity of conspiracy theories about the staging of those events is that we find it hard to imagine that we can not repeat the achievements of three decades ago without a huge effort. Meanwhile, examples similar to the lunar program are starting to occur more and more frequently. Experts say that Russia has lost the ability to produce modern weapons on a large scale for quite trivial reasons, such as lack of sufficiently skilled metalworkers, because the system of training them has collapsed. How justified are we in fearing that we (the world in general, not just Russia) are starting to slip back in time in terms of technology?

DO: In the end, the history of human trips to space will engender new myths: the primitive idols of the future will not be winged, but will sit astride rockets dressed in spacesuits. These trips were only possible thanks to large-scale industrial systems based on the use of fossil hydrocarbons, reserves which have already been exhausted, on average, about half. It will not be possible to exhaust them completely: the technological rollback has already started. It starts long before a particular resource is completely exhausted. To maintain homeostatic equilibrium, an industrial system requires a continuous flow of investment, and in order for this to happen capital must continually be created. If, say, the profitability of a coal mine is inversely proportional to shaft depth, it is enough to get to a depth at which the income is not sufficient to continue to update equipment, and the mine will close, regardless of how much coal there is left in it. But such a rational approach is rarely taken. Rather than make a difficult but timely decision, everyone begins to economize on safety, defer repairs, take on debt and so on. Periodically, the idea comes up that the situation can be improved if only everyone would show more zeal or ingenuity. We certainly all need some level of technology, and we all ought to stop to think hard which technologies can be sustained at a continually decreasing level of extraction of various natural resources. Instantly the thought occurs that aerospace technologies will not make it onto this list.

DD: How important are science and technology in modern society, as an ideology, or, if you like, a religion? Why do people prefer to believe that the problem will be solved by hanging solar panels on the roof and buying an electric car, although obviously a more simple solution would be to change the lifestyle so that one's dependence on the car is minimal?

DO: I have thought about this long and hard, and came to the conclusion that it all comes down to a very basic question: "How to please a girl?" After all, any modern, progressive, educated and attractive person begins to scoff if you take away her flush toilet and substitute a bucket, or if she has to go shopping leading a donkey, or if, instead of a shower, she is invited to go and stoke a sauna. From time immemorial status in society has been determined by access to luxury goods. As society becomes richer, luxuries turn into necessities. And when society starts to grow poorer again, it turns out that there is no going back. That is, there is a way back, but it is blocked by the innate tendencies of our clever species. My wife and I spent two years living aboard a very attractive and practical yacht slightly less than 10 meters in length at the waterline, and although the wife understands everything very well, even she cannot stop herself from casting a sideways glance when a yacht like Abramovich's walks past us, and from making some comment, like "Oh, now this I understand, this is the real thing!" And there is no point in explaining to her that what we have here on board is a very high level of civilization, while Abramovich is just an ordinary consumer. It is very hard, gentlemen, to change the lifestyle, but not change the woman! If someone succeeds in this, then he is a hero and a genius, and we should all learn from him. In the meantime, we are going to live in an apartment, and put the boat on the hard, and install all sorts of solar panels, water heaters, and other technological junk.

DD: There are quite a number of people who view the current crisis not as financial or economic, but as a moral crisis and a crisis of rationality. We have developed an entire system, or even multiple systems, that require you to constantly lie and deceive in order to make it into the upper middle class. I mean all of these brokers, bankers, brand managers and so on. This same "plague" has afflicted the academic community, where economic theories are completely independent of reality and common sense. Even in everyday life there is a huge rollback of rationality - otherwise a film like "The Secret", Tony Robbins, "positive thinking" and training for "personal growth" would never have become so popular. What's next - a new renaissance or a new Dark Age? How strong is the relationship between the crisis and questions of world-view, faith and culture?

DO: I do not see a fundamental difference between lying in financial and economic realms and lying as a moral and rational matter. Financial and economic lies are that you can endlessly stimulate economic growth, despite the fact that the natural resources and the soil are wearing out, that forests are being cut down, that the environment and the climate have been disrupted, and that investments in high technology do not pay. The moral and rational lies are that economic growth is a good thing, indeed, a necessary thing, otherwise all will be very bad. In the West these lies are taught well at prestigious universities like Harvard, and countries wishing to participate in the global economy have to recruit their graduates to help their central banks and finance ministries to lie on their behalf. Putting it politely, the ability to lie is the ability to pretend. And now our credentialed liars are all pretending that the crisis has ended. Has it really, or is this just the end of the first turn of the crisis spiral, with no end in sight? After all, whether or not you lie, you cannot run away from reality. I do not know whether the coming age will be Dark Age, but I am sure that it will be rather dim. After all, the art of lying has displaced a lot of useful knowledge.

DD: In Ireland, you talked about the fact that modern methods of warfare are economically inefficient. That is, you can equip twenty thousand rebels with Kalashnikov rifles (AK-47) and grenades, and they will successfully resist a army that uses tanks and aircraft, that cost tens of millions of dollars. However, guerrilla actions are effective only for defensive purposes, and not conquest. Theoretically, the crisis could lead to Americans being forced to curtail their activities in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US really are the main aggressors in the world now, but I have major doubts that, as soon as the aircraft carriers are mothballed, we will live in peace and harmony, all will lay down their arms and begin to "work the earth."

DO: People fight for all sorts of reasons, and I am sure that military actions in some parts of the world will continue after the disappearance of US from the global battlefield. There is no doubt that Kalashnikovs and grenades have given the poor throughout the world to the ability to bravely defend themselves against the most technologically equipped army. Wars either pay off or the aggressor goes bankrupt, and wars against today's poor but very successful guerrillas pay off much worse than wars against rich, peaceful and defenseless nations (of which there are none left). Americans are still fighting, because they are fighting on credit, but when at last their funding runs out, I suspect that this whole style of war will finally recede into the past. Certainly, there will be plenty of small and large-scale slaughter, particularly in heavily overpopulated and impoverished countries, but for this even Kalashnikovs are not needed. For example, in Rwanda the Hutu tribe did an excellent job with machetes, while the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia quite successfully strangled a lot of people with plastic bags. I do not know how many more countries will follow such a path, but in general I think that, thanks to the successes of modern guerrilla practice, the profitability of military action will continue to decrease.


Rhisiart Gwilym said...

LOL! Thanks Dmitry, both for the crechwenu* and for the comforting insights. -- RhG


* 'To guffaw; to laugh uproariously.' A verb in the oldest continually-spoken language in the Island of Britain, Cymraeg.

Phillip Allen said...

Thank you for the translation. The Google machine translation was nearly unreadable (though a vast improvement over its results with Arabic --> English). I studied Russian for six years but sadly that was 40-odd years ago and I'm afraid I've lost much (or most) of what I learned through lack of use and brain cell attrition.

Your comment, "I do not know whether the coming age will be [a] Dark Age, but I am sure that it will be gray. After all, the art of lying has displaced a lot of useful knowledge," is brilliant.

Dr. Doom said...

Dmitry, could you please translate this sentence: "Не знаю, будет ли грядущий век темным, но уверен, что он будет серым." Thank you.

Dmitry Orlov said...

"I do not know whether the coming age will be Dark Age, but I am sure that it will be gray."

This works as a pun, but only in Russian because in Russian "gray" is not just a color, but has all of the following meanings:

"gray; dull; grizzly; leaden; poky; wan; grizzle; humdrum; platitudinous; commonplace; drab; dusty; ignorant"

Jacob Gittes said...

I have nothing to say other than thanks for making my night. For some reason, I always feel hope after reading your latest.
Strange, eh? But it is very good for the soul to know that there is someone out there who is not in denial, unlike most of my family and neighbors. And my dear wife.
She has agreed to move out into the country for a simpler life, but already her additions to that life make it unlikely we can afford it.
Such is life with an American college-"educated" woman. for now.

Dr. Doom said...

Concerning the future of space exploration, I was at a meeting earlier this week where very ambitious plans for the further exploration of the Moon and Mars were presented and discussed. Dates such as 2012, 2016-18, 2020 and even 2030 were mentioned for some of these missions, most now international in scope. I wanted to respond that they were dreaming, not really planning these activities. I held my tongue, so as not to upset the upbeat mood of the presentation and of the presenter, whom I know and whose career I have followed. The talk was well received by the attendees, but I also knew many of them and in private conversations comments were made of the economy that were quite dark, and this was coming from a group known for its techno-optimism.

MarcusB said...

Did you hear Abramovich's yacht has an anti-paparazzi device installed? Apparently when it detects a digital camera sensor it emits a wave of light, meaning that the resulting snap is overexposed and ruined. But it can't do anything about good old fashioned analogue cameras, so what must surely be a rather expensive gizmo is, in fact, completely useless.

Tony said...

I love this part: "If someone succeeds in this, then he is a hero and a genius, and we should all learn from him."

Thanks for the laugh, or to borrow Rhisiart's term, the crechwenu.

Not to brag, but my wife is quite awesome and actually gets it. The trick now, for both of us, is to take the intellectual understanding and translate it into action. I wish I knew how to sail, but I think we'll be landlubbers in the The Dim Ages future.

Thanks again for the burst of sanity in an insane world.

Anonymous said...

Wars either pay off or the aggressor goes bankrupt, and wars against today's poor but very successful guerrillas pay off much worse than wars against rich, peaceful and defenseless nations (of which there are none left).

Actually, most of western Europe basically falls in the category of rich, peaceful, and defenseless.

In 1203, the fourth Crusade abandoned its original goal of conquering the Holy Land (which was populated by warlike Muslims) and instead sacked Constantinople, which was populated by Christians, and which was (relatively speaking, at least) rich, peaceful, and under-defended.

Anonymous said...

Believe it or not, many, many of us women actually "get it."
Please do not separate understanding along gender lines - or ask yourself how does this serve? I cannot tell you how many discussions I have had with men about the future viability of such things as gas-powered lawn mowers, chain saws, and generators.

Jason said...

One of the main foundational insights of the Anglo-Saxon civilization (if can be honored by the use of such a bombastic term) is that unenlightened people are easier to control than enlightened ones.

You don't seriously believe this is an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon? It's universal in all civilizations that become Empires, always has been. In fact I believe modern culture is the only one ever to have noticed it and formulated the idea of a universally educated populace.

Dmitry Orlov said...

Jason -

Yes, I do believe it, or I wouldn't have written it. In medieval Japan most people could read, including peasants. In Russia and in China most people can read and write. In modern US, about half the population is functionally illiterate, and, I believe, kept that way on purpose. On the other hand, "modern culture" seems like a bit of an oxymoron to me.

Anonymous said...

True, even in ancient Rome many slaves were literate to a degree that shames many "products of public education" here in the US of Anglo.

tim73 said...

"Actually, most of western Europe basically falls in the category of rich, peaceful, and defenseless."

Ha, you know nothing. Combined EU military expenditures are about 350 billion dollars, only next to USA. Russia spends the same as Germany, around 40-50 billion dollars per year. France outspends both. The second biggest weapons dealer on this planet is EU.

Americans love to brag about their mercenary army when most of the Americans did not go through even basic training, contrary to the Europeans during Cold War. Most of European men had to go through army as conscripts during that time.

It was you Americans whom lived in a Disneyland when Europe was the front line against USSR...

Anonymous said...

I'm also a woman married to a man who doesn't get it. We both want to move to the country but he wants a fancy house with a mortgage and I want a simple house that we can pay cash for.

Like so many, he believes that as long as his business is doing OK then all is right with the world.

Tony said...

Like so many, he believes that as long as his business is doing OK then all is right with the world.

According to T. S. Eliot, "humankind cannot bear very much reality." It's probably one of the most depressing thoughts I've ever had, yet hard to disregard as inaccurate. In fact, to attempt to do so likely would prove the point....

Show your husband this graphic, of "one cubic mile of oil." It has several problems, such as not being fully accurate, but it captures the truth like only a good lie can. One cubic mile of oil (~1 trillion U.S. gallons) is roughly the amount of oil the world uses in one year. Go to Wikipedia for a fuller explanation of the concept.

Other concepts, such as the "oil vulnerability assessment/audit/analysis", which is emerging now in the UK from the Transition Initiative movement, are ways to insinuate these ideas into business-minded people.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points. Regarding the "Big Lie", a good metaphor for it is "live poor, think rich". An obvious falsehood that has been drilled into the brains of Americans from kindergarten on...

I believe that many Americans, faced with the inability to "think rich", would rather commit suicide than abandon the false idea. In other words, "live in reality" seems unacceptable.

That maybe why the lackey gossip media is trying so desperately to maintain the fiction that yes, you can live poor and think rich...

Thanks for all your good work, Dmitry.