Give the gift of sense

It is that season, and despite watching virtually no television at all, I still peripherally see many of the advertisements that spring up in vast numbers this time of year. One type in particular goes beyond annoying into the realm of criminally reprehensible, and if you think I’m being overly dramatic, read on.

No buildup here: I’m talking about diamonds. It still isn’t common-enough knowledge just how vicious the diamond trade really is, despite the efforts of many, and my own post won’t reach more than a tiny fraction of the people who need to hear it, but hopefully, I can spur a little greater awareness, and encourage everyone to help the spread.

Diamonds are mined almost exclusively in various countries in Africa, and while there are a few major industrial diamond mines, there is also a lot of mining that is done by local labor, often isolated tribes in underdeveloped parts of the countries. The dynamic that the price of diamonds puts upon these areas is overwhelming and horrendous – without regulation or even law enforcement, local overlords control the activities of peasant laborers and the territories where diamonds can be found, and the methods are just as bad, if not worse, than the worst of the slave owners from past US history. One of the fear tactics used to keep the workers and townspeople in line is to grab a child and chop off a limb with a machete, to demonstrate the consequences of failing to yield to the overlords’ demands. The conditions in such mining camps are appalling, and its safe to say that the ‘trickle-down’ economic plan is not in operation here – the ridiculous price that consumers pay for diamonds does not reflect a commensurate amount of income into these areas. Even if it did, I think we can safely say that mutilation and murder aren’t really justifiable with any economic stimulus.

This has spurred at least some response, in that many people are now aware of the phrases, “conflict diamond,” or “blood diamond,” meaning ones that are produced in such conditions, and there are efforts to identify ‘legitimate’ diamonds, ones that, supposedly, have originated from acceptable practices. There are two primary problems with this. The first is, it’s not exactly hard to forge any of these identifiers, since there is no regulatory agency in place that can enforce them. The second is, this isn’t solving the problem, which is not how diamonds are obtained as much as why they are in the first place. And that why is solely, inarguably, and crassly, marketing. Nothing more.

Everyone in this country, and I think throughout Europe and most of Asia, recognizes the tradition of diamond engagement rings, and the phrase, “diamonds are forever.” We all know that diamonds are the hardest substance known to man, and various folklore about their quality and sparkle and all that. Which is all complete and utter bullshit. There is no tradition of diamond rings – this concept did not exist before 1938, when it was introduced as a marketing campaign. Moreover, take a moment and think about why doing anything as a ‘tradition’ makes any sense at all – I’ve tackled the subject before. Why should we care in the slightest what anyone before us did? Should we believe they were smarter, or that we’re carrying on a ritual that accomplishes something?

Yet, there’s far more to it than that. Diamonds are hard, but not the hardest substance known (otherwise they couldn’t be shaped, could they?) They can actually be produced industrially, without any mining at all, since they’re simply refined, high-pressure examples of the most abundant element on Earth; this is, in fact, how numerous tools are made, since industrial diamonds are produced routinely. True enough, those are typically colored, mostly because there’s no reason to keep tool-grade diamonds perfectly clear, but also because there’s no market for it. More on that in a second.

Diamonds are, let’s be blunt, completely boring without the stories behind them. They’re indistinguishable from glass, except by experts, and don’t even sparkle half as nicely as crystal treated with some common chemicals, routinely used to coat whatever someone wants to make pretty. There are hundreds of other gems that look much better, that actually indicate to someone else what they are without having to be explained. In fact, the only real value of diamonds is in the explaining, since not only does anyone need to be told that it really is a diamond, but just how big it is or what purity it possesses. It’s not the stone itself, but the story that serves the purpose. This is reflected in all the nonsense about the cut and facets and blather, but also in the whole engagement ring horseshit as well. “A good guide on how much to spend is two months salary.” So the potential bride not only is showing off her bauble, but how much money her beau makes – and he might realize this too, and spend even more just to look more prosperous. Yet, think about how idiotic it is to finance a ring. We’re supposed to believe this is a reflection of love, but isn’t that the crassest thing ever? What kind of man thinks money is somehow affectionate, and what kind of woman demands that? How fucking shallow can we be, and how badly can we misunderstand what love is about?

Even worse, how badly can we be played? Diamonds are a commodity through the efforts of just one monopoly cartel, and that’s De Beers. They’re the ones that created all of the mythology of diamonds, including the sayings, the fake traditions, and the handy guides. They own most of the diamond producing areas in Africa, and control the vast majority of the diamond trade. Through their lobbying, the have prevented ‘industrial’ (manmade) diamonds from being used for jewelry – otherwise their value would have plummeted drastically, and yes, perfectly clear diamonds can be manufactured with only a little more effort than currently being used routinely. De Beers even maintains a stockpile of diamonds that can be dumped on the market to drop the trade value, should any other source of gem-grade diamonds be discovered in the world and someone not under their control try to market them. Diamonds are not anywhere near as rare as many other gems; the price is rigidly fixed, and way out of proportion to the efforts needed to obtain, shape, or distribute them. When we talk about monopoly companies and strangleholds and such, we never even come close to what De Beers has accomplished, and the horseshit that they’ve sold to the public.

I haven’t provided any links, and it’s for a specific reason: all of this is remarkably easy to discover on your own, and I encourage you to do so. That way, you won’t feel like I’m feeding you biased information. If you’re skeptical (and I encourage this,) you should see for yourself how much information is out there. It’s far more than I could feature in a post.

But here’s another thing to consider. Jewelry is fine if you like it – it’s for attracting attention and looking nicer, but that’s really all it does. Possession of something expensive that doesn’t serve any other function is solely about bragging, and how much do we really need that? I know it’s an old saw, but should we really seek to impress someone whose sense of value comes from how expensive something is? How much of this is classism, and snobbery, and an attempt to provoke jealousy? Most especially, is there a good reason to mistake this for any form of affection, or use this to manipulate those we claim to love?

Why not simply find something appropriate, not from the standpoint of society, but from the standpoint of personal feelings? Find something that demonstrates how well you know the recipient, or even make something yourself – wouldn’t those express your feelings better? But seriously, if nothing else, stop playing puppet to the most manipulative, reprehensible trade on the planet, and don’t fall for the bullshit.

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