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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Snobbery

Today's topic is snobbery.

Diamonds are a classic example of snobbery. Sure, they're pretty but the main reason people buy them is because they're expensive. It should be noted that the price of diamonds is artificially inflated because the majority of the supply is controlled by a handful of companies. Those companies buy up the excess to keep the prices high. See here for the history.
More details on the cartel here.

Diamonds are just solidified carbon. They can even be manufactured. It takes a microscope and a trained eye to tell the difference between a natural diamond and a manufactured one. Not surprisingly, passing off cheap diamonds as expensive ones is a popular con. Buying diamonds is a good way to get ripped off.

Another bastion of snobbery is college, or rather, a small number of certain colleges. To be fair, people do get into famous schools for being genuinely outstanding. The competition is very intense. However, many people get into famous schools because of money or family connections. Take George W. Bush for example. It is plain as day to anyone who has listened to him talk for more than five minutes that he is not the sharpest tool in the shed, and yet somehow, he got into Harvard and Yale- two of the best schools in the US. Well, I'm sure it had nothing to do with the fact that he came from a wealthy family with a history of attending those two schools. Does anyone honestly think he got into those schools because of his SAT score? If a window-licker like Dubya can get into the Ivy League, what is so impressive about them?

Besides, there have been plenty of people with little formal education who have done quite well (Edison, the Wright brothers, Poe, Mark Twain, Vanderbilt, Carnegie . . .) and just as many who got the best education imaginable and never achieved wild success.

The final area I will consider is practically synonymous with snobbery: wine. People will fork over thousands of dollars for fermented grape juice. Why? Well, it's so expensive. It must be good! The official line is that wine which has aged for a certain length of time undergoes all kinds of magical cchanges that make it worth a thousand times the plonk available to plebeians like you and me. This might be my clown college education talking, but I can't think of many chemical reactions that can occur in the absence of heat, light, or oxygen. Once the fermentation stops, no more alcohol gets made, so ageing the wine won't change that. As for other reactions, all chemical reactions either proceed rapidly to completion (fast reactions) or they reach equilibrium after at most, a few weeks. But no matter. Is it even possible to tell a vintage wine from a cheap one? Not through chemistry. In this article, chemical analyses are not even mentioned. There are plenty of techniques for detecting minute chemical changes, so why is this technology never touted on wine bottles? My guess would be that they are not done because there is no difference to detect.

I could go on: fancy cars, clothes, cigars, etc, but the point is made. Everyone wants to feel special but having certain items does not elevate you. The Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest competed for status by giving stuff away. If the competition was really heated, a chief might set his house on fire to display his wealth. It's the same with diamonds, diplomas, or wine. You might as well light a pile of money on fire.

It's all Monopoly money. Sooner or later, the game ends and everyone forgets who won.

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