Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Of Water and Diamonds

"Cecil Rhodes sold war and genocide into the countryside just to get his shine on/I fear what the beards and his peers use to do/before the world really knew just to get they mind on/making paper with slave labor/and hittin' little kids with lifetime bids/making them cut and shine stones/inflatin' the price and making 'em look nice/and I wasn't thinking twice when I was puttin' mine on/ about a young shorty in Sierra Leone/ or other conflict countries that people call home/I figured I would never go to Angola/so it never did affect me/there maybe indirectly/ that my necklace was funding a rebellion or a military cool/ started by militias that don't believe in following none of Geneva's rules/I was brushin' off the haters, tryin' to be cool/didn't have a clue that rapper was helping the rapers raiders of the villages/pillagers of the schools/shooters of the innocent/torturers of the witnesses/burners of the businesses and my bracelet was the fuel"

-Lupe Fiasco, "Conflict Diamonds"

Peace and blessings,

While reading chapter four of Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776)," he concludes with an interesting distinction between two forms of value. While there are other things in his general argument about economics and the accumulation of weath that I disagree with, I found his distinction between two types of value important to our understanding of how things are generally valued within the U.S. today. One way a commodity is valued is through it's utility. For example, he uses water as an example as a commodity whose utility is unparalleled by another other commodity on earth (e.g. water is essential to all life). The other way a commodity is valued is through it's worth in an exchange. He uses the example of a diamond because throughout history and currently, people have went to great lengths and trade many goods to acquire these heralded stones. He furthers suggests that these two forms of value are often in opposition to one another, such that water (except in areas where there is a significant shortage of drinking water) has little to no worth in an exchange, and diamonds have no worth in actual utility (e.g. the worth an meaning attached to them is purely symbolic).

As illustrated with the above quote, I figured that this distinction between something that is essential to life and something that is purely not, is important for two reasons. For one, the significance attributed to diamonds and the lengths that people were willing to go to acquire them, goes back many centuries. In addition, I would argue that the weight given to diamonds has increased since then, and infused within American culture in such a way that the acquisition of diamonds is nearly synonomous with that of diginity and self-worth.

1) More information on
  • Cecil Rhodes,
  • a British man who captialized on Africa by seized control of some diamond mines and used the money to further expand colonialism. When you click on the link, scroll down past the maps, and he is the first guy pictured there.

    2) Also, below is a
  • freestyle
  • by Christian hip hop artist Japhia Life, that addresses conflict diamonds as well. Check it out and share your thoughts. What do you think about the "diamond situation" in the U.S.? Around the world? Do you think the significance attributed to diamonds is "out of control?" If so, what do we think we (individually and collectively) can do about it? Stay blessed and speekonit...

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