As a species we are inherently irrational. We are subject to our biology which still fires our neurons with inappropriate responses because it has not yet advanced from the days when ‘threat’ equated to ‘life or death’. Yet our day-to-day life is governed by processes which have a logical underpinning and we are judged through rational measures which lead to tangible results. The disparity makes us secretly psychotic (something which we fight against all the time), capable of snapping almost at any time our tolerance threshold is passed and unable to objectively address vital issues which in themselves should be obvious.
I write about social media and SEO. Both are tools which we use to work better and communicate more effectively and this post falls squarely under this remit. Social media is allowing us to hear the opinions of many people who share this way of thinking and it is forcing us to think when we really do not want to, any more. There are four areas which, traditionally, draw an emotional response form us which then leads to ‘Common Sense’ responses which, however, fail to be backed up by logic and the data we have at hand.
Why Drugs Should be Legalised
By our own definitions on drugs, addiction and the social problems they cause, alcohol should be illegal. We have the historical failure of the Prohibition era to control alcohol consumption and the rise of organised crime, around it, to thank for the fact that alcohol can be bought almost anywhere by almost anyone, today.
Common sense tells us that drugs are destructive, lead to health-related issues, social breakdown, addiction, violence and crime. Ergo they should be resisted at all costs. Yet, in the US alone, the ‘War on Drugs’ started by Richard Nixon is now forty years old. Over a trillion dollars has been spent on it. yet, we are nowhere near the end of drug abuse that Nixon so confidently predicted. Logic tells us that if something (like homicide, for instance) is socially abhorrent and we all want it to stop, the laws and procedures we put in place work to reduce it.
When this does not happen logic suggests that our understanding of the issue is wrong and that we need to delve deeper to get a better angle.
Before we go any further look at this video on the cost of the war on drugs:
The numbers in the video are compelling, yet not enough to convince on their own. Politicians, of course, cannot be relied upon to flout what appears to be common sense and apply logic when it is likely to cost them votes. And, historically, they have been pandering to every one of the problems I list here, proposing the same solution time and time again with a call for greater resources and greater effort to less and less, demonstrable effect.
One person who has been involved in this at a removed enough level to be able to have a more lucid argument is Richard Branson, Virgin’s Chairman and social media savvy poster child. Branson is also a Global Drug Commissioner charged with the task of providing evidence of the effectiveness of specific drug-related policies.
In his blog he has written a post titled Time to End the War on Drugs where he makes a very compelling argument, backed by evidence obtained from ten years’ worth of drugs decriminalized in Portugal. It is worth taking the time to visit the link but he also recounts a summary of these views below:
Adding to Branson’s voice now are an increasing number of politicians:
and journalists like The Independent’s Johann Hari who argues in The Huffington Post that the war on drugs needs to end in order to stop the countries involved in the struggle from collapsing under its weight.
Very recently, religious TV host, Pat Robertson, a conservative, added his voice towards the end of the criminalization of marijuana.
We face two choices here: A. Carry on as before. Let’s keep on parroting the “Drugs are Evil” slogan (which might lent some credence to the ‘Just say No’ campaign) and keep throwing manpower and money at it until we truly run out of both. Or B. Look for another approach which takes into account the data we now have in hand, logic and our own ability to create processes which are results driven rather than just tick the box of good intentions.
Why Piracy is not a Problem
We have been conditioned by the traditional image of the pirate ready to take by force something which belongs to us to think of piracy as a profit/loss game. Common sense (as that applied by the music industry, publishers and Hollywood Studios) tells us that if a piece of our work is in the hands of someone which has not paid for it we have lost a sale and we out of pocket.
The fallacy here lies in two areas: First, we assume that those who value our work sufficiently to really want it, somehow dislike us and refuse to pay for the enjoyment (or practical help) that work gives them. Second, we assume that every single person who has this work (whether it’s a piece of music, software, book or film) is a customer.
The common sense approach is compelling enough here for publishers, the music industry and Hollywood studios to come out with an actual monetary value here which, usually, goes into the hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
I did some original research when SOPA was first floated to see just how much actual damage, if any, piracy does to the film and music industries. The surprising thing was that in every case, books, films and music, piracy and file-sharing helped drive sales and open up new markets. As a matter of fact, in film alone, the top five pirated films for the period I examined closely correlated to the top five box office hits. If, as Hollywood Studios suggest, piracy is actually hurting sales this would not have been the case.
Yet, income for music and film studios, when adjusted for time between the 1970s and now has dropped in real terms. The reasons why have to do with the cost of production values (the average film now costs $100 million to make), loss of quality and packaging. Music studios, for instance, sell more singles now than at any other time in history, yet, because their business model was based upon making sales from albums (which have the slowest uptake now than ever) they are struggling to make money.
Publishers of even greater oddity. The evidence we have shows that pirated eBooks actually help open up previously closed markets and actually increase the sales of an author, as well as a publisher. If piracy, indeed, delivers such benefits why is it being fought against so hard by the entertainment industry?
The answer here also lies in two parts. The first one is loss of control. Music and Film studios and big publishers used to deal in what Seth Godin calls the policies of scarcity. The complexity involved in bringing a song, film or book to the market were such that only those with specialised skills and equipment could do it. This helped create a monopoly of sorts (in principle any publisher, music studio or film studio could enter the market but the entry threshold was high) which safeguarded profits, took uncertainty out of marketing and guaranteed sales.
Technology has done away with this scarcity. Now any music artist, film maker or author can bring their work to the market, cheaply and distribute it through the web. Publishers, music and film studios are no longer the gatekeepers and this is something they are trying to get back.
The second reason lies in quality. The real way for any publisher, music or film studio to get ahead today is to provide top-notch quality at an affordable price. But all of these organisations have been set up as a business. They need to produce a high volume of work irrespective of the standard. In today’s climate this works against them. Because production costs have increased, even for work which is not as high quality as it should be, each failed production adds to the bottom line deficit, which means that the few hits they get are not sufficient to cover the whole.
We could argue here that perhaps they should change their approach. Maybe they are trying, but right now their knee-jerk reaction is to try and put the genie back in the bottle by trying to get legislation enacted which stops piracy. The lobbying budget for SOPA alone came to over $150 million.
How Piracy Stimulates Demand and Helps the Economy: No piece on piracy would be complete without at least a look at how it helps do the exact opposite of what it is being accused of. For argument’s sake we will take a look at a piece of software. Suppose I need that in order to do something online which would help me make some money. Suppose, also, that I really have hit rock bottom. I simply cannot afford to buy it, so I choose to download a pirate version because, at that point I really have no choice. If my business idea works and I then make money I will not continue to pirate stuff. I value intellectual property, understand that someone has put thought and effort in creating it and I am happy to show my appreciation by paying for it. My being successful helps stimulate the economy (more money flows into it), my business may grow and I may need more stuff, and I will re-pump my money into the system. Cut off, however, from the ability to do this, my business may never even get started and, none of this will happen.
Similarly, books, music and films which get pirated reach an audience which they would normally not reach. As a result they create markets, help with branding and drive awareness of creative outlets, where none existed before.
Now, I know piracy is against the law and evidence notwithstanding to advocate that it is OK is to encourage behaviour which is unlawful. My contention here is that the law is antiquated. That intellectual protection (IP) legislation does not serve the common good and that we need to start moving towards a measure of value which goes beyond the narrow unit-price sale, we have at the moment.
Why the War Against Terror is not Working
Hot on the heels of ‘The War on Drugs’ and, I suppose, ‘The War of Piracy’ the war against terror, which initiated following the indisputably tragic event of 9/11 is another piece of behavioural lunacy which is leading us down a path where we spend resources in ever increasing amounts and become engaged in acts which become harder to justify, without appreciable results.
Untold billions have been spent in ordinance, fighting two wars, setting up new organisations, like the TSA in the US and eroding personal freedoms in the name of security. Yet, as Juliet Lapidos writes in The Slate there have been no concrete results to show for all this expenditure and loss of personal liberty beyond what would have been expected prior to them being put in place.
Studies show that the war on terror has failed to deliver peace and, if anything, has created a greater climate of insecurity, fear and uncertainty.
Former US President, Bush, admitted as much in a televised announcement in 2006:
Even more compelling is the evidence presented during the ten-year anniversary special of ‘the war on Terror’ shown at the frontlineclub yet we are still stuck, it would appear, in a carrot-and-stick approach where those we entrust to make the decisions for us, lead us down paths which generate more, not less, threat and they then use this to demand greater loyalty and acquiescence from us and an agreement to the curtailment of our liberties.
Why Education is Failing
In The Social Media Mind I devoted almost an entire chapter where I look at Boston College, psychology professor, Peter Gray’s belief that the mismatch in educational spending and the results we receive in return is due to an evolutionary mismatch. And I also look at a brave experiment carried out by the Kyrene School District in Arizona, where a different approach seems to provide some really eye-catching results.
Education has been a hot item on the political agenda of every party in almost every nation of the western world, for as far as I can remember. Numerous theories and experiments have been carried out and an incalculable amount of money has been spent on it everywhere and yet we are nowhere nearer towards finding a model of education which can satisfactorily address the needs we have as a society.
Education, as Seth Godin points out in his free eBook Stop Stealing Dreams as a “top-down industrialized schooling is just as threatened [by the web], and for very good reasons. Scarcity of access is destroyed by the connection economy, at the very same time the skills and attitudes we need from our graduates are changing.”
Creativity expert Ken Robinson argues, very convincingly, in a TED talk that one of the greatest disparities in education is that we are teaching children today who will retire in 50-odd years from now when we, ourselves, do not know what the world will look like five years from now.
Our system of education seems to be out of alignment with the needs our world asks of and the way we are being made to learn.
What Has All This Taught Us?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Common sense as “sound and prudent judgment based on a simple perception of the situation or facts”. Our world is now far from simple. There are no simple jobs, simple facts, simple situations or even simple problems. If there are they are being done, processed or solved by a program, right now.
So, what remains calls for our unique ability to process complexity and apply logic to it based on facts in order to come up with solution which may well flout common sense yet, demonstrably, work. This is not an easy world to be in. It requires input at quite a high level. It is however the world we are in right now and we all have a stake in it.