Why Does Anyone Do Anything For Anybody? Research Time, 31/07/2018

Here’s the thing about revolutionizing your entire culture’s values. It’s much easy to think about than to achieve. That gap is even more frustrating because so many of those values already exist in society – it’s just that they don’t predominate.

You see, this appears to be a pretty common theme in all my philosophical writing. At least the big projects. Ecology, Ethics, and the Future of Humanity started with problems of environmental ethics, moral philosophy, and ontology. It ended with an imperative to develop better methods of changing people’s moralities and self-conceptions.

Knockoffs do have some merits on their own terms.
Utopias is a sequel of sorts, in that it revolves around the methods, tendencies, and directions for revolutions in moralities and self-conceptions throughout a culture. And I think I’m just about ready to start diving into the manuscript now that I know how that book is going to end.

Once you’ve worked out the mechanics of how to revolutionize moralities and ethics, you have to ask what your endpoint is. For me, that endpoint is an anarchist-flavoured communitarianism.

It makes Raphael Sassower something of a fellow traveller, since he's also exploring the potentials of communitarian political economy and morality. His work will probably be quite influential in how I come to think about how communitarian values work in a civilization like ours – industrial, high-technological, in a state of global ecological reorientation (if not outright collapse).

Here's one example of how communitarian values end up creating quite a lot of prosperity. Sassower discusses the knockoff economy, particularly China’s dominance of trade in knockoff goods. He argues that the knockoff business sector offers an empirical rebuke to one of the unquestioned presumptions justifying intellectual property rights.

Not all forms of intellectual property need be respected to encourage innovation. Now, I’m not necessarily talking about art – I’m a writer and I like to be paid for my work. At the same time, I don’t exactly need every payday to be $5-million. It wouldn’t even be all that nice – it’d be too much.

Not this Gucci, no. Although he is my favourite Gucci.
But I’m talking about product designs – fashion products like clothing and handbags, personal appliances like dvd players and watches. Knockoffs don’t detract from the sales of the top label products because of the social status of actually having the proper product.* Knockoff economy businesses, meanwhile, are creating fashionable goods and appliances that working class people can afford.

* It’s a doubly elite status. Not only do you have the status of owning the proper product, but in a knockoff-dominated economy, the only ones who can tell on sight that you have the genuine article are connoisseurs of the product. Cash and hipster cred.

Preventing knockoffs actually harms the prestige of the brand, especially in the fashion retail sector, where the prevalence of knockoffs is a sign of the brand’s prestige. In all these ways, the knockoff and elite markets support each other.

This is a context where a supposedly universal principle – that innovation can only occur when patents and intellectual property amount to a practical monopoly. At least temporarily, to incentivize them with exclusive profit from that property.

Knockoff symbiosis shows how the prestige economy can thrive and fuel popular trends in fashion. It also shows that thirst for the maximum profits is not the only driver of economic activity. A demonstration for communitarian values.

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