How to Buy Jewelry Like a Jeweler, by Clancy Martin
For years I owned a chain of luxury jewelry stores in one of the wildest, most flamboyant, most duplicitous jewelry markets of them all: Dallas, Texas. I won’t tell you every kind of subterfuge I learned from when I first started in the business at age fifteen (the owners of that notorious store that taught me all I know eventually went to federal prison), but with Valentine’s Day coming up, I will tell you what sort of jewelry scams are popular throughout the world now. And just to make it easy, I’ve boiled them down to ten basic maxims. Follow these simple rules, and you will never go wrong in buying luxury jewelry. You’ll even seem like an expert. And that’s rule number one, which I’ll give you for free: If you seem like you’re in the know, if you come off as someone who’s in the business, most jewelers will be hesitant to try to dupe you. Never act like this is your first—or even fifteenth—time in a jewelry store. You cannot be intimidated by your salesperson. You must be confident and in complete control. Better still, tell the salesperson you don’t know much about jewelry at all—and then let slip, through the tricks I teach you below, subtle hints that convince him you’re an expert in disguise. Then the dealer will suspect you are trying to dupe him. And he will fear you.
1. All colored stones are treated.
There is simply no such thing as a “natural”-colored gemstone, particularly not in a jewelry store, and certainly not if it’s been set in a piece of finished jewelry. (Incidentally, “finished jewelry” is a term you should remember: It means a piece that has been completely assembled, rather than, say, a ring setting that is still waiting for its center stone.) So if someone is telling you a stone is natural, you can smile and say, “Oh, it hasn’t even been heated?” Now your salesperson must either admit that it’s been heated or lie to you or simply reveal his incompetence. In any event, you have established your superiority. There are natural pearls, but they are so rare that you should insist on a certificate guaranteeing their authenticity (more on such certificates below) and only buy from an established business that specializes in natural pearls. The most respected jewelry stores and auction houses in the world have been fooled into selling cultured pearls as natural and into selling treated colored stones as untreated.
VICE Meets Slavoj Zizek
We travel to Ljubljana, Slovenia, to meet superstar Communist philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Zizek. The “most dangerous philosopher in the West” talks about his new film, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, and lectures us on the importance of being on time. If you’re curious about that poster of Stalin on his wall, it’s “purely to annoy idiots” when they visit.
Watch the video
John Gray Says Human Progress Is a Myth
Haven’t we humans come such a long way? In the past 200 years alone we’ve managed to abolish slavery (by moving it to the sweatshops of the Third World), rid our lives of industrial pollution (by moving it to the factories of the Third World) and introduced peace, human rights, and democracy to various undeveloped hinterlands through long, mindless, bloody conflicts.
We really are the sparkling glint of diamond in the otherwise shabby lump of coal that is the modern world, and anyone who hasn’t tasted the ethical sweetness of Western progress surely will soon, presumably via extended bombing campaigns. We have Fair Trade acai berries, high-speed internet, and pop-up scrunchie markets; we are still basking in the afterglow of the Enlightenment, while the rest of the world drags its feet through the Dark Ages.
Noted political philosopher, author, and regular contributor to the Guardian and the New Statesman, John Gray’s latest book is about how all of that is bullshit. The Silence of Animals deals with the touchy subject of human progress, which, Gray asserts, is a myth. Considering the fact there seems to have been genuine progress in the fields of science, medicine, and technology, I was a little confused by that, so I called him up for an explanation.
John Gray’s book, The Silence of Animals.
VICE: First of all, could you explain what you mean by the term “progress” and why you think it’s a myth?
John Gray: I define “progress” in my new book as any kind of advance that’s cumulative, so that what’s achieved at one period is the basis for later achievement that then, over time, becomes more and more irreversible. In science and technology, progress isn’t a myth. However, the myth is that the progress achieved in science and technology can occur in ethics, politics, or, more simply, civilization. The myth is that the advances made in civilization can be the basis for a continuing, cumulative improvement.
Do you have any examples to back that up?
Take slavery. If you achieve the abolition of slavery, you can then go on to achieve democracy. Again, the myth is that what’s been achieved is the basis for future achievement. My observation of history is that this isn’t the case for civilization. Of course, I strongly support advances in civilization, like the emancipation of women and homosexuals and the abolition of torture, but all that can be easily swept away again.
Realness, to the Extreme - by Kate Carraway
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
Most of us suck, and most of life is sucky. Considered another way, everything is the worst. But it’s for the best. (Probably? Maybe.) That individuals and organizations and businesses and governments and even the collective consciousness are so roundly selfish and chaotic and banal and usually so ultimately boring is on the surface not so good. And yet couldn’t that consistently shitty foundation of almost everything we are and live with be some kind of necessary substructure of checks and balances? Like, a carefully evolutionary-ed trias politica, in the interest of maintaining a relatively stable level of the Fucking Worst Stuff.
Solving the Afterlife
In July, a philosopher named John Martin Fischer was awarded a five million dollar grant to oversee a philosophical, theological, and scientific study on the question of immortality. Fischer called the resulting venture, which will last for three years, the Immortality Project. The grant was given by a group called the John Templeton Foundation, and it breaks down like so: 2.5 million for empirical research, 1.5 million for philosophical and theological research, and 1 million for conferences and other expenses.
Fischer is highly respected in philosophical circles for his work in free will and morality. He does not believe in an afterlife, but he isn’t an asshole about it like some people. I spoke with him by phone from Germany, where he is a research fellow at the Centre for Advanced Study in Bioethics at the University of Münster. We discussed his project, some spectral hypotheticals, the potentialities associated with physical and non-physical immortality, and the meaning of Halloween.
VICE: One aim of the Immortality Project is to examine why and how people are disposed to believe in post-mortem survival. On that note, what would you say is the point of a holiday like Halloween that focuses on death?
John: Halloween, I think, is about the fear that we have of death, and that’s something that is going to be a central focus of the grant. Human beings have a fear of the unknown, a fear of death. It’s well known that a lot of what we do in our religious practices and in our lives is done in an effort to manage that fear, to manage that terror. Halloween is one of the ways we do that. We poke fun at ghosts and skeletons. We scare ourselves, but not so badly that we’re damaged. It’s kind of like we want to admit it and come to grips with it. The function of Halloween, I think, is to manage the terror of death.
You just mentioned ghosts. I’d like to pose a few thought experiments: Would ghosts, if they exist, have ethical obligations? That is to say, how would the quality of being disembodied affect ones ethics?
Well, you could first ask if in a disembodied form you would be able to affect people who still exist as psychical entities in the world. And if so, as a ghost or a disembodied form, I think you would have many of the same moral obligations as we do now. Whatever moral principals you accept would still apply. Interestingly, Plato famously asked what you would do if you had a ring that made you invisible, the Ring of Gyges. If you had that ring, you could steal things from the king, you could sleep with his wife, and no one would know. But Plato argues that you should still be just and moral, because in the long term that’s what’s going to pay for you—what’s going to be in your best interest, even if in the short term you could get away with some things. So here, this thought experiment is kind of like an extension of Plato’s Gyges Ring thought experiment, and I still think the same morals apply. Now, let’s say that as a ghost or disembodied form you wouldn’t have interactions with the world. Then you would have to ask, would you have a community of other disembodied persons? If you did, then ethics would still apply.
Let’s say a ghost is apprehended (busted) and tried for a fatal haunting, could one morally or logically sentence a ghost to “life” in prison?
[laughs] Well, that’s a hard one. One thing, let’s just say, uh… well, I don’t know exactly what to say about that.
Whoa, Dude, We’re Not Inside a Computer Right Now
We recently published an interview with NASA scientist Rich Terrile about how incredibly likely it is that we’re all Sims. You all loved it for three reasons: 1) It’s simple; 2) You smoke waaay too much weed; 3) You don’t want to die. But, in reality, comprehending life is a bit trickier than relying on the notion we’re all living in a reality coded by a programmer from the future. Plus, the simulation theory is basically nothing but a rehashed version of medieval philosophy that taught how everything exists only in the mind of God.
Because I don’t want to make everything too easy for you, I thought I’d try to debunk Terrile’s theory by having a chat with Massimo Pigliucci, author of Answers for Aristotle and professor of philosophy at the City University of New York.
To quote Massimo: we really don’t know shit. So stop dreaming about connecting your brain to your Playstation and get serious. Life is harder than pressing restart.
VICE: Hi Massimo. What do you think of theories like Terrile’s?
Massimo Pigliucci: I’m not directly familiar with Terrile’s work, in particular, but that’s an old idea, which has been proposed by philosophers in many guises. In general philosophy, it’s known as “idealism,” meaning the concept of what we call reality is the manifestation of a mind, i.e., it’s an idea. George Berkeley—the namesake for the Californian university—was a proponent of idealism. Although he thought that the mind in question was that of God, not of a computer.
I actually think the argument is interesting, philosophically speaking, but it has two problems: it is entirely empirically untestable—i.e., it’s not science—and is based on what I think is a fundamental flaw. The philosopher Nick Bostrom argued something along the lines of what Terrile is proposing quite recently.
What was that?
Well, the argument is that, if it’s possible to simulate minds inside a computer, if there’s an existing civilization capable of doing so and if at least some of these civilizations are curious enough to actually do so, then they’re likely to do it many times over. Just like we don’t only make one copy of The Sims, we make millions. It follows that there are likely many simulated universes and only one or comparatively few physical ones.
Given that, the odds that we’re inside a simulated universe are much greater than those dictating that we’re in a physical one, and Bostrom concludes that it’s likely we are inside someone else’s simulation. The argument is actually very clever.
So what do you find problematic about it?
Bostrom—and, I assume, Terrile—accepts a strong version of the so-called computational theory of mind, i.e. the idea that the mind is like computer software and can be “run” on many different substrates, including computer chips. While some version of the computational theory is widely accepted by neuroscientists and philosophers, I think this is far from established and I agree with the minority view voiced most famously by John Searle.
According to Searle, the mind simply isn’t like a computer, because “minding” is a particular biological activity—like, say, breathing—that is likely tied to specific biological substrates and the result of a specific process of biological evolution. This isn’t to say that there is anything mystical about consciousness, of course. Nor that we couldn’t reproduce the phenomenon artificially. But it doesn’t seem to make much sense to say that we could “simulate” it inside a computer, or “upload” it in a computer, so that we become immortal, as supporters of Singularitarianism claim.