The energy brainiacs have a better story to tell, for they have a better product to sell. Oil was a flicker in the wick lamp until it became the mainstay of a value-added industrial revolution and the fuel for new machines which altered the meaning of comfort and travel. This energy transformed lives dramatically. It also provided the death industry with a re-imagined range of armaments. It was the perfect double whammy.
Inevitably, Europe’s colonial powers seized desert nations to take control of oil wells when they were discovered in the sands of Iran and Arabia in the late 19th century.
America had enough oil of its own but got into the game because it was so cost-friendly. This colonial inequity was effectively challenged only in the 1970s when producer-nations under the OPEC umbrella finally ended price-fixing by the buyers, and then survived the bruising propaganda onslaught which followed. Half-acentury later, oil producers have become what they always wanted to be: partners, not stenographers taking dictation. This is the basis for the rediscovered self-confidence of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia. They also took the sensible decision to ensure that their governments held majority control of their natural resources companies.
Oil does not require much sales talk. We know the brand of our toothpaste, but who knows the name of the company that provides Norway’s oil or Qatar’s gas? Traditional firms like Burmah Shell and Esso advertised only when they went into direct retail.
One was intrigued therefore to find that the hitherto silent, discreet and successful Saudi giant Aramco had taken billboard space during the last Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament in India and sponsored the T20 cricket championship in Australia. Something different was happening. The wealthiest oil company in the world had clearly been nominated flagbearer of radical change in what had become a closed kingdom. Aramco is leading the reinvention of Saudi Arabia as a land of sport leadership, futuristic urban spaces, and Halloween fun.
If Dubai can become a hub of cricket, why should Jeddah not host the Olympics? Ignore the weather. Jeddah could create an Iceland in a stadium if it wanted, and in winter this port city on the Red Sea can be salubrious in the mornings. It might need an early start for the marathon, though.
The vulnerable side of the behemoth triangle is the tech industry, which is ironic since it has contributed more to genuine radical growth than the other two sides combined. Within three decades, it has reached more homes across the globe than any other product in history. It will not be hobbled by such reach, and will continue to expand because of its miraculous utility, but it has already been wounded by a human flaw—the inability of owners to distinguish between profit and greed. Greed required distortion, which they could not resist. Lifted from collegedorm anonymity to multi-billionaire world fame within a decade, they became consumed by hubris. The masters of this social universe broke the first and last commandment of communication, credibility.
Virtue turns monster
The computer revolution began at the apex of virtue, as a final-frontier answer to the continuous quest for greater knowledge. It changed more aspects of behaviour, conscious and unconscious, than any previous invention. But a branch of the net, following insatiable appetites, became the monster that now threatens the maker. Even in the grapevine of gossip, there is good and bad; most chatter is nourishing. The problem is that the bad overwhelms the good.
A remarkable platform for personal communication became a stage for mass hysteria under the cover of free speech. It does not matter where the hysteria came from, left or right; the diatribe was protected by the tribe.
This was achieved through the connivance of the victim. The Opium Doctrine was in play, and like opium it was heady. In the middle of the 19th century, the absolute monarchs of the Qing-Manchu dynasty, in power from 1644, tried to stop the East India Company’s opium invasion of China by military force and law.
Opium, with a little help from gunboat diplomacy, won. In the 1970s, the US launched a holy war against marijuana when Richard Nixon was in power. Marijuana, curated by mafia lords of Latin America, won. Once demonised as the drug that would destroy civilisation, it is now legal in half of America.
Like opium, Facebook or Twitter did not need to advertise to expand. Their model was the ultimate marketing fantasy. Every consumer became its advertiser. Word of mouth made a handful of tech companies into a Club of Diamonds, who then set the rules to serve their interests.