It has been over two thousand years since Sun Tzu authored the Art of War, perhaps one of the most influential and definitive treatises on military strategy and tactics of all time. Since then, would-be leaders and conquerors from across the world have drawn inspiration from his work. Since time immemorial, wars have been an instrumental force in defining our national boundaries, our political, economic and social structure- whether we’ve favored them or not. Most people despise warfare because of the toll in human life and the economic cost that always trades off with healthcare, social services and education. But until recently, war has been viewed as a necessary evil as evident by the U.S. defense budget of $716 billion last year. Then an interesting thing happened with the recent crisis in Syria. While there was a clear moral case for a military strike against President Assad’s regime following the use of chemical weapons, there emerged no collective cry from the global community for such a strike. The truth is that the world is tired of war being used as a means for achieving political, economic or ideologic objectives. Defend your homeland if attacked? Absolutely. But other than that increasingly rare scenario, war simply doesn’t add up to a positive number in the final value calculation. The battlefield that Sun Tzu originally depicted is no longer relevant. So what comes next?
It is not written on bamboo scrolls. It has not been printed in books. It has not made any newspaper headlines. Yet, there is an audible rumble in the ether that may soon reveal a new social and political force to be reckoned with. Like money, it conforms to the rules of the have and have-nots, but it is not financial in nature. It is more powerful than governments, stronger than corporations, more influential than the media and it is already right under our noses. Swag.
While it is nearly impossible to describe what ‘swag’ is, one key aspect seems to hold true. Swag is closely correlated with entertainment. In the old paradigm, governments and the military wielded power, corporations wielded money and the mass media wielded influence. Swag, on the other hand, will operate in counterintuitive ways, promising to rewrite all of these past rules. For example, here’s what the new era of swag means for:
The old axiom: A government is more powerful than any one individual.
The Swag axiom: An individual is more powerful than any government, and way more interesting.
Nothing new or truly creative has happened in the halls of any government since its inception. Who would you rather sit down to chat with for thirty minutes, Obama or Robert Downey, Jr? Might be a tough call for some, but not for most. Take home message to governments: Understand your function in the new era and adapt. The political system is not interesting to anyone anymore. Yes, it inspired some cool espionage movies, but you can’t keep taking credit for Matt Damon’s work. Get in line quick or risk being dismantled for something with more swag.
Old axiom: Corporations are the most efficient factors of production for tangible and intangible products, including music, film and art.
The Swag axiom:While corporations may continue doing a fine job of making our toothbrushes and vitamins, they’ve got no swag when it comes to intangible products.
The committee mentality of corporations always cause any truly creative product to regress to the mean. When a group of people are involved in any creative decision, the result is a mediocre offering so devoid of swag that is has no value in the new era. Meaningful music, film or art can only come from an individual. The enterprising corporations recognize this and have switched their focus to bankrolling the already-successful, creative individuals. Interestingly, this axiom also seems to hold true for intangibles such as financial products or telecom services. How many more billion-dollar class action lawsuits can Bank of America withstand for defrauding customers with its intangible fee practices? Let’s see. Take home message to corporations: Stick to making tangible items cheaper, better and faster than your competitors. When it comes to intangible products, just realize that you’re hopelessly out-swagged and will eventually have to resort to unscrupulous practices to show a profit.
Old axiom:Mass media shapes people’s preferences and beliefs.
The Swag axiom: The individual determines their own preferences and beliefs through exposure to an unlimited and un-vetted body of information via the web and social media.
It doesn’t matter where something comes from or who wrote it. All that matters is whether or not it resonates with you. Besides, when is the last time you actually bought a magazine off the news stand or watched the nightly news? Take home message to mass media: Give up on trying to play God with people’s minds. The best thing you’ve got going for you is communication infrastructure. Keep that running well and leave the interesting content to individuals with creativity and yes, swag. That last thing the world wants to see is another season of American Idol or the Bachelor.
Old axiom:Your financial success is more important than your relationships.
The Swag axiom: Family and relationships come first.
Your primary relationship and your family is the foundation upon which all true success is built. The most expensive marble table will fall to pieces and be worthless if the legs give out. Somehow, this wisdom got lost over the years in favor of materialism and narcissism. Now, proponents of that mentality are lonely, unhappy, and stuck with three sets of alimony payments. Hmm, couldn’t see that coming during the ‘I’m about my paper, bitch’ hip-hop era of the last two decades.
Old axiom: Being a billionaire is the highest aspiration a person can hold.
The swag axiom: Billionaires are completely swagless.
Swag is authentic and founded upon the personal struggle to assert one’s own complex and often conflicting identity upon the world. It needs no money behind it, it needs no executive team behind it, and it needs no corporate sycophants rallying behind it. Swag and the entertainment value it holds is the new world currency. Why do you think all of these billionaires are frantically trying to rewrite their legacy by buying their way into charities and rallying behind social causes? You can’t buy love, baby. And you can’t buy swag. Take home message to would-be billionaires: The big lesson of the past few decades is just how quickly things go to hell when money becomes the operating criteria. Evidence of its corrupting effect is clear in every sector- government, higher education, healthcare, banking, media, you name it. Trust me, what didn’t work for these sectors, isn’t going to work for you. Take money out of the discussion when establishing your priorities and give your swag a chance to breathe.
Old axiom: You can create any image or backstory for a person or product and people will eventually buy into it.
The Swag axiom: Swag is all about authenticity.
By authenticity, I mean basic self-acceptance. It’s our strengths and our vulnerabilities that make a person intriguing. Authenticity also plays out through our deeds. It’s also about the willingness to eschew a steady paycheck in order to pursue something that is personally meaningful. In other words, swag can’t be fabricated – not by a corporation and not by you. It must be earned.
If history proves correct, what began as a rumble in the ether will likely turn into a mighty roar as this new paradigm rewrites all of the rules and assumptions of the past era. Which brings me to the couple pictured in this article. I first met Millennium when they performed at a Los Angeles night club nearly two years ago. After watching the third flannel and jeans wearing rock band exit the stage, Millennium came on and I suddenly woke up. Stryker walked on stage wearing a gold fur, goggles and giant black combat boots and Sapphire followed sporting a metallic silver body suit and white fur boots. As I was making my way to the main bar, they tore into the first song of their set generating a wall of sound unlike any of the other acts. They delivered song after great song, moving around the stage in a euphoric cyclone. Then suddenly, their set was over and they were gone from the stage. Later that night, I spotted Stryker with his arm around Sapphire in the VIP area splitting a bottle of red wine. Both were laughing and talking with a trio of people outside the velvet ropes. In the deafening roar of the club, I had an epiphany. Swag. The word just popped into my head. I couldn’t remember any of the other artists’ songs that night- they all seemed to meld from one into the other. But I remembered Millennium and their music.
By the time I had organized my thoughts for this article, Millennium was already generating a buzz and I knew I wanted to feature them. Sure enough, when I typed in the URL for their website www.WhoIsMillennium.com, there on the home page in bold type was a quote from another magazine ‘Sultans of Swag’. I felt a rush of excitement, like a scientist who had just had his results confirmed by another scientist. It wasn’t just me. Swag was real.