Subject: Jihad vs. McWorld (Larsen)
Subject: JIHAD VS. McWORLD(Patel)
From: email@example.com (David Larsen) To: firstname.lastname@example.org Subject: Jihad vs. McWorld (Larsen)
Jihad vs. McWorld Benjamin Barber New York: Random House 381 pp.
Reviewed by: David Larsen
In a bleak and barren future, global social disintegration triggers the rise of ethnic tribalism. Small bands of men and women held together by common backgrounds, struggle courageously, yet hopelessly, against each other and a powerful foe. Faceless multinational corporations sweep across the land, crushing feeble attempts at resistance and assimilating all in a never-ending quest for power and profit. One day, a charismatic leader emerges and, brandishing the pristine ideals of democracy, unifies the masses and vanquishes corporate greed. Order is restored and civil society flourishes once more.
With the flair of a science-fiction writer, author Benjamin Barber lends credence to this unsettling vision of tomorrow in JIHAD vs. McWORLD. However, in his rendition, the hero doesn't win.
Barber begins by recounting the tired tale of corporate greed run amok. Bolstered by the illusion of autonomy, corporations squandered domestic resource supplies. When these reserves gave out, they went prospecting abroad rather than facing the less profitable paths of recycling or replacing materials. Only governmental intervention, at the request of the people, made alternative paths attractive. But as multinational corporations extended their reach, they became less subject to individual national governments and eventually even adverse to their meddlesome interference. At the same time, a frenzy of mergers created a class of state sanctioned monopolies that further weakened the legitimacy of the nation-state.
Even as the state foundation crumbles beneath it, McWorld's insatiable appetite drives it forward, encompassing first manufactured goods, then the services industry, and now the ephemeral information/culture industry. Products are now more than tangible items. They include the product, plus the enveloping "experience." Barber associates this recent development with the rise of MTV. "MTV is about the sound of American hot and American cool, about style and affect where nothing is as it seems, where 'bad' is good and lovers are bitches and killing is enlivening and where politics doesn't count because pictures are politics" (110). Product ads tell stories, manufacturers open self-congratulatory museum-stores (ala Niketown or Disney Stores), and endless cross promotions ensure consumers can live a carefully choreographed name-brand lifestyle. This infiltration didn't happen overnight. Alexis de Tocqueville, 160 years ago, likened advancing cultural imperialism to enslavement of the soul (220).
McWorld works by infecting its host slowly. Initially, local customs are celebrated even as they are distorted. Russian Matryoshka dolls (that fit inside one another) bear the likenesses of American pop stars. As the disease progresses, local culture dissolves entirely and is replaced by a shiny, yet altogether empty, fantasy world. Soon Moscow resembles Tokyo resembles Madrid resembles New York. A seamless universal "culture" is imposed by marketing droids seeking only to maximize profit by creating demand.
Clearly the failings of rampant consumerism are all around us. When rabid consumers purchased 150,000 "teenie beanie babies" from Rockford, IL McDonald's in a single day, and 100 million nationwide in less than a week (in many cases forgoing the accompanying "Happy Meal"), some locations began rationing the toys, and although caught off guard, they were undoubtably pleased by the runaway "success" of their promotion. In another venue, Professional Golfer Tiger Woods, by becoming the youngest (and first) African-American to win the "Masters" golf tournament, is said to have "tripled" his value. Within hours of victory, Nike advertisements bombarded television screens with Woods' childhood home movies, while the media buzzed about endorsement contracts, Nielson ratings, and other factors entirely peripheral, yet intimately related, to the event. The list continues endlessly, as does Barber's chronicle of it, but nonetheless indicates something must be done before society becomes a patchwork of sound bites and shopping malls. However, the most frequent reaction is no more productive.
Today, and even more so in the coming years, ethnic, national, familial, gender, or any of a thousand other individual factors matter little in the mindlessly mechanized McWorld. "Post-national" global corporations prey on a vulnerable working class. The exploited masses, finding no relief from impotent state institutions, fall back on the only certainty they know: tribalism. However, this response proves destructive as well, since hyper-nationalists are as likely to lash out against other groups as their oppressors.
The Jihad hydra, each head evoking the local flavour of its sinister conjuror, is a veritable "Baskin-Robbins" of social unrest. France tries to block McWorld's corrupting influences by regulating the film industry and reviving native language and custom, while local regions embrace McWorld to keep an overbearing national "French" culture at bay. German neo-nazis celebrate Hitler and call for a new order. Even in America, right-wing Christian fundamentalists agitate for a return to 19th century family values.
Jihad is worrisome, especially in the short term, but generally receives less attention from Barber because it will eventually fall victim to McWorld. Jihad's passionate appeals to common ancestry, backgrounds, or brotherhood, but generally poor funding and organization, are no match for McWorld's globally financed, endlessly plastic and omnipresent "experiences." Faced with these "startling forms of inadvertent tyranny that range from an invisibly constraining consumerism to an all too palpable barbarism," the world's denizens have little hope.
Barber's "answer" is surprisingly simple. The citizens of the world, whose appetite for McWorld's cultural products is unabated by government's best regulatory efforts, and whose festering ethnic nationalism is undiminished by generations of authoritarian regimes, must come together to form a civil society. However, "civil" doesn't mean anti-modern. Warning that "democrats should not become Luddites," he suggests neutral technology can be harnessed to ignite a global rise of confederalist democracy and civil society. If we return to our churches, schools, clubs, associations, and neighbourhoods, we can recreate the public sphere that acted as a buffer between government and markets. This same civil society will also unify the populace, shielding it from the fractious warriors of Jihad. However, the society he advocates has been crushed before by markets, governments, and nationalists, yet he fails to explain how his new incarnation would be immune from these same forces. His argument is especially problematic since he also claims these forces (except for government) are more powerful than before.
Furthermore, while he first argues that democracies (and the civil foundations on which they are built) take hundreds of years to mature, he also warns that the destructive forces of Jihad and McWorld have already visited immeasurable damage on society, leaving little time for civic ideals to capture the imagination of the world's citizenry before no hope remains.
There is a certain cynicism in his message. MTV airs "Rock The Vote" campaigns and the Women's Fashion Industry raises money for breast cancer research, not out of some sense of moral responsibility, but as a clever marketing ploy. Race is only important to the extent that it can be manipulated "to capture heroically conceived global markets" (61). While corporations _are_ motivated by profit, they are run by people -- people that live in neighbourhoods, vote in elections, and send their children to school. It certainly benefits corporations to be benevolent (through government tax breaks and "good PR"), but more intangible factors are also at work.
At times, Barber sounds less like he is advocating democracy than pining for the "good old days," when patience was a virtue, not an annoyance; books, not multimedia CD-ROMs, cataloged our history; and the altars people bowed down before were in churches, not shopping malls. However, even this is contradictory because he also berates American Christian fundamentalists for trying to "make war on the present to secure a future more like the past" (215). Forging a more civil future does not necessitate a return to the past nor a rejection of demand creation (arguably McWorld's most powerful tool).
Rogan Taylor, director of the Liverpool University Futbol Research Institute, recently completed a trip to China to study their adaptation of the game. He pointed out that, although they've been trying to qualify for the World Cup for 4 years, they've been unsuccessful because government bureaucrats tried manipulating the rules. The Chinese have "got to learn to play it the same way everyone else does. Otherwise, [they'll] never beat them." The Chinese are serious about winning the Cup. Under a newly announced "10 Year Plan," the government created soccer universities to organize and train players. In addition, they imposed compulsory weekend classes to identify and refine young players in preparation for the 2002 South Korea-Japan World Cup. They even secured national sponsors, US tobacco giant Marlboro and French consumer electronics conglomerate Phillips, to bankroll the endeavour. It would seem China has thrown open the door to McWorld's invasion. Soccer? VCRs? Cigarettes? But the Chinese government's interest in soccer is not a resignation to the unrelenting onslaught of Western culture. They view the sport as a tool to preserve "Chinese-ness." While China's borders enclose countless ethnicities, dialects, and nationalist divisions, soccer can be a unifying force that allows the populace to "feel" Chinese. Western devices can also be turned against themselves, used by the government to instill modified values in the nation's youth. "Soccer Boy" is a creation of the state, a comic-book character designed to counteract the "guns'n'guts" Western (US and Japanese) media.
Critics would also mention that cultural mingling has been occurring since the first contact between different tribes. No one really "owns" culture, they point out, but it is instead continuously evolving and adapting as it is passed between peoples. Soccer, popularized by Europeans, ironically traces its roots back to ancient China. However, never in history has the flow been so one-sided. Few Americans listen to, or have even heard of, Japanese pop star Namie Amuro, but most Japanese have heard of Bruce Springstein. For the most part, though, they're correct. Even as Western influence expands, it diffuses as it incorporates more indigenous qualities. Paul Simon may be recognized as an American musician, but his work incorporates African rhythms. Beyond the entertainment world, similar exchanges take place.
Barber is not the charismatic hero who will unite the populace and vanquish corporate greed. At best his "civil society" may temper the worst excesses of consumerism and tribalism. However, he does a skillful job forging the linkage between consumerism and tribalism, despite his sometimes cynical and alarmist tone. And while his predictions are unduly dire, and his solutions hopelessly simplistic, he offers a new paradigm for debating the future roles of government, corporations, and nationalism in our society.
From: bina patel
Subject: JIHAD VS. McWORLD(Patel)
JIHAD VS. MCWORLD. BENJAMIN BARBER, NEW YORK: RANDOM HOUSE, 1996 >
"I need that new CD..." , "I have to go get new shoes...". These sorts of sayings are not unfamiliar to most of us. We have all at sometime or another wanted something that was not really a necessity to our well-being. In the modern world, we are consumers. And the US is the epitome of consumerism.
> >The base of consumerism is what Barber terms "soft goods" and service industries. Before this, though, was an economic system based on the production and sale of hard goods. Defense-related goods and industrial production was at the basis of US economics. However, looking back over a number of years (especially with the end of the Cold War), we can see the shift towards the consumerism/soft goods economy. Entertainment and information are at the foundation of this economy, and this is what makes up Barber's McWorld.
> >He gives numerous examples of the capitalistic US dominance permeating throughout the world. For example, Michael Jordan t-shirts are worn by starving children in Africa, or two-thirds of films shown in Germany are from the US. He also discusses the use of resources by the industrialized countries, focusing his argument on the US. Capitalism is an out of control system, in which we do benefit, but at the same time has serious repercussions of those who are not completely willing or able to move with the system. His primary focus is on the media, in the forms of TV, "teleliterature", and Hollywood. These medias have so influenced society that the McWorld is lost in the system of endless resource consumption and consumerism. Luckily for the industrialized countries that they are on the consumption side.
> >Jihad movements are those that are fundamental searches for an identity and for a place in this world. This is the counter force to McWorld. The two work in tandem with each other, as one can not exist without the other. Jihad means holy struggle (Barber focuses on the struggle aspect...). Jihads would not have anything to struggle against if it was not for the McWorld immortalizing and capitalizing on the Jihads. He uses the example of American Express. The credit card will allow one to but a ticket to some remote far off safari. McWorld makes the Jihad known, and Jihad makes McWorld money. Barber raises several interesting points regarding the relationship between Jihad and McWorld. Each wants to be independent, yet each must have the other to make aid with the formation of its identity. "...Jihad has been both fostered and contradicted by McWorld's post modernity."(161), and another quote to show the love-hate relationship between the two-"...neither willing to coexist with the other, neither complete without the other.(157)".
> >Jihad, in contrast with McWorld, is the tribal struggle against the ever growing amoeba-like post-modern system of capitalism. While Barber states that there are many kinds of Jihads, he focuses on the Jihad against the "noisy soul of MTV". The economic struggle against the domineering capitalists causes turmoil, chaos, anarchy. Ultimately, Jihads are tribal movements which cause civil unrest. Jihads, while necessary for McWorld, as McWorld needs something to conquer and capitalize on, are not condusive to a harmonious society. >
>Barber's answer to the question-"How to secure a global democracy" is to synthesize the two extremes and arrive at the new (reformed) democracy in which to allow Jihadists a place a in civil society. Barber would ultimately like to see a form a confederalist democracy (similar to Switzerland). Democracy is a better answer for the problems facing the world today. The struggles of nations will be alleviated if a democracy (a kind not quite like the US) would be the goal. Through a process of evolution, not overnight implementation, democracy would create the stable outlet and balance for both Jihad and McWorld.
>While this makes sense, and in light of the fact that I think Barber undermines his own book by misusing terms, he overlooks one important factor. There is a difference between democracy and capitalism. In the same token that Jihad and McWorld need each other, democracy fosters capitalism, and vise versa, but capitalism has undermined democracy. As it is a process, Barber's solution to turn back the clock is somewhat misguided. I think that we can achieve new forms of government, but at the heart of the issue is the economics of the government. Capitalism has produced a world where we are not able or willing in many cases to move back to the basics (not tribal basics, but a happy medium). Similar to what the class has been discussing up to this point, economics are at the root of the problem, and political policies are not always a cure for them. Barber's book covers a lot of information. He utilizes the very system he criticizes, and from there still does not see the validity in Jihads. >
>He is an idealist who wants a civil society where there are no refugees, and "equal citizenship and free movement enjoined"(290). Somehow, as much as we all would like to see this, perhaps the ideal is a bit much for a world already tainted with capitalism. Conflicts among people will always take place, and it is the manner in which we choose to address these conflicts that is important. Conflict is good for democracy, violence is not. A solution to the search for a global democracy is ambitious, as trying to bring together all of these people in peaceful coexistence has been a goal of almost all societies. The world was a point where a confederate democracy existed, and from there we progressed to where we are now. Development can not be stopped in a democracy, and is perpetuated by capitalism with a force that is difficult to match.
> >Bina Patel >
Illinois State University >