Mods and 'Raqers

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(apologies for the single worst headline ever committed on H&R).

Via Arts & Letters Daily comes this interesting Time essay by Michael Elliott. Elliott argues that many observers get it wrong when they associate "modernity" with America." There are, he says, many paths to modernity and while Iraq and many other places must modernize, they needn't necessarily Americanize themselves.

A valid point and one that goes at Donald Rumsfeld's claim earlier this year that American "is truly the light of liberty and the hope of the world." Elliott's example of Crete, which he notes has modernized over the past few decades while not becoming an American manque, should warm the cockles of folks who worry about the coming global "monoculture."

Reason has been covering the cultural implications of globalization for some time now. Check out these pieces for analyses of how globalization doesn't necessarily mean American culture will dominate the planet like a Bond villain:

Tempest in a Coffeepot
Starbucks invades the world
Jackson Kuhl

We Aren't The World
American culture is not dominating the globe.
Charles Paul Freund

Really Creative Destruction
Economist Tyler Cowen argues for the cultural benefits of globalization.
Interviewed by Nick Gillespie

NEXT: Comfort and Joy

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  1. “the assoicate” –> “they associate”

    “Donald Rumsfeld claim earlier this year that American” –> “Donald Rumsfeld’s claim earlier this year that America”

  2. I love people who complain about “monoculture” in one breath and then argue the benefits inherent in the concept of E Pluribus Unum in the next.

    The inevitable consequence of exposure to other cultures is the loss of “cultural purity” as ideas are exchanged between cultures.

    The human race is destined to become a mono-culture. Short of locking everyone down to their “homeland” nothing can or should stop it.

  3. hardly. further inbreeding creates further complexity. it’s people who have no love of the attention to detail who see only grey goo.

    at the same it is terribly depressing to see fucking mcdonalds all over the place. seeing former mcdonalds franchises turned into cute new shops utilizing the old architecture does warm my heart though.

  4. reality
    Is that so? Than what is the American monoculture? NASCAR, NBA, MLB or the NFL (not to mention the NHL and X-Games)? Are we a secular democracy or we a tolerant, religious people? Spike TV or TBN? Heck, there’s plenty of differences withing the group of red states and blue states, not to mention the differences between the two major groups. All this despite a shared language and national history. Do you think it will get more homogenous when more countries modernize? History says no.

  5. Let’s not go overboard here, though. Modernization and Americanization don’t have to be the same thing, but it’s dishonest to imply that they have never been the same thing. Of course, the conflation of the two is a lot more likely to happen when modernization is imposed by fiat, rather than by free people acting on their own.

  6. Please read what I say before responding to what you think you read. I don’t know what the fuck “grey goo” has to do with anything I said.

    The distinction I’m making is between the “melting pot” culture (e pluribus unum) and the thousands of seperate and distinct “pure” cultures from which the melting pot draws and is created.

    The melting pot is the future “mono-culture” – a kaleidescopic world of thousands of seperate distinct “pure” cultures is not.

    That is the lament of many – they see unique pristine “pure” cultures being influenced (read taken over) by the greater metling pot culture which through it’s amalgamation keeps some aspects of the pure cultures and literally forgets others.

    For just one example – the the number of languages spoken on the planet is supposed to be in rapid decline. This upsets some people and is blamed on the encroaching “mono-culture” – or melting pot.

    To be clear – I believe the human race is destined to a “melting pot” culture – or what I’d call in my view – a mono culture – meaning 1 primary culture that encompasses elements from the distinct “pure” cultures “swallows”.

    There will still be distinct and seperate cultures – but remaining pure and uninfluenced by the larger melting pot culture will become increasingly impossible.

  7. “There will still be distinct and seperate cultures – but remaining pure and uninfluenced by the larger melting pot culture will become increasingly impossible.”

    Reality lives in a reality of his own making. No cultures are “pure and uninfluenced” by outside cultures. A book is an example of ‘globalization’. The ony difference between then and now is that the globalization happens far faster now. And, if I may point out, the melting pot is actually quite diverse. If all people on the planet eventually end up believing in freedom of speech, representative government, and human rights, then that’s one “monoculture” I’d like to see, but, if I may point out, even the democracies of the West are, once you look closer, all quite diverse.

  8. Also, I want to point out that I don’t really believe Elliott’s essay contradicts Rumsfeld’s statement. In fact, I don’t believe it really has much to do with the question of modernity and how various cultures assimilate different ideas and make them their own. The US economy is the global economic and political engine that pushes ahead. If the US were destroyed, I can’t be alone in believing that many democracies across the planet would fold and a global depression would ensue.

  9. “No cultures are “pure and uninfluenced” by outside cultures.””

    That’s the exact point I’m making. Please – follow these instructions.

    1.) READ THE POST.

    2.) UNDERSTAND THE POST

    3.) REPLY (if neccesary) TO WHAT WAS SAID IN THE POST.

    k?

  10. Pfff. If anything aids in the creation of a “monoculture,” it’s religion (which is, I guess, the point). This whole thing is less about a cultural convergence to 1, than it is a further expantion of what close is. As technology has improved, the villiage has slowly grown. A day’s ride is now an hour drive (depending on traffic) and correspondence travels at amazing speeds. This leads to more mixing and mingling, simply because of exposure.

  11. “single worst headline” No way Luv! It was Gear! Fab!

  12. Perhaps the monoculture complaint comes when people recognize bits of their own (usually American) culture around the world. There’s tendency to overweight the familiar and disregard or forget much of the new “foreign” experiences. I think, in spite of McDonald’s, Paris is still pretty damn French.

    What does Crete have to do with Elliot’s essay, anyway? I’m just supposed to take his word that it isn’t Americanized? Maybe there’s a Starbuck’s on the eastern half of the island that he never visits. But the folksy “my-own-eyes” preamble sure makes it sound like he knows what he’s talking about.

  13. I think Reality’s vision of monoculture is where culture does not depend on geography, and therefore American culture equals Brazilian culture equals Japanese culture etc. At the same time, as Mo points out, tremendous variations already exist within any one modern “culture.” To find the variation, you just have to read the different zines in a coffeehouse or attend different houses of worship etc all within the same city rather than travel to different parts of the world. Therefore, I agree with both Reality and Mo. But Reality’s is the cogent point here. He’s probably right that modern cultural memes will eventually become evenly dispersed all over the globe and replace the geography-specific ones of old, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Well, a little sad, anyway, to some of us, but certainly nothing bad as in nefarious or evil. And as Reality points out, it’s inevitable anyway, so we might as well embrace it as beat our heads against the wall. Just remember, that even if there’s a McDonald’s or Starbucks (or whatever chain becomes successful and ubiquitous in the future) in every major city on the globe, that doesn’t mean that everyone in any of those cities eats there or identifies with the type of culture it reflects.

  14. As the capitalist engine continually looks for new fuel to feed its never ending need for growth, it is bound to run up against cultures/religions/idealogies that, frankly, have other priorities, don’t care for Western materialism and see it as a threat. It’s no wonder that some scientists see the human race’s existence to be a coin toss 50 years from now.

    When you force cats to live in the doghouse, fur flies.

  15. The great thing about capitalism is that it creates so much wealth that more and more people have the luxury to pursue things other than mere material survival. I think, Gadfly, that you will find more people actually pursuing “other priorities” in mature capitalist nations than in agrarian economies, simply because staying fed and clothed in more, yes, primitive cultures takes all of your time.

    Don’t be fooled by the thin layer of elite priesthoods or whatnot cultivating their wa or whatever – the vast majority of people in those cultures that supposedly have “other priorities” don’t have that luxury.

  16. Reality is on the right track, I think. Things — culturally speaking — are getting more similar over time. This is obvious to an informed observer. The process is not complete, and as Reality suggests, the result is not total homogeneity but rather a mutual interpenetration and availability. Some things will be lost by certain groups, some things will be gained. Anyone who has made repeated trips to non-western countries over the last ten or so years (as I have) can see the changes clearly.

  17. reality, I DID READ YOUR POST. There are no DISTINCT AND SEPARATE cultures.

    “There will still be distinct and seperate cultures – but remaining pure and uninfluenced by the larger melting pot culture will become increasingly impossible.”

    There are no cultures that are pure and uninfluenced. Even before the 20th century there were no such cultures. Reaming pure and uninfluenced is not possible and has never been impossible.

    CHRIST.

  18. “Reaming pure and uninfluenced is not possible and has never been impossible.”

    This should read: Remaining pure and uninfluenced is not possible and has never been possible.

  19. Gadfly,
    In addition to the reasons of wealth creation that R C Dean mentioned, capitalism allows individuals to pursue a wider variety of priorities because greater economic freedom tends be break down social barriers. Look, for example, at India where capitalism has crushed social barriers that limited the choices for woman.

  20. Well, first of all, I think it is a bit strange, in my eyes, for some Americans to complain about what the rest of the world does with whatever portion of your culture comes to us. We mediate these things through the eyes of our own culture and sub-cultures. Yet some Americans treat this situation as if we are the proverbial “deer in the headlight.” As if we cannot take care of ourselves or some such; or cannot “survive” American culture. I think this is a rather stupid, arrogant and insulting attitude. We take what we want; and we create what we want. Worry about your own culture.

  21. Jean Bart: give me a break. It is — obviously — mostly people outside the US who complain about American influence. The spread of Starbuck’s is a good example, though I (as a citizen of the USA) was recently blamed for the popularity of blue jeans in China. The group of complainers includes the nation of France, which has laws against using English words in certain situations and had people protesting against EuroDisney (down with foreign investment!).

    There is no way a discussion about cultural influences and possible effects thereof is “stupid, arrogant and insulting.” More likely, it threatens the inflated European ego.

  22. Gadfly,
    I disagree with your point that:“capitalism requires haves, whose boats float quite well, and have-nots, whose boats not only sink but their sailors can’t swim.”

    It seems that, if this were true; as the masses become much more affluent, which is the historical record of capitalism, it would start to malfunction while just the opposite seems to be the case.

    I sure hope the US military doesn’t wind up in China and India, they are already spread all over the globe in places they ought not be. I don’t think that there will be any pressures for that to happen,(we should always fight against that kind of thing) or what happened in Central America where the CIA and native governments worked on the behalf of US business concerns.
    But, that episode was much different since it didn’t witness a local increase in economic freedom (capitalism) that we see, for example, in India today.

    Just because McDonald’s and Dell locate in a country doesn’t mean that capitalism has happened there. (although it can hasten it) You need to have private property rights for the native people and an end to, or at least large reduction in government control of local commerce. This seems to happening in much of the third world and with this increase in capitalism we see an increase in living standards as well an increase in priority options. This all is documented in the engaging new book In Defense of Global Capitalism. by Johan Norberg.

    I don’t think that we will see many movements to nationalize industries in the third world. The record of the disastrous results of nationalization is too well known and the trend is that private enterprise is now replacing state owned concerns in the third world. Third world folks want to get in on the capitalistic action.

    Of the “isms” capitalism seems truly unique because it’s not really a “system” but rather an “anti-system”. It’s just economic freedom; the possibilities are unlimited.

  23. Practiced in a vacuum, you could be right, Rick. Those butterfly wings fluttering in China, though, make me nervous.

  24. R.C. and Rick, your points are well taken. Sort of the rising tide lifting the world’s boats angle.

    There’s two problems with this. The first is that capitalism requires haves, whose boats float quite well, and have-nots, whose boats not only sink but their sailors can’t swim. Populist revolutions sometimes occur when things get too far out of kilter or a charismatic leader decides to take advantage of the situation. Insiders who get a head start further excacerbate the “unfairness” notion.

    Second, we aren’t using axes and pitchforks anymore when those clashes occur. As McDonald’s and Dell (representing de facto U.S. interests) go to China and India our military is sure to follow. For instance, a move to nationalize those businesses, as has happened many times in the past, could have dire consequences today.

    To me, all “isms” have at their core the idea of raising everybody’s boats but I’ve never seen one do it yet. Sooner or later they run up against another one that undoes it.

  25. Wow Rick, good job, you actually got a smidgen of qualified approval from a leftist.

  26. Just trying to keep things civil.

    Actually, though, Rick keeps his fingers crossed that nationalistic forces won’t occur on the other side of the globe as our obviously superior values creep in. It’s an outside chance but maybe he’s right.

  27. Frank,

    How is it “obviously” mostly people outside the U.S.? What evidence do you have to establish this?

    Starbucks failed in Israel; not because of some “oppressive” law, but because it could not compete. Its efforts in France have met with a similar fate so far.

    “The group of complainers includes the nation of France, which has laws against using English words in certain situations and had people protesting against EuroDisney (down with foreign investment!).”

    Hmm, actually, the only applicable laws France has in this regards is in the case of public documents, and the like (in other words, the documents that a public administrator might create). Any other law has been declared unconstitutional by the Constitutional Council (there was one other concerning the words used in advertising). I can say e-mail, e-mail, e-mail all I want to in France, or any other English word, or word from another language. That you typically blow this situation out of all proportion is fairly common of people who are ignorant of what goes on in France.

    And Americans protested a Disney historical theme park in Virginia, and killed it as I recall. You also ban vibrators in some of your states, have dry counties, arrest people in their private offices for smoking in them, and only recently lifted laws which made adult consensual sodomy illegal.

    “There is no way a discussion about cultural influences and possible effects thereof is ‘stupid, arrogant and insulting.’ More likely, it threatens the inflated European ego.”

    When did I write that such a discussion should be characterized as that? What I claimed is “stupid, arrogant and insulting” is the attitude of certain Americans concerning the influence of their culture world-wide. As to egos, I can’t say which is worse, the European or the American; but they are both indeed inflated (and for good reason in many ways).

  28. Rick and Gadfly, make sure you’re not conflating free markets with The Free Market, Inc., and free trade with Free Trade.

    “Just because McDonald’s and Dell locate in a country doesn’t mean that capitalism has happened there.” I would have defined capitalism exactly the opposite there, Rick. Capitalism is the political philosophy of looking out for the interests of Capital – that is, those with property, to be distinguished from genuinte free trade among free parties.

    Gadfly, how would a government nationalize a Dell telephone technical support calling center? What would they take, the headsets?

  29. joe,
    The definition of capitalism that I’m assuming is free markets and free trade: The seperation of trade and state.

    I would call“the political philosophy of looking out for the interests of Capital”: “Mercantilism”

  30. “The definition of capitalism that I’m assuming is free markets and free trade: The seperation of trade and state.”

    But Labor is just as much a part of free trade and free markets as Capital. Then again, so is Innnovation, Raw Materials, etc. To single out owners/investors as the defining character of free trading, as the moniker “Capital-ism” does, implies that that one group holds a priviliged place in the ideology.

    This isn’t just a semantic point. I’ve seen Reason take a lot of anti-corporate stands, when the corporations are trying to rig the game instead of acting within a free market. By blurring the line between siding with the haves vs. the have nots, and remaining neutral, libertarians undercut their credibility, and muddle their thinking.

  31. How about “capitalism” as in; where the capital flows is the determining factor, with consumers being the ones that both owners and labor(although they own a lot of equity, via stock, as well) have to answer to.

    Merry Christmas joe

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    DATE: 01/20/2004 08:08:15
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