[OPE] From globalisation to ghettoisation (redux)

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@tiscali.nl)
Date: Sat Jul 26 2008 - 11:55:08 EDT

As I have argued on the lists from 2003, I think that the historic culmination of the "globalised" economy (symbolised by the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989) in which everything is "open", is a species of "ghettoisation" (symbolised by Israel's West Bank barrier), which need not be spatial or economic, but could be social, cultural, communicative etc. The more it is technically possible to reach into every aspect of other's lives, the more people respond by creating new boundaries and new codes of inclusion and exclusion, so that in truth they live increasingly in separate social worlds. 

In this regard, Sean Collins has an interesting review of a new book that's worth a read:

"In The Big Sort, journalist Bill Bishop argues that Americans are increasingly clustering into enclaves of the like-minded - with people who share the same ways of life, beliefs and political views. In other words, the same lifestyles. This leads to a splintering of the country, as those whose lifestyles are different are likely to live in another area, which itself is likely to consist mainly of the like-minded." 

This incidentally gives a new twist to the concept of "pluralism" (the subject of a new HM conference). 

Marxists have usually understood this term in a liberal, democratic or postmodernist way, borrowing from bourgeois theory, to refer to an acknowledgement of other voices and different viewpoints, or as an organisational device to unify different leftist sects and fragmented groups, in the afterglow of the breakup of Stalinist and Maoist monolithism. But the radical content of the concept of pluralism nowadays really refers to something rather different: the willingness to scale and cross the walls defining social space among a plurality of separated groups - walls which already keep whole communities of people in separate life-worlds and thought-territories, which in reality may even not interact much anymore with each other at all, because they are more or less self-sufficient and self-reproducing.

In the Biblical book of Genesis, you can read about the spiritual crisis which ensued after God punished men for their arrogance of building the Tower of Babylon, by confounding the peoples with a plurality of tongues, while they originally spoke the same consensual language. It creates an apparently irresolvable and endless battle (or negotiation) over whose meanings will prevail. This could of course be read as a metaphor for a phase in the development of human beings when meanings are rapidly transformed or redefined, or as a phase in sexual development when people are reborn. But in modern times, it could also be seen as a real trend of an increasingly "multipolar" and unequal world - a situation which increasingly exists within America itself, and which America therefore projects on the rest of the world.  The more the media project an image of cultural uniformity, the more people retreat to their own meanings - meanings not easily accessible to outsiders or even alien to them.

In this sense, the American imperialist thinker Zbigniew Brzezinski struggles with the paradoxes of "the political definition of the human being itself", which, he argues, raises worrying long-term questions. Egalitarianism is not a concept which jells well with American culture other than in a vague sense of fairness (equitability), but he nevertheless senses something vital is at stake:

"The traditional linkage of political liberty and political equality - a legal concept that is central to the functioning of a democracy - was derived from the idea that "all men are created equal", a conviction that the process of human creation is inherently egalitarian. But preferential human enhancement, by selectively manipulating the elemental code that defines the parameters of human possibility, could imperil that idea and all the political and legal constructs based on it. What becomes of the axiom of equality when some individuals' intellectual and moral capacities are artificially magnified far beyond those of others? The danger is that some states may be tempted to pursue preferential human enhancement as a national policy. In the past, a selfcentered sense of innate superiority on the part of certain peoples provided the justification for colonial exploitation, slavery, and in the extreme case, the monstrous racial doctrines of the Nazis. What if such superiority, rather than being merely a self-serving illusion, should become real? Perceptible differences in intelligence, health, and longevity between people could challenge the very unity of humanity that globalization is said to be advancing, and the very democracy that America seeks to promote." (The Choice, p. 209). 

That's a sort of liberal middleclass concern that class differences should not become too great. But if he was less concerned with foreign policy and looked more inwards at the shape of America itself, he would have to conclude that the social distance between the oligarchy and a large underclass is already so great, that it is becoming unbridgeable, causing a retreat to one's own cultural territory or lifesphere. In reality, among the emerging "gated communities" around the globe, the process he refers to is already fully happening, powerfully assisted by the economic leverage and monopolistic market position which "effective control over the access to strategic resources" provides.


Theres so many different worlds
So many differents suns
And we have just one world
But we live in different ones

- Dire Straits, "Brothers in Arms".

ope mailing list

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Jul 31 2008 - 00:00:10 EDT