Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Nightmare Scenario of Jihad vs McWorld

What Adam Curtis applies in part one of The Power of Nightmares is an extremely intricate application of Benjamin Barber's Jihad vs McWorld hypothesis.

First in Jihad vs McWorld, and later in Consumed, Barber presented a theory of globalization that suggested that there were two fundamental cultural forces at work in the world today: Jihad and McWorld.

Jihad, as Barber defines it, is the realm of identity politics. The tendency of Jihad is to argue that external influences are polluting and perverting the cultural identity and integrity of the group in question. Moreover, it tends to overwhelmingly be the realm of cultural conservativism.

This spirit of cultural conservatism permeated not only the theories of Sayyid Qutb -- who, as the film notes, actually found the United States of the 1950s to be too hedonistic for his liking -- as well as those of the identified neoconservative elements that emerged within the United States itself.

(Curtis' claims actually rely on an oversimplification of neoconservatism, but there's a distinct shortage of space to discuss that here.)

The other side of Barber's theory revolves around McWorld: the forces of consumerism. While Jihad is inherently collectivist in nature, McWorld tends to favour individualism, at -- at least on the surface -- seems to favour a libertarian worldview.

This isn't to say that the two forces aren't inter-foldable. In fact, Jihad and McWorld tend to fold into one another remarkably effectively. For example, religious conservatives -- certainly the agents of Barber's concept of Jihad -- have effectively harnessed the tools of McWorld, marketing their message through television, movies, music, and constructing MegaChurches the size of sports arenas.

Moreover, the merging of conservative Christianity with organized politics drug them even further into the realm of McWorld, by way of the advanced marketing tactics used by such politicians.

Barber defines these kinds of phenomenae quite clearly in his book: it's the phenomenon of Jihad via McWorld. The irony of these culturally conservative elements using the very tools with which McWorld promotes itself points to the instability within each force. As much as either would seek to insulate itself from its opposite, neither can ever actually accomplish that goal.

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