A Global Culture
Our soul is portrayed in stone. Throughout history man has endeavoured to understand his place in the universe by relating himself to forces beyond his control. Trapped in his individual needs and wants, he realized his puny existence is nothing without a cause to allow him to work together with other individuals to create a society and a culture.
Armed with his togetherness, man has forever felt bigger than himself. And nothing is bigger than a building. Hence, when a building is erected to signify his urges, it is more than the plan of the architect; more than the materials used; more than the sum of its parts.
A building is an amalgam of his hopes and fears; his idea of the past; a representation of the present; a form of security for the future. It is his existence, and that of the greater force, enshrined, he hopes, for all time.
In this way our soul is portrayed in stone. In prehistory it is remembered in pyramids and henges – plans of the known universe, burial chambers for men who will become gods, observatories to understand the sun and tell man when to plant his seeds.
Later, with the advent of Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or Sikhism, our soul was our temple, our church, our mosque. A church is not simply a building, but a representation of Christ on the Cross. And when we walk within we walk into the body of Christ. But more than this, in the Cathedral, God was supreme in the city. Man was telling fellow man, this is our salvation; this is the force that will keep us safe.
During the Age of Enlightenment, a new force came along to usurp God. This was reason. In the great 18th century philosophers, man’s mind began to understand the world through science, and in allowing us understanding ourselves, what need did we have for this God? Better, we thought, to devise our own laws, our own ways – and our own problems.
Soon, our genius brought on the Industrial Revolution, and the new building was the factory, standing tall above all the rest, dwarfing the churches with their stacks. Man’s soul had become choked in smog.
We have advanced from those industrial times – we think.
Eventually we cleaned up the smog and our ingenuity advanced. God was in severe decline but man still needed to portray his soul in stone. Man, even western, atheist, material man, still needed to see his soul about him. And God was replaced by manna itself. Capitalist liberal democracy was the buzz word. This infused man with purpose in a way Christianity had never done. For this offered personal fulfilment in the now rather than a disciplined wait for the hereafter. And the bank became supreme; the trade centre the tallest structure in town. This was the new soul, the new ethos, the new credo. So that when two planes smashed the global soul to rubble, we knew a clash was coming that would define a new soul – and a new world.
The destruction of the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 was an iconic moment like no other. In a televisual world the moment became one of global knowledge. As the towers fell, thousands died, but we were glued to the screen not to mourn or think of those shattered bodies, but to witness the destruction of a building, the assault on an idea, an arrow thrust deep into our hearts.
Osama Bin Laden realized only too well why the Twin Towers were such a prize. To some Muslims he was a latter day Robin Hood, standing up for what they believe so much. To us, he was the personification of evil. We claim to be materialist, reasonable men, but the moment’s iconography brought out language of the gods. What other term could we place on him but evil?
But Bin Laden was much more. For in assaulting the western soul he made a statement for all time. He said, look at us. We’re different from you in the west. We dress different, we think different, we ARE different. And THAT is something we just cannot understand. THAT is what the destruction of the World Trade Centre was all about.
We live in a globalized world – we think. Individuality and human rights are the buzz word – we think. Free trade and consumerism is the only way to live – we think. Democracy is the only political system worth a damn – we think.
We may be right, we may be wrong. To us it all seems self-evident. But to others it is not. To others different things seem self-evident, such as Allah is Almighty! To us, it is merely superstition, but to others it is not.
So Bin Laden destroyed our soul to tell us to rethink. He sent planes to destroy our soul to remind us we are not supreme. And in doing so, he changed the course of world history forever.
His timing was immaculate. In recent times every century has defined itself by war. As the 19th century began, Napoleon took the reins of France and plunged Europe into the Napoleonic Wars. But it was more than the destruction of Napoleon that was at stake. The Napoleonic Wars had to be fought to define what a Nation State was. The wars of the Enlightenment, it was the various philosophies of empiricism and idealism that were really being fought over. And the Nation State was the natural consequence of such philosophy.
With the 20th century, the Nation State had been philosophized into the ‘bloc mentality’. Two over-riding systems were in the air – communism and fascism, with a fledgling capitalism waiting in the wings. The result was the European Civil War, or maybe the Philosophy Wars, better known as the two World Wars, as blocs fought and bled in a race for world domination.
Thus have the last two centuries begun. And as the clutter of bloc mentalities died in the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it was self-evident that a new reason for war would emerge. And thus the growing pains of the 21st century are with us. It could only be this way.
This was the true genius of Osama Bin Laden. He threw down the gauntlet to the world to define itself once more through war. And above all else he realized that true conflict comes through the clash of culture. This was the secret of Karl Marx, or Georg Hegel, as they formulated the philosophy of communism and the system that became fascism. To Hegel, we moved on through the clash of civilizations. To Marx we advanced through the clash of classes. Bin Laden realized we must move on through the clash of religions. Welcome to the Crusades II.
As you read that last sentence I can feel your shudder. It is the unspoken truth that no western politician will admit. We are after Al Qaeda, not Islam. In Afghanistan we were after the Taliban, not the Afghanis. In Iraq we were after Saddam, not the Iraqis. Our fight is with dictators, our need to destroy weapons of mass destruction, our right to remain safe from attack.
But to do so we will have to change the consciousness of those who will build new countries from the ashes of war. We will need to place western values of human rights and individuality. We will need to rebuild through western prowess and enterprise. And most importantly, we will need to sow the seeds of democracy into the hearts of those people.
In this last point, we can be dealing with nothing other than a clash of civilizations. Islam is some six hundred years younger than Christianity. So to understand the Islamic mind-set we must go back six hundred years to ourselves. And like Islam today, the over-riding cultural statement was that God was above all, and religion and state were one and the same thing.
This is the great leveller. Democracy is as alien to a Muslim country as it was to Medieval Christendom. It took us the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to destroy the notion. It took us centuries of war and soul searching and could only be achieved by ourselves. And we still do not have it right. But like great evangelists and missionaries of old, we ride roughshod through the values of others deciding that we know best. We may seem to achieve this goal, but in the soul of other people there will be a festering wound.
In this sense, we are involved in a clash of civilizations, a clash of cultures, whether we like to admit it or not. But as we go blindly into a new world of 21st century conflict, we need to keep one thought uppermost in our minds. Globalization provides more than adequately for our material wants, but degrades the spiritual out of apparent existence. The spiritual is so often defined by the local, as Islam provides the spiritual for the Muslim.
The lack of the spiritual in the west is easy to identify. It is identifiable in the rise of New Age, of off-the-shelf religion, telling us clearly that it is still there to be catered for. And without it, even the western heart bleeds. So globalization needs to remember this message. The spiritual is local. And in attempting to destroy – through war, through coercion – the local spirituality of others, they will fight to retain the sense of who they are.
Perhaps we know not what we do.
Chapter Two – Techno-Consciousness
We pride ourselves in the west with knowing we are rational beings. Everything we are, everything we do, is infused with reason, for we have understood ourselves, the world, even our inner minds. But how true is this certainty?
Back in the 1950s a new type of surgical operation was attempted to fight the electric storm of epilepsy rushing through the brain. The human brain is made up of two walnut shaped hemispheres known as the cerebrum, connected by a highway of nerves. Cut this highway and could we restrict epilepsy to one side of the brain? It appears so, but in carrying out the operation, the surgeons discovered we were two separate people.
Known as the ‘split-brain concept’, we now know that the left and right cerebral hemispheres of the brain have different functions. The left brain seems to be the scientist, the rational part of who we are; the right brain is more an artist, adding emotionality and instinct to the rational you. The left brain is essential for living in a coordinated world – without it the way we do things would be very different. Hence, in a material world, the right brain emotionality is subsumed. But when we have a fit of temper, or fall in love, it is the right brain that seems to become dominant, to the point that we no longer act like ourselves.
It is easy to see how the above concept is important to humanity. But the obvious problems it posed are so acute that the idea of the two person individual is not popularly known. For instance, with a definite emotional base to the human mind, we can see where the religious impulse comes from. Equally, we can see why, in a material world, we all seem to be becoming increasingly materialist to live within in, almost cancelling the religious impulse out of the equation. But the problem is, does this make our present material society a product of our endeavour, or is the material society we stumblingly created using environmental influences to change our state of mind to how it wants us to be?
There is something very strange about Homer’s ‘Iliad’. The writer – penning his account in ancient Greece of the 7th century BC – just did not seem to think like we do. There is no evidence of what we would call self-consciousness. When an event happens, it is not so much down to human interaction, but an inevitability of supernatural forces outside, and above, human will.
Homer appeared at a time when what became known as modern, social man was forming. The world prior to Homer was pre-history, with little narrative, other than hieroglyphic forms on statues and columns. If we go back even further into social evolution, studies of tribal societies are replete with the idea of animism.
In its most basic form, animism is the belief that below the physical world is a world of spirit, interacting with the physical world. Hence, every animal, every tree, every river and mountain has a spirit of its own. Tribal society seemed to be regulated to appeasing these spirits so that we could live safely in the physical.
Homer seems to express the dying phase of this idea, with human intellect beginning to cast aside such interfering spirits and replace it with a self-conscious rational mind. On one level, we can see this as the left brain grasping for dominance over the emotional, instinctual right. On another level, we can argue that it is evidence of the evolution of consciousness.
Such a view presents a problem. For at the foundation of our understanding of who we are is the idea that our minds are stable. The above tells a different story. And the story continues.
Harold Bloom had some interesting things to say about Shakespeare. Not so much the bard himself, but our relationship to him. The plays of Shakespeare were different from anything that had gone before. Previously, drama had been a stilted affair, with actions seemingly clear cut. The Greek dramas are the template for pre-Shakespearean drama, with a clear understanding of good and evil and right action. Shakespeare introduced human personality into the equation, and actions were no longer as clear cut as they once were. In a real sense, Shakespeare began to define what it was to be human. There had been previous hints of the human – Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ was an obvious example. But could it be that Shakespeare didn’t just define humanity, but created it?
This revolutionary idea is a simple one. Basically, until a genius such as Shakespeare told us how to be human, we didn’t behave in the way humans do now. We can easily discount the idea in isolation, but when placed in line with my above words on Homer, we seem to be on the verge of identifying evolutionary changes in our minds.
As to the importance of such a hypothesis, it is important to relate because it is becoming increasingly obvious that we are on the verge of another possible evolutionary change in consciousness.
Studies throughout the world are beginning to show that children no longer think like their grandparents. The older members of society have a mind trained to study one thing at a time over long periods and extract knowledge from the information received. Studies of computer game playing kids show they have a mind that can think simultaneously of more than one thing at a time, have a much smaller temporal attention span, and only analyse information, without grasping deeper knowledge from it. We seem to be at the point of evolving a data processing mind.
Such a change in consciousness can be seen throughout society. Take a simple enquiry with a company – any company. In the old days, clerks were hired who could do a variety of tasks and use their initiative to short-circuit the system and get things done. Today, operators can do no such thing. They do single repetitive tasks and seem unable to exercise initiative. Machines were devised to be appendages of man. With computer technology, we are quickly becoming appendages of the machine.
As well as the spiritual vacuum involved in this evolution of mind into the material, we can see a whole host of other changes. Differences in the way we see morality is a classic example. Morality requires thought, devising knowledge and wisdom from the information available. This no longer seems to go on in an adequate way. We simply do what we can do, instead of asking if we should.
But without doubt the central problem is a negation of loyalty. As the internet expands to encompass the globe, it is becoming the forum of communication, negating the need for personal relationships, and is whittling away at the concept of the Nation State. Patriotism is fast becoming a thing of the past, our main priorities seeming to be to further our technological grasp of the global. Indeed, the time is fast approaching when national borders will mean nothing at all. Only our insatiable need to process information will be king.
There are two principle problems in this which must be faced.
First of all, with encroaching globalization, local traditions, religions and ways of life are being torn to shreds, leaving us with no concept of meaning other than the acquisition of information. But perhaps most worrying is the fact that this essentially western mania for technology could well be evolving us away from a single humanity.
As the west begins to encroach more and more on other life-styles such as Islam, we need to pull back and think about the implications. Societies still untouched by the total data-processing mentality of the west still retain a hold on their right brain mentalities. In touch with their emotions, they are still aware of God. To the west, this is increasingly being seen as retention of superstitious clap-trap. The word ‘barbarian’ has even been used to explain the illogical acts of the religious. I think we really do need to ask who is the barbarian here?
Chapter Three – The New Empire
We live in a media world. Information assaults us from every angle; images pervade, washing through our consciousness like never before. It is an incessant bombardment through which we lay back, surrendered. Within this clutter of trivia, a particular form of information bombardment epitomizes the nature of what we take in – the battery of 24 hour news channels.
When a major story breaks, an amazing thing happens. In their drive to deliver the ‘news’ before everyone else, what we receive turns out not to be news at all, but rumour. Often wrong, it is later verified, confirmed or rejected. But in delivering to our screens a steady diet of rumour, can we really call it news?
Our entire media works on the same rules – even if not immediately realized. Can gossip columns be reliable and accurate truth? Take an average documentary. Again offered to us as truth, in the final analysis, it is written by a writer. Yet no one who lives and breathes can be unbiased. In all areas of information a particular writer’s attitudes will creep into the agenda. Hence, there can never be a thing called an unbiased documentary. It appears that the information and images we receive are rarely truth.
This was realized long ago by sociologists such as Jean Baudrillard. To him, media intrudes in such a way that it offers us, not a reality, but a form of Infotainment. In a real sense, we can no longer be sure what is real. Take the first Gulf War and the idea of surgical strikes, ‘proved’ by US images of laser guided bombs hitting their target. This was pure fiction. Only some 10% of bombs were ‘smart’. The reality was that B52s carpet bombed village after village out of existence to allow an unopposed assault by their tanks.
This is the true nature of our media today. It is a world of make believe, hiding facts such as the Queen uses toilet paper; sanitizing images of war so we don’t see the bodies explode. Our media can no longer be trusted to tell us what is truth and what is fiction. And as we surrender to the assault, neither can we.
This negation of truth is called advancement. It is validated by the onset of reason over superstition. In centuries past, superstition was the curse of a society. It pervaded everything, assaulting consciousness with ideas of demons, of spells, of evil all around us. The powerful used this device to mould opinion, create subservience, because only they could save us with their potion of a more powerful religion, more powerful God.
To get a social or moral message over, mythology echoed the soul. In Herakles succeeding in his Labours; in Narcissus coming a cropper for his vanity, human foibles and characteristics were enshrined in super beings. A myth took a part of the human and validated it through the supernatural. But it was a supernatural on human terms, devised and written by men who were in charge. Man was not really subservient to the gods, but to other men who thought they were gods. But have we really advanced, or is the system the same today, with superstition replaced by the bite of doctored information?
We cough a ‘fact’ here, we cough a ‘fact’ there, but are we coughing information freely and truthfully, or are we merely spouting off the perceived wisdom of the forces above us? If the latter, then information becomes a virus of subservience and we are enslaved.
And in our enslavement, information marches on, seeming to sing a variety of tunes, but in reality it sings only one. In reality, we live in an unreality of images and news which takes the information on, across the globe, and in its wake, the local cultures we used to love become stagnant, and slowly – ever so slowly – they die.
But this is clap-trap, you will say. I know the difference between fact and fiction. I have a mind of my own. I am free. I live in a democracy where choices are mine. And so you have. You can be gay. You can be any colour. You can change your gender. You can swap partner at will. You can take up any career you like. You have the choice of a varied education. You can do all these things. As long as you have mortgage, a new car, wear designer clothes, holiday twice a year, and be a fully signed up corporate man. But do anything else, such as fight for the environment, belong to a religion, or be poor, and you are marginalized.
It has to be like this, for the multi-national is king. And in creating the world of Infotainment to take you off your guard, the multi-national marches on unopposed. No matter what it makes, what it sells, there is a particular Credo, an exact ethos.
It must make profit – and it must do so by creating a culture of greed and an army of consumers. Amoral in character, this is the multi-nationals’ only purpose for existence. The Infotainment world is fuelled by the McDonalds ethic. And richer than many countries, the multi-nationals go on, buying politicians by paying for their campaigns and chomping up national economies as they advance, no country on the planet being able to say no to the financial benefits of their submission. And in their wake, local culture lies decimated.
Of course, by now, you can see this is true. But you see the only answer being a fall in your standard of living. So you’re hooked – you’ve attained your religious salvation on the altar of consumerism. Of course, you can see this is true. But a shadow of doubt remains. For to accept this you have to admit your own gullibility. And this is a hard pill to swallow. You therefore ignore. Allow it to go on. But really you are not as gullible as you think. You couldn’t have fought it even if you wanted to, for they had sealed up your mind completely.
You see nothing destroys freedom more than the idea that you have attained it. For if you are free, there is no authority to fight. You look around and see a free media, so how can a pervasive media enslave you?
It is all to do with snooker. You want a game. You place the frame and fill it with the red snooker balls. But try an experiment. Pour as many snooker balls into the frame as you can. Do so, and I can guarantee you that every time you do it you will end up with exactly the same number of balls in exactly the same geometrical shape, for the frame guarantees that you can only stack up in a particular way. Anything that is surplus will simply fall away.
The media works in the same way. The vast majority of media outlets depend on the same thing to exist. Money. Such money comes from two major endeavours. The first is sales. The second is advertising. Indeed, without the ability to advertise, they cannot exist. And to attract advertisers – i.e. businesses – they must portray a picture of the world which encourages them.
Portray a counter-picture, such as greed is bad, or business is devastating the environment, or we shouldn’t be so materialist but a Christian and the advertisers will desert you in droves.
And thus, any form of counter-consumer ethos is marginalized, guaranteeing that the only media you see is business friendly and perfectly geared to the consumerist ideal. And in this direction lies the culture-destroying reality of Info-imperialism.