The Global Monoculture

By Features, Maude Barlow Third World Network | Manila Bulletin, September 3, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Global Monoculture


Features, Maude Barlow Third World Network, Manila Bulletin


GLOBAL cultural homogenization is sweeping the world. Indian physicist and activist Vandana Shiva calls it ''monoculture of the mind.'' Dominated by US and Western values and lifestyles, driven by a consumer-based, free-market ideology and carried through the massive US entertainment-industrial complex, the global monoculture has infiltrated every corner of the earth.

In China, Latin America, the Pacific Region, South America, Africa and the industrialized world, young people want Nike sneakers, Gap clothes, Michael Jordan Tshirts, the latest CDs, Hollywood blockbuster movies, American television and massmarket books. Around the world, North American corporate culture is destroying local tradition, knowledge, skills, artisans and values.

Artisans groups trying to sell their products locally have been wiped out by global fashions. Much more than an economic problem, the decline of artisanship may be consuming some of the world's older traditions and finer crafts and eroding the world's cultural diversity, with little notice.

There are no clear estimates of the number of artisans in the world, although some crafts groups believe it is the largest employer outside agriculture. Says the Toronto Globe and Mail's John Stackhouse, "With each endangered craft are centuries of songs, expressions and lifestyles that are part of an artisan's creative environment."

Nawal Hassan, an Egyptian artisan-activist, adds, "This is an issue of identity. All our civilization has ceased to be spiritual. Our civilization has become commercial."

Combined with the destruction of the habitat of aboriginal citizens in many parts of the world, this assault on local cultures is having a profound impact. Hundreds of languages spoken today are lost each decade and it is estimated that one-half of the world's 6,000 languages will no longer be spoken or read by the end of the 21st century.

Technology is also advancing one culture and one language. The US has more computers than the rest of the world combined. English is used in 80% of websites, yet fewer than one in 10 people worldwide speak the language. Everywhere, Internet access divides educated from illiterate, rich from poor, young from old and urban from rural.

For many countries feeling the deadening and harmonizing impacts of economic globalization, protecting cultural diversity has become as important a fight as preserving biodiversity.

Many societies, particularly indigenous peoples, view culture as their richest heritage, without which they have no roots, history or soul. Its value is other than monetary. To commodify it is to destroy it.

There is a growing sentiment in many parts of the world that culture is not just another product like steel or computer parts. Through funding programs, content regulations and other public policies, countries have encouraged their own artists and cultures and tried to maintain some space for their own intellectual creations.

Culture as business

The entertainment-industrial complex, on the other hand, sees culture as a business - a very big business that should be fiercely advanced through international trade agreements like the World Trade Organization (WTO). This industry combines giant telecommunications companies, cable companies and the Internet, working together in a complex web. The productions issuing from this superweb include publishing, films, broadcasting, video, television, cable and satellite systems, mega-theatre productions, music recording and distribution, and theme parks.

Mass-produced products of popular culture are the biggest US export, according to the United Nations 1999 Human Development Report. A huge, well-organized coalition links the US entertainment, media and information technology sectors in a "common front" to oppose cultural protectionism. Companies such as AOL Time-Warner and Disney have powerful friends on Capitol Hill Land in the White House. …

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