Here is my favorite essay I’ve written so far while inhabiting the wild and mysterious lands of ENG 102. I hope it’ll get you thinking:
The World’s White Man
Conflict is a word for the disagreement of values locally as well as in large-scale regional upheavals. Defined this way it not only implies a clashing of ideology, but a challenge; a challenge which both Thomas L. Friedman and Kenji Yoshino address in their essays. In “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention”, Friedman advocates global economic interdependence as a remedy for geopolitical conflicts, which he says would “guarantee…that governments whose countries are enmeshed in global supply chains will have to think three times, not just twice, about engaging in anything but a war of self-defense” (173). While Friedman would advocate for capitalism and the assimilation of economic and cultural autonomy into American values in order to maintain peace, Yoshino approaches assimilation differently, through its impact on civil rights. With “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights”, he argues that although assimilation and “covering” are “often necessary to… peaceful co-existence, and even to the dialogue through which difference is valued,” we must be wary as they can constitute a “hidden assault on our civil rights” (553). If Friedman’s America and its values of capitalism and McDonalds are to the world as the patriarchal white man is to civil rights – the ideal of assimilation – then the assimilation of countries’ cultures is a hidden assault on the civil rights of the world.
Let me introduce to you a term that I came up with a couple of years ago when I was in once-heavily-U.S.-occupied Panama, where it seemed instead of locals trying to show us outsiders their culture, they showed us ours: Americanization. Turns out it’s a thing, roughly defined as the acculturation to American customs and values. Americanization today is driven by Friedman’s flattened world, or globalization, which “enables the small to act big, and enables small acts to have big effects” (Friedman 177). If in a world of free information and global influence the small can act big, then the already indomitable can dominate not only the world, but how people and cultures live, interact, and aspire. Through American TV, other countries see our culture as a standard, a hidden American propaganda. Through the flattening of the world their cultures change as they become dependent upon global supply chains based upon American values. They begin to assimilate into American culture, to Americanize, or as Yoshino puts it, “to cover”, defined as “to tone down [their] disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream” (552). Their culture and lifestyle becomes obsolete under the demands of the capitalist bottom line; they must jump the American bandwagon at the risk of downplaying their own culture, or bite the dust.
But so what? So what if these countries are turning to capitalism and consumerism and a more American way of life? As Friedman points out, “people embedded in major global supply chains don’t want to fight old time wars anymore,” bringing both geopolitical and personal economic prosperity and stability (170). But, although economic interdependence and the resulting higher standard of living may result in the stabilization of a country or region, the key word is interdependence. The intrinsic value of any culture in the globalized world begins to depend entirely upon what they are bringing to the economic table. Their cultural identity doesn’t matter anymore. What I am arguing here, or what I want to argue, is for the inherent or intrinsic value of culture itself; but this is an entirely subjective belief. I could argue for the value of a diversity of cultures, or for the contributions a particular culture has made to our collective humanity, at the risk of sounding fluffy. But I think the only way to successfully convey this value is through Yoshino’s terms of an individual’s civil rights.
If we think of countries as singular entities, collective of the civil rights of those they represent- as we do corporate bodies- then we can begin applying these terms. Yoshino uses the term “True Self”, one’s state that “gives the individual the feeling of being real, which is “more than existing; it is finding a way to exist as oneself, and to relate to [others]” to describe authenticity of personal culture and expression in interaction with others. Conversely, he uses the term “False Self” to convey a “sense of being unreal, a sense of futility.” These terms are used to describe the sociological health of an individual (554). It is easy to see how varying levels of authenticity affect the identity and health of an individual, not from an outside viewpoint, but in terms of self-worth. And, importantly, an ability to feel self-worth is something intrinsically valued in our American society today as an ideal of civil rights. Applied to an individual, lack of self-worth implies an emotional and psychological instability or unhealthiness. Applied to a country and its culture, a lack of self-worth means cultural and social disturbance, which eventually impacts the well-being and happiness of its citizens. If worth is designated by something relatively arbitrary, such as economic status, then theoretically a whole country’s or culture’s structure and identity has to be restructured, overhauled, even stripped, in order to make way for this new vision of worth. When we see human lives impacted and devalued by globalization, as traditions slip away, and in extreme cases even basic human rights, global civil rights are something that we can all value.
Yet, if some countries are in on global supply chains, there are many that aren’t. Countries, such as those in the Islamic Middle East whose cultures are marginalized, are excluded from the economic benefits that flattening does bring. As Friedman points out, these “failed regions are places we have every incentive to avoid today. They offer no economic opportunity… At the same time, this flattening process has intensified the feelings of humiliation,” over the fact that they are not able to prosper while other countries thrive under global interdependence (176, 179-180). In this case, flattening, instead of bringing greater stability to the world as a whole, perpetrates a global hierarchy based wholly on economic capacity, where some countries have no opportunity to pull themselves out of the working class in a ruthlessly libertarian system. On the other hand, however, are the countries which are largely untouched by global profiteering interests, unlike the oil-rich countries in the Middle East, and are not strongly influenced by pressures of assimilation. The ten happiest countries in the world, not rated upon economic prosperity, are those with few natural resources to exploit, no place in global supply chains, and so have landscapes largely unspoiled by capitalism’s drive for profit (Happy Planet Index). Instead of profit, these countries’ cultural values emphasize strong communities, rich local and regional traditions, and sustainability. While economically unstable countries like those in the Middle East suffer, these countries prosper culturally even as they struggle economically. The dividing line, it seems, is capitalism.
Although I have been focusing on how civil rights affect the issue of global capitalism, it works equally well on the smaller scale of individuals: Capitalism, where money and profit is the sole measure of worth, is an infringement on our civil rights. Like any traditional threat to civil rights, capitalism weights the worth of individuals based on a fairly arbitrary factor, instead of on an intrinsic human value. Unlike traditional civil rights, capitalism’s assault on cultural identity affects us all. I am not disputing the positive impacts of capitalism on us as a globalized world. Instead, I think that we should, to mirror the words of Yoshino, approach the role of capitalism in our world critically. We must reimagine a world based upon a new paradigm of global civil rights, where we value living bodies over corporate bodies, and where people take precedence over profit.
Barrios, Barclay, ed. Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers. 2nd Ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. Print.
Friedman, Thomas. “The Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention.” Barrios 166-181.
“Happy Planet Index.” The New Economics Foundation: Economics as if People and the Planet Mattered. 2012. Web. 10 April 2015.
Yoshino, Kenji. “Preface” and “The New Civil Rights.” Barrios 552-560.
(Right now am staying up late both to work on a paper and keep vigil. Hoping everything is fine with Aunt Marj after she pressed her emergency button just now, mom rushing off to check on her and possibly get her to the hospital. Love you Aunt Marj.)