Social Engineering & Commodification of Global Culture

Recently, with globalisation, liberalisation, with changing relationship between genders, the resurgence of fundamentalism almost as a convulsive by-product of the shrinking space for cultures to exist in sheltered isolation, I thought we’d look briefly at the commoditisation of global culture. We have touched on a similar article recently. What spurred me on to this aspect was the need to understand some of the political and social dynamics of changing world order, the potential for emergence of new world powers, and possibly devise some tests as to see whether we are really an open society or whether we are living in a culture that is fashioned by a hidden elite.

Social engineering can be used as a means to achieve a wide variety of different results, as illustrated by the different governments and other organizations that have employed it. Social engineering is a concept in political science that refers to efforts to influence popular attitudes and social behaviour on a large scale, whether by governments, large multi-nationals, clandestine special-interest groups, or private groups. In the political arena the counterpart of social engineering is political engineering.

For various reasons, the term has been imbued with negative connotations. However, virtually all law and governance has the effect of changing behavior and can be considered “social engineering” to some extent. Prohibitions on murder, suicide, littering, fraud and rape are all policies aimed at discouraging perceived undesirable behaviors. In British jurisprudence, changing public attitudes about a behaviour is accepted as one of the key functions of laws prohibiting it. The most effective way for “social engineering” is through mass media and especially audio-visual broadcasting. Governments also influence behavior more subtly through incentives and disincentives built into economic policy and tax policy, for instance, and have done so for centuries.

In practice, whether any specific policy is labeled as “social engineering” is often a question of intent. The term is most often employed by the political right as an accusation against anyone who propose to use law, tax policy, or other kinds of state influence to change existing power relationships: for instance, between men and women, or between different ethnic groups. Political conservatives in many countries accuse their opponents of social engineering through the promotion of politcal correctness, insofar as it may change social attitudes by defining “acceptable” and “unacceptable” language or acts.

In his classic political science book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, volume I, Karl Popper examined the application of the critical and rational methods of science to the problems of the open society. In this respect, he made a crucial distinction between the principles of democratic social reconstruction (called ‘piecemeal social engineering’) and ‘Utopian social engineering’

“the piecemeal engineer will adopt the method of searching for, and fighting against, the greatest and most urgent evil of society, rather than searching for, and fighting for, its greatest ultimate good.” For him, the difference between ‘piecemeal social engineering’ and ‘Utopian social engineering’ is “the difference between a reasonable method of improving the lot of man, and a method which, if really tried, may easily lead to an intolerable increase in human suffering. It is the difference between a method which can be applied at any moment, and a method whose advocacy may easily become a means of continually postponing action until a later date, when conditions are more favorable. And it is also the difference between the only method of improving matters which has so far been really successful, at any time, and in any place, and a method which, wherever it has been tried, has led only to the use of violence in place of reason, and if not to its own abandonment, at any rate to that of its original blueprint”

What is Neoliberalism?

1979 was a hallmark year for the destiny of the contemporary Global Order. That was the year of a new modus-operandi: a way of controlling the world as have never been seen, a year in which Margaret Thatcher, the prime-minister of Great Britain implemented a Socioeconomic construct that embraced Economic Social-Darwinism, ousting classical theories of nation-state economics.

According to French Economic analyst Pierre Bourdieu (1998), ‘the neoliberal utopia tends to embody itself in the reality of a kind of infernal machine, whose necessity imposes itself even upon the rulers. They want independent central banks. And they preach the subordination of nation-states to the requirements of economic freedom for the masters of the economy, with the suppression of any regulation of any market, beginning with the labour market, the prohibition of deficits and inflation, the general privatization of public services, and the reduction of public and social expenses’ (p36).

Tracing its conceptual pre-natal origins to Friedrich von Hayek, an Austrian Philosopher-Economist, it sprouted ‘from a tiny embryo at the University of Chicago’ (George, 1999) developing into an expansive doctrinal network of internationally dispersed foundations, institutes, research centers, and academia whose sway today frame the World Order Agenda: the basis of the Washington Consensus.

In 1979, Margaret Thatcher, the British Prime-minister, and a disciple of Hayek, developed this proliferating doctrine into a social and economic program, the justification for whose arbitration she coined under the acronym TINA: There Is No Alternative.

Since then, Neoliberalism has become an intercontinental alliance, forged under the auspices of a historically burgeoning agenda whose traces could be tracked through the joint movements and inclinations of the European banking order, social theorists, and political scientists and luminaries.

Today, its deliberately orchestrated effect on culture is as profound as it is subversive, as compelling as it is timely to examine.

Neoliberalism Globalization as a Cultural Phenomena

Though based on theoretical and economic models, Neoliberalism is a profoundly subtle but deeply transforming Cultural Phenomena. The theoretical and economic surefootedness of neoliberalism lies in its wanton perpetuation and acceptance as a cultural form, perpetrating its doctrine through cunning principles and technologies of Bio-Power.

As Jim McGuigan, an acclaimed sociologist, expresses ‘Theoritical critique of neo-liberal thought and practice is necessary but what captures my attention most, as a culture analyst rather than a political economist, is the command of neo-liberalism over popular consciousness and everyday life’ (2004).

Free trade zones open themselves up to the deluge of millions of products and services and a good proportion of them are cultural, though in a sense not understood hundred years ago.’When all forms of communication become commodities, then culture, the stuff of communications, inevitably becomes a commodity as well. And that is what’s happening. Culture-the shared experiences that give meaning to human life- is being pulled inexorably into the media marketplace, where it is being revamped along commercial lines’ (Rifkin, 2000: 140).

The Culture of Neoliberalism is a brand name culture and the careful bio-political manipulation of these ingredients of human consumption define a transformation of Culture that creates new sanctions on who buys what, who views what, who eats what, leading to an anaesthetized normalization of the human psyche.

‘Psychologist Robert J. Lifton calls this new generation ‘protean’ human beings’they expect to get their software for free but are willing to pay for services and upgrades. They live in a world of seven-second sound bites, have short attention spans, and are less reflective and more spontaneous. In fact, their lives are far more temporary and mobile and less grounded than their parents’.

‘While they are less able to compose a written sentence, they are better able to process electronic data. They are less analytical and more emotive. They think of Disney World and Club Med as the ‘real thing,’ regard the shopping mall as the public square, and equate consumer sovereignty with democracy. They spend as much time with fictional characters on television, film, and in cyberspace as they do with peers in real time’ (Rifkin 2000: 187).

.Further, ‘These protean men and women are less interested in history but are obsessed with style and fashion’Customs, conventions, and traditions, on the other hand, are virtually nonexistent in their fast-paced, ever changing environment’ (Rifkin 2000: 187).Neoliberal Normalizaiton

The eradication of a national, traditional, and spiritual consciousness is critical and part and parcel to the Neoliberalization of the World Order. Insomuch on the surface it is not a bad idea as it destroys nationalism, rigid mores, and religious mandates. However, Neoliberalism intends to replace those old hearth values with new Corporate ones, creating an essential global bourgeoisie that it normalizes through a double speak, selling commercialization and free market choices as democracy.

Neoliberal influence in the media is deeply instilled and resonates concomitantly with not only a Washington Consensus, but also a Mass broadcast consensus, a Hollywood Consensus, and a European Union Consensus. It has systematically organized the structuralization of a carefully engineered rhetoric through a school of policy experts whose messages by the virtue of sheer repetition creates a widespread ‘normalizing’ of the masses, creating the ingredients for a new bourgeoisie.

Pierre Bourdieu with the aid of Loic Wacquant (2001) identifies two types of these experts. ‘First there is ‘the expert’ proper employed in ministries, company headquarters and think tanks whose task is to come up with technical justifications and scenarios for neo-liberal policy decisions that are actually made on ideological rather than spuriously technical grounds.’Second, ‘there is the communication consultant to the prince’, who is not only your run-of the-mill spin-doctor but a much grander type as well. The consultant may be a ‘defector from the academic world entered into the service of the dominant, whose mission is to give an academic veneer to the political projects of the new state and business nobility (p5).

with the aid of identifies two types of these experts. (p5).‘Bourdieu and Wacquant argue that what they call ‘New Liberal Speak’ is a ‘new planetary vulgate’. Certain words are repeated continually, such as ‘globalisation’, ‘flexibility’, ‘governance’, ‘employability’, ‘underclass’, ‘exclusion’, words that are difficult for any of us to avoid using. Other words are not so speakable in polite company, indeed virtually unspeakable, such as ‘class’, ‘exploitation’, ‘domination’ and ‘inequality’ (McGuigan, 2004).

(McGuigan, 2004).Further this Normalization is systematically institutionalized through Socialized Primary and to a greater degree Secondary Public Education, which by the virtue of its ‘factory-production’ setup, becomes a pliable technology of bio-power, its administrators and board of directors obeying Neoliberal systemization, transacting the crucial implementation in exchange for self-preservation.

According to McGuigan (2004) We are witnessing the neo-liberalisation of the public sector itself, not only in cultural institutions in the narrow sense but also in areas such as education’ (p7).

Public Education becomes a highly charged incubator for creating the new consumer, the new citizen, and the new liberal. It becomes a playground, a museum, a repository, and a carnival for brand marketing, its apparatuses of ‘education’ become conventions for a predictable and no-alternative lifestyle based on SAT and Advanced Placement exams produced by independent contractors such as the ‘College Board’.

The process could be summed up as a ‘Bottom-Line-thinking Education Service’ bent on the socialization of the Corporate world and the neoliberal doctrine through viral marketing, rule mandates, ‘legal’ norms, fundamentally anti-introspective, and inherently obedience based, carefully sustained through a psychologically brutal and conniving double speak called ‘Individuality’ and extended through pseudo-ideas promoting ‘Equality’, ‘Tolerance’, ‘Diversity’, and ‘Positive discrimination’.
Cultural Capitalism

The agenda of free-trade is inherently an agenda of ‘Cultural Capitalism’. Using shells of old cultures and vestiges of marginally extant tradition as familiar icons and anti-icons, creating a set of customized ‘diverse’ and ‘international’ homogenously inspired products aimed to generate maximum profit and address a fundamental consumption based solidarity sugarcoated and sold as ‘Equality’, ‘Diversity’ and of course, ‘Globalization’. This is Cultural Capitalism. According to Jeremy Rifkin (2000), (‘Cultural production is beginning to eclipse physical production in world commerce and trade’ (p8); ‘This is the era of cultural capitalism’ McGuigan 2004).

‘By Cultural Capitalism, Rifkin does not just mean the priority of an information and service economy over an industrial economy, he means the commercialization of experience itself’ (McGuigan 2004). All economy and culture are coming closer to the prototype cultural industry of Hollywood, dealing in dreams and meanings. In this ‘Weightless economy’the physical economy is shrinking (Rifkin 2000: 30).

(McGuigan 2004). All economy and culture are coming closer to the prototype cultural industry of Hollywood, dealing in dreams and meanings. In this ‘Weightless economy’the physical economy is shrinking (Rifkin 2000: 30).Additionally, the gatekeeping function of the new Culture Capitalists creates a widespread commercialization of a few brand genres keeping out a larger output of local innovation and originality through high barriers to entry, making these virtually imperceptible and financially bankrupt in the deluge of cultural systemization, hyper-marketing, and iconization of a few select artists.

Pierre Bourdieu observes ‘And yet the world is there, with the immediately visible effects of the implementation of the great neoliberal utopia: not only the poverty of an increasingly large segment of the most economically advanced societies, the extraordinary growth in income differences, the progressive disappearance of autonomous universes of cultural production, such as film, publishing, etc. through the intrusive imposition of commercial values’ (p37).

observes (p37).The implications are decidedly, what McGuigan calls, ‘sinister’. ‘The goal of cultural capitalism is to commodify human relationships tout court, catching them young, cultivating and servicing their every need, deploying something called R (relationship) technologies. As Rifkin (2000: 171) says, ‘Marketing is the means by which the whole of the cultural commons is mined for valuable potential culture meanings that can be transformed by the arts into commodifiable experiences, purchasable in the economy’. Further on, he observes, ‘The culture, like nature, can be mined to exhaustion’ (p247).

The Final Question of Sustainability

Neoliberal Globalization is becoming unsustainable. The pressures being put on the psychological and social constructs of Societies and Communities, and inequity between extant generations, the strange and artificial complexities convoluting the norms of human relationships and exchanges, are gradually intensifying creating both repressed and expressed discontent worldwide.
‘Globus’, a Globalization think tank and policy guild based in Netherlands with Neoliberal underpinnings, even revealed in its December 1999 Berlin Conference on 21st. Century Social Dynamics: Towards the Creative Society , ‘‘ it is of paramount importance to gain legitimacy for this action (corporate globalization) in the world’s civil society directly, via public opinion. It is difficult to give shape and substance to democracy on the international level. Relying on propaganda is risky because it can only produce support for a limited period of time. We can increase the involvement of the public by informing them honestly and by listening carefully to the signals coming from citizens and NGOs’ (p6).

Globalization has become so far reaching and the Corporate doctrine so pervasive that it affects every aspect of life. It has ceased to be pure theory and has become a causality in on itself. The scope of influence is so large in its penetration, its rejection can also be equally expansive, beginning with community advocacy, resource sharing; and burgeoning into larger, more tangible awareness as the inevitable Economic and Social destabilization sets in.

Globus itself posits ‘ Indeed, people have already started to counter-react against effects of primary globalisation: 1. People react against the globalisation of American images and values by stressing their own roots and local identity. 2. People react against the primacy of technology and economy by (re)exploring emotions and spiritual values. 3. People react against universal materialism by stressing non-materialist values. 4. People react against the pooling of governance capacity on the supranational scale by demanding decentralization and decisions nearby 5. People react with fear against alienation caused by the further abstraction inherent in globalisation 6. People react against insecurity by looking for scapegoats, by demanding ‘protection from the terrifying foreign’- be they foreign refugrees, foreign cultures, foreign products or foreign investors. 7. People react against ecological degradation by formulating alternative values and action programmes in the sustainable development paradigm.’ (p9)

This highly charged lifestyle has a rate of quick burnout, and destroys the fundamental solicitude required by human beings to meaningfully process experiences. The generation born after 1980 shows the excruciating signs of wear and tear, the psychological world of ‘options’ taking an immense toll on experiential metabolism. Suicide rates, codification of all forms of communication have created a frightening apathy. Creating virtual slaves out of an entire generation brainwashed through the last iota of perception to be model servants within the new machine.

Jeremy Rifkin (2000) comments, ‘If the capitalist system continues to absorb large parts of the cultural realm into its sphere in the form of commodified cultural products, productions, and experiences, the risk is very real that the culture will atrophy to the point where it can no longer produce enough social capital and thus support an economy’ (p245).

comments, (p245).Ironically the only thing that allows Neoliberal Globalization to continue is the vestiges of the old order, the exploitation and re-ornamentation of previous norms, expected to seamlessly blend into the manifestation of the doctrinal new world order.

Pierre Bourdieu (1998) observes, ‘..in reality what keeps the social order from dissolving into chaos, despite the growing volume of the endangered population, is the continuity or survival of those very institutions and representatives of the old order that is in the process of being dismantled, and all the work of all of the categories of social workers, as well as the forms of social solidarity, familiar or otherwise’ (p38).

observes, (p38).In the words of Globus (1999) ‘ community sustainability’ sustaining human communities as valuable systems in their own right. This involves maintaining or enhancing the community’s economic and socio-cultural well-being, its cohesiveness, and the long-term health of the relevant human systems’ (p13)

Alternatives in Sustainability: The Other New World Order

The sustainability of Globalization would necessarily then posit a systemic restructuring of Society along traditional lines, in the sense, promoting order instead of so called ‘normalization’, reason instead of so called ‘spontaneity’. As a cultural phenomena Neoliberalism has eviscerated binding community ties, alienated filial bonds, distorted the capacity to perceive by engineering a mechanized and deliberately repressive public education generating an unprecedented well of apathy and ineptitude.

The sustainability of Globalization would require dismantling these ‘relevant human systems’, especially Education, into a school of disciplined enlightened meritocracy, whose model, discipline, and compassion would shape and further human systems across regions, and the most successful models of such leadership create franchises across the world, promoting Cultural cognizance, resource integration, and Common resolve.

The Culture of the Community is at the very heart of this new sustainability. This culture would be one that combines the choicest attributes of human tradition with a sweeping eye towards a vigorous and long-term modernity. The physical architecture of suburban planning must reflect the vision of the new architects, one of marble and Plexiglas, Classical and Modern. A refining of cultural alternatives in the areas of dining, cinema, and society must craft metropolitan presence within the comfort of a familiar suburbia.

The media that exists currently to bombard the masses with ‘seven second news bites’ about urban molestations, rapes, clichUand rehearsed ‘political news commentary’, and soft-porn must be governed and slowly eschewed out of its effete content and replaced with innovative programs representing enthusiastic depictions of genuine cultural multiplicity, popularization of research, and a use of language that makes introspection (which still exists in plenty, merely commodified and repressed) a passionate and constructive outlet for making discoveries, rediscoveries, and innovating.

This call for a New Novus Ordo Seclorum must be answered by a breed of highly efficient, brilliantly cultivated, meticulously educated, and intense body of enlightened leaders without ideologies or religion, handpicked from the current generation pool, who would through specializations in banking, finance, media, policy, government, and entrepreneurship resources systematically create footholds in strategic human systems and control sectors guiding the destiny of this era under a new bold flagship.
As with the so called ‘Neoliberal Revolution’ which before 1979 was widely laughed at as ‘Utopia’, this too, it may be surmised, be a palpable Social model in a matter of time.

References

Bourdieu, P.& L. Wacquant, 2001. NewLiberal Speak- notes on the new planetary vulgate, Radical Philosophy 105, January-February, pp 2-5.

Bourdieu, P. (1998). The essence of neoliberalism. Le Monde Diplomatique

C. f. (1999, Dec 6). Primary globalisation, secondary globalisation, and the sustainable development paradigm-opposing forces in the 21st. century. Globus, Retrieved Nov 27, 2005, from http://www.tilburguniversity.nl/globus/.

Gamble, A., 1994 [1988], The Free Economy and the Strong State- The Politics of Thatcherism, London: Macmillan.

Gamble, A., 2001, Neoliberalism, Capital and Class 75, pp127-134

George, Susan. “A Short History of Neo-Liberalism: Twenty Years of Elite Economics and Emerging Opportunities for Structural Change.” Conference on Economic Sovereignty in a Globalising World. , Bangkok. 24 Mar 1999.

McGuigan, J., 1997, Cultural populism revisited, Golding, P. & M. Ferguson, eds., Cultural Studies in Question, London, Thousand Oaks & New Delhi: Sage, pp 138-54
McGuigan, J. 2003, The Social construction of a cultural disaster- new labour’s millennium experience, Cultural Studies 17.6 pp 669-690

Parts from Neoliberalism Globalization and The Commodification of Global Culture by Alexander Rai

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