The march of the monoculture

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Date: May-June 1999
From: The Ecologist(Vol. 29, Issue 3)
Publisher: The Resurgence Trust
Document Type: Cover story
Length: 3,298 words

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Around the world, the pressure to conform to the expectations of the spreading, consumer monoculture is destroying cultural identity, eliminating local economies and erasing regional differences. As a consequence the global economy is leading to uncertainty, ethnic friction, and collapse, where previously there had been relative security and stability.

For many, the rise of the global economy marks the final fulfilment of the great dream of a 'Global Village'. Almost everywhere you travel today you will find multi-lane highways, concrete cities and a cultural landscape featuring grey business suits, fast-food chains, Hollywood films and cellular phones. In the remotest corners of the planet, Barbie, Madonna and the Marlboro Man are familiar icons. From Cleveland to Cairo to Caracas, Baywatch is entertainment and CNN news.

The world, we are told, is being united by virtue of the fact that everyone will soon be able to indulge their innate human desire for a Westernised, urbanised consumer lifestyle. West is best, and joining the bandwagon brings closer a harmonious union of peaceable, rational, democratic consumers 'like us'.

This world-view assumes that it was the chaotic diversity of cultures, values and beliefs that lay behind the chaos and conflicts of the past: that as these differences are removed, so the differences between us will be resolved.

As a result, all around the world, villages, rural communities and their cultural traditions, are being destroyed on an unprecedented scale by the impact of globalising market forces. Communities that have sustained themselves for hundreds of years are simply disintegrating. The spread of the consumer culture seems virtually unstoppable.

Consumers R Us: The Development of the Global Monoculture

Historically, the erosion of cultural integrity was a conscious goal of colonial developers. As applied anthropologist Goodenough explained: "The problem is one of creating in another a sufficient dissatisfaction with his present condition of self so that he wants to change it. This calls for some kind of experience that leads him to reappraise his self-image and re-evaluate his self-esteem."[1] Towards this end, colonial officers were advised that they should:

"1: Involve traditional leaders in their programmes.

2: Work through bilingual, acculturated individuals who have some knowledge of both the dominant and the target culture.

3: Modify circumstances or deliberately tamper with the equilibrium of the traditional culture so that change will become imperative.

4: Attempt to change underlying core values before attacking superficial customs."[2]

It is instructive to consider the actual effect of these strategies on the well-being of individual peoples in the South. For example, the Toradja tribes of the Poso district in central Celebes (now Sulawesi, Indonesia) were initially deemed completely incapable of 'development' without drastic intervention. Writing in 1929, A.C. Kruyt reported that the happiness and stability of Toradja society was such that "development and progress were impossible" and that they were "bound to remain at the same level".[3]

Toradja society was cashless and there was neither a desire for money nor the extra goods that might be purchased with it. In the face of such contentment, mission work proved...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A55208470