What is the relationship between the concepts in "Jihad vs. McWorld" and the discipline of postcolonialism? "Jihad vs. McWorld" by Benjamin R. Barber in The Atlantic. Postcolonialism

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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Postcolonialism and Barber's Jihad vs. McWorld analysis are both very difficult concepts to understand. Reducing them to simple representations is no easy task.

Postcolonialism

Postcolonialism, according to the university faculty contributors on AcademicRoom.com, is an intellectual discourse reacting to and analyzing the "cultural legacy of colonialism and imperialism." What this means is that individuals in a wide range of academic and creative fields--from linguistics to sociology to Marxism to religious studies to literature and film to sociology and philosophy to anthropology and more--attempt to both account for and "combat the residual effects" of colonialism on peoples and their cultures brought under the imposition of the yoke of imperialists' colonial rule and exploitation.  

As Che Guevara explained to the United Nations in 1964, postcolonialism encompasses a plurality of experiences that occurred for a multiplicity of cultures in the wake of the withdrawal of colonial rule. Cultures that were once colonized do not simply transition conveniently to an after-the-colonizer phase and carry on: there are unfinished processes, cultural contradictions, identity and political confusions, hybridizations of national behaviors, and the expectation of something like rites of passage as though balancing on the threshold of emerging as valid cultural and political entities (a concept called liminibility).

Postcolonialism Simplified

Postcolonialism has affected every major academic and creative discipline practiced, even archaeology as discoveries are at times analyzed in terms of influences exerted by opposing cultures. The goal of postcolonialism is to understand, describe and explain the residual effects of colonialism and to offer some illumination for the future course for living within and combating the residue of colonialism. These residual effects might be explained by some illustrative examples.

1. Under British colonial rule, education of colonized peoples was conducted in English at all levels, and it still is conducted in English. As a result, people in postcolonial cultures speak English all day every day and only speak their "mother tongue" at home with elderly relatives, if they speak it at all. India is one nation that exemplifies this residual effect of postcolonialism where all people educated at upper levels write their publications, their theses and dissertations in English.

2. Under British rule capitalist economic principles and practices were in play, as dramatized by Joseph Conrad's unsettling novel Heart of Darkness. When it happened that colonized Taiwan returned to the governance of Communist China, the Chinese government was faced with the challenge of incorporating Taiwanese capitalism with Communist collectivism. A bridge between the two economic practices was found in a uniquely designed and combined socialistic free enterprise.

"Jihad vs. McWorld"

Barber expresses his belief in a movement away from democracy being undertaken by cultures of the world. The anti-democracy movement is impelled by two forces opposed to democracy and diametrically opposed to each other. The one force is the resurgence of a spirit embracing the reclamation of tribal identities, ancient tribal hatreds, and tribal exclusionism. The other force is the growing spiderweb of free commercial enterprise that infuses capitalism's consumerism on a world-wide, or a global, scale. Of course, this spiderweb of consumerism is called globalism.

Barber describes the impulse toward tribalism and ancient demarcation of land and identity along lines of tribal unification--whether it be the Kurds or Serbians in the Middle East and Europe or the Juassians or Québécois in Switzerland and Canada or the Basques in Spain, etc--that has up-welled out of the changing geopolitical landscape. He holds that this impulse drives people and cultures away from each other; drives cultures to despotic rulers; drives cultural and religious to fanaticism. The cumulative result of these drives is a repulsion of democracy, for democracy is inherently oppositional to tribalism because of the necessity of mutual respect across an array of divergent practices, ethnicities, philosophies and religions.

Barber describes the impulse toward global consumerism that sweeps across nations, cultures and ecosystems. He holds that this impulse works antithetically to the impulse of tribalism. While fanaticizing Jihad tribalism isolates, globalized consumerism makes people homogenous and cooperative. Capitalism and consumerism require equitable relations with neighboring nations, tribes, cultures and regions. If free trade and an expansion of consumer goods is wanted, a relatively cooperative world is a prerequisite. Notwithstanding, democracy is not a necessity of cooperation. Barber uses the example that Coke can be bought under a capitalistic dictator as easily as under a capitalistic democrat.

Jihad vs. McWorld and Postcolonialism

Since Jihad and McWorld are opposites and oppositional (being antagonistic, combative and hostile), it won't be easy to identify and describe the relationship between postcolonialism and the two philosophies of what Barber chooses to call "Jihad," in a usage that goes beyond its strict Islamic meaning of holy war against selected non-Muslims, and what he has dubbed "McWorld," the one being the drive for re-enlivening ancient identities, which are deemed to be pure, and the other being the drive for democracy-exempt consumerism sustained by a capitalist world. Yet, the commonality between the two (Jihad and McWorld), and an important part of Barber's central message, might more easily reveal the relationship between postcolonialism and Jihad vs. McWorld. The commonality between Barber's Jihad and McWorld is that both present obstacles to democracy.

  • Obstacles to democracy

Jihad erects obstacles to democracy because Jihad's quest for and assertion of the ancient includes the ancient forms of sectarian religion and often despotic, certainly always tribal, government. Simply stated, tribal societies are not, or are rarely (if ever) democratic in nature. Democracy presupposes a mutuality of respect and evaluation as worthy. Tribal governance has a hierarchy that regulates, judges and condemns in the event that anyone might deviate from the required standard.

Capitalism erects obstacles to democracy because democratic government is irrelevant to the function of consumerism and capitalistic economic practice. While it helps to have democratic buyers and sellers, the market can carry on whether purchases are made by slaves of by free persons. Dictators and despots can (if they will) embrace consumer capitalism as readily as the president of a republic can.

These aspects of commonality have a relationship to postcolonialism in that colonized countries had capitalism in support of Western peoples' consumerism--not colonized peoples' consumerism--imposed upon them in emotionally, physically and psychologically violent ways, ways that subverted their identities while eradicating or homogenizing their indigenous cultures.

Examples of capitalism in support of Western consumerism being imposed on non-capitalistic cultures are many. A few examples are the diamond mines of South Africa that fueled the capitalistic fire of Western consumers for valuable gems for jewelry and decoration; the sugar cane farms of Haiti that fueled the capitalistic fire of Western consumers for sugar in abundance, which means, in capitalist theory, at a low price; the iron ore, mineral, and coal mines (and diamond mines) of India that fueled the capitalistic fire of Western consumers for the riches of the earth that would drive the engines of technology, like steel mills and trains and steamships of global transportation, as immortalized in Jules Vern's novel Around the World in Eighty Days.

  • Postcolonialism in relationship to Jihad and McWorld

While colonialism homogenized and marginalized cultures and identities, postcolonial efforts at reclamation of ancient culture and identity fosters Jihad and rejects capitalism.

While postcolonial experiments in democracy are in some cultures drowned by Jihad's resurgence of identity, experiments in democracy are irrelevant to the powerful psychological pull of the cornucopia of consumerism.

While colonialism subverted and suppressed cultural identity and expression, postcolonialism gropes in now embedded cultural contradictions, for instance, opposing simultaneous impulses toward independence and toward McWorld interdependence.

While postcolonialism is awash in the political and identity confusions left in the wake of colonialism's tsunami, roles and desires compete against each other as ancient historic ethnicities, religions and modes of government vie against global consumerism creating global citizens aspiring to global democracy.

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