Sunday, December 18, 2005

The Same But Different

For those who don't read the comments section, this is from the "Images of Morocco" feedback:

"Julie said...
Sad to think that American style clothing is replacing ethnic diversity. Someday we'll all look the same, eat the same foods, etc. How boring!"

It seems Julie is a little uncomfortable being assimilated into the Borg. We can help her with that...

Okay, maybe not a good idea to start this with Star Trek references. I'm not the first one to point out that religious fundamentalism and global capitalism both have the same ultimate goal: worldwide conformity. Everyone joined under one system. A marketing success is something bought by the largest number of people possible. A fundamentalist is convinced that their belief system is the One True Way and isn't happy till other belief systems are eradicated. This isn't hyperbole, but history. Neither capitalism nor fundamentalism has much use for peaceful coexistence. As far as I'm concerned, the worst case scenario would be a leader who is both a former business executive and a religious fundamentalist.

One of the reasons I went to Europe was I wanted to be the "other" for a while. I like being around people and places that are different from me. Alien. Foreign. But they weren't foreign. I was. There are tourists who want to travel but want things to be as similar to home as possible. I heard them in Europe complaining about the food, the prices, the laundry service, etc. I want the basics to be the same (ie I don't want to hunt and kill my own food, but go to a market or cafe) but I want said basics to be different enough so that common everyday tasks become interesting again. Familiar dish, but new spices.

It's not just that the lack of diversity is boring, although it is. It's also a system of control. If you aren't aware of differences, you accept the status quo and soon lose the ability to conceive of something better. One of the horrifying aspects of Orwell's 1984 that's usually forgotten is the way Big Brother is eliminating words from their language, eliminating diversity of expression. Language is connected to thought and if words don't exist to express an idea, than the idea itself doesn't exist.

If kids in the Atlas mountains want to wear Yankees caps and Chicago Bulls shirts, that's fine. For them, that's diversity. It may be as much a kick for them to wear US-themed clothes as it is for me to dodge mules in a millennia-old medina. Perhaps the shirts in some small way give them a different way of thinking, hopefully opening their minds to something beyond acquisitiveness. I still dig the differences, such as how odd the Mickey Mouse slippers looked. Sometimes it's more interesting when people get it wrong. If we are moving towards a Monolithic Culture, we're not there yet. In fact, it seems like there are more subcults and strange strains in world culture than ever before. It's the opposite of the Dark Ages: there's such variety that there's no way of keeping track of it. Who knows if it will last? History doesn't travel in a straight line. It moves like a drunk finding his way home from the bar on payday. But to end on a happy note, here's a picture of Jeff Koons' topiary dog standing guard in front of the Guggenheim Bilboa.


Carol said...

Thanks, John, for one of your best posts yet!

One of the things I love about the internet is having access to a taste of that diversity from all over the world.

Kalli "Pops" Gustav said...

Johnny Boy, did you read CARNET DE VOYAGE yet? Hopefully it'll not only ring true, but inspire you to write YOUR OWN BOOK, since you really should.

the hanged man said...

Carol's back! Missed you. How are you? Hope you have a good Christmas. I apologize, but I did not get a chance to send out cards this year.

I almost didn't post this entry. I thought it was too rambling and didn't accurately express what I was trying to say. The fact that you like it so much proves I'm my own worst critic.

Karl - also welcome back. I haven't read Carnet De Voyage* yet: the holidays and their celebrations have taken up most of my time. But writing my own book is definitely on my mind...

*For those who don't know it, it's a travel journal written and drawn by someone who took a journey very similar to mine. Thanks again, Karl.

bill said...

Not to be all contrarian or anything, but I'm unsure that capitalism doesn't have "much use for peaceful coesistence." We commonly suppose that variations are stamped out, but the potential blurring of differences stirs such passions (see Tyler Cowen's Creative Destruction: How Globalization Is Changing the World's Cultures and In Praise of Commercial Culture; Tyler's excellent blog is one of my favorites).

(I agree with you on the fundamentalism, though.)

bill said...

(Damn. I meant to hit the "edit" button and hit "publish" instead.)

What I meant to say was "... stirs such passions and the market responds to preserve portions of what was different." Or something like that.

the hanged man said...

Bill -
Be contrarian, please. I was the one who said he likes diversity and being in unfamiliar territory. I don't think what you're saying is that far off from my "there are more subcults and strange strains in world culture than ever before" comment, and the two Tyler Cowen books look very interesting.

I wasn't thrilled with my initial post because I felt like such a large topic guaranteed I could only address it in the most general, vague terms. When I wrote that freemarket capitalism doesn't have "much use for peaceful coexistence," I meant with other ideologies. I still think that unchecked capitalism's end result is fairly dire for most of the human race, despite whatever benefits it may provide until that point. But then again, history = drunk man, whereas my reading may suppose it is a teetotaler.

Julie said...

Oddly, someone I know recently said I was like the Borg! Actually I said my whole family had a world view similar to mine and she said we must all be like the Borg. Also, a world leader who's a capitalist and a religious fundamentalist - can you say W? Scary.

Carol said...

Nasty bout of stomach flu. But I've been reading, make no mistake about that, even though I wasn't posting.

Julie, I always thought of you more as a Klingon.

John, you write your own book.
Now. Or I'll stop this car and turn right around.

And if you want anybody to read drafts, I hereby volunteer.

Julie said...

Klingons are cool

the hanged man said...

a world leader who's a capitalist and a religious fundamentalist - can you say W?"


Carol - consider your offer accepted...sucker.

Okay - the Borg, Chicago Bulls, Craig Thompson's notebooks, and "In Praise of Commercial Culture." This comment section wins the prize for most varied cultural references. Should I add that I'm listenting to "In The Court of the Crimson King" as I type this, and I originally intended to ask Bill what he thought of the new MF Doom disc, but I forgot?

bill said...


I'm assuming you're speaking of Danger Doom's The Mouse and the Mask, a record which I like a great deal. It's a crowd-pleaser, and I can't imagine it would disappoint.