Consumerism vs. tribalism– which will win?
Author Benjamin Barber explores these issues in Jihad vs. McWorld, and helps to show how two divergent materialist lifestyles both work towards the same ends of reducing the power of the nation-state.
Barber examines the differential between tribalism and consumerism, which is what makes it all the more interesting. I suppose he imagines himself as comparing the space between potatoes and tomatoes, and invariably he arrives at the conclusion that both tribalism and consumerism are detrimental to a functioning democracy.
“It is not Jihad and McWorld but the relationship between them that most interests me. For, squeezed between their opposing forces, the world has been sent spinning out of control. Can it be that what Jihad and McWorld have in common is anarchy: the absence of common will and that conscious and collective human control under the guidance of law we call democracy?”
And, he’s right.
A strict tribalist view of the world is just as bad as giving ourselves unto consumerism, so we’re not talking about the distance between potatoes and tomatoes. Tribalism and consumerism are not from opposite sides of the spectrum. They both exist in the same realm of materialist lifestyles. Talking about the differential between tribalism and consumerism is akin to examining the distance between grapefruit and tangerines.
The effects of tribalism and rampant consumerism and capitalism, like with grapefruit and tangerines, look similar, feel similar, and grow on similar looking trees, but they don’t quite taste the same. That queer difference of flavor is what Barber is talking about with his critique, but that in deciding how to balance two different flavors of materialist degeneracy it doesn’t get us much closer to an answer.
I’m not terribly optimistic about the prospects of a well-functioning democracy or democratic state, so I’ll choose to disagree with Barber’s choice to cite Jihad and McWorld as reasons for the failure of Enlightenment politics and its rejection of true authority. Despite my disagreement with Barber’s hopes to resurrect democracy, he’s not wrong for being critical of Jihad or McWorld. Barber’s observations about the two should be more of a warning about how fragile and ultimately fallible democracy really is.
“But it is hard to believe that the clash of Jihad and McWorld will issue in some overriding good. The outcome seems more likely to pervert than to nurture human liberty. The two may, in opposing each other, work to the same ends, work in apparent tension yet in covert harmony, but democracy is not their beneficiary.”
Having recently come off of studying Julius Evola‘s Men Among the Ruins, Barber’s assertions about the nature of tribalism and consumer culture are not controversial or disagreeable. But, let’s not get carried away with finding the appropriate way to package an acceptable materialist lifestyle. The more important thing to take away from Barber’s comments is to recognize that society cannot be built on one or the other, nor is the solution somewhere in between.
Capitalism and the materialist lifestyles have given Americans exactly what we asked for; a level of material comfort and extravagance unknown to the world even two generations ago. Surround sound, large screen televisions, roaring V-8 engines, dozens of isles of food at the grocery store, digital cameras, and video recorders in every cell phone. Not even Dick Tracy had it this good.
I’ve nothing against luxury, nor pursuing comforts, but I’m not going to spend money on replacing a ten-year old stereo receiver when I should be focusing on managing my kitchen pantry and larder. However, Barber points out that this is exactly what is going on right now with the struggle between Jihad and McWorld.
“The right to choose between nine VCR models or a dozen automobile brands does not necessarily feel like freedom to workers whose monthly salaries can hardly keep up with the rising price of bread, let alone to women and men with no jobs at all. Capitalists may be democrats but capitalism does not need or entail democracy. And capitalism certainly does not need the nation-state that has been democracy’s most promising host.” [emphasis added]
It’s easy to blame tribalism and consumerism for these conditions, but it’s democracy which made it possible to get this far in the first place. Barber thinks that democracy shines like a diamond in a goat’s ass, so it’s comedic that he mistook yesterday’s corn feed for something we should “guard with jealous attention.”
Without beating up Barber too badly, he is astute to recognize that we can’t continue to bobble back and forth between the limits of coarse cultural materialism and decadent consumer materialism.
“Unless we can offer an alternative to the struggle between Jihad and McWorld, the epoch on whose threshold we stand — postcommunist, postindustrial, postnational, yet sectarian, fearful, and bigoted — is likely also to be terminally postdemocratic.”
The alternative is Traditionalism, that’s your “apple of redemption.”
Barber could take a lesson from American philosopher Francis Parker Yockey, and give up on worrying about democracy. He should be more worried about developing a civilization, which Yockey describes as being infinitely more worthwhile and the wellspring of continuity and wellness.
“Civilization is a higher reality, manifesting itself through human populations, and within these, through a certain spiritual stratum, which embodies at highest potential the living Idea of the Culture. This Culture creates religions, forms of architecture, arts, States, Nations, Races, Peoples, armies, wars, poems, philosophies, sciences, weapons and inner imperatives. All of them are mere expressions of the higher Reality, and none of them can destroy it.”
There is more to life than simple tribal affiliations, and I’m not talking about air conditioning and eight-lane freeways. We should acknowledge certain tribal aspects which are integral to the identity of a people and a nation, but that’s only one part of the organ which produces Yockey’s High Culture, and Barber’s unstated alternative to Jihad or McWorld.
Jihad vs. McWorld by Thomas Buhls is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License..