Monday, 1 November 2010

No monopoly on modernity

This is an old point if you've read Baudrillard or Stockhausen on what we're forced to call 9/11 instead of 11/9, but it's worth repeating in the light of these explosives parcels found on cargo planes originating in Yemen.

The globalisation model asserts that bringing western capitalism to the rest of the world should somehow 'civilise' them, dissolve old ideologies such as race or religion. One world under consumerism. Once everybody has a McDonald's, the argument suggests, we'll live in a shiny world of modernity in which technology and efficient markets will serve our needs, cutting out the fighting and barbarism of the past.

The counter-argument is that modernity has made us more savage: the Holocaust wouldn't have been possible without an efficient, modern railway network, high-tech chemical factories to produce Zyklon-B and IBM's accounting machines. We wouldn't have considered dividing the world between capitalism and communism, leading to the horrors of Vietnam, Cambodia, Matabeleland and many others were it not for the shiny clean tech of nuclear weapons.

The latest bombing attempt underlines this. Modernity has given everyone the chance to participate in globalisation, but only the West is shocked when globalisation is used as a weapon against us. '9/11' used the air network: this weekend's attempt utilised the fact that even a failed state like Yemen has access to DHL. Where governments fear to tread, a capitalist parcel delivery operation still has offices. No global parcel network, no bombs sent to very specific addresses in Chicago.

Baudrillard talks about this in terms of 'potlatch', the sophisticated system of gifting and obligation employed by 'tribes' (as if only Others live in them). We're outraged that we've 'given' Others the privilege of joining us and DHL and McDonald's and the UN etc. etc. etc. and they've turned those networks against us because the 'gift' is too unbalanced, too great for comprehension.

Fukuyama and his fans who claimed the 'End of History' were utterly wrong. Modernity didn't settle the old arguments, it swept them under the carpet until the Others realised that they too could turn the structures, systems and mechanics of Modernity against us. All this is encapsulated in a bomb-maker going down to queue at a postal office in some flyblown Yemeni village.

Steve Bell sums it all up rather well:


Zoot Horn said...

Flee, but while fleeing, pick up a weapon.

The Plashing Vole said...

This beautiful phrase, readers, was a slogan of the Situationists, from whom we can learn much.