The Dominant Culture is the Disease of the Age

The Dominant Culture is the Disease of the Age

Since the early ages of its existence the human race has been waging a constant struggle for survival, confronting creatures that used to prey on humans share of food, chances of safety and right to live. These humans learnt that joining together in small groups increased their chances of survival from attacks by fierce predators. The need for protection and striving for safety provided members of these groups more than an incentive to develop networks of relationships among themselves, and these networks defined their identity and distinguished their culture later.

Culture at that time was simply defensive attempts to possess the formative elements of life and support the instinct for survival. Studies by anthropologists both those carried out in Asia, Africa and Australia two centuries ago and the more modern ones carried out in all continents of the world reveal that the feeling of apprehensiveness towards sudden danger and fear of lurking predators led groups of human beings to come closer together, while other groups that were not threatened lived dispersed separately or in smaller groups each distinguished by a unique culture.

Perhaps this analysis of the origin of culture, and its inseparable connection with the origin of groups, is what led the writer Edward C. Stewart, in his study on Culture of the Mind, to search for the origins of the emotionalism of culture, until he arrived at what explains to us a lot of our contemporary illnesses.

Stewart, who specializes in the psychology of culture, in his study contained in a book published recently entitled Culture in the Communication Age, believes that panic disorders, phobias and chronic anxieties all represent the experiences in life of the prey , and folk tales describe to us how the first human beings used tricks to escape from those fearful situations, both in stories whose hero is a human being, and in those which tell of small animals and birds, which are wiser in the view of these tales, in the course of their escapes. They show how the weak rise up in the face of the strong, and how lions are defeated by foxes. In the stories of our Arab cultural heritage we have many works of literature which support this, as related in the stories of Kalila and Dimna, for example.

Since fear and anxiety are still with human beings to this day, their ideas and feelings are automatically kindled when one of the situations in life arouses something to make them play the part of prey confronting predators. But what are the predators of the third millenium?

The writer believes and we agree with him that the experience of that endless conflict immersed in fear, to avoid suffering and prevent death as a prey, whether the predator is a ferocious animal or savage monster, or a hostile state, or even any other group from a different culture, has made us adopt reasons for fearing the other who is different from us in culture or identity, bringing terror to our families. Hence the image of a different person becomes identical inside our minds with that of the wild animal which terrified and terrorized our ancestors.

Stewart concludes that the experience of humanity, through its different phases, has made it establish what can be called the process of cultural development, which is a process in which the mind adapts itself to avoid danger and becomes able to exploit the opportunities which our ancestors confronted, in their hunting and summoning up their strength in a hostile environment.

The harsh circumstances of life caused probabilities of feeling fear of animals and human beings (the others) to be systems of awareness among human beings, in a manner that has made their self-defense full of aggressiveness, anger and the law of vengeance. These are mechanisms characteristic of the relationship between prey and predators.

Hence the response of these people to any external event from a different culture takes place within a double encoding process which expresses their feelings and emotions and brings about a reality of implicit feelings which are far from wise, a reality which is translated by aggressive language towards others and interpreted by aggressive feelings towards them.

I may wonder here whether this does not express the conflict in which humanity is living now and the deterioration which has befallen our world. This is a question which does not apply only to the conflict of the only superpower against the axis of evil and the forces of terrorism and others. I am referring to all centers of conflict in the world, after wars have woven their spiders webs on its map - instead of the lines of longitude and latitude and there is no longer a country which does not suffer from its woes, nor a culture which is not in conflict with another. War has become the norm and peace the exception, as if the thousands of years in the age of the human race have not succeeded in healing the wound of the human memory, which can be summed up in a single image: the struggle for survival. They have substituted new enemies for the prehistoric dinosaurs, as if it is an endless cycle, in which the prey never rests, and a whirlpool that does not abate until it has drowned everybody.

We ask Stewart and his colleagues, the authors of Culture in the Communication Age, has this age with all its technology, its means and knowledge not succeeded in closing the gap between its cultural groups? Has it not succeeded in reducing the dissension between them? If ignorance about others is the basis for hostility towads them, do not the mechanisms of this age provide complete opportunities to get to know them, understand them, accept them, coexist with them, have dealings with them, sympathize with their causes, dissolve the spirit of hostility towards them, indeed to be enthusiastic to solve their problems?

These questions may be what one of the authors of the book, Jorge A. Gonzalez, the Director of the Culture Program in Mexico s University of Colima and Editor of a magazine of studies of contemporary cultures, was trying to answer in his study. He tried to understand why the strongest contemporary cultures want to dominate, but at the same time he justifies their right to hegemony when he says that no society can organize its everyday production of life without hegemony. Thought of in a positive way, we can study any society as an integrated, structured set of objective relationships.

But Gonzalez forgets that even if the hegemony of a culture is permitted within the borders of a country, and this also is a matter of opinion, its domination beyond the borders cannot be described as positive. Therefore we see that the effort to sanctify one dominant culture by exploiting the opportunities of the age of the communications and information revolution, from newspapers to the internet, from broadcasting stations to intercontinental television channels abolishes the cultures of weaker nations and peoples, and endeavors to bury them in the ocean of oblivion.

The dominant culture as we see it in this context is a way in for economic and political domination over other nations. Imposing the will of the strongest, and acting to crush all possibilities of future strength among the weaker, can only come about by destroying the latter s culture and annexing it as a subsidiary of the dominant culture of globalization.

It should perhaps be mentioned that the concept of the electronic village , the synonym of the ace of communications, was no more than a call for rapprochement between peoples and getting to know their cultures, but today it has almost become an indication of distorting them, blending them and pouring them into one uniform mold, which does not recognize details that differentiate them, and is not concerned with them. This makes the electronic village a village hostile to the spirit of culture whose wealth is based on diversity, and which derives its fertility from pluralism.

Joseph Hinerman, one of the contributors to the book and a Lecturer in Communication Studies in San Jose State University, California, monitors one of the images of the dominant culture in the age of communications. Under the heading of Star Culture, he says that it is no longer surprising for an American travelling outside the United States to hear the songs he is used to wherever he goes, to turn from one television channel to another in his hotel room and see only the same stars, and the information media follow the same sports events.

Familiar things awaiting the traveler do not stop there. Imagine two people one a traveler, the other a local making lists of their most admired heroes. We would not be surprised if both lists feature many of the same names movie stars, music celebrities, sports heroes, and television personalities. Perhaps the lists would include Madonna, Ricky Martin, Tom Hanks, or Jean-Claude Van Damme, for example.

The overlap of these lists might not trouble us Hinerman continues but he wonders, Are we all the same in our likes and dislikes the world over with regard to these heroes and others who have changed the world the political figures, public servants, civil rights leaders, and generals?

The fact is that this basic question was a matter of controversy in the last century about culture and the information media, from the effort of the theorists of the Frankfurt School at the beginning of the twentieth century until we came to the preservers of cultures in the third millenium. Even the power of star culture is subject to blame as responsible for destroying authentic values and dissolving the distinctive characteristics between local and individual differences. In other words, after the institutions which make stars have used their instruments to pacify the masses and mainly to create false hopes of upward social mobility and meaningful social change.

Those (stars) discovered by the talent scouts and then publicized on a vast scale by the studio are the ideal types of the new dependent average. In incessant advertising and information campaigns, they represent an image of that deceptive hope which is offered to a random few at the expense of millions of their public.

All that may be true. Stardom is part of the culture of globalization, which has linked the world with a unified ribbon of political, social and economic activities. Its images include millions following World Cup football matches, Miss World beauty contests and television wars (of which there are so many).

Is there any problem in the ability of our broad masses, of some of our societies which suffer from the harshness of life and the hardship of existence, to talk in their social gatherings, their offices and their small rooms about the lives, secrets and actions of stars, in both east and west?

Hinerman says that stardom weaves together threads of knowledge and culture after they have almost lost their interconnectedness due to the effect of modern life. It is amazing that behind stardom lies the ability of this modern life to produce images of stars and to promote them. Information and entertainment establishments have learnt how to plant the seedling of stardom and nurture it to ensure that it will attract consumers time after time.

When we go back with history to its stars, we find that Aristotle did not attribute the fame of these only to the ability of individuals who were courageous, wise, leaders, orators and poets, but also to the people who made these stars. For Aristotle (384-322 BC), these were the public. The honor that ordinary people paid to these heroes came after a success that they had accomplished and an eloquent speech in which they expressed it. it is interesting that Aristotle s explanation confirms the importance of orators and poets in the information of his age.

The centuries pass, and our age replaces these with its powerful information machines, which make stars or destroy them, with pictures some of which are faked, with achievements some of which are fabricated and biographies some lines of which have been ripened on the fire of lies. But the recipient can hardly tell the difference between the two, he is satisfied with whatever crumbs of truth the tree of information throws to him, he consumes them or reproduces them, in the industry of sanctifying stars.

The technical opportunities are available to everybody. Every cultural group has the possibility of appearing on the television screen through the satellite channels, just as it has the possibility of being present through the Internet. It is the age of the rapid communications revolution and the space of the electronic village, but we are amazed that our Arab and Islamic culture stays marking time , unable to participate even in the culture of manufacturing stars, while the others can choose their stars and promote them, even from our own garbage!

I think we become increasingly despondent when we think how our stars are manufactured from the likes of Usama Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, or cultural models like those whom we see shaking their posteriors and shoulders all day long on the screens of our information machines which we call our satellite channels.

The clearest reason may be that the culture of our age does not come by itself, indeed it descends in the company of a troop of market instruments, economic mechanisms, values of liberalization and images of the victors in all battles. Our culture or any other culture cannot take part, compete or win, as long as it is a prisoner of its powerless and stumbling course which refuses to understand the reasons for development and progress.

Would we be in the right if we placed our information and cultural machinery in the position of a follower and prisoner, a blind imitator, an unconscious promoter of the policy of globalization which is endeavoring to wipe out our culture and replace it with the culture of the strong which is striving for hegemony?

And do we have the choice to preserve our nation s cultural heritage whose roots in our soil go back for thousands of years? Or are we able with the stroke of a pen to shift to another culture which comes to us from a land that is not our land a society that has no connection with us? And do we claim, in the name of civilized conduct, development and globalization, that we are able to remove our clothing and put on new clothing which does not fit us and had nothing to do with our taste and the life of our nation?

Diversity is required and desired, and it increases the fertility and breadth of culture. The knowledge of others through their culture is a condition for coexistence, mutual understanding and peace. But the others also have to appreciate our culture, understand it and coexist with it within a more comprehensive and broader perspective of the relationship between peoples as a way to mutual understanding and co-operation. Whatever strong cultures there may be supported by modern media and the strength of armies and the economy, lesser and weaker cultures will continue to resist extinction, out of the instinct for survival, awaiting the opportunity to rise up again one day. Then they will try to spread and dominate if they can.

The global assault by the dominant culture, represented by Ameican culture specifically, is facing resistance everywhere. The strength of that resistance varies from one country to another, and from one society to another, but it is resistance. It extends from Europe to the East with all its variegated cultures, to the primitive culture of society in Africa and many parts of the world. Certainly none of them will surrender easily. We must not forget that those cultures are more deeply rooted, wise and plentifully stocked than that which is trying to dominate today.


Sulaiman Al-Askary

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