Sunday, March 5, 2017

Jihad vs. McWorld

I remember reading this celebrated (and oft-mentioned) piece "Jihad vs. McWorld" by Benjamin Barber when it was originally published 24 years ago (yes, I was already an Atlantic subscriber then :-), but I think I only truly understand it now. The term "prescient" doesn't even begin to capture all the ways in which this analysis has remained valid through a quarter century of global upheaval. Anyone who hasn't read it should read it for the same reason as that one must read 'Heart of Darkness' or '1984': It captures the truth of our world beyond simple description.

Reading this now, I find it impossible to select a single paragraph to quote. Each one is more apt than the other! But here is how Barber begins the analysis:

"The tendencies of what I am here calling the forces of Jihad and the forces of McWorld operate with equal strength in opposite directions, the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by universalizing markets, the one re-creating ancient subnational and ethnic borders from within, the other making national borders porous from without. They have one thing in common: neither offers much hope to citizens looking for practical ways to govern themselves democratically. If the global future is to pit Jihad's centrifugal whirlwind against McWorld's centripetal black hole, the outcome is unlikely to be democratic—or so I will argue."

That last insight - that BOTH forces work against democracy - is the crucial one.

H/t Richard Florida on twitter

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