The Crisis of Identity and Globalisation

Within global society, we see a large entrenchment of identity crises as globalisation and the neoliberal discourse that backs it creates new forms of exploitation both in Western society and in much of what is termed the Global South. The typical recesses of community and the socio-cultural as well as economic identities it created have been regressed through time, whether it be with the end of labour subsidiarity under Thatcher in Britain, the neocolonial practices of modern corporations backed up by US trade power or the pillage of tribally owned knowledge and resources through increasingly stringent intellectual property processes. Contingent to this cultural destruction of the Third World is the rise of mass immigration, and with it an attempt by Western elites to make local communities in Europe and America accept this new paradigm as perfectly normal and economically beneficial, giving rise to the idea of multiculturalism, which far from creating values-led minority communities, has led to unequal, ghettoised areas in many cities. It has further limited natural self-segregation and the development of relevant local institutions, creating a cycle of warped identities of Islamic radicalism and extremely individuated societal relations. Finally, the democratic means of political expression have become limited with globalisation, as the state uses taxpayer-based mechanisms to maintain corporate dominance and economic centrality. Thus local-decision making is limited and the state becomes an ever more pervasive part of society.

The processes of globalisation have meant an increasing amount of political and economic power being centralised into the hands of states, international institutions (WTO, IMF, etc.) and corporations. Instead of local economic institutions, such as locally-run public services and small-scale employers as well as some large manufacturing bases, we have mostly retail-based jobs in the West with limited employment prospects as technology increases and capital begins to substitute labour in these sectors. In the Global South, the nationalisation and corporatisation of land in favour large agribusiness and away from subsistence farming has meant a modern form of land enclosure leading to proletarianised, factory-based workers who have no access to the products they produce. This system is networked and financed purely in favour of corporate interests who want to maintain the wage labour monopoly through the limiting of actual choices for workers. They rely on limited labour rights and minimal access to credit and capital so as to create a class of landless workers. Without the state, this system would collapse, and in its place we would most likely local/domestic markets for a multitude of products, the release into the public of much technology and knowledge previously enclosed by patents and copyrights and the development of economic and mutual aid networks where goods could become de-commodified and used as social products and technologies. Thus economic activity would become re-embedded in cultural networks and social practices.

However, because this system is maintained by the state buying surplus capital and product and maintaining many of the economic monopolies of the modern era, the cultural and social circumstances get shaped by the modern reality. We see a welfare state that individualises communities and is a way of propping up low wages in dead-end labour markets. We see a North-South divide both globally and closer to home in the UK. First I’ll explore the global North-South divide. This divide appears to appears to have been created by the breakdown of cultural institutions in many Third World communities that relied on local economic institutions to create forms of collective identity and solidarity. In their place, we see commodified, economistic relations that rely on forms of debt peonage and subsistence wages. One good example would be the opening up of food markets to Western companies in India. The food networks that had developed were based on forms of community relations and social good. By opening them up, they have the potential to be destroyed simply because the interests of Western capital want a new place to dump their excess product. There are also consumer inequalities, with much of the product developed and built by sweatshops not being accessible to their own domestic markets due to stringent intellectual property regimes that mean they can only be sold, with significant mark-up, in shops in the West. Commodities and technologies are enclosed from the Global South due simply to the use of state aggression in the form of illegitimate intellectual property laws. A different, more acute process has happened in the UK with its North-South divide. The general lessening of wages has occurred due to the elimination of manufacturing industries in the North and their subsequent inability to replace them with meaningful employment due to the ravages of state-funded economic globalisation. Instead it has been replaced by dead-end jobs in retail and services with minimal wages that provide little opportunity for promotion. The other option has been subsidised public sector employment, which has created a subsidised middle class and led to a stratified underclass. As a result, a welfare state has been created that destroys communities and their own mutual aid systems and has led to a highly individualised society.

By not ending the large system of subsidies that maintains the modern corporate economy that would lead to the decentralisation of economies of scale and develop small-scale manufacturing jobs and services as well as allowing for networks of communities to develop economic policies and local markets, we have seen the destruction of Northern and West Midlands cultures in England. As Norman Tebbit has noted, with the purposeful closing of manufacturing facilities and industries throughout the UK and disallowing the development of alternatives, traditional working class communities have been ripped apart by welfare subsidisation and the removal of political powers for communities, leading to marketised towns and cities where employment opportunities are better found in gambling shops and fast-food restaurants. We see identity based more around cultural frivolities, such as artwork and music that they had no involvement in creating, as well as a sexualised society of gender identities and modern examples of pathetic machismo, such as the lad culture that is defined by drinking and sex. By not allowing for the creation of meaningful economic and cultural institutions of local worth, this process will continue and cultural identities will be obliterated.

Alongside the destruction of cultural values in much of the world, including Western societies and the Global South, we have seen a massive movement of people as Third World nations are ravaged by economic corporatisation and American imperialism and look for better opportunities in Western Europe and America. This has been wholeheartedly supported by neoliberal elites, particularly big business, as it means a cheapening of low-skill labour and societal divisions that don’t allow for collective action to limit their ever-increasing power in the Third World and the West. To justify such movements of people and the cultural issues that follow it, we’ve seen state-enforced multiculturalism, which has allowed for hollowed-out traditional communities in Europe and the UK through the limiting of natural self-segregation and stopping the development of communalism among different communities. This then ghettoises minority and immigrant communities, limiting their economic opportunities and limiting their democratic engagement due to their stratification. The processes that have stratified working class communities have been used for immigrant communities too. Thus they remain divided as neither can develop relevant local institutions and create local forms of democratic political power and the latter are not encouraged to integrate into different value sets due to the encouragement of ghettoised individuation. Again this effects identity, as minority communities come to see their problems as being inflicted by Western values, and not by corporate and state elites as it actually is. This then contributes to elements of radical Islamism that have developed in certain areas of the UK and France. It also limits cross-cultural workings as artificial divisions are encouraged and cultural borders are pulled-down.

As a result of economic globalisation and political centralisation, the ability to craft and create local institutions for economic development and cultural enrichment is extremely limited. Instead communities throughout the world are at the whim of the interests of capital, as the labouring classes are reliant on their employment opportunities, with their access to credit cut off by an ever pervasive network of state’s and their relevant bureaucracies. Thus the development of economic and political identities becomes nearly impossible, and traditional cultural identities become hollowed out and less relevant to the individualised, global societies that are supposedly so good. However there are solutions to this. The first would be to develop counter-economic institutions and cultural institutions that go with them. Thus we need a re-embedding of economic activity into its socio-cultural origins. This then delegitimises the state-corporate nexus, as their typical avenues of commodification and a reliance on wage labour are slowly pulled away in favour of localised economies of scale, the development of domestic markets in the Global South, the maintenance of traditional social networks in the Third World and the redevelopment of such networks in Western communities, and creation of local institutions through direct democracy that allow for the expansion of cultural borders and homogenous districts as well as allowing for cross-cultural solidarity and a form democratic commons where ideas can be shared and debated. This then moves global society away from individualistic social relations and toward the redevelopment of natural, traditional identities as well as the creation of new cultural identities that can create new, vibrant societies.

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