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Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and…

Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World

by Benjamin Barber

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"Jihad vs. McWorld" isn't perfect, but this book has a couple of good ideas that seem more relevant than ever fifteen years after it was published. Barber reminds us that the various fundamentalisms we see around the globe don't belong to the past, but to the present. They are reactions to, and, indeed, impossible to imagine without, the modernity that they rebel against. He also makes the point that the global culture of consumption typified by American fast-food chains is not "culture-neutral" and that those seeking to preserve traditional modes of life are right to be unsettled by the lowering of global trade barriers. Barber's also very good about sensing the limits of his own argument. He doesn't seek an overarching theory of "Jihad" and "McWorld" but merely seeks to illustrate a dialectic. He remains aware that every country and movement as a unique case, a clash of old and new ideas and diverging economic interests that must be evaluated on its own merits. He's also careful not to demonize capitalism or globalism outright, something I suspect many of his critics conveniently skipped over.

Barber is, as another reviewer noted, too fond of trying to coin neologisms, and the book is probably a bit too long for its own good. Also, Barber, like many lefties, seems dismayed that the Western world, though enjoying an unprecedented level of economic prosperity, seems to produce so much trash culture and shallow entertainment, but I'm not sure that there's ever been an era where popular culture was ever anything but disposable, and simply wishing people would make better choices doesn't really get you anywhere. Also, Barber's analysis of the reunification of East and West Germany seems shockingly wrongheaded. While he seems to mourn the fact that East Germans didn't choose a "third way" between capitalism and socialism, I'm pretty sure that most impoverished East Germans were pretty eager to join Western Europe's richest democracy – McDonalds be damned – after fifty years of living in a dysfunctional Soviet satellite state. Still, the complicated set of relationships between modernization, modernity, tribalism and democracy is still far from clear, and Barber's book provides a good illustration of some of their confusing, and at times contradictory, interactions. ( )
1 vote TheAmpersand | Apr 5, 2010 |
This book looks at the world from a panicky, provincial perspective that is palmed off as a sophisticated global consciousness about "the way things are today." Barber worked hard on it, and he clipped a whole lot of articles, but the result is not anything you can rely on.

The cover snapshot is appropriate to the book: It's a perfectly banal scene of a woman in a chador drinking a Pepsi, but it is presented as if it should shock us. (It probably does shock people who still imagine Arabs brandishing curved swords as they charge across the sands on their camels.) The text is much like the photo: Both convey a vague sense of threat from the non-Western peoples of the world: nations who supposedly "define themselves by the slaughter of tribal neighbors" and are liable to destroy democracy and modernity (a word Barber never pauses to define) if "McWorld" doesn't get there first.

One would expect a more insightful, less parochial understanding of foreign nations and conflicts from a Rutgers professor of political science. But this book is as crude as the silly choice of the word "jihad," with its Islamic associations, to represent "tribalism." Barber halfway apologizes for the choice in his introduction to the second edition.

This book only deserves attention because it received so much attention in our squirrel-brained media. In a way, Jihad vs. McWorld is merely a product of the phenomenon it tries to comprehend. Barber composes little sermons about the insufficiency of the "McWorld" culture of entertainment and marketing — but he can't resist putting cute bravura touches on his own presentation, to the detriment of his analysis. He loves to coin new terms, some of them quite silly ("infotainment telesector"), then he misuses perfectly good terms by attaching bizarre meanings to them — like "faction" to mean "factual fiction," and "passion play" to mean a sexually charged serial drama. Does the man not know that these words already have other definitions? He's like the Humpty Dumpty character in Lewis Carroll: When he uses a word, it means whatever he wants it to mean. Now that I think about it, this book bears a certain overall resemblance to Through the Looking-Glass, except it's not as much fun to read.

I'm sure Professor Barber gives very entertaining classroom lectures. As for his book, it bears the imprint of a great deal of thought — but it is panicky, parochial thought. ( )
4 vote Muscogulus | Dec 29, 2007 |
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One may expect Guardian readers in particular to raise a cheer about this. And there is much to cheer in Barber's analysis. The things that especially bother him are the erosion of the state's responsibilities, the maniacal rush towards market solutions, the bogus ethical concerns of corporations and the potentially catastrophic competing demands of multiculturalism, as opposed to the mutually beneficial interdependence of pluralism.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345383044, Paperback)

As soon as you hear the conceit of this book--that there are two great opposing forces at work in the world today, border-crossing capitalism and splintering factionalism, and that they are the two biggest threats to democracy--you know it rings true enough to be worth reading. Although capitalism could have only grown to current levels in the soil of democracies, Benjamin Barber argues that global capitalism now tends to work against the very concept of citizenship, of people thinking for themselves and with their neighbors. Too often now, how we think is the product of a transnational corporation (increasingly, a media corporation) with headquarters elsewhere. And although self-determination is one of the most fundamental of democratic principles, unchecked it has lead to a tribalism (think Bosnia, think Rwanda) in which virtually no one besides the local power elite gets a fair shake. The antidote, Barber concludes, is to work everywhere to resuscitate the non-governmental, non-business spaces in life--he calls them "civic spaces" (such as the village green, voluntary associations of every sort, churches, community schools)--where true citizenship thrives.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:21 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

POLITICAL IDEOLOGIES. "Jihad Vs McWorld" is an essential text for anyone who wants to understand the challenges facing us after the tragic events of September 11, 2001 and in light of the current conflict in the Middle East. In a groundbreaking work, political scientist Benjamin R. Barber offers a penetrating analysis of the central conflict of our times: consumerist capitalism versus religious and tribal fundamentalism. These diametrically opposed but intertwined forces are tearing apart - and bringing together - the world as we know it, undermining democracy and the nation-state on which it depends. On the one hand, capitalism on the global level is rapidly dissolving the social and economic barriers between nations, transforming the world's diverse populations into a blandly uniform market. On the other hand, ethnic, religious, and racial hatreds are fragmenting the political landscape into smaller and smaller tribal units.… (more)

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