Pankaj Mishra on the 90’s “revolution of aspiration” and the “common present”

“Beginning in the 1990s, a democratic revolution of aspiration -of the kind Tocqueville witnessed with many forebodings in early nineteenth-century America- swept across the world, sparking longings for wealth, status and power, in addition to ordinary desires for stability and contentment, in the most unpromising circumstances. Egalitarian ambition broke free of old social hierarchies, caste in India as well as class in Britain. The culture of individualism went universal, in ways barely anticipated by Tocqueville, or Adam Smith, who first theorized about a ‘commercial society’ of self-seeking individuals.

The emphasis on individual rights has heightened awareness of social discrimination and gender inequality; in many countries today, there is a remarkably greater acceptance of different sexual orientations. The larger political implications of this revolutionary individualism, however, are much more ambiguous. The crises of recent years have uncovered an extensive failure to realize the ideals of endless economic expansion and private wealth creation. Most newly created ‘individuals’ toil within poorly imagined social and political communities and/or states with weakening sovereignty. They not only suffer from the fact that old certitudes about their place in the world -including their sense of identity and self-worth- have been lost along with their links to traditional communities and other systems of support and comfort and sources of meaning. Their isolation has also been intensified by the decline or loss of postcolonial nation-building ideologies, and the junking of social democracy by globalized technocratic elites.

Thus, individuals with very different pasts find themselves herded by capitalism and technology into a common present, where grossly unequal distributions of wealth and power have created humiliating new hierarchies. This proximity, or what Hannah Arendt called ‘negative solidarity’, is rendered more claustrophobic by digital communications, the improved capacity for envious and resentful comparison, and the commonplace, and therefore compromised, quest for individual distinction and singularity.”

Bonus: Zygmunt Bauman

“We remain of course as modern as we were before; but these ‘we’ who are modern have considerably grown in numbers in recent years. We may well say that by now all or almost all of us, in every or almost every part of the planet, have become modern. And that means that today, unlike a decade or two ago, every land on the planet, with only a few exceptions, is subject to the obsessive, compulsive, unstoppable change that is nowadays called modernization, and to everything that goes with it, including the continuous production of human redundancy, and the social tensions it is bound to cause.”

Charles Taylor on globalization, media and “diasporic consciousness”

Queen’s Quarterly, Fall 1998

Globalization also involves the development of world media spaces. The media now reach into all but the most remote societies. They thoroughly permeate these communities, and many media organizations are constantly casting about the globe, collecting their select audiences, those groups of people who are fixed on certain images and programs. Along with this, and not entirely separate from it, there is a world public sphere and the development even of world civil society in term of public opinion. Think of the tremendous importance in our world today of organizations like Amnesty International.

But perhaps the most fascinating aspect of globalization is the tremendous increase in international migration and the consequent diversification of the populations in many countries. A few decades ago a country like Canada had a population -speaking just of religion- that was Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish. Today, every major religion is represented in substantial numbers within the Canadian population. And with this comes the development of another striking phenomenon, something we might call a diasporic consciousness. People now live in imagined spaces, spaces where they see themselves situated within a certain society, and more and more of these space straddle borders and other boundaries. You now have people who are in many ways fully integrated as citizens of their new countries, but at the same time retain active interest and contact with people in their country of origin. Their interest in the politics of one country feeds into their interest in the politics of the other, and they are linked also to their country-of-origin compatriots settled in different nations all over the world.”