po-mo, possible scenario?

Wed, 12 Mar 1997 12:26:36 -0500 (EST)

Po-mo's promise as a liberating theory definitely coincides with the
hegemonic crisis arising in the second half of the 20th century. Just as
clear, however, is neo-liberalism's global rebirth along with intensified
impoverishment of working classes, regardless of culture, gender or
lifestyle. How is this apparent contradiction - the concurrent popularity of
a liberating theory with its accompanying hegemonic crisis, and
intensified economic exploitation - to be explained?

Perhaps, the current situation is the manifestation of several,
diachronic historical cycles turning simultaneously. To simplify matters,
lets limit ourselves to three times, clocks or cycles. Arbitrarily
picking 1960 or 1970, hegemonic challenges gained momentum, both within
and outside of core areas. By the 1970s, the world economy entered a
period of structural crisis. Finally, productive, investment, and
administrative technology took a turn toward greater flexibility. The
latter development favored dispersed production geared toward smaller
quantities. To sum, somewhere around 1970 three cycles turn at the same
time: 1) global economic restructuring (disorder?); 2) strengthening of
particularist, counter-hegemonic theories (ideologies) 3) increasing
flexibility in production, investment and administration, favoring small
production runs and global dispersal.

With #1, fewer people can afford goods and services, and there would be a
crisis of overproduction except for...

#3 which favors limited production of a wide variety of goods and
services, which coincidentally fits quite well with...

#2's generation of a multitude of tastes and wants, although #1 diminishes
the number of consumers who can afford such a variety, and on and on.

It can be seen from this scenario that the very counter-hegemonic theories
that appear radical actually prevent severe dysfuntion of the world
capitalist system by providing new cultural products and driving demand
for them (often via politics). This is especially relevant if the
products are instantly consumed, for example a vacation to Afro-Brazilian
carnival in Bahia, a trip to the New Orleans Jazz fesitval to hear creole
music, or dining at an Ethiopian restuarant in Manhatten. In other cases,
changing fashion (drivien or inspired by counter-hegemonic cultural
trends) amount to instant consumption of what normally should be more
durable items. What should be long term products become momentary displays
of cultural awareness (for example, Guatemalan handbags, World Beat CDs,
jerseys and sneakers matching the current popular sport and sport hero).
The irony is that many po-mo individuals who emphasize the aesthetic are
actually advising and petitioning global capitalism about which products
and services to produce. These individuals might sense cultural victory
occassionally, and even achieve narrow, personal economic gains. But in
the larger scheme, they are only breathing life into a system that is
impoverishing more and more of its citizens, regardless of their culture,
gender, or lifestyle.

(Of course, the very pace of technological change plays well with
production for fewer consumers. For example, computers are obsolete
almost as soon as they hit the market, thus dictating future purchases
by the few who can afford them.)

Most of the ideas for this essay come from David Harvey, THE CONDITION OF

John C.