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As a white man born in Europe with English as my native tongue, I find myself in a position of privilege. I have never been oppressed, vilified, persecuted or segregated by the state or any other authoritative body. I can now reflect on how I came to be in this position, by looking through my ancestral roots and analysing the culmination of factors that have driven the prosperity of Western Europe and the Global North over the centuries. The UK was at the vanguard of the industrial revolution (Crafts, 1985) and my British ancestors used this new-found technological prowess to impose their iron fisted rule across the less-developed world (Dirks, 2001). Colonialism was prevalent from the late 19th Century and the British people reaped the rewards of the industrial revolution while maintaining a global hegemonic structure with the UK firmly placed behind the wheel (Frieden, 1994). Time has rolled on and the British have gradually relinquished their authoritative power over foreign nations, however, do we now live in a world filled with democratic equality for all sovereign states?
The concept of development has been rolled out across the ‘underdeveloped’ areas of the world as a chance for them to progressively improve in both societal and economic terms. During the 20th Century, the idea of development acted as a pseudonym for an intentional enforcement of global hegemony and now with the US currently at the helm, it has evolved into post-modern neo-colonialism and imperialism (Veltmeyer, 2015). This hegemonic structure is often unwittingly accepted by those that find themselves propping up the elitist establishment that continues to enforce the seemingly impermeable defence of the status-quo (Rivero, 2010).
This often unbeknown acceptance of global hierarchies has resulted in much of the Western world being completely disengaged with matters of social injustice, global inequality and wealth disparity (Furedi, 2005). The establishment and the media continue to find scapegoats to take the blame or serve as distraction, ranging from asylum seekers stealing your job to the threat of terrorism impinging on your freedom (Douglas, 2002). With political disengagement, injustices and inequalities often get swept under the rug whilst celebrity saturated media dominates social forums and discussions (Atkinson & Dougherty, 2006). Poverty is the currency of the wealthy; our high standard of living is generally speaking to the detriment of others (Rogers & Balázs, 2016). The blind acceptance of this sickens me every day. Yet we find ourselves seeking a compassionate sense of morality so we can sleep easy at night. We recycle the cardboard from our new 45inch plasma television and the plastic packaging from the family pack of rump steaks, “we’re very green in our family”. We view an advert for a charity dealing with famine in Sub-Saharan Africa, “Isn’t it just awful? I must do something to help”, maybe we send a text donation with the handy on-screen number. “Payment confirmed”, ah, that feels better and the fly-infested malaria-ridden refugee camp buries itself away neatly in the back of our minds until the next morality reminder as we fall victim to the monotonous continuation of the in-house drive-by (Rifai, 2011). Now we feel morally content and we blindly continue on our merry way with our consumerist driven lifestyles that perpetuate and exacerbate the myriad of environmental and social issues that relentlessly plague global society.
Globalisation has brought with it an aspirational goal of being more like those that peer down from their ivory towers. It has continued to diffuse a network of cultural values and traditions that are specific to certain nations or geographic locations and it has pushed a consumerism fuelled individualistic lifestyle in their place (Castles, 2005). The current hegemonic structure is fuelled by the capitalist paradigm that enlists the global proletariat to work in servitude to maintain the power of the status-quo with the tantalising promise of trickle-down economics keeping the masses from biting the hand that feeds.
In recent years, a wave of prejudiced nationalism has been washing over Western Europe and the US, in response to a supposed upturn in immigration and fears over increased violence and threats to job security (Inglehart & Norris, 2016). Xenophobic scare-mongering commonly exploited by populist movements disseminates like a virus through susceptible sections of society that are seeking change whilst the true drivers of their legitimate problems are annexed to the murky depths of obscurity. This sense of nationalism looks to evolve into tribalism as the impending effects of climate change start to take effect on various levels. Food and water scarcity, sea-level rise and land-use change is going to displace hundreds of millions, mostly from countries that fall under the shadow of the underdeveloped umbrella (McAdam, 2017). With right-wing populism on the rise, the divide is widening between sovereign states and self-preservation is top of the agenda (Inglehart & Norris, 2016). With the Syrian refugee crisis we are already seeing the largest forced migration since the Second World War (Mayer, 2016), atrocities abound as heads of state negotiate compassion at international conferences.
I and others around me are victims of our own privilege to some extent; we have grown up in a society that always errs towards convenience and is eager not to rock the boat. We’re not blind to the issues of the world, but we’re comfortable, maybe too comfortable; a sense of comfort makes those issues slightly harder to see, pushing them further and further into the periphery of our tinted outlooks. Distractions aplenty arise as the screams of the oppressed get drowned out by the next installment of America’s Next Top Model.
We must break free from our cashmere ensconced shackles and tackle the real perpetrators that are leading us towards self-demise.
You know who they are.
Guy Finkill is a 1st year student in the Master’s Programme in Sustainable Development at Uppsala University. He has been getting heavily involved in environmental activism during his short time in Sweden.
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Castles, S. 2005, “Nation and Empire: Hierarchies of Citizenship in the New Global Order”, International Politics, vol. 42, no. 2, pp. 203-224.
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Inglehart, R. and Norris, P., 2016. Trump, Brexit, and the rise of Populism: Economic have-nots and cultural backlash.
Mayer, R., 2016. The Right to No Longer be a Refugee: The Legal Empowerment of Syrian Refugees in Jordan.
McAdam, J., 2017. BUILDING INTERNATIONAL APPROACHES TO CLIMATE CHANGE, DISASTERS, AND DISPLACEMENT. Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, 33(2), pp.1-14.
Rifai, A., 2011. The analysis of figure in rage against the machine songs lyries'(bullet in the head, no shelter). [online] Available at: http://repository.uinjkt.ac.id/dspace/bitstream/123456789/2507/1/98476-ACHMAD%20RIFAI-FAH.pdf [Accessed 16 March 2017]
Rivero B., O.d. 2010, The myth of development: non-viable economies and the crisis of civilization, 2nd edn, Zed Books, New York;London;.
Rogers, D.S. and Balázs, B., 2016. The View from Deprivation: Poverty, Inequality, and the Distribution of Wealth. Poverty and the millennium development goals: A critical look forward, pp.45-82.
Veltmeyer, H., 2015. The New Geoeconomics of Capital in Latin America: Alternative Trade and Development in an Era of Extractive Capitalism. In Beyond Free Trade (pp. 117-132). Palgrave Macmillan UK.