Don't smell the coffee: How to fight back against 'Starbucksification'
Last weekend’s big horse racing festival in Chantilly, France brought together trainers, jockeys, spectators and journalists from all over the world.
The genuine internationalism of the event, which saw enthusiastic Japanese, Brits, Arabs, Italians, Irish, Germans, French and Africans dressed in national costume and rubbing shoulders, was uplifting. It was also in stark contrast to the depressing news from outside the Hippodrome of mass killings carried out by an alienated firearm fanatic in Las Vegas, fatal stabbings in Marseilles and a stabbing and vehicular ramming in Edmonton, Canada.
At Chantilly, geopolitics was put on hold, while outside insane, inhumane battles still raged. For 48 hours at least, it was wonderful to escape into an oasis of peace and even back a few winners. What happened in France at this magical racecourse, surrounded by woods and opposite a beautiful chateau, provided much food for thought about how things might be improved out in the 'real world.'
For starters, you'd have to go a long way to find better examples of international co-operation.
The showpiece event of the weekend - the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe - Europe's richest horse race, was won in spectacular style by the filly Enable, trained by an Englishman (John Gosden), ridden by an Italian (Frankie Dettori) and owned by Prince Khalid bin Abdullah from the House of Saud. Who sponsored the race and co-sponsored the entire meeting, along with the Equestrian Club and France Galop? Qatar!
Yes, that's right, Qatar. The Saudis and Qataris have been at loggerheads internationally for most of 2017, but it was if none of that had ever happened when the prizes were handed out on Sunday afternoon. Admiration of the victorious thoroughbred trumped all other concerns.
So it was too when a horse owned by Godolphin, the equine operation of Sheikh Mohammed, Vice-President of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, won the day’s first race, the Prix Marcel Boussac.
Don’t think the event was just for the jet-set. Marsha, the 2016 winner of the Prix de L’Abbaye, and who came second in this year’s race, is owned by the Elite Racing Club syndicate whose members pay just £4 a week for their involvement.
Horse racing’s ability to divorce sport from politics and to allow everyone to take part is wholly admirable and one that needs to be copied in other arenas too. In recent years, the areas of human activity where politics haven’t encroached have become fewer and fewer. Events that used to promote internationalism have been hijacked by those obsessed with pursuing globalist goals.
Take the Eurovision Song Contest. This began with a noble aspiration. As I wrote in a previous OpEdge,
Eurovision predates the formation of the European Economic Community (EEC) by several months, but came about from the same desire to bring the countries of Europe (or at least Western Europe) closer together and help prevent future wars.
Artists performed in their native tongues, and many of the Eurovision songs became international hits. But the era of turbo-globalization has seen the contest radically transformed. Almost all the singers now perform in American-English, and the songs, once so distinct, nearly all sound the same.
Eurovision is now a ghastly three-hour festival of dumbed-down rubbish where the ‘right’ political attitudes have to be displayed. The nadir was reached in 2016 when ‘1944’ - a blatantly political dirge from Ukraine and lauded by NATO - was awarded top prize, even though the people of Europe preferred the Russian entry.
Eurovision is just one example of how modern neoliberal globalization, pushed by US multinationals (we could also call it 'Starbucksification'), is inimical to genuine internationalism. The former, which has profit maximization as its sole objective, sets out to destroy national culture, to homogenize every aspect of our lives; the way we talk, the way we dress and the way we socialize; the latter respects the differences between peoples and their countries, while at the same time rejoices in our common humanity.
This explains why internationalism, and genuine solidarity between the peoples of the world, was more evident in the more socialistic, egalitarian era before Starbuckisifaction than it is today. Sameness, as the great Erich Fromm pointed out over 60 years ago, is not the same thing as equality. Too many people have been brainwashed by the big corporations into believing that it is.
We might not have had so many ethnic restaurants, but growing up in Britain in the 1970s, I was, as I explained in a Guardian column in 2008. "In the 1960s, European cultural influences were everywhere in Britain – from the pop charts to television screens. Not any more exposed to a much wider range of cultural influences than children growing up in the UK now. The television schedules included programs made in France, Germany (East and West), Japan, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and many other foreign countries.
Musically, the pop charts were wonderfully diverse. Much-loved French chansonniers, like Gilbert Becaud and Charles Aznavour, enjoyed big hits in Britain. Between 1982-4 there were no fewer than four number ones from Germany. There was even a top five hit (in 1971) for an Argentinian, Waldo de Los Rios, with his modern arrangement of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Symphony No 40 in G Minor. Television showcased films from around the world. We watched classics from Kurosawa, Bergman, and Chukhrai. The BBC even showed the 1943 version of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, made by the famous UFA studios in Berlin. On Christmas Day 1978, BBC2 screened Dersu Uzala, a joint Soviet/Japanese production.
Yes, we were subject to American culture as well, but I wasn’t as overwhelming as it is today and it was undoubted of much higher quality.
Travel was hugely exciting as every country was very different. Going to Hungary today is nowhere near the adventurous experience it was in the early/mid-90s when I first visited the country. State-owned self-service restaurants serving hearty and affordable local dishes, and where you could meet people from all walks of life, were in the places where bland Western coffee chains and fast-food outlets are today. The same applies to many other places in the world which are all becoming far too similar.
Modern neoliberal globalization doesn’t just mean a Starbucks on every corner (or in the case of London on every corner and in every station), it’s meant attempts to force the same ‘liberal’ (but actually very illiberal), politically correct, corporate-friendly values on countries across the world. Only Western-style ‘democracy’ is deemed legitimate by the globalizers. The principles on which the UN is based, that all countries are equal, and the rights they are being not dependent on their system of government or their political alliances have been discarded. Instead, we’ve seen illegal attacks on countries which don’t toe the line.
The backlash to this regressive process- which has been equated to ‘modernization’ by those with a vested financial interested in promoting it- has been enormous- but unfortunately, it’s not always been channeled in the right direction. Instead of moving to revive genuine 60s/70s-style internationalism we’ve seen a resurgence of narrow-minded chauvinism. Old enmities which should be forgotten are being brought back to life. Poland has updated its’ decommunization legislation’ banning ‘Soviet propaganda monuments.' A new chapter in the Spanish Civil War, which we thought had ended in 1939 is being played out in Catalonia.
The United States is more divided than at any time in living memory, with a cultural war between pigeonholed ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ in full swing. Instead of marching on Wall Street, the source of America’s problems, people come to blows (or worse) over historical statues.
Meanwhile, Washington’s neocon elites, while claiming to be ‘anti-racists,' promulgate a vicious form of Russophobia. As the politics of hate takes over, there’s no attempt to see things from the other’s perspective, to walk a mile in his or her shoes. We still don’t know what motivated Stephen Paddock to massacre those innocent concert-goers in Vegas, but there’s one thing we do know, he lacked empathy. How else could he so callously end the lives of 58 fellow human beings?
It really doesn’t have to be like this. The way to fight back against dehumanizing and destructive neoliberal globalization is not to indulge in Francophobia, Russophobia, Arabophobia, Germaniphobia- or to retreat into any form of parochialism, but to campaign openly and bravely for genuine internationalism. We need to connect more with one another, not less. People must come before profit. No man or woman –whatever their nationality, color or creed, should be the means of another man or woman’s advancement.
As I left Chantilly on Sunday and returned to ‘the real world,' and its news of gun massacres, knife attacks, and mindless murders, the ending of Thomas Mann’s great novel The Magic Mountain sprang to mind. Hans Castorp has spent seven years in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps and leaves just as the ‘desperate dance’ of World War One is starting. Mann asks: "Out of this universal feast of death, out of this extremity of fever, kindling the rain-washed evening sky to a fiery glow, may it be that Love one day shall mount?"
The question is almost 100 years old, but remains strikingly relevant.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.