The “global village” that world societies are standing on the precipice of is wholly contemporary and similar in its basic premises and core ideologies to that of existing global constructs it would encompass. The contention among academics is whether or not this new, global society truly allows for the personal and social freedom it so vehemently advocates in its campaign for an absolute and intrinsic existence. The real agenda of this state of unity, it would seem – and is thus proposed – is one of increasing the individuals sense of personal freedom by merely categorizing and placing value on more choices.
If it is true that “Man is born free but everywhere is in chains” (J. J. Rousseau The Social Contract 1763) then it would seem that within this global village, while the chains are looser, there are far more of them: invisible threads, perhaps, that keep us tethered while creating the illusion of freedom. In response to this question, the contemporary global structures of the capitalist market, the consumer culture and the communication network will be critically assessed in terms of the freedom they each allow in the formation of cultural diversity and identity and the degree to which personal agency is used within these structures.
Thus, it will become clear, that the ‘global village’, while very real, is a master of illusion. Capitalism, an economic system designed to generate profit by producing surplus to the demand (D. Loy, 1997), is the current global economic system. The scope and following of this economic force has been compared to that of a religion (D. Loy 1997) and ‘The Market’ it has created as a deity (H. Cox 1999). The fundamental principle of capitalism lies in the interests of the individual; it is an economic community of individuals, each working to creating a profit, to increase personal wealth and thereby satisfy not only needs, but also desires (D.
Loy 1997). Understanding of this would certainly seem to support the claim that it allows unprecedented freedom for the individual, as each is allowed to hold their personal fate in their own hands: if you do not engage in the capitalism market and make a profit, you will not survive and it is thus in your best interests to work hard. However, this is the illusion that allows one to merely think he/she is in control. If an individual desires to exist outside the capitalism framework, for example, shunning monetary wealth, theirs would be a hard life.
So, too, is it impossible for an individual, engaging in apparent personal freedom within the capitalism economy, to alter the capitalist framework, or to destroy it altogether. The irony is this: any individual, who does not choose to actively engage in capitalist society, can only exist outside of it. A single individual could not alter the capitalist ethos. And this is in direct contradiction to the core principle of capitalism: hence the illusion. Thus our identity within the capitalism society – the world economic society – is fixed, static and indeed stifled.
Whether we choose it or not, we are all capitalists by default as we have to engage with the system to survive. This concurs with Cox’s view that The Market is a deity: if the capitalist market were to truly be controlled by the individual, it would be dynamic in its design. Yet it is not, and just as some religions stifle identity and cultural diversity, so too does ‘The Market’. The consumer culture that exists due to the capitalist market has a similar design, yet allows for the illusion of far greater individual and cultural freedom.
As the market engages in supplying a commodity for every human need and desire, and further creating apparent need and desire through the supply of commodities, (M. Sarup, date unknown) it appears as if the individual is constructing his or her own identity by choosing these various symbols to construct an identity (Jenkins, 1996). The existence of a far greater number of symbols to purchase further permeates the illusion that the individual has the freedom to construct any identity it wants through personal agency.
This illusion is perfectly illustrated by the famous quote by Henry Ford: “You can have any colour, so long as it’s black” upon referring to colour choices for a new Ford model: you can chose what you want, so long as we permit it to exist. The freedom we feel exists due to the fact that absolutely everything has been valued and marketed. No commodity is sacred to the capitalist market, and thus even the spiritual identity is for sale in ‘The Market’. (H. Cox, 1999) The individual truly believes it is selecting symbols for an identity in order to satisfy a need to own it.
Yet, the consumer culture is one that cannot separate needs from desires. We seek to fulfil desires by the purchase of commodities through the creation of that desire by the aesthetics of that very commodity (M. Sarup, date unknown). This is not individual freedom, nor is it allowing for identity diversity. It is simply the illusion created through the use of supposed personal agency. While the individual believes he or she is choosing an identity, it is really the market that decides for us, by turning human desire into the belief it is a need.
The communication network that exists is perhaps the one global structure that is not as devious in the creation of an illusion as the previous two. With the advent of the Internet, e-mail and global television, information supplied to individual has never been this immediate or extensive. Whereas previous information sources have selected, edited and censored information to suite the desires of those in control, the individual now has the power to discern between the subjective and the objective, the truth and the illusion.
As the Internet, for example, cannot be completely edited, individuals are being exposed to various thinking and cultures without the imposing forces of global structures. This network does allow the greatest amount of personal agency, as it is impossible for any force to control the flow of information on the Internet or though e-mail. With this mammoth supply of information, the individual is allowed a modicum of freedom (as the range of information is so large is appears infinite to the individual) to create an identity. There are too many views on any subject for the illusion to be controlled and designed effectively.