Cultural capital in the New World Order

Today an average global dweller has a smartphone to be connected, uses a satellite feed map to drive to the neighbourhood store, probably gorges on a fried chicken, which is a simple recipe marketed just last century, makes their children eat a “happy meal” though devoid of any kind of nourishment, spends his leisure being entertained on a variety of devices, feels inadequate due to the blast of advertisements and aspires to be this “developed, civilised” person in an attempt to be respected and have status. He then works, if he can, from morning to dusk, from where he gets the maximum benefit to fulfil these new wants, usually at businesses which aim to create and sustain more of such wants. He never finds happiness, stuck in the cycle, as no end to the wants is in sight, and without this cycle, his survival is threatened. This feeling of insecurity is not unfounded.

The world also witnesses today a breakdown in the American dream, with a rising poverty of 13%, putting it in company of countries such as Bulgaria, (in-spite of a per capita GdP of US$ 63,000/-). According to Bloomberg, those earning less than $1,00,000 per year would need to change their lifestyle to counter inflation, thus defining a new poverty line. The situation is not much different in erstwhile greats such as UK, with rising poverty, they struggle to be relevant by those countries that they colonised in the previous century. Many marginal communities in western world such as USA, face sub par treatment and lack of facilities such as clean water or affordable healthcare. Without a traditional community net, they are faced by lack of childcare support and children are also subject to growing gun violence in schools. However, the benefits of the industrial society had been romanticised and publicised by their media and communication net, as an aspirational benchmark to rest of the world as an attempt to market their goods and services. This overconsumption of goods and material is contributing to the climate change today, and an adaptation to cultural values; which were rejected, or sometimes replaced; may bring us back from the brink of extinction.

Yoga, which is said to be as old as speech itself, is a well known example of cultural appropriation and capitalism. I have been amused many a times by the distortion of this lifestyle technique and its interpretation. While there are strict guidelines how to practice yoga, what to eat, how to live a yogic lifestyle in the texts, western world has constructed a “packaged deal” where a different piece of clothing (called yoga pants), replacing of natural mats with synthetic yoga mats and so on, have been introduced. The time of Yoga exercise has been shifted for modern convenience. (I once saw a picture where an enthusiast was attending his first day of his online yoga class with a beer can in hand! Tragically in India, many ignorants also blindly follow this distorted system.)

The sari, one of the most sustainable garments in the world, consists of a single six to nine yards of cloth, which once woven can be draped in a number of ways and can also be passed from generation to generation. It accounts for changes in the female size and weight which happens during the monthly period and thus it can be tied tight or loose for comfort. This piece of clothing too underwent changes when the European ideals required the presence of women in the high society, or on another level, needed young tribal girls as feeder to their religious missionary program; but with changes to their dress. The Sari was then adorned with a stitched blouse, to appease the victorian sensibilities; with a petticoat added as an underskirt. (There is no Indian word for the “blouse” and “petticoat”, though it is assumed to be part of the national dress.)

What is cultural capital? Some academics suggest it through a field of sociology to be the social assets of a person (education, style of dress, style of speech…and so on). Culture has organically developed over many millennia. It is specific to the region you live in. It addresses your needs and shapes you as a person. When you trade this ethnic understanding and get some returns of a monetary/non monetary nature, you have successfully capitalised on your culture. This is similar to the phenomenon of Levis jeans. Today the average tropical country citizen would also be seen wearing this highly uncomfortable garment in 40℃ temperature, it has been successfully been marketed and exported to every part of the globe to elicit a purchase desire, by means of fashion. This growth in demand, due to change in lifestyle, has led to severe stress on water resources, as well its pollution due to chemical dyeing, across the globe.

For the rest of the world to compete in such a system of commerce, it is important to introspect and take inspiration from your own culture. When you identify and appreciate your culture, you are better placed to export products and services to other such countries where it will be valued more. Geographic diversity and cultural capital can be a foundation of post modern trade based on actual needs. Resource rich nations in the global south have for long been getting the short side of the stick as we are labelled as mere resource “suppliers”,  leading to the overuse of natural resources at cost of the regions producing them. Let’s save our resources, our culture and we can save ourselves and our planet. Polycentric multipolarity will strive to be local, rather than global. Prominent hardcore capitalists are also acknowledging related changes, such as meaningful work.

While turnover and rising pay are not a feature of every region or sector, employees across the globe are looking for more from their employer – including more flexibility and more meaningful work. As companies rebuild themselves coming out of the pandemic, CEOs face a profoundly different paradigm than we are used to. Companies expected workers to come to the office five days a week. Mental health was rarely discussed in the workplace. And wages for those on low and middle incomes barely grew.

That world is gone.

Larry Fink . annual letter to CEOs. 2022

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