Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without being able to understand both. Discuss.
To make true the desires of the ancient philosopher Socrates we now live in a world that dares us to think for ourselves. We are now in a position to shape our own destinies more so than ever before due to the greater social mobility which we now have at our disposal. As a whole the world has gone from agrarian to a much more capitalist age in which people are never satisfied with their lot and as a consequence are constantly looking for the fastest, cheapest and most efficient way to do things, concerned primarily with profit, profit and more profit. We live in an industrial age, one of much exploitation on a grand and often obscene scale where the rich get richer and the poor stay where they are. A recent article from the Irish times compounds this fact informing us that “Global inequality has increased to the extent that the €1.2 trillion combined wealth of the 85 richest people is equal to that of the poorest 3.5 billion”. (P,A “Wealth of 85 richest people equal to that of poorest 3.5bn”The Irish Times, Jan20th,2014). We are now so concerned with making money as efficiently as possible it has even prompted one sociologist, George Ritzer to publish a book entitled “The Mc Donaldization of Society” The book is not concerned with Mc Donald’s itself but more so how the methods and principals used by the fast food corporations have come to dominate all of society. We know that this is where we are at but before we can even attempt to understand society and how it got here we must be first able to understand the individual. This is of paramount importance as it is the individual or rather individuals who make up society as a whole. The purpose of this essay will be to understand how we in the western world have been socialised into this “Capitalist way of Living”, how this mentality and model for living has impacted the rest of the world and also to try and discover if due to our way of life are walking blindfolded into a scenario not unlike the one envisioned by Marx where the working class and exploited people will take advantage of economic crisis to create class struggle, in turn over throwing capitalism and the bourgeoisie or dominant class.
Socialisation is a lifelong learning process and can be described as “The process of learning our culture and how to live within it”. We learn how to behave socially, the difference between right and wrong, to wear clothes, how to behave in society and many other important things that are vital to our ability to co- exist with other people. Our parents, schools and the people around us are responsible for teaching us much of what we need to know. The mass media though is the most relevant agent of socialisation when it comes to this essay. A study conducted in the U.K identified that “99 % of young people spend two and a half hours a day watching television “(Bilton.Tony.et al, Introductory Sociology, Basingstoke, Palgrave&Macmillan,2002). It is safe to say that during our lifetimes we watch an extraordinary amount of T.V, not to mention the amount of time we spend on the internet. During this time we are constantly bombarded with advertisements for clothes, food, cars and everything else you can conceive. These advertisements are designed to stimulate our internal desires and many cost thousands if not millions to produce. Overtime they instil in us a desire to want products and lots of them; the result is that this generation is one of rampant and unabated consumerism. Over the past 50 years alone we have seen the world domination of Mc Donald’s, rise of countless brands and now in Europe have 600 cars on the road for every 1000 people!! We want these things and in buying them we are enabling many others to make huge sums from our need for convenience. But how are they providing us with all this stuff? Who makes these products? And where do the resources to do so come from? We must now acknowledge that many people have to suffer in order for us to be able to continue to live this life based on consumer and capitalist ideals.
We live in an era of unequal wealth distribution and standards of living. An investigation done recently by The Guardian informs that “experts estimated Britain's debt to Africans in the continent and diaspora to be in the trillions of pounds. While this was a useful benchmark, its basis was mistaken. Not because it was excessive, but because the real debt is incalculable. For without Africa and its Caribbean plantation extensions, the modern world as we know it would not exist. (Drayton, Richard.“ The wealth of the west was built on Africa's exploitation “The Guardian, 20 August 2005). We get much of our coffee from Africa, just like we get our chocolate and abundant amounts of the fruit and veg we use on a daily basis. Unfortunately the book does not stop there though; the resources on which the powerful Western Economies were built came from African Countries. We have taken their minerals, oil, trees and many other resources in order to make our lives that bit more comfortable and the industrial revolution possible. Human Trafficking, unpaid labour and underpaying for goods and services are all commonplace on the African continent, acts perpetrated by multinational organisations and companies recognised globally. Do we care? In short the answer seems to be no, despite many activists efforts to highlight the importance of these issues of which we are only too well aware we turn a blind eye. As long as we are able to get our products we don’t really seem to mind what happens to the people and countries that made them possible. In China and other parts of Asia the story is much the same, people living lives of depravation and financial inequality and doing it so that we can have their products. In china capitalism is starting to become a more widespread approach, enabling like in Europe the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. As the many increasingly more affluent Chinese people start to desire consumer goods more, their less fortunate compatriots toil away endlessly in sweat shops. “Today it is finance that is the most important form of global wealth and is shaping the fortunes of both rich and poor in all capitalist countries“(Bilton.Tony.et al, Introductory Sociology, Basingstoke, Palgrave&Macmillan,2002,75).
The question is how long can we continue to live in this way? It seems only a matter of time before resources run out and everyday we are receiving ever more ominous warnings regarding climate change. These are both consequences of our need for convenience and consumer goods which causes pollution and the overusing of finite materials that cannot be replaced. Apart from these obvious issues how long is it going to be before African and Asian countries tire of being exploited by us? Both of these continents are developing rapidly and as the people in them become more educated and empowered certainly they will eventually revolt against the ones who have helped ensure they have remained in poverty for so long? If we, for example take the West as the Bourgeoisie and Africa and Asia as the Prolaterait or working class, could we in fact be walking into a situation like the one envisioned by Marx. One where the working class rise up and overthrow their oppressors? It is highly possible. Africa has “democratized” to some extent, and violence and armed conflicts have decreased in spite of a few hot spots. “Half of the world’s future population growth will be driven by Africa (not because of higher fertility, which is declining, but because of longer life expectancy). This trend could lead to a “demographic dividend” of an adult population of 800 million by 2030 (compared to 460 million in 2010). Africa’s rapid urbanization and burgeoning middle class could generate hundreds of millions of consumers” (Sy, amadou, “Five questions answered on Africa’s rising economic growth” BusinessDay, February 18, 2014). Ironically it seems that China has a huge part to play in this development of Africa and according to the same article “China has become the largest single trading partner for sub-Saharan Africa” and is also also accounts for 16% of total foreign direct investment to sub-Saharan Africa and has become a key investor and provider of aid”. Yes it is true that China might have some ulterior motives for fuelling their own economic growth, but it seems that we could be witnessing a new distribution system of wealth and power with the countries historically exploited now becoming more self-sufficient, economically and socially stable. The scenario which Marx Envisioned could become reality easier than we think as much of the West is now almost devoid of natural resources like oil and gas. Recently too America and Britain, both world superpowers and huge consumers of foreign goods are experiencing crippling weather phenomena which is damaging to their Economies and ability to make money. As a cruel twist of fate they are the ones suffering at the hands of climate change a phenomenon they are more than helping to cause.
In conclusion it is plain to see that if we want to understand western society and the individuals within it we must first be able to understand capitalism. It is capitalism that has driven the growth of our economies, the want for consumer goods and the want for profit generated by the production and sale of these goods. Each of us is responsible for the exploitation of other less fortunate people in Africa and Asia. We have been socialised as dialogical beings into wanting what the people around us have and simply can’t say no to that new jumper or new car so that we can be on par with our classmates or neighbour down the road. We don’t seem to have time to cook never mind grow our own food, opting instead for fast convenient options, and god only knows where a lot of them come from! The government and people in charge of corporations encourage us to give into these desires for products through the mass media as quite simply they are the ones who benefit when we do. The way in which we are living though does not seem to be sustainable as the very countries historically exploited begin to embrace the capitalist way of life on which our great nations have been built. To some it may seem like it may be only a matter of time before a Marxist revolution takes place, which is if in fact it is not already beginning to do so.