Saturday, May 01, 2010

cultural hegemony

Video - explaining Gramsci's theory of cultural hegemony.

The View From Brittainy | The problem of Peak Oil is that the narrative which underlies it runs contrary to everything Enlightenment and the ideology of progress stand for. Where progress is about conquest and mastery of nature, peak oil tells us of the absolute, unmovable limits this very nature assigns to our development and prosperity. There is no way to reconcile them, and those who attempt to do it – such as the “bright green” - choose a more convenient problem to solve, global warming for instance, or end up defending such oxymoronic cause as “green growth”.

To get out of our global predicament we must recognize that an unsustainable society simply cannot be sustained and reshape it for resilience and sobriety. This massive powerdown effort cannot be even begun, except at the local level, without first undermining, then overthrowing the culture of progress which rules our civilization since the end of the XVIIIth century.

Similar ideological warfare have been won in the past, and against adversaries every bit as hegemonic as the ideology of progress. Christianity, initially, a small Jewish cult, progressively spread in the Roman underground during the heyday of the Empire before becoming its official faith and utterly replacing the once hegemonic pagan civic religions. The Reformation imposed itself in the northern half of Europe – and goaded the once all-powerful into extensive reforms – after more than a century of confused intellectual (or not so intellectuals in the case of the Hussites, for instance) struggles. As for the Enlightenment itself, its victory was a slow and difficult one. The late Christopher Lasch pointed out that the ideology of progress met with considerable resistance in America, from the Knights of Labor to the Southern Agrarian. As late as the early twentieth century, the Roman Catholic Church condemned popular sovereignty and religious pluralism and until 1967 all priests and teachers had to take an anti-modernist oath.

It was not until after World War Two that those ideas fell into growing irrelevancy. The ultimate fate of the ideology of progress will ultimately mirror theirs, even if we still don't know which paradigm will replace it. History is full of aborted world religions and hegemonic cultures. The rise of Christianity and the Reformation witnessed the birth, and death, of not a few “heretic” sects which could have become the new norm, had things turned out otherwise – who remembers the Marcionites, for instance, or Arianism, at a time the official religion of most of Western Europe, or the original Anabaptists cults which raised such an alarm in Renaissance Germany before being stomped out by both Catholics and Protestants. Others, which could also have become hegemonic have survived by insulating themselves and becoming closed, self-sufficient, communities. The Jews or the Parsi come to mind, but the Waldenses or the Mennonites are also good examples.