Friday, October 15, 2010

What is "Hegemony?"

Wikipedia says:

Noun: hegemony (plural hegemonies)

   1. (formal) Domination, influence, or authority over another, especially by one political group over a society or by one nation over others (e.g.: internationally among nation-states, and regionally over social classes, between languages or even culture).

          The two political parties battled viciously for hegemony.

   2. Dominance of one social group over another, such that the ruling group or hegemon acquires some degree of consent from the subordinate, as opposed to dominance purely by force



This cartoon was one of the first hits when I Googled "hegemony" on Yahoo.  The Black Commentator is a website devoted to issues of African Americans.  The first picture was a complicated diagram but, almost all of them involved similar ideas of "taking advantage" of one group over another.  Note that our "Sopranos" are the ones that actually comment on the US hegemony as destructive.  Still, I think the picture implies that universally.  Many today regard this as a primitive aspect of human behavior that is phasing out of a more enlightened world community.

Studying history, I've come to realize that a great deal of human history has been concerned with obtaining hegemony over another group.  Recently, we have had an article on Dutch Hegemony assigned to us. 
I'm sure it was assigned because it made us think.  They really like to see students think... :)  The Dutch have been regarded as the first truly capitalistic society in the world.  They were the first to develop a corporate economic system conducive to capitalism and even built ships called flutes, with no guns, whose purpose was to sail amongst the Baltic nations (the Dutch's primary trade partners) and transport goods.  They were ships built specifically to haul loads, called harringbuis, or just "buss."  I call them "trucks" because that is essentially what they were most comparable to today.  These trucks transported goods down the highways of the 17th century, or the Baltic straits and sea.  Wallerstein tells "As late as 1728, Daniel Defoe was still referring to the Dutch as 'the Carryers of the World, the middle Persons in Trade,
the Factors and Brokers of Europe.'"  It reminded me of an ad for a trucking company... lol.

In reading this article, I was struck by some amazing parallels.  Immanuel Wallerstein, himself notes these parallels in his own article:



... a mass of urban proletarians who were living in slums,
many of the workers employed being female and child labor.  
As Jeannin says so aptly, “the tensions and the conflicts have a modern
resonance." Of course they do, because we are in the presence of
industrial capitalism. In summary, it can be said that in the late
sixteenth century, the northern Netherlands was set firmly on the
path of a productive efficiency that enabled the United Provinces to
flower in about 1600 into the principal (though of course not the
only) production center of the European world-economy.

Does this sound like the United States?  As Wallerstein says, you can't stay on top forever... the very nature of reaching the top means to have stepped on others, who respond by gaining a foothold over you.
  In other words, you can never maintain top place.  This "battle scene" has something of a Malthusian (Thomas Malthus) quality to it.  I have put the definition for hegemony at the beginning of this entry because it is a word that many of us are not really familiar with.  I know that I wasn't.  It also gets little attention, maybe why we don't like to think about it that much.  It's a word whose emotional connotations are similar to the idea of "to capitalize" which I've shown before, has mainly two meanings (not including capitalizing letters) that relate to the understanding of ourselves. My argument is that Americans have altered their definition of "capitalize" not due to changing trends in society but, because we need to see it differently than what we know it to be.  We still think of it as "to take advantage."  Most of us, I think, still regard "to capitalize" as "to take advantage" in our heads.  That was my own first impression, anyway.  However, our dictionaries reveal a different definition, reflective of our national economic need.  Understand that these American dictionaries show this relationship whereas, British dictionaries still carry "to take advantage" as the primary definition:

Verb [UK]
to capitalise (third-person singular simple present capitalises, present participle capitalising, simple past and past participle capitalised)
    1. (followed by on) To seize, as an opportunity; to obtain a benefit.
The home team appeared to have the advantage throughout the game, and finally capitalised on their opponents' weakness with just two minutes remaining, scoring several points in quick succession.
    2. (writing, editing) to make use of capital letters (a.k.a. upper case).
In English, proper nouns should always be capitalised.
    3. (business) to have, contribute or acquire capital (money or other resources) for a business.
Some states require proof that a new venture is properly capitalised before the state will issue a certificate of incorporation.
    4. (finance) to convert into capital, ie to get cash or similar immediately fungible resources for some less fungible property or source of future income.
If we obtain a loan using the business as collateral, the effect will be to capitalise our next ten years of income, giving us cash today that we can use to buy out our competitor.
    5. (accounting, taxation) to treat as capital, not as an expense. (This has implications for when deductions may be taken, at least under US law.)
    6. (intransitive): To profit or to obtain an advantage.
The home team took several shots on goal but was unable to capitalise until late in the game.

and, now, our views:

Verb [US]
to capitalize (third-person singular simple present capitalizes, present participle capitalizing, simple past and past participle capitalized)
    1. (transitive) In writing or editing, to write in capital letters, in upper case, either the entire word or text, or just the initial letter(s) thereof.
In English, proper nouns should always be capitalized.
    2. (transitive, business, finance) To contribute or acquire capital (money or other resources) for.
Some states require proof that a new venture is properly capitalized before the state will issue a certificate of incorporation.
    3. (transitive, finance) To convert into capital, ie to get cash or similar immediately fungible resources for some less fungible property or source of future income.
If we obtain a loan using the business as collateral, the effect will be to capitalize our next ten years of income, giving us cash today that we can use to buy out our competitor.
    4. (transitive, accounting, taxation) To treat as capital, not as an expense.
    5. (intransitive) To profit or to obtain an advantage.
The home team took several shots on goal but was unable to capitalize until late in the game.
    6. (intransitive, followed by on) To seize, as an opportunity; to obtain a benefit.
The home team appeared to have the advantage throughout the game, and finally capitalized on their opponents' weakness with just two minutes remaining, scoring several points in quick succession.
 
These are definitions carried by everybody's favorite Wikipedia (by the way, Jimmy Wales, the founder is asking for donations to keep it running during these hard times... give if you can.  Information should be free to all.)  I was told to never cite Wikipedia in my work... because the entries can evolve and change and what you cited my have changed since.  That is not to imply that historans don't use Wikipedia... we love bibliographies and Wikipedia is one of the best sources for those!  It also provides good and easily available insights that get us started.

I've looked up "to capitalize" in American dictionaries and English dictionaries... that's what started me on this line of thought.  I found the same thing.  It would make sense if most of us agreed with the change from British (our mother country) to American but, I don't believe that's the case. Something other than mutual agreement likely changed those dictionary entries.

You may relate this national psychological relationship to the term "manifest destiny."  Philosophers called this a "reification," or a tendency to treat a set of ideas as a definite thing. A very real sense of "manifest destiny" has guided America to its position of hegemony over the world.  As Wallerstein intuits, this pinnicle of power is the final stage in capitalistic societies.  The Dutch were the perfect example, he states.  And Dutch hegemony did not last.  Still, the Dutch remain.


 This excerpt reminded me of John Perkins (Economic Hit Man) interview:


... to take advantage of this productive superiority, such a state must be strong enough to prevent or minimize the erection of internal and external political barriers to the free flow of the factors of production
 
The United States' corporations do this now... ignoring all domestic and foreign environmental and moral laws (internal and external barriers both) and beliefs to gain a profit in foreign countries that they know will destroy the economy of that country... in fact, they feed off of it...  Iceland was devastated most recently.  United States hegemony has reached its destructive capitalistic pinnacle.

This is history.  It is useful in avoiding past mistakes - not always a prediction for the future.  Admittedly, America faces a different future than what it has known in the past.  That is what's inevitable here.  Change can be a wonderful thing, though.  Certainly, a system based on "taking advantage" is not really the best one.  That's kind of like throwing a snickers bar into a crowd of hungry kids.  They could share that bar but, will they?  I've seen too many bruised faces in my youth to believe otherwise.  Well, we'd like to think that our own kids would... or would we?  


What about us?  Are we still behaving like kids in the schoolyard?  Have the dictionaries of America (and of course, the media) restructured/simplified/debased our thinking that much yet?  I ask myself, what have we learned ourselves?  History has not always been popular in schools.  Some say that's because of our boring and inaccurate textbooks.  I agree.  James Loewen agrees (check out books online).  Textbooks are the first things our kids see in regards to history and we're not inspiring them to find out about their past.  Are we ashamed of it that much?  Would our kids see us as the bullies that grabbed and horded that candy bar?  What are we teaching them?  

What do you think?  Do these impressions need changing?  Who promotes ideas like these?  Do political leaders help to promote or hinder these ideas?  Are they representative of what you want your kids to learn?
 
Click this link for the video:
What impressions did these girls learn?  Who did they learn it from?
Was the media fully to blame for this?  Or might we take some responsibility, too?

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