Martin Kettle in today’s Guardian (15/11/2012)

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I greatly enjoyed Martin Kettle’s article in the Guardian today, in which he posited that austerity is here to stay. In his article, Martin states that China and India will outstrip the Eurozone and US economies in the next 24 months, and that the sorts of draconian fiscal tightening we have seen in the recent past will become the norm – there will be no return to a time of plenty for UK and European governments as we will soon be playing second fiddle to the indomitable Chinese and Indians.

I do agree with his analysis but at the same time I feel it does not tell the whole picture. An interesting question to ask is this: will Europe become Sino-centric, in the same way it is US-centric in regards to its tastes in films, music, games and books? In twenty years will we all be watching Chinese blockbusters instead of Hollywood ones? Will we favour Chinese luxury fashion brands over American and European ones? Or is there (to use a publishing term) a ‘gutter’ between the Chinese and European civilisation which means that whilst the Chinese might have dollar supremacy, they will never have cultural or memetic control over our zeitgeist?

We have to remember how many things in our daily lives are Euro-centric. Maps of the world put Europe at the centre to this day. Many ideas that define modernity, like the rule of law, democracy, industrialisation, art and literature are deeply liked to European civilisation and European values. It is possible that the lingua franca of world power and world influence is the European value system. There is a narrative of global consolidation that starts in Ancient Greece at the Coliseum, and with Plato and Aristotle, and which spread through Europe via the Roman Empire, and then through the world via Christianity in 13-17th centuries and the British Empire after that. It would be interesting to view the national narratives of other countries in Latin America and Asia to see if they began understanding the game of constitutional world power when they were introduced to it by Europeans.

It is quite possible that in one hundred years Britain will be a much poorer country, and places like China and India will look like ultramodern, cash rich 22nd century megacities. But are these examples of world power already phenomenologically under Western influence? Is it possible that Western political and legal thought, starting with Plato and moving forward throughout the civilisation, will retain a ‘legal’ authority that can and will never be toppled? Is it possible that Western political thought will be a legacy system used for understanding the world, which we never quite lose control of? Certainly until there are a generation of children using Chinese slang and thinking in terms of Chinese films, books, games and music, it is possible that the Chinese will have the appearance of dollar supremacy on Earth, but will never quite capture that chimera: the notion in our interlinked heads that we retain political control? I’m sure once in a while the media get their heads in a muddle and have to call Rupert Murdoch to get him to explain to us what we should be looking at. In the same way, is it possible that Western political thought will always frame the debate, and that we will always be asked (whether we realise it or not) to ‘define’ the world for other people to see?

It is possible with the application of media philosophy to see how this would be possible. It does happen sometimes that young UK performers make it in the media, but the media do not tell them. In this way the media retains control of the debate, because it retains the ability to frame and define reality. Unless China invests in a mass culture industry for global export that successfully germinates Chinese cultural thought in our heads, it is possible they will never quite be able to steal the crown from Europeans.

There is a lot of debate in the media about how China and India’s dominance will change Britain, sliding down the league table until it is no longer a world force. I think there is plenty of evidence of UK global competitiveness, not least our impressive medal tally in the Olympics. Things like this matter. The UK establishment should work out what reality *is*, and distinguish that from straw man arguments coming from all quarters about what reality is. It is quite possible that dollar supremacy, whilst wielding great influence, is not the definition of world political power.

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