24 September 2011


Reposted on new blog at http://dynamitochondria.blogspot.com/2011/09/hegemony.html.

Time to grab another three bits of random and see what can be made of them.

The Writer's Book of Matches. A woman with a terrible disease is offered an experimental drug therapy.

I at first thought this one might be tough to work into whatever I picked from the other sources, but the point of the exercise is not to make it particularly easy either.

From Archetype to Zeitgeist. Hegemony

Hegemony is the domination of one culture, or group, over another by nonviolent means. The book has a good 2-page entry that includes some evolution of the idea from Antonio Gramsci and mid-20th century feminism to expand the scope from one political body over another to cultural, class, gender, or ethnic dominance.

A Dictionary of Symbols. The Minstrel

This had me scratching my head a bit. The entry refers to the Minstrel Tarot card, but I didn't recall that card. Then I couldn't find the Tarot reference I thought I had in my library. To the Internet! Turns out, the Minstrel card is considered by some sources to be the original card that became the Magician.

In many interpretations, the Minstrel/Magician represents mastery, whether of a skill or the situation at hand. It can also represent teaching or learning.

It didn't take too much thought before these three fell neatly into place. In an intellectual hegemony, the dominance of a highly educated elite would be sustained in the long term by a system of education that confers the unstated implication that more education equals better. A fine message in itself, if somewhat simple in the blatant abstract, but can it be called hegemony, is it actually dominance, if the system is meant to bringing greater education to all?

It could be argued that maximizing every educational opportunity to every member of a culture is an economic non-starter. In some perfect system, it might be possible to make available all the education every individual cares to consume, but in the world's current model, it costs time and money to attend school. Investing time and money into a given vocation faces diminishing returns, sooner for some professional areas, later for others.

The education system in an intellectual hegemony would almost certainly be multi-tiered. There would be extremely basic schooling available for a labor class, teaching the absolutely necessary skills to get by within the larger culture. At the other end of the spectrum, a highly educated elite would receive every opportunity to expand their knowledge and skills.

But common to every tier of this education system would be the implication that the more education received, the more worthy the individual to make decisions and benefit from the best the culture has to offer. The elite class would be taught this to bolster their commitment to continue their studies and their confidence in their "rightful" place at the top of the hierarchy. The labor class would be taught this to convince them that others are more worthy to make their decisions for them and reap the benefits of those decisions.

This strategy is a multi-generational strategy, gaining strength with passing decades. How does such a hegemony start, especially in cultures that don't necessarily value a classic education, holding more dear the lessons taught by life experience?

One way it might do is via gifts of the fruits of intellectualism. Under the guise of a helping hand, another culture is wooed with surplus food, luxury goods, and medicines. While none can call foul that the hungry are fed and sick are healed, there is always the spectre of ulterior motive.

It's not always conscious. World history is full of examples of the hauteur of the more prosperous sowing the seeds of cultural destruction among a "less advanced" people. Sometimes the result is a thriving partnership, but it should be clear to the astute observer that the result is more often subjugation or conflict.

I'd originally intended to take this into a dark fictional setting for stories or a game, but instead it would appear that I've crafted more of a commentary on the current state of world affairs. Honestly, that wasn't my intent.

When the real world begins to resemble dystopian fiction, it might be time to reconsider the direction we're traveling, time to challenge our shared assumptions, time to make sure that our helping hand isn't really a fist.

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