Over the last 30 years middle-class students have embraced a series of cultural fads, some pure commercialism and others worthwhile causes, which later sold out to commercialism. Beatlemania, anti-Vietnam War protests, Punk Rock, Rock Against Racism gigs, CND demos, gay pride marches, Reggae music, politically correct speech, MTV and anti-WTO demos. Wow, so it's now cool to join the international campaign against globalisation, boycott brands and recycle environmentalist rhetoric - before we settle down to the serious business of earning a living in the rat race.
In the same period much of the world has undergone the most thorough transformation of the economy, environment and lifestyle ever. After a crippling war Vietnam now hosts sweatshops with some of the world's lowest wages. Former CND members are now prominent Nu-Lab politicos advocating humanitarian militarism and slandering opponents as fascists. Homosexuality is a big business and homophobes are vilified as outmoded bigots, while politically correct speech masks real intents. Secret services plant agent provocateurs and assorted troublemakers at anti-WTO demos to trigger violent police repression. Neoliberal intellectuals appear on TV voicing doubts on the extent of globalisation with platitudes about a greener future. Multinational PR executives promise their goods are not made by child labourers and their involvement in Public Private Initiatives will help to pay for school sports facilities in socially deprived neighbourhoods. MTV shows multicoloured faces with captivating views of African village life interspersed with Black American rappers jumping on gas guzzlers.
What do young nologoers want? ask vote-hungry politicians. Walmart-style hypermarkets with unbranded consumer goodies? Trendy mountain bikes with child seats to replace the Land Rover or Grand Cherokee on the school run? Neatly packaged documentaries on Discovery channel? Holidays in Kenya? Volunteering to raise funds for Oxfam? Food labelled "organic" with a 50% price markup?
Think of the coup they'd achieve, if they could persuade a personable Irish musician to hail Nu-Labs third-world debt-relief scheme.
Mass marketers know what the affluent trendy wishful-thinking middle class really wants. They want to indulge, but be seen to care. They need their safe homes with all mod cons, cars complete with bike carriers and dinghy trailers, computers, mobile phones, foreign holidays, rewarding jobs and social life - or in its absence soap operas, Hollywood movies and pulp fiction. The better educated want better, environmentally friendly and socially conscientious food.
Affluent teenagers see the English language, rock music, international (i.e. mainly US) movies and video-games as liberating forces that will let the world live as one to paraphrase John Lenon. Out with the old and in with the new, let's embrace the multicoloured harmony of Coca Cola ads set in Zambia and IBM think pad spots filmed in Tibet. The more educated will later backpack across Africa, South America, the Indian Subcontinent and South-east Asia before commencing their careers in web-design, PR, advertising, law, insurance, business intelligence, HR management, public services admin, education etc.
The big question is why so few stop to ponder if and why the globalisation of transnational corps with their brands and logos is necessary to save capitalism? All too often we tend to look at symptoms rather than root causes. Global brands and sweatshops are symptoms. Greed and capitalism's innate need for constant growth with diminishing returns (the bit Marx got right) are the causes and explain why capitalism can no longer grow in protected national markets.
There is only one thing worse than narrow-minded nationalism: Internationalism controlled by an oligarchy of corporate and superstate interests.
If we were to implement the far-reaching structural changes required to bridge the north-south and rich-poor gaps, divert resources away from opulence and hedonism to nutrition, sustainable farming, environmental renewal and education, most service sector jobs in post-industrial states such as Britain would disappear overnight. More significantly most residents of wealthy countries would have to accept a lower material standard of living with car dealerships, filling stations, advertisers, law firms (largely dependent of corporate greed), high street and Internet retailers going bust. Indeed with the bankruptcy of all businesses reliant on the Stock Exchange and the abolition of the arms trade, Britain would no longer earn all the extra revenue it needs to import goodies from the rest of the globe.
In the near future we will see two alternative reformist solutions to world's ills. The neoliberal intelligentsia will advocate benevolent globalisation coupled with foreign aid linked to IMF and WB economic diktats and humanitarian intervention to solve ethnic disputes caused by economic woes and covert destabilisation. Charities and NGOs will be taken on board to sell these policies and reassure doubters of their harmful effects.
The alternative, unthinkable to neoliberal globalisers and internationalist Marxists alike, is a return to national pre-colonial economies centred around farming, essential raw materials and natural renewable energy sources, in which self-sufficiency in staple foods and energy represents a prerequisite for a sustainable economy and for independence from unaccountable global institutions and multinationals. Trade would still take place, but among equals, and governments, freed from the restraints of international capitalism, would be more accountable. Technological advances would not be abandoned, but harnessed for the good of all and not for profits of the few. It is only by decentralising government and giving people the means to determine their own future, that we can see the evolution of a fairer low-impact society that values long-term sustainability and social cohesion more than fashions, consumption and indulgence.