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All Aboard the Train of Cultural Imperialism? No Thanks, I’ll walk. Image Courtesy Of: https://news.starbucks.com/news/all-aboard-the-first-starbucks-on-a-train-with-sbb

 

Since I wrote about the sports world’s response to US President Donald Trump’s move to suspend immigration from seven majority Muslim countries the furor has not subsided. Indeed, in discussions with fellow sociologists, I have been able to see first hand the anger that Mr. Trump’s poorly-executed policy has spurred. Such discussions are usually fruitless since—as I have also written about in the past—many Americans do not have a clear sense of the world because they have not travelled. This kind of “international ignorance” may well be one of the biggest shortcomings of modern American society; it is a society that has continually fostered this kind of ignorance while not encouraging what I would call “international competency”. It is unfortunate, and the problems it creates are wide-ranging.

In the piece I wrote earlier I used Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s conception of the “self”: essentially one defines the “self” in relation to how one perceives others see them. It grows out of an acknowledgement of the “other”. Most Americans—having never left the country—do not have any conception of an “other”; this leads to the kind of extreme individualism that I wrote about in the context of American sports. Of course, emphasized individualism is a product of extreme capitalism since modern industrial society encourages individualism; having fewer communal ties makes one more likely to wholeheartedly accept the culture of competition which is necessary for capitalism to flourish.

This may be one reason that so many in the American public have been ready to make the immigration cause their own without thinking about other issues; in their mind “American” society is the best there is. Ready to encourage this kind of sentiment the media have featured South Sudanese NBA Star Luol Deng’s message prominently. Mr. Deng explains: “It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others. Refugees overcome immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe, and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their family just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them”. Of course, Mr. Deng is right: we must humanize the experience of others and recognize that people are just trying to make the best of the perils that globalizing society has produced.

 

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Mr. Deng’s Words Should Be Recognized. Especially the Emphasis on “Humanizing” as opposed to Corporatizing. Image Courtesy Of: https://twitter.com/LuolDeng9/status/826186188650221568/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

 

Unfortunately, the media fail to realize one crucial point: The American model may not be the only model for world society; in fact, there are many functioning societies around the world that are much less individualistic than America’s and which still maintain their stability. We must keep this in mind, lest we push a form of imperialism that borders on societal engineering and is eerily similar to the “white-man’s burden” of colonial times. What works in America works fairly well—but that doesn’t mean it will work everywhere and it certainly doesn’t mean that it should work everywhere. The media fail to realize that all of the countries President Trump suspended immigration from have been victim to some degree of American intervention in the past (as the President himself admitted, the United States is far from innocent); the more this kind of imperialism is pushed the more unstable the world becomes.

Starbuck’s Coffee—themselves guilty of the kind of cultural imperialism that globalization encourages—decided to take action following Mr. Trump’s order. It amounted to an extremely hypocritical move. Starbuck’s announced that it would hire 10,000 refugees for its stores, sparking ire from Americans. Starbuck’s’ PR department seemed to have smoothed things over as their hometown newspaper the Seattle Times reported that veterans were already well-represented within the Starbuck’s community, and Business insider noted that “The coffee giant responded with links to a press release on its recent work to open stores in lower-income communities and a website on its veteran outreach” (Author’s Note: I have retained these links for readers who are interested). Even more hilarious is that Starbuck’s—despite their unending cultural imperialism—don’t even have locations in any of the seven countries Mr. Trump chose to temporarily stop immigration from. I wonder why?

 

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Locations of Starbucks Worldwide Are Colored In Green. I Guess The Seven Muslim Majority Nations Were Deemed Too Unsafe Even For Starbuck’s (!). And What About Africa? I Guess Starbuck’s Might Be A Little Racist Too (!). Image Courtesy Of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Starbucks#Locations

 

The issue here is that Starbuck’s, in their bid to be “inclusive” and “progressive”, are merely painting over their own questionable past. Starbuck’s in Turkey (and I imagine it is similar in other countries that have an existing “coffee culture”) has emphasized a form of cultural imperialism; traditional coffee houses are pushed out by the ubiquity of Starbuck’s’ locations. In addition to their imperialism, the company also has put the demands of international capital before the concerns of human life. As someone who closely followed the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Istanbul, I know that Starbuck’s closed their doors to protestors affected by tear gas and attacks from the police; it was such an affront that many in Turkey wanted to boycott Starbuck’s wholesale. Starbuck’s—again through the mouthpiece of a hometown Seattle news source—tried to cover up their deplorable actions and Christian Leonard’s piece for the Seattle Globalist carries the headline “Starbucks lends a hand (and a toilet) to Turkish protesters”. The truth is far from it; they in fact had closed their doors (and toilets) to protesters. This kind of “alternative reporting” is a result of Starbuck’s’ propaganda machine, as one Canadian source points out:

 

In a world where millions are instantly united by social media, political actions can be quick and effective in situations like this. Starbucks has been criticized by protestors, who claim that when the police tear gas attacks began, Starbucks was one of the only shops to close its doors and refuse to allow in those injured and seeking shelter. Starbucks has since been scrambling to regain its credibility amid calls for boycott: Tweeting images of its staff helping protestors, and posting notices around campus denying that it failed to provide assistance.

 

The aforementioned story is an example of Starbuck’s’ attempt to “regain its credibility”. Unfortunately for Starbuck’s, anyone who knows about the company should know that it is morally bankrupt.

Current CEO Charles Schultz sold the NBA’s  Seattle Supersonics, allowing the team to move to Oklahoma City and alienating many basketball fans in the process. The company also turned a blind eye to insults directed at NASCAR fans after the company attempted to enter the motorsports world. The company even sparked a controversy over Christmas (I italicize it because it is so ridiculous) in order to keep with America’s obsession with political correctness; for the company “Merry Christmas” was deemed offensive.

Those who think that Starbuck’s is standing up for refugees might want to look at the situation from a different perspective. They might be looking for cheap labor from desperate sources (if so they really represent one of the more reprehensible forms of extreme capitalism) or they may just be looking to glorify their own moral standing, championing the consumerism of America while reaching out to the “less fortunate”. In any case, those searching for virtue in Starbuck’s would best be “served” going elsewhere for both coffee and virtue.