Our Culture Is Our Strength / Psychic Exploitation and Revolutionary Consciousness

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Our Culture Is Our Strength / Psychic Exploitation and Revolutionary Consciousness
by Dada Maheshvarananda {Caracas: Venezuela}

Capitalism supports a common belief, an unconscious assumption held by many people that rich countries, companies and people became rich because they were smarter and worked harder. This unspoken, unverified belief is not only widespread among the rich, but, sadly, many middle class, poor and uneducated people in the world also share it. Everyone who shares this belief will logically also believe that poor countries remain poor because their people are not as smart and do not work as hard.

The reality of course is quite different. For hundreds of years, the rich countries have stolen the wealth of and exploited people in the rest of the world. And though the global capitalist system has changed a lot in modern times, it is still unjust and based on profit, selfishness and greed. It excludes more people than it benefits. Today nearly half the world’s population lives, suffers and dies in poverty.

No system lasts forever. Today global capitalism is terminally ill. It suffers from inherent contradictions that include growing inequity and concentration of wealth, addiction to speculation instead of production, and rising, unsustainable debt. Committed to growth at all costs, global capitalism has become a cancer, out of control and lethal to the world in which it lives. It is contributing to climate change and destroying our planet's life support systems. It cannot last.

One of the reasons that global capitalism has been so incredibly successful is because of accompanying psychic exploitation. Throughout history, some cultures have tried to destroy others, using superior weapons to invade and conquer other lands. At the same time imperialists tried to impose fear and inferiority complexes in the defeated people in order to break their will to resist, telling them, “Your culture is primitive; your religion is defective; your language is unsophisticated.”

For example, the capitalist media promotes the idea that anyone can become rich. It can be logically inferred, therefore, by anyone who is not rich, that it is somehow their fault that they are not. Unemployed people often suffer depression, a low self-esteem, and sometimes a bitterness and anger at society which can tragically explode in violent acts of crime.

Another way that psychic exploitation takes place is by neglecting public education in both economically developed and undeveloped countries. Little money is allotted to public schools, and most elites send their children to expensive private schools. This neglect causes academic standards to fall, teachers and students to lose their motivation, and rising levels of school dropouts.

Public schools also avoid developing social and economic awareness, which maintains the cycle of exploitation. The great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire condemned this lack of critical awareness:

"Fundamentally I think that one of the things that is lacking in us in the learning experience, in both teachers and students, is an experience of critical reflection about our presence in the world. What is generally emphasized in most schools is the transfer of content, transferring information of biology, geography, history and mathematics that minimizes the importance of your presence in the world."

The dominant message in the educational system, the mass media and advertising is individualistic and competitive: “First get an education; then get a job; make as much money as you can; and buy as much as you can.” These institutions rarely convey a message of responsibility towards others in our human family. Many governments and private corporations advertise lotteries and gambling casinos to poor people, encouraging them to dream of getting rich. This selfish, materialistic attitude is expressed as, “I win, you lose,” or more correctly, “I win, and it doesn’t matter to me what happens to anyone else.” This individualistic outlook is destroying human relations, communities and the planet itself.


That which is fake, imposed, which does not uplift a people is pseudo-culture–ideas and products that paralyze the collective outlook of a people and prepare them for economic exploitation. These offer to make life more pleasurable than was the case under their own culture, but in fact they undermine the resolve of the people. The widespread dissemination of consumer culture, with its appeal to material pleasures, ultimately has a debilitating effect psychologically and spiritually. It also lowers the resistance of those who try to maintain their cultural heritage.

Many of the television programs broadcast around the world promote a U.S.-based materialistic pseudo-culture. The powerful impact that this has was demonstrated in a study done by Professor Maria Doronilla of the University of the Philippines. She interviewed several hundred Filipino elementary students at different schools. One question that she asked them was: What nationality would you like to be? The majority of the children answered American, while others wanted to be Japanese or European. Less than 15 percent wanted to be Filipino.

Psychologically, this has a damaging effect on one’s personality. Advertisements portray a life that is seemingly more pleasurable than one’s real life. Such ads make people want to be rich and white–to enjoy the glamorous clothes, cars and houses that almost everyone in Hollywood TV shows and films seems to have. Most Filipino children see their parents struggling, living with much less income and fewer material goods, and so start to feel that they are backward and primitive. If children want to be someone else, it means they don’t want to be themselves. Even young children begin to develop a low self-image and inferiority complex because of pseudo-culture.

The corporate-owned mass media continually promotes the desire to get rich quick; it does not broadcast revolutionary music, theater or news. Pseudo-culture paralyzes people and breaks their will to resist exploitation.

The primary message broadcast to hundreds of millions of young people on every continent is to consume. The global entertainment industry creates superstars who only ask their fans to enjoy themselves and continue buying.

Shortly before his death in 1997, I interviewed Paulo Freire. I asked him about cultural invasion, which he had first written about in his famous book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I pointed out that in the Philippines, India, Indonesia and the other countries of Southeast Asia where I had worked, it was clear that American pseudo-culture was being imposed on those ancient cultures by capitalists, so radical students and progressives were able to mobilize resistance against it. In Brazil, however, things are different. TV networks like “Globo,” the fourth-largest network in the world, owned by the family of Roberto Marinho, produce Brazilian-made pseudo-culture, so the average Brazilian does not perceive this as a refined form of capitalist domination. Freire replied, “Today domination through the economy and politics must necessarily take the form of very refined control or a cultural invasion. At times the invaded do not perceive that they are exploited! The development of our critical capacity is always very necessary, but also more and more difficult.”

Pseudo-culture exerts a very negative and divisive influence, confusing people as to who the real enemy is and weakening the people’s will to unite and resist.

Revolutionary Consciousness

Human culture is essentially one, with many local variations that enhance the beauty of humanity. The fundamental tendencies of the human mind are the same everywhere, but they are expressed in various ways and proportions in different places. In order for true unity to develop, we must honor this diversity while recognizing our inherent humanity.

The goal of education should be liberation, to free people from mental bondages and limitations and to promote solidarity. Teaching cardinal human values is very important, awakening in the students a sense of responsibility for the welfare of others. Paulo Freire said, “There is no such thing as a stupid question, and no such thing as a definitive answer.” He revolutionized the teaching of literacy through dialogue, recognizing and respecting the knowledge that people already have. He also urged his poor students to question the reasons for their poverty in a process of “conscientization”, seeing clearly what is economic and psychic exploitation.

All education should begin with mutual respect for different outlooks and ideas, and strive to increase awareness and awaken consciousness. Education, both formal and informal, should be society’s highest priority, available to all free of charge. Whereas the government should fund education, schools and universities should be administered by educators, free from political control.

The media should be taken from the control of the capitalists and run by cooperatives of journalists, artists and educators with the goal of promoting popular education for all ages. It should be inspiring, with uplifting culture, cardinal human values and universalism.

Cultural recovery means to reclaim local traditions, knowledge, memory and identity. Every successful revolutionary movement throughout history has had a cultural component, promoting pride in one’s heritage and way of life. Music, art, theater and literature can stir people’s spirits to struggle and sacrifice for the welfare of their country or region.

Can we change the world? Of course we can! Together, nothing is impossible. With revolutionary culture that awakens consciousness, we can inspire people to unite for our collective freedom.

Dada Maheshvarananda is a monk, activist, and writer. He directs the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela. This essay is excerpted from his book After Capitalism: Economic Democracy in Action.

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