Reversing the Gaze: A Critical View of Western Social and Cultural Practices From the South

Carlos Cruz Mosquera

BY CARLOS CRUZ MOSQUERA

As communists, we understand that class struggle and the unequal global economy is the primary contradiction one should focus on resolving. However, it is still important to point out the double standards in capitalist society’s day-to-day culture and social practices. This helps us question and understand this civilization’s role in the world.

If you live in or are exposed to the West, then you’re familiar with the ivory tower worldview of its population. Scientific, technological and social advancements, which objectively exist in this part of the world, are spoken about as if they were natural or organic. The backwardness of the rest of the world in these areas of life is presented to us as if it, too, were part of a natural order of things.

By placing a figurative mirror in the face of the social and cultural backwardness found in Western civilization, we aim to demonstrate that capitalism is not a natural path to “progress” in an integral sense. The bottom line is this: while capitalism has granted Western nations (a relatively small portion of the world’s population) a material, scientific and technological advantage, some of their dominant cultural practices remain stagnant, by-products of capitalism. Furthermore, we hope that by reversing the roles and scrutinizing these flaws we can contribute to addressing the hypocrisy of Western narratives toward Global South nations.

Soccer: An illusion of Free Competition

As much as Western society takes pride in scientific, technological and intellectual advancement in general, there are areas of their cultural life in which they throw this logic completely out of the window. An analysis of soccer is not an obvious starting point but bear with me a little.

There are numerous political critiques we could pin to the sport, such as the fact that it has historically been used by elites to pacify the impoverished masses or as a tool to consolidate blind patriotism. Another angle that should be used to critique the world’s most famous and watched sport (similarly applicable to all major sports that are commercialized) is the fact that it is so rigged it should be categorized more as entertainment than fair competition.

This is especially true in the Western world but especially in Europe, where soccer clubs spend billions buying the world’s top players and scouting and training the top youth prospects. The consequence of unlimited and unregulated spending in soccer is that you end up with teams like Real Madrid, Paris Saint Germaine or Manchester City, which can more or less buy the titles to their respective leagues. When Real Madrid demolishes smaller and less well-off teams, it may have some entertainment value and the incredible skill of their players can be mesmerizing. But at the risk of angering their die-hard fans, this spectacle is a circus more than a sport, much less a competition.

Furthermore, Western European nations, which often claim to have shedded backward supernatural beliefs, have found faith in their 11 disciples on the field and the sermon of the team’s manager, who is treated as a prophet or messiah.

It’s true that with the scientific and technological advance of Western culture and thought religious and spiritual ideas have become less prevalent compared to the countries where they have imposed religion using colonial violence. However, there remains an important undercurrent of idealism in Western culture that is comparable enough to force them to climb down from their high horse.

Censorship in Western Art

One of the critiques that the Western world makes of Global South nations, especially socialist-leaning ones, is their censorship laws and rules. In context, many nations are forced to censor information and limit freedom of expression because of a history of Western imperialist meddling. For instance, China limiting Western social media and search engines like Google makes sense when you consider that these channels are often used to sway citizens to right-wing campaigns and projects that undermine their political, economic, social and cultural order.

The indignation of the Western world when it comes to censorship is hypocritical if we reverse the gaze. For all of their insistence on freedom of speech and information, there are countless examples of censorship in the Western world that are rarely scrutinized.

Argentine artist Arturo Desimone has pointed out that Western democracies have a long history of censoring artistic expression. His article, “Censorship of Art in Western, Eastern, and Global South Societies,” gives us insight into just how prevalent censorship in Western art is. This includes everything from a 19th-century petition to ban Van Gogh from a city in France for being a “nuisance,” to removing genitals from paintings as recent as 2017, and the removal of a painting of the Virgin Mary in a New York gallery in 1999, because the frame was made of elephant dung.

Yet these are the more obvious and less insidious examples of art censorship in the Western world.

Just last year, the anti-war work of Abdul Abdullah was taken down from an Australian gallery on the orders of a politician who saw it as disrespectful to the country’s military. Similarly, various art installments in the United States were either decommissioned or removed in 2019, because of their underlying social and political messages. A mural in a San Francisco high school, for example, was removed by the school board because it depicted George Washington’s enslavement and violence towards Native Americans.

In the United Kingdom, there is an ongoing ban on grime and drill music, which comes from Black working-class communities and depicts the social reality and environment. The implication is that oppressed communities are not offered the same freedom of expression that the rest of society enjoys.

Widespread Western Bias in Academia

An area in which the Western world prides itself in is being at the forefront of academic research and academic development in general. We all know that research published in a mediocre Western academic institution holds more weight than what’s published in a prestigious institution anywhere else in the world.

They would have us believe that this prestige is related to academic rigor, credibility and integrity rather than their nation’s political and economic dominance. With this in mind, it’s important to counter the narrative that Western academic research is more objective and reliable than that produced elsewhere.

A relevant case-study is the recent research published by Adrian Zenz on the Uyghur situation in China. Zenz’s published studies, which are unreliable due to their heavy reliance on anecdotal evidence and obvious anti-communist political motive, have sparked widespread indignation against China’s Uyghur policies in Western mainstream media and by extension in its population. Every mainstream publication, from The Guardian to The Wall Street Journal, has used his research as a source for front-page headlines condemning China’s supposed “concentration camps.”

In this particular case, Western academia and news media have run with inaccurate research from an unreliable source without pausing to consider its validity. This can be put down to the fact that they assume that research published in a Western journal does not need to be scrutinized as well because it fits nicely with the anti-China narrative prevalent in the region. This is different from the widely accepted “unconscious bias” in Western academia. While it may be unconscious in individuals, there is a very conscious bias in Western culture as a whole. All of this serves a purpose: the continuation of the unearned privileges of their society and class.

Furthermore, there is an under-researched reality in Western academia which points to widespread corruption, favoritism and conflicts of interest. To give a concrete example, in 2007 the German scholar Alfred Scharenberg was refused a job at the Free University of Berlin on the basis that he was part of the left-wing policy institute, the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. According to researchers, in Germany and other Western countries, there exists unofficial filtering out of unwanted academics who may not have the required social class, political or religious views. This is contradictory and hypocritical considering the constant bombardment of criticisms against Global South nations and their academic integrity.

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