History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Contemporary West 1985 to 2016

Europe map with links

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

– Margaret Mead

Postindustrialism || Environment || European Union || The Arts


Postindustrialism marks deep changes to the economic system. One change is the shift from primary production (farming, harvesting raw materials) and secondary production (manufacturing) to tertiary production (service industries). It also marks a shift away from industrial society. Industrial society is based on the factory, the source of large-scale production. Workers in an industrial society require only a minimal education, and their concept of community is based upon geography, often the factory and surrounding city or suburbs.

In Workgrouppostindustrial society, smaller elements of production are created by smaller groups of people, for example management teams, workgroups, or individuals grouped temporarily for a single project. With advances like the Internet , it's even possible for such groups to meet only virtually, as this class is doing now. In fact, education itself may have to change as a result. British home-schooling proponent Mike Fortune-Wood notes,

The very idea that teaching young people in groups of 30 or more (let alone schools of up to 1500) is an acceptable preparation for adulthood will fall into ridicule as it becomes more of an anomaly. Even now there are fewer and fewer situations outside the education system where people work in groups of more than a dozen or so.

Politics and Culture

Postindustrialism can also find expression in art and culture, and even in political decision-makingGorbachev. Mikhail Gorbachev became President of the Soviet Union in 1989. Faced with a nation in economic distress, involved in hostile stand-offs with the United States, Gorbachev (like Dubçek in 1968 Prague) believed in socialism with a human face. I know a scholar who claims that each political system contains the seeds of its own destruction (a theme, yes?). Nowhere is this more true than with Gorbachev. Removing decades of oppression against Soviet citizens led to extensive uprisings and ultimately the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The Berlin Wall fell when people realized that the Soviets would not back East German enforcement of the borders. The Cold War dissolved.

book Workbook document: Mikhail Gorbachev: The Last Days of the Wall (1994)

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Dubcek and Havel
Dubcek and Havel

In the same year, 1989, Czechoslovakia rebelled, and Dubçek himself was released from prison. In your workbook, revolutionary leader Václav Havel parallels postindustrial ideas, which he considers as transitioning from the modern (industrial) to the postmodern (postindustrial). He emphasizes a new spiritual connection that is now free to develop, almost as if we move away from scientific positivism into something else.

book Workbook document: Václav Havel: The Need for Transcendence in the Modern World (1994)

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His argument includes several elements that should sound familiar: the Antropic Principle (akin to Intelligent Design theory perhaps?) and the Gaia Hypothesis (the concept reflecting our current ecological sense). It counters the isolation portrayed by Douglas Coupland in Microserfs, where the postindustrial workers seem to be psychologically divorced from the rest of the culture.

book Workbook document: Douglas Coupland: Microserfs (1994)

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Handmaid's Tale coverFor those believing in sex equality, a postindustrial society could provide more opportunity for women, or less. On the one hand, postindustrial work patterns de-emphasize hierarchy, which can be of advantage to women in democratic societies. But the focus on spiritual and anti-rational goals could also lead to the creation of systems restricting women. Margaret Atwood creates such a world in The Handmaid's Tale, where women within a fascist-style state are assigned tasks according to their biological capabilities. The novel is set in the future in the United States.

book Workbook document: Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale (1985)

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French (and English) Riots

At the end of 2005, much of the world was shocked by rioting in Paris. It seems to have begun with the death of two teenagers who electrocuted themselves running from non-existent police. The riots focused mainly on the destruction of property, particularly blowing up automobiles. Since some riots featured Arab and African immigrants to France, much discusssion has ensued regarding the French policies of integration and social services. The American press was horrified by the calm response of French government and press. Weren't such riots a sign of total catastrophe, the failure of the French system? Wouldn't they spread across Europe? Weren't they part of a huge Muslim or terrorist conspircy? Didn't the French know they were racist? (Much of this, of course, was an overreaction to France refusing to support the U.S. in the invasion of Iraq.)

France's response was one of introspection and an effort to understand rather than jump to conclusions, but the riots were also seen as a pattern in western history, not an isolated event. An excellent analysis of the 2005 riots can be read here. One of the most interesting aspects is the way the riots have thus far been isolated to certain areas, rather 2006 riotersthan spreading. If the post-industrial model is focused on neighborhoods, this makes sense.

The riots and demonstrations continued sporadically throughout 2006, and took on a focus toward labor, with strikes and battles over working conditions. Many young people participated, angry about their lack of employment. In August 2011, youth rioted in London and other cities in England after a man was shot by police, but the riots took on a larger significance which social scientists are still trying to analyze. A number of riots have begun after a police action against an individual, suggesting a larger political concern.

From the Women's March against the Trump administration to the riots in Paris in spring of 2018, occasional rioting and protests continue to be the main way to express opposition to a sitting government, in both Europe and the United States.



The Gaia Hypothesis, noted in Havel's document, sees the planet as a life form.

Statue of Gaia and James Lovelock

This was the idea of James Lovelock, who helped NASA look for life on Mars. He became more interested in earth, and developed a theory that the Earth was itself a living being. In his 1989 book, The Ages of Gaia, he wrote:

The name of the living planet, Gaia, is not a synonym for the biosphere-that part of the Earth where living things are seen normally to exist. Still less is Gaia the same as the biota, which is simply the collection of all individual living organisms. The biota and the biosphere taken together form a part but not all of Gaia. Just as the shell is part of the snail, so the rocks, the air, and the oceans are part of Gaia. Gaia, as we shall see, has continuity with the past back to the origins of life, and in the future as long as life persists. Gaia, as a total planetary being, has properties that are not necesarily discernable by just knowing individual species or populations of organisms living together... Specifically, the Gaia hypothesis says that the temperature, oxidation, state, acidity, and certain aspects of the rocks and waters are kept constant, and that this homeostasis is maintained by active feedback processes operated automatically and Redwood Tree unconsciously by the biota....

You may find it hard to swallow the notion that anything as large and apparently inanimate as the Earth is alive. Surely, you may say, the Earth is almost wholly rock, and nearly all incandescent with heat. The difficulty can be lessened if you let the image of a giant redwood tree enter your mind. The tree undoubtedly is alive, yet 99% of it is dead.The great tree is an ancient spire of dead wood,made of lignin and cellulose by the ancestors of the thin layer of living cells which constitute its bark. How like the Earth, and more so when we realize that many of the atoms of the rocks far down into the magma were once part of the ancestral life of which we all have come.

His work was part of new developments in science, and synthesis with non-scientific elements which before would not have been considered science. During the 1980s, science went beyond Einstein's and even quantum physics into chaos theory and complex systems research. If you're new to this (I am) check out the University of Michigan's Center for The Study of Complex Systems. Although in systems theory no long-term equilibrium is implied, you can see above that Lovelock believed the earth did have such a self-regulated equilibrium. Unpredictability, as in postmodern thinking, has been accepted in science and developed into theoretical constructs.

Complex systems thinking did not create modern environmentalism, but the popularity of works like The Ages of Gaia helped bring ecology into the postindustrial world. But the Gaia hypothesis is also reminiscent of some work from the 1920s conducted by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was an Austrian philosopher and scientist who had combined spirituality with modern science. He created a spirituality of science that he called Anthroposophy. He had extraordinary impacts on education (Waldorf schools are founded on his educational principles, which were similar to Rousseau's) and agriculture (his biodynamic system was completely organic and tied to the earth's cycles). Thus in combining spiritual/philosophical constructs with scientific data, contemporary science is now getting closer to what Steiner envisioned.

Agriculture was an important area to Steiner, and it is of great significance today in understanding the environment. The modern ecology movement began with a book published in the U.S., Rachel Carson's

Monsanto, producer of many toxic chemicals for agriculture, would have you believe they're keeping us healthy.

Silent Spring (1962). Carson, a biologist, noted the long life and cancer-causing effects of DDT, a pesticide used against mosquitos in the wartime South Pacific, and later used on crops. Scientific investigations into pesticides followed, and the Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970. But in the United States, caplitalistic practices encouraged chemical companies to compete against each other, developing pesticides, herbicides, and other chemicals upon which farmers could become dependent. American agribusiness was tied to chemicals, as was the agricultural advice the U.S. exported to Third World countries and to Europe. The concept of ecology, according to the EPA, values "esthetics and biology over efficiency and commerce". As corporations continued to expand in political influence, efficiency and commerce were clearly winning the day.

In Europe in the 1970s, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movement was created, mirrored by organic agriculture groups (and radical activists like Greenpeace) in the U.S. But the pro-corporate environment of the 1980s permitted many environmental regulations from the 1970s to languish, and they are now being reversed in the U.S.

Europe has pulled ahead of the U.S. in instituting sustainable practices in agriculture. In Austria, Sweden and Switzerland, at least 10% of agricultural production is organic, and such practices Veggiesare expanding all over Europe. The EU currently has a ban on genetically-modified food, which is now prevalent in the U.S. despite the fact that it is untested in its long-term health effects. (If you eat most of your food from American supermarkets, about 70% of what you eat is genetically modified.) This is one of several areas (war is another) where the U.S. is diverging from the other western nations. Everyone else is instituting greater protection of Gaia, and of people's health. Only in the U.S., where corporations dominate so much political life, is environmental protection such a low priority.


The European Union

EU flagEvolving from federation groups and the Common Market, the European Union formally emerged in 1993 as a valid confederation of European states. The EU is an international organization of member states that, to me, represents evolution of thought away from competitive capitalism and isolating nationalism. Its existence has economic, social, political and cultural implications.

One example is the condition of the Roma people. This ethnic group,Roma boy often referred to as Gypsies, has been persecuted historically throughout Europe. This primarily has been (like Jews and communists) because of their existence outside the structures of 19th century nationalism. They were even executed in the Nazi Holocaust. But in the EU, their wrongs are starting to be redressed, and they have a voice in the European Parliament. This can occur only because the EU attempts to rise above nationalism to create a new kind of federalism within which minority, anational populations can be considered.


As of summer 2016, the current member states are:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.

Candidate states are:

Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey

Europe 2011



The EU's main provisions were established by the Maastricht Treaty of 1990, which will give you an idea of its goals:

Web document: Maastricht Treaty

EurosIn 1999, the euro emerged as the new currency. Denmark, Sweden and the United Kingdom (Great Britain/Northern Ireland) are the only member states not using it. The Central Bank, located in Germany, is responsible for keeping it stable. Until 2008 it managed to absorb even the highly devalued currencies of places like Italy and Greece, but there is now significant controversy over how to deal with huge debt on the part of some EU nations, which threatens the currency.

The EU was not founded without squabbling, particularly over the quality and genuine nature of particular food products, such as cheese and wine. Thus only Greece can sell cheese called "feta", "champagne" must come from Champagne and Asiago cheese from Asiago. But now that most national differences have been resolved, they stand united on issues like GMOs (genetically-modified organisms), which are banned and which they refuse to import from the U.S., along with meat laden with antibiotics and hormones (which are routinely given to stock animals in this country).

Spain anti-war
Anti-war protest in Spain, 2003

Food is not the only issue, of course. The U.S. war against Iraq was considered ill-advised by most EU states (excepting Britain, of course, and Spain). Germany and France in particular stood against it and helped prevent a U.N. Security Council resolution supporting the war. And it was not just because of economic interests, although that was a motive for everyone involved or opposing involvement, especially the U.S. It was that Europe has shown a marked tendency, especially since the violence surrounding the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, to use war as only a last resort. That's why millions of people in Europe protested against the Iraq war, reminiscent in their actions of protest in 1968 against the Vietnam War. In 2011, UN-sanctioned NATO actions against the Libyan government also was a divisive factor in Europe: Germany abstained on the vote, while France and Britain supported military intervention. The civil war in Syria caused more divisions, with the rise of Islamic State and the support of Russia for Assad's regime.

Even when united, however, we can't put the EU completely in the camp of the righteous. The WTO (World Trade Organization), through which the EU has hopes to liberalize global trade, continues the model of a capitalistic world as dominated by western powers. This western-guided "globalisation" has been protested in many countries, including this one, as keeping poor countries endebted and skewing global production in favor of the west. Attacks against globalization are just beginning, although they could potentially enlighten EU policy as much as restrict it.

Immigrants coming to Greece from Turkey

In 2010, Greece was in such bad economic shape that there was fear the government would default on its loans and drag the whole EU into a bank crisis and depression. Instead of responding with Depression-style social spending programs, several of the most well-off EU countries decided on a Europe-wide program of austerity, which cut spending on public programs in an effort to balance bank budgets and borrowing. Keynesian economist Paul Krugman talks about how this has been a terrible mistake.

Immigration from Muslim nations (especially Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, beginning in 2011, war-torn Syria) into Europe rose greatly in the first decades of the 21st century. When combined with joblessness and economic strife following the global economic crisis of 2008, this has led to the emergence of political groups wanting to restrict immigration and/or legislate assimilation. Some have even become nativist and anti-Semitic, bringing issues of freedom and the state's responsibility to the fore once again. The terrorist attacks in Paris (2015) and Brussels (2016) were often blamed on immigration and lack of assimilation in northern Europe, where religious and cultural independence is often respected. While protecting cultural communities, this approach can also lead to isolation and extremism among people who fail to assimilate into larger European culture.

In 2016, I witnessed the British public vote on the referendum to be the EU. The surprise of so many British people that Brexit won was mirrored when many of the American public were shocked at the victory of Donald Trump. Nativist populism had been on the rise in Europe for some time, and radical right-wing parties like the National Front in France and Jobbik in Hungary began gaining seats in republican governments. Resentment against globalization, which was seen as controlled by wealthy supranational interests, and immigration, which caused social problems and was perceived as threatening employment, has been utilized effectively by such parties. Many pundits have been surprised by the American Republican party's adoption of such values - the British journal The Economist claimed it is easier for this to happen when there are only two parties. Preying on the discontent of those left out of the profits of globalization, and galvanized by resistance to multiculturalism, the new far-right has anti-rational, xenophobic, and monarchist aspects. The most frightening part is the undermining of sources of knowledge, especially science, that are not typically controlled by political power. With Russia's invasion of the Crimea (2014) and the Ukraine (2022), a new age of warfare seemed about to follow.

2020 marked the start of the Covid pandemic around the world, and many European countries suffered high rates of infection and death. Having been through the influenza epidemic of 1918-19, several used techniques that helped limit the spread, including the wearing of masks and closing of businesses. Those which did not, like Sweden, suffered higher death rates, especially among the elderly.


The Arts

Installation art

Although it has its origins in the spatial conceptions of cubism and modernism, installation art became a post-industrial form of its own. Installation art is designed to place the viewer within the space of the artwork. In the early part of this century, much of the emphasis has been on interactivity, where the viewer is part of the art. Some examples:

Belgian artist Carsten Höller began as a scientist of insect behavior, and his work combines art and science. "Light Corner" (2003) contains 1800 light bulbs flashing at a frequency that makes colors on the retina when the viewer's eyes are closed, creating a warm glow inside the viewer's body. Light Corner: two walls coming together, both covered with light bulbs
Torres billboard: empty bed with indentations on both pillows Felix Gonzalez-Torres (1957 -1996) combined his personal experiences with public conceptual art installations. In one exhibit, he piled wrapped candy in a corner and invited viewers to take one, replenished from an endless supply. His billboard installations of the early 90s included this one ("Untitled", 1991), seen as both a tribute to his lover (lost to AIDS) and a transfer of private emotion into the public arena.
Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco's work Long Yellow Hose (1996) is an outdoor installation (it was at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla for awhile). The hose leads the viewer through the sculpture garden for 1200 feet. It marks the beginning and end of your journey, and all points in between, providing a weird kind of unity to the garden and reminders about water and technology. Orozco's hose winding its way through sculptures in a garden

Commercial music

MTV (Music Television) first went on the air in 1981, showing videos of popular music. The first video they showed was "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the British group The Buggies. Madonna showing off her behindAs it evolved, MTV became the goal of music groups, who cast their hit singles into visual song-and-dance productions instead of just filming their performances. The queen of the video was Madonna. Madonna was skilled at using visuals to market her particular brand of sexually-charged music; I couldn't even begin to list her imitators. Michael Jackson was also one of the early pioneers, creating first-class production numbers. At first, MTV was edgy and trendy. It has since become establishment, banning anti-war videos during the recent war against Iraq in order to save viewers' "sensibilities".

Sting playing guitar and singingThe 1980s and 1990s saw many groups reflecting the commercial trends of the times, although some made their careers bucking the trend. Sting (now Sir Gordon Matthew Sumner), British member of the band The Police, is well-known for his activism. That is also true of bands like U2. But in general, this era has seen an increasing desire to market music to the masses, using the video to pull audiences in to buy music. The popularity of the Internet for music distribution became apparent in the late 1990s, as people downloaded music using file-sharing programs like Napster. The recording industry responded with what I call "manufactured music".



"All the Things She Said"
English lyrics

"Ya Soshla S Uma" ("I've Lost My Mind")
Latinized Russian lyrics
Lyrics translated into English

t.A.T.u. is a good example. They were the hottest sensation from Russia in the early 2000s, combining techno music with teenage lesbian chic (a twisted version of the personal and the public).

Check out the video from their 2002 album 200 KM/H in the Wrong Lane.

Ya Soshla S Uma
English version: All The Things She Said

Tatu sharing a drink, also in underwear

The girls (Lena Katina, born 1984, and Yulia Volkova, born 1985) were "cast" by Ivan Shapovalov, a "script-writer/director/producer" (elsewhere also claiming to be a filmaker and former child psychologist), who formed the group in 2000. The original story was that he discovered the two girls, childhood sweethearts, and made them famous. Actually, he held auditions at a studio, and chose the two independently out of 500 candidates. In an interview, Shapolvalov apparently admitted to getting the idea from kiddie porn websites. One journalist called t.A.T.u. the "Great Lesbian Pop Tart Swindle".

Tatu was thus a completely marketed, pre-fabricated, made-to-order music group catering to the Lolita crowd. Both the Russian and English versions of the hit single appear on the album, and use the same music though the lyrics are different. The original Russian lyrics are more internal, personal, painful, introspective. The English lyrics are typical pop with direct obsessiveness and no Tolstoyesque "Russianisms". The song, like the group, was created to cater to a particular youth market, so it's no surprise that they were so popular in Europe. Their young age and lesbian motif were shocking enough to cause controversy, and thus gain the support of youth against the older generation. They were Europe's more youthful answer to Britney Spears, times two.

Austrialian singer/songwriter Sia is popular in Europe - this video is 2016. She began as a songwriter for others, cranking out hits for Rhianna and Christina Aguilera. Her sound combines hip-hop from the United States with other pop sounds and the sort of weirdness popularized by Lady Gaga in the U.S. combined with an anti-social persona. Her quick song-writing method echoes the domination of today's pop music by what James Seabrook calls "track-and-hook" assembly-line song production, which assures hit songs based on a formula used by many artists. These methods are in response to the free consumption of pop music on the internet since the early 2000s, which threatens record producers and has led to "hit production" rather than real song-writing. Lyrics
But it isn't all manufactured music. At the end of the 2000s, European music (when it wasn't following Americans' fascination with retro music) began to demonstrate more regional sounds, almost as a counter movement to the political and economic trends toward unification. A good example of this is Edward Maya (Eduard Marian Ilie), a young Romanian pop star whose dance music has captured Europe's music scene. The sophistication of eastern Europe, shown especially in his videos, points toward a future where the eastern countries have more say culturally at least. Lyrics

AIDS and Art

The arts also got into the 2006 campaign for the prevention of AIDS, the sexually transmitted disease. Switzerland's campaign features particularly striking images and warnings that protection is always needed ("ici la protection est aussi requise").

Naked women fencing Naked men playing hockey

I am often asked to present examples of ways in which the European mentality about sex and the body is more progressive than the American mindset. I'm thinking this is a good example -- an ad graphically demonstrating that one doesn't engage in dangerous activities without protection using nudity.

Street art

Also in the 2010s, new trends in street art. Here's a short video on Stik:



All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.



Postindustrialism Environment European Union The Arts