Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Decline of Dubai: Modern Day Gold Rush & Doubious Cultural Values

After reading Harold Innis' article about industrialism and cultural values, I was reminded of the tremendous growth of Dubai in the Middle East. It is mind-boggling to see the rate at which Dubai has developed in terms of the amount of residents, tourists, real estate properties, and commercial endeavors in the last decade under the leadership of its ambitious ruler, Sheikh Mohammed.

Mohammed says that he loves American culture, aside from its foreign policy, but yet he seems to be racing to make Dubai BIGGER and BETTER than the U.S. Its massive growth in architecture is particularly impressive. He seems to equate prestige and success with over-the-top architecture and industrial growth – building the world’s tallest building, biggest shopping center, man-made islands, etc.

The frenetic pace of growth in the region has had some negative implications on the culture. To scratch the surface, human trafficking and exploitive labor practices have been two major social consequences. It also seems like Dubai’s culture is based solely on commercial activity and corporate interests, rather than more “enriching” things like art or philosophy.

Echoing Innis, Dubai’s intense period of culture activity seems to be reaching the inevitable fatigue stage. Since 2008, Dubai’s ability to expand seemed to have been tapped out with the decline of the real estate markets and the cost of infrastructure problems.

I use this example because, in a way, I feel that Dubai’s “new” culture is a sad reflection of our materialistic, consumer-driven culture in the U.S. It is fascinating how a place on the other side of the world could be striving to emulate and even “top” American commercialism. Surely, without the advent of mass communication, people in the Middle East would not be so heavily influenced by American culture. I remember not being aware of Dubai before 60 Minutes did a story on it in 2007. Through television, I was able to learn about the changes that were taking place in the region. I recall feeling disgusted at the amount of excess, greed, and waste behind Dubai’s growth…which is a direct product of the Western culture in which we are engrained.

Maybe I’m off-track here, but the type of civilization in Dubai seems to be on a path to self-destruction.

Some questions:

Are the people behind the growth of Dubai trying to strengthen Middle East culture by becoming more “Western” or are they attempting to weaken American culture in some way by becoming bigger and better? OR – is the main motivation just plain greed?

Is Dubai’s metamorphosis into a commercial capital of the world a reflection of a civilization that is improving (i.e. becoming more democratic) or declining (i.e. too much emphasis on money, material goods)?

60 Minutes: "Dubai, Inc. - Part 1"

Photo Slide Show: "Off the Deep End: The Decline of Dubai" (FastCompany.com)

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