GLOBALIZATION: WHAT IT'S ALL ABOUT
- ISIS on a rampage
- Russia and China challenge U.S. world leadership
- Instant information on everything and everyone
- From Berlin to Boston to Bangkok, Globalization shrinks the world…
What in the world is going on?
What is happening is that for the first time in human history, the world is forging an awareness of our existence as a single entity. Nations are incorporating the planetary dimensions of life into the fabric of our economics, politics, culture and international relations. Due to our electronic global information system, peoples of totally different psychological and cultural expressions - whether Silicon Valley computer programmer, Bolivian tin miner or Russian worker on the Siberian oil rigs - are being forced into a single, globalized technological context. Globalization is only the shorthand for this.
Globalization is generally thought of as the worldwide integration of economic, financial and political factors. When we think globalization, we think of the IMF, the World Bank or the United Nations. For the first time in history, nations can no longer develop economically and technically on their own. A nation must be part of the global development system if it wants to prosper.
Part of globalization is the increasing adoption of some form of free market economic system, as well as a democratic political system. These are the systems that have proven to work best in enabling easy transfer of goods, money and jobs around the world. But these systems cannot be put on like a new suit of clothes. To work well, an economic or political system must be rooted in the culture and psychology of the nation that uses them. And that takes time.
At its deepest level, globalization is the gradual process of the world shrinking as people of different nations, cultures and religions come to know more about each other. Part of this process is that many Western ideas and modes of living are gradually seeping into the fabric of the world.
At the same time, everyone on earth has to adjust to Western information technology, for no nation can globalize without becoming part of the electronic global information system. As this happens, existing cultures, traditions, institutions and historic relationships are threatened, and in some cases, even disappearing. In essence, globalization is about identity. It goes to the very psychological foundations of a people. Globalization is the expansion of a people's worldview. It is the process of coming to realize that wherever we come from, we are now one people with a common destiny.
If pursued wisely and cooperatively, globalization represents the world's best chance to enrich the lives of the greatest number of people. One need only look at India to see a prime example of how globalization can benefit a nation.
How long has globalization been going on?
Globalization - in terms of elemental merging of economies - started in the 15th century when the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch began developing settlements in Asia, South America and Africa and, later, Magellan circumnavigated the globe. It wasn't called globalization then. It was first called exploration, and then colonization. That was when the natural resources from other parts of the world began to be important to the economies of Europe. Before that, there was such a small degree of trade between Europe and other parts of the world that it was not a major part of Europe's economy. But after the 16th century, other parts of the world became vital to economic development in Europe. At the same time, European ideas - especially civil administration, science and Christianity-began to penetrate Asia, Africa and South America.
Thus the different parts of the world that had been relatively ignorant of each other began a process of communication and integration that would increase over the next five centuries. The world began to shrink, and peoples of different cultures began to know more about each other.
This process proceeded relatively slowly until the 18th and 19th centuries when new technologies were developed. It was just after the French Revolution that the first telegraph message was sent. Thus, the birth of the first electronic information technology. The first practical steam locomotive was invented in 1814, which meant that a train could carry people and goods across a continent faster than the speed of a horse (35 mph) for the first time in history. The first steamship crossed the Atlantic Ocean in 1818, vastly reducing the time from London to New York.
As new technologies came along, economies became increasingly integrated. In 1848 Karl Marx observed, "Modern industry has established the world market, which has given immense development to commerce, to navigation and to communication by land."
An accelerated pace
By the beginning of the twentieth century, the pace of globalization was speeding up. The first transatlantic radio transmission was sent in 1901; the first TV transmission in 1925; the first commercial airline (KLM) in 1929. So the centuries-old communication and information systems were being transformed.
And we know the story of the explosion of technology during the second half of the 20th century. Three technologies are worth particular mention.
First, television. The explosion of global TV in the 1950s gave the world a new way of thinking about life. In the U.S., for example, in 1948, 172,000 American homes had TV. Four years later, that number had jumped to 15.3 million homes. TV drew everyone into the same global living room. We began seeing the same events together. In 1969, the whole world watched as the first humans set foot on the Moon. TV changed the character of politics. Image became more important than substance. "Spin" became king.
With the arrival of television, parents began to lose control of the information environment within which their children grew up, a loss that was finalized with the arrival of the Internet. Loss of that control is a major factor contributing to "the end of childhood" as a distinct category of growth to adulthood. Finally, TV advertising began developing a worldwide consumer appetite. Gradually, TV became a de facto global branch of the advertising industry.
Second, the space program - more particularly, the arrival of humans on the moon. The TV picture we saw of Earth from the Moon is one of the most significant events in history. It is as the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle predicted in the 1940s: "Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from the outside, is available, a new idea, as powerful as any in history, will be let loose." All of a sudden, what the poets and philosophers had talked about for centuries - that we are one species, one human family-was right there for everyone to see on their TV screen. Suddenly we saw that the boundaries we draw between people - boundaries of nation, race, class or religion-are all in our minds. Seeing Earth from the Moon probably has been the greatest single psychological impetus for globalization.
Third, the Internet. Dr. Philip Tobias, world-famous anthropologist, described the Internet as "...the most significant social development since the advent of language." Two results are especially important. First, instant communication with anyone anywhere in the world. As far as communication goes, time has been virtually eliminated. We now have what some people call "world time." This elimination of time has vastly accelerated the pace of life.
Second, everyone now has access to all information, all social and political theories, all daily news, and all religious and philosophical beliefs. Thus, all knowledge becomes democratized, enabling people to form opinions on subjects they never could have considered in earlier times.
I was once at a dinner given for Alvin Toffler, the man who coined the term "future shock," one of the world's foremost "futurists," and author of Future Shock. I asked him what he sees as the consequences of all knowledge, all philosophies and viewpoints, and all religions being available at the mere press of a computer button. He replied simply, "It's the end of truth." I was stunned. As I thought about it later, Toffler wasn't saying that truth wouldn't exist; only that each person would now have his or her own truth.
Thus, at least one problem becomes clear. Americas founders held certain truths to be "self-evident." But the overload of information, the inundation of countless different points of view, means it's far harder to know exactly what truths are self-evident, or at least accepted as self-evident by the body politic. It makes achieving a governing consensus far more difficult.
Another effect of globalization - especially as a result of global TV, the Internet and massive migration - is the crisis of identity the world is facing. All of a sudden we see the earth from the Moon, and, in reality, there are no "national borders." Such borders are, we discover, simply human unconscious projections, and these projections are rapidly eroding. Increasingly, we see the world as a whole, and our consciousness is gradually being forced to absorb this reality.
Thus the flight from Syria to Europe.
The spiritual dimension
Equally important as the integration of economies that was taking place over the centuries was the effect of globalization of religion.
For the first several thousand years of what we might call the human journey, peoples, cultures and religions developed in isolation, and at their own pace. The world population today is just over six billion. But the world's religions evolved when the world population was estimated to be around 150 million, which is less than half the current U.S. population.
People of different cultures and religions were spread across the globe, and there was relatively little contact between them. So religions developed in isolation according to different environments, experiences and cultures.
Eventually, Christians and Muslims learned more about each other when the Muslims invaded Spain and the Europeans invaded what is now Israel and Palestine. But on the whole, the average person was totally ignorant of other religions until the Europeans took Christianity to various parts of the world after the 15th century.
Then in 1801, the Upanishads, the mystical scriptures of India, first reached Europe and were translated into Latin. This opened up the first study in the West of the Hindu religion. In 1929, the Chinese I Ching, or Book of Changes, was translated into German, and it soon made its way into English. During the 1930s and '40s, many Westerners began reading Lao Tzu's Tao de Ching, as well as books on Buddhism.
This has been a significant part of globalization. What it has done is to cause people in all parts of the world to realize there are different interpretations of spiritual truth; that my particular belief is not the only understanding of transcendent reality. This realization is at the very core of a spiritual and psychological search taking place in most nations today.
Challenges and contradictions everywhere
But we know globalization is not without its difficulties. On the one hand, it represents a shrinking of the globe that requires us to expand our worldview and sense of identity.
In the United States, such an expansion of outlook happened once before. At the time of the American Revolution, most people found their identity in relation to the state they lived in - Georgia, Virginia or Massachusetts, but not with something called the United States (there was no United States). Even after independence, it wasn't until after the Civil War, that a distinctly American identity emerged. In terms of American culture, it was fifty years after the American Revolution before a uniquely American culture - starting with James Fenimore Cooper - became apparent. So we've experienced this expanding process before.
The world is going through a similar process today. Easy travel, television, the computer, iPhone, the Internet - and especially seeing our globe from the perspective of the moon - have taken this expansion of awareness to a wholly new dimension. We're being forced to identify not simply with our nation, but also with other races, cultures and nations. We could be experiencing the fledgling beginnings of what might be called a global awareness or identity.
And, of course, there's a reaction. That's to be expected. Such an epochal change doesn't come easily. We feel a threat to an older and more normal identity. This threat tends to force us backward to more familiar patterns of the past. It's uncomfortable to move forward into unknown territory. In a time of upheaval and reorientation, we reach inward for the security of past certainties, both spiritually and politically.
In the process, life-giving themes that once resonated in the souls of our ancestors become hollow clichés. Yes, we know it’s all "true," but it doesn't really excite us. We hear the old jargon from our politicians all the time. But somehow it doesn't have the ring of a compelling truth, a truth for a totally fresh period of history. It's not like it must have been in hearing Thomas Jefferson read the Declaration of Independence for the first time.
This is happening across the world as exponential change overwhelms all tradition and belief. This reaction - this reaching back for thought-patterns of an earlier period - under-girds the fundamentalist sentiment, whether in America, India, or the Middle East. From a psychological viewpoint, it's regressive.
So we're confronted not only with a crisis between civilizations, but also a crisis within civilizations. It's a monumental crisis of identity and worldview. None of the categories of the past - social status, religion, ethnicity, culture, heritage, region, nation - in and of themselves alone-is an adequate context of thought and action in an era that is rapidly becoming global.
Every nation on earth faces this challenge. This challenge within nations is part of what's been going on in the Middle East for decades. Everything about an emerging global civilization appears to threaten the identity, social fabric, and even the existence of Islam, which comprises a billion people. So some people lash out at what they see as the generator of globalization.
While we must deal forcefully with threats to life and safety, we must do it with the realization that, in the broader context, and in our different ways, America and the peoples of the Arab world face the same challenge. That challenge is “how to adapt past traditions and institutions to radically new conditions?” In essence, it is “how to adjust our worldview for a new period of world development?”
Maintaining world order and stability under such uncertain conditions is the critical test confronting all nations, especially America and Europe.
In the end, the test of globalization is not simply a mechanical - an economic and financial - process. Is must also be a human process, a psychological process, a spiritual process, a broadening of our consciousness, a greater sensitivity to other people and cultures, and a deepening sense of wholeness. For common sense suggests that a unified world, which is the next stage of human history and is the "un-articulated" objective of globalization, must be built on a unified self in each of us.
Globalization is a challenge to every one of us - to move past the limiting parameters of past categories as the primary form of identity, and assume a new worldwide perspective. Our historic sense of family, class, race, religion and nation will always be a part of who we are, part of our roots and identity.
But we're now at a point in world development - due to our own inventiveness - where our sense of identity is being forced to widen and include aspects of life that are unfamiliar to us. It's not easy, and it's not something we can leave up to our so-called "leaders." This is a challenge every human being faces in one way or the other.
As the British historian Arnold Toynbee suggested long ago; "Technology can bring strangers physically face-to-face with one another in an instant, but it may take generations for their minds, and centuries for their hearts, to grow together. Physical proximity," he concluded, "not accompanied by simultaneous mutual understanding and sympathy, is apt to produce antipathy, not affection, and consequently discord, not harmony."
Therein lays the human challenge of globalization. To be legitimate, globalization must validate itself in terms of equitable benefits for all nations, and sensitivity to other nations' need for social and political stability.
Meeting this human challenge is critical, for we do not have generations, much less centuries, in which to adjust.