There is a new age emerging, but it is arriving in a state of flux. This new and highly unstable wave is about to replace the industrial revolution that lasted only 200 years, prior to which technological advances were very slow. It is not entirely clear which sphere of influence will take us forward. Nevertheless, let us examine the new reality facing us today.
Companies of the new economy like Google had it figured out, amassing billions in the span of several years. Google shrugged off government pressure and told the world that they would not filter access to information on the Internet. In a similar recent scenario, Google refused to continue filtering internet content in China. China protested but Google stood firm, moving part of its business operations to Hong Kong and continuing to provide unfiltered content to China. The Chinese government partially relented, knowing that if they wanted to become a global superpower they must open their doors to the world. The Beijing Olympics were the precursor of exciting changes to come and the Chinese people were extremely proud of the attention and adulation they had garnered. Whether or not one will admit it, globalisation has hit China, and capitalist Chinese democracy is here!
There are pockets of anti-globalisation movements erupting around the world. But the movements, like suicide bombings, are not a deterrent when moderate sentiment in those same areas of the world craves American rock ‘n roll and shares the excitement of watching American movies. Globalisation is derided in countries rich and poor, but we are all exposed to aspects of a global culture that sometimes go beyond comprehension.
Everyone wants a fast food restaurant in their neighbourhood. Everyone wants a Mexican taco stand or falafel hut on every corner. Wives and girlfriends-even from poorer neighbourhoods-turn into material girls and tell their men to buy the most expensive import automobiles credit can buy, yet once these arrive they remain in the garage in mint condition because they are hardly ever driven. Everyone definitely needs to replace their smart phones. Why are you texting on your phone? OMG! You are communicating with someone on the other side of the planet, for free?
To varying extents, families and communities are influenced by societal behaviour. Let us not forget that it is the moderate movements that shape society for the better or worse, and ultimately, these movements extend beyond narcissistic and self-indulgent leaders. Even they get caught as perpetrators of vice and immorality and break their own rules.
Globalisation is both revered and loathed. Depending on your perspective, it is either associated with great prosperity or blamed for deep poverty. It is commended for expanding the power of the individual to make choices as consumers and creators of great wealth, just as it is condemned by the groups that are becoming increasingly subjugated by the growing power of transnational companies, cartels and black markets, sharing as these groups do a relationship akin to that of the grasshopper and the ant.
Let us not be blind. Most of the world lives under squalid conditions that go ignored by the civilised world, and it is nearly impossible to rise out of that poverty and attain a life of luxury over the course of one lifetime. But how much do we give in order to distribute the wealth more fairly?
In the United States, almost 50% of the population-including the wealthiest of individuals and corporations-do not pay taxes, while in a perverse twist of circumstances the situation appears to be getting worse for the upper middle class. Why should they be penalised the hardest for their earnest work? They are the group creating the most jobs. The middle class is losing their clout to lobbyists and organised labour and sadly, they are slipping into poverty. The most organised perpetrators of this decline are the multinational corporations. They are robbing the power of democratically elected governments and setting new conditions for labour. Organised labour in its current form has become a joke. Worse, schools are passing a slave-dependent consumer mentality onto students.
Globalisation is the great emancipator and the great oppressor. The global economy rewards mobility and a willingness to change more than it rewards loyalty and consistency. This is one of the many paradoxes of globalisation. Conservative political movements in Anglo-Saxon countries and the West in general tend to side with the forces of globalisation because of their support for free markets. Yet the global market is a powerful force against conservatism, as measured by an affection and even reverence for the local networks of borders, language and culture. For smaller bands of family and community, tribal traditions predate the rise of capitalism.
This explains the profound ambivalence of Catholic social thought against the market and globalisation. Catholic social theory finds itself opposed to statism and the disruptive effects of markets. This also explains the peculiar alliance of parts of the left and right against globalisation. The left is critical of the ways in which globalisation strengthens capitalistic institutions; the right is critical of the ways in which those institutions disrupt traditional arrangements and challenge long-held cultural values.
The global market economy can damage social cohesion and wreak havoc upon traditional society. One day, a company wins an enormous contact in a third world country. The region expands and develops overnight, and as a result, its children receive a better education. However, as we have seen in cities like Detroit, the situation can reverse almost overnight, creating disaster zones populated by hopeless ghosts. Meanwhile, while our narcissistic politicians huddle around cups of gourmet tea and cholesterol-filled crumpets in chilly Copenhagen to chatter about global warming, the rest of the world waits in vain. Our politicians in Washington D.C. choose to pick fights over the protection of polar bears rather than the rescue of an ailing city.
In a tenuous and fundamental fight, the radical right and left, like the radical Islamic movements, mistrusts the culture of liberal capitalism, its economic structures and its disruptive power. Globalisation brings both beneficial and harmful disruptions. Learning to live with globalisation requires serious consideration of its shortcomings. Only then can we open to new possibilities that will take us forward.
FOOTNOTES: Adapted from E. J. Dionne, Jr (2001) ‘Emancipator or Oppressor?’, Newsweek
The Grasshopper and the Ant is an ancient fable attributed to Aesop and brilliantly portrayed in Disney’s animated classic “A Bug’s Life.”
M. Savage (2003) ‘The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on our Borders, Language and Culture’