Friday, February 07, 2014

Two Globalisations

There are two ways of looking at globalisation. 

One is an imperial way, which is more common: This is about some country or the other ruling the world, one culture or the other being in ascendency, one way of doing things being better than another way of doing things. This is indeed the predominant way of thinking about globalisation, which we can call globalisation-as-dominance. This is the way most people think, even the ardent globalisers. True, they are slightly embarrassed by their own views, and therefore, they would usually highlight the impermanence of such dominance, pointing to the ongoing dynamics of the global equation, but accept dominance nonetheless as the way of things, as it always have been.

But, then, there is another way of looking at things. This, perhaps less articulated, view of globalisation is less about dominance and more about connection. This is based on a more optimistic view of human beings, perhaps something which we lost touch with. This view may be obscured by the way we read history, which is almost always celebratory of the powers of the victors. This view of globalisation is from the vantage point of the subjects of globalisation, from those people at the frontiers of globalisation, not necessarily the vanquished, but its actors. It is about those merchants who sailed, the executives who came to another country to work, the writers who sought ideas and stimulation in a different locale, or perhaps more mundanely, the tourist who fell in love on the way. This is the human view of globalisation, which centres around our wonder that there may be people in another part of the world with a different culture but a similar sort of disposition and emotions as us. This is not an anti-global view, because none of us need to fear connection as we do of dominance.

But this second way of thinking about globalisation makes globalisation different. Because this is not about imposing any one correct view, this allows for the diverse. And, if one is to think that this is a touchy-feely nonsense, and the globalisation as view around dominance looks right in theory, one must open their eyes and see that globalisation as connection and interaction looks more real in practise. Despite some people thinking that the world speaks in English, shops in Amazon and keeps in touch on Facebook, this is hardly true. If anything,  the world still resembles the tower of Babel, with local prestige and sensibilities ascendent with a new sense of perspective and confidence. The locally responsive services are springing up everywhere, where consumers take pride in buying from them. The local has become universal and not the other way round.

The anti-globalisers may not agree, but the globalisation is not apocalyptic. In fact, it is one thing that pro-globalisers and anti-globalisers seem to be in agreement on, but both are equally wrong: Despite the spectre of uni-polar world, no one seemed to have won hands down and the world has not become a drab monoculture. The globalisation that we see are diverse and resplendent with conversations and connections, a delicate game of negotiation and assimilation, rather than dominance and dependence.

Seen from drawing rooms of the Rich, lobbies of the five star hotels and through the prism of European language media, this diversity may appear much reduced, but that does not make it any less real. And, besides, this is what makes globalisation exciting, worth engaging into: If our brains are built for culture and connections, this is exactly the sort of stimulation it must crave for. But even if this sort globalisation is about harmony, and peace and connections, this is still deeply disruptive. Because the doctrine of dominance and fear of the others is central to the way our societies are structured, giving our elites the sole rights to negotiate with the unknown and profit from it. This grown-up view of globalisation, one that is based on shared humanity and possibilities that prosperity can be built together, remains excluded from common imagination to maintain the power plays that keep us in our place.

However, increasingly, the frontiers of value creation is shifting from local to global domain. The less we do with hands, turning our natural resources into usable commodities, and the more we do with minds, turning our ideas into valuable something, it is that connection with others, the ability to transcend the parochial and being able to engage locally many places at a time, become ever more important. Partnership, not dominance, remain at the core of this new agenda. This is not about government mandated ways of doing things, not designed by the power elite, but this is about tapping into the possibilities of human networks and to find purpose in making the relationships work. 

Unfortunately, as globalisation changed, the elite enjoying its benefits, everyone else abandoned it: The internationalist heritage of the workers subsided and and instead, work became parochial. This is a mistake. This is not just a failing attempt to go back in time, but indulging in fratricide among the working classes by turning against the humanist globalisation that made their politics possible in the first place. It is about giving in to the agenda of the power elite and its theory of domination, rather than freedom. It is against the grain of the change, against the power of the technologies and against human nature: It is one way to exclude the the working classes from everything of import today. It is just too critical for their view to be on table to drive responsible discussions on environment, work, capital and human dignity, to solve the big problems of poverty, disease and fanaticism which can hardly be solved locally. By turning anti-globalisation, the working classes handed over all the crucial policy issues to the 1%. It is time to discover the other, human, globalisation for the sake of the other 99%.

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