Friday, May 23, 2014

Developing Global Societies

The essential tension of our age is turning out to be between Democracy and Globalisation. Globalisation is winning, riding over the powerful technologies and ideas feeding its energies. Democracy, after a century of being the harbinger of good life, is suddenly like the old Uncle with irrelevant stories, sweet but slightly annoying. 

This is not the way we thought it would turn out. The principal dialectic could have been between globalisation and the nation states: The global forces of technology and trade could have undone the nation state boundaries and reconfigured our world. It was a clear prognosis which so many people signed up to. Instead, it turned out to be the other way around: Nation states turned out to be stronger, not weaker. Democracy is the one which degenerated into 'drama-cracy', the politics of talking but not listening, of considered positions without consideration, of blaming the others without knowing the other. This senile democracy is indeed now cherished in the muscle-flexing nation states with silky routes to globalisation.

Turns like this give a new meaning to global societies as we conceived it. It is no longer about being open, to cultures and ideas, but about being closed, of being proud and self-promoting. It is not about throwing out traditional hierarchies, but reinforcing them. It is about creating national elites, who all own identical houses side by side in Mayfair (or in other global metropolises such as New York, LA, Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai), but turn up at different local variety shops, mosques and therapy sessions. The conflict of the elite that marked the last century has now been replaced by the unity of them, and conflicts of various hues within the national boundaries. 

The current vision of developing global societies, therefore, is driven by the development of uniform ideals of consumption and desire, alongside the contests on what stands for 'national' values. This is not just about a change in what global means, but also what a nation stands for. The earlier notions of a political or cultural identities are less tenable when the project is to assimilate everyone on a platform of global money: Rather, the concepts of a nation is rather backed by market identities, foods, costumes, music, which can all be assigned a commercial value and packaged and consumed: Even religion neatly fits into this packaged nation idea. These market identities need to be diverse in manifestation and unified in monetisation: Nations that are like shopping malls with barbed wires, social 'floors' and segregation. 

Indeed, if there is change, there will be resistance. This resistance so far directed its energy towards globalisation, and tried to protect the nation state and its cultural uniqueness. But this resistance is meaningless, as nation state is never in trouble and cultural identities are more unique than ever (it is more 'differentiated' that way!).  In this, the left, embracing the workers of the world, and the cultural right, in love of the pre-national divine, were unified. Little did they see that their own weapons are turned on themselves.

Still, the new global societies have to be built onto something more than nations equal to markets formulation. The poverty of this idea is plain when we try to apply markets to the things that nations do, particularly when we look at the poor and can't come up with a better idea than shackling themselves with more debt. At some point, the mountains of debt at the bottom of the pyramid strategy gives way to the strategies that involve burying the skeletons, as we have seen over and over. The preservation of nations, as societies, involve rediscovering the nations as societies, where members of it care for each other. Such discovery, ironically, requires rediscovery of democracy and abjuring the nation idea as it stands now. This is indeed a strange thing to say days ahead when the xenophobic right will perhaps dominate the European project, but the next stage in organising our societies is perhaps to organise them as federations of nations tied together with democracy, somewhat like the European project. This may mean revisiting some of the old liberal ideas, which embraced internationalism, but wished to organise the society on the basis of universal humanism rather than nationalism. Developing sustainable global societies will involve revisiting those old new ideas. The moment of truth in Europe will perhaps be the perfect trigger for such an endeavour. 





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