Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Becoming Global

Whether being Global is desirable depends on which side of the fence you are at. But there could be a different approach.

The word Global has specific meaning in its current usage. It is no longer the descriptive word that it was meant to be, with all the idealism of universal brotherhood. Since the 90s, when money became global, it has one very intrusive meaning for the recipients of globalization, those who turned their world upside down. Becoming Global, in that sense, means being an agent of this change, with a negative connotation for those from Global South.

In this specific usage, the requirements are quite well defined. English is the language of this type of globalisation - indeed, more specifically, American English - and speaking the language of investment and prioritising on money-making is a must. Another rich country language is good - how about German - as is wide familiarity of power circles. The iconography of globalisation also includes a certain look, a certain dress sense, a set of brands, alongside a flair of talking about movies, cars and sports. It is a sublimely male subject world, which the global women happily participate in. 

Assimilating in this world has some specific routes. Apart from the advantages of birth, naturally favourable to those who are born at metropolitan centres and English-speaking countries, there is a route to this global self through Business Schools. That, in fact, is one of the key objectives of business school, and perhaps the only objective, to absorb one into this specific meaning of globalisation and immerse her into the culture, values and brands of it. (To be fair, law schools do the same, and Banks and IT companies too, sometimes attempting to implant a new identity in the person, but Business School stands out in intensity and focus on being global).

However, this model is based on what Professor Pankaj Ghemawat would call 'Globalisation Apocalypse', a flat world view that assumes all the social and cultural variations among countries would disappear with the magic touch of foot-loose money. But after two decades down the path taught everyone some lessons, which are just about sinking in. For a start, cultures refuse to die and national cultures proved more resilient than imagined. Second, globalisation lost its sheen as the disruption at its wake overwhelmed any gains it might have brought, leading to a resurgence of national sentiments and identities. The hypocrisy of the rich country rhetoric, when they try hard to keep people out and yet lecture others about openness, was exposed, staining the word 'Global' and all it stands for.

In this setting, a new meaning of Global may be emerging. Whether or not the world could become, would become, multi-polar, a new global archetype may be needed. This archetype may possibly be based on the old idea of 'International', a word stained by its association with Soviet hegemony, but in its original form, an identity grounded in one's national identity and culture, and yet, not limited by it. Becoming global, in this sense, may not be about embracing the surreal combination of American English, Finance Capital Values and Culture and icons of big money, but being authentic to what one is and yet have an open mind to the experiences different cultures and countries offer. In this new avatar, becoming Global still means being eclectic, and choices of some sort have to be made about values, cultures and icons, but the priority this time around is towards authenticity rather than assimilation.

My own quest of being global comes from this second view, and hence, I celebrate its possibility. I chose to travel, but never stopped being an Indian. I did not think, however, that commitment to being Indian should stop me from learning and accepting the most lofty and transcendent aspects of other cultures. I learned English later in life, but despite feeling, at some awkward moments, the need for hiding my accent, I went along with what came naturally. As I mentioned elsewhere in this blog, my project is still half finished - I wish to live in a non-English speaking culture and learn a language that is on the receiving end of globalisation, like Persian. A formula of being global - coming out of a business school, Thunderbird - caught my imagination. This is about, using the Business School lingo, having global intellectual, psychological and social capital, the Professors said. I, from the capital-starved South, get the message, but would rather interpret this in my own terms - knowing the world, being open to learning and connecting with people. That would be what I would call an Ordinary Person's recipe for Becoming Global.






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