Essay on Globalization and Human Friction

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The great Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung spoke of “structural violence”–the very real undermining of the well-being of life that results from policies, ways of producing and consuming, legal precedents, and bureaucratic and institutional practices. The profound macroeconomic changes involved in corporate globalization and the free trade treaties represent many instances of structural violence. It is vital that we recognize and name how these economic policies engender friction and violence, rather than attributing these effects to basic emotions and human nature, as Helena Norberg-Hodge points out. Then, rather than believing such violence is inevitable, we see how we can change these human-made policies.

Johan Galtung spoke of the silent nature of structural violence–and this makes it particularly pernicious. Today, as the negative impacts of globalization–the economic, environmental, social, psychological, and spiritual forms of breakdown–are being felt more and more, it is crucial that we attribute cause to silent economic changes rather than blaming ourselves, or others. Peoples’ self-esteem around issues of livelihood, identity, and culture could remain strong even when crises emerge in these areas. People could work to counter an economic system rather than people with darker skin. Here we see how essential it is to make the connections between the abstract policies of the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank, on the one hand, and life on the ground, on the other–both here, in the overdeveloped world and in the “developing” world.

Many economic policies of globalization engender greater poverty for the majority, and environmental, social, cultural, and psychological insecurity. As fear intensifies, the seeds are sown for growing fascism and fundamentalism. These were the influences that gave rise to Naziism in Germany in the 30’s. Today, we see the election of right-wing governments in many countries. If George Bush II continues to wreak havoc with the economy in a very fragile and volatile global economy, and if he bankrupts us and cuts social services in the name of war, the resulting economic breakdown will be extremely fertile soil for further fascism.

Eroded relationships result from globalization in many ways. We find ourselves running to keep up in the “competitive global economy,” driving more and more to get to larger and larger chain stores for basic necessities, living at a faster and faster pace that is dictated by modern technologies rather than by human rhythms, and having less time for each other. We compete more and more for scarcer and scarcer resources; ethnic friction and fundamentalism burgeon the planet over as people are severed from their communities, pulled from the land into megalopolises where they find high rates of unemployment. As Helena Norberg-Hodge describes, if you are not part of the consumer monoculture, your self-esteem can plummet in the face of a media that glamorizes white, urban culture.

As cultural diversity is eroded, and identities are undermined and lost, life’s meanings are often reduced to superficial values. As services are privatized, rather than provided for one another within a community as they have been for time immemorial, money rules more and more aspects of life. As land, water, the sky, and life itself in the form of DNA are privatized, nothing is valued for it’s own intrinsic worth, but instead for what it can garner on the world market. As the doctrine of comparative advantage dictates that each region should specialize in producing what it is best at producing and produce it on a large scale for export, we specialize in a few products and become dependent upon imports for the rest of our needs. Local decision-making and a sense of power and sovereignty is thus weaker.

The divides have been eroded by the internet, yet in some senses it still acts as a bridge to our nationality.  For example, if you visit any group of British expats anywhere in the world you’re likely to find they’re experts on things like proxies and VPNs.  This is because despite being across the world, most UK natives will be very attacked to British TV and will use things like these tools – BBC iPlayer DNS, to watch from wherever they happen to be.

As we transport products over vaster and vaster distances, the C02 emissions are creating climate change and we wage war with the natural world. This transport also means that our economy depends on oil, and a huge military to ensure that the world’s oil is ours at a price we dictate. And certainly as we, in the north, consume approximately ten times our fair share of global resources, resentment grows in the hearts of those many who are in more and more desperate need of the basics for survival. This is why, already in 1948 George Kennan wrote in a State Department Policy Planning Paper, “We have about 50% of the world’s wealth, but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment.

Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to retain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.”

Or, more recently, the influential New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written, “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

It is possible to change these economic policies. Indeed, George Bush, the Senior, was incorrect when he said at the first World Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro ten years ago that “The American way of life is not in question.” In Santa Fe, and all over the world, people are deeply questioning this suicidal way of life and beginning to build a new, life-affirming way.

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