November 2012


Written by Tom McGuire

Viewed from space, our planet Earth doesn’t look any bigger or smaller than it did ten thousand years ago.

However, look closely and you’ll notice less green, more artificial light and a fine ring of debris otherwise known as “space junk”. Globalisation hasn’t literally made the world any smaller, although it might seem that way. But it has mixed people together, and changed their sense of identity.

My close relatives are disbursed through half a dozen countries around the planet, which is hardly  unusual these days. Spread the net a little wider along my family tree and the number of countries radically multiplies. Yet, I know of Dutch people who have spent their whole life in the same village barely interacting with anyone who lives more than 10 miles away. Such isolation, far more prevalent than in the past, has developed a remarkable array of languages and cultures within a small area. However, it is diminishing as we come to know each other more and collectively create a super-cultural ‘global information field’ (as Mironov, page 12 of this issue, explains).

What is also diminishing, just as surely, is the confident sense of identity that links who we are with stable traditions going back hundreds of years. Human society is operating more and more like a single co-ordinated organism. Human identity starts to overshadow ethnic and national identities. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the United Nations and its attempts to build up a universal system of law based on shared values.

The social effects of globalisation are perhaps the most obvious: families move further apart physically, and yet are increasingly connected by technology. Alexandra Dorca’s article (page 4) implies that all this electronic connectivity may simply mask or even contribute to a spiritual alienation. Dorca says that we increasingly live in what she calls ‘non-places’ such as airports, where large numbers of people inhabit the same space without sharing any sort of communal life.

Globalisation appears to threaten the sovereignty of the nation-state, which has become the basic political unit. This causes both alarm and celebration. Those for whom global problems like pollution require global solutions see separate states as inadequate tools to deliver these solutions. Yet national sovereignty is a powerful bulwark against borderless organisations that want control over resources for their own sake. The international telecom giant Huawei has raised nationalistic hackles in the West because of its connections to Chinese government, but such fears feed into a more general concern about global corporations having control over local processes.

According to author Jerry Everard (page 8), the function of the state is to draw boundaries between those whom you identify with (members of the collective ‘we’) and the foreign Other. Showing your passport while going through customs makes it clear as to which side of the boundary line you stand. With globalisation, these boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred as people start to identify with those outside the nation-state. The less people believe in the existence of boundaries, the more they start to crumble.

Socrates was said to have proclaimed his identity not as an Athenian or even a Greek, but as a “citizen of the world”. Globalisation presents the opportunity for a different, and much better, way of living together as human beings. But it could also mean the repetition of present problems on a larger scale. What kind of world do we want to be a citizen of? The so called ‘anti-globalisation protesters’ are not necessarily against world citizenship per se, but against the loss of control that they associate with the consolidation of power on a global scale. Many are frustrated that a committee of bankers in Washington, D.C. can effectively set the pay rate for civil servants in Spain. New Zealanders wonder why milk produced by local cows is suddenly more expensive due to changes in the ‘global economy’. Because the international system is so complex, people feel at the mercy of forces they do not understand and aggrieved that their elected representatives seem powerless to stop them. Whether chaos or conspiracy is to blame, the result is unrest and the rise of counter-movements such as ‘Euroscepticism’. See page 16 of this issue for a detailed overview of globalisation in all its facets.

Globalisation could also be conceived of as a positive process in which we build upon existing kinship ties, slowly enlarging the circle of our heart’s acceptance to encompass a wider net of relationships. The kind of globalisation that imposes itself from above, that makes us cogs in an even larger machine than before, is inherently unstable and its future uncertain.

Whether we look at it from the perspective of genetics or religious mythology, humanity is an incredibly large family. I think most people would agree that what makes a true family is heartfelt connection and, ultimately, love. This cannot be imposed externally, but comes about in a naturaland spontaneous way. Building up such a feeling among the human ‘family’ is a far more challenging project, but it may be the only lasting basis for a globalisation that really works.