Author Manfred Steger affirms in the book Globalization: A Very Short Introduction, that the effects of globalization are not only realized in an economic sense. She states that globalization also determines the social, political and cultural aspects of society. In short, globalization refers to the “social condition characterized by the existence of global economic, political, cultural, and environmental interconnections and flows that make many of the currently existing borders and boundaries irrelevant” (Steger 7). This paper argues that there are more benefits to globalization than disadvantages. The benefits far outweigh the feelings of suspicion as globalization elicits more positive results than others deem so.
Globalization involves an empowerment especially for on-line individuals and democratic organizing which is to deeply misunderstand real versus virtual political power. Computers may help individuals feel powerful or competent, and surely they are useful in many ways. But they do nothing to alter the rapid global centralization of power that is now underway; quite the opposite. For some, computer technology may be the single most important instrument ever invented for the acceleration of centralized power. While we sit at our PCs editing our copy, sending our e-mail, and expressing our cyberfreedoms, the transnational corporations are using their global networks, fed by far greater resources. They are able to achieve not only information exchange but concrete results that express themselves in downed forests, massive infrastructural development, destruction of rural and farming societies, displacement of millions of people, and domination of governments. Yet in a symbiotic embrace with other technologies of rapid economic development, they operate on a scale and at speed that makes our own level cyberempowerment pathetic by comparison. Speaking in traditional political terms, the new telecommunications technologies assist the corporate, centralized, industrialized enterprise far more efficiently than the decentralized, local, community-based interest which suffers a net loss.
It is relevant to at least mention a few other dimensions: the role computer production plays in creating the toxic crises of the industrial world and the Third World; the role of computer-based surveillance technologies in corporations to measure and objectify worker performance; and the manner in which microcomputation has spend up and amplified the power of the military technologies of the advanced industrialized nations. This was already obvious in the infamous “launch-on-warning” phenomenon of the old Cold War and the “smart bombs” of the hotter and more recent U.S.-Iraq war, where mass killing by automated bombs left human beings free of dirty-handed engagement in the killing process.
Globalization and speed
Then there is the simple dimension of speed. E.F. Schumacher told us that small is beautiful, but one could also make the case that show is beautiful, especially in preserving the natural world. Computers speed up communications exchanges over long distance, a quality that is most advantageous to the large centralized institutions we have been describing in this book. Of course, it also offers a speedup for resistance movements, but that speedup is mainly to keep pace with the high-speed activity of corporations.
To ensure the survival of nature, especially development and of people, they must slow down and synchronize with the more subtle and slower rhythms of the natural world. In our cyber-walkman-airplane-fax-phone-satellite world, we are so enclosed within a high-speed technical reality that the values and concerns of nature tend to become opaque to our consciousness.
The promotion of consumerism is manifested in the cultural globalization. The need to infiltrate new overseas market base, corporations must stimulate consumer need. George Ritzer coined the term “McDonaldization” to “describe the wide-ranging sociocultural processes by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (Steger 41). In general, the diffusion of ‘Americanized’ values and consumer goods are proponents of cultural homogenization (Steger 41). The proliferation of consumerist culture, likewise, put at risk the traditional and minority. Contrary to claims of multiculturalism and globalization, these espoused a single, dominant culture, one that is driven by “the limitless accumulation of material possessions (Steger 86).
“Globalization contains an ideological dimension filled with a range of norms, claims, beliefs and narrative about the phenomenon itself” (Steger 93). The concept of ideological globalization is to legitimize globalization as the dominant economic and political system. It propagates itself through media and information technology by dispersing the dominant ideology as ‘common sense’.
Steps towards relocalization
By now it should be clear that the expansion of the global economy directly leads to a corresponding contraction of the local economies that it largely replaces. This inevitably marginalizes and renders obsolete a large segment of the population of both the industrial and the so-called developing countries. At the same time, it devastates the natural world, homogenizes cultures, and destroys communities, depending their members of any semblance of control over their own lives. This process must be brought to a halt – movement must be reversed – even if, from today’s grim perspective, this may seem difficult to achieve.
Until recently, the vast bulk of humanity relied only upon the local economy for its livelihood. Today’s problems will eventually be solved by recognizing that local production for local consumption – using local resources, under the guidance and control of local communities, and reflecting local and regional cultures and traditions within the limits of nature, is a far more successful direction than the currently promoted, clearly utopian, globally centralized, expansionist model. Local economies are far more likely to produce stable and satisfied communities and to protect nature than any system based on a theoretically constant expansion of production and consumption and the eternal movement of commodities across thousands of miles of land and sea.
This does not mean that all trade is undesirable; only that its role must be limited to providing those things that cannot be provided locally. Contrary to what global economics tell us, import substitution, that is, the process whereby nations choose to produce more products locally rather than increase imports and exports, must again become the order of the day. A favorite charge by the defenders of globalism is the local economies can be harshly “provincial” and autocratic, yet there is considerable historical evidence that the local and indigenous economic-political systems have usually been more stable and peaceful than the chaotic current display in the Balkans, usually warned about. And they are surely more democratic than centralized corporate globalism. Indeed, in many cases of conflict it has been external interventions that have set small societies against one another.
As for losing touch with the world beyond the region, it is obvious that not every technology of transport or communications is about to be abandoned. Hopefully it will only be those technologies that lead to the centralizing of economic power beyond the possibility of citizen control and to the declining health of the natural world.
The chapter in this part is consider some of the ideas that provide the rationale for the local economy, and explore strategies required to assist a transition toward a more variable, more satisfying, and incomparably more sustainable world.
Jefferson also considered that self-governing communities should be self-sufficient, or at least that they should produce their own food, shelter, and clothes. This was essential in order to foster the honesty, industry, and perseverance on which democracy must be built (Kemmis 1990). Mahatma Gandhi fully agreed. The principle of swadeshi, which was critical to his philosophy, meant deriving one’s resources from one’s own area rather than importing them form elsewhere. Professor Ray Dasmann of the University of California at Santa Cruz says the same thing in a different way. He contrasts “ecosystem man,” who lives off his local ecosystem, with “biosphere man,” who lives off the whole biosphere. For Dasmann, it is only when we learn once more to become an ecosystem of people that our society will become truly sustainable. (Kemmis 1990).
Traditional communities are well capable of living off the resources of their ecosystems in a highly sustainable manner, firstly because, unlike export-oriented corporations that overtax the land and then move elsewhere, traditional communities have no other land available to them. It is also because they have developed cultural patterns that enable them to do so. It should be obvious that people who have lived in the same place for hundreds of years must have developed the food-producing practices that enable them to make the optimum use of their resources and also to make sure that such practices are rigorously applied. In other words, traditional communities alone are in possession of the requisite knowledge and capacities for living in their place.
Open-minded people who have studied agriculture as practiced by local communities in traditional societies have confirmed this. It is certainly true of agricultural experts sent by the British government at the end of the nineteenth century to see how Indian farming methods could be improved. Both A.O. Hume (1878) and John Augustus Voelcker (1983) wrote that traditional Indian agriculture was perfectly adapted to local conditions and could not be improved. To the dismay of British authorities, Voelcker alleged that it would be easier for him to suggest improvements to British than to Indian agriculture.
Even the World Bank, which has spearheaded the modernization of agriculture in the Third World, admitted in one of its more notorious reports that “smallholders in Africa are outstanding managers of their own resources – their land and capital, fertilizer and water” (World Bank 1981). Why then modernize agriculture and push the smallholders into the slums? The answer, as the report fully admits, is that subsistence farming is incompatible with the development of the market.
For this reason, the community is best seen – as it always has been among traditional societies – as made up not only of its human members but of all the living and nonliving things that make up an ecosystem. Wendell Berry sees the community in just this way. “if we speak of a healthy community” he writes, “we cannot be speaking of a community that is only human. We are talking about a neighborhood of humans in a place, plus a place itself: the soil, the water, its air, and all the families and tribes of the non-human creatures that belong to it. What is more, it is only if this whole community is healthy that its members can remain healthy and be healthy in body and mind live in a sustainable manner” (Berry 1992). It follows that a human community that has learned to maintain the health of the larger ecological community should be the one to have primary access to its natural wealth.
Once communities have been deprived of the exclusive use of their wealth; once it has been privatized or made available to all comers – a situation that superficially sounds desirable and “democratic” – then its exploitation and rapid destruction becomes inevitable. This is precisely what happens when we set up the global economy; a system of absentee owners.
This brings us to what may be the most important argument of all for returning to the local community – based economy. If the world’s environment is being degraded so rapidly, with a corresponding reduction in its capacity to sustain complex forms of life such as the human species, it is because it cannot sustain the present impact of our economic activities. To increase this impact still further, as we are doing by creatinf a global economy based on free trade, is both irresponsible and cynical. The only responsible policy must, on the contrary, be to drastically reduce this impact, and it is only in the sort of economy in which economic activities are carried out on a far smaller scale and cater primarily to a local or regional market that we can hope to do so.
Through globalization, we are building a vision of how we would like to reshape our society. There needs to be a fundamental change in our value system. Man has become blinded by the idea of progress defined by technological domination and economic growth. The challenge is to abandon the ethic material growth as the be-all and end-all, and to embrace a new definition of growth—perhaps one in which GNP might be measured in human potential that consist of cooperation, altruism and those environmentally sound activities that have become lost in our unending quest for material possession and new wealth.
What is being asked of us in the name of globalization is nothing less than to take a new measure of what it means to be human, to face the future stripped of the cloak of materialism.
Berry, Wendell. 1978. Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. New York: Pantheon Books.
Hume, A. O. 1878. “Agriculture Reform in India.” London: W.H. Allen and Co.
Kemmis, Daniel. 1990. “Community and the Politics of Place.” Norman OF: University of Oklahoma Press. As quoted by Hultgren, John. 1994. “Democracy and Sustainability.” Unpublished.
Schumacher, E. F. 1989. Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if the Earth Really Mattered. New York: Harper and Row.
Voelcker, Augustus. 1893. “Report on The Improvement of Indian Agriculture.” London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.