Surprises of Globalization

Photo credits: taken by Shamil Zhumatov, Reuters; shared by Fadhel Hawramany on Google+; Cheese-making in Kazakhstan
The admonition of our forefathers that “all
men (and women) are created equal” does guide a lot our decisions as Americans
and lately seems to keep leading us back to another old adage, that one that
says “no good deed goes unpunished”. The fact that it seemed wrong to many
Americans to enjoy relative prosperity while many others around the world
seemed to languish in poverty led to a belief that, although Americans lost all
of their jobs, the jobs that were created in places where no boom has gone
before (in recent memory) convinced us that this was, in some twisted
self-effacing way, a good thing for the whole world in the long run. Allowing
others to make puny wages doing jobs that provided Americans with great incomes
could be justified because it would eventually lift up workers around the
world, assuage our national guilt, and usher in a future that guaranteed human
rights for all. Not that we necessarily had a choice. Globalization happened. Actually,
of course, average Americans did not send their jobs to other nations; their
jobs were yanked away and bestowed elsewhere. Still it is somewhat comforting
to believe that losing our jobs makes us better Americans, adhering to the
ideals that formed the basis of our nation and the ideals that people around
the world have found admirable and desirable.

I don’t think we have been quite as happy
with the realities of the road to globalization. It will take many generations,
probably, for global economics to raise the standard of living for everyone. In
the meantime, Americans are left in a sort of economic backwater, a zone where
all but the wealthiest Americans are stuck treading water, and rather brackish
water at that. We don’t really want to be in this financial limbo and we may
not stay here for long. Hopefully we will find a way up and out, a way back to
the prosperity that makes America hum, that calms twitchy Republican
plutocrats, and gives us back our optimistic spirit. What we can’t know is how
long it will take for this to happen, and whether we will be able to pull
another rabbit out of our magic hat and find the next thing or things that will
take us to a new prosperity. Perhaps on our enforced hiatus from prosperity we
will learn to enjoy a bit of languishing, to slow down a bit and embrace a
simpler lifestyle that values intangibles like family and friends and leisure and
that does not so much rely on collecting more and more stuff, things, objects
we never have any time to appreciate.

Must everyone in America have granite
countertops and stainless steel appliances? I just saw that photo that you see at the top of this post, taken by someone at Reuters and shared
on Google+ that shows a Central Asian mother and daughter making cheese. They
are squatting in a hut with a straw floor forming perfect mounds of fresh
cheese on a wooden board probably getting ready to sell their cheeses at the
local market. Obviously the contrast between these two “kitchen” scenarios
exposes the distance the world must travel before there is any real economic
global equality of opportunity. If we find a way to restore the upward
trajectory of our economy the distance among nations will continue to widen or
at least maintain its current proportions. However, I don’t expect that we will
lag behind on purpose waiting for people in other nations to catch up.

In addition, economics is not the only
sphere of human activity that has been stirred by globalization. An absolute torrent
of hostility has been released, most of it religious in nature between people
who adhere to a set of stern religious laws and have practiced this demanding
religion since antiquity.  So we find
ourselves in the midst of a religious firestorm, a maelstrom that was
unforeseen by most of us. If you read science fiction, especially Frank Herbert’s
Dune books, the idea of jihad probably
did not come as a total surprise, but still, who knew; not us “ugly” Americans.
We did not know that modern communication devices like computers and especially
cell phones, and the penchant for tourism that arose with transportation
advances and increased prosperity would, just like disturbing a hive of
hornets, produce culture shock after culture shock, foment anger and violent
reactionary responses that would lead to the threat of terrorism that has
arrived on America’s (and the rest of the industrialized world’s) doorstep and
which has become a new fact of life.

Who knew that there are many people who
would want to resist globalization, who treasure their traditional lifestyle,
their religious isolation and who, once change began to rock their world, awoke
to a passion of missionary zeal that Allah requires once the infidel is right
in your backyard. Christians ought to understand the often unintentional
cruelties of the call to carry a foreign religious mission to “pagans” and “nonbelievers”.
Many of us did not foresee that what seemed like just simple economic change
would resonate through every level of the diverse cultures around the world and
make diversity one of the largest issues involved in globalization. Untangling
these belief issues and lifestyle issues requires delicacy and time, not strong
weapons in the American arsenal. We are spontaneous, well-meaning, earnest,
clueless; bulls in the china shop of global human interactions. We are not
known for either patience or delicacy.

Now that globalization has begun, it
probably can’t be stopped unless we go into another “dark” age which seems
unlikely. But the globalizations we are experiencing will probably not do away
with nations, nor will it probably do away with religions, at least not in any
of our lifetimes. Can we wend our ways through the minefields of culture shock
and religious intolerance and economic rises and falls to form a more perfect
union of the world’s nations that could bring to our little planet health and
peace? That is the challenge of this particular era of human history. Will
environmental forces trump all of it and drown us in global environmental
crisis? We live with that challenge right now. Yikes. I wish I believed that
this all arose from our belief that all men are created equal (and perhaps some
of it did) but most of this nexus of change arose from greed. Oh well, we are
what we are. Surprise! The key words here are delicacy and time.


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