May 9, 2007 Matthew

America and Globalization

What is Globalization? What is America’s role in it? How does it affect you and me? The following is my extensive look into the phenomena of globalization and its effect on all of us.

The Mother of us All

There is a place on earth where the common peasant could only dream of traveling to. It’s a coveted habitation for millions upon millions. Imagine yourself as one such peasant and that, through unbelievable odds, and to the amazement of many, a door of opportunity has opened for you to go there.

It is a place known for its business and innovation. The people constitute only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet its influence reaches to the farthest corners of the earth. So much of your own society and lifestyle had its origins in this great country. It’s hard to imagine how your society could get on with out it, for there is so much rooted dependence upon them. It’s seems that everything takes its example from this country—your own politicians mimic policy-making from theirs; their science and technology is grafted into your own society and educational curriculums; their religious leaders tend to be the role models and authoritative figures from which your own religious leaders get their dogma—and so on. Despite its population, the country has come to utterly overshadow the rest of the world in military strength, political prowess, technology, science, and trade. Money flows in and out in a blur; in incalculable amounts. Indeed, how great it would be to go there in the flesh and experience the life, the sounds, the wisdom, the superiority, the beauty, the prosperity, and the strength. Of all the cities in the world you could visit, this one makes for the most prized ornament for your wall. As you board the flight to this place, you are full of exited feelings and anticipation.

For most people of the world today, that great country is known as America. Countless times have I sat on a airplane next to such a person embarked on their first journey to America. The world has not seen such a ‘kingdom’ since the days of Rome. No country is more talked about, written about, or watched than America. Much of the world can even be found to be more informed of its happenings than those who live in it. It is truly a ‘great city’ in every sense of the word. For from here came seemingly everything into the world: the car, the Internet, the phone, the computer, the television, Coca-Cola, electricity, the all-revolutionary light-bulb, and even weapons and WMDs. What is even more astonishing is that it all came in a just a couple hundred years. But what might be the most striking is one of its most recent features: globalization.

Fuel of the Phenomenon

Examining the causes and the well-springs of globalization is no doubt a difficult task. If we were to look at globalization as a sea, we might envision it as many different seas all isolated from one another by hills. As the springs of globalization began pouring forth, we see the seas starting to become connected as the mountains are subsumed. Soon, seas start to become one, and can no longer be defined separately anymore. The shapes are lost, and there is less division between each one until it’s finally an ocean. When there is an earthquake in one sea, all the others feel its ripples, whether large or small.
So where is the source? It could be argued that there are many inlets; however, there should be no doubt that America is the waterfall while others would be mere trickles.

According to Fareed Zakaria, “America stands at the center of this world of globalization. It seems unstoppable. If you close the borders, America comes in through the mail. If you censor the mail, it appears in the fast food and faded jeans. If you ban the products, it seeps in through satellite television. Americans are so comfortable with global capitalism and consumer culture that we cannot fathom just how revolutionary these forces are.”

But what is America doing that it can flood the world so quickly with its well-springs of globalization? Jacques Ellul gives us some hints when he tells us, “Every successive technique has appeared because the ones which preceded it rendered necessary the ones which followed.” Because America has no specific cultural or ethnic identity to protect, it fights and dies for its materialistic, consumerist way of life, which progresses at break-neck speed. America’s culture does not have religion as its pacifier; it has technology. It cannot rest. Since America has only this to focus on and live for, it develops the technology for the world with something new at every rise of the sun. Entrepreneurs by the hoards are ever seeking out the next big thing to make their buck and so live up to America’s cultural ‘idol’ of materialism and consumerism. Fareed Zakaria described the sheer force of American unilateral influence this way, “…the United States will spend as much next year on defense as the rest of the world put together (yes all 191 countries). And it will do so devoting 4 percent of its GDP…the U.S economy is as large as the next three—Japan, Germany and Britain—put together. With 5 percent of the worlds population, [America] accounts for 43 percent of the world’s economic production, 40 percent of its high-technology production and 50 percent of its research and development.”

John Ralston Saul argues in his article that many states are losing interest in the promises of globalization because of this overwhelming unilateral force. He says of Latin America that they “no longer believe in globalization…nor does Africa or a good part of Asia.” He contends that globalization is no longer global in his article, “The Collapse of Globalism”. This is because the force with which America pours into it is so strong that it can’t be properly defined as a ‘global’ phenomenon. Indeed, the IMF, IFIs, and the WTO organizations are run by the West. So how can it be a global endeavor? The answer is simply, it’s not.

The Contamination

We can see now how modernization and Westernization are practically one and the same. The technology of America pours forth aggressively with no end in sight. If the world wished to embrace modernization, they would have to be prepared to embrace Westernization. However, much of the world, not to mention the Middle East, abhors Westernism.

In the Middle East we see the worst case of dissension between Western values and Muslims. A recent article by the Pew Global Attitudes Project shows that Muslims have a “generally bad” attitude towards Western countries. As the article states, “many in the West see Muslims as fanatical, violent, and as lacking tolerance. Meanwhile, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia generally see Westerners as selfish, immoral and greedy…” The problem for the world—and the Muslim world itself makes up a significant part of it, almost 1.4 billion—is that the flavor of globalism gushing out of America has a bad taste to it. The fact is that it’s the sour after-taste of economic prosperity, for again, when a higher interest than protecting honor or ethnic identity comes along to steal the hearts of the people, conflict may be reduced, but immorality and lawlessness increase. Honor and respectability are lost, because those are associated with identity and nationalistic pride. America has the played the guinea-pig of this experiment for all to see. The amusing thing is that according to the Pew Project, this is the one point that the Muslim and Western worlds agree on as the article states, “both believe that Muslim nations should be more economically prosperous than they are today.” Muslim nations would yet gladly receive more prosperity and the pleasures of modernization! A few Muslim Sheiks and Mullah’s here and there will actually stand up and protest against the materialism, but they are typically disregarded as ‘extremists’ or ‘fundamentalists’. Rightly so, I suppose, since these tend to be the same people who encourage Jihadi violence.

This flavor of lawlessness and immorality is what makes it hardest for the rest of the world to swallow. The Muslim world cannot have it because it is filled with all manner of offensiveness toward their religion of Islam which takes the highest priority in their lives. Just take a look at Hollywood and how its influence is in total contrast to Islamic values.

Asia is a place known for honor and respect as the highest priorities in the lives of the people. In recent travels I learned that as China has increasingly opened its doors to modernization—or Westernization if you will—the same kind of generation gap which is seen in America has started to take root in China and the older people are now complaining of how the younger are living too lawlessly and without restraint or morals. It is, however, nowhere near to the extent which the United States has gone.

That is why I would submit that as long as the honor of a society’s tradition and identity—be it in religion or otherwise—remains as the top priority in the heart of a people, the society will not be able to bring the kind of economic prosperity that the US experiences today. Perhaps in the future it will be seen to be an “acquired taste”. Some might argue that this is the only way. Typically there is less and less animosity toward the liberalizing effects of modernization and new technologies with the passing of generations. However, religion is here to stay, and therefore it will always be a sour taste to many. As the extremists continue to rally more and more Muslims throughout the world with like zeal, convincing them that the West is a monster and will not contribute to your good but eat you up instead, the tension and reality of what the Pew Global Attitudes Project describes as “the Great Divide” will become more and more significant.

In one of the Pew Project’s survey’s of the West and Islam, a question regarding respect for women was raised. The results are revealing in that one can clearly see the differences of opinion depending on whether you are in the West or in a Muslim country. The effects of the ‘contamination’ are easily seen in the general opinion of Muslims who live in Western states. Most of them would agree that Westerners—in all its immoral behaviors—are respectful of women. However in the Muslim countries most Muslims would say that Westerners are not. What seems to be happening is that the Muslims in Western states are playing a balancing act with their religion on the one hand and the benefits of the consumer culture on the other. Devotion and dedication goes to that which has the highest priority in our lives. Slowly, Muslims in the West have been ‘acquiring the taste’ of prosperity and thus compromising their faith for the additional blessings of capitalism. The effects of this ‘contamination’ can be seen in any religion—including Christianity which America is known by the world for—and is something that is only as recent as consumerism, for in ages past there was no higher pride for a man than his religion. Before the revolution of globalization, as Fareed Zakaria states, “…it seemed unimaginable that the United States and the Arab world would end up locked in a cultural clash.”

The ‘Great Divide’

This ‘Great Divide’ in our hypothetical ocean of globalism would seem like a dynamic mountain range that runs clear across the entire span of the sea. As the tides rise, it would seem that this divide is actually rising also. People everywhere are scrambling to figure out which side to be on, others are attempting to ride it out on top between the two, and some are finding out that you can’t be on both no matter how hard you try. It is the ‘fault line’ between the West and Islam as described pointedly by Samuel Huntington. Safar Al-Hawali, dean of Islamic Studies at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, said it himself, “It is the West against Islam.”

The reason for this is quite simple. As Huntington states, “people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms”. Resulting from backlash of the sour taste of Western prosperity to Islam and some other faiths, religion has begun to revitalize itself in a new way across the world. According to Huntington, “…more than ethnicity, religion discriminates sharply and exclusively among people.” It is exceedingly more possible for someone to be a mix of two races or a citizen of two countries than it is for a person to be a mix of two religions. As this great divide between Islam and the West rises, more and more people will be found grouping up on either side. This grouping has been noticed and referred to by Huntington as “the ‘kin-country’ syndrome”. He states, “Groups or states belonging to one civilization that become involved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to rally support from other members of their own civilization.” Since religion has always been the most important thing in civilizations, and because the Islamic countries are not seeing the benefits of Westernization but rather feeling ill and disillusioned with it, they have nowhere else to turn but to their religion. This rallying is currently seen in the Islamic world and the response is amazing. And the fire will only continue to increase much like an arms race—not necessarily in weapons, but in religion as the power of the one side, and wealth as the power of the other.

Responding to the Rising Tides of Globalization

Huntington has suggested three forms of responses that could be initiated by states in dealing with the phenomenon of globalization. The first is to isolate yourself like North Korea, in hopes of “insulating” yourself from the penetration or “corruption” by the West. He says however, the costs for this are high. The second response is “band-wagoning” by joining the West and accepting its values. This has been seen repeatedly in the last century with many countries band-wagoning with America’s ideals and policies. The third is to develop “economic and military power and cooperating with other non-Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous values and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.”
Here we deal again with the issue of Westernization vs. modernization. I do not believe you can have one with out the other. It is said that Japan is an example of a successful attempt at this, but, having personally been there, I can heartily disagree. I have defined Westernization as a boundless culture of materialism and consumerism. On those grounds Japan is really no different.
The world essentially has no choice but to westernize or isolate. That is the way our hypothetical ‘ocean of globalization’ works. You cannot partake of it without being of it. North Korea has successfully isolated itself for many years, and one can walk through today and feel as if they are traveling back in time. China, after opening its doors to the West has begun to lose the sense and feel of ‘China’ in spite of trying to shape skyscrapers with pagoda-like features. Places like Kenya which have tried to resist Westernization to some degree by disallowing American franchises such as McDonalds from coming in have also been unable to escape the rising tides. Sharp conflict remains in the Middle East which has been in disarray as it has been left disillusioned by the tastes of what was thought of to be “glistening” and “approachable”. It should be understood that religion is so strong that there cannot but be violent and tumultuous struggle on the path to any kind of stabilization of the waters if there was to be any. This is why it is inevitable and imminent that the struggle will grow; neither side is band-wagoning with the other but rather competing. How long the hills separating the groups of people—namely the West and Islam—will last before being submerged and all hell breaking loose is anyone’s guess.

All this should prove to show the inevitability—and not only the inevitability but also the sheer power—of globalization. If America should collapse in any way, it would cause more disruption and chaos in the global seas than if any other country in the world collapsed.

It may not be likely that another world war would break out and it may be. However, it would not be the same. “Military conflict among Western states is unthinkable, and Western military power is unrivaled,” according to Huntington. If there is a world war between civilizations it would be fought much differently (and be much more difficult) because there will be no geographic front-lines, only religious or cultural ones. There are already birth-pangs of such a world war being witnessed throughout the media as states are striving and struggling with how to deal with ‘terrorism’ or insurgent operations of Islamic association. Repeatedly the questions are raised about how to declare war on what is not a nation or state. Yet, even as the current US administration asserts, it is indeed a war. The world hangs by threads, and time will tell the outcome.

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