Sunday, February 01, 2009

Is globalization a good thing?

A recent discussion at Cafe Philo in New York City centered on the question "Is globalization a good thing?". In preparation for the discussion I did some online research, found some definitions, and read some articles, including the Wikipedia (among others), but I neglected to form my own views. In fact, other than some comments on the group's online discussion forum, I actually did not make any contribution to the discussion, other than to carefully listen and take notes. In truth, I still do not have any general or specific answer to the question that satisfies me. Sure, I do have a number of opinions, but it all feels too vague and disorganized to form a concrete view to present. The absolute best I can do even at this stage is to simply say that globalization is a mixed bag, with plenty of positives and plenty of negatives that may or may not roughly balance out on any given day in any given locale for any given person or group.

Let me make some specific points of my view:

  • I personally do not think of some specific field of study called "globalization." Sure, there are many aspects of a global nature that impact my own life, but they all seem integrated with their own fields of study and not some separate, special branch of human knowledge. Or at least that is how it feels to me.
  • As I think about my daily life, "globalization" is not a topic that ever pops into my head.
  • I do not subscribe to any paranoid conspiracy theories involving the IMF, World Bank, WTO, etc., or any transnational power structures with hidden agendas.
  • Sure, large multinational businesses have on occasion caused problems, but on balance overall have probably created more good than evil.
  • Outsourcing and offshoring of jobs is sometimes essential to efficient operations of businesses, but frequently poorly implemented and does in fact constitute a full-blown "social problem" despite its many economic benefits.
  • There are plenty of non-economic aspects of global interaction and integration, including consumer communication, television, the Internet, cultural exchanges, travel, exposure to other cultures, etc. that are just as much a part of globalization as multinational businesses and multilateral organizations.
  • Despite communications advances and the Internet, globalization still has an overwhelmingly impersonal feel to it.
  • We are still a world of nations and tribes. It is not clear whether we will ever get to the concept of nation-less and tribes-less "world citizens."
  • There is a real concern that the interests of the people in a country can be unfairly compromised if the government or business leaders engage in misguided "foreign entanglements."
  • Conquest, empire, and colonialism were early forms of globalization, with remnants still dogging social, economic, and political progress in many emerging areas.
  • The concept of "world music" benefits from the travel and communication options derived from globalization and is itself a form of globalization.
  • The global philanthropic efforts of Bill Clinton, Bono, and Bill and Melinda Gates to address global social problems are also a form of globalization that is strictly positive in nature without any of the traditional profit-motive baggage.
  • There are plenty of NGOs that operate at a global level. That itself is a form of globalization that is mostly good.
  • The English language is a mixed bag. Yes, it can "subdue" local and indigenous languages, but it also enables global communications between diverse peoples and cultures. Overall, mostly a good thing.
  • Even young children seem intensively eager to interact with others who are not their own tribe, race, national, or ethnic background. Maybe there is a genetic predisposition to intermingling that only gets more desirable at the global level.
  • How many people do not like to go to "world fairs" or express an interest in the Olympics? Pure globalization.
  • Religion: is it the chicken or the egg for globalization?
  • Global pandemics are enabled by globalization. Not good. But, frequent contact between many diverse groups may also serve to distribute immunities so that there may be some net reduction in epidemics even if there is still some possibility of some "perfect storm" disaster in the future.
  • Inter-marriage between diverse cultures is probably good for survival of the human species.
  • OTOH, constant intermixing among all groups may prevent the development of evolutionary improvements in local areas that may have significant advantage. Hard to say.

I am still having trouble trying to categorize globalization. It gets into a lot of different categories, but does not fit neatly into any. Is globalization a "truth"? Hard to say.

-- Jack Krupansky

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