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Globalization - or One World?

 

Let's Make a World of Difference

 

 

Published in the Evening News, Edinburgh, 26 November 2001, p. 10 (originally submitted under the title Globalization, or One World?). 

 

 

[In the light of the Twin Towers attack on America], the world has to rethink the move towards increasing globalisation, says Alastair McIntosh.

 

 

“Globalisation under Attack” shouts October’s front page of the high finance magazine, The Banker.

 

Yes, if you want to know what globalisation is, and why it affects ordinary lives even here in Edinburgh, read The Banker.

 

For a social and environmental activist like me, it’s just music to the ears.

 

A leading article by the magazine’s founding editor, Bernard Bracken, discusses the implications for the world economy of the September 11th attacks. He says, “The IMF and the World Bank may need to be more understanding at these critical times.”

 

He quotes, approvingly, from a United Nations report written before the Twin Towers attack. This warned: “Increasing polarisation between the haves and have-nots has become a feature of our world. Reversing this trend is the pre-eminent moral and humanitarian challenge of our age. In the global village, someone else’s poverty very soon becomes one’s own problem: of lack of markets for one’s products, illegal immigration, pollution, contagious disease, insecurity, fanaticism, terrorism.”

 

And as if that’s not enough, the bankers of the world then get a lecture from Joseph E. Stiglitz, former chief economist at the World Bank.

 

“The protests from Seattle to Genoa have made one thing clear: many people are unhappy about globalisation.”

 

He continues: “Protests of this scale are almost invariably the tip of an iceberg: for each protestor willing to travel … there are thousands of sympathisers back home. The leaders of the world have grudgingly come to recognise this.”

 

To Stiglitz, there is no question that globalisation and the Twin Towers attack are somehow linked. On this, Osama bin Laden agrees.

 

In a recent secretly arranged interview at a hideout near Kabul, bin Laden said this to the Pakistani journalist, Hamid Mir: “The September 11 attacks were not targeted at women and children. The real targets were America’s icons of military and economic power…. We want to defend our people and our land…. If we don’t get security, the Americans, too, will not get security.”

 

Joseph Stiglitz of the World Bank might not share bin Laden’s odious endorsement of terrorism, but he concludes his article in The Banker with these radical words. He writes: “The basic problem has been one of voice: those who are affected by the policies [of global economy] have had no seat at the table. And now they have no seat at the tables at which reform is being discussed. We should not be surprised that any modest reforms that do emerge will lack political legitimacy, or will fail to quell the protesters whose voices have become increasingly loud and clear.”

 

So, if there’s a consensus that “globalisation” has somehow destabilised the globe itself, then what the hell do we mean by that word? It’s like we’re all talking about it, but can we pin its meaning down?

 

I think we can. And in my new book from Aurum Press, Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, I’ve suggested that Scottish history, literature and experience can teach the world a lot about globalisation.

 

Growing up in crofting culture on the Isle of Lewis, the son of a father who trained in medicine at Edinburgh University, I saw globalisation sweep in with my own eyes.

 

As boys we’d usually be guaranteed a good catch as we’d put out in our boats on the local sea lochs. But around 1971, new technology, big trawlers bought on hire purchase, and a break-down of respect for the three-mile limit meant that all our inshore fish got gobbled up.

 

In those days a boy could enter the world of men in such socially useful ways as bringing home a good catch.

 

Today, what’s left? Little wonder many kids seek their rites of passage in drug culture, consumerism or violence.

 

What happened with the fishing, you see, is that we got caught up in a dangerous new attitude of false “progress”.

 

These greed-driven boats were not marauding Spaniards, or even East-coasters. No. The tragedy was that many were skippered from our own villages!

 

We were destroying our own ecological systems for the sake of a quick buck, and to pay off debt to a wider banker’s world. Not enough people realised, at the time, that this would also unravel the ecology and social cohesion of our communities.

 

What “globalisation” really means, then, is something different from the honest entrepreneurial spirit. Rather, it is money-grabbing freed of any restraint, respect, and reverence.

 

Globalisation is a form of advanced capitalism that turns everything into a commodity that can be bought or sold. It values people and things only for their rate of return to distant or anonymous shareholders.

 

Robert Burns saw it all in the aftermath of Culloden. In his poem written in 1767, Strathallan’s Lament, he depicts the culturally-broken young Viscount Strathallan hiding in mountain cave.

 

“Ruin’s wheel has driven o’er us,” says the crushed young man, who can no longer enjoy “Crystal steamlets gently flowing,/ Busy haunts of base mankind.”

 

The violence of war has killed something human and humane within. Only more violence, as footsoldiers in the service of trade and empire, lies ahead. And so Strathallan tragically concludes: “The wide world is all before us,/ But a world without a friend.”

 

So, there’s the objection to the commodofication, the materialism, at the heart of globalisation. It breaks right relationship in community with one another and with this Earth. It creates a world without a friend – a breeding ground for terrorists.

 

That is why we must now replace “globalisation” with being participants in “One World.”

 

We need to see that there’s no such thing as getting stuff “cheap,” because exploitation somewhere always boomerangs back.

 

If we want an end to war, famine and pestilence, we must understand that power rests in our own hands.

 

Whilst the corporations do manipulate us with the psychological hooks of their marketing, those hooks only grip because we let them.

 

It is up to us to try and buy, when we can, products based on fair trade, human rights and low environmental impact.

 

Only then will we cease eating fear with what we consume.

 

 

Alastair McIntosh is a Fellow of Edinburgh’s Centre for Human Ecology. Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power is published by Aurum Press, £17.99.

 

 

 

 

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20-12-01

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