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Globalization and Human Solidarity by Tissa Balasuriya

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya from Sri Lanka is a leading spokesperson of Third World Theologies. He is the Director of the Centre of Society and Religion in Sri Lanka. He is the author of numerous books, including Eucharist and Human Liberation, Planetory Theology, and Mary and the Human Liberation. Published by Christiava Sahitya Samithy, Tiruvalla 689 101, Kerala, S. India, November 2000. Used by permission of the publisher. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Towards a theological critique of globalization

One of the widely discussed terms of the present time is globalization. Of course, globalization is not a new phenomenon in the history of humankind. It denotes a paradigm through which the people in the world interact each other. When one breaks the boundaries of his or her own world and interact/influence the other, that process involves the meaning of globalization. The wars that the nations fought each other, the interactive knowledge systems of the world, and particularly the religious wisdom that traveled across boundaries and found space for itself in other land, the trade practices, and all such engagements that brought them into contact with a different space of their own are the signs of globalization. Such interactions that relate to knowledge systems, culture, religious faiths, and for exchange of basic products have a long history. Through these interactions people exchanged their knowledge systems and technologies. Chinese trade of pre-colonial period demonstrates the history of interaction where both parties in the trade exchanged their skills and technologies. Moreover, for Christians, universality has appeared to be a professed goal. The gospel mandate to take the good news to the corners of the world and the symbolic representation of Eucharist as a cosmic banquet where people from the East and the West and from South and North participate with a sense of oneness and belonging epitomizes the urge for universalism.

However, since 16th century a different form of interaction has emerged between the nations. These new relations appeared within the grab of colonial domination guided the creation of a polarized society. Instead of mutual learning and exchange of resources and knowledge, colonialism was a process were a brutal one way flow of resources was regulated. The long history of such out flow of resources from the southern nations and the accumulation of it in the colonial centres widened the gap between people and nations. As the institution of colonialism strengthened its grip on other nations, the flow of resources from the colonies to the colonial powers intensified and thus the gap between them made wider. And this polarization later divided the nations into industrialized and non-industrialized countries. Under this new arrangement the exploited nations were integrated into the rich nations of the north as providers of raw materials and other products.

Colonialism was based on a perceptive and ideology that proposes rationales to counter human urge for equal and participatory sharing of resources.

The emergence of nationalist tendencies in the colonies started to challenge the political domination of the industrialized countries, and as a result, the direct political domination by the rich over the exploited apparently became weak. Since independence, many nations followed the path of development planning and that has helped some of them to move faster towards partial industrialization. Some of them achieved a faster growth and certain others slower. But in both these cases, the ideology behind their industrialization venture was informed by their determination to participate in the global process, but with independence.

This attempt by the former colonies for development or industrialization with independence is the context of the emergence of the new form of globalization. For the industrialized nations, such determination is inimical for their interest to maintain domination over the others. Therefore globalization process has set in motion to thwart the striving of former colonial nations to seek an independent course of development. Promotion of development as an ideology, the impending debt crisis, Structural Adjustment Policies to manage debt and other measures need to be perceived within this context.

There are two major features of the present stage of globalization. (1) A growing trend towards globalization of production and thereby homogenization of consumer taste. A wide range of commodities like cigarette to liquor to nylon thread to Honda, Toyota and Cocoa-Cola are seen all over the world. The rational for this mass production is not informed by the demands of consumption. Instead the objective for production is the global market. Thus consumers are created for the mass products by homogenizing their tastes. Moreover, as a logic of the market led production, the interest of the owners of capital is met at the expense of the majority. Given the reality that the 20% of the world population owns 85% of the global resources, production is naturally geared to satisfy the interest of the rich. They also have the power to regulate the entire process of production by integrating others into their systems of market.

(2) Transnationalization of capital. Capital is not space bound and it transcends all geographic boundaries. In order to facilitate the freedom of mobility of capital, a control over communication service, industries and knowledge systems by the movers of transnational capital became imperative. These conceptual changes in society have been brought primarily by the dynamics of the market societies, what Karl Polanyi called as the self-regulating markets, where the society has became an adjunct to the market forces. Instead of economics process being embedded in social relations, in such market societies, social relations are embedded in economic system.

Such form of market, that we experience today, has four basic principles.

1. The fundamental principle of the market economy within the liberal tradition is its right to private property. The concept of freedom is tied up with the right to accumulate property, these two rights individual freedom and right to property is said to have better maintained only in a market society. Therefore, all resources should be under the control of private ownership. It implies that, nature and humans in its varied forms of land, water, forest and labour need to be kept under private control in order to facilitate exchange in the market. The inventory for privatization now includes the accumulated knowledge and memory of the people, the cultural and religious wisdom as well as symbols and people’s ability to find pleasure are reduced as a commodity in the market place. According to the more zealot prophets of market, there may be nothing that could not be privatized and thus commoditized. Community formation, community interaction and of course collective or community ownership become incompatible to the professed morality and logic of the market society.

2. The second fundamental principle of market economy is the primacy of the market for mediation. The neo-liberal ideology that governs the present changes offered the agency for mediation, between individuals, groups and nation exclusively to the market. Market controls the social and economic relationship of people. In all practical sense market became the true ‘ecclesia’. In the new ecclesia, the principles of market replaced the moral foundations of social relationships. That means the dynamics of market such as profit motivation and completion has become the regulatory principles of society. Moreover, success in the market is determined by its ability to convert all realities as exchangeable commodities. Not only land, people and culture has transformed into raw- materials, labour and tourist souvenirs, but all symbols that provided meaning to life has turned into commodities Those realities that refused to assume itself in the form of a thing (commodity) have rendered valueless. The major causality of such thingfication is our understanding of the divine. Unless the divine appear in the form of a colourful thing, and muster ability to compete with other divine images, it deprives its charm. Ramifications of market ecclesia in societal relations are many:

a. Promotion of aggressive self-interest, within the structures of market, is considered as normative because of its inherent potential to bring aggregated good. The famous quote of Adam Smith is alluded to accentuate this point in the annals of market doctrine. “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love.” The unbinding self interest has negated whatever society considered as ethical and spiritual. Love is replaced by aggression, co-operation by competition, community by individuality and so on. Bishop Newbigin refers to this crisis when he laments at the present crisis. He observed that so far we considered our responsibility towards the other, responsibility based on the principles of common good, is the most cherished value of life. That has changed. Private interest and profit is the only determining spirit of peoples consciousness now.

b. Concept of value got an empirical explanation under market principle. Value need to be analyzed objectively within a quantum analysis. Only that could be assessed within the empirical quantum analysis will be accepted as value. This objective empirical dimension is part of a mathematico-logical rationality where objectivity within the realm of measurable possibility is considered as rational and only rational is acceptable. Such changes thrust society into a deep swamp of materiality where materiality became the foundation of value. Materiality has replaced morality.

c.When materiality replaced the norms for life the distance between ‘having’ and being was ostracized as unreal. When having determines the being, our sense of being is realized through the countable measures that we possess in history. Money provides a sense of being” to people, and hence the divine becomes dysfunctional in peoples lives. Or Money with a capital M replaced God in the market led globalization. Divinization of money is an existential need of the market for legitimacy. However, while money was divinized, the Divine was monetized under the new religion of ‘money-theism

d.   Market function with a philosophy of exclusion. It is a common cliche that the entry into the market is regulated by ones proximity to resources. Because entry is needed only for those who have in their possession, either commoditable commodities, services, skills or commoditable money. The majority of the people in the globe have neither commoditable money nor commoditable commodities. Since economic activities are confined within the preview of market, such exclusion will make them expendables. Market forces are now suggesting that 20% of the population will suffice to keep the world economy going. And only this 20%, in whichever country will actively participate in life earning and consumption, counting out 80% as expendables and unwanted. According to UNDP report around 40,000 people die every day due to starvation because they are excluded from the economy of the market. They are the expendables of the modern civilization.

e.   Poor women, children, untouchables and other marginalized are socially and economically excluded and their nothingness is translated as an ontological expression of their being. Further, in the consumerist market, while the bodies of the women are converted as commodities, they are also co-opted into the mechanism as the single largest consumers in commodity mass production. The consumerist market forces a crisis in the being of woman when they were turned as puppets at the interest of the market.

f. Market domination in economy created centres of power by accelerating the growth of unemployment and regional disparity. This process has help to widen the abyss between the rich and the poor. In the context of India it has resulted in strengthening the traditional inequalities such as caste and ethnicity.

g. Market has radically altered the traditional approach to people and life. As an ethical instruction Immanuel Kant has observed that people need to be the objective for determining the course of production and distribution. People and their creative power should not be reduced to objects for production and growth. Papal encyclical (On Human Work) offered a different emphasis to the same nuance. Capital should be at the service of labour and not labour at the service of capital.” However, in the market paradigm these principles were reversed and people assume the role of an instrument or means to expand production and market value of capital. Expansion of value is the cherished goal of economic process.

3. The third feature of global market is the nature and function of culture. Capital now controls the communication service, industries and knowledge systems and had shown its ability to create and control moral norms and values. In the level of discourse, market attempts to maintain a hegemony in order to control the mind, what is now paraphrased as the re-colonization of the mind in order to homogenize the thinking and desires in relation to the ever expanding demands and challenges of its forces. Culture became and ideological apparatus in the hands of the market forces to mold people as consumers in society by invading the inner-core of subjectivity of every individual. Fr. Sebastian Kappen has remarked that global market has reduced the subjecthood into intuitions based on a single interpretative act, which has often been translated for the urge for having more and more. Such processes deny all cultural memories and reduce the richness of life into images of mass consumption. Therefore art, religion, faith, sex and whatever has been considered as sublime and spiritual was transformed as commodities in the shelves of the super-markets. People are been consumed by capital now.

4.    The fourth issue in globalization is the issue of governance. Globalization paradigm has invariably brought a political system-borrowing a term from Prof. Rajni Kothari “dictatorship of money”. Regulatory principles of society are dictated by the rules of money. Political state, which was considered as the political agency of people, was reduced to a policing agency to protect freedom and mobility of transnational capital. Capital in the nature of speculative capital with the ability to move from place to place searching for quick returns has freed itself from any forms of social accountability. In the absence of social control, as M. A. Oommen has metaphorically stated, capital turned the entire world into a global casino, where the few rich play snake and ladder with the lives of the millions of poor and the marginalized. Priority of economic activities thus has shifted from maintaining life to expanding value. What is at stake is not just the right to governance but also the radical reinterpretation of the moral imperatives at the interest of capital. For example, the concept of freedom speaks of a condition where capital has the ability to embark and disembark in a country without any approval or regulation from a social agency in which individuals and community set different priorities to seek perfection in life. In market, moral imperatives are dictated according to the interest and rules of money.

The transnationalization of capital has defeated all the given economic theories as well. Value was supposedly be the creation of a complex interaction between varied forms of raw materials, capital and labour. Invalidating this traditional view, transnational capital creates value from nothing, from the void (considered as the exclusive domain of God). Interaction with the raw materials or labour is not needed to create value in the global market. Therefore the traditional control over labour, land and raw materials is not detrimental for creating value in the new dynamics. This has changed the nature of political forces as well.

This possibility of creation from nothing further weakened the possibility of social accountability over transnational capital.

5. Ecological and environmental crisis is the fifth critique. Ideological precursors of the market, the modernization schools, (both the sociological school of Marion Levi and the Economic School of W W Rostow) measured civilization in relation to the preferable distance from nature. What is close to nature, according to them are allegedly primitive and what is opposite to nature is modern. Such understanding promoted the uncontrolled exploitation of nature, resources and people. It dispossesses nature of its spirituality and life and regarded earth as a spiritless flesh to be raped and exploited. Modernization points to a crisis of the under­standing of civilization.

Religions accentuate the primacy of life and consider life as a greatest gift to be cherished. With a total disregard to this cardinal religious principle market seeks the expansion of value in mathematical variables as its directing principle. Therefore we convert rice field for rubber cultivation and other cash-crops, including horticultural plantations, develop capital intensive production units (in countries like India where the major strength is its labour power), thereby denying majority of people their right to work. The objective of production is no more the sustenance of life but on the contrary, life has become a means for expanding value in the market place.

Globalization is not just an economic system based on the primacy of market, but it represents a religion; a religion under the regulating principles of “money-theism”. Money-theism has its own concept of the divine, priesthood, rites, liturgies, missionaries, theologians, modern churches and cathedrals. Moreover, money-theism presents its god as the omnipotent and real god and attempt to domesticate the god images of the existing religions including Christianity into its realm of influence.

Fr. Tissa Balasuriya’s penetrating analysis attempt to encounter and negate this ungod of money-theism. Witness to the life giving God warrants the identification of such false gods in religion and in the secular systems.

By qualifying the present economic process as global apartheid, Fr. Balasuriya argues that the underdevelopment of the third world nations was a European creation. During the long history of colonialism, Europeans were able to transfer vast amount of resources, including precious metals, establish control over land by conquering several continents and also install dominance over labour through the capture and trade of slaves and forced labour. In practice it means, global resources, land and labour were controlled by the few European powers. Using such hegemonic power they initiated a radical division of labour with the help of industrial revolution and accordingly the economy of the colonized nations were restructured towards producing raw materials and cash crops and of the West for technologically advanced industrial productions. The result of such division was the development of two types of capitalism, and auto-centric dynamic capitalism in the West and a blocked, lumpen capitalism in the colonized nations. While the auto-centric capitalism had the possibility to grow faster and extend its area of operation, the lumpen capitalism was stagnant or otherwise declined in generating capital and resources.

Fr. Balasuriya argues that the present stage of globalization is a remnant of colonialism. It is more hegemonic and comprehensive in its approach and succeeded in capturing not only resources and labour but also the public consciousness. With an effective control over discourse, colonialism, known as globalization, assumed itself as normative and desirable and presented itself as an empirical explanation of the utopia.

Practice of faith need to be redefined in such context. Unfortunately faith has reduced as a definition of, in ethical categories, “what is” and it has assumed the social function of rationalizing the present. Therefore a “collective penance is required for the social sins that have damaged human lives so much and for so long”. Fr. Balasuriya further argues that “the religions have thus to go through a process of internal renewal to range themselves unambiguously and unhesitatingly on the side of the future of humanity and of Nature.” Redefining faith and spirituality thus is the challenge of the time.


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