Chapter 3: Politics, Culture and Environment Under Globalization

Globalization and Human Solidarity
by Tissa Balasuriya

Chapter 3: Politics, Culture and Environment Under Globalization

a. Political Consequences

In the 1970’s and 1980’s the world capitalist powers supported political dictators in the poor countries such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Zaire, Nicaragua and Chile. They favoured the ‘national security state’ repression of people’s rights. Now with such control over the globalized economics, the dominant world powers find that the system of liberal democracy with the party system and general elections to choose governments is a better safe-guard of their interests than political dictatorships. Political democracy can be manipulated in the unipolar world to make whatever party that comes to power dependent on the global economic powers. Public officials dealing with the economy too find that their future is best ensured by being on the side of capital: both local, foreign and global. Thus leaders of most major parties and officials tend to support the global capitalist system as there seems to be no reasonably viable alternative to it (and for them) in the short term. To win an election they need the support of business, and to govern till the next election they need local and international foreign investment and loans.

Globalization with structural adjustment advocated reduction of state power and activity in the economic field as a condition for economic growth. The IME and WB insist on reducing the role of the State in economic life and in public social welfare. This is linked to the policy of the private sector being considered to promote the engine of growth. The subsidies for the local enterprises and for the needy are reduced with devastating effects on economic and social life. The role of the State is to be reduced to an agency that provides the infrastructure facilities and security for the private sector and international capital. The private sector is weak in many poor countries. Hence when the countervailing power of the state in the economy is removed, the poor countries are rendered defenseless against the powerful TNCs which take up most sectors of the economy. The power of the TNCs grows with their mergers and take over of state and private enterprises.

The governments agree to donors conditions m order to survive. The sovereignty of poor countries is thus undermined by the conditionalities placed on aid. A poor country cannot advance economically today without a certain openness to foreign research, investment and trade much of which is controlled by the TNCs.

The de-regulation of private enterprise in the poor countries leaves room for much corruption and favoritism even in the process of privatization. Despite the rhetoric of democracy there is a lack of transparency m discussions of officials with the IMF/WB authorities and their decisions regarding conditionalities often imposed on the debtor countries without clear exposure even to Parliament and its select committees, much less to the general public affected by them. The record of such corruption is not limited to poor countries as seen by recent exposures in Japan, Italy and Britain.

The main policies of national budgets of debtor countries are determined by foreign donors, influenced by TNCs through the IMF/WB/WTO combine. National frontiers are not so effective for determining or controlling financial flows, trade and investment. Economic factors rule over politics; poor countries lose effective control over their own economic policies. TNCs can make and unmake governments. Money can be moved across national frontiers without effective checks by governments.

Interestingly the NICs, the fastest growing economies of Asia, such as South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, China and in a sense Hong Kong, have been those which did not respect democratic elections at least for a couple of decades. These were able to withstand the pressures of the world establishment and its neo-liberal policies and ensure a stable economic policy and growth of their productive capacity based on their national self-interest, even if the workers too were suppressed during this process.

The rich powers use their leverage of aid and investment to divide the poor countries, and prevent them coming together to foster common claims on the global scene. The poor countries do not control their own destinies. The Non-Aligned Movement has been rather ineffective during the 1990s.

The United Nations is in an ambivalent position on this issue. On the one hand, the UNO sponsors bodies such as the ILO, UNCTAD, UNICEF, UNDP, UN on Refugees, UN High Commission for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women. On the other, the super powers that dominate the UNO support the agencies such as the IMF, World Bank, and the WTO which impose structural adjustment programmes on poor countries. The TNCs and the affluent everywhere benefit from these.

b. Cultural impact

Culture refers to the values, ideas, relationships, and patterns of behaviour that are meant to give meaning, identity and security to a people in a given place and time. Culture gives an interpretation of the world and guidance for life according to such beliefs, values, and attitudes. It implies an intellectual and moral discipline or training. Culture involves specific actions or rituals to be performed in a given way at different stages of life such as birth, marriage and funerals within a community, and these acquire the value of tradition. Culture also includes the aesthetic and artistic activities and realizations of a people, including those of the past.(Robert J. Schreiter: The New Catholicity - Theology between the Global and the Local Orbis, Maryknoll, N.Y. 10545, 1998 Pp 28ff.)

Cultures of people are diverse, even when dealing with similar realities. They mould a people’s way of life and thinking and give distinctiveness to a community. The process of globalization tends to bring about a homogeneity of cultural behaviours throughout the world, at least in certain aspects of life such as in food, dress, leisure, music, and sports. The mass media and advertisements create wants, especially for TNC products such as McDonald’s food (present in 111 countries), Coca cola, jeans and rock concert music. The universalization of the demand for these goods may give the impression of a pervasive global mono-culture. There are more opportunities and goods in the market, but at a price, and this affects the poor unfavourably. The ideology of the ‘free market” plugged by the media and academics as the panacea for the problems of economy and society may help the spread of such elements of a mono-culture. Both the affluent and the poor may internalize these tastes and values.

A culture may be seen to be, in a sense, a simple reality of a pattern of relationships. On the other hand it can be made up of intricate nuances that may not be so easily understood and appreciated by outsiders to the culture. The building of togetherness within a country and among countries depends on the acceptance by different cultural groups of a basic equality in dignity and rights among them. Cultural groups that are powerful or are a majority in a country must recognize the rights and dignity of other cultural groups. There may thus be a genuine cultural integration in a community without an attempt at assimilation of the smaller group into the cultural ethos of the majority. Failure to do so leads to cultural and even violent conflicts as in Sri Lanka in recent decades.

Different cultures may be harmoniously integrated within a community when their identities and rights are recognized and respected. Cultures when not given the due respect can be a line of division within a community and in the wider world. The divisiveness may be due to the sense of difference and discrimination as well as of superiority or inferiority of cultures or sub-cultures on the basis of religion, social class or caste. The differences of cultures are thus often a cause of conflict among peoples, especially when economic conditions are difficult. Ingrained perceptions of cultural superiority of one group over others have led to conflicts such as the European invasion of the rest of the world to “civilize” them, and of Hitler Germany’s attitude of ethnic purification towards Jews. Centuries of Christian religious legitimation of and support for Western imperialism was based on the conviction of a necessary Christian salvific mission towards others.

Globalization may reduce the impact of such differences due to the commonness brought about it. In that sense there could also be a breaking down of barriers as of gender or caste within the same nation due to the modernity of globalization. Migration of peoples for settlement or as migrant workers or refugees also bring different experiences and circumstances that make for encounters of several cultures. These make people try to safeguard their culture in ghetto type relationships and structures, and / or to evolve new cultural mixes that may at first seem merely hybrid, but in the longer term could bring about new patterns of relationships. Globalization thus pushes in both directions of closing in as well as of openness to other cultures.

Cultures can be a factor in a resistance to capitalist globalization. Mahatma Gandhi had recourse to the Indian people’s values of self-reliance and non-violence to lead the people in the struggle against British imperialism. The spinning wheel was a symbol of resistance and an expression of Indian economic nationalism. The indigenous people’s closeness to and care for nature can help counteract the attack of the multinational logging companies on the forests of their countries as in Latin America.

When there is economic pressure on a people due to the policies imposed by the globalization process, there could be an accentuation of the differences among them based on cultural or religious factors. When food is scarce, or jobs are in short supply, the differences of cultural, social, ethnic and religious groups become more conspicuous, especially if one group is seen as more advantaged over others. Then social conflicts can arise, as in many parts of the third world during the past two or three decades. In such situations cultures can be divisive and even destructive of a people’s unity and harmony.

In all this much depends on the influence of the leadership. The post independence history of formerly colonized peoples bear ample witness to this. The influence of leaders like, Jawaharlal Nehru, Julius Nyerere, Lee Quan Yew, Fidel Castro and Nelson Mandela helped maintain the unity of their countries and peoples in a world of rapid social change. Leaders like Conrad Adenauer, Charles de Gaulle, Alcide de Gasperri and Schuman contributed much to the peaceful rebuilding of post war Europe. The process of the unification of Europe after 1945 has been helped by the common cultural roots of several European nations, in the background of the bitter experiences of two world wars and the economic challenge from the rest of the world.

The communications revolution which is an integral element of globalization, aided by modern technology, is both a help and an obstacle to genuine human development in these decades. Modern communications help the networking of movements within countries and internationally for various causes: of capital, elites, TNCs, rich countries, of peoples movements for peace, human rights, women’s rights, ecology etc. It can be a great help for peace with justice, but may also foment conflict and war.

The modern communications media can be a very valuable and necessary means of fostering human rights and human values, freedom and democracy everywhere. Good and rapid communications and travel raise the consciousness among the (oppressed) groups and help in their local and global networking for the realization of their rights. Censorship fails to be effective due to satellite communication. Internet has the advantage and the risk of not being under the control of any power and of being open to anyone with the computer equipment. Good communication can break down the barriers of religions, race, gender, caste and nationality. Myths, prejudices and ignorance that are harmful for just human relationships can be removed by the spread of true information and attitudes of understanding and goodwill.

Unfortunately modern communications can also aggravate conflicts. Media and scientists are now as important for war as generals. Violence of different forms is so often presented in the media as to have an effect of fostering crime. Arms producers use the media to promote arms sales by fostering conflicts within and among countries, often using cultural prejudices for it.

 “The word is awash in ‘low-level’ conflicts, today there are some forty wars on around the globe, involving more than one quarter of the world’s nations. U.S. strategists are convinced that the United States has ‘vital’ interests - i.e., interests that might need to be defended through the use of military force - in nearly every one of these hot spots.”(ed. Michael I. Kiare and Peter Kornbluh: Low Intensity Conflict, -counter-insurgency, pro-insurgency, and anti-terrorism in the Eighties,” Pantheon Books, NY, 1988 p.80 et alibi.)

The control of the global mass media by a few transnational combines /(some nine, six of which are based in the US), give them the ability to influence the thinking of vast sections of humanity. The leisure activities of many are influenced by the mass media mainly the T.V. The media, controlled mainly by the TNCs, commercialize even sports and the arts. They build the consumer tastes and impact the values specially of the youth throughout the world.

c. Environmental Harm

Whereas modern science and technology offer immense new potentialities in relation to nature such as use of solar energy, and improvements in medical science, yet overall nature is being badly exploited by the present pattern of development. Mother Earth and the life supporting system are abused and adulterated. The air, sunlight, soil, forests, various life forms and water are all being affected adversely by the modern industrial, commercial culture which is not establishing a sustainable relationship with the natural world. The hole in the Ozone Layer, the warming of the earth, the exhaustion of non renewable resources, pollution of the environment, the poisoning of the soil with insecticides, the soil erosion, the attack on aquatic resources, the reduction of bio-diversity are all continuing, in spite of much concern being expressed about this by concerned persons.

Much of the pollution of the global environment takes place due to the wasteful life style and methods of production of rich countries, especially of North America and Western Europe. The world is reaching a situation in which the present type and level of resource depletion and environmental pollution cannot be continued indefinitely or for long without disastrous environmental hazards and resource shortage, according to present scientific knowledge.

The costs of such pollution, often hidden in the short term, are generally not borne by those responsible for them. This is part of the damage that this generation is bequeathing to the future. Economists, accountants and even moral theologians do not yet give adequate attention to these aspects of our responsibility for the consequences of our pattern of development.

Capitalistic globalization, not being motivated by ethical norms and concerns, does not pay adequate attention to the care of nature and the preservation of the natural environment for the good of all life on earth. It is the peoples movements, linked within countries and internationally across barriers of race, religion, class and gender, that are more concerned with the safeguarding of the environment.

d. Unsustainable, not Replicable and Unethical

Such globalization is a form of re-colonization that does not need any military intervention; it is done unceremoniously by a mere legal transfer of ownership of the shares of enterprises, helped by the previously mentioned international agencies built around the UN system. The resources of the poor peoples and countries are being taken over through intriguing and insidious ways of legal financial manipulation, such as through the Stock Exchange, and cross country financial transfers through the banking system. Liberalization opens the market of our assets to foreign capital; people are losing ownership of their public enterprises, raw materials, markets and even capital savings through the eventual sale of state insurance funds, national banks and other public funds.

The workers of poor countries become labourers for foreign companies, with the collaboration of local elites. Children are born in poor countries with a burden of debt round their necks, perhaps to be paid during their whole life time. The governments of poor countries have to maintain this system to survive in power with the support of the collaborating local elites. Though the rich countries prefer development aid, resources in effect flow from the poor to the rich countries, increasing the gap between them. The poor peoples are being smoothly, legally, systematically, impoverished, recolonized, with the willing or unwitting co­operation of their rulers, local elites and public officials.

Capitalisitic globalization is not sustainable at its present scale throughout the world due to its waste, harmful effects and running down of scarce resources. This system may be socially sustainable if new technologies increase the productivity everywhere and provide work, incomes and leisure for all in all countries. These are some of the imponderables, as we have seen in the past decade with the expansion of computerization, and communications systems.

The rise of consciousness of the oppressed everywhere will grow if the oppression increases. There will be revolutionary protests and uprisings in poor countries with violent repression of these protests. The coincidence of interests of the victims marginalized by the system in rich and poor countries may lead to a transnational solidarity of interests of workers, women, youth, peace workers and people’s movements. They will begin to defend their interests in different ways. Capital will have to be controlled for the common good.

This system of liberal capitalist globalization is not replicable - globally or even only in China and India. Nature cannot afford the spread of a life style as of the USA due to limits of resources, and pollution, at the present level of knowledge.

Regional blocks will at some stage become conscious of the need for them to defend their economic self-interest, especially if they too become technologically self-reliant. They may react strongly against the present “divide and oppress system by which the poor countries are made to compete such as in the sale of their labour.

This globalization takes place in the background of 500 years of Euro-North American colonialism that carved out the map of the world to suit and favour them. The UN system, set up basically to legitimize and continue that unjust world order of Western domination, will be under pressure from the poor peoples.

The net result is that the present world order is in disarray and incapable of meeting even the minimal needs of billions of human beings. This globalization promotes mainly the search for private profit and not unselfish concern for others, fierce competition for income and wealth and not cooperation and sharing for the common good of all, the accumulation of personal and company wealth and not their fair and equitable distribution. Some 400 immensely rich billionaires are said to earn more than half the income of the whole world.

The free market does not bring about a just equilibrium in economic life in the world of grave economic inequalities.

Capitalistic selfishness of individuals and companies, raised to the level of a supreme principle of public policy, does not promote the true liberation of humans from selfishness, hatred and delusion, but rather worsens the human condition almost everywhere. A process of dehumanization and even criminalization of persons and societies is taking place on a world wide scale. Neither the peoples nor the countries will find genuine liberation through the search for profit maximization and accumulation of wealth by a few at the expense of the many.