Sunday, January 02, 2005

So now, in addition to my email inbox, my mobile's text message inbox has also been receiving spam. And so the little annoyances of Western life continue. Having this year spent much time familiarising myself with the lovely people of South-East Asia however my reaction to a message urging me to naively text a five-digit number with my name and age so I can "get to know" an alleged other person has been much changed. For I am feeling much closer to the suffering of people I can easily identify with and caring less about irrelevances at home.

Like a farming community shapes its life and culture around its industry in Europe so are communities on Thai coasts and beaches shaped around tourism. So I hope the positive public reaction to the disaster extends to enthusiastically choosing the countries affected as places to visit. A dip in visitor numbers would be a further negative effect to these areas.

And perhaps the robust public reaction has something to do with long haul travel destinations having become increasingly popular in recent times. I have dozens of friends who have visited either SE Asia or the Indian Subcontinent and so the more effective and escalating media coverage of our modern times isn't the only globalising effect on our minds. Millions have made personal connections with people in faraway places. In the past, images of suffering have been difficult to appreciate, as the few images we have seen have appeared to illustrate a world vastly different from the one we are used to. Now we see a world many of us have experienced, through hundreds of different camera lenses, repeatedly, and often via encounters made by fellow westerners.

And these are the reasons I think globalisation is not entirely a bad thing. Most anti-globalisation protesters march against the exploitation of poverty-stricken workforces, increasing pollution, and the threat of cultural, economic and political imperialism and on these issues I have huge sympathy. But describing many of their objections as issues of globalisation is misleading. To me globalisation means a world drawing together; communication between people becoming easier; travel to faraway places becoming more practical; goods becoming available worldwide; relief arriving to the distressed more quickly. But more than this globalisation means saying goodbye to insular thinking; the naïve superstitions of isolated communities; the poor and the badly educated becoming weightier political issues as the West gets closer to affected areas.

I suppose the negative attitudes regarding globalisation is because capitalism has been a big and mainly negative driving force; however the biggest pushes towards it have been more positive historical events such as the end of the Second World War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of the internet.

In India the economy which has been a poor one that only benefits the rich has been in a revolution because western companies have striven to take advantage of cheap wages and have relocated much of their operations there. We may baulk at what we perceive as exploitation but in reality this movement has helped India to better provide for its poor. And its poor need all the help they can get. In north-western Vietnam my friends and I got to know some local Black Hmong tribes kids. They lived in mud huts in remote villages. They were internet capable – the Vietnamese Hmong have been subjected to some pretty shocking treatment at times by their government. How easy will it be for such political tactics to be used on an increasingly knowledgeable people?

H'mong tribes kids in Sapa, NW Vietnam...

To me the ultimate and only end game of globalisation - although not one that is deliberately directed there - is a changed public perception of the world in which they live; a round world. In all of human history individual nations and their people have acted in self-interest, understanding and caring only for their own people. Only in the very recent past, in the lifetimes of the last two generations, have international bodies like the UN the EU and the ICRC had any real influence or impact on world affairs. These bodies are in existence because we live in a smaller world. You may not like these bodies much but even the blindest pessimist must admit that before the times of these institutions wars between countries were very regular affairs. Only in the last sixty years have conflicts between the major European countries, stretching back centuries, been consigned to history. Look in your history books and see the relationships between Britain, France, Spain, and Germany have been good ones only in yours and your parents lifetimes.

The inevitable results of globalisation for normal people will be less blind patriotism, less sympathy for profiteering foreign military campaigns, better unbderstanding of other peoples cultures, and other positive effects. In the end, nations and companies will have neither the desire nor the support for the selfish tactics we see today. If we survive that is: looking at the US and the middle east today I think it might take a while for everyone to join in. Bloody Christian/Jewish/Muslim fundamentalists... Fucking idiots. I stick my knob out at them.


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