Saturday, January 20, 2007

On Mr. Walden Bello's "Globalization in Retreat"

To view Mr. Bello's full article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, click here.
For a counterpoint from Sebastian Mallaby of the Washington Post, click here.

There is an honest sentiment among neo-marxist thinkers that globalization is a bid to further the ends of the global capitalist. The Communist Manifesto makes a clear and prophetic description of the way that capitalism will cross national borders and create the sort of world that we see today. It could be frighteningly prophetic, but it skips out on some major points that are transforming the world in a very different way. As a result, Mr. Bello's article fails to do justice to some of the finer (and I believe more relevant) points of what globalization is all about.

When Marx and Engels published their theories on historical materialism, they were operating from the premises of polarization between the bourgeosie and the proletariat within the context of institutionalized oppression, and of economic activity as the singular force that drove the progress of nations. They described a world of a global conflict, between the few bourgeousie owners and the mass proletariat. They saw a globalized world as a world of globalized industry. Communication, they argue, would serve as a catalyst between the scattered proletariat, to unify them in their struggle against the oppressors.

This entire thought is based on the assumption that turn-of the century industrial society (with its technology, philosophies, communication and culture), would continue unchanged. However, it didn't turn out that way. We are seeing a globalized world that is being driven by a lot more then just transnational industry. Information is not merely about coordination; it's about empowerment. People are using global information to expand their choices. People are taking advantage of the tools-- not in an effort to overthrow power structures-- but to become part of the power structures. A middle class, that Marx and Engels foresaw and dismissed as allies of the proletariat, are increasing and effectively neutralizing the polar conflict between proletariat and bourgeousie . Instead, the middle class are engaged in what I call mutual exploitation. They live satisfying lives by working, both for themselves and for their employers. For themselves in the sense that labour both gives them a place in society, and gives them an income that is liquid in the economy, constantly trading hands, paying for goods, services and information. The oppressed proletariat seeking liberation from the chains of the selfish industrialist is a thing of the global past. Instead, society is flattening at its own accord, finding an equilibrium in a larger middle class: some on top (like Donald Trump and the Texas oil barons), some on the bottom (slums in Mexico City and Southeast Asia) and a lot in the middle (you, me, everyone else who lives a 9-5 schedule, commutes to work, complains around the water station, reads Dilbert and has a life online). We're not the "bourgeousie" that Marx and Engels were whining about. We're just normal people.

Conceded, in developing countries, there is still a large number of people living in destitute situations, who are exploited, who are oppressed by regimes that still operate on feudal or industrial paradigms of thought. But put into a global context, the trend is towards moving the population curve to the middle of the income demographic. China, India, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Malaysia... all moving towards the middle, moving into the 21st century not on the backs of oppressed citizens, but on the efforts of unified, increasingly information-based economies.

Mr. Bello's point of a receding globalization is correct, if globalization is simply the action of a few institutions (IMF, WTO) with vested interests. But that is globalization 2.0 (Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat). Globalization 3.0 is what is happening today, and that is happening, not on the efforts of a few, but at the fingertips of the many, within the context of culture, not industry. The "nation-state" is still relevant today; but as the concept of "nation" is deconstructed, and the idea of "state" is superceded by regional institutions, the 17th century creation of the "nation-state" will no longer be as powerful or as persuasive. That's real globalization, and Marx and Engels never saw it coming.


Tuesday, January 9, 2007

On Dawkins, Faith and Religion

The author of the book "The God Delusion", Richard Dawkins, makes an articulate and sharp-toothed case against the claims of religion, both as a basis of moral behaviour and the existence of God. Faith(belief in something contrary to evidence), argues Dawkins, provides the slippery slope into divisiveness, prejudice, and violence. Even though I am a Christian, I cannot deny this observation. History is littered with the evidence of how religion has worked against peace, tolerance and progress. Even today, the great "War on Terror" is at its heart, a religiously motivated conflict, a consequence of the battlelines drawn in the sand of Jerusalem between the Muslims and the Jews. In the heart of America, religious fundamentalism is also giving fuel to the actions of the right-wing politicians. On the documentary "The Root of All Evil?", Richard Dawkins confronted Ted Haggard, then pastor of the New Life Church. Haggard explained that the greatest issue facing the next generation will be the Islamification of Europe. *note: Haggard recently resigned as pastor of New Life because of allegations of sexual abuse and drug abuse.

Haggard doesn't think AIDS is a problem; he doesn't think climate change is an issue; Education in Third World countries doesn't get much merit either. The biggest problem is Islamification. From the point of view of an atheist, the whole religious conflict is really about two deluded parties arguing about who's delusion is better. And unfortunately, millions of people around the world buy into this pointless debate.

Furthermore, religous groups around the world are systematically engaged in, according to Dawkins' view, amounts to a Hitler Youth Camp-type indoctrination of children. In his essay, "Viruses of the Mind" he premises on the idea that children are programmed, by evolution, to be impressionable, and that religion takes advantage of this by setting up their false world view and teaching it as truth to the next generation of faithful, perpetuating the myths upon minds that havn't yet developed the capacity to think critically and weigh evidences.

Dawkins has a point about the consequences of religion. As the "faithful" categorically deny other perspectives as truth, assert their own beliefs as true, and perpetuate this absolutism, our society becomes polarized between religions. This has done the world no end of serious, bloody, and horrible conflict.

But what about Dawkins' arguments on the existence of God? His arguments are a highly articulate packaging of the same arguments atheists have used the world over: science, evolution, quantum theory, the lack of empirical evidence, cultural epidemiology. The case made with reason is overwhelmingly convincing.

But I believe, despite all the evidence and cuss me if you want, that God is out there and here. I don't have any reasons for why I believe that, but I do. And that's about as much as I have. It's enough for me. So what if its not enough for others?

I am not in the business of asserting my faith over others. That perspective is the slippery slope towards bombs on the tube, suicide bombers and restricting condom use in Africa. Trying to argue that my belief should be true for everyone else is the debate that leads to hatred and violence.

Faith is, on its own, nothing bad. For some, it's a delusion, for others, it's truth. However, what happens when a society begins to choose one truth over the other, and assert it without reason, without consideration, without acceptance, without critical thinking? That is where the danger lies. No one should dispute what you believe, but they can dispute how that belief is articulated and whether or not that belief should be the basis of how society will decide to act or how society should percieve one thing over the other.