Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Global Capitalism

Global Capitalism, edited by Will Hutton and Anthony Giddens

Hutton and Giddens are the editors of this book. They are not the authors. This book is a collection of 12 essays. Only the first and the last are co-authored by Hutton and Giddens. Most of the essays are academic in nature and are difficult to read. Authors are economists or sociologists with international reputation.

Given the diversity in the expertise of the authors, it is no wonder that the essays, though wearing the hat of global capitalism, are quite unique in their theme and focus on this subject. Each essay takes on a particular social or financial aspect of capitalism's globalization. Nevertheless, the book does convey a message that capitalism has become the dominant world economic system and that indigenous local cultures have been largely Americanized.

Because the essays are so different in nature, it is impossible to write coherent notes about the book. I therefore attempt to write individually on some essays which are of interest to me. This is the first one.

Who's afraid of global culture by Polly Toynbee

Toynbee views the cultural globalization as a tidal wave of the Western culture creeping across the globe. She has a vision of Americanization as a giant strawberry milkshake oozing over the planet, making everything pink along the way. To many, globalization is Americanization.

With globalization, culture everywhere is under attack, creating a culture panic. We have a feeling that there is a culture contamination of Americanism everywhere: denizen in the Sahara wearing Texaco baseball cap, Soda bottles in the Himalayas, washing liquid bottle in the Arctic ice,. One of the travellers reported that during trekking to a remote corner of Cambodia, he was offered the viewing of Basic Instinct video in the evening instead of the rural dance by indigenous girls. When we consider globalization of culture, most of us bring to the subject a jumble of deep-seated alarms, both moral, intellectual, political, spiritual, artistic and nationalistic, all melting into a great pot of globalization panic.

The author then asks a basic question on the ethnocentric disingenuousness (I looked up the dictionary on this two difficult words and I do not like the definition) about our concern for the preservation of traditional cultures and our disgust at the way Western culture invades the arts of other people. Western tourists to remote places are just visiting for a quick look before retreating to their own cities; but we want other people to stay just as they are, while having the modern things for ourselves.

Our selfish thought is: we worry that, by the very fact of visiting it, we will spoil the thing we love. For our own belief in our elemental selves we need there to be an idea of Eskimos, nomads and Red Indians, living as close to their ancient, natural ways as possible. Those who fear globalization seem to want those traditional culture to stay as they are forever, a permanent primitive resource for us, though they may or may not choose to live as they do, depending on what other realistic choices they have. As for the dangers of cultural contamination, actually cultural cross-fertilization is the essence of art, i.e. old things should not be left as they are.

The author accuses us of double standard. Cultural globalization to the developing countries may be an opportunity for them to have a better life-style. We are selective in our feelings about globalization of culture. We may regret the Coca-Cola bottles in alien places, but we will strive with missionary fervour to spread our own values.

I do not know what the environmentalists and the world heritage people would think about this viewpoint. From my view, I think the tourists should not be accused of being hypocritic. Everywhere when there is tourism, there is development. This does not mean we need to destroy the culture in order to do so. Archaeological sites and artifacts are preserved so that we can appreciate history, not to deter modernization.

The author then goes on with her main theme. In going global, we are spreading Western liberal democracy, which she thinks is the only system yet devised that maximizes freedom for the many. She considers that it is not possible to promote these new freedoms while preserving what is best in alien cultures. There are people who fear cultural homogenization. But to spread culture widely, even in ways not always to the taste of connoisseurs, is always a good thing. In the end there is more to be gained than lost in the great global exchange. We think so because we believe Western political and ideological culture will finally permeate the world to the advantage of all. Such culture rests on human rights and from that principle all the rest flows Once all individuals have the right to live as they choose, free from political, religious, patriarchal or social tyrannies, their culture will inevitably change for the better. The West in its many manifestations is a human right crusader. Those who take human rights as the essential first principle of all decent society should be wary of those who think globalising those values is cultural imperialism.

I think these notions of the superiority of Western culture is just that: cultural imperialism. The author brushes aside all other cultures and ideologies by considering them inferior, undemocratic and infringing on human rights. This is a one-way view of globalization of culture. American culture exists only for a very short while in history. Globalization of culture started long long time ago, since homo sapiens migrated from Africa to Asia, then to Europe and America. Many civilizations tried to rule the world by cultural globalization, including the Roman, Persian, Greek, Turk and Chinese, some by war and some by trade. The result is an integration of cultures instead of domination of a single ideology.