No country remains unscathed by globalization

I was reading a National Geographic article about Bhutan and its struggle to modernize when I thought of this question. What the king is doing is remarkable. Rarely in all of history has an absolute monarch simultaneously opened his country up and voluntarily given up power to the people. Clearly, he believes in the benefits of modernization/globalization, but can any country maintain its identity in the face of such titantic forces?

Unfortunately, the tenative answer is “no.” The problem is that once you give people the freedom to choose, you cannot control what they do with it. Many times they will choose the new influences over the old for their novelty/coolness, and once you open Pandora’s Box, you cannot go back. You must accept the bad with the good.

Indeed, it has been a mixed bag for Bhutan. Life expectancy is up, and child mortality is down; but crime and materialism threaten to change their conservative Buddhist society forever.

Who can say this decision was right or wrong? There is no definitive answer. One can only hope that Bhutanese can find a happy medium between old and new. I am pulling for them.

2 thoughts on “No country remains unscathed by globalization

  1. As you state in your article, globalization is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it opens us up to the world. Prior to the 1800’s, it was common for non-military individuals and families in Europe to travel no more than five miles beyond their enclave to other places in their entire lifetime. By the middle of the 1800’s that statistic changes to more than half of the population over 20 moving countless miles to find work with the new movement of industrialization. Through globalization we are given the opportunity to experience other cultural milieus because there is far more movement in the world enhancing the possibilities of interaction.

    On the other hand, when a country like Bhutan opens it’s doors to the global economy, and allows the people to make the choices, the younger generations will often choose to do away with many of the traditions that they see as impeding their happiness. As you discuss, materialism will often trump traditionalism. Frankly, even though Buddhism is entrenched in an anti-materialism worldview, once the lure of materialism makes its way into the public consciousness, it takes on a life of its own.

    Hence there are two things I would like to bring up: 1) How does economics become a living organism that like a virus replicates from individual to individual infecting them with the need/desire to gain monetary success for the sake of materialism. 2) Globalization is now having the exact opposite effect it once had on our world – it is not broadening the world, but narrowing it.

    To my first point: the concept of economy being like a living organism is nothing new. However, in the context of your article, it was the first time it occurred to me that economy, especially in terms of globalization, could be seen as a virus. The idea that at the core of the individual is a desire to rise up out of their circumstance to produce a better life for themselves is at the core of capitalism. However, that core principle is interesting because I believe that the notion of rising up out of our circumstance is a spiritual endeavor that when the infection of economics comes into play distorts the ultimate aim of that human impulse. Buddhism understands this impulse better than any worldview I know because it focuses the person to relate end of this impulse to something that is not attainable in a tangible – Buddhism says that the key to satisfying that impulse is beyond what we can see in front of our eyes. The infection of economics fools us into thinking that the impulse can be satisfied by what is in front of us. Christianity makes similar claims but because as Christians we do not want to accept the gospel at face value. We create a duality as Christians. Indeed, we live in a deep hypocrisy. We know what the gospel requires – we need to abandon all worldly desires to focus on God. However, we also create a false belief that God wants us to prosper economically. These two things are in conflict with one another because at the end of the day, economics will win and God will take a back seat.

    To my second point: globalization once had the effect of breaking down barriers. However, the economics of globalization is nothing more than stronger countries exploiting the resources (human and otherwise) of smaller, less powerful countries. In this country, globalization means that people never have to drive more than 10 miles in any direction to find a Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Target, Best Buy, etc. All the same stores that we see everywhere. They crop up in every town so that no matter where you go, they are all the same. It used to be interesting to go to different towns and see the variety of different stores. Those stores are gone because the niche merchandise they once sold is undercut dramatically by big chains. So now, not only is the number of stores from which you can purchase goods continually shrinking because there are fewer of them, but the need to leave the very small area of where you live becomes an increasingly banal exercise. Every place seems no different from the one before it. Even overseas travel is becoming less interesting because of the impact of globalization. I don’t go to China to visit a McDonalds. Yet, they are penetrating the market in such a manner that the global market place is now similar to that of my home on the other side of the world. Culture is being destroyed by globalization because as we are coming to realize, the only culture with globalization is currency.

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  2. Well done, Alex. I like the concept of economics as a virus. It’s like a “virus within a virus” since I’d say that globalization is the virus that spread economics on a global level. I’d like to offer two ideas that might shed more light on the phenomena that you described: the illusion of free will and increasing contagiousness.

    Illusion of free will – You are right that economics plays upon man’s desire for material gain, but I’d say that it’s even more insidious than this. There is actually little choice involved once you accept it. Modern economics was designed to force material production. In 19th-century America, it was possible to move west and live off the land in peace. Where can you do that today? Unless you want to be homeless, hide in the woods, or live off the generosity of assistance programs, you must work because there are taxes, rent, and bills to pay anywhere you go.

    Once your country institutionalizes the economic system, everything becomes beholden to it. Churches have bills to pay everyone else, so they are forced to bend their doctrines to accommodate the materialistic ideals of their supporting members. It’s not just a matter of theology but of survival as well.

    Increasing contagiousness – Globalization has always been a virus, but the problem today is that it penetrates so much more quickly and completely than ever before. In the 1800s, ideas were transmitted by people, and people’s movements were limited by the means of transportation. Now we can transmit ideas almost instantaneously without leaving home through radio, satellite, TV, and Internet. Mega corporations can move people, equipment, and assets around at breakneck speed as well. As you mentioned, this allows Wal-Mart to build stores quickly all of the world, but it can shut them down just as quickly (if not more so), possibly taking a whole country down in the process.

    Early stages of industrialization were liberating because technology served us, but things are moving so fast that we barely have time to think. We no longer control “The Machine;” it controls us. Most people aren’t consciously aware of this, but it wouldn’t matter anyway. We really don’t have a choice anymore!

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