Fletcher, Andrew. "A Christian discussion on globalization." S. Hamilton, Center for Youth Studies.
The photo hangs on my office wall-a traffic control policeman in Shanghai, standing on a raised platform the middle of a busy intersection directing traffic, playing the role of stoplight. Behind him in bright and garish colors is the marquis of some sort of shop. The sign reads "Hollywood Wonders" in English.
I took that picture on the same trip when I ate at the most and least expensive McDonald's restaurants in the world-the first in Geneva, the second in Hong Kong. I ate what was apparently the same Big Mac in both places, drank the same chocolate milk shake. That was just after I went T-shirt shopping in Hanoi, where I bought some for my kids-one each of a "Hard Rock Café: Hanoi" and a "Planet Hollywood: Hanoi" (neither of which existed in Hanoi at the time). At the new five star hotels in Shanghai, all of the Chinese native hotel workers have adopted English names (which they often cannot pronounce themselves) in order to adapt to the English-driven international visitors' needs.
Globalization is upon us, and as usual, we in the Christian community seem to think that our homage to globalization is calling baseball's premier event, The World Series. We note with pride how many people around the world are reported to be watching the Super Bowl, forgetting to note at all that the best our U.S. sportswriters can do is call soccer's World Cup boring.
In truth, the only Christians who are taking globalization seriously spend their time and ink writing about the Trilateral Commission and a one-world government, trumpeting simultaneously about the divine necessity of free market economics. Ironically, if globalization holds any prophecy about the future, it is that free market economics probably will be the beginning of the end of meaningful governments of any type-it is already true in more ways than we know.
Globalization-what is it? It is probably not the evolution of a world government under the auspices of the United Nations, a body that will grow even more helpless to resist the inevitable. It is far more than being able to find a clean restroom (at last!) in every major city in the world-inside the local McDonald's-or being able to buy a Coke in the most remote of locations.
Globalization has unprecedented tendrils in every aspect of our human existence-economic, political, sociological, linguistic. The world is changing in a way that is unique in all of history, and absent an unprecedented global disaster on the order of the Black Plague or that shown by the movies about killer asteroids and comets from space, there will be no turning back. If we as Christians do not recognize what is happening just off our TV screens with local news and sports, we will be no more able to take our faith to that world than to the distant reaches of space. The American Century is coming to a close, and with it American primacy.
Though we could spend some time detailing the evolution of globalization, we would profit better by talking about how we are swept along in its wake and how we must adapt our methods of evangelism to fit. First, though, the Brave New World:
We now have a global economy. No longer does one nation dominate, though the U.S. does still wield enormous influence. Used to be, when the U.S. economy sneezed, the rest of the world caught cold. Now it works both ways-when Asia sneezed, the U.S. caught cold, along with Europe, Africa, Latin America and everywhere else. The national economies are so intermingled that companies are no longer bound by borders. Multinational companies and transnational corporations (TNCs) operate with a global web of connections-raw materials from multiple sources, factories moving to find the cheapest labor pools, markets in every country, prices for the same product set at different levels according to differing tax laws, outsourcing from literally any point of the planet. TNCs control fully one-quarter of the world's production and enjoy assets and profits larger than countries themselves. The communists have noticed-in the 1998 "Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International", they write that "the vast changes in production processes, communications and international finance over the past 20 years have rendered the nation-state increasingly obsolete…It is a basic fact of economic life that transnational corporations exploit the labor power of workers in several countries to produce a finished commodity, and that they distribute and shift production between their plants in different countries and on different continents in search of the highest rate of profit."
Jed Greer and Kavaljit Singh write in Corporate Watch (off the Web, 1998, September 4) that "the 300 largest TNCs own or control at least one-quarter of the entire world's productive assets, worth about U.S. $5 trillion…TNCs operations span the globe. The Swiss electrical engineering giant ABB has facilities in 140 nations, for example, while Royal Dutch/Shell explores for oil in 50 countries, refines in 34, and markets in 100." TNCs avoid national taxes and in some cases determine the fates of nations-ITT and Chile is the most memorable example. And even China has 900 out of the nearly 40,000 TNCs worldwide. But not a single TNC is located is based in Africa, the Middle East, or any of the poorest countries.
The advent of computer technology, coupled with movies, television, email and the Internet, is having an equally remarkable impact on the world-the lingua franca is rapidly becoming English. The July 3 issue of Asiaweek writes it thus: "…the eight-year-old son of the Kyrgyzstan president informed his father, 'I have to learn English.'…President Askar Akayev wanted to know why. The reply: 'Because, father, the computer speaks English.'…English. It is the default language of choice."
This generation of children from the industrialized nations will speak English-even now they are attending international elementary, middle, and high schools, over 1100 of them globally, where the majority of them study in English (though it is not necessarily their mother tongue), and the rest are learning English. The French have passed language purification laws to try to prevent French from becoming Anglicized, "Franglish." The Germans have not yet passed laws, but language preservation organizations exist to discourage the use of "Denglish." It is all to no avail-the youth are awash in English. Many of them will attend universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. The language of business and diplomacy is English. The language of the Web is English. English-language movies and videos sweep the planet. Nearly every country has access to English-language television, news, and film and music videos. Whether for good or for bad, English is and will be the language of the future world leaders in all fields-business, diplomacy, technology, science. Above all, it is the computer that drives this reality, and the computer is here to stay.
Since the next generation of world leaders will be coming from the international school communities, it is certain that the postmodern ethic of those communities will hold great sway over the ways we approach life. In many ways, this holds promise for the planet-kids who have grown up in international schools with classmates from all religions, national backgrounds, skin colors, and political beliefs will understand at a deeper level the tragedies of war, famine, natural disasters, and terrorism, and may more than any other people in history work hard to create and preserve peace.
A woman I sat next to on a flight out of Denver is illustrative-in her early 50s, she as a Norwegian had lived in Norway only six years of her life. Her father was a diplomat; she has lived in 22 countries, speaks eight languages fluently, lives now in Singapore with her Danish husband and 11-year-old American-Danish-Norwegian son (a student at the Canadian International School), keeps a yacht in Denmark, and is a General Manager for Hewlett-Packard. She is the next Citizen of the World, living within it, but having few loyalties for any nation.
The future heads of TNCs will note as well that war is bad for business when one's business is dependent on peace in what could be potential warring nations, and they may have the influence to head off such wars. Remember that TNCs have the wealth of nations without being bound by borders to a particular geography. They are the ultimate nation states, with economic power on a global level and the mobility of Bedouin tribesmen-they are the new colonial powers who do not conquer but co-opt. One might be bold enough to say that our chances for having another global conflict involving the industrialized nations are far smaller than ever. However, in the cold hard light of the bottom line, regional war is good for business, especially when it involves the developing world.
America's role has been to take over the pop culture of the world. An article by the Washington Post Service in the October 26, 1998 International Herald Tribune (the newspaper of the international community) said that "Entertainment around the world is dominated by American products…'Today's young people' quoting MTV president Tom Preston, 'have passports to two different worlds-to their own culture and to ours.' " The kids in the international community have even more passports than these, since they literally belong to multiple countries, are tremendously westernized and Americanized by their third culture, and have few loyalties to any country at all.
Ultimately, what the U.S. markets with its products and entertainment are "many of the appealing themes and myths of the United States itself: individuality, wealth, progress, tolerance, optimism…Says Mr. (Todd) Giltin, sociologist, "We are good at producing themes and story lines that appeal to a global sensibility: freedom, freedom of movement, freedom from family, from place, from earth, from roles."
Though this may sound and be generally positive, the worldwide marketing of America's entertainment industry has the potential for dire results. Much of the fundamental Islamic movements around the globe are driven by a reaction against the immorality of America's film and culture-nudity, drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, spiritual emptiness, materialism, all of these feature prominently in the America the world knows best. When I was living in Japan twenty years ago, studying with other American students, Japanese men assumed that our American coeds were just like women in the movies; that is, they would cheerfully have sex with anyone who asked.
On a more subtle level, our adolescent and individual-obsessed culture will tend to erode valuable aspects of collective cultures-the commitment to community, the concern for one's actions on the society at large, a respect for parents, family, and authority figures. Materialism will figure prominently in a devolutionary process into exaltation of the individual and denigration of culture. I was asked by some gentlemen in a Bible study once what I thought about the process of the capitalization of China. Having just returned from that country, I remarked that China seemed to me to be on course to change from godless communism to godless capitalism. The men present, mostly wealthy and convinced that capitalism was from God, could not even understand the phrase "Godless capitalism." So how does this impact us as believers? We must adapt to the New World in all of our thinking. There will be no way to resist it-it is already here, and, like most historical changes, full of both positive and negative aspects. We will have a unique opportunity to take our faith to a world that will be speaking English and familiar with parts of our culture-no longer will it be necessary to learn a new language and live in a country for 20 years to have an impact for Christ.
But it will be a world with believers in relative ethics and reactionaries into fundamentalism. It will be a material world, focused on production, acquisition, and consumerism. Since we as American Christians are little different from our pagan fellow-citizens in this regard, our credibility as followers of Christ will be damaged, as it has been damaged already. Relative ethicists will call us intolerant, looking at our history of racial and economic bigotry and projecting that into new fields such as homosexuality.
Fundamentalists of other faiths will call us weak and uncommitted, afraid to stand for our faith if it means sacrificing creature comforts. And still we bicker with each other inside the faith, one side evangelistic but greedy, the other side compassionate but thin on theology.
We must not, finally, miss the irony that the economic system which many conservative Christians believe is ordained of God - capitalism - will be the dominant economic system of the transnational world, and will ultimately unite the world together as one global marketplace. Some have been afraid of one-world government, seeing in it the signs of the Apocalypse. At this moment in history, those who fear government and exalt the free market may be planting the seeds for the Apocalypse, rooted in the very church itself. The world may one day be under one government, but it will become one marketplace first, and that market will write the play that so many see as they look in the wrong direction altogether.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- What are your thoughts on globalization?
- Do you see globalization as a neutral, benign process, a positive one or a negative one? Why?
- How does the Christian faith shed light on this subject?
- How are teens especially affected by globalization?
Andrew Fletcher cCYS