Photo credits: taken by Shamil Zhumatov, Reuters; shared by Fadhel Hawramany on Google+; Cheese-making in Kazakhstan
The admonition of our forefathers that “all men (and women) are created equal” does guide a lot our decisions as Americans and lately seems to keep leading us back to another old adage, that one that says “no good deed goes unpunished”. The fact that it seemed wrong to many Americans to enjoy relative prosperity while many others around the world seemed to languish in poverty led to a belief that, although Americans lost all of their jobs, the jobs that were created in places where no boom has gone before (in recent memory) convinced us that this was, in some twisted self-effacing way, a good thing for the whole world in the long run. Allowing others to make puny wages doing jobs that provided Americans with great incomes could be justified because it would eventually lift up workers around the world, assuage our national guilt, and usher in a future that guaranteed human rights for all. Not that we necessarily had a choice. Globalization happened. Actually, of course, average Americans did not send their jobs to other nations; their jobs were yanked away and bestowed elsewhere. Still it is somewhat comforting to believe that losing our jobs makes us better Americans, adhering to the ideals that formed the basis of our nation and the ideals that people around the world have found admirable and desirable.
I don’t think we have been quite as happy with the realities of the road to globalization. It will take many generations, probably, for global economics to raise the standard of living for everyone. In the meantime, Americans are left in a sort of economic backwater, a zone where all but the wealthiest Americans are stuck treading water, and rather brackish water at that. We don’t really want to be in this financial limbo and we may not stay here for long. Hopefully we will find a way up and out, a way back to the prosperity that makes America hum, that calms twitchy Republican plutocrats, and gives us back our optimistic spirit. What we can’t know is how long it will take for this to happen, and whether we will be able to pull another rabbit out of our magic hat and find the next thing or things that will take us to a new prosperity. Perhaps on our enforced hiatus from prosperity we will learn to enjoy a bit of languishing, to slow down a bit and embrace a simpler lifestyle that values intangibles like family and friends and leisure and that does not so much rely on collecting more and more stuff, things, objects we never have any time to appreciate.
Must everyone in America have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances? I just saw that photo that you see at the top of this post, taken by someone at Reuters and shared on Google+ that shows a Central Asian mother and daughter making cheese. They are squatting in a hut with a straw floor forming perfect mounds of fresh cheese on a wooden board probably getting ready to sell their cheeses at the local market. Obviously the contrast between these two “kitchen” scenarios exposes the distance the world must travel before there is any real economic global equality of opportunity. If we find a way to restore the upward trajectory of our economy the distance among nations will continue to widen or at least maintain its current proportions. However, I don’t expect that we will lag behind on purpose waiting for people in other nations to catch up.
In addition, economics is not the only sphere of human activity that has been stirred by globalization. An absolute torrent of hostility has been released, most of it religious in nature between people who adhere to a set of stern religious laws and have practiced this demanding religion since antiquity. So we find ourselves in the midst of a religious firestorm, a maelstrom that was unforeseen by most of us. If you read science fiction, especially Frank Herbert’s Dune books, the idea of jihad probably did not come as a total surprise, but still, who knew; not us “ugly” Americans. We did not know that modern communication devices like computers and especially cell phones, and the penchant for tourism that arose with transportation advances and increased prosperity would, just like disturbing a hive of hornets, produce culture shock after culture shock, foment anger and violent reactionary responses that would lead to the threat of terrorism that has arrived on America’s (and the rest of the industrialized world’s) doorstep and which has become a new fact of life.
Who knew that there are many people who would want to resist globalization, who treasure their traditional lifestyle, their religious isolation and who, once change began to rock their world, awoke to a passion of missionary zeal that Allah requires once the infidel is right in your backyard. Christians ought to understand the often unintentional cruelties of the call to carry a foreign religious mission to “pagans” and “nonbelievers”. Many of us did not foresee that what seemed like just simple economic change would resonate through every level of the diverse cultures around the world and make diversity one of the largest issues involved in globalization. Untangling these belief issues and lifestyle issues requires delicacy and time, not strong weapons in the American arsenal. We are spontaneous, well-meaning, earnest, clueless; bulls in the china shop of global human interactions. We are not known for either patience or delicacy.
Now that globalization has begun, it probably can’t be stopped unless we go into another “dark” age which seems unlikely. But the globalizations we are experiencing will probably not do away with nations, nor will it probably do away with religions, at least not in any of our lifetimes. Can we wend our ways through the minefields of culture shock and religious intolerance and economic rises and falls to form a more perfect union of the world’s nations that could bring to our little planet health and peace? That is the challenge of this particular era of human history. Will environmental forces trump all of it and drown us in global environmental crisis? We live with that challenge right now. Yikes. I wish I believed that this all arose from our belief that all men are created equal (and perhaps some of it did) but most of this nexus of change arose from greed. Oh well, we are what we are. Surprise! The key words here are delicacy and time.
In the past I have praised corporations for globalization. Having a planet where the distance between the rich and the poor is so great and offers such a miserable quality of life to so many seems wrong when we are brought up in a land that says it believes that all people are created equal. Albeit the distance between the wealthiest and the poorest Americans is still very great, but, globally that gap probably exceeds the personal income gap in America by at least several factors of ten. So it seemed fair when corporations set up offices in countries where most citizens experienced very low standards of living. At least it did until I thought about what is really, probably, just an opportunity for exercising those greed muscles. Sometimes I let my idealism get in the way of my cynicism. In my experience people who hold power and wealth rarely do things for totally altruistic reasons.
When you think about it carefully it is almost like a scam. Here we have workers who do not live in a democracy, or even if they do they probably are not enfranchised. Along come some factories offering jobs; nice steady jobs. There are no labor unions in these nations. Employees may be subject to a totalitarian government which sets wages and determines hours and other working conditions. These leaders may even be able to conscript workers and move them around the country as needed. They may require them to live in dormitories so that their work will be the focus of their lives. These people will not ask for raises, they will not strike, they will not form unions. They are not free people.
Perhaps instead of going to liberate people, our corporations went to exploit captive workers who live under communism, at least in the case of China and a few other third world nations. These “capitalists” have the nerve to accuse Obama and the American people of being socialists while they make enormous profits from a labor force that is almost slave labor. It is wrong to call Obama a socialist while you are “canoodling” with communists and to then use this form of government as a fear tactic against the President of the United States. Surely you can see why Americans might find this hypocritical.
Someday there will be nowhere to find cheap labor and perhaps the gaps between economic classes will not be as large as they are today and the American worker can once again rejoin the world’s work force. Unless we have found better things to do or better places to be by then. It is possible that there is room for both altruism and cynicism in globalization, and we can see that it is changing the world forever, but I don’t think we should just give these corporate manipulators a pass. Perhaps they are not true fans of democracy and perhaps that is why we have to listen to libertarians, who sound more like corporate shills and extreme right wing conservatives. Small government would fit in nicely with their desire to have free rein without having to deal with governments, elections, or a pesky thing like the electorate. Get over yourselves, you people with all the bucks; the world you envision would not be worth living in, even with scads of money!
If you are one of those non-wealthy people who spends time moaning about how America is turning into a socialist nation you may be a zombie created by corporate and wealthy special interest groups who have been playing on the fact that you feel sidelined. They have you blaming your lose of self-esteem on minorities and illegal immigrants when, in fact, they are to blame for the fact that you now feel beside the point in America. Stand up and ask for what we need and what we earned. Don’t think that you are valued by the Republican Party which gets strong support from corporations and the wealthy. Fight for the social safety net; it is not socialist. Fight for growth rather than austerity. Don’t buy that crap that the federal budget is like your personal budget and must be balanced at all times. This is a great big country we are running here, not a small household. The needs of 300+million people hang in the balance: our schools, our highways, our environment, our energy. Corporations want us to do only what will benefit them. They do not care about the rest of us. That is our job. If you have been bamboozled, don’t allow it any more. Elect Democrats in 2014.