Globalization is a movement – a force – that is sort of rolling along and, at this point, cannot be stopped, whether or not protestors want to admit it or not. If you use the internet, look for deals on things from far away, read blogs by Indian authors, enjoy Manga comics, anything really – then you are a part of it as well and to look backwards is to get nostalgic for a cultural museum. I bring this up because I’ve been reading a very interesting and illuminating book on the topic. I can’t say I agree with everything the author has to say and it is certainly coming from the direction of the more right-wing Republican doctrine of less government/tariffs/trade restrictions – more free market economy than I can agree with – but it puts forth a lot of interesting information that is helpful in illuminating how we got to where we are in this economic “meltdown” today.
The book is called “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” by Thomas L. Friedman and was published in 2000. Friedman draws some very clear parallels between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Communist structure itself and the rise of the internet and the global marketplace. In a post-WWII/Cold War world, markets were closed off to one another, communication was limited, and countries were able to put safe curtains around themselves. You never knew what was going on in another country, other than what your government told you and, as far as they were concerned, you were better off because of that. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the opening up of communication lines between nations, investors and individuals, people began to realize that they could expand their trade and, subsequently, improve their lives. We might want to say – oh the Amazon tribe or the African Bushman is better off without the TV or the cell phone or the computer but that is only because we have some kind of retrospective thinking and, while we are immersed in it one way or the other, the more technologically advanced cultures want to keep these “cultural museums”. As he says:
“With all due respect to revolutionary theorists, the “wretched of the earth” want to go to Disney World – not to the barricades. They want the magic Kingdom, not Les Miserables.”
Truth be told, whether we’ve seen the ugly face of consumeristic capitalism or not, of Mickey Mouse and Coca-Cola, we all saw it once for the first time and really really wanted to go there. Tell the shoeless hut-dweller in some remote region of the world that they are better off without your Chacos, ipod, Levi’s and Oakley’s and suddenly you’re going to look a whole lot like those “oppressors” that you rail against.
There are, of course, up sides and down sides to this emergence of a global market place. A down side: an oil company, because of loose trade restrictions, goes in and destroys some remote village, dumping toxic chemicals while veritably looting their raw materials. The good side: while this probably happened before the internet and cell phones – today we hear about it. Now there are bloggers and watchdogs and petitions that circulate within a matter of days and we can, with some effort, hold big business more accountable than ever before.
So this book goes on to talk about these sorts of things and just what happened when the mid-80’s brought about this complete planetary perspective shift. We who grew up then might not have realized it at the time, immersed in Transformers and MTV as we were, but the rest of the world was also looking at that MTV saying – I want a piece of that. So regulations got stripped, little by little, to give investors some elbow room so they could really move their money around and “get a piece of that”.
There was a Harvard economist on Jon Stewart the other night who talked about how we got into this global mess that we are in today. She likened it to slowly pulling the threads out of the regulatory system one by one. The checks and balances, the regulations and oversight, to the point where everyone was trading willy-nilly in this new free market economy that, free of ALL regulations was bound to crash. Basically, governments pulled the rug out from underneath capitalism and didn’t replace it with anything. So it fell. Now, I could rant for a while about how the unchecked growth that is the backbone of capitalism is, in a world with finite resources, doomed to fail, but that is another story.
Friedman goes on to discuss the trading of assets across borders and there is a bit of exuberant propheticness, as he goes on excitedly about how we can now trade anything including home loans:
“Lesley Goldwasser… explained how it works: ‘ Suppose you are a home mortgage company and you have a hundred home mortgages out in the local market at an outlay of a hundred million dollars bringing in a return of 1 million dollars a month in interest and principal payments. That mortgage company can issue them as bonds that you and I can buy for a thousand dollars each. The advantage to the mortgage company is that it can get its hundred million dollars back right away without having to wait for all these people to pay off their mortgages over thirty years. The advantage for the bondholders is that they are paid off by the cash flow from the interest and principal payments that come in each month… what’s more, the bonds will be backed up by actual homes and since there are usually several hundred in each bundle, even if a few default the odds are that most of the others will pay off their loans accordingly.'”
Sounds like a beautiful plan if you want to gamble with people’s homes! But people are inherently greedy and with regulations out the door, credit available like a disease and each guy just wanting to pass off his mortgages, bonds, or what have you to the next investor, this system began to tumble. Many people did default on their loans since, with credit so available it was easy enough to jack the price of the home up fair bit beyond its market value. Next thing you know – bigger companies had invested in this system and it was the driving force behind their business. As people defaulted, so did the money dry up, and so did businesses begin to fail. A big downside to the global market is that cheap labor elsewhere means no jobs here. No jobs means little income and little income means that, in the end, you can’t pay your mortgage an you won’t be paying off that new flat screen HDTV, the new Hummer or the credit card debts.
Globalization and the internet has created a sort of wild beast that we are only now beginning to gauge the scope of. There are plenty of good points – for myself, I can share my artwork with someone in Azerbaijan or Outer Mongolia – but the downside is that, for people who let money rule their lives, the quick and easy trading, the seemingly instantaneous results, and the lack of government oversight, has allowed them to lead the global economy into a pit that seems to be quite difficult to climb out of.
I left Violet at the lodge where her other philsophy friends from UCSD and UCI were having a sort of informal conference and drove up the road a piece to the Fuller Ridge Trail – drove up a twisting dirt road and parked at a gate. I started hiking… p and up. Into the still silence of nature abounding where there is no stillness but no incogruous sound, nthing is out of place. Bird song, bird anser. A woodpecker in the distance and another bird that zooms past me at breakneck speed. I sat for a while. Feeling my heart beating. My breath breathing. My joints and fingers and feet.
I hiked further and higher… into groves of towering Douglas Firs with long striations of bark in several dozen shades of brown and red and tan. I stood up close to it, my face inches from the bark and breathed in the musky woody scent, mingled with the cold mountain air. I felt it’s tall peace and, as I stood there, felt myself – the roots and branches and leaves and fruits of my being stretching to the sun and the center of the earth. Maybe I looked like the "tree-hugger" type but that issuch a misunderstood idea. A "tree-hugger" gets hugged back as well – bt beyond that I felt like i was meditating there with this tree that was more than several hundred years old. It’s bark attested to fires and storms that it has weathered – knobs and gnarls of knotted wood giving away where a brach was blown free in the wintertime and charred edges and the cetner charring – a tunnel within the tree that has been charred and blackened. I felt it and tasted it an thanked it. And moved on. I stuck my hand in the snow and stopped now and again to let my footsteps catch up with myself. And in that moment – the moment of being caught up – i found a center – and ever evolving moving changing and constant center.
I kept going. I was getting a bt light-headed- hungry maybe, low blood sugar, tired, maybe it was the altitutde but I hadn’t see my "spot" yet. I always find a "spot", a place to stop and brath and feel everything a place that is high up and I can feel all of the elements at once. I’d stopped at a few rock outcroppings and a few tall trees but they hadn’t been :"it" but then as I rounded a corner I saw an angled granite face lit by the sun and looking out on who knew what. I understood that to be y stopping point. There is never a destination – the journey and discoveries along way are all the purpose – but sometimes we find a spot – a place where we find ourselves a little more, a little deeper.
I climbed up atop that collection of giant boulders and had the valley and mountains spread out before me, dropping off steeply, surrounded by Douglas firs and other pines and brush, the clouds rolling away over head, a cold wind sweeping up from below and a warm sun that would peek out every now and again. All of life circling grandly and lovingly – look at us! feel us! feel yourself – my breath, my body, my spirit, my mind, my soul, my everything – all of this one vision, one illusion, one thought, one breath. I sighed a long long sigh, allowing for the fact that I would soon find myself back in my studio, back before my desk r my canvas. But I take a piece of back with me and I leave a piece of myself here.
After a while, I knew it was time to turn back. The wind and cold were beginning to bite and their bites were no longer playful. My light headedness had returned and it was still a five mile hike back. So I turned and ran, hopped, walked, hiked and occasionally cut between the switchbacks and took a tumbling gait down the arid sandy soil of sand and pine needles and dried oak leaves. I breahted, smiled, sighed and returrned to the car. Listening to Sun Electric’s 30.7.94 album I drove to a little general store, picked up a Cabernet and drove back in the setting sun, as it cast it’s glow over the pine, turning them a golden green, to the lodge where dinner would soon be served.
They say that Egypt was built on the backs of slaves for rich and powerful pharoahs. We marvel at their feats. These days, rising out of the desert, Dubai glistens like some sort of mirage in the desert. It too is a city being built on the backs of slaves, quite literally. over 300,000 slaves to be exact. Working and toiling under the ho desert sun, not begin paid, fed barely enough to survive… for the Shiek. Not much different than the ancient Egypt we learn about. And who is to stop it? It seems the slowly crumbling world economy is grinding the building and construction to a halt but…
I’ve learned about this from a truly well-written and interesting article here: The Dark Side of Dubai
I was recently talking with a friend about a few different businesses he is involved with. I’m not going to say what businesses or which friend as I don’t want to personalize it or create a sense of scapegoating. One business he spoke of as having a model based on a local/eco-friendly approach. Conversely, other business interests of his had no such vision. In this case the local/eco-friendly approach is done based simply on economic sense. People like to pay a higher price for the local/eco-friendly business instead of from a different business that doesn’t take the same sustainable approach. Being eco-friendly, in this case, is a matter of capitalist convenience. If more product could be sold by not being eco-friendly, such as other business interests of this same person, then there wouldn’t be a point in being eco-friendly in the first place.
It’s difficult for me to want to support such businesses. I have various reasons for wanting to support local, eco-friendly businesses when I can and if it’s not a local business then I hope for it to be conscious about it’s environmental impact and ecological footprint. The world is getting more crowded every day with fewer natural resources to sustain our consumption heavy lifestyles and the effects of our rampant consumerism are being felt in every corner of the globe. To take responsibility for this and change our business practices because it makes ethical sense rather than business sense is an important distinction.
I realize there are a lot of businesses who see the eco-friendly market as a giant cash cow eagerly being let to slaughter and I am glad for those businesses who at least make an effort to engage in sounder environmental practices, for whatever reason. However, it feels sometimes like people are simply waiting for when they are allowed go back to consuming willy-nilly at a discounted price with disregard for the consequences. Ignorance is easy while being responsible for our actions take more effort.
I’ve read about people claiming that this “recession”, this “economic slump” has gotten them to consume less. They are cutting back here or there; less buying, more repairing what they’ve got. Great! We’re being a little more frugal with our natural resources. But is this a period of agreed upon abstaining from gluttonous consumption or simply a forced diet that, the minute the economic tourniquet is lifted, the masses flood back to the stores in energy hungry vehicles and wallets burning holes in their pockets?
I go back to my friend – engaging in an eco-friendly business on the one hand because it is the business model of that enterprise and working on more environmentally mindless projects on the other hand because they make money and being eco-friendly is not a part of that business model. In my own opinion, any possible positive results of the first are outweighed by the disregard for responsibility of the other. At heart, he is a capitalist first and a responsible citizen of the earth second.
We are all in this together, as we like to remind ourselves over and over. Capitalism is about stepping on heads, deregulating trade, and every man for himself using whatever is a viable business model to get ahead. It’s ugly, destructive, and unsustainable. I welcome compassionate alternatives. An environmentally conscious business model is one that takes stock of it’s ecological footprint and does it’s best to trim the excess and find sustainable solutions not because it makes economic sense but because it makes ethical sense. When we look inside and examine those choices in the light of Awareness, hopefully they make it burn a little brighter, stretching our compassionate heart just a little wider. There is no room for compassion in a capitalism. Capitalism hardens our hearts. It’s hard to be compassionate when we know that our paycheck was earned by poisoning the planet just a little bit more. It’s always our choice and I’m hopeful that the compassionate spirit wins out, learns from it’s mistakes, and creates a healthier environment.
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