There is much talk of globalism nowadays. I like this, as it is us coming to grips with our shared human situation. At the same time, much of the talk of globalism – pro and con – is confusing, because it blurs together so many different concepts of globalism.
I believe the 21st century is the dawn of a new era of human life. Future generations will look at this time the way we now look back to the Axial Age in the 5th century BC, or the Islamic middle ages, or the Western Enlightenment. But a new era means the conceptual framework for that era is also in its infancy, and so many of the concepts and distinctions that will be natural to people living in 2100 or later are for us still in their fledgling form.
Globalism is one such concept. There are so many things it means. Some we are already living with and are non-negotiable parts of our lives. Some we might want but don’t have. Some we are not sure we want or can have. And some which we probably don’t want or is impossible at any rate.
Natural science globalism (Already here): In thinking about quantum mechanics or how the body works, it doesn’t matter in the least what one’s national or cultural identities are. All one needs is to be part of the conversation of science. Also true for technology. This kind of globalism started several millennia ago, but really ramped up in the last two centuries. The global infrastructure of the natural science and technological communities binds all of us now.
Human science globalism (Started and in early stages): This is trickier. There are obvious senses in which fields like psychology, anthropology and economics apply to all human beings, and they have developed in the last 100 years. And yet, these areas concern our modes of life that are fully cultural – which raises the question whether we have an understanding of ourselves as human beings which is global. That such a global understanding is possible in some sense and necessary, I don’t doubt. But what it means to have it is a big, wide open issue. For example, what does it mean to have a global human history, since the dawn of hominids to the present? Big history as a field attempts to tell such a story (humans from hunter gatherers to agricultural age to industrial age to beyond), and surely this is deeply right in some sense. But still, the question hangs in the air: is human history the kind of thing which can have just one narrative?
Philosophy-wisdom-religion globalism (Just starting): Philosophy aims to reflect on issues which pertain to all humans as humans. Same with wisdom and religion. Every culture has, and has had, some form of philosophical thinking. So what does a global philosophy look like, which incorporates the philosophical and wisdom traditions of Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Australia and the Americas? No one knows. Collectively, we have a breadth of knowledge of traditions which was not there for previous generations. Yet, individually, no know so far has managed to integrate anything like a truly global perspective of philosophy. The Axial age 2,500-3,000 years ago was when humans developed the very idea of a global philosophy – something which applies irrespective of culture, gender, race, etc. Zoroaster, Socrates, Buddha, Christ – there was a universal scope to their views which heralded a global perspective. But it is one thing to make a universal claim, another to truly achieve it. 3,000 years after the dawn of modern religion and philosophy, we are entering a century which might take the next steps forward.
A global culture (Developing in one sense; impossible in another): Sometimes this is meant as if all local cultures are going to merge into one, mega, global culture. In one sense, insofar as people of all backgrounds are living and interacting together, this is in progress. But in another sense, this is far fetched and impossible. There isn’t going to be one culture – Human culture – which all humans will partake of, such that divisions between peoples will disappear. This idea vastly under-estimates the necessity of difference in human identity. There is not going to be one global culture – one way that people of all background will coexist – but there will be innumerable global cultures – many ways that of coming together to embrace global perspectives. A global era will be defined not by a kumbaya unity, but by the arguments/differences/contrasts of different ways of having a global perspective.
We are already seeing this in our politics. Contra liberals who see Trump as just the id of past racism, Trump is ushering in a new era with its disagreements about what taking a global perspective means – who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, who should “we” be friends with, what are the issues on the global stage. What is developing are the contours of the debates of the coming century – debates about how to interpret and cultivate the reality that all nations are in some deep sense intertwined. We are all starting to understand ourselves as one big, global family. But, of course, families are filled with strife about themselves, and that is where we are headed.
Intra-national globalism (Developing): Globalism is often taken to mean a perspective on the whole globe. But there is another sense of globalism that has formed in the last fifty years. This sense contrasts with racial nationalism, which claims that nations are defined by a racial and cultural identity. Opposed to this is what might be called pluralist nationalism, which defines a nation mainly in terms of its laws and citizenship, and is compatible with pluralism of cultures, values, races and backgrounds.
A racial nationalist like Richard Spencer conflates Inter-national globalism with Intra-national globalism. The idea being that if American becomes a true melting pot of cultures, there is some international network of globalists who are trying to make this happen. Of course, that is not true. Even if American ends immigration altogether, there is still the fact that its existing citizens come from a great variety of cultures and backgrounds. Diverse Americans living together suggests a globalness, though it is not something that goes beyond national boundaries.
* Politics – Institutions
Global government (To be determined): The above kinds of globalism are compatible with their not being any global government. But should there be a global government. Many opponents of globalism see this as the big bug bear of globalism. As if any move towards pluralism or diversity is a move towards a global government, which is then seen as fascist. Paranoia aside, there is still a big open question of what global governance can mean, and how feasible it is. Diversity as in intra-national globalism above is already a big issue. How can it be navigated at the inter-national level? Also, how to do so without further separating the majority of people from the power in the hands of the ultra-rich?
Open-borders globalism (To be determined): This is another big worry for the anti-globalists. As if embracing globalism in any form immediately implies leveling any boundaries between nations. It doesn’t help when proponents of diversity affirm the same implication. Perhaps this is the future. Perhaps not. But this is not implied by globalism as such, and not even if there is a global government. Open borders globalism is ultimately a balance between the right to self-determination (the right to, say, have a border wall) with the claims of morality and human decency (if people are seeking asylum or escaping disasters in their previous country). This is really tied to…
Disaster globalism (Imminent for all; already a reality for some): A big natural disaster which wipes out a major city, or a small country. Or nuclear war. Or artificial intelligence turns rogue. Or aliens. Well, maybe that last one won’t happen soon. But the others are real possibilities in the coming decades. At which point globalism in its starkest form – all countries on Earth working together to face a common problem – will go from being a hippie fantasy to an urgent reality. When that times comes, the more ground work we have laid for a global perspective – not just logistically and economically, but also intellectually, socially and philosophically – the better off we will be. Otherwise, we will have to fight the reality even as we continue to fight each other and our own habits of more local ways of thinking.
* The Future
Teleological globalism (Will be what we make of it): Perhaps the most basic form of globalism is the sense that all humans are headed towards a common goal. Whether this is in the form of a religious heaven, or a Hegelian or Marxist future state, or a Nietzschean or Aurobindoesque post-human consciousness, this teleological end is not guaranteed by nature. We might become extinct, or head back to a post-apocalyptic hunter-gather stage. But such a teleological end is part of our own shared consciousness as human beings. Not in the sense of where nature is inevitably taking us. But in the sense of: where do we want to go ourselves? What do we want to make of ourselves? What future do we want? What obstacles and what lower forms of consciousness do we want to overcome?
Though they are our ancestors, we cannot now imagine or inhabit the consciousness of hunter-gatherers 100,000 years ago. We have come a long way since then. Our genes might be basically the same, and so might our brains. But our culture, our habits, our social, cognitive infrastructure has changed deeply, and along with it, our modes of awareness, self-reflection and understanding of the world. But there is so much more we do not know, and so much more love and care we can nurture in our lives and interactions. We are not the end point of human cultural evolution. We are but a stage. And our shared journey beyond our current stage binds us together, as we grow together towards the potential of a greater, more heightened awareness.