Google analytics

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Globalization and its discontents

by John MacBeath Watkins

One of the villains of the conspiracy buffs is the Bilderberg Group, a bunch of influential people who meet together to discuss an agenda to "bolster a consensus around free market Western capitalism and its interests around the globe."

Denis Healey, one of the group's founders, said of it, "Those of us in Bilderberg felt we couldn't go on forever fighting one another for nothing and killing people and rendering millions homeless. So we felt that a single community throughout the world would be a good thing."

Now, that sounds reasonable, doesn't it? So why are they villains? I mean, aside from the fact they ignore, which is that only people who interact with each other fight (World War I happened at a peak in international trade and travel, so the notion that you can achieve world peace through trade and internationalism is suspect to start with.)

Well, a lot of people are not comfortable with the idea of a single community throughout the entire world. It would, after all, make existing groups obsolete. For example, if you are British, and consider Britishness inexorably linked to being white and speaking English with a certain range of accents, you might be uncomfortable with the open borders policy of the European Union, and vote to exit it.

Or, if you are American and consider whiteness and Christianity to be essential to Americanism, you might be uncomfortable with Muslims, or with allowing people from Latin America to immigrate.

There are other issues, of course. You may oppose free trade because you see too much of what you buy being made in other countries. You may oppose immigration because you think your wages are suppressed by competing with immigrants for jobs.

But the biggest problem might just be that you feel your identity is threatened, what it means to be a part of your tribe. I've described this before as ethnic panic, a psychological reaction similar to homosexual panic, in which someone snaps because a homosexual makes an advance to them and they respond violently because they are faced with their own suppressed homosexual desires.

As in homosexual panic, the person suffering from ethnic panic is faced with an identity they are uncomfortable with, for example, an identity in which you can be American, gay, brown, and Muslim. The more America looks like the world, the more the identity of American as being white and Christian is lost.

I say good riddance to it, but then, I lived abroad as a child, and have a different relationship to identity than many Americans.

Now, consider this idea in the context of Sigmund Freud's Civilization and its Discontents. Freud argued that there is a natural tension between the individual and civilization.

He said that the development of the ego in differentiating one's self from the world around us, toward an erotic interaction with the world in which we seek to maximize the pleasure principle, doing that which nature intended by doing what feels good, puts us in conflict with society. This is because we must suppress our desires in order to have a stable, working society. We cannot, for example, have sex with whomever we please, because it might not please them (or their mate.)

We sublimate our desires because we have a need for order and protection. Infants, after all, need the father's protection as much as the mother's nurturing, in the Freudian scheme of things.

Compare this to liberal theory: Humanity in the state of nature is free, but cannot exercise freedom because of all those other assholes trying to exercise their freedom on the food you wish to eat and the mate you wish to take. The only way to resolve this is with a social contract that reigns in the individual so that they may have freedom from the war of each against all, and to enforce that social contract, they need the leviathan, who has the power to enforce laws.

In short, Freud's theory is liberalism plus psychology, which gives us a way to look at the issue of identity within civilizations.

Most of the progress in civilization has consisted of a broadening definition of who belongs to our group. To a hunter-gatherer from 10,000 years ago, the notion that there could be 325 million people in the world would have been unimaginable, let along there being 325 million people in a tribe called "American." Rome became immensely powerful in its day in part because you didn't have to be from the seven hills of Rome to be a Roman citizen. Allowing those who joined them to become Roman soon meant that Rome had more people and larger armies than their enemies.

But progress can leave people feeling dislocated. Foreigners joining the tribe can make people wonder what defines the tribe. And if the new members are very different, people can suffer from unease. They can feel that the tribe is changing, and their own definition of the identity "American" (or, for that matter, Iraqi) is being left behind. Even well short of a violent reaction to ethnic panic, they may suffer a discontent with the changing face of their nation.

Of course, there are other aspects of the current discontent in our nation. Part of the reaction to immigrants is connected with the fact that white men in this country haven't seen real wages rise in real terms since about 1973. And those who have actually been getting the money -- the very rich -- have managed to avert a rebellion against themselves by blaming the "other" -- all those people who do not meet the definition of what it means to be American that so many people have in their minds.

The real reason real wages haven't risen has more to do with something I've written about before, the political movement to create inequality. The grievance is real, and seeing manufacturing go to other countries enforces the idea that globalism is the problem, but solving the problem of more and more money going to the people at the top of the income stream does not necessarily mean getting rid of globalization, and getting rid of it won't solve the problem of inequality. Getting real wages to rise is a separate question.

Both the economic grievance and the discontent over the changing identity of the nation are real problems, not just excuses for bigotry, as some liberals suppose. Granted, bigots may find common cause with people suffering from this discontent and grievance.

The line between discontent and prejudice can be hard to define. If you think you need to keep African Americans from voting to defend your identity, for example, you've crossed that line. My feeling is that both bigots and economic elites have been exploiting people with real problems to advance their agendas.

They still await real solutions.

No comments:

Post a Comment