Perspective: The Exigencies of Globalization

In Brief: 

Bahá'u'lláh warned that the dynamics of fusing the peoples of the world into one race would be cataclysmic.

The negative effects of globalization can be softened only through new and higher levels of international cooperation and consultation, filtered through a new system of moral values that puts human welfare and social justice ahead of the predominantly materialistic paradigm currently in vogue.

Currently in international circles there is a great debate over globalization and whether it is a force for good or bad. That statement oversimplifies the matter, of course. But the issue of globalization and our collective response to it promises to define who prospers and who does not well into the 21st century.

As a term, globalization means different things to different people. To some, it is a purely economic trend, the result of the market system unleashed on a worldwide scale, a century-long process that has now been vastly accelerated by the fall of Communism and the relaxation of other restrictive economic practices.

To others, it defines the ever widening process of international interchange and interconnection that can be witnessed in so many aspects of life, whether the casual observation that top musical artists draw increasingly on other cultures for their melodies and rhythms, the news that former enemies are now participating in joint peacekeeping missions, or the epiphanic realization that there are suddenly many more foreign faces and accents in your hometown than before.

No matter what the definition, globalization is dynamic and real, causing numerous and often radical changes in all but the most remote places. Depending on your point of view, circumstance and prospects, the process can be seen as hugely positive - or grossly negative.

Those who defend globalization say it is bringing prosperity to untold millions around the world, breaking down national and cultural barriers, and helping to speed the general process of peace-building.

Critics say that the chaotic manner in which market forces have scaled up to the global level has unleashed a destructive whirlwind that treats workers callously, serves too often to further impoverish the poor at the expense of the rich, and wreaks vast amounts of environmental destruction. They say that its side effects are equally horrific, ranging from the spread of AIDS and drug abuse to the creation of a world monoculture that destroys local traditions and squelches diversity.

At the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, nations of the world took note of this dualism: "Globalization, which is a consequence of increased human mobility, enhanced communications, greatly increased trade and capital flows, and technological developments, opens new opportunities for sustained economic growth and development of the world economy, particularly in developing countries. Globalization also permits countries to share experiences and to learn from one another's achievements and difficulties, and promotes a cross-fertilization of ideals, cultural values and aspirations. At the same time, the rapid processes of change and adjustment have been accompanied by intensified poverty, unemployment and social disintegration. Threats to human well-being, such as environmental risks, have also been globalized."

Inasmuch as the pain caused by some aspects of globalization is undeniable, the real issue is whether the negative effects of its sweeping processes can be ameliorated - and the positive effects enhanced. Because, without doubt, the forward march of globalization itself is unstoppable.

Both of these points - that globalization is inevitable and that we must now turn to managing it - can best be explored by considering the forces underlying it.

Here again, there is a debate. Some say that the motive power behind globalization is primarily economics, the result of market system forces operating on a global scale. Others point to technology as the driving force, arguing that the steady introduction of such inventions as the telephone, the television, the microchip, the computer and the Internet have burst through the barriers of time, distance and nationality. And then there are those who point to historical factors, suggesting that the catastrophic events of this century, from its two world wars to the rise and fall of Marxism, colonialism, and so on, have provided a vast crucible for the mixing and fusing of the earth's peoples.

Any analysis of globalization must consider all these factors. In the Bahá'í view, however, there is yet another dimension, not so commonly considered, that nevertheless underlies all. It is the spiritual dimension.

Bahá'ís believe religion has been the motive force in human history, responsible for the ever increasing integration of human society and its advancing civilization. In this view, religion is understood as the successive and progressive revelation of God's will to humanity through the Messengers that have founded the world's great faiths.

Bahá'u'lláh, the most recent of these Divine Messengers, wrote a century ago that humanity has entered a new age of human oneness and interdependence. This has come about, He said, because God, "the All-Merciful, cherisheth in His heart the desire of beholding the entire human race as one soul and one body."

As Bahá'ís understand it, then, the development of a global civilization will be the result of this spiritual imperative, part of a process by which the Creator moves His creation toward higher levels of unity and advancement. And present processes of globalization are indeed breaking down many of humanity's outmoded concepts of particularistic separation and superiority, whether over matters of class, race or nationalism.

Yet Bahá'u'lláh warned that the dynamics of fusing the peoples of the world into one race would be cataclysmic. "The signs of impending convulsions and chaos can now be discerned, inasmuch as the prevailing Order appeareth to be lamentably defective," He wrote. "Soon will the present-day order be rolled up and a new one spread out in its stead."

Bahá'u'lláh also indicated that the negative effects of this revolution, which can be likened to the demolition of an old building in preparation for the erection of a new structure, can be mitigated. The key is for humanity to recognize, understand, and begin to live in accordance with the new spiritual laws and principles that govern our age.

Among such new spiritual laws and principles are: the necessity for trustworthiness and honesty as guiding principles in all human interactions; the need to recognize in all spheres fundamental human oneness, a oneness that requires the end of all prejudices over matters of race, class or nationality and that mandates full equality between women and men; and the importance of taking strong and meaningful steps to erase great disparities of wealth and poverty.

Bahá'u'lláh also called for the creation of new institutions at the world level - institutions that might be said to give "consciousness" to a rapidly unifying humanity. Among other things, He called for the creation of a new system of world governance, based on the principle of collective security, in which the nations of the world would unite against any and all aggression - and work together cooperatively to end poverty and oppression. He also emphasized the importance of local governance - clearing the way for the establishment of a system that will simultaneously address problems at both the global and local levels.

The negative effects of globalization can be softened only through new and higher levels of international cooperation and consultation, filtered through a new system of moral values that puts human welfare and social justice ahead of the predominantly materialistic paradigm currently in vogue. Call this global governance. Call it world government. But one way or the other, the forces of globalization will require the creation of some sort of international super authority, one that can ensure that human rights and workers' prerogatives are upheld, and that the environment is protected, as globalization proceeds.

This point becomes most clear if we return to the analogy of Bahá'u'lláh, that the human race is rapidly becoming "one soul and one body." To stop short of creating such a world authority, to say that the current loose association of nations can adequately protect the majority of humanity from the harsh side effects of globalization, is equivalent to suggesting that a body can function without a brain.