• Cluttering Barnett’s blog…

    by  • August 22, 2007 • The Global Picture • 0 Comments

    A long comment I should have made a blog post to begin with.

    Tom, yes, I may well have missed your point, but I do think that it’s worth noting just how differently these things look.

    In the 20th century, the West went completely insane, and the madness was contagious. First you have WW1, which was insane and obscene – trench warfare… my god, what *happened* to people that they were willing to do this to each other? Where was the sense of honor which had been so much of a part of war, at least in theory?

    Then WW2… Just… more insanity. Then death camps and gulags, and the ever-present fear that the USA and USSR would **destroy the planet.**

    I mean, did you ever think about how that period of time looked from the outside? To have to supposedly civilized West threatening to ruin the entire planet for all of the other human beings in their insane wars?

    Something was **seriously wrong** with the west at a political level for about a century. So wrong that you were willing to destroy the planet for the rest of us over *how your societies divided up scarcity.*

    I don’t mean to rant here, but this is really really important: the west is contaminated with the 20th century and the things that the cultures did and went through in that period. And this madness has proven to be contagious, at least in China. However you think the line of transmission goes from Marx to Mao, we can at least say “inspiration.”

    I feel like this context is entirely missing from debates over globalization. The other thing that is missing is any serious appreciation of the environmental impact of economic growth, and the degree to which globalization rests upon the availability of cheap labor and international trade agreements which favor the industrialized nations over the rest.

    Can [globalization] really work for everybody?

    Right now, we have about 2 billion people in the “rich” niche, and four billion poor. We’ve already maxed out certain kinds of resource availability – oil, most notably, but also some of the rarer metals, and of course the questions of ecosystem carrying capacity not just for carbon, but for sulphur and other misc. air and other pollution.

    4 billion more rich people? Doubling or tripling the number of available “jobs” – i.e. roles in the economic system other than “subsistence agriculturalist”?

    Do I really believe this?

    I’m not sure. Maybe.

    Similar issues about the stability of capitalism – we’ve seen it crash once, during the Great Depression. Now we have another round of wobbles over sub-prime, which is just a tremor, but clearly indicates that The Big One is still a possibility. The global financial system is not absolutely stable.

    So I guess what I’m reacting to here is the core assumption that the West has something which can be exported, and something which scales to a planetary level safely. I think I see problems in terms of environment, and in terms of the inherent stability of the global financial markets.

    Are those resolvable? Maybe not until the west *learns* to stop placing immediate, short-term benefit over long term goals.

    You still have nuclear arsenals capable of sterilizing the planet. How can we take your political thinking seriously when it generates this kind of insanity? The threat to destroy all life rather than lose a war? Who would even *think* such a thing?

    This is what we mean when we say white people are crazy, and it’s contagious. You have a breakdown in fundamental rationality about a lot of basic things in the west, and I’m not sure that it’s progress.

    I mean, I’m taking a somewhat exaggerated version of my actual position here – leaving out a lot of the counterbalancing points which are actually parts of my own argument here, just for the sake of sharp counterpoint – but this is the rational of the people who are knee-jerk anti-globalization a lot of times. It’s seldom put into words, but that basic feeling of “there’s something dangerous wrong with these people” is very strong and based on relatively recent behavior.

    That’s kind of why I flared when you talked about exporting western political thought to India as “growing up.” It’s more like spreading a disease.

    Again, I’m sorry if this is a rant, and I know that you like your blog to be a place of constructive and reasoned argument – if you like I’ll post this at home as a blog post, and you can comment there if you like, or we could take it to email.

    flattr this!


    Vinay Gupta is a consultant on disaster relief and risk management.


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