All Connected Now
Walter Truett Anderson
FUTURECASTS online magazine
Vol. 4, No. 6, 6/1/02.
| With "All
Connected Now: Life in the First Global Civilization," Anderson
provides a broad survey of the globalization process. He goes beyond the usual
economic aspects - and even beyond the political and social aspects - to cover
biological, epidemiological, ecological, and information aspects as well. He
offers a description of accelerating processes of change - wisely avoiding
predictions of ultimate outcomes.
Perhaps even more than the explosive growth and availability of information, the increase in interconnection - in links between economic, political, cultural and biological systems - is driving a complex array of changes in many ways that are beyond our understanding.
The division of
the book into four separate categories of globalization - economic, political,
cultural, and ecological/biological - is for purposes of analysis and
presentation only. In reality, these aspects of globalization are all thoroughly
interrelated and inseparable - "all of a piece." For example,
ecosystems are being constantly changed at an accelerating rate as things move
about the world. They are "altered and re-altered by interactions of human
economics, human politics, human culture."
Plants, animals and microorganisms now
rapidly commute about the world - diseases emerge from longtime confinement
in limited regions - and global climate change, ozone depletion, ocean pollution
and species extinction are all evidence of the extent to which every individual
is impacted by the activities of everyone else. New technologies spread rapidly. Increasingly, people all over the
world are becoming aware of influences on a global scale.
"Creative destruction" undermines companies, governments, cultures, ecosystems, lifestyles. It generates anti globalization forces - and vast new opportunities for those alert enough to recognize and take advantage of them.
We have entered an age of open systems, Anderson emphasizes.
The political and economic implications are clear. A
globalized world requires more global policymaking. A world of open boundaries
requires new awareness of new possibilities and problems. "Creative
destruction" undermines companies, governments, cultures, ecosystems,
lifestyles. It generates anti globalization forces - and vast new opportunities
for those alert enough to recognize and take advantage of globalization.
| By the end of the 20th century, the
existence of a global civilization "was an obvious reality, as a result of
escalating changes in the world's economic, political, cultural, and biological
systems and, no less important, increasing recognition of such changes."
Man no longer treads lightly upon the earth - and is increasingly aware of his environmental impacts - and of the environmental interconnections of the globe and all its life systems.
Anderson provides a brief review of these changes. The end of the Cold War and the appearance of new information and communication technologies greatly accelerated the process.
|International trade linkages have a long tradition. Human trade is evident throughout human history (and prehistory, too). For the last two centuries, trade policy has been torn between protectionist and free trade arguments and interests.
Trade liberalization and technological advances since WW-II have together removed barriers to international commerce. Multinational corporations proliferated and grew in importance. The end of the Cold War permitted a great expansion of globalizing trends. Although many barriers remain, the current system "is the most open system that has ever existed."
Money pegged to gold has been replaced by money pegged to the dollar and other hard currencies which are, in turn, pegged by market disciplines more ruthless and uncompromising than the gold standard abandoned in 1973. The softest currencies are left to float at the mercy of merciless markets - with ruinous rates of inflation whenever discipline flags. "All countries are now on what financier Walter Wriston has aptly termed the 'information standard' - and on it whether they want to be or not."
| Global governance is an increasingly
elaborate "system of systems." It is largely unplanned and constantly
evolving - although planned and official initiatives remain an important part of
the process. Few people are even aware of more than a few aspects of the global
governance complex - and even fewer have even a general understanding of it.
The increasing points of international interconnection combined with the inevitable emerging of new problems and conflicts, inevitably generate new arrangements of governance to deal with them.
Nation states "remain the key element of the global
system." Starting at the end of the 19th century, an increasing number of
international regulatory arrangements and agencies were created for the
transnational management and control of economic, social and cultural processes.
These were joined by military treaties, associations based on prior
imperial influence, various regional groupings of nations, and broader international governmental organizations like the
UN and WTO.
International human rights:
Internationally recognized human rights is a concept that "has not yet fully displaced the old one of national sovereignty and power politics." However, it has clearly made great strides, and Anderson is confident it will eventually be widely established and will "create a global civilization worthy of the name."
"Pluralism" describes a world of cultural open systems, in which we are far from neutral about our values and beliefs and arts and customs, in which all cultures continually change and interpenetrate, and in which no culture is nearly as pure or separate as purists and separatists would like to believe.
Global culture is a process of transition - proceeding from traditional cultures to cultural "hybridizations" that are infinitely variable in content and direction.
The internationalization of sports is a primary example of cultural
globalization, and "language interpenetration" is one of its most
significant. Responses to this diverse phenomenon vary widely. Especially in the
religious context - but also in tribal and ethnic contexts - fundamentalists
battle - sometimes fiercely - to block and even reverse this process.
International civil society:
NGOs spread concepts of self governance since members govern their own organizations.
The spread of voluntary international
nongovernmental organizations operating on democratic principles spreads
concepts of individualism since people join as individuals rather than as
members of tribes or communities. It also spreads concepts of self governance
since members are responsible for working out their own systems of
organizational governance. It also spreads concepts of world citizenship -
"a sense of being a member of the global polity with a right, even a moral
obligation, to take some active part in it."
Internationally impacted biosphere:
Man has become the major force in the "never-ending process of transformation" inherent in ecosystems.
Man has for millennia been
transporting other life forms - both deliberately and accidentally - as he
travels about the globe. He has become the major force in the "never-ending process of transformation" inherent in ecosystems.
Anderson provides an extensive chapter on the characteristics, benefits and
problems of this process. What is new is its modern acceleration.
International information flows:
The information revolution has produced something quite new: "(1) the knowledge that an extensive and growing system of global communications exists and (2) the idea that information is something of value."
The familiar ground of modern information technology and global information systems, and their manifold impacts on all aspects of modern life, are outlined. The information revolution has extensively altered governance and cultures and traditional economic activities like agriculture, industry and services. However, it has also produced something quite new: "(1) the knowledge that an extensive and growing system of global communications exists and (2) the idea that information is something of value."
A brief historic review of the previous advances in information and
communications technology based on telegraphy and its impacts is provided.
Mechanical telegraphy using extensive strings of semaphore or signal light
towers preceded electrical telegraphy. Both had important economic, political
and cultural impacts. "So electronically based economic globalization
was well underway by the second half of the nineteenth century."
Now, a new realm - "cyberspace" - has been opened up for people to access, use, and deal with. Autocratic governments have been trying in a variety of ways to control the content of what their citizens can access. Democratic governments have been wrestling with the problems of where to draw lines between legal and illegal content.
The author duly recognizes that there will be bumps in the road of communications development - such as the overreaching of the Iridium satellite system.
This is a third industrial revolution -- following the first based on the steam engine and the second based on electrification -- and "even more than the first two, [it] is a force of globalization."
Biotechnology and bioengineering:
With respect to biological and ecological developments, the impact of information technology is especially profound. Real time ecological data from observation satellites is now available worldwide - a "cyber-Gaia" phenomenon. The availability of medical expertise and epidemiological information are similarly improved. A revolution in genetic science proceeds at accelerating rates. Vast amounts of data are accumulated, made available and analyzed.
New levels of complexity in organic life are revealed "somewhat as physicists' exploration of the atom revealed new levels of complexity there."
Anderson somewhat inconsistently notes that those with access to the data have become "surprisingly diverse" - including not just governments and multinational corporations, but "grassroots environmental groups, and indigenous peoples" as well.
Biotechnology and bioengineering are thus poised for dramatic -
and sometimes controversial - development. Genomics has already progressed to
proteomics, and the results increasingly impact both economic goods and
processes and medical services. New levels of complexity in organic life are
revealed "somewhat as physicists' exploration of the atom revealed new
levels of complexity there." Anderson briefly summarizes some of the
widespread and spectacular possibilities, as well as some of the dangers and
Anderson covers gene banks - globalized public health concerns
and efforts - and remote sensing systems such as observation satellites and
underwater microphone systems. He somewhat inconsistently notes that those with
access to the data have become "surprisingly diverse" - including not
just governments and multinational corporations, but "grassroots
environmental groups, and indigenous peoples" as well. (As usual,
egalitarian concerns concerning access have proved both overstated and
| New communications links have made possible
more flexible organizational responses from
both public and private entities. Downsizing, stripping away layers of middle management,
contracting out, and expanded use of networks and task forces are among the
techniques improving productivity and the availability of "client centered"
Business - driven and guided by its "bottom line" objective criteria - is perforce at the forefront of the organizational revolution.
More than ever - as capitalism evolves - the customer becomes king. The desires of individual customers drive the policies of huge corporations.
Accelerated data flows must be assimilated in a constant learning
process and responded to flexibly with pertinent structural and functional
changes. "Such organizations are said to be 'flatter,' less hierarchical,
more like information networks, with permeable and flexible boundaries."
| The broad transformations in international governance
processes are reviewed by Anderson. "The nation-state continues to be a
key element" in the global system. However, functions shift constantly on
pragmatic lines - devolved to local entities or outsourced to private entities
or delegated to international entities. National and local decisions are
increasingly impacted by
other states and "nonstate actors."
Some NGOs perform noble works - with great efficiency and effectiveness. Others are obstructionist and incompetent and parasitic.
A "global civil society" - including organizations
and individuals of all kinds - without official authorization - increasingly
find ways to shape local and national government policies and world events - for
good or ill. Modern media and communications are used to bypass government
channels and sufficiently influence popular opinion to force policy
The national myth is presented by Anderson as primarily a combination of ethnic ties and geographic ties. He notes that the notion of blood ties often breaks down.
National identity is now accompanied by an increasing array of other "communities, networks, and placeless villages that create new kinds of social cohesion, new grounds for defining personal identity, and also on occasion, new flavors of parochialism."
The geographic dimensions of nationhood, he contends, "are as symbolic as the others," since most people are unfamiliar with much of the geography of their own nations. The cultural aspects, too, are clearly artificial. The "system opening process" engendered in recent decades raises questions about the "naturalness" of nations.
Anderson recognizes that Kurds, Kosovars, Israelis and Palestinians,
and many others, still view their well being as intimately tied to their
national or lack of national status. (This view is obviously correct.)
| The concept of "global village" is thus at best
a half truth. It is still the nation state whose laws provide protection for the
rights of this diversity and that "remains the best remedy for most of the
challenges posed by diversity." And the new social order is quite different
from the old parochial "village." It is "newer, problematic, and
a lot more interesting."
Possibilities of globalization:
| The prevalent ideological divides of
the modern world are reviewed by
Anderson. There is the right-left divide of neo liberals advocating relatively free
trade and minimalist governance versus statists seeking global institutional
governance. There is the globalist-tribalist divide of fundamentalism versus globalization.
And there are various gradations and permutations among each of them.
The "globalist right" is presented by Anderson as populated by dynamic, confident people with a Darwinian view of those left behind. This assumes that, because there are big winners in globalization, there must also be "big losers."
The "globalist left" - or "third way" - is
presented as combining the dynamism of globalism with a host of welfare state,
environmental and labor protection policies.
|Arrayed against globalization remains nationalist, protectionist and fundamentalist forces, as well as a disparate pessimistic antiglobalist left that continues its fight against capitalism even though the collapse of socialism leaves it with no real alternatives. The latter gain real influence by alliance with protectionist forces seeking to block globalizing changes that threaten vested interests.
However, the spread of various forms of capitalism and democracy continues fitfully onwards - creating "a new era of global conflict and cooperation."
| Anderson presents three examples of the challenges
facing the global community. These are "whole-system problems"
requiring "whole-system responses" that join all in "a single
community of fate." Climate change, the AIDS epidemic, and population
impacts are worldwide phenomena. World wide, there have been a wide variety of
responses - a messy mix rather than a series of neat policy responses.
| A cornucopia - or puzzlement - of choices is presented
to people by this world of accelerating change, increasingly open
systems, and complex interconnections at many levels. Choices can liberate or
overwhelm. However, choices bring only frustration for peoples lacking the
freedom to even make them.
Freedom is thus a key for dealing with the multitude of problems of change and complexity and for taking advantage of the cornucopia of opportunities.
Freedom is thus a key for dealing with the multitude of problems
of change and complexity and for taking advantage of the cornucopia of
opportunities. Anderson accepts the notion put forth by economist Amartya Sen
that there are five distinct types of pertinent freedom.
Using the terms "freedoms" or "investments" to define social welfare programs doesn't change their real character as budgetary expenditures - it can't change the real problems governments have in providing them.
Propaganda myths can confuse intellectual discourse in minor or major ways for years.
A wide variety of
more or less permeable "borders" - political, religious, class,
geographical, societal, etc. - limit and sometimes block these freedoms. The degree of openness of these borders is a matter
of constant political, military, legal, religious and societal strife.
The global governance system is "multicentric." There are multiple centers and layers of power and function. Although increasingly interconnected and interdependent and complex, "we are not even remotely close to establishing an authoritative central government or even a popularly elected global parliament." Instead, "many different systems and different kinds of systems" interact - "like the multiple organisms in an ecosystem."
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Copyright © 2002 Dan Blatt