Globalization, Technology, and Identity

By:  Trevor Jones, Co-Founder Lynx Global Intelligence

 

I recently read the following, written by Jin Liqun, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in The Economist:

“Those inside a nation tend to share core beliefs. But globalization has brought varying cultures, values and beliefs into contact in ways that were not possible before. New values can be interpreted as a threat to one’s way of life. Whether newcomers integrate or not can determine whether the threat is merely perceived or becomes real”

The passage is only four sentences long, but deserves to be unpacked for its deep insight.

“Those inside a nation tend to share core beliefs”

We are witnessing a return to great power politics, something political scientists have long presumed would happen. Oftentimes it is the norms that Mr. Jin writes about, that can drive ideological divisions and conflict. The Cold War is a great example of how ideological, rather than material means, can drive prolonged global divisions.

“But globalization has brought varying cultures, values and beliefs into contact in ways that were not possible before”

For most of human history, the scope of travel and the awareness it brings would have been fairly local. Indeed, most human beings live close to their family or birthplace, but technology has brought the world to them. A trip to the Middle East and Asia takes time, money and planning. But the inundation of information wrought by social media makes experiencing aspects of cultures around the world easy. Too easy, perhaps, when entire societies can be distilled and labelled by a Tweet.

“New values can be interpreted as a threat to one’s way of life”

All humans have ingrained in their biology, a friendliness to the in-group and caution toward the out-group. This helped assess friend from foe quickly in our evolutionary past, but societal conditions have quickly outgrown our biology. When a perceived out-group (a group alien to one’s beliefs) is present, populism and protectionism become de rigeuer, while globalism and tolerance are diminished.

“Whether newcomers integrate or not can determine whether the threat is merely perceived or becomes real”

Of the four sentences, this is the one nations can best control. By affecting how we view the “other” in society, we create friends or further threat. All nations have a right to control their borders, but fear of the out-group, and blaming them for internal policy failures, is a tried-and-true method of expediting economic demise. The Spanish Empire experienced this after kicking Muslim descendants out of the country. From the Wikipedia description the Spanish Expulsion: “Fighting wars in the Americas, and feeling threatened by the Turks raiding along the Spanish coast, it seems the expulsions were a reaction to a perceived internal problem of the stretched Spanish Empire”.

It would seem the Spanish became fearful of the out-group after stretching their resources too far and failing on internal policy.  Sound familiar?

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