Globalization and War

I thought I might put in my own two cents (uninvited) on ZenPundit’s roundtable topic, Globalization and War. First, a definition might be in order. Globalization is the idea that, as a result of increasing linkages in modern communications, trade, and social contact that the world is becoming consolidated on a global scale. This may be reflected in the development of a single world market, a single world society, a single world government or all three.

Opponents of globalization tend to portray the final outcome as a mean, homogenous mess in which economic welfare is spread out, as one critic put it, so that the average person would have a lifestyle that would “look good to a Pakistani bricklayer” and world culture would become a simulacrum of popular American commercial culture whose epitome is Ronald McDonald. That’s certainly a possibility but I think others are possible and, indeed, more likely than the “McDonald’s model” in which most people receive a subsistence wage and culture is a uniform commercial nightmare.

Another such model is the “Disney model”. In the Disney model there’s at least the illusion of prosperity but nearly all institutions worldwide are highly uniform. Everyone acts, believes, and thinks the same differing only in menu, language, and national costume. Think of the “It’s A Small World” ride at Disneyland.

A third model of globalization and one that I think is much more likely actually to come about might be characterized as the “linguistic model” in which there are many different styles of institutions and culture in “free variation”. In linguistics two sounds are in free variation when either sound may appear in the same environment without a difference in meaning and without a native speaker considering that either is wrong. For example, the word “economics” may be pronounced with the first sound as “eh” as in “get” or as “ee” as in “geese”, possibly by the same person. The sounds are in free variation.

This won’t mean that anything goes. There will be social pressure for a limitation on the number of acceptable options particularly on the outliers—whereever practice differs most dramatically from world norms.

Some people think that globalization is just another word for American dominance. I think that this is completely the opposite of the truth particularly if the “linguistic model” obtains. In many, many things including ideas of the nature of law, the role of government, and the position of the individual within society, the United States is the outlier and I suspect there will be mounting pressure on people in the United Status to adopt attitudes that are closer to those that are prevalent in the rest of the world.

Does globalization lead to war or discourage war? I think that the answer is “Both”. As countries become more interdependent economically war will become quite difficult and unpalatable. The commodity that Americans usually think of when they think of economic dependence on other countries is oil but I’d like to consider another: computer memories. Computer memories are not just used in computers. They’re used in a huge number of everyday objects including automobiles, electronic goods of all kinds, gas pumps, ATM’s, and stop lights. Computer memories are necessary for our military, government, and daily life to function as we’ve become accustomed.

We used to produce nearly all of our computer memories domestically. We produce nearly none now. Most are produced in South-East Asia: China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, etc. That’s globalization for you.

We’re simultaneously reluctant to go to war with the countries that produce the things we need (like oil or computer memories) and willing to go to war to protect our access to supplies of these things.

Still, as Clausewitz put it, “War is a continuation of politics by other means” and that doesn’t just mean external politics it pertains to internal politics as well. It’s possible to go to war with another country for reasons that have very little to do with country but everything to do with domestic politics. As countries come under the pressure to change due to globalization that pressure is all but certain to manifest from time to time as war. I suspect that this will be particularly true for the outliers especially when their cultural, political, or social variants depend on ignorance or force to maintain.

2 comments… add one
  • (also posted at Mark’s place)

    Thank you for the very interesting post.

    Isn’t “the linguistic model” exactly what al Qaeda is fighting against?

    What does the first sound of economics mean in relation to anything else? Nothing. It is “free” of a true semantic network,” floating independent of anything else.

    Sure, there’s social inertia dragging it along, but nothing that makes life worth making. Nothing that makes a future worth saving.

    A linguistic future sounds like a meaningless future. To many, a future worth aborting.

  • Aspects of it, maybe, Dan. The problem before Salafists, as Qutb pointed out, is Western hegemony.

    I actually think that a society with substantial variation in institutions and culture that’s able to work together and trade together peaceably sounds pretty good.

Leave a Comment