responding to globalization: small scale on a large scale

There is also a vast and equally important movement toward “going local.” In fact, more and more groups are recognizing that economic localization represents a systemic solution multiplier. At a fundamental level, centralized, top-heavy systems – whether they are capitalist, socialist, or communist – cannot remain democratic. Decentralizing, or localizing economic activity, from finance to industry and farming, can restore participatory democracy while simultaneously renewing the social and ecological fabric. Instead of scaling government up, localization is about scaling business down. Business and banking need to be place-based in order to allow culture and ethics to shape commerce, rather than vice versa.

Localization is not about ending trade, nor is it about acting only locally. For grassroots localization efforts to succeed and grow in the long term, they must be accompanied by policy changes at the national and international levels. Rather than thinking just in terms of isolated, scattered efforts, we must demand government policies that promote small scale on a large scale, allowing space for community-based economies to flourish and spread.

– Helen Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World (2009)

[NOTE – a UN committee agrees: check out this report that deserves much more attention.]

globalization as universal consumerism

Governments worldwide, from the left to the right of the political spectrum, are signing treaties designed to accelerate economic growth through the deregulation of global trade and finance. The so-called global village – hailed by government and industry as uniting all nations in pursuit of the fruits of the global economy – is in fact a highly volatile monoculture based not on community or connection to place but on universal consumerism.

As trillions of dollars of investment and development aid pull more and more people into the consumer culture, economic power is concentrating in fewer and fewer corporate hands. Those corporations are driving a speculative economy in which ever faster technologies accelerate environmental destruction, as they speed up and scale up our lives – creating anonymity, competition, and poverty in the process….

My experience of working with government and business leaders leaders and academics in dozens of countries convinces me that policymakers are not really aware of the destruction they are inflicting on natural and human communities. What we face is not so much a conscious conspiracy as a de facto, structural conspiracy. In other words, interlocking structures “conspire” systemically to further a development path that threatens life itself.

– Helen Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Lessons from Ladakh for a Globalizing World (2009)

[Next week something more hopeful!]

stepping back to see what we’ve created

[the first of three posts suggesting that we need to wake up in order to see that the current path to globalization is neither life-giving nor inevitable]:

The experience of Ladakh convinced me that the primary cause of our crises is neither human nature nor evolution, but rather a relentlessly expanding economic system that is steamrolling both people and the planet. Unfortunately, this system has grown so large that it has become difficult to recognize it as human-made: the tendency is to view it instead as some kind of irresistible evolutionary force. Only by stepping back and looking at the big picture can we discern the links between the global economic system and the problems we face. This broader view makes it clear that what we need to change is policies and human institutions, not the nature of our species or evolution. We can also see that the most effective way to alleviate a whole range of seemingly disparate symptoms – from deforestation to pollution, from poverty to ethnic conflict – is to change the dominant economy. Most important of all, countering the pressures that separate us from one another and the natural world would resonate with our deeper human needs, contributing to our well-being, to our happiness.

– Helen Norberg-Hodge, Ancient Futures: Lessons from the Ladakh for a Globalizing World (2009)

the problem with big

[Wendell Berry offers some thoughts on the predicament we get into when corporate industrialism leads to its inevitably inhumane scale of business – not an easy read but important to “chew on”]:

When people succeed in profiting on a large scale, they succeed for themselves. When they fail, they fail for many others, sometimes for us all. A large failure is worse than a small one, and this has the sound of an axiom, but how many believe it? Propriety of scale in all human undertakings is paramount, and we ignore it. We are now betting our lives on quantities that far exceed all our powers of comprehension. We believe that we have built a perhaps limitless power of comprehension into computers and other machines, but our minds remain as limited as ever. Our trust that machines can manipulate to humane effect quantities that are unintelligible and unimaginable to humans is incorrigibly strange.

As there is a limit only within which property ownership is effective, so is there a limit only within which the human mind is effective and at least possibly beneficent. We must assume that the limit would vary somewhat, though not greatly, with the abilities of persons. Beyond that limit the mind loses its wholeness, and its faculties begin to be employed separately or fragmented according to the specialties or professions for which it has been trained.

Wendell Berry, from his Jefferson Lecture, 2012

on consumerism and insecurity

[This is an excerpt from a look at the Ladakh people of northern Himalayan India whose recent “development” has led to the loss of much of their traditionally rich way of life.]

Perhaps the most tragic of all the vicious circles I have observed in Ladakh is the way in which individual insecurity contributes to a weakening of family and community ties, which in turn further shakes individual self-esteem. Consumerism plays a central role in this whole process, since emotional insecurity contributes to a hunger for material status symbols. The need for recognition and acceptance fuels the drive to acquire possessions – possessions that will make you somebody. Ultimately this is a far more important motivation that fascination for the things themselves. It is heart-breaking to see people buying things to be admired, respected, and ultimately loved, when in fact it almost inevitably has the opposite effect. The individual with the new shiny car is set apart, and this furthers the need to be accepted. A cycle is set in motion in which people become more and more divided from themselves and from one another.

– Helena Norberg-Hodge, in Ancient Futures: Lessons from the Ladakh for a Globalizing World (2009).