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CONUNDRUM; Climate Change, world culture and "democracy."

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Message robert wolff
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("a confusing and difficult problem or question")

A conundrum, and (or?) an ethical dilemma. If not a dilemma, what then?

For the last ten, twenty, and more years, western countries, led by the U.S., have promoted "globalization." We have given the World Trade Organization extra-national powers (even the U.N. does not have those without a vote and other bureaucratic maneuvers).

The WTO can order a country to allow a company to operate within their borders, if that company can offer bargains for less than companies native to that country (although, which corporation is native anywhere any more?). That, of course, is not how it is worded; I suspect that I would not understand the words, but I've read that that is indeed what the WTO can do. As I understand it, globalization creates a global market place, and thus, more buyers.

A free market is a holy idea. Let the people fight it out. They will choose whatever products are the best, or--in today's world--the cheapest. Then whoever produces the best or the cheapest wins and forces their competitors off the market. That has come to mean that whoever has the biggest clout (in politics, or in the Media), the loudest mouth, the most money to pay for advertising, wins. Corporations merge, buy each other, in order to become bigger, and stronger in a global free market.

I suspect that this free market idea is based on our western ideas about Nature. We think of nature as a jungle where everybody fights for the right to exist, only the fittest survive. We interpret the "fittest" to be the strongest, most ruthless, most predator-like. But that is a wrong picture of Nature. Predators cannot exist without prey. If predators killed just for the fun of it (as we do), they would not eat tomorrow. Studies have shown that all predators usually eat only the old and weak of their prey, and not more than they can eat to fill their stomachs. There is a balance in nature; very far far from our idea of a free market. In our western world, we have, for centuries, eradicated predators (wolves, bears, etc.). With the result that even in outlying suburbs deer have become serious pests: without predators to keep their number in check, deer and other grazers multiply out of balance. When we found ways to eradicate the species that kept our human species in balance (large predators, and microbes, bacteria), human population exploded.

Economic globalization is a fact of today's world. I am not sure that outsourcing was part of the grand idea of a global free market, but that too is now a fact. When people in other countries can answer bothersome customers over the phone, or via the internet, for $10 a day instead of $10 an hour, it obviously pays to outsource that service. It does not, in my experience at least, make that service more efficient.
Today, "service" no longer means service, but it is just one more aspect of corporate business. Just reaching service now requires passing numerous barriers, passing gates. If I am patient enough to struggle through ten minutes of an electronic menu with seemingly endless sub-menus, I might, perhaps, sometimes reach a real person. The other day, I finally got through to a person, speaking English, of course, but an English that I found hard to understand. I found it embarrassing to ask that person why (for example) my electric bill is so high, when what I pay to keep a few light bulbs and a refrigerator's going, converted in her country's currency, may be her monthly salary. (Of course it was not about my electric bill, that is just an example). I asked the nice lady, who had helped me well, whether she was in India. There was a pause, then she said, first shyly but quickly recovering a firm tone of voice: "we are not allowed to address that issue."

Then there is another kind of globalization that has covered the globe long before the free market globalization. There probably isn't a country where American films are not shown, in theaters, on video or DVD, with or without dubbing or even foreign language sync. In every big city around the world there is a Hilton, or a hotel of another American chain. Our fast food companies have franchise abroad; Starbuck's coffee houses are everywhere.
The face of our affluence. The world has come to know Americans as beautiful (mostly white) people, radiantly young, with perfect, glaringly white teeth, on the screen or in person. We, as a country, are so rich that our youth can and does travel the world. Everywhere we go we flash our wealth.
And, yes, Americans are generous and have a wide open smile. Our visitors as well as our franchises probably help many people in many countries live better, earn more, eat well--for the first time in history perhaps.
Most (many) people who have seen an American movie think that is how we look and how we live: huge houses, enormous cars, elaborate parties, monstrous refrigerators, machines that do the dishes, wash clothes and dry them. Our houses are widely spaced with lawns, kept like golf greens by self-propelling machines.

Telephone answerers, say in India, may now earn ten times what they could earn before (although, it is still ten times less than what we would have to pay people in America to do the same job). They are exploding into a new middle class. Of course they want what we so generously showed them we have. They too want big cars, or at least a car. Maybe not a four bedroom, two baths house, but a better apartment. They too want to travel abroad.

The second half of the twentieth century saw young people (mostly white) swarm all over the globe, finding "the best surf spot" in the breakers of the most out of the way islands. The surfers may not consider themselves rich, but they can afford to fly all over the globe, with a surfboard that costs many hundreds of dollars, clothes that cost another many hundreds of dollars--but to islanders whose annual income (in money) may be a hundred dollars a year, these young (and not so young) people are richer than anyone ever imagined one could be.
Very few out-of-the-way islands did not have surfers who showed off the wealth of the West.

And, the 20th century was also the time of the greatest population dislocation in known history: millions of people fled oppressive regimes, escaped from genocide, or moved to cities where they hoped to find a better life. What they found, more often than not, was the worst slums imaginable. Today one half of the world's population of six and a half billion people lives in cities. Monster cities.
The second half of the twentieth century also, inevitably, saw an enormous increase in pollutions of all kinds. Global Warming, we whispered then; Climate Change we say now.

So, at the same time, great dislocations and movements of very poor people, and the flaunting of western wealth to the corners of the earth.
Is it any wonder that many people, all over the world, want what we have?

But not everyone. Suddenly we learn that there are in fact many people who have a very different reaction to our lifestyle. For instance in Muslim countries, but not only there, it is shocking to see women in shorts, with their belly buttons showing, heavily made up, obviously wanting to show off their sexual appeal. In some Muslim countries (by no means all) women cannot show their face, only the eyes.
I have heard an American woman proclaim proudly that she was a new, liberated person, and she could and would dress as she damn well pleased. "If only to show those poor veiled woman what a "real woman" is."
I asked, and what is a heavily veiled woman walking on the streets of your city showing you?
She looked at me with scorn: "She is not showing me anything, I pity her."
Maybe the veiled woman pities you, I said.

~ ~ ~

Bali is a small island in Indonesia that has an ancient culture--in contrast to most of Indonesia, the Balinese culture is Hindu-Buddhist (as all of neighboring Java was, before the introduction of Islam). Today Bali is a favorite "destination" for tourists, mostly western, from America, but also from Germany, Ireland, Spain, Australia. The Balinese were able to adapt their culture, and the practice of their religion, to this invasion of people. Originally, as all indigenous people, they had regular ceremonies, often dances. One of these is the enactment of an ancient story, in which the men of the village fight a witch, to protect the village for another moon. When tourists first came, they saw a spectacle, which they, of course, had to capture on film. They jumped in between the dancers to get close-ups, so disturbing the trance the men were in. The dance was interrupted--the villagers shook their head: this meant a period of bad luck, maybe a bad earth quake, or an epidemic, because the men had been prevented from protecting the village. But the Balinese learned to separate their practice and, a new concept, "entertainment." Now they perform some of these dances as entertainment for the tourists, but they also continue to practice dances as ceremonies, in their own space, their own time.
There is a difference between a ceremony and entertainment. The Balinese learned to separate these two activities. Most other indigenous peoples were not able to do that. Westerners everywhere were intolerant of "native customs." In Hawai'i, for instance, the language, the dance and other functions were forbidden for more than half a century. Only late in the second half of the last century were these restrictions lifted, but not until several generations had passed. Now there is a renaissance of sorts: the Hawaiian language has been re-established as a spoken and written language, dances are performed--but usually with an audience (of tourists). The Hawaiian "culture" is remembered in books (most of them written by non-Hawaiians) and parts of it have been adopted by the Tourist bureau, but it is not alive among the people any longer. The people essentially have lost their identity, their religion, their values, and are living in a vague in between, between partially remembered song and wisdom, and the crude materialism of western so-called culture.
That is a worldwide story. Everywhere westerners have settled, or even visited on a regular basis, cultures and languages have been swept away. People are living in a void, sometimes clinging to a few shreds of the old and never quite fitting in the western way of life.

So here it is the 21st century. Many people, all over the world, having seen the riches of the West rubbed in their faces, so to speak, want what we have. At the same time, native cultures, customs, languages, almost everywhere have been destroyed or absorbed into a modern world culture that has as its main values the ownership of things, and fierce competition.
Very few, if any, native cultures were competitive. Competition is not sustainable; cooperation is.
Most, if not all, native cultures were earth centered. The modern world culture, if it can be called that, is ownership centered. We value things, owning things, owning resources, owning the earth itself--often expressed as "I can damn well do with this land I own what I will."

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Robert Wolff Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

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