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The general public embraces two extreme notions of globalization. One, that right now it is an inevitable phenomenon — an uncontrolled process that no one can influence, the other that we indeed can change the direction of globalization. There are many possibilities in between.
There is no doubt that economics and finance are at the root of the globalization process and, as a result, we spend lots of time figuring out how we can benefit from financial markets and trace, investment and capital flows, etc. The benefits from transport and communications have already left a major mark, not only in economic terms, but in all aspects of our lives, including the formation of democracies. Political boundaries are falling and globalization is a major form of interconnectedness for people, nations and global structures.
However, many people feel that only a small minority is better off from globalization; that “exclusion” seems to be the name of the game; that social impacts are rather negative overall; that the whole process benefits an elite; that global governance structures are nonexistent; and that a few corporations are the real beneficiaries of globalization. Thus, many economies are globalizing while societies are not.
What is changeable in this process and who is to change it? Before answering these two questions, we must reflect on some fundamental issues. Two are of critical importance: the multiple dimensions of globalization — e.g., failure by default, and the hierarchy of these dimensions within the globalization process —e.g., failure by design.
The Multiple Dimensions of Globalization
Much of the attention given to globalization has been on its financial and economic dimensions, this is justified as the expansion of capital markets and international trade, fueled by technological change, have been the engines of this process. Not only that, economics and finance seem to be the most important dimensions. But, is this so?
Not really. We are experiencing a major process of environmental globalization affecting all of us and that of many generations to come (e.g., ozone layer depletion, biodiversity degradation, ocean pollution, global warming, destruction of key ecosystems). Pollutants from one part of the globe affect life in other parts of the globe. And, as pollution increases, and growth continues to penetrate our planet, environmental globalization is a fundamental dimension we cannot discount in this process.
Thus, economic, financial and environmental globalization.
In addition, we also experience a major process of cultural globalization. This includes the influences of economic and financial process in cultural identity, the impacts that these processes have on minorities and their ability to co-exist with others, the impacts of globalization in indigenous peoples and their culture and the depletion and disappearance of cultural assets. wWe also see how new technologies may destroy the social fiber and the existence of many diverse cultures and belief systems.
Thus, economic, financial, environmental and cultural globalization.
Furthermore, we are influenced by the political dimensions of globalization or, as some people will put it, the lack of it. No doubt there is a great deficit in attaining a global consensus on the aims and goals of this process. The lack of consensus is a signigicant wource of debate today and perhaps responsible for the discontent we observed in Seattle, Bangkok, Prague, Durban and Washington. The debates in the United Nations, intergovernmental bodies, and NGOs all demonstrate that ignoring the political dimensions of globalization is not desirable. Athough domestic political consensus is important, it is also key to alighn individual and collective actions within a global political consensus. This consensus is to change the direction of economic and social policies and calibrate the instruments that are changeable in the process we are experiencing today.
Thus, economic, financial, environmental, cultural and political globalization.
But, there is more. One forgotten dimension is social globalization. Globalization is a source of social impacts of such significance that a huge segment of our societies are up in arms at seeing little concerted action from our leaders, wherever they are. Today there is a disconnect between the notion of a “global village” and the attention being paid to the need for a Global Social Contract among all nations. Clearly, UN sponsored conferences have provided essential elements of this contract and have highlighted the social aims and objectives, including the respect and realization of human rights. But, we have not agreed on what this social contract should look like in light of globalization or, if it exists, it has not permeated global processes that exist today.
Thus, economic, financial, environmental, cultural, political and social globalization.
Certainly, there is more. It is impossible to pretend that we are living in a global village without focusing our attention on the existence of the “global being” (or lack of it). Today it is inconceivable to move into a global village mode with attention to the human dimensions of globalization. Who is forming this global being? Who among our leaders is a truly global soul? Is the existing education system truly global? Thinking globally and acting locally is a well-known slogan that, as such, is only practiced out of convenience. Few people seem to be willing to substantially sacrifice their high levels of consumption and material welfare in lieu of benefiting humanity as a whole.
Thus, economic, financial, environmental, cultural, political, social and human globalization.
We need one more dimension: spiritual globalization. This is of fundamental importance as it embraces the non-material aspects of our human existence; the set of human values and beliefs we need in order to attain any consensus (political or social); the direction of the process we aim at attaining; the social and human identity that such a process demands as integration and interdependence deepen; and the quality factor of globalization to determine if our global society is indeed making progress individually or collectively.
Globalization is not only a material “thing”. Underneath there is a collection of values that imprint the process. These values must be human in nature to avoid exclusion, inequities, and social injustices all so ingrained in materialistic instruments and practices.
Spiritual globalization is not a new idea. In fact. in the Dumbarton Oaks Declaration of the UN, California, 1944, the need for creating the necessary spaces for “spiritual growth” was explicitly acknowledged. The humanization of economic and financial processes was sought as essential in attaining human freedom.
Thus, economic, financial, environmental, cultural, political, social, human and spiritual globalization.
These are indeed the essential dimension s of a complex and deep process we are all experiencing. In part, the problem great masses of people are experiencing s due to a major failure to acknowledge all these dimensions—failure by default. Ignoring any of these dimensions will continue to result in unacceptable outcomes to people.
The Hierarchy Among Global Dimensions
Once we have a complete account of the above dimensions, we must ask whether there is a hierarchy among them which would yield different outcomes than those we are experiencing today. Many people do not see the economic and financial dimensions as the “leader”, although its leading character seems undisputable at the moment. But, can these end up in a human and social vacuum? Economics, finance and technology must have a “master” to yield the “right” results. Political and social globalization must dominate to change present directions. Experience shows that economic values are “exclusive” and that exclusion is the result of purchasing power and material comparative advantage. Thus, it is essential to develop a hierarchy of dimensions in relation to the goals and aims we are embracing. In fact, there is an “optional hierarchy” and an ultimate one which corresponds to what most people are fighting for at this juncture in history.
The question of hierarchies is fundamental, and we cannot avoid addressing its optimal configuration. I believe that the “optimal hierarchy” must start with the human and spiritual dimensions of globalization. At the core of any global outcome there is a value system, an identity, and a direction all of us have to agree upon, understood as pluralistic, diverse and rich in all possible aspects of our human existence. Emphasis on the human and spiritual dimensions must be understood in the context of both individual and collective self-realization.
For many the term globalization is tantamount of our collective fate (collective existence), materially and non-materially. For those who are religious, globalization is in a sense the material expression of collective “salvation”.
In sum, the results we see today are the normal outcome of a globalization process that is failing by design, as we avoid the ultimate determinant of globalization—ourselves. The common denominator of governments, multinational corporations, development institutions, NGOs and the like is people. We are the foundation of our own fate. Thus, individualistic values, the ultimate of our competitive edge, will not yield outcomes that are collectively just and equitable.
Reconciling Economics and Spirituality
Where will change in a global world come from? The wrong point of departure is to negate that economics and finance matter. To claim that globalization must be led only by economics and finance is a suicidal path. Therefore, it is central to find the balance between the material (with its prime expression in economics and finance) and the non-material dimensions of our existence (social, cultural, human and spiritual). A few centuries ago the major challenge was to reconcile science with religion. Today, the major challenge is the reconciliation between economics and spirituality.
This may be a difficult challenge depending on how we define economics. But, economics is just a collection of values that are a mirror image of the ideology of development at any point in time. It is the collection of values that determines how economics is practiced. it is unacceptable that economics and finance be practiced in an ethical and moral vacuum. This is economics with no direction.
A new direction need s anew hierarchy in policy, programs and direction. In turn, a new value system is needed to make a quilt of human dimensions into our global existence. These values will form a global being who will push change in the “right” direction. The global revolution is not only abut our material existence, but is is also about embracing our spiritual existence for the benefit of all.
This article was originally published in the Fall | Winter 2001 issue of Kosmos Journal. To purchase this issue, please click here.
Alfredo Sfeir-Younis PhD is a Chilean economist, spiritual leader and healer, Founder and President of the Zambuling Institute for Human Transformation. He retired after 29 years of service from the World Bank where he was the focal point for human rights. His last position was Senior Advisor to the managing directors, and the Institutional Focal Point on human rights.