“For me, to live in Pakistan is to know extremes of hope and despair.”
March 19, 2015 2:08 AM   Subscribe

Globalization is a brutal phenomenon. It brings us mass displacement, wars, terrorism, unchecked financial capitalism, inequality, xenophobia, climate change. But if globalization is capable of holding out any fundamental promise to us, any temptation to go along with its havoc, then surely that promise ought to be this: we will be more free to invent ourselves. In that country, this city, in Lahore, in New York, in London, that factory, this office, in those clothes, that occupation, in wherever it is we long for, we will be liberated to be what we choose to be.
- Discontent and Its Civilizations (excerpt), by Mohsin Hamid (previously); reviewed

LA Times:
Born in Pakistan, he spent part of his childhood in California and was educated at Princeton and Harvard Law School; he subsequently spent years in New York and London before moving back to Lahore. In the title essay, he describes his decision to buy "blast-resistant film" for his daughter's bedroom window, explaining, "I did not wonder if they were made by factories in the West, by workers who were Muslim, by both, or by neither. No I wondered instead if such films were truly transparent. For outside my daughter's window is a tallow-blooming amaltas tree, beautiful and mighty, and much older than us all."

That's a novelist's detail, used here for both metaphoric and political effect. What does it matter who makes the film, Hamid is asking, as long as his daughter is safe? And not only safe but able to see beauty amid the danger and the violence?
The AV Club - "Mohsin Hamid comes from the George Orwell school of essaying: There’s no sentence that can’t be made shorter, no thought that can’t be improved with fewer characters, no concept that couldn’t be better expressed with just a little bit less. "

Bookforum:
Hamid believes that the greatest promise of our globalized civilization is self-invention, the possibility that “we will be liberated to be what we choose to be.” But the War and the Clash keep getting in the way. In 2000, the young management consultant–cum–debut novelist in New York was eyed suspiciously because of his Pakistani passport. In 2010, the world-renowned author, a resident of Lahore and now a dual Pakistani-British citizen, visited New York with his wife and baby daughter. Hamid had his “usual lengthy encounter at JFK airport.” After he’d been grilled about such issues as whether he’d ever had “combat training,” Hamid was finally released from “secondary inspection.” He rejoined Zahra and Dina: “We were the last passengers on our flight to claim our luggage, a lonely set of suitcases and a foldable playpen on a now-stationary baggage carousel.” At a reading in Germany, “people posed queries relating to how ‘we Europeans’ see things, in contrast to how ‘you Muslims’ do. Eventually I was so exasperated that I pulled my British passport out of my jacket and started waving it around my head.”
If you write about Pakistan you must have mangoes.
posted by the man of twists and turns (31 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Cart before the Horse? - Globalization brings xenophobia? What century is he living in? I think globalisation tends to decrease xenophobia actually. Similarly for inequality, unless you are not unequal when you don't know you are.
posted by mary8nne at 2:30 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


Came here to say what mary8nne said. Globalisation doesn't bring about many of those things, it just raises awareness of them. Compare xenophobia from two centuries ago to today and tell me if globalisation has made things worse.
posted by YAMWAK at 3:27 AM on March 19, 2015


Compare xenophobia from two centuries ago to today and tell me if globalisation has made things worse.

I think it would be really hard to comment on this intelligently unless one was from Pakistan or another country on the receiving end of globalization.

Anyway, globalization is not a new thing. The temple architecture and statuary here in Japan are Hellenistic in influence. Brought here by the Silk Road, which connected points as far east as the Tohoku region with Rome.
posted by Nevin at 6:02 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Two centuries ago globalisation was called, in some areas, 'manifest destiny', and I think those on the receiving end, probably quite reasonably, experienced an uptick in xenophobia.
posted by pompomtom at 6:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [7 favorites]


Similarly for inequality, unless you are not unequal when you don't know you are.

Well, I think Globalism takes a few pages from Mercantilism, where the colonies were an important part of the system, but not for the benefit of the colonies themselves. The primary difference seems to be that the primary actors are corporations (with state support)* rather than the states themselves, and their method is more co-option of foreign governments rather than their direct rule.

* Although, to be fair, the East India Company is a fascinating case study of a corporation so entwined with a national government that it's sometimes hard to see where one begins and the other ends.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


The temple architecture and statuary here in Japan are Hellenistic in influence.

What? Really? C-could you please make a post about that? It sounds completely fascinating.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:30 AM on March 19, 2015


What? Really? C-could you please make a post about that? It sounds completely fascinating.

Someone should indeed, it's pretty much the most fascinating thing in all history ever. You'd swear it was from an alternate-history novel.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhist_art#Japan

Lookit dat Heracles.
posted by ocular shenanigans at 6:35 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


Anyway, globalization is not a new thing. The temple architecture and statuary here in Japan are Hellenistic in influence. Brought here by the Silk Road, which connected points as far east as the Tohoku region with Rome.

That's not globalization. Globalization is a difference in degree, not in kind, and that degree is HUGE.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 6:40 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


A big part of the problem with these debates is that "globalization" is defined very differently depending on the context or even just the speaker. It might refer to the phenomenon of global economic and cultural contact or exchange, it might refer to a conscious neoliberal political project, or it might refer to a specific historical period characterized by the spread of multinational corporations. I tend to use it to mean a combination of the last and the penultimate items in the above list; the term is a nominalized verb -- "to globalize" -- and to me that suggests willful, intentional action rather than historical accident.
posted by kewb at 7:02 AM on March 19, 2015 [6 favorites]


His novels, especially The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia are truly brilliant - I can't recommend them highly enough.
posted by twsf at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2015


Anyway, globalization is not a new thing.

You can't have it both ways - Sure you can include mercantilism and colonialism as "globalisation" and say that its been going on for centuries but then you can't single out the recent financialisation and autonomy of companies in the post-1990s era.

There are similarities between mercantilism and post-90s globalisation but there is also something a bit new in the post-90s that citing the East India Company doesn't really capture. East India company never had the kind of anti-statist autonomy that massive companies have today.
posted by mary8nne at 7:26 AM on March 19, 2015


I just don't get the xenophobia angle, really. I work as a part-time editor for a global news organization. If anything globalization has provided a common humanistic, "liberal" worldview that includes human rights and freedom of speech across almost every country.

The only xenophobes are the small minority of complete bastards who are in control in some countries. That's what I've noticed.

That's not to say globalization has been a good thing. As "advanced economies" have entered sort of fin de siècle since the 2008 banking crisis (itself caused by globalization and hyper-accelerated transfers and accumulation of wealth), I'm thinking that globalization and ubiquitous global markets are destabilizing.

But on an individual level, I've made a lot of friends from almost every country in the world. And we all generally hold the same values.
posted by Nevin at 7:30 AM on March 19, 2015


Two centuries ago globalisation was called, in some areas, 'manifest destiny', and I think those on the receiving end, probably quite reasonably, experienced an uptick in xenophobia.

I understand your point, but I don't see imperialistic expansion, dedicated to the eradication of a culture for profit, as 'globalisation' - if that's all it takes, 'globalisation' is as old as civilisation. An uptick, yes, but not a change.

The xenophobia has always been there. We're just more aware of it now. That's what globalisation brought us.
posted by YAMWAK at 7:41 AM on March 19, 2015


The "Clash of Civilizations" and the "War on Terror" are pernicious ideas. I haven't read Hamsin but I've read another couple of books that shed some light on them.

The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror by Arun Kundnani takes a close look at the supposed basis for the War on Terror. He goes into detail on the studies and ideas behind it.

One example is a 2009 study by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman: "An Empirical Study of the Radicalization Process", which claims to find indicators that will lead to terrorism, and concludes that "individuals theological understanding was a relatively strong factor in their radicalization". However the actual data they present shows that "radical political views" is the highest scoring factor: the authors choose to discount this because religious factors precede it. Kundnani thinks that the eagerness to downplay political factors is partly due to an ideological bias from the study's funders ("neoconservative pressure groups") and partly because it is an easier sell to security services if the causes are isolated rather than a dynamic interaction between stage agencies and terrorists.

Kundnani's book also points out that a lot of the security services' responses to the "War on Terror" are barely-altered strategies, and sometimes units, from the Cold War.

The theory that Muslim terrorism comes primarily from ideology or theology, divorced from politics, is widely accepted but doesn't have the firm foundations people think.

The other book is The Race for Paradise: An Islamic History of the Crusades by Paul M. Cobb. He poins out that in the Islamic world, the Crusades weren't seen as a clash of ideologies. For example, the Islamic sources don't follow Western sources in neatly dating the Crusades as starting with Pope Urban II preaching the First Crusade:they start earlier with the "Franks" invading Sicily, and end later with the final conquest of Spain. They rarely mention the Pope or religion: they regard the Crusaders as barbarians out to grab land and make money.

In practice both "civilizations" were made up of local rulers often largely independent of their supposed overlords, and who would frequently ally with people of the different religion against co-religionists when it was convenient

The idea that there is an ancient and perpetual clash of fundamental ideologies which is currently being manifested as a "War on Terror" is itself an ideological construct, which a lot of people buy into. But the evidence for it, both ancient and modern, is surprisingly weak.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:56 AM on March 19, 2015 [14 favorites]


I understand your point, but I don't see imperialistic expansion, dedicated to the eradication of a culture for profit, as 'globalisation' - if that's all it takes, 'globalisation' is as old as civilisation. An uptick, yes, but not a change.

the point here might be that to the globalisee, not the globaliser, they seem one and the same.
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2015


the point here might be that to the globalisee, not the globaliser, they seem one and the same.

I don't like falling back on a dictionary in an argument, but I feel we do have a problem with definitions in this discussion. Taking wikipedia (I know, but I'm at work etc.), their brief description of globalization is 'Globalization, process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and other aspects of culture'.

If we hold that to be even a broad definition, massacring tribes is not globalization. There is no cultural interchange, there's just murder. The movement that said that the killing of the natives of a region was wrong, in part because there was a lot that could be learned from them, is far more in the spirit of globalization than 'Manifest Destiny' and things of its ilk.
posted by YAMWAK at 8:16 AM on March 19, 2015


The thing is, when you don't have much contact with other people, xenophobia might exist, but it doesn't have much practical effect. Prior the the crusades, Franks and Muslims might not have though much of each other, but that didn't result in war and strife. Same for China and Europe before the Opium Wars. The French and the English learned to hate each other once the English king started bringing his insular subjects to his possessions on the continent.

Pakistan is special because of its British colonial past, but before WWII, most of its inhabitants stayed there. So Europeans might not have thought much of Indian Muslims and vice-versa, but without contact it had little effect. Now that Pakistan and other former colonies have large diasporas, the latent xenophobia of the past is having a concrete effect.

Look at your stereotypical American racist. In 1940, he might have hated the Black, but he probably didn't care about the people his grandchildren call "towelheads".
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:47 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Look at your stereotypical American racist. In 1940, he might have hated the Black, but he probably didn't care about the people his grandchildren call "towelheads".

He might not have outright hated them, but he'd certainly have seen them as an exoticized, sexually dangerous "others" and seen little problem with British colonial rule. Films of the era played the usual Orientalist tropes up with regard to the Middle East; depending on his age, your hypothetical racist might well have grown up with Rudolf Valentino's seductive Sheik character as pop icon, or mistakenly identified Arabs with the Tuareg attackers in the immensely popular 1939 version of Beau Geste, the one with Gary Cooper.

There was an identifiable popular consciousness of the British and the French as dashing types who were "civilizing" the "foreign hordes" in the American popular consciousness of the time. Additionally, media of the era often used "the Levant" as a figure much like "the Far East:" a generically romanticized, mysterious setting full of feminized and/or oversexed "natives" with odd customs and potentially sinister designs.
posted by kewb at 9:14 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Xenophobia, I think, goes hand in hand with feelings of disempowerment. Those who feel like they run the world rarely have much in the way of xenophobia, because they don't feel that they have anything to fear.

At the height of the Empire, the British flirted rather heavily with xenophilia, in the form of Orientalism; there was a widespread fascination with anything originating east of Budapest as 'exotic'. Of course, people at home were only open to other cultures insofar as they were being packaged up and brought home—sometimes literally—from Britain's colonies.

This is something that is not unique to Britain, and I think late 20th century triumphalist America does much the same thing when we pat ourselves on the back for our open-mindedness in consuming the carefully-curated and repackaged cultural products of distant lands; evidence, always, of our own sophistication and modernity.

To someone not in that enviable position of power, which implies the ability to regulate the cultural exchange to their advantage, xenophobia seems like a pretty reasonable defense mechanism. E.g. there are a whole lot of Native American civilizations that might have done better had they taken a harder line towards those mysterious white people showing up on boats. And I don't think it's a coincidence that the only remaining more-or-less undisturbed premodern tribe in the world is relentlessly hostile to outsiders.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm so tired of this ongoing BS. Just today there's a guy telling me that he missed the 80s and 90s, when, its seems, according to his father, life was easier for the white man because people just did what they were told to and bought what the white man told them to buy.

I told him I couldn't believe he was telling me this. He went on to add that well of course they'd take my idea and run with it, instead of letting me implement because of my skin colour. I wasn't reliable.

I told him to fuck off.

That in a nutshell is globafuckinglization. India and China are eating our lunch and dinner and we aren't the omnipotent powers that be anymore and OMG hordes of coloured folk have forgotten their place and dare look us in the eye and tell us when we are wrong.

Halp, the emperor has no clothes. Kill the bastards.
posted by infini at 11:07 AM on March 19, 2015


'Globalization, process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and other aspects of culture'.

If you take that definition, a very large number of people in Pakistan would tell you that globalization is a myth that is peddled by the powerful to disguise modern imperialism.
posted by bardophile at 1:27 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


The thing is, when you don't have much contact with other people, xenophobia might exist, but it doesn't have much practical effect. Prior the the crusades, Franks and Muslims might not have though much of each other, but that didn't result in war and strife.

That's not exactly true. The Franks and Muslims did, in fact, wage war against each other. Charlemagne's grandfather earned the nickname "The Hammer" for defeating a Muslim raiding party at the Battle of Tours. Italians, Iberians, Byzantines, and even Normans all also had first-hand experience of war and strife with Muslims prior to the Crusades. I think there's something to your broader point, but one of my pet peeves is when the Crusades are described as essentially sui generis when they came about as part of a long history of Christian-Muslim warfare.
posted by Copronymus at 1:28 PM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you take that definition, a very large number of people in Pakistan would tell you that globalization is a myth that is peddled by the powerful to disguise modern imperialism.

Okay.

I wrote a long post pointing out that international integration really does exist. Then I realised that this was a classic case of someone being wrong on the internet, and even worse, it was a hypothetical person.

Globalisation exists, by the definition above. Some cultures are more globalised than others, but just because one person doesn't experience it doesn't invalidate the experience of the billions that do, for better or for worse.

I shan't dispute that modern imperialism exists. I would argue that conflating it with globalisation is a mistake.

But it's hard to argue with a hypothetical person.
posted by YAMWAK at 2:55 PM on March 19, 2015


There's often a tendency to frame globalization as a benign form of development that creates multicultural exchange and raises standards of living. In this interpretation, shared by Niall Ferguson for example, the massacres of colonialism and imperialism are exceptions to an ascending line of progress. This interpretation is actually historically totally inaccurate: it was often capitalist development (that is, globalization) that led to the worst excesses of colonialism.

To give a few examples, the British occupation of India was initially through an early multinational corporation (the East India Company) and justified itself through the tax paid by the Indians, who essentially paid for their own occupation. The British implementation of property tax kicked landowners off their land and left millions of destitute--leading to huge famines which killed tens of millions, as Mike Davis documents in Late Victorian Holocausts.

In the West coast of Africa, the British originally had no formal intentions to colonize and merely occupied the coast to protect traders and stop the slave trade. The militarized border eventually accreted into formal colonization, as Gallagher and Robinson describe in Africa and the Victorians. As the two show in this book and also The Imperialism of Free Trade, much of the origins of the global economy in the 19th-20th century were furthered by state imperialism. It's highly ideological to try to separate globalization with an imperial history.
posted by johnasdf at 3:11 PM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I shan't dispute that modern imperialism exists. I would argue that conflating it with globalisation is a mistake.

And I agree that it is an error to regard the two as the same. However, it is also inaccurate to treat them as completely unrelated. When two phenomena are so closely intertwined, relatively few people take the time to separate which of their effects belong to each separate phenomenon. And it's perhaps unrealistic to expect them to do so. Along the same lines of making fine distinctions, you could reasonably claim that responding to my original comment requires you to engage in a hypothetical argument with people you don't know. They are very real people, however, not hypothetical ones.
posted by bardophile at 3:16 PM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


Karl Martell's battle at Poitiers (732) was closer to the reign of Valentinian the Great than to the First Crusade. There was some sporadic fighting in between, but the Crusades were unique in sending Christians from Northwest Europe en masse to the Middle East, if you except the conquest of Sicily (which can be taken as another starting point for the Crusades).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 6:19 PM on March 19, 2015


And it's perhaps unrealistic to expect them to do so.

That's the thing. If you conflate globalisation and modern imperialism, your defence against both is going to be isolationism. Give that foreign student a cold shoulder. Avoid those foreign aid workers. Let those tourists know that they should be sticking to the big cities. Talk some sense into that girl who wants to study abroad.

I don't see that as being beneficial for lots of reasons, not least because it makes it that much easier for more exploitative groups to do what they want without anyone finding out.

You can completely close your borders to foreign ideas, but historically that's proven to be both dangerous and detrimental. China before the opium wars, and Japan before the four black ships, spring to mind in that regard.

They are very real people, however, not hypothetical ones.

The people may be real, but citing their existence doesn't really help very much. It's like saying 'I believe you, but I have a friend of a friend who doesn't. What'cha got ta say about that, huh?'
posted by YAMWAK at 12:16 AM on March 20, 2015


One can recognize globalisation as being intertwined with imperialism without arguing for Isolationism, in the same way that one can be disturbed by the erosion of privacy that has accompanied the Internet explosion, without denying the utility of the same explosion. Things aren't simple. They have multiple and complex effects. You can't just talk about globalization as this innocuous, positive force without acknowledging that it is also a malevolent one. We could argue a very long time over which side of the scale weighs more heavily, but denying the existence of the scale seems a dangerous oversimplification to me.
posted by bardophile at 7:46 AM on March 20, 2015


As for the people in Pakistan, I will concede that I haven't said anything clear about their reasons, which leaves you with nothing to argue against. I'm talking about my lived experience and the lived experience of many people around me, and may come back with a cogent and detailed explanation, but find myself at a loss to describe it clearly, simply, and accurately right now, particularly in a way that would make sense to someone who appears to be completely unfamiliar with that experience.
posted by bardophile at 7:51 AM on March 20, 2015


It seems to me that YAMWAK's definition of "globalization as interchange" assumes some form of "equal" or at least "voluntary" actor status; that is, it's free interchange. But if we accept that definition, then I think it's fair to argue that very little of what goes on under the name "globalization" would count. How do we discuss, say, U.S.-Japanese relations here?

I also think the definition of "imperialism" here is a bit too narrow, and excludes forms of economic and cultural domination that function much as imperialism does, in that they lead to (admittedly, usually limited) cultural, political, and economic subsumption rather than interchanges or hybridizations.

Event he kinds of interchange we view as globalization tends to flow through the channels dug by earlier, more overt imperialisms. For one thing, differences in wages and work conditions across national borders track colony-metropole divisions rather well, with much the same hierarchy in place. For another, globalization results in relationships of mutual exoticism at least as often as it creates mutual understanding. A lot of the examples of globalization-as-liberalization only work if we assume both that liberalism is a set of universal values and that it looks pretty much like Westernization. When some places are more powerful than others, interchange has a tendency to turn into appropriation and exploitation by default.
posted by kewb at 8:31 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


To clarify, if the thesis is that globalization is the method of liberalization, then the ties between the U.S. and Japan seem to directly refute the idea. Japan did not liberalize because of a friendly exchange of information, goods, and capital. And the relationship can't be understood without that history of a clash between two great imperial powers.

More broadly, globalization hardly seems inimical to hegemony, which seems to me to limit the credibility of the "free and open liberalization" idea. The era of globalization has been characterized by frequent wars and interstate conflicts much as the era of imperialism was, with the added complication that novel types of nonstate actors are emerging as regional powers. (The failed state seems to be one of the central modes of globalization.)
posted by kewb at 8:39 AM on March 20, 2015


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