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Globalization and Identity Essay

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Updated: Sep 18th, 2019

Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice among social scientists to refer to the process of Globalization as such that results in depriving people of their sense of national/cultural identity. For example, according to Sánchez (2010, p. 71) ‘(due to Globalization) we are facing both a breakdown and a disarticulation of institutional and symbolic mediations from the past… that are having a strong impact on identities’.

And, as anti-Globalist demonstrations that are now taking place throughout the world indicate, many people do consider this process strongly counter-productive, in social sense of this world. Apparently, they believe that there is indeed very little to win from Globalization-fueled process of cultural unification.

Nevertheless, such point of view, on the part of people who oppose Globalization, can hardly be referred to as being thoroughly justified.

The reason for this is simple – individual’s sense of cultural/national self-identity is only one among many emanations of his or her existential identity per se, which is why even though Globalization does diminish people’s identity-related cultural anxieties, it simultaneously provides them with an opportunity to attain qualitatively new ‘post-industrial’ identity.

As it was implied in the Introduction, one of the reasons why anti-Globalists adopted a strongly defined negative stance against Globalization, as the process which they believe accounts for the gradual destruction of people’s sense of cultural/national identity, is that the concept of ‘globalization’ is being quite inconsistent with the idea of ‘diversity’, in traditional sense of this word.

According to Nuyen (2003, p. 75) ‘One distinct feature of globalization is the move towards universalism: the world is increasingly moving towards universal technical formats and languages, universal procedures, universal rules and regulations’. In fact, Globalization’s ultimate slogan can well be: one planet – one currency – one country – one language.

This is because the ultimate objective of the continuous socio-economic and scientific progress, which has been defining the qualitative subtleties of human civilization since the dawn of times, is allowing people to enjoy as much existential comfort as possible.

In other words – the stronger is the extent of cultural, social or technological unification in a particular society, the easier it is for its members to enjoy their lives to the fullest, as standardization fosters the pace of progress. And, the more time people spend enjoying their lives, the less acute appear to be their identity-related cultural or religious anxieties.

This is exactly the reason why there is a negative correlation between the quality of living standards in every particular country and the strength of citizens’ national/religious mindedness.

As it was noted by Dobbelaere (2004, p. 167) ‘Examining the impact of CNP per capita, as a context vari­able, on (citizens’) church commitment and on nationalistic sentiment for the eleven European countries… we found a significant and negative relationship’. To put it plainly – the better is the quality of people’s life, the less they are being concerned with exploring their ‘cultural uniqueness’.

The example of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, as countries that feature world’s highest standards of living, is being quite illustrative in this respect – the overwhelming majority of these countries’ citizens are non-religious and non-nationalistically minded.

This also explains why it is namely in countries of the Third World, where citizens appear to be utterly concerned with the danger of losing their cultural/religious identity, due to Globalization. Apparently, their strongly defined sense of such an identity is nothing but psychological extrapolation of their inability to enjoy Western standards of living – pure and simple.

What it means is that, contrary to what people that oppose Globalization believe, the very concept of ‘identity’ is something that is being in the state of constant transformation, with such states of affairs being dialectically predetermined by the laws of history.

For example, before French Revolution of 1792, Europeans never even thought of their identity in terms of a ‘nation’ but solely in terms of what happened to be their class and religious affiliation (Kissane & Sitter 2010).

The consequential rise of bourgeoisie, as a new social class, established objective preconditions for Europeans to think of their identity in terms of a ‘nation’, which explains why 19th-20th centuries are being commonly referred to as the ‘centuries of nationalism’.

Nowadays, the qualitative essence of an exponential socio-economic and scientific progress, closely related to the notion of Globalization, presupposes the sheer outdatedness of the very concept of nation. According to Ohmae (2005, p. IV), ‘The global economy ignores barriers, but if they are not removed, they cause distortion.

The traditional centralized nation-state is another cause of friction. It is ill-equipped to play a meaningful role on the global stage’. This, however, does not mean that Globalization deprives people of their sense of self-identity. What it does, is transforming such their self-identity from being concerned with the notion of nation/religion to being concerned with the notion of intellect/progress.

Apparently, a parallel can be drawn between the process of people attaining an essentially cosmopolitical identity of ‘world’s citizens’ and the process of horse-drawn coaches having evolved into cars. Even a brief glance at the pictures of these horse-drawn coaches in museums reveals an undeniable fact that all of them have been individually designed and uniquely decorated.

When we look at modern cars, on the other hand, we will come to eventual realization that on the outside, they all appear quite similar – the same aerodynamic shape, the same elements of external design (two lights, four wheels, two or four doors).

Nevertheless, under no circumstances, this observation can be suggestive that there is less unique ‘identity’ to every individual modern car, as compared to what it used to be the case with every individual horse-drawn coach – unlike the external ‘identity’ of horse-drawn coaches, the ‘identity’ of modern cars is internal.

It is namely the internal complexity of modern cars, which defines modern cars’ ‘identity’ more than the particulars of these cars’ external appearance.

The same can be said about how Globalization affects the sense of people’s self-identity. On the one hand, it does encourage people to wear the same clothing, to watch the same movies and to consume the same food.

On the other hand, however, it provides them with countless new opportunities to explore their sense of self-identity by the mean of affiliating themselves with newly emerged professional pursuits, by the mean of being able to travel the world without having to apply for visas, and by the mean of remaining fully aware of political, economic and social developments in different parts of the world (Internet).

The unification/standardization of system’s (such as society) external emanations with the simultaneous growth of such system’s internal complexity is what Globalization is all about. Therefore, the argument of anti-Globalists as to the fact that Globalization destroys what they refer to as ‘cultural diversity’, can be best defined as childish, at best.

Individual’s ‘cultural uniqueness’ is nothing but external peel/tinsel, which has very little to do with the very essence of his or her existential identity per se. For example, before being affected by the reforms of Russian Tsar Peter the Great, Russian sense of ‘true identity’ used to sublimate itself in Russians’ tendency to wear long and unkempt beards.

Nevertheless, after having been ordered to shave off their beards by Peter the Great, Russians never ceased being Russians. Nowadays, Russian identity is often being discussed within the context of Russians possessing a talent for building nuclear submarines and space rockets – all thanks to the fact that at the beginning of 18th century, Peter the Great had succeeded with opening Russia to the world (Lewitter 1985).

Another major criticism of Globalization as ‘identity-destroying’ process is being concerned with what anti-Globalists perceive as Globalization’s ‘euro-centrism’.

According to the critics, it is not only that Globalization undermines the inner integrity of indigenous societies, but that it results in world’s ‘westernization’ – just as it used to be the case during the course of colonial-era – ‘Dress code which is getting globalized is overwhelmingly the Western dress code…

When we examine the languages which have been globalized, they are disproportionately European – especially English and French’ (Mazrui 1999, p. 100). Nevertheless, there is no intentional ‘euro-centric’ maliciousness in Globalization’s cultural self-actualization.

Being dialectically predetermined by the laws of history, Globalization does not simply deny any value to particular culture’s material manifestations, but singles out the manifestations that are being worthy to become the part of global post-industrial reality.

For example; whereas, even as recent back as hundred years ago, pizza used to be considered exclusively Italian food, it now attained a truly international popularity, which is why it nowadays can be bought just about anywhere in the world. The same can be said about Chinese ‘chow mein’, Indian ‘curry’, German ‘bratwursts’, Polish ‘kielbasa’, Ukrainian ‘pierogis’ and Spanish ‘paella’.

At the same time, while helping to promote ‘useful’ manifestations of people’s cultural uniqueness, Globalization denies the validity to those that, even though appear to relate to the concept of culture, relate more to the concept of primeval savagery.

We need to understand that, given the fact that, as it was mentioned earlier, Globalization exposes the very concept of ‘nationhood’ as obsolete, it is no longer appropriate dividing people alongside of what happened to be the specifics of their racial, national or cultural affiliation.

Nowadays, it makes so much more sense referring to people as ‘agents of civilization’, on the one hand, and ‘intellectually underdeveloped savages’, on the other. The realities of today’s living justify the soundness of an earlier suggestion because as of today, there are mainly two types of human societies, which can be generally defined as Western (urban) and Traditional/Third World (rural).

The representatives of Western highly urbanized societies are being known for their intellectual open-mindedness, their secularized attitudes and most importantly – for their strongly defined sense of individualism.

The representatives of so-called Traditional/Third World (rural) societies, on the other hand, are known for their strong sense of ritualistic religiosity/spirituality, their tribal intolerance and their collectivist attitudes.

Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that it is namely the ‘traditionalists’ who seem to be particularly opposed to Globalization as something that threatens their ‘culture’ – Globalization exposes traditionalist cultures, heavily embedded in ritualistic spirituality, as simply an extrapolation of its affiliates’ existential atavism.

Apparently, these people’s traditionalistic-mindedness is nothing but the byproduct of their subconscious strive to ‘blend’ with the environment, as the ultimate mean of ensuring own physical survival. Yet, this is exactly what animals do.

In his book, Bruhl (1928, p. 120) was able to explain the actual essence of tradition-based cultures with perfect clarity ‘Identity appears in (traditionalist) collective representations… as a moving assemblage or totality of mystic actions and reactions, within which individual does not subjectualize but objectualize itself’.

However, it was namely due to people’s ability to actively oppose themselves against the environment that the eventual emergence of civilization and culture became possible, in the first place.

Therefore, the claims that Globalization destroys native cultures – hence, undermining the integrity of indigenous populations’ sense of identity, appear conceptually fallacious, as these cultures are no ‘cultures’ by definition, but cultural rudiments of primeval barbarianism.

This is exactly the reason why – the more traditionally minded a particular individual appears to be, the lesser is his or her ability to act as the agent of progress and the stronger such individual’s appetite for taking the full advantage of what ‘wicked’ and ‘spiritually shallow’ Western civilization has to offer.

After all, it does not represent much of a secret that, while criticizing Globalization on the account of its ‘euro-centrism’, people from the Third World countries nevertheless try to immigrate to Western countries, where they are being provided with an opportunity to celebrate their ‘cultural uniqueness’ at the expense of native-born taxpayers.

Apparently, being able to enjoy civilized living (excellent roads, high quality health care, affordable education, law and order, etc.) is so much more beneficial, within the context of people exploring their existential identity, than having to look for eatable insects and drinking water, in time free from indulging in never-ending tribal warfare and making babies on industrial scale (Obi 2010).

If anything, Globalization helps underdeveloped populations to deal their cultural, social and technological backwardness, as it stimulates individualistic instincts in people, even if it happens contrary to these people’s wishes.

As it was pointed out by Jensen (2003, p. 190) ‘The globalization ethos… often emphasizes individual autonomy and secular values, and quite frequently, these values are not easily reconciled with those of more traditional cultures emphasizing community cohesion and religious devotion’.

Therefore, only utterly naïve or deliberately malicious individuals may accuse Globalization of preventing people from being able to hang on to their culture-based sense of identity.

As it was shown earlier, the notion of Globalization is synonymous to the notion of culture, which is why the process of world becoming ‘flat’ does, in fact, help people to realize their full potential – hence, making it easier for them to not only possess an identity, in the first place but also to enjoy it.

I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation in defense of an idea that, contrary to the claims of anti-Globalists, Globalization does provide an opportunity for people in the post-industrial world to be endowed with the strong sense of personal self-identity is being entirely consistent with paper’s initial thesis. This conclusion could not be any different.

As it was shown throughout the Analytical part, Globalization itself thrives upon its promoters’ endowment with individualistic-mindedness – the psychological trait that enables the formation one’s strong sense of self-identity, in the first place.

References

Arnett, L 2003, ‘Coming of age in a multicultural world: Globalization and adolescent cultural identity formation’, Applied Developmental Science, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 189-196.

Bruhl, L 1928, The soul of the primitive. George Allen & Unwin Ltd.. London.

Dobbelaere, K 2004, Secularization: An analysis at three levels, Peter Lang, Berlin.

Kissane, B & Sitter, N 2010, ‘National identity and constitutionalism in Europe: Introduction’, Nations & Nationalism, vol. 16, no. 1, pp. 1-5.

Lewitter, L 1985, ‘Peter the Great and the modern world’, History Today, vol. 35, no. 2, pp. 16-23.

Mazrui, A 1999, ‘Globalization and cross-cultural values: The politics of identity and judgment’, Arab Studies Quarterly, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 97-109.

Nuyen, A 2003, ‘Confucianism, Globalization and the idea of universalism’, Asian Philosophy: An International Journal of the Philosophical Traditions of the East, vol. 13, no. 2-3, pp. 75-86.

Obi, C 2010, ‘African migration as the search for a wonderful world: An emerging trans-global security threat?’, African & Asian Studies, vol. 9, no. 1/2, pp. 128- 148.

Sánchez, M 2010, ‘Globalization and loss of identity’, International Forum of Psychoanalysis, vol. 19, no. 2, pp. 71-77.

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