Much of the local conflicts and national crises we’re facing as a faith-based justice advocates and peacebuilding workers are actually immediate manifestations of unjust, long-term, global worldview or ideology that functions like a religion. For our strategic peacebuilding to be effective, we must understand the unjust powers and principalities we’re facing.
The worldview that underlies the current system in our 21st century global politics and economy is like a religion. It is the ideology of rule by the world market, the religion of the dominant neoliberal corporate powers. This ideology reduces the other dimensions of globalization—such as ecology, culture, politics, and civil society—and subordinates them to the greed-based game of the world market system.
Globalism is the global injustice we’re facing as justice-based peacebuilders.
Globality, Globalization, and Globalism
In order to get a clear understanding of what globalization is all about, we must distinguish the discussion of globality and globalization on the one hand, and globalism on the other.
Globality. We understand globality in terms of a perceived reality that we have been living for a long time in a world society. Due to the rapid advancement in communication and transportation technologies, the world seems to be shrinking. Whether in an interpersonal or international level, the world is becoming a society and this is expressed in politics, in culture, in economics, and through mass media. But this world society is without a world state or a world government; it is a multidimensional, polycentric, contingent, political world society.
Globalization. It denotes the processes through which sovereign national states are criss-crossed and undermined by transnational actors with varying prospects of power, orientations, identities and networks. This process, otherwise known as the new globality, is irreversible.
Another way of understanding globalization is by looking at its various aspects. While globalization is generally described and studied primarily as an economic phenomenon, its impact is felt in all aspects of life—economic, political, and cultural. Economic globalization is implemented through global presence of multinational corporations, through the global influence of World Trade Organization, through the flow of investments penetrating national borders, and through other business and financial activities that are aimed at integrating all markets into one global market. Political globalization is the weakening of the sovereignty of national governments due to the presence of the increasing numbers of international governmental organizations (IGOs), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and multinational corporations (MNCs); the global presence and influence of these bodies cannot be matched by national governments. Cultural globalization happens when the dominance of Western culture is imposed upon other cultures. One of the most significant impositions of the West to other cultures is the set of values represented by globalization—that is, the satisfaction of wants through consumerism. This is propagated all over the world through the use of mass media, the Internet, and other communication and transportation technologies.
Globalism is the view that the world market eliminates or supplants political action—that is, the ideology of rule by the world market, the ideology of neoliberalism. This ideology has one single cause—economic growth in a linear fashion. It reduces the other dimensions of globalization—such as ecology, culture, politics, and civil society—and subordinates them to the game of the world market system in which everything is measured by linear economic growth. Globalism is the key ethical value of globalization.
The construct of globalism is the predominant view of reality
Globalism is best understood as the vision of the good life in neo-classical theory of political-economy. It is a worldview—a weltanschauung. This worldview is a construct of reality that started in the 18th century with Adam Smith’s concept of market capitalism. According to this political-economic view of the world, the individual is understood as an agent of choice. Given the many alternatives presented to the individual, her or his actions would be based on self-interest. Human individuals are assumed to seek the highest level of satisfaction of our wants, and this satisfaction of wants, as long as they are available, determines human happiness. In order to attain the highest satisfaction of wants, the individual must make a rational decision—on what to buy, on how to spend time, on whom to marry, on what course to study, on what career to take, and so on. The rational choice of the individual seeks a single end—that is, the subjective satisfaction, utility, or happiness through alternative means. This rational choice presupposes scarcity—a state when the naturally available means are inadequate to satisfy desires fully. Scarcity depends both on desire and on the availability of resources. The best way to allocate scarce resources is through the means of market decentralization—that is, allowing the market to reshuffle resources and commodities so as to achieve their most desirable use. When basic satisfaction is attained through these processes, the next stage would be the maximization of individual satisfaction. If an interconnected system of individuals experience satisfaction, then maximization is deemed to be happening. This is also regarded as group welfare.
The individual, in the process of maximizing self-satisfaction, will have to increase his or her utilitarian experience in a linear fashion. In this sense, the individual is considered to be a consumer. In the process of the individual’s consumption, he or she can affect others either negatively or positively. The effect is positive when an individual’s act of consumption yields an unintended benefit to someone else; and negative when the individual’s well-being is enhanced by an experience that harms others. These positive and negative effects of one’s individual act of consumption are described as externalities. Externalities are social consequences of private want satisfaction.
The neo-classical economic worldview is not a value-free discipline, as most economists would claim. Its metaphysics and ideology are manifestations of globalism. Many aspects of reality and human life are left outside the lenses of economics. This construct of reality goods, land, labor, even cultural, religious, and aesthetic artifacts are commodified, which in turn results to political disempowerment and socio-cultural dislocation of many people around the world. When economists become the major controlling power in the service of global economic growth, we then become worshippers of a god called growth, with a religion called economism.
Globalism is like a religion
If globalism, as mentioned earlier, is a weltanschauung—one’s apprehension of reality and how one views her or his relationship with such reality, then weltanschauung can also be understood as religion; that is, if religion, as John Milbank defines it, is understood as “the basic organizing category for an entire culture: the images, word-forms, and practices which specify ‘what there is’ for a particular society.” Can globalism, then, be understood and evaluated as a religion? From a theological-ethical perspective, I do believe so. There are implicit “theology” and “ethic” operative in globalism.
From a biblical perspective, globalism as a religion replaced the worship of God with the worship of a god called Mammon. Mammon is an Aramaic word which means “wealth” or “property,” and is personified as a god of wealth, property, or money (Mt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). Mammon is worshipped in the sense of being served as the highest category in a person’s or a culture’s value system. Mammon is the most important power energizing globalism. Max L. Stackhouse‘s insight about the powers and spheres behind human cultures and organizations is relevant here:
While it is properly impossible for many to believe in non-substantial persons in the form of angels or demons, spirits or devils—flitting around and making things happen in life—it is equally impossible to deny that moral and spiritual forces influence life for better or for worse. The reality of such “spiritual energies” is no less true for contemporary humanity than it was for peoples living in ancient “animistic,” “polytheist,” or “mystical” cultures, although the ways in which we think about these energies, perhaps even encounter them, have surely changed.
The identification and naming of Mammon as god of globalism is a valid analysis of psycho-spiritual and socio-moral potentialities that claim people’s loyalties and respect in various societies.
Globalism dehumanizes one’s being
In the neo-classical worldview, the person is an individual-in-marketplace. This basic anthropology is well articulated by Sallie McFague:
The worldview or basic assumption of neo-classical economics is surprisingly simple and straightforward: the crucial assumption is that human beings are self-interested individuals who, acting on this basis, will create a syndicate or machine, even a global one, capable of benefiting all eventually. Hence, as long as the economy grows, all individuals in a society will sooner or later participate in prosperity.
Globalism reduces human beings to mere homo economicus. The Self becomes an isolated individual who exists to satisfy his or her wants; a self-interested consumer in a mechanistic world. When an isolated individual’s identity is reduced to being a self-interested consumer, the tendency is to create a universe where the center is the Self. The interest and satisfaction of the Self becomes the highest goal. When other people and other creature enter this self-centered universe, they feel used as objects of utility or abused as instruments for individualistic satisfaction. The Others feel alienated. The Self, in return, is alienated. The Self, then, is isolated and becomes alone in her or his own universe or self-defined reality. The psycho-spiritual and socio-moral implications of the alienated Self is frightening, as evidenced in many sad events in many homes, offices, and schools today.
Globalism reduces the other as mere competitor
In globalism, the Other is merely treated and reduced as a competitor. There is a positive side to this. Competition motivates individuals and societies to be efficient in terms of cost-benefit analysis and management of resources. Because the individual is assumed to live and progress in life as a self-interested consumer in an economic arena defined by scarcity, each individual-in-marketplace has to compete against each other. This self-interested competitor tends to maximize the production and distribution of scarce goods and services. When competition is regulated through the standards of justice and fairness, it can be ethically viable.
But there is also some negative aspects of the Other as a competitor. Competition isolates each individual from other individuals. They can only interact with each other through an interconnected system of individuals who are trying to satisfy their wants. In globalism, the Other can only be experienced as part of an impersonal economic concept called externalities—the social consequences of private want satisfaction. The operative term in these externalities is rational decision-making. Relationships, at its best, have to be determined by a rational decision to attain the highest satisfaction of wants. The key evaluative standard for inter-personal relationships, wittingly or unwittingly, is the question: “What’s in it for me?” In neo-classical economic worldview, relationships are commodified, if not totally devalued. For example, spending time with a person from a rationalistic approach has to be viewed as an investment of time with a person from whom a return of investment can be expected. Such relational investments may return when the Other becomes a client, a political supporter, a donor, and perhaps a part of career development network. At best, investment for the Other may return as a source of emotional support, financial help, business credibility reference network, etc. When the Other is treated like a commodity, we reduce their humanity based on exchange value or extrinsic value. When we devalue human beings, we insult her or his Creator who declared that human beings have intrinsic value—that the human person is “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
Globalism treats the planet earth as mere machine
Finally, globalism views Creation as a machine. In both neo-classical and Marxist economic theories, Creation is regarded as mere pool of resources to be consumed and exploited because the Earth is seen as a mechanistic resource base, not as a living organism. There is an on-going debate among Christian theological-ethicists on how we should regard the Creation. Should we regard the creation as the resource base to be managed technically to satisfy the needs and wants of human beings? Thomas Sieger Derr believes so. This is called the anthropocentric view of the world. Or, should we regard the creation as a holistic ecosystem to be cared for lovingly for the sake of both human beings and other life forms? James A. Nash believes so. This is called the biocentric view of the world.
I, being raised up in the context of Asian worldview, see a harmony between the anthropocentric and biocentric world. It is not an either-or conflict. It is a both-and harmonization. Both anthropocentric and biocentric views of the world, from the perspective of peacebuilding, are complementaries, not contradictories. The harmonized perspective of anthropocentrism-biocentrism affirms an organic-relational view of creation and resists a mechanistic-utilitarian view.
For millions of people in Asia, Africa, Latin America, as well as the first nations of North America and Australia, an organic-relational view of the world makes more sense than a mechanistic-utilitarian worldview. From the perspective of many people outside the affluent societies of Western Europe and North America, there is a direct relationship between the cry of the oppressed people and the cry of the planet earth. When the Creation is simply regarded as a mechanistic resource base, then the benefits of the earth will be more available to those with more powerful ways and means—legal means, political apparatus, military arms, cultural influence—to enforce and implement their claims. Human history shows that this view of the world, complemented by the above-mentioned ways and means, necessarily results to imperialism and injustice .
With this understanding of the global nature of the local injustices we’re experiencing, we will intensify our efforts to be advocates and practitioners of justice-based peacebuilding and inclusive development through social entrepreneurial initiatives.