Globalisation Does Not Exist
19 may 2007
… Globalisation does not exist. Ce que nous appelons mondialisation / globalisation n’est que la projection / réflexion de nos fantasmes et de nos peurs. While the former deals with the totality of things and beings in an ordered system, the latter is concerned with the whole, like a round box, putting aside the details. But this difference of emphasises does not imply that one exists more than the other, both being complementary creations of the mind feeding on each other, giving a raison d’être to each other. While globalisation is a historical and fundamental contradiction (1) as well as a mean of control, mondialisation is an utopia and a system of disciplines. On Jun 29th, 2006, celebrating “one of the most accomplished bilateral relationship in history”, President George W. Bush of the United States and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi of Japan declared in a joint statement a new global alliance for the 21st century. A new global alliance not only in term of security but also on the basis of shared “core universal values such as freedom, human dignity and human rights, democracy, market economy and the rule of law” (2).
Imagined bodies and rationality
It seems to me scientifically unsound, politically incoherent and historically incorrect to talk about the world without talking about what it is made of. Unless this content is thought of as given, reduced to its lowest common denominator. This content being people, societies and cultures. However ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ this content may be, however ignorant we choose to be of the details, or, by the same token, however close to god we want to elevate him; whether it is Hobbes’ state of nature or Sahlins’ original affluent society the object remains: Man among Men. From the Christ on the cross to the Middle Age public corporal punishments (3), from the European slave trade to today’s mass consumption society, traditionally and historically the West has related to the Other in material terms, whether it is sexuality, war, races, power, wealth or progress. From the age of enlightenment to North-South relations the modern world was born out of the body. To clearly understand this continuity and this function of the body, one must consider separately Mayan human sacrifice or Japan ritual of seppuku for instance (4). In contact with the Other and in the absence of a common system to refer to, it seems fair to assume that the body becomes our first reference, our first common language. In turn, in contact with the Other and out of the body rationality as a system emerges. But behind the body, more than life itself, it is an obsession with death that has filtered through, an obsession that has driven this modern world. Simply put, death means rupture. Brought to its theoretical extreme, individual rights, along the line of reason, means death. But it is death in the first place, the death of the body, which brought about rationality and the age of Enlightenment (5). Not only death itself, but also the way it was approached, its incestuous unity with life, its blurred borders. From here, to try to establish further causal relationships would lead to nowhere. Individual rights, reason, consciousness, all are linked to each other in a single closed unit. Death is a dead end. The philosophical question then becomes: how do we move forward? And this so more than ever as the natural continuity of life has been broken. How do we acknowledge history and this broken continuity at the same time? How do we reconcile death with the present? How do we bring the present into the future? Because there is no end. There can not be an end. End cannot be an end in itself, whatever form we give it. There is only life and movement, only dynamics at work. We thus arrive at the idea of an open complete system at the edge of which we stand. The chaos we stare at on the outside is the necessary balance and reflection of our own fear, of our own chaos in the inside. The backbone of this system is the movement, the new: the perpetuity of the present in the future. To quote Michel Foucault in his famous text What is Enlightenment?: “This philosophical ethos may be characterised as a limit-attitude. We are not talking about a gesture of rejection. We have to move beyond the outside-inside alternative; we have to be at the frontiers” (6). On the other hand, the theoretical model of the closed complete system is regulated by order on the outside. That is, an order which does not interfere inside. Order is thereby defined as elsewhere (7). In either system there is no room for the totality a globalised world. Commenting on last year war in Lebanon between Israel and the Hezbollah and trying to explain the wider regional dynamic at work, John Tierney argued that the honour system in the Middle East was the main obstacle to peace as it was not possible “to placate the enemy with the kind of concessions that appeal to Western diplomats” (8). In Le Monde newspaper, under the headline La résistance du Hezbollah provoque un débat en Israël, Benjamin Barthe pointed out that while Israel was unable “to change the rules of the game”, the Hezbollah, just like the Palestinians people, were waging an absolute war, a war of totality: “ils appréhendent leur lutte en termes absolus” (9). A total war, a war of totalities, a war without peace or collapse, a never ending war. A never ending dynamic of blood.
Imagined futures and revolution
Now, can this movement be reduced to a simple mathematical formula, to a series of closed units next to each other resulting in yet another closed unit? And what would such a movement be? It is often asked what would you do if you win the lottery. The answer often given is ‘I would stop working’. It is not the answer that is quick, thoughtless or even childish but it is the adult interpretation of this answer that is cold, empty and calculated. Such an answer is actually the most coherent possible as it is in the continuation of the dream exposed in the original question. Should the movement be reduced to a simple mathematical formula the dream would have to be removed. To reduce man to its lowest common denominator is to kill the dream and the movement. To reduce man to its lowest common denominator is to consider the present in a given whole, without movement. To push to a higher level, to enlarge life, so to speak, to include the dream is to be on the edge, is to bring the present into the future, is the movement. This movement is a basculement. A basculement, not a collapse. A movement that necessarily includes ourselves. Recalling the original meaning of the word revolution, a circular movement, un mouvement qui boucle la boucle, and distinguishing between revolt and revolution, Albert Camus writes “Le mouvement de révolte à l’origine tourne court. Il n’est qu’un témoignage sans cohérence. La révolution commence au contraire à partir de l’idée. Précisément elle est l’insertion de l’idée dans l’expérience historique quand la révolte est seulement le mouvement qui mène de l’expérience individuelle à l’idée. Alors que l’histoire, même collective, d’un mouvement de révolte, est toujours celle d’un engagement sans issue dans les faits, d’une protestation obscure qui n’engage ni systèmes ni raisons, une révolution est une tentative pour modeler l’acte sur l’idée, pour façonner le monde dans un cadre théorique ”. And Camus to conclude: “C’est pourquoi la révolte tue des hommes alors que la révolution détruit à la fois des hommes et des principes. Mais pour les même raisons, on peut dire qu’il n’y a pas encore eu de révolution dans l’histoire. Il ne peut en avoir qu’une qui serait la révolution définitive” (10). A final revolution which is no to be confused with Leon Trotsky’s permanent revolution: “for an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle, all social relations undergo transformation. Society keeps on changing its skin. Each stage of transformation stems directly from the preceding. This process necessarily retains a political character, that is, it develops through collisions between various groups in the society which is in transformation. Outbreaks of civil war and foreign wars alternate with periods of ‘peaceful’ reform ”. And Trotsky to continue: “Revolutions in economy, technique, science, the family, morals and everyday life develop in complex reciprocal action and do not allow society to achieve equilibrium. Therein lies the permanent character of the socialist revolution as such” (11). Both thinkers are faced with the same problem in defining the concept of revolution. They look in opposite direction for the answer and they both end up with the same neutralising characteristic. They both try to assign to the revolution an object, to give it an end, making it thereby a static and finite social phenomenon. They both miss the point, the dynamic, the movement. Camus disregards the process of revolt as a témoignage sans cohérence, a protestation obscure and Trotsky fails to recognise the equilibrium contained in the dynamic he describes. An equilibrium otherwise highlighted by Edwy Plenel, ex editor-in-chief of Le Monde, when he describes May 68 in France as “une révolte des individus : la conquête des droits collectifs par les libertés individuelles ; une liberté collective par le droit des individus” (12).
Imagined worlds and globalisation
In other word, the revolution does not exist. The revolution is only an image, a call. The revolution only points to a direction, to an attitude. The revolution is only a movement. An endless movement. A movement without object. A revolution that is the object itself, the object of the movement and at the same time which does not exist. A revolution which only exists as an aspiration. A revolution whose essence is the dream. In her article on bergosian politics and the foundation of the open society (interestingly enough at no point does she use the word globalisation) Paola Marrati insists on the following: “the opening is nothing but a tendency or an attitude […] The opening as opening does not have an object. Every object assigned to it from the outset, even if it were the entire universe, would close it.” (13) Given the original meaning of the word revolution stated earlier, a circular movement, its use in a political context implies a fundamental change. That is, a change which directly affects time and / or space, both dimensions being themselves directly related to each other. Consequently, the globalisation process is a revolution in the literal sense. Its scope, the globe, the world, le monde, entitles it to be characterised as a revolution, even if the two words are rarely or never put together in an obvious manner. While Pierre Bourdieu talks of a “révolution conservatrice d’un type nouveau” (14) and Zakin Maïdi writes “qu’on le veuille ou non, c’est le néolibéralisme qui est devenu, à la fin du XXe siècle, le fer de lance de la révolution mondiale” (15), none of those two scholars, in those two papers, clearly state that globalisation is a revolution. And rightly so, because as soon as this relation is acknowledged, simultaneously, at the exact same time, it is given an object, the world, and the opening it implies in the first place, the dynamic it is supposed to be stops to exist. As soon as it is named, it stops to carry the dream embodied in it. To say that globalisation does not exist is as true as to say water is wet. What is left however is a consciousness, images, dreams, feelings, a taste on the tongue, multiple creations of the mind. Where does all this fit in a world that suddenly does not exist? Suddenly left on our own with nothing and no one to believe in but ourselves, how do we move forward, how do we bring the present into the future? Left on our own, so is every one of us. Left on our own among others we are left to directly believe in and deal with the other. This is called politics. A borrowing from the field of psychology will show us that someone who does not trust himself cannot trust the other. Put the other way round, to trust ourselves is to be able to trust the other. Politics, precisely what globalisation is missing. Precisely what the media are failing to convey at the world level. Of all the media, cinema and the Internet can probably be considered the most global. While cinema provides a common mythology, an envelop, a common system to refer to, the Internet and its associated interactivity create individualities. Individualities, that is, individual on their own but without politics. There is no spontaneous dynamics in the Internet system. The only dynamic is structural. (16) Hence we have an artificial system made of isolated individuals. But isolated individual who have dreams. Dreams fed by this common mythology. There are dreams but there is no corresponding reality. A system which can be compared, at best, to a graft with the dream as its sap.
Globalisation is nothing but dreams and promises based on faith. To take just one example, the so-called global village is not meant to be a reality but to be, as well as to carry, an image of a happy future, a future necessarily better, a reflection of the original good time before time was created. It is the promise to close the circle, the promise of Camus’ final revolution, the promise of Christianity’s eternal peace. La boucle is indeed bouclée. The inside and the outside, the now and the future, the content and the container, the dynamic and its river bed: here are the differences that matter precisely because they no longer do matter. In their presentation of the project Imagined Futures (17), what Prof. Dr. Thomas Elsaesser and Dr. Wanda Strauven are talking about is not the future, not even the future of the past, what they are talking about is history in the making, is the present, is the movement: “Insight may prove few of these predictions accurate, but this is precisely their interest for the media scholar, because of what they tell us of imagined futures as part of the virtual present in every epoch” (18). To give it an object, whether it is the world or the future, is to neutralise it, to close it. In a world in the making, in progress, in a world constantly looking beyond the horizon, dreams are all the more important, dreams becomes the reality. How does the dream fit in the political process? How does the process of globalisation account for the body? From the cold war to the remaking of Solaris, from the political process of personagification (19) to Hollywood’s ‘acting renaissance’ (20) how do we move from a body-system to a character-system and back to the body? On September 1st, 2006, in an article entitled Le nouveau visage de la mondialisation, Frédéric Lemaître, observing the recent trend of investment from the South to the North exemplified by Mittal’s take-over of Arcelor, writes “l’actualité fournit chaque semaine de nouveaux exemples de cette mondialisation à l’envers”. On December 11th, 2006, interviewed in the French public channel broadcast Complément d’enquête, Bernard Arnault, chairman and managing director of LVMH, observing that his group was producing in France, declared “mon groupe français fait un petit peu la mondialisation à l’envers”.…
1 An historical contradiction, that is, from the perspective of the West. From the perspective of non-occidental cultures it could be argued that globalisation has always existed. The Supreme Beings of various societies around the world come to mind. They were / are not directly concerned with people’s everyday life but with the wider universe. See, for instance, African Conversion by Robin Horton in Africa, N° 41, 1971.
2 White House press release on http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/06/20060629-2.html. See also Koizumi, Bush trumpet new global-scale alliance in The Japan Times, Friday, Jun 30th, 2006, front page.
3 See the first chapter of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, the Birth of the Prison, 1975: The Body of the Condemned, pp. 9-40.
4 Regarding the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the body mutilations during the Sierra Leon civil war of the 1990s it is again through the continuity and function of the body that one must look to understand what happened.
5 Here, for instance, one can think of the Black Plague or Black Death which devastated Europe in the mid 14th century. Up to a third of Europe’s population died according to some estimates.
6 What is Enlightenment ? in The Foucault Reader by Michel Foucault, Paul Rabinow Editor, 1984, pp. 32-50: 45.
7 On this idea of open and closed complete systems the work of Lacan on subject formation is of particular interest.
8 Hezbollah’s Honor, article by John Tierney in The International Herald Tribune, Asian edition, Wednesday, July 26th, 2006, page 7.
9 La résistance du Hezbollah provoque un débat en Israël, article by Benjamin Barthe in the French daily newspaper Le Monde, Thursday, July 20th, 2006, pages 1 and 4.
10 L’homme révolté (The Rebel), Albert Camus, éditions Gallimard, 1951, Part III (Historical Rebellion): 134.
11 The Permanent Revolution, Leon Trotsky, Introduction to the first (Russian) edition published in Berlin, 1931, http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/works/pdf/prrp.pdf: 153.
12 Au vif : En défense de Mai 68, editorial by Edwy Plenel, Le Monde 2, Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004.
13 Mysticism and the foundation of the Open Society: Bergsonian Politics, lecture by Paola Marrati at the 2004 international conference on Political Theologies: Globalisation and Post-Secular Reason held at the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA, University of Amsterdam) and reproduced in the ASCA Annual Report 2004, pp. 75-90: 86.
14 Le mythe de la « mondialisation » et l’Etat social européen, lecture by Pierre Bourdieu at the General Confederation of Greek Workers (GSEE) in Athens in October 1996 and reproduced in Contre-Feux, Liber, Raison d’agir, 1998, http://www.homme-moderne.org/societe/socio/bourdieu/contrefeu/mythe.rtf: 3.
15 Les imaginaires de la mondialisation (not to be confused with L’imaginaire mondialisation), by Zaki Laïdi, published in the French literary magazine Esprit, N° 246, October 1998, pp. 85-98, http://www.laidi.com/papiers/esprit246.pdf: 8. In this paper Zaki Laïdi, researcher at the CNRS in France (CERI), writes “Si l’on veut réfléchir à la mondialisation en la considérant comme un fait social et plus seulement comme l’expression comptable d’interdépendances croissantes entre économies, il convient alors de la considérer en premier lieu comme un imaginaire. En effet, la mondialisation n’existe que par les représentations qu’elle dégage”. He distinguishes five mains components of this imaginaire social: modern life style, daily world events, shared feelings across borders through the media, the market and the discourse. Immigration and movements of people, which ought to be the best measure of any globalisation process, are nowhere discussed.
16 Natacha Polony, journalist at the French weekly newsmagazines Marriane and talking on the issue of internet and politics in the public broadcast Mots Croisés on November 20th, 2006, argued: “[…] Toute la question c’est est-ce que ça crée du collectif ou est-ce que ça laisse des individualités seules ? […] voilà, l’interactivité ça ne crée pas du collectif, ça ne crée pas du politique […] et c’est toute la question à se poser”(35th minute).
17 See the Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis (ASCA) at the University of Amsterdam (UVA), Faculties of Humanities, http://www.hum.uva.nl/asca/research.cfm, research program IV: Media and Culture, Project 5: Imagined Futures.
18 Here, one must take into account the traditional difference made in the field of anthropology between circular and linear time, between “primitive” and modern societies: “L’idée que nous pouvons nous faire du temps des autres et du nôtre est profondément transformée par l’étude minutieuse des formes les plus courantes, les plus quotidiennes de la communication. Les conversations, les énoncés inachevés, les prises de position ambiguës, voire les jeux de mots, nous renvoient à des comportements sociaux dont l’issue est beaucoup moins certaine que l’enchaînement mécanique d’un rite ou la récitation automatique d’une prière”. While this remark calls into question the traditional approach to so-called primitive societies, it also points to a methodology of the present. Images et usages du temps, Alban Bensa, in the French ethnology magazine Terrain, N° 29, September 1997, http://terrain.revues.org/document3190.htm.
19 The word personnagification was created from the French word personnage, which means character in English, in the same way personify is derived from person. I first used this word to describe the political process of transformation in the passage from ‘I’ to ‘we’ in works of literature. I later on found the same word used in the context of cinema: Mais qui sont-ils, lui ?, an article by Richard Bégin about the movie Le Couperet (The Ax) by French director Constantin Costa-Gravas on the Canadian website Hors Champ, July 2006: http://www.horschamp.qc.ca/article.php3?id_article=223.
20 See The golden age of acting, article published in The New York Times, Sunday, February 15th, 2004.