Globalization, Identity, and Emotions
In an age of globalization, emotions have become indispensable to grasp the complexity of the world we live in. Magnified by media, they both reflect and react to globalization and in turn influence geopolitics. Globalization may have made the world "flat," to cite journalist Thomas Friedman's famous metaphor, but it has also made the world more passionate than ever.
In a moment, we shall examine the reasons that this is true. But first we need to clarify the nature of globalization itself, since many people misunderstand it. In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman defines globalization as the international system that replaced that of the Cold War. Unlike the Cold War system, globalization is not static but a dynamic ongoing process, involving the inexorable integration of markets, nation--states, and technologies to a degree never before witnessed, in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations, and countries to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper, and cheaper than ever before. This same process is also producing a powerful backlash from those brutalized or left behind by the new system.
For many people, especially critics, globalization is identical with Americanization. The spread of American influence--political, economic, and cultural--dates back at least to the Second World War, but it gained new strength after the end of the Soviet empire in 1991, which left the United States as the world's only superpower. Thus the growing unification of the world's economies and cultures means in effect a unification on American terms. As a result, today's antiglobalization protests, which are now mounting with the deepening of the current financial and economic crisis, combine anti--American sentiments with anticapitalist critiques in their struggle for equality, fair trade, and sustainable development.
But when we look closer, we see that the equation of globalization with Americanization is too simplistic. The reality is that while the cultural influence of the United States throughout the world is all--pervasive and unprecedented, economically the West is being overtaken by Asia. The current phase of globalization reflects the coming-of-age of the Asian continent, resulting in the relay of economic power from an American--dominated West to China and India.
Globalization can thus be seen as the combination of two disparate phenomena, which may be seen as either contradictory or complementary. On the one hand, we witness the impact of the cultural Americanization of the world. The French economist Daniel Cohen believes that the gradual reduction of birthrates in the Southern Hemisphere is the direct result of the popularity of American television series, families with two children having become a universal ideal. On the other hand, the economic rise of Asia is bringing about the end of the monopoly of the Western model. Western predominance in the world, which began with the establishment of the Raj in India in the mid--eighteenth century and the decline of China in the early nineteenth and culminated in the early part of the twentieth century, seems to be coming to an end. This comes as no surprise to historians of empire, who have long known that the rise and fall of empires follow a cyclical pattern.
This leads to a situation of asymmetric multipolarity: The key actors on the world stage not only are unequal in terms of power and influence but also differ dramatically in their views of the world. While America and Europe still approach world affairs in a normative manner on the basis of a belief in universal values, China and India and now also post--Communist Russia appear far less interested in what the world should become than in their own positions of power within it. (Thus, for example, Russia's oil and gas wealth is not supposed to contribute to the improvement of life on the planet but to restore the strength and legitimacy of Russia in the international system.)
Such a pragmatic approach is evident in China's view of Singapore. That city--state, with its fusion of Confucian values and eighteenth-century-style enlightened despotism, has played a major role in the evolution of modern China. When, in February 1978, China's new leader, Deng Xiaoping, stopped in Singapore on a diplomatic visit, he did not recognize the "mosquito dump" he remembered from the 1920s. Barely a decade after achieving its independence in 1965, Singapore was already a prosperous city that had embraced capitalism under the firm but enlightened guidance of Lee Kuan Yew. Once liberated from a narrow socialist economic vision, Lee Kuan Yew argued to Deng Xiaoping, the Communist heirs of the mandarins of the Middle Empire should be able to do even better economically than the descendants of poor Chinese peasants from the south. And indeed this has been the broader vision that Deng and the rest of China's leaders have followed.
For China, this pragmatic approach has paid off. The country's remarkable economic progress has been achieved without democracy, even without the rule of law.
In the rest of the world, meanwhile, democracy has been dangerously devalued through the inflationary use of the word by the Bush administration in its attempt to justify the United States' geopolitical ambitions. The contrast between the democratic ideal and the reality of democratic practices in too many Western and non--Western countries may explain in part the relay of power from America to Asia that I have described.
If democracies are losing faith in democratic models, and if autocratic regimes are supported in their antidemocratic practices by their combination of high economic growth and political stability, it is the Western world that suffers most from this evolution. Less than twenty years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the West enjoyed a sense of supremacy because of its democratic values that more than compensated for the fact that countries like the newly united Germany were not doing well economically. But today the democratic essence of the West is no longer seen as compensating for its lack of economic performance. Maybe emotions have returned to the forefront of the international scene in part because the West can no longer rely on either its values or its fading economic supremacy and therefore reacts to global changes with a certain bitterness and a desire to protect its precious open world against hostile forces.
But the primary reason that today's globalizing world is the ideal fertile ground for the blossoming or even the explosion of emotions is that globalization causes insecurity and raises the question of identity. In the Cold War period there was never any reason to ask, "Who are we?" The answer was plainly visible on every map that depicted the two adversarial systems dividing the globe between them. But in an ever--changing world without borders, the question is intensely relevant. Identity is strongly linked with confidence, and in turn confidence, or the lack thereof, is expressed in emotions--in particular, those of fear, hope, and humiliation.
Economically, globalization can be defined simply as the integration of economic activities across borders through markets. The driving forces of globalization, masterfully analyzed by Martin Wolf, are technological and policy changes that reduce the costs of transport and communications and encourage greater reliance on market forces. But this free flow of goods in economic terms also implies in political terms the free flow of emotions, including both positive emotions (ambition, curiosity, yearning for self--expression) and evil ones, including the angry passions that lead to hatred between nations, religions, and ethnic groups. Thus terrorism has become the dark, tragic face of globalization.
I don't mean to imply that contemporary terrorism is a direct result of globalization. Terrorists have always crossed borders in pursuit of their goals (notably in nineteenth--century Europe), and the terrorism of al Qaeda has its origins in the specific political situation of the Middle East, which predates and is quite distinct from globalization. But what is new is the impact of the communications and transportation revolutions on the strategy and tactics of the terrorists, with the media revolution (including the Internet) providing new and powerful sounding boards for the terrorist message. New technologies have created a world where, to adapt the words of Churchill, "Never have so few been able to do so much harm to so many."
In a world where the West no longer has a monopoly on the media, events and conflicts can be reported from a variety of angles. The invasion of Lebanon by Israel in the summer of 2006, for instance, appeared as two entirely different wars depending on whether one viewed the coverage on Al Jazeera or on CBS news. In today's world, everyone has access not only to continuing information but also to unfolding emotions. Now that American television series reach all corners of the world and have nearly become universal frames of reference, the poor know how the rich live, and vice versa. As a result, it has become increasingly difficult for the rich to ignore the world's poor, whose anger they witness on the evening news. Many poor people risk their lives by crossing seas and climbing barriers to enter the world of the rich; others who stay at home develop an abiding hatred for the affluent who deliberately ignore their fate.
After 9/11, the brother of one of the al Qaeda terrorists, imprisoned by the American authorities before he could join the nineteen other conspirators, was interviewed on French television. He described his brother as a young man who "wanted to succeed at the top of Wall Street or destroy to ashes the world that would not make a place for him." Such a statement would be impossible if Wall Street and the Islamic Middle East still occupied separate worlds, as they once did.
In a transparent world the poor are no longer ignorant of the world of the rich, and the rich have lost the privilege of denial. They may choose to ignore the tragedies of the developing world, but it is a choice they must make consciously and, increasingly, at their own peril. "Not to act is to act," the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer used to say. Today not to intervene to alleviate the sufferings of the world is a form of intervention.
Thus globalization has created a process of universal benchmarking that makes the West more vulnerable. This is true even by comparison with the era of the Cold War, with its ever--present threat of nuclear annihilation, a threat that was both less diffused and more visible and therefore, in retrospect, more emotionally manageable, even "reassuring." When West and East confronted each other across a metaphorical wall (made real, of course, in Berlin), the enemy was singular, easy to identify, and capable of being analyzed, deterred, and negotiated with. Now all that has changed, and the enemy comes not only from another cultural and religious domain but seemingly from another era, one with premodern historical and political references.
The privatization of violence through terrorism; the fact that more conflicts are internal and not external (civil wars rather than international conflicts); the invisible nature of the terrorist threats; and the multiplication of nonpolitical threats such as global pandemics and climate change: All these factors have contributed to a sense of insecurity, vulnerability, and fear. Today in the West we live with an apprehension that can be formulated in one question: What kind of world will our children inherit? Will the combination of spectacular demographic trends--leading, according to projections, to a world of nine billion people by 2050--and worsening shortages of energy, water, and other commodities produce extreme planetary tensions and even wars of sheer survival?
If the twentieth century was both "the American century" and "the century of ideology," I think there is strong evidence that the twenty--first century will be "the Asian century" and "the century of identity." The parallel shifts from ideology to identity and from West to East mean that emotions have become more important than ever in the way we see the world.
In the ideological atmosphere of the twentieth century, the world was defined by conflicting political models: socialism, fascism, and capitalism. In today's world, ideology has been replaced by the struggle for identity. In the age of globalization, when everything and everybody are connected, it is important to assert one's individuality: "I am unique, I am different, and, if necessary, I am willing to fight until you recognize my existence." A Slovak is not a Czech, and a citizen of Montenegro is not a Serb. In a world dominated by identity, we are defined less by our political beliefs and ideas than by the perception of our essence, by the confidence we gain from our achievements and the respect we receive from others or by the lack thereof.
In this perception of our essence, emotions come into play, linked to the way we look at others as much as to the way others look at us. Emotions are at the same time the image in the mirror and the eye of the person who beholds that image. Emotions are reciprocal, as powerfully illustrated, for instance, by the modern well--educated Muslim women who choose to wear the head scarf in the West, thereby eliciting a cascade of mirror emotions concerning their identity and motives. You fear someone, you are humiliated by someone, and even in the case of hope you are inspired by the success of someone else. Such intertwined, mutually dependent emotions are the key to understanding our identity--dominated world.
Fear, humiliation, and hope thus can be seen as just as natural and vital ingredients in human beings as the three components of blood: red cells, white cells, and plasma. We all require these three elements in order to live in a healthy manner. But health depends on the right balance among them. To have too much or too little of any of these three components is dangerous for the balance of the body and for its long--term health. A balance of emotions is as vital to the "health of the world" as "balanced" blood to the health of individuals.
The two "passions" (emotions) that most concerned the seventeenth--century Dutch philosopher Spinoza were hope and fear, for both relate to uncertainty over what the future will bring. Yet both are necessary in life. An element of fear is necessary for survival, and hope ignites and fuels the motor of life. Even humiliation in very small doses can stimulate one to do better, especially if it comes from a friend who does better in sports or school or a friendly country that performs better in sports or business. But deliberate humiliation without hope is destructive, and too much fear, too much humiliation, and not enough hope constitute the most dangerous of all possible social combinations, the one that leads to the greatest instability and tension.
The Mapping of Emotions
We all might agree that emotions play an important role in human behavior. We might even agree that the emotional conflicts raised by identity issues in today's globalizing world appear likely to have a significant impact on geopolitics. But what is the specific, concrete connection between emotions and geopolitical conflict? Is it possible to go beyond generalizations about emotions to see actual patterns of behavior that help explain what is happening on the world stage?From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Geopolitics of Emotion by Dominique Moisi. Copyright © 2009 by Dominique Moisi. Excerpted by permission of Anchor, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.