A Relocation of Power
Reflecting on The Two Laws of Globalization
Globalization as a descriptive term replaced the term International beginning about twenty to thirty years ago. It lends the sense that we are now a global society, no longer an international one. By International, we mean a society of nations that interact with one another. This assumption represents a transition in how people perceive the world. The prospects of becoming a fully realized global society are difficult to imagine when we look at the world through the lens of culture, geography, and history. Institutionally, in many ways, we are now a global society. Except that the place of institutions in society is changing. The transition to a globalized society is just not as clear or certain as its proponents want us to believe.
There are huge forces engaged in the globalization of everything as a replacement for nations. This is the centralized force of institutions of governance and finance that I treat as one side of my Two Global Forces framework. The other force is not institutional in the same sense, but relational, more communal. The global force of decentralized networks of relationships is present everywhere, inside of institutions, linking people in different nations across the continents, but present in the networks that connect local communities.
Globalization and the Two Global Forces
The thrust of the centralized force is to concentrate control of ALL aspects of life on the planet into the hands of people of great wealth. Their belief in their own superiority over the rest of humanity grants them the presumption of global leadership. But it is leadership without followers or a system of accountability. If the proposed Great Reset fails (I expect that it will.), to whom do we go to get our economies back?
While these global elites prepare to unleash their Great Reset on us, life goes on in local communities. If you scan the prognosticators on YouTube, you find people who are predicting an economic apocalypse. They may be right. It would be wise to prepare for it. Or maybe these futurist sages are simply magnifying their perspective for influence's sake. I don’t know.
Frankly, the Cassandras and Chicken-Littles of the world don’t impress me. Their perspective tends to be narrow, overly specialized, and hyperbolic. As a result, from where they sit before a camera and a microphone, they see the end of the world as they know it. But they don’t see everything or even the most of things that are happening in the world. My parents said to me as a child, “Just because someone says it, doesn’t make it true.” This is especially true when we are talking about globalization, politics, and economics.
The war between Russia and Ukraine is secondarily a global war. It is primarily a dispute about sections of land in Ukraine that Russia believes belong to them based on its history and culture. Even as the US and NATO became involved in supporting the Ukrainian militia, it remains essentially a regional war. Russians and Ukrainians, and some mercenaries from around the world are the ones fighting. The war concerns the geographic region defined as a length of land from the Baltic to the Caspian of former Soviet states that separates Russia from the Eastern European countries of NATO. This buffer zone has been and will always be a place of tension in the region.
The Two Laws of Globalization
A few years ago, I heard Pankaj Ghemawat speak about globalization. Professor Ghemawat teaches at the Stern School of Business at NYU. After hearing him speak, I purchased his book, The Laws of Globalization and Business Applications. In the book, he lays out two general “laws” that govern globalization.
“The law of semiglobalization: International interactions, while nonnegligible, are significantly less intense than domestic interactions.
The law of distance: International interactions are dampened by distance along cultural, administrative, and geographic dimensions and are often affected by economic distance as well.”
Ghemawat describes how these laws are drawn from the field of geography.
“The two laws of globalization are generalizations … of the two laws of geography proposed by Waldo Tobler …
The phenomenon external to (a geographic) area of interest affects what goes on in the inside …
Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.”
This suggests to me that we cannot escape the geographic nature of our lives. Even with Smartphones and Zoom conferences, we are captive to our geography. We live in specific locations, in particular residences that reflect local tastes and materials. When war happens on another continent, it isn’t local to my neighbors but is to the people there. If I know someone there, as I do in Ukraine, then the war becomes a local concern. Whatever foreign policy purpose that Russia and the US have in this war is not that interesting to me. The reason is that I see the foreign policy by nation-states as essentially about influencing domestic power back home.
Pankaj Ghemawat’s two laws can guide us to understand the localness of our global community. He uses the term semiglobalization to show how the intensity of domestic relations is greater than global ones. In other words, globalization isn’t out there, but right here. To see this is to recognize that all global crises like the wars in Ukraine, Syria, or Yemen are local in character. They may not be in my local community, but they are in someone’s local community. Global is an abstraction. Where do you go to be global? I can show you where to go to be local. Local is concrete because it is where people actually live, and where war destroys life and property. In this sense, the Global is the enemy of the Local.
The second law of globalization, Ghemawat uses Toler’s insight that “Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things.” We live in a connected world. Though I rather speak of it as a world system. Everything is connected through multiple connection points. As a result, the energy, shall we call it, that moves between each connection point goes back and forth. As a result, some events on a global scale impact us, and other things don’t. It is dynamic and consequential. It is not just political or economic. It is not singular, linear, or binary. It is whole.
There are two parts to this statement. Let’s look at each.
Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Political
First, everything is related to everything else. Let’s apply this thought to the political nature of the world we live in, and specifically the Russo-Ukrainian war. We pick sides and look to beat our opponent and win. They, whoever they are, are the enemy and we are the good guys. This is a perspective that German political scientist Carl Schmitt in his book, The Concept of the Political, first published in 1927, presents. It is why as Americans we can pick sides, say Ukraine, and demonize Putin’s Russia. To Schmitt, this is how the political functions. It is the rationale that led him to join the Nazi Party in Germany in 1933.
Is Schmitt’s thought a realization of the true nature of politics or is it a recognition that politics is divisive and unhealthy for people and nations? Schmitt’s thought aligns with Rene’ Girard’s mimetic imitation theory. Simply stated, the closer competitors get to having the same thing that they both desire, the greater the conflict and violence that results. In this case, the issues are really about global power and who brokers it in the world.
The tribal nature of politics worldwide really means that societies fragment in a consistent and continuous pattern. The left hates the right. They both hate the moderates. The insiders hate the outsiders, the rich hate the poor, the poor the rich, the East hates the West, and so on. As prosperity has spread around the globe, we have become more alike, closer to our desires, and more competitive in the control of natural resources. Schmitt describes this binary political picture.
“The specific political distinction to which political actions and motives can be reduced is that between friend and enemy. … The friend and enemy concepts are to be understood in their concrete and existential sense, not as metaphors or symbols, not mixed and weakened by economic, moral, and other conceptions, least of all in a private-individualistic sense as a psychological expression of private emotions and tendencies.”
If Russia is a political adversary of Ukraine, then why have the US and the countries of NATO decided that Russia is our enemy and Ukraine our friend? It is an important question. Is it because we can exploit Ukraine as a weaker power than Russia, who is not? Is it because we are competing with Russia for influence in the old Soviet republic sector? Is this really about global power and not Ukraine? Schmitt
“The political must therefore rest on its own ultimate distinctions, to which all action with a specific political meaning can be traced. Let us assume that in the realm of morality the final distinctions are between good and evil, in aesthetics beautiful and ugly, in economics profitable and unprofitable. The question then is whether there is also a special distinction that can serve as a simple criterion of the political and of what it consists. The nature of such a political distinction is surely different from that of those others. It is independent of them and as such can speak clearly for itself.”
Here, I disagree with Schmitt. I don’t believe you can separate politics from economics, from culture or geography. It creates a fragmented mindset and compromises motives. This is exactly the kind of thinking that gave us the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. In the real world, not the simulated world that globalists live in, everything connects together, melds together into a whole. That is what life is like in a local community.
The second part of the second law of geography that Ghemawat references says, “but near things are more related than distant things.” These near things are local realities. The question we ask now is how the war in Ukraine relates to the near things in the US and Russia. The simplest explanation is that both Putin and Biden need domestic support. Being war rulers allows for an easy politicization of the enemy as Schmitt describes. Russia is the enemy. Ukraine is our friend here in the US. As a result, our support for either side becomes a socio-culture lever of influence in the nation.
However, I don’t think the war helps either of them. The loss of life is the loss of prestige. There is nothing hidden now. Even the most propagandistic reporting shows images of war that most of us have never seen before. I watched a video posted by a man I know in Mariupol that I won’t share. The dead bodies lying mangled outside an apartment building that had been targeted were horrific. It brought the local nature of this war home to me.
What does all of this mean?
I believe we are witnessing an almost imperceptible transition in power. It isn’t between political parties or nations. It is a transition of power that is in effect a decentralizing of power. It explains why the intense push to centralize global control. Power is slipping out of globalists’ hands. And what happens when this begins, we find ourselves in a war.
This decentralizing effect can be seen in the growing irrelevance of government to the lives of people. It isn’t an overnight shift from relevance? It is a long, slow decline in the capacity of government to serve the people. This is a political statement because I don’t see the government as the enemy. This is a rational, logical one based on observation and anecdotal evidence from people who talk.
The weaker governments become the more they seek to control through centralization of their administrative power. As a result, they need to distract us from realizing that their demands upon us bring fewer and fewer benefits with greater and greater costs.
If we look at our current situation through the lens of the relation of globalization to life in our local communities, I think we’ll see that globalization is not delivering on its promise.
We can then ask who does Joe Biden and his administration represent? Who did the presidential administrations of my lifetime – the administrations of Trump, Obama, Bush the younger, Clinton, Bush the elder, Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy, and Eisenhower – serve? There is no simple answer.
We are in a moment of transition. The course of this transition, described through the framework of the Two Global Forces, will be hard and rough for all of us. Most of us are not self-sufficient people. We certainly are not interdependent. We need to learn to be because in so doing, we gain the personal power to take care of ourselves and our communities.
At this moment, the Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei brings holistic insight to these local/global issues. I end this column with this thought from him. He is speaking about what he sees in China. I see a similar thing taking place around the world.
“I think right now is the moment.
This is the beginning.
We don’t know what it is the moment of, and maybe something much crazier will happen.
But really, we see the sunshine coming in. It was clouded for maybe a hundred years.
Our whole condition was very sad, but we still feel warmth, and the life in our bodies can still tell that there is excitement in there, even though death is waiting.
We had better not enjoy the moment, but create the moment.”