Watch Out for the Undertow
I would like to relate a personal experience that might be suggestive in appreciating John Feffer’s article on the coming “havoc” as mentioned in the last post, and which has been very formative in shaping my own outlook.
Some years ago, when I lived on the West Coast, I was a scuba diver. A group of us went diving in an underwater park at Whidbey Island, in Washington State. We were warned before the dive that there was a powerful underwater current near the end of a breakwater, and that, should we get trapped in it, not to exhaust ourselves fighting it, but to inflate our vests and ride it out. Someone would eventually pick us up at Port Townsend where the current would, in all likelihood, drop us off.
Well, I blundered into it.
Nature can be very instructive. On the surface, the tide was coming in. Below the surface, was a powerful undertow moving in the contrary direction. As I was moving in the placid waters along the breakwater, admiring the marvelous undersea flora and fauna there, I blundered into the undercurrent. It hit me with surprising force, so that half my body was in the undercurrent and half still in the fairly placid waters, so that I was able to extricate myself from my predicament.
My personal experience serves as an analogy or metaphor for understanding Gebser’s “double-movement” of the times (integrative and disintegrative) and therefore also helps in appreciating the “coincidence of opposites” described in Fetter’s remarks on the coming “Great Unraveling” of globalisation. That personal anecdote also forms the background to what I earlier posted in a couple of places as “The Parable of the Toothbrush”. The Parable of the Toothbrush was inspired by reading a remark by an American entrepreneur who got all enthusiastic about free trade and globalisation because he would make a mint selling toothbrushes to a billion Chinese. As it turns out, the flow of toothbrushes has been in the entirely opposite direction. Yesterday, I purchased a new toothbrush, and it was made in China. I cited the Parable of the Toothbrush as an analogy of what I mean by “ironic reversal”. And my sense for what is “ironic reversal” as well as “polarity” in coincidentia oppositorum, comes from my personal experience as a scuba diver of also being simultaneously in two contradictory currents — an apparent surface one, and an invisible undercurrent.
Globalisation is similar. “A rising tide lifts all boats” ignores the undertow. Although globalisation is touted as “global economic integration”, politically speaking it is a disintegrative process, which is what Feffer’s article is addressing — the undertow, the other side of the double-movement, or what is equivalent the “underbelly” of globalisation.
The delusion of globalisation, as presently conceived, is that it is a one-way process — the spread of Anglospheric goods and services along with values, lifestyles, and models, all conceived as “modernisation”. It seems quite oblivious to the reciprocal movement of values and models in the other direction, into the Anglospheric domain itself. That’s the elementary nature of the dialectics of globalism — it is a reciprocal movement outwards and inwards. And in the most visible and concrete form, it is the uprooting of entire populations as migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. And in more culturally specific terms, it is the popularity of Yoga, “Western Buddhism”, Confucian values and models of governance, or the peculiar fact that the most popular poet in America presently is Rumi, and in a thousand other ways as well, for both good and ill.
“Globalisation” isn’t just an objective dynamic, but also a subjective one, and as such is being experienced as a threat to identity, both national and personal, or also as a reconstruction of identity. This isn’t a smooth process by any means.
The recognition of this implicit double-movement is why there is a tendency to differentiate between “globalisation” and “globalism”. The former is blind process. The latter is the conscious reconstruction of human identity. So, they differ as objective process and subjective process. But they are dissonant and discrepant because one has to do with the unification of spaces — the “global market” — while the other has to do with time and times. “Globalism” is the quest not for a “universal market” but a universal history of the human experience as a whole.
What does that mean? It means “globalisation” and “globalism” differ as space and time differ, as the surface current and the undercurrent differ. Despite the unification of space and time in the spacetime continuum, space and time remain fundamentally different, too. The “universal market” and “universal history” are not equivalent terms. Spatial thinking dominates the meaning of “globalisation”, time-thinking dominates the meaning of “globalism”. Globalism is integration; globalisation is merely assimilation. Integration and assimilation are contradictory dynamics, even though they are frequently employed as synonyms for one another.
Coordination of discordant spaces (nation-states, territories, etc) is the work of treaties and international agreements for a common “framework” governing the spaces of life, in the absence of which there is war. There aren’t equivalent instruments for what Rosenstock-Huessy called “synchronisation of antagonistic distemporaries”, which is the main issue of globalism proper. Different people don’t inhabit the same historical or time horizons. Value systems are different. So, Rosenstock-Huessy’s social philosophy and Jean Gebser’s “integral consciousness” are chiefly about synchronisation. The four consciousness structures — archaic, magical, mythical, and mental-rational — are temporal, not spatial. Their “integration” is the meaning of “universal history”, and there is as yet no formal instrument or framework for reconciling the clash of histories.