A global community is in the making, but it does not consist of desocialized atoms orbiting around impersonal markets, as in the vision of Adam Smith and Margaret Thatcher. Neither is it the false community composed of an inchoate global majority and organized ruling elites — which is actually what the ideologues of the establishment ...
A global community is in the making, but it does not consist of desocialized atoms orbiting around impersonal markets, as in the vision of Adam Smith and Margaret Thatcher. Neither is it the false community composed of an inchoate global majority and organized ruling elites -- which is actually what the ideologues of the establishment have in mind when they speak of the "international community." The new community in the making comprises many communities tied by common interests and values, but its social expression is inflected by different histories and cultures. In such a world, as British philosopher John Gray puts it, international institutions must exist to "express and protect local and national cultures by embodying and sheltering their distinctive practices."
A global community is in the making, but it does not consist of desocialized atoms orbiting around impersonal markets, as in the vision of Adam Smith and Margaret Thatcher. Neither is it the false community composed of an inchoate global majority and organized ruling elites — which is actually what the ideologues of the establishment have in mind when they speak of the "international community." The new community in the making comprises many communities tied by common interests and values, but its social expression is inflected by different histories and cultures. In such a world, as British philosopher John Gray puts it, international institutions must exist to "express and protect local and national cultures by embodying and sheltering their distinctive practices."
This new community has emerged in response to the overreach of global capitalism. By the mid-1990s, the world was witnessing growing poverty, increasing inequality, and the institutionalization of economic stagnation in those scores of developing countries that had faithfully followed the tenets of structural adjustment. The number of people living on less than $2 a day rose by more than 80 million between 1990 and 1998. But such realities were lost amid the triumphalism accompanying the collapse of the socialist economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Only with the subsequent financial crises in Asia did the global elite finally recognize these dismal trends. With 1 million people in Thailand and some 20 million in Indonesia suddenly plunging below the poverty line, the Asian collapse triggered a reexamination of the record of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank in the 1980s and 1990s throughout the developing world.
Previously scattered and disorganized, social resistance to corporate-driven globalization came together in increasingly large demonstrations in the late 1990s. In December 1999, massive street mobilizations brought about the collapse of the World Trade Organization’s meeting in Seattle — dealing pro-globalization forces their second significant reversal after the Asian crisis.
By the beginning of the 21st century, global capitalism was suffering a full-blown legitimacy crisis. That is, increasing numbers of people no longer saw its key institutions — including the multilateral financial and trade system, transnational corporations, the political system of liberal democracy, and the protective cover of U.S. military hegemony — as legitimate or credible. Even before the eruption of the Enron scandal, 72 percent of Americans agreed that business had too much power over their lives, according to a Business Week survey. Since then, the unending stream of Wall Street scandals has shown that doctrinal deregulation ends in massive corporate corruption, and the collapse of the Argentine economy warned developing countries against taking seriously the imf creed of liberalization and globalization. Moreover, following September 11, 2001, U.S. calls on the world to join the anti-terrorist crusade have been met with widespread skepticism throughout the South. Promoted as the project of a global anti-terrorist coalition, the invasion of Afghanistan to topple the Taliban instead came across as a colonial expedition launched by the Anglo-American brotherhood.
These events have shattered the illusion of a community of interests between the promoters of corporate-driven globalization and the people of the world. In its place, a new community of interests has emerged, manifested most clearly in the Porto Alegre process. The site of the World Social Forum in 2001 and 2002, the medium-sized Brazilian city of Porto Alegre has become a byword for the spirit of this burgeoning global community. Galvanized by the slogan "another world is possible," some 50,000 people flocked to this coastal city from January 31 to February 5, 2002 — more than three times the number attending in 2001. The pilgrims included Indian fisherfolk, Thai farmers, U.S. trade unionists, and indigenous people from Central America. Seattle symbolized the first major victory of the transnational anticorporate globalization movement, but Porto Alegre represents the transfer to the South of that movement’s center of gravity.
Now taking place annually, the Porto Alegre forum performs three functions for the real global community. First, it represents a physical and temporal space for this diverse movement to meet, network, and affirm itself. Second, it enables the movement to gather the energies needed to escalate the struggle against the processes and structures of global capitalism. (Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, put it well when she told the Porto Alegre participants that the movement needs "less civil society and more civil disobedience.") And third, Porto Alegre provides a venue for the movement to debate the vision, values, and institutions of an alternative world order.
Among the shared understandings emerging from this enterprise are two approaches. At the national and community level, the movement’s goal must be to consciously subordinate the logic of the market and the pursuit of cost efficiency to the values of security, equity, and solidarity. In the language of the great social democratic scholar Karl Polanyi, this effort is about reembedding the economy in society rather than letting the economy drive society. For this dynamic to unfold, the global context must move from a centralized governance regime that imposes rules in the service of one model of economic growth to a pluralistic system in which institutional power and global economic governance are decentralized. Only in such a global context — more fluid, less structured, more pluralistic, with multiple checks and balances — will the citizens and communities of the South and North find ways to develop based on their own unique values, rhythms, and strategies.
The price of failure would be high. In the early 20th century, the revolutionary theorist Rosa Luxemburg warned that the future might belong to barbarism. Today, corporate-driven globalization is creating instability and resentments that in turn can give way to fascist, fanatical, and authoritarian populist impulses. The forces representing human solidarity and true community must step in quickly to convince the disenchanted masses that a better world is possible. The alternative is to see the vacuum filled by terrorists, demagogues of the religious and radical right, and — as in the 1930s — the purveyors of irrationality and nihilism.
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