The World in 2000

Article excerpt

Gregory R. Beabout is associate professor of philosophy at Saint Louis University and the author of Freedom and Its Misuses (Marquette University Press).

In his Pensees, mathematician Blaise Pascal makes the point that human knowledge is limited despite our desire to gain a rational understanding of everything. Chiding earlier writers who lacked this insight, he pokes fun at the proud titles of books that claim to explain everything. My favorite is Pico Della Mirandola's Of All That Can Be Known.

I feel somewhat like one of the writers Pascal is ridiculing, for any attempt to provide an overview of the state of the global economy in the year 2000, if I am not careful, could be a deliciously humorous exercise. Without an appropriate recognition of the limits of our understanding, this could seem like a "short summary of everything."

To avoid having people like Pascal poke fun at what might seem like an attempt to explain everything, I will begin with a brief overview of the notion of globalization. Then, I will draw a distinction between three spheres of human life: the political, the economic, and the moral/cultural. In light of these three spheres, I will reflect on the meaning of globalization, looking back on where we have come from, and trying to make some sense of where we are now.

My main organizing principle will be to divide our discussion into political globalization, economic globablization, and cultural globablization. I will further subdivide my discussion of cultural globalization into two parts: the globalization of communication and the globalization of moral vision.

Since each sphere--the political, the economic, and the moral/cultural- -can have multiple impacts, I would like to suggest an ordered way to consider the possible impacts of globalization. It will be helpful to consider how globalization can impact society at four levels: individuals, social associations, businesses, and governments.

Putting this together, one can imagine my plan in terms of a grid. On the one axis, there are the three spheres of globalization: the political, the economic and the moral/cultural, keeping in mind that I will divide the moral/cultural into a discussion of communication and moral vision, treating the one at the beginning and the other at the end. On the other axis, I will distinguish four social levels that can be impacted by globalization in each sphere: individuals, social associations, businesses and governments.

My goal will be to fill in the following outline:

Each empty box in the grid raises certain questions. For example, the first empty box in the upper left corner raises the question about how individuals are impacted by the globalization of communication. The box to the right of that raises the question of how social associations are impacted by the globalization of communication. Obviously, I will not be able to answer in detail all sixteen questions within the limits of this paper. That is not my goal. Rather, my aim is to offer a description of four aspects of globalization and a framework by which we can think about globalization in a more ordered way to gain a better understanding of the world in 2000.

Globalization has become the buzzword of the last five or ten years. We must be clear about what it means, because the issue has drawn both supporters and critics. For example, in Thomas Friedman's popular book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, globalization is described in primarily benign terms. He praises the process of bringing the world together, relating anecdotes such as the following telephone conversation he had with his mother from Minnesota:

""What's wrong, Mom?" I asked. "Well," she said, "I've been playing bridge on the Internet with three Frenchmen and they keep speaking French to each other and I can't understand them." When I chuckled at the thought of my card shark mom playing bridge with three Frenchmen on the Net, she took a little umbrage. …