Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
July 16, 2001
Globalization an age-old reality
Globalization as it was promoted and opposed in Quebec City this year is not a new phenomenon, of course.
What is new is the technology which facilitates global conquest and which allows the process to speed up while minimizing the physical risks to the conqueror's armies. Some might call it a bloodless coup.
That does not mean that the process takes place without a great deal of human suffering.
For the people of Latin America, Asia and Africa, the globalization process is at least 500 years old, beginning with European colonization.
But even before the "discovery" of the "New World," processes leading to what is now called globalization were taking place ever since the foundation of the first empires.
Since Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece and Rome, the drive to transcend boundaries was driven in part by trade, which filled the coffers of a small elite, brought employment to a middle class, but resulted in indescribable suffering and humiliation for entire populations.
The glorified exploits of Columbus and subsequent western "heroes" was initiated because the Muslim empire blocked the trade route to China and its fabled wealth in gold, silk and spices.
With the breakup of Europe as a unified entity and the emergence of sovereignty, small seafaring nations started to build their own empires by trading beads and mirrors for large tracts of land, untold riches in minerals and exotic goods.
From the beginning, then as now, the horrendous trade in human beings as slaves was an integral part of globalization.
Of course, there were benefits. Europe was lifted out of poverty by transferring vast wealth from the colonies and imposing poverty on aboriginal populations.
Because of the religious conflicts in Europe and the ongoing war with the Muslims, the churches very much favoured this highly unethical relationship with the peoples of the new world. Voices of protest, like those of Bartolome de las Casas, were an exception.
The reasoning then, but even now, was that the conquered people were somehow inferior, and not worthy of basic human concern.
The most important shift in the current globalization is that the churches are no longer on side. The last three popes and bishops around the world have spoken out strongly against today's globalization.
Various denominations and faith groups, which used to be in competition with each other, have now come together to defend basic human rights, justice and the common good.
They charge that global business tends to be ethically blind and the children of poor communities are the new slaves of global economic expansion.
Along with the negative aspects of trade, a new global consciousness has emerged.
"We believe," say the Maryknoll missioners who live and work in some of the world's most impoverished communities, "that people have the right to participate in the important decisions that affect their lives; that all people have the right to dignified work, and to participate in the act of creation; that human labour takes precedence over capital; that workers have a right to a living wage and a right to culture; that family and community life must be supported and promoted; that the fruits of the earth are to be used with care for the benefit of all."
"We have not seen these values represented in the debate over the Free Trade of the Americas," they say. What they have witnessed instead is the damaging impact of global economic decisions on the people and environment in the communities where they work.
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