…and then two more for localism
Jay Walljasper | June 2006 issue
One of the basic tenets drilled into students at U.S. journalism schools is that every story has two sides. But in college I was lucky to run into a German-émigré professor who—perhaps hearing enough about tenets of all kinds during his Nazi-era youth—railed against this idea with a fervent passion. Even small issues reported on page 22B of the morning paper, he believed, should encompass many different points of view.
I have been suspicious ever since of news stories that break down tidily into two opposing sides. You’re on the left or on the right. You’re for the environment or you’re for business. You’re tough on crime or you’re compassionate toward wrongdoers. In almost every subject I’ve investigated as a writer and editor, the reality is quite a bit more complex.
I’m reminded of this lesson each time I brush up against the hotly contested topic of globalization. The media typically portray the issue as a fierce struggle between globalizers (rapacious multinational corporations and their loyal servants in government) and anti-globalization activists (scruffy kids in black prone to breaking windows and aging radicals who fear progress). You don’t have to dig very deeply into the debate to see this as rank stereotyping.
India’s Nobel-prize-winning economist Amartya Sen—a champion of the underprivileged, especially women, in the developing world—has defended globalization policies as way to rid poor countries of political corruption. Meanwhile anti-globalization marchers in the streets gladly embrace new, foreign influences—they listen to African bands, drink inexpensive Argentinian wine and read essays by Indian authors Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy.
Indeed, there is now a flourishing industry to satisfy such people’s taste for authentic products from distant local cultures. I think immediately of the Body Shop’s projects using ingredients from the rainforest, alternative record labels like Rough Guide and Putamayo, co-ops specializing in fair-trade coffee and chocolate. These are all multinational firms doing global deals. Which of course proves that not all international trade is based on exploitation. Globalism (as opposed to “globalization,” which implies a harsh, homogenizing process that results in a one-size-fits-all planet) shows substantial potential to create a better world. In the end it comes down to how companies conduct their business.
So now let’s explore the other half of this supposedly two-sided issue: Localism. In language just as strident as the chants of anti-globalization protesters, corporate PR officials and business journals castigate anyone questioning the effect of unfettered free-market policies around the world as “backward,” “protectionist” (does that sound like such a bad thing?) or “obstacles to economic advancement.”
But, honestly, what’s the problem with making sure local customs, cultures and economies don’t go extinct? The global economy, like any complex ecosystem, thrives on diversity. The more unique products, fresh ideas and distinct ways of going about life that exist in the world, the more opportunities for innovation and progress. As recently as 60 years ago, booming business sectors such as rock ‘n‘ roll, pizza and acupuncture were little known outside the places they were invented. We certainly don’t want to wipe out their 21st-century counterparts in a misguided scheme to achieve economic standardization.
I believe it’s now time to voice a qualified “yes” to both globalism and localism, and then judge each product, project or organization on its own merits. Hip-hip hurrah!