Central to sociological interpretation of Globalization is the notion of culture, and how different cultures can coexist in a shrinking world. Westernization, also called Americanization, is frequently, linked to Globalization and free trade, and some cultures inaccurately fear that Globalization will force them to lose their identity and become American. In order to understand how the world might view the perceived, and real, impact of America’s effort to promote free trade, it is essential to first recognize the connection between Globalization and Americanization. Moreover, it is imperative to identify how and why Globalization is associated with Americanization, and if the associations are warranted. Data offered by Thomas L. Friedman, author of, “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”; Samuel Huntington, author of, “The Clashes of Civilizations?, and other information, will demonstrate that, although globalization is inevitable, it’s architects must create a system that will support non-Western countries in their efforts to preserve their individual cultures while simultaneously allowing them to benefit from the indisputable benefits of globalization, thereby minimizing potential backlashes.
Globalization is comprised of economic, political, communication, cultural and ecological components. Each of these components yields important benefits to a civilization; cultures that refuse to modernize typically experience economic hardship, and feelings of disconnect. During the Cold War, America’s future security was ensured through its efforts to construct international institutions, networks, and values, thus Americanization and globalization became intertwined. America’s victory in the Cold War was a victory for the West that domiciled Westernization within the United States. According to Freidman, the difference between globalization and the Cold War is the Internet and the computer chip, which has dramatically increased the speed of the world; the number of actors, which has gone from two, clearly identifiable opponents, to multiple opponents; and increased connectivity, such as hedge funds, that have increased the inefficiency of international financial transactions. In addition, the West has recently shifted from using soft power: the type of power that utilizes social and cultural programs that inspire change, to one of hard power: the power of military and economic means that literally force others to conform.
The link between globalization and Americanization begins, but certainly does not end, with language. The process of globalization is done through the language of business, English; considered to be the international language of science and technology, politics, the media, literature and entertainment. Although globalization does not exclude the utilization of other languages, it does lessen their importance and, in many cases, reduces them to casual languages, thereby lessening the related culture, and indirectly reducing their growth as developing countries.
Other connections between globalization and Westernization, such as the development and growth of Information Technology (hereafter referred to as IT) is largely responsible for globalization, and according to Friedman, the world is currently experiencing its third wave of globalization, strongly characterized by the impact of IT.[i] Among the enormous benefits of IT are increased efficiency in numerous applications, such as communications, and international monetary exchange. Friedman correctly believes that Globalization is inevitable; therefore, rather than resist it, one should accept it. Because IT was invented in America, and because of its tremendous impact on globalization, it is therefore logical that non-Western countries associate America with IT and globalization. The incredible surge in IT during the mid- to late- nineties is almost completely attributed to American innovation. In fact, the development of the computer chip and the unprecedented growth in the computer industry during the 1980’s set the stage for the IT boom of the nineties. Countries that have failed to keep up with, “increased productivity, wages, living standards, knowledge use and competitiveness,” suffer what Freidman refers to as the Microchip Immune Deficiency Syndrome (MIDS).
Globalization often destroys local economies, converting thriving industrial regions into enormous rust belts, while simultaneously promoting a free-market Global network. The “democratization of information”[ii] is displayed through advances in automation, computers, and new technologies that have eradicated entire categories of labor; and corporate reorganization has eliminated entire segments of management, resulting in unemployment. For example, the United States suffered a stint of national globalization when, in the 1980’s, General Motors CEO Roger Smith wisely chose to outsource thirty thousand jobs to Mexico, where labor was cheap, and government regulation minimal. Although misinformed individuals, such as film producer Michael Moore, wrongly blamed Smith for the lost American jobs in the movie, Roger and Me, Smith’s decision was logical because it benefited the General Motors stockholders, and more importantly, supported the free-market economy promoted by the United States.
Another connection between globalization and Americanization is the concept that underdeveloped countries might be able to enter the global market via “democracy from beyond”, otherwise known as globalution.[iii] Globalution is, “the process by which the herd helps to build the foundation stones of democracy (Friedman, 169) The herd Freidman refers to is the electronic herd and it is characterized by rules that include, but are not limited to, economic and social stability, accounting and financial standards, transparency of government, democratization, no corruption and the rule of law. Other features include wealth transfer rights, free press, and a regulated securities market. Undoubtedly, these are the footprints of democracy and are associated with American values, which demands transparency, uncorrupt government, and rule-based accountability.
However, is the connection between globalization and Americanization warranted? Developments since the Gulf War has led to an international movement toward a common understanding of globalization pressures, thereby forcing Middle Eastern countries to experience the economic pressures of globalization. Because the principles of globalization rule virtually all economic decisions on a global scale, and since those decisions react swiftly to global variables, Middle Eastern countries feel pressured to abide by strict rules and conduct simply to belong to the world order and become a normal, and legitimate actor. However, such rules are characteristic of Western cultures, and often conflict with non-Western cultural and religious beliefs. As a result, strong domestic resistance to such rules across the Middle East have led many Muslims to realize that they cannot fit into the golden straightjacket: a set of rules characterized by low interest rates, smaller government, balanced budgets, low tariffs, deregulated capital markets, and the elimination of government corruption.[iv] According to Friedman, the golden straitjacket generates faster economic growth, however, it also reduces political options, and undoubtedly weights the economic scales in favor of young, educated, well positioned individuals, yielding greater inequality, less security, and less stability for all others. Friedman also notes that this form of economic policy can devastate natural ecosystems that people and other species depend upon, raising even more questions about the long-term effects of globalization.
Additionally, the electronic herd enforces the associated economic policies of the golden straightjacket,[v] which is subject to policies created by the IMF. If, for example, a country experiences budget problems, the bond market strikes back with an immediate punishment: higher interest rates. On one hand, it is easy to see how the connection between globalization and Americanization is warranted, particularly since the IMF is a component of the Washington Consensus, hence another connection between globalization and America[vi]. On the other hand, however, it is reasonable to suggest that virtually any country that invented IT, and won the Cold War, might easily have been associated with globalization, because globalization would be occurring regardless of the inventor. For example, if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War, and invented IT, it is feasible that it would have embarked on ambitious globalization plans similar to Americas, consequently connecting globalization not to Americanization, but rather, with Communism. In addition, the disciplines required for globalization are not exclusive to American culture, since many other cultures share in the West’s democratic ideology. Yet the demands of globalization forces countries to adopt sensible economic policies that set the stage for growth, suggesting that globalization is not a Western evil, and supports the theory that although the connection between globalization and Americanization might be warranted, globalization would have occurred no matter who invented it, because it is an ongoing process. Globalization, therefore, has no true beginning or ending, but rather, in contains certain, easily identifiable segments, or waves, as Friedman likes to call them, that act as pivot points, shifting one wave to another.
Economic benefits notwithstanding, the perceptions, or in the case of the Middle East, the misperceptions of globalization can obstruct the process of globalization because regional problems are not viewed the same as global issues, often resulting in a systematic misunderstanding.[vii] This ultimately can lead to what Samuel P. Huntington, author of, “The Clash of Civilizations?”, defines as the intolerable gap as the difference between social mobilization and economic development, characterized by the political instability of a developing country. A predominantly unstable period develops when the intolerable gap exists between what people expect and what they actually receive from government. That gap can lead to relative deprivation and resentment, and offers a possible explanation regarding the frequency and violence of crises in developing countries. According to Huntington, the future of politics will be dominated by a clash of civilizations because globalization is creating fault lines: lines where cultures overlap are destined to become the battle lines of the future. However, does this suggest that a clash of civilizations is as inevitable as globalization? Not necessarily because historically the majority of battles that Muslims have participated in have pitted them against other Muslims. For example, in Operation Desert Storm, Iraq lined up against Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Syria. Western counties might display prudence by avoiding cultural confrontations with non-Western cultures, and support Muslim leaders to take control of their future by ending the corruption and violence within their own countries.
Countries who fail to end the corruption tend to feel disconnected with the rest of the world and often retaliate violently. On a regional level, backlash is usually performed by the former middle class, such as the laid off autoworkers in Flint, MI, or those who are educated, but have few prospects due to high unemployment. On the international level, the mixture of religion, Islamic law, culture, and resistance to globalization has produced kleptocratic governments who refuse to modernize, such as the Taliban. The intolerable gap can, and often does, result in severe violence, and cultures that experience this gap risk creating a petri dish atmosphere that produces groups of super empowered angry men, such as Ramzi Youssef, and Usama Bin Laden, who use the same technology invented by the West to strike back at its core. Dual use technology, for example, defines devices that have both military and civilian applications, such as civilian transports that can be used to transport troops; insecticide plants that could also be used to manufacture chemical weapons, or commercial airliners that are flown into skyscrapers, and have been used against the United States, just as it uses them against its enemies. Dual use technology, combined with feelings of disconnect and desperation, have allowed very small groups of people to become super empowered by amassing huge amounts of power to disrupt world order. Super-empowered angry men currently present the most serious threat to the United States and the stability of globalization. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 represent the first battle between a superpower and a small band of super-empowered angry men. Most importantly, despite the innumerable benefits of globalization, its evolution has created many super empowered angry men, and the reason these men are dangerous is not because Ramzi Yousef could ever become a superpower, but rather, because, in today’s world, virtually any person could be a Ramzi Yousef.
Super-empowered angry men are obviously problematic to the Middle East since globalization and a free market economy requires that countries sustain a level of political and economic stability, sufficient to attract foreign investment. However, until the super-empowered angry men are internally removed from their positions of power, it is unlikely that any investor of the electronic herd would consider investing their money in any of the Middle Eastern countries. Nonetheless, is globalization and the promotion of a free market ideology the correct one to foster economic growth for all countries? Furthermore, is worth the risk? According to Friedman, the current global environment is remarkably coercive, but also potentially enriching, suggesting that the risk to globalization might yield tremendous economic gains.[viii] Undoubtedly, globalization can result in enormous income for a few lucky individuals. Regrettably, the majority of people will not experience enormous wealth, and despite that globalization has made wealth building much easier for some countries, the middle class seems to be disappearing rapidly. Currently the West has a comparative advantage over the non-Western world, and its point of view indicates that globalization could lead to cooperative relations in the Mid East, thereby changing the regional profile from one of lethal conflict to one of relative stability. Contrarily, despite that the non-Western countries desire to attract foreign investment, they fear becoming homogenized (becoming American), thus losing their cultural identity. In fact, Islamic beliefs control Muslim law, politics, and religion to the degree that their beliefs have literally brought their culture to a technological, economic, and human rights standstill. Much to the dismay of the Middle East, everything is now interdependent while, simultaneously, in conflict,[ix] and global forces are simply too strong to overcome. Globalization symbolizes, (or depending on one’s point of view), contaminates every trend and event in today’s world, whether economic, political, cultural, social, or ecological. More than ever, the world economy is interdependent to the point that hurricanes in Japan, or financial irregularities in Russia, pressure the entire world.
The question then is this: can globalization exist without making nationalism and interdependence its slave? In addition, if the West were to succeed in completely globalizing the world, would it necessarily mean the end of non-Western cultures, and the beginning of homogenization? If so, then this would likely be interpreted as repressive homogenization, and would support Huntington’s theory that future clashes will result from strong differences between cultures.[x] Problems associated with homogenization include, but are not limited to, the creation of more third culture kids: children who have multiple cultural backgrounds, have lived all over the world, and simply cannot relate to any one culture. In addition, there are some who believe that Turkey and Mexico, for example, ought to be targeted for globalization because they are seam countries: countries that are positioned both politically and geographically to make huge differences in the balance of globalization. Although forcing globalization on these countries might be misperceived as repressive homogenization, given the alternative, homogenization might not be a bad choice, particularly for the citizens of underdeveloped countries whose alternative is to risk being governed by a kleptocratic government, such as the Taliban. Finally, cultures that cannot fit the rules dictated by the golden straightjacket fear more than losing their identities to homogenization, and creating third culture kids. Globalization, Americanization, and IT are consistent with global economics and creates fear in non-Western countries that view creative destruction as on one of the less desirable results of a free market society. Creative destruction demands the immediate destruction, by the electronic herd, of weak, or obscure, technologies in order to produce more wealth and efficiency overall, and according to Friedman, is as vital to the existence of globalization as is stability. In addition, if growth continues at an increasingly rapid pace, it is logical to suggest that creative destruction will increase linearly, leading to even higher unemployment. Business conducted in that manner, however, does not meet the standards of all cultures.[xi]
Perhaps what is even more unsettling is that the electronic herd is made of fund managers, currency speculators, and individual investors with an international perspective. Simply put, they are faceless individuals that are rarely seen; yet, they possess the power to quickly wipe out businesses just similar to the way as an army of bandits might take a country hostage and punish it if it does not yield to their wishes. Nevertheless, in the global market, countries only experience growth by accepting trade and foreign investment; therefore, this leaves many cultures at a loss, especially since their culture dictates that herds without a herdsman are subject to a stampede.
Are hedge fund mangers the new herdsmen of this current wave of Globalization? Indeed, hedge funds take risky bets on financial instruments ranging from mortgage-backed securities to emerging-market bonds. They have been large investors in emerging markets, and Friedman believes they are the most knowledgeable people to speak about globalization, since it requires a broad, rather than a specific knowledge. However, hedge funds are consistently inconsistent regarding global economic markets and tend to be fickle, suggesting that these herdsman care little about their herd, and indicating yet another possible reason why globalization and Americanization are linked: after the Cold War America assumed the leadership role in the absence of an agreed upon leader, or herdsman. Regardless if non-Western countries approve, or disapprove, of Americas role in globalization, a new world order emerged after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when economics became as important as politics, and created corporations who assumed the role of cultural ambassadors, and remade the world in a distinctly American image.
That image is well displayed by Friedman’s Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Resolution, which indicates that no two countries that both have a McDonald’s have ever fought a war against each other. McDonalds does not build new restaurants in countries with unstable political and economic structures, hence, McDonalds restaurant only exist in countries that have globalized, since one of the key features of globalization is economic and political stability. Nevertheless, is this really what every country wants, a McDonalds in every town? The recent closing of the McDonalds in India suggest otherwise, and could represent the negative attitude towards Americanization in the East. It is feasible that non-Western cultures view the presence of a McDonald’s as the initial stages of homogenization.
Since the level of resistance to Westernization is high in Islamic countries, what can Muslims do to benefit from globalization, and keep up with the homogenizing demands of the electronic herd without actually forcing them to homogenize? Until recently, the question for Middle East leaders has been how to compete with other Muslim states for international investment. Globalization has raised the standards, creating a level of interdependence that forces them to compete with foreign cultures that clashes with their own. The answer could be a hybrid of globalization, known as glocalization. Glocalization provides a form of balance between the economy, politics, culture, and religion; one that is best suited for countries that simply cannot completely globalize. Glocalization can minimize much of the downside of the global economy, while simultaneously allowing non-Western cultures to take advantage of the advancements that the microchip and IT has produced in communication, education, and economics. The alternative, or course, is to not glocalize, and risk something worse, such as a kleptocratic government that practices extremism, similar to the Taliban, whose views towards human rights, among other things, do not fit with universal standards. Kleptocratic governments are far removed from the premise of good governance[xii], and practice corruption, not the law, as the standard, and membership in the human race does not translate into universal human rights that incorporate political, social, economic, or ecological rights. Since the mid- twentieth century, the difference between conventional Islamic law and the modern ideologies of universal human rights has widened, leaving many to wonder if there is space within Islamic ideology for universal human rights. Unfortunately, the idea of freedom for all does not fit within all cultures. On one hand, Freidman appropriately notes that policies and laws are requirements for globalization. On the other hand, Huntington correctly forecasts that conflict is likely because Islamic political and legal culture have prevailed over universal human rights in the Muslim world, and non-Western countries disagree with the West on the priorities of globalization, such as what constitutes universal human rights, and how those rights can be monitored, protected, and enforced.
Globalization is changing competition among, and policies within, all countries, and it affects the nature of actors and institutions in world politics, leaving doubt that it can truly exist without interdependence as its servant. Consequently, despite that a requirement of globalization is a high level of economic interdependence, and countries that are able to globalize reap tremendous financial benefits, many still choose to reject globalization for various reasons. First, non-Western cultures strive to avoid the global trap[xiii], normally associated societies that experience advances in technology to the point that only 20% of the population is required to do 80% of the work. To non-Western cultures, this would indicate that their society is becoming globalized, thereby forcing their culture to conform to a 20:80 society, one that could result in higher unemployment. Second, if the development of a world system of free trade actually does eliminate nationalism and the nation state by downplaying their importance, many non-Western cultures may opt to keep their cultures, rather than trade it in for something that diminishes their traditions. Friedman compares the choice of tradition over modernization by comparing an Olive Tree, which represents one’s culture, to a Lexus, which represents the materialism of the globalized market, and suggests that certain cultures might choose to refuse globalization because they feel safer with their original culture. In addition, many non-Western cultures find it unacceptable that the West uses globalization as its instrument to force its culture onto the non-Western world, particularly those who strongly identify their own laws and political systems with their culture and religion. Finally, Arab countries would be forced to deal with Israel if they were to globalize, suggesting yet another possible reason why Middle East countries resist globalization.
Despite the misperceptions that surround globalization, it is doubtful that the West would like to see the end of all cultures as they exist. Cultures add dimension to the world, are rich in history, language, and tradition, and creates a more interesting world, one that the West does not desire to destroy. Lost jobs notwithstanding, globalization is necessary because it is the only logical choice, and it is natural. The alternative is to simply go backwards, or worse; simply stand still and watch the world pass by, as is the case in the Middle East, and forfeit ones Big Mac and Fries. Friedman and Huntington make valid points regarding the possible future of globalization, however, neither author can be certain what the final outcome of globalization will be because it is an ongoing process that has not ended. In fact, the process of globalization might never end because its only true obstacle is a lack of innovation. Until then, globalization is likely to take on several forms, and take the world into uncharted territory.
[i] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[ii] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[iii] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[iv] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[v] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[vi] Collectively known as the Washington Consensus. The official international financial power is Washington D.C., headquarters for the IMF, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the U.S. government. These institutions, aptly named the Washington Consensus, typically offers longer debt repayment schedules, some new loans, minor discounting of previous debt, and fixed (non-variable) interest rates in exchange for the governments’ commitment to serious reforms.
[vii] When one countries framework is so fundamentally different than the other, and it cannot be corrected by providing more information, this results in a systematic misunderstanding, which can further lead to the development of an intolerable gap, ergo more serious confrontations.
[viii] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[ix] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[x] Huntington, S. P.. The Clash of Civilizations?
[xi] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[xii] Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
[xiii] Martin, H.-P., & Schumann, H.. The Global Trap.
Friedman, T. L. (2000). The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.
Huntington, S. P.. The Clash of Civilizations? Abstract retrieved from http://www.cc.colorado.edu/dept/PS/Finley/PS425/reading/Huntington1.html
Martin, H.-P., & Schumann, H.. The Global Trap. Retrieved from http://www.zedbooks.demon.co.uk/ChapterOne/globtrap.htm