While Theresa May and Westminster continue haggling towards a Brexit outcome, the world is awakening to growing nationalistic sentiments. Easy to brush such sentiments as extreme, however it would be wrong to forget that these are born many times from genuine political disappointments and fears, that mainstream politicians prefer to forget.
The global capitalist economic system that globalisation produced failed many people miserably. Those who saw globalisation as a means towards international economic equity and the eradication of poverty, forget that liberal free market thinkers were never concerned with such ideals.
While the global economic model has been left to evolve at its own accord, into an economic system that Pope Francis described it fruits as “Killing”; the EU sought a different path advancing the values of peace and solidarity, and a more social market model, despite some mistakes.
The global economic system remains globally unchecked despite its grave failings. Its fruits include huge income disparities between countries and societies and the culmination of the global economic crises of 2009 that devastated the lives of millions of people around the world.
The price for liberal economic globalisation was also the globalisation of liberal moral philosophies that watered down national cultural values. Despite popular unhappiness, many saw this as the consequential price to pay for the promised economic wellness. However, the global economic crises left many short changed.
Rising global economic disparities, global warming and regional conflicts are fuelling mass migration. Economic failure and unemployment, the weakening of cultural identity and values, compounded with mass immigration is causing a perfect storm, that may not end well.
Globalisation is not the making of some international organisation lurking in the background trying to create a new world order or a super transnational state as some like to conspire. The historian Yuval Noah Harari in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century rightly points out that globalisation is the baby of the Hiroshima nuclear bomb.
The first world war did not manage to create a new order because it was more of the same at a bigger scale. The history of mankind was built on tribal wars seeking to extend borders and command greater political and economic influence. Hiroshima changed it all. Peoples now feared the war that would effectively annihilate them completely. Hiroshima awakened Governments to the reality that only peace and cooperation would deter global nuclear destruction. Transnational and global institutions were created such as the UN, the EU, NATO, the Warsaw Pact and so on. Meanwhile the US, Russia, China and other less trustworthy countries build their arsenals. Those who cry US, Britain, Malta first, forget that without a strong system of international cooperation nobody escapes nuclear destruction. 75 years from the Second World War, global cooperation, despite its shortcomings managed to avert the third and final global war. We cannot go back.
While nuclear weapons are harmless if they remain locked in an arsenal and level-headed politicians refrain from pushing the self-destruction button, globally we are facing an equally series threat to humanity’s survival, the threat to our ecology. We are all pressing the self-destructive button with our indifferent or denial of the ecological collapse that surrounds us. While the older generation worries about its pensions, the younger generation worries about the environment and what will remain of it.
The enormous quantities of waste and poison we are dumping is changing the composite of soil, contaminating our food, water and our atmosphere. Rivers, lakes and oceans poisoned with plastics and fertilizers used in over farming. We are losing more natural habitats and seeing the extinction of many animals and plants. Despite all the promises, global emissions are still rising; deserts are expanding, forcing migration to northern cooler regions and ice-caps disappearing, making oceans rise, sinking human coastal habitats, also forcing migration.
The world’s addiction to fossil fuels, like all addictions is bring humanity’s destruction. While nuclear war is a potential, ecological destruction is happening. Can any country stop this ecological time bomb alone? Individual, community, national efforts are important, but no country can save the planet alone. Countries need to look beyond national interests. Let’s take global warming; warmer temperatures make hot regions deserts and cold regions more pleasant. From a national interest view point a colder country is not concerned with CO2s emissions as global warming is suiting it. This country however then cannot protest that people in the hotter regions want to migrate to that country when their home is now in a desert. Without a global and transgenerational perspective our selfishness and national interests will breed the global ecological collapse a not so distant future generation may not survive.
Technological disruption is the buzz word of the modern world. Technological disruption can however also become the next human existential threat. If the global community treats technological evolution with the same laissez affair attitude that it treated the global economic evolution, the risks of an AI “being” going for it alone will not be movie fiction for long. While today various countries impose ethical restrictions especially in the biological sphere, like not allowing EU scientists to genetically modify human embryos, who is stopping the likes of China or Japan from doing otherwise. If some development confers an economic or military advantage to the country that makes the discovery others will follow suit, they cannot be left behind. Today disruptive technologies such as AI and bioengineering are moving towards changing the very nature of humanity and possibly creating a new more powerful specie. What we create may not be as benevolent to its human creator as we might wish. This should come to no surprise; we have not been so benevolent to our own Creator. If mankind fails to impose globally accepted ethical standards, Dr Frankenstein is waiting in the shadows.
While remaining proud of our national identities and history, the world needs to transcend former divisions and collaborate genuinely to forge a common destiny. I am not advocating for a super global government. However, the major challenges the world is facing are global and therefore require global solutions.
We need a different model of globalisation, one founded on values, the concept of a family of nations, to harness the global economy into promoting economic equality and social justice, adopting global social cohesion policies that address the challenges of migration through meaningful economic and ecological interventions like create work opportunities for peoples, in their own villages and cities and reversing global warming. We need multilateral structures that avoid pressing the button of nuclear self-destruction and ensure that technological disruption remains at the service of humanity, rather than at its destruction.
Can Nationalism and Globalisation live together? They cannot afford otherwise.
Tonio Fenech is a member of Catholic Voices Malta