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Global glass half-full or is it half-empty?

Paul Andersen

Is the glass half-full or half-empty? Are you the half-full kind who glories in optimism, or the half-empty kind who glowers in pessimism? After four rigorous days at the Global Perspective seminar at the Aspen Institute, the glass was revealed as both half-full and half-empty. And there lies the plight of man.Everything about us is defined by shades of light and darkness. Our moods, our tempers, our world views turn gray when blurred by contrary viewpoints. We walk the line of positive/negative, balancing precariously on a foggy ideological brink.The moment humanity scores an achievement, we seem to lose control of managing it for the greatest good. Our shadow side darkens our progress. Our light side brightens our path. Our long and turbulent history reveals us as Janus-faced.Reproduction leads to overpopulation. Plentiful resources invite gluttony and waste. Cheap manufacturing produces over-consumption and materialism. Ready mobility generates pollution and congestion. Ease of living results in obesity. Abundant entertainment contributes to anesthetized indolence. Defensive weapons are applied in pre-emptive strikes. We live in a world of cognitive dissonance.For every human glory there is a human foible. The half-full glass is a salute to science, technology, art and culture – the glory of man. The half-empty glass elicits the great ills that plague us with damnation. In America, we like to focus on the half-full part, but by doing so we often skew our vision of the world.Globalization is a flashpoint. While some celebrate lower trade barriers to make capital easier to raise, technology easier to buy and markets easier to reach, others stridently condemn globalization for the hegemony of wealth and privilege.Critics say globalization asserts America’s economic and cultural authority, allowing the disenfranchised to fall through the cracks. The rising tide of prosperity does not raise all the ships in the sea.John Ralston Saul suggests in “The Collapse of Globalism” that theater and the ideology of globalization share a common need for the suspension of disbelief. The laissez-faire approach to global economics, he says, has created a morally bereft gigantism based on the dubious mythology of unlimited economic growth.As the economic umbrella enlarges, so does a shadow of cultural conformity. Some consider this a benefit for reducing ethnic clashes and framing a unifying world view. Others decry the homogenization of cultural diversity and the erosion of traditions.Since America is the strongest economy in the world, globalization results in the export of many of our values. It underscores the tragedy of the commons as corporations seek dominion over much of the world’s resources for the benefit of gluttonous first-world consumers.”It has to be said,” writes author and social critic Peter Singer, “in cool but plain language, that in recent years the international effort to build a global community has been hampered by the repeated failure of the United States to play its part.”Singer criticizes the United States for blind pursuit of its own interests at the expense of the rest of the world. He quotes George Bush Sr. when asked at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 about the United States reducing its resource consumption: “The American lifestyle is not up for negotiation,” asserted the president.With globalization, the half-full glass affords us cheaper goods, better choices, more efficient labor and expansive economic opportunities. The half-empty glass favors the rich, exploits global resources, threatens cultural autonomy and shrink-wraps the world in a Western package.Did we resolve this gulf of conflicting values in our seminar? No way. But we looked at the glass before us and saw it brimming with a rich brew spiced with the quandaries of our times.Paul Andersen is grateful for seminars that fill his cup of ideas to overflowing. His column appears on Mondays.


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