Is Flat the best shape for the World?

Thomas Friedman's 'World is Flat' was a revelation for me. It helped me truly apprecite globalization and its benefits on mankind. From then on I have always been looking forward to rapid globalization. So I was really irritated when I heard Baba Ramdev riling against globalization at 5.00 Am in the morning on Astha channel. Some people are just so archaic in their ideas and resistant to change.

But then everything else the Baba was saying made sense and all his arguments were based on sound logic. How could the Baba be so blind and prejudiced on this aspect alone? This thought kept running in the back of my mind. So I tried to put some thought to his reasoning. Ideally when examining the motives for someone's actions, the ideal starting point would be the driving purpose in the person's life. So what was Baba Ramdev's driving purpose? To revive ancient Indian traditions, especially in the field of medicine. How could globalization hamper this? Doesn't globalization provide more efficient means for dissemination of ideas, enabling pearls of wisdom from ancient India to reach greater number of people? So we seem to have reached a dead end here.

So I decided to pick a different thread and proceed. Why did the Indian traditions recede to the background in the first place? Even worse, why were the religion, culture and traditions of the Celts, Mayans and many other ancient civilizations totally decimated? We often hear of them having made so many valuable discoveries. Why they all were lost? A study of history would indicate they were not accidentally lost but systematically destroyed. Why did this happen? It is because the group of people who had established superiority in military technology used the superiority used their military victories to impose their ideas in all other sphere of life on the conquered people. So it happened that people in different regions independently developed solutions for problems in different spheres such as society, religion, medicine, culture etc.
Ideally the ideas in each sphere should have competed against the other ideas in the same sphere from other regions. The best idea should have triumphed and drawn in some of the best aspects of the other ideas. Then the different groups would have started from there and again developed parallel ideas. This process carried out iteratively would have lead to the most efficient system for development of ideas. But this is not what happened. Instead the battle of superiority of ideas was fought in a single sphere – the military battle field. So it came about that the ideas of the most brutal people who focused more on military became the standard for the world on all spheres.

Coming to the present times, have we wondered why in ancient times so many parallel technologies, art forms, music forms etc. developed in various parts of the world. But now there seems to be just a single stream of ideas centered on the American region. One cannot but avoid the conclusion that globalization is the reason for that. With the world so integrated, new ideas do not get the time and space to develop to their full potential. Instead they are exposed and evaluated at the nascent stage. So only a single idea gets to develop fully. All other get nipped in the bud. There is also another angle. The people in power are in power due to the current ideas. They would not want their power base to be eroded by emergence of new ideas. So they exercise their power to kill all new ideas. Earlier also the situation was the same. But the reach of these powerful persons were localized and new ideas could always spring up in areas out of their reach. But globalization has brought the entire world within their reach. There is no place one can be safe from the Microsofts, IBMs and Coca Colas of the world. We keep hearing how major pharmaceutical companies are strangling research by leveraging their patents. All major cities of the world are slowly beginning to resemble each other. We find McDonalds and Pizza Huts all over the world. Travel seems to be losing its novelty.
I can keep ranting on. But I guess I have conveyed the general drift of my arguments and I don’t see any more value to be added. So I will conclude with the refrain of a song from German rock band ‘Rammstein’

We're all living in America,
America is wunderbar.
We're all living in America,
Amerika, Amerika.
We're all living in America,
Coca-Cola, Wonderbra,
We're all living in America,
Amerika, Amerika.
This is not a love song,
this is not a love song.
I don't sing my mother tongue,
No, this is not a love song.
We're all living in America,
Amerika is wunderbar.
We're all living in America,
Amerika, Amerika.
We're all living in America,
Coca-Cola, sometimes WAR,
We're all living in America,
Amerika, Amerika.

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9 comments:

Sohan Upadhye said...

The general drift of your argument here in my opinion is Globalization equals Americanization. That the reducing distances and world becoming smaller and smaller is in fact killing local ideas, by evaluating them too early. When you say that some local ideas are being nipped in the bud, i beg to differ. I think, now local ideas however small, have got a bigger audience, better opportunities for becoming big. If the world weren't flat enough, i guess the scope for growth for these ideas would have been limited. No one wants to stop an idea, not even Americans. They would prefer buying it instead. Travelling is still fun. All big cities may have the pizza huts and McDonald's, but they still have a Karim's or a Cafe Leopold. Another example, Cafe coffee day. The place thronged my thousands of foreign tourists. Its an Indian idea, and it is growing. Indian coffee being appreciated by foreigners, thats local ideas becoming big. If a Walmart comes to India, i am sure someday a More will go to America. My point is that the nation that is currently with the military might will try to impose itself on the world. But, while it does that, it also spreads opportunities to countries like us to grow. Our ideas will develop better because we will get access to a bigger audience and thus better funding. That is why Yoga is so sought after in the USA today i guess, and Indian software geniuses are making supercomputers. Also, Baba has a huge audience in the USA. Are we not spreading our ideas there? Indian classical music is being listened to by increasing number of Americans every day. If the world is full of IBM, it also full of Chinese hardware and Indian software.
So, the more we interact, the faster we grow. (I haven't read the book, nor listened to Baba, so excuse me if some my views are not well qualified.)

The Fool said...

@Sohan - Thanks for your detailed comment. You did not get my point about ideas. New ideas need time and a small social laboratory to develop which is provided by isolated communities. Now ideas get global exposure too early and get judged. And multi national companies do want to stop ideas. Read up about how pharma companies are trying to stop new research till they can make money from existing patents. Also your examples are not appropriate. There is no unique Indian idea in Coffee Day. How is it different from Starbucks or Barista? Foreigners come there because it is very similar to what the have in their countries. Carnatic music and Yoga had centuries of isolation to develop. Is there something like that developed in the modern times?

Sohan Upadhye said...

Could you define 'New Ideas'. Do you mean to say that an idea that is taking further an already implemented one, is not new?
Also, I did read up on the Pharma companies. As you said they are cases where they are delaying new research. That is something that does emphasize your point very clearly.
But, when we talk about ideas developing in isolated communities, don't you think it would help if they had access to technology that we already have? Wouldn't that be more of a support rather than a deterrent to their development.
Just a thought, is it not better to have computers, MRI scanners, ECG's etc. to support the ongoing research on Ayurveda?
Do you think we would be having this conversation if computers were not there in India?
Isolation is good, but i believe that exposure, not imposition of ideas from other parts of the world is better.
Maybe better policies for world wide patents, better policies at the national level for foreign businesses, better representation at WIPO by developing countries can be some steps towards not letting the flat world be ruled by the ideas of a mighty military country alone.
Instead of having a "globalization is hurting progress' point of view, Shouldn't we have a 'What is good there that we can take' point of view?
I guess i am just painting a optimistic picture out of the whole discussion, but being cynical about it won't help either.
What say?

Vishnu said...

I really don't understand how the development of an idea is hampered by wider exposure.

I do agree that the world is becoming more and more homogenized, losing its uniqueness.

The Fool said...

Well Vishnu, consider this. There is an idea X promoted by powerful people and has been around for a few years. Now an alternate idea Q emerges. Q is not a proven one and needs some trial in real life environment to develop. But who will try Q when X is already available. But if we have isolated communities that don't have access to idea X, Q will be tried out. Initially it be worse than X. But over time it can developed. The argument is analogous to that for protectionism for local industries.

Zephyr said...

This is a well argued piece about globalisation killing local wisdom. We even need a global power to endorse the time-tested medicinal properties of neem or turmeric. In a time when everything requires proof about its efficacy, we are remaining stationary and letting foreigners take the lead. Recently I was reading a book on Mudras, which are efficacious in treating many disorders. The author had lamented the lack of research into the field, without which it could never become popular and also expressed his apprehension that one day soon some western country would patent it. That is the tragedy of things. It is all about branding, positioning and marketing. And we certainly can't feel proud that one day More would go to America. We'd only be exporting a brand of the idea that developed in that country.

The Fool said...

@Zephyr - I think we credit foreigners too much. Foreign corporates are short sighted and greedy. It would be good if they at least developed the local wisdom. Humanity as a whole will benefit. But what they will want to do is extract maximum money from what they have already invested in. So they would be more keen on killing any local wisdom that emerge as a challenge to a technology they have already invested in.

Shail Mohan said...

An interesting read. So are the comments. BTW, Yes, I am checking out the links from your tag post :) before I write my post :)

The Fool said...

Thanks, Shail. Very sweet of you to take time and go over the links I had given.

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