Globalisation – Democracy in Decline
Robert Woog and Vladimir Dimitrov
In discussing globalisation one quickly comes across the
disagreement about aspects of it that we like and dislike. We
bring to our assessment of globalisation different motivations.
This paper is no different.
Globalisation presents many faces to
many different observers. The most general and the most negative
are those dealing with the process of economic globalisation. The
ugly face of globalisation has become the huge trans national
corporation with a relentless drive to create a consumer
dominated global middle class.
This paper will discuss the
economic as well as some other aspects of globalisation. It will
consider the desire to collaborate between nations and communities for
such common good as, social justice, health and sustainable
environments. It will also look at the uncontrolled popularist
form of globalisation through which people are informally
communicating with each other overcoming through the technology
of global communication networks, the isolation enforced, in the
past, by the tyranny of distance.
It will be argued that
globalisation has been an evident and powerful social trend for
at least half a millennium and that the protesters have arrived at the
rally, 500 years too late. A somewhat controversial proposition
will be made that the protests opposing globalisation are the
manifestation of the same forces that are driving globalisation,
the so-called "will to power". In a globalised society the powerful
are those who grasp and are capable of utilising purposefully the
compression of space and time. Those who are capable of using and
are greatly advantaged by the compression of space and time are a
minority of the worlds population and their actions are leading
to a decline in democracy.
Compression of Space and Time
Globalisation may be thought of as a form of time and space
compression. The First World lives in time, but our first
experiences in globalisation were based around the compression of
Early human lives were dominated by space, expressed as distance
and a lack of knowledge, mingled with fear, myth and superstition
about what lay 'beyond' the known boundaries.
What follows is an
exploratory speculation about the social implications of the
compression of space and time and how this may be thought of as the
generic face of globalisation. The examples chosen, about space
and time compression, are indicative and not definitive.
The wind knows every corner of the globe
Every society knows its own territory, its own country. As populations,
exploration and trade grew during the early history of human
development, there was an accompanying growth in knowledge about
our world. What was known was often thought of as the 'centre of
the universe'. 'Esfahan is half the world' and other such sayings
were indicative of prevailing attitudes. This saying also hints that
what was unknown was not worth knowing.
By the time of the Middle Ages, there was a good knowledge of the
Mediterranean lands. Northern Europe, Africa and Asia were known
about and often without much detail or accuracy. The Americas and
Australia remained unknown and the source of mystery and
speculation. But the wind knew every corner of the glove.
The Portuguese were among the first to venture into a monster-filled
ocean towards a horizon that they may have fallen off. Prince
Henry of Portugal, also known as Henry the Navigator, became
obsessed with the discovery of the things hidden from men. Under
his patronage from 1425 and 1434, Europeans set sail to explore the
world. Henry also organised what would be now be called the
appropriate infrastructure support by bringing together
mapmakers, sailers, astronomers and shipwrights. He was ably
abetted in his task by Renaissance men, like Ferdinand Magellan
and Christopher Columbus, who wanted to prove something in which
they believed. Others, like Vasco de Gama and Francis Drake, were
motivated by a mix of desire to conquer the unknown and the
acquisition of wealth and glory. (Estenson, 1998.)
Through rapid advances in shipbuilding and sailing technology, a new
kind of ship, called the caravel began navigating to all parts of
the world. The first compression of space had begun, under sail.
This sail-led exploration of the world could be truly be called
the first major act of globalisation, because the discovery was made
that the world was actually not flat, but spherical or 'global'.
The tyranny of distance was being conquered, the compression of space
had begun, but it came at a price. The price was time. It would
be several centuries before inventions like the telegraph and
radio would begin the compression of time.
Greed and the will to power
The ships tied the globe together for the first time by bringing 'home'
tribute, intelligence and commercial advantage.
What started out
as a restless curiosity of what lay beyond the rim of the ocean
quickly gave way to an unbridled greed and a will to power.
the competition between the major trading nations of the world for
exotic produce, like slaves and spices, led to jealousy and
enmity between them. Almost simultaneously with the development
of globalisation began an exploitation of the weak and a warring
between the powerful and dominant – trends that, in varying
scale, have continued to characterise globalisation to this day.
Accompanying the commercial rivalry between the major global traders
was a desire not only to be successful but to be supremely
successful, to become the most dominant imperial power – sadly,
another of the human characteristics to stand the test of time
and persist as a feature of the globalisation imperative to this day
European colonisation of Africa and Asia
Sail and trade-based globalisation quickly progressed to the stage
where European expeditions not only travelled the globe but also
made the producers of the exotic goods into their dominion
colonies. The zenith of this period of annexation and
colonisation occurred when most of Africa and Asia were made into
European outposts and colonies. This represented the second
advanced phase of exploration and trade-based globalisation.
It is in this way that the dominant world trading partners, while
importing commodities and generating wealth, were exporting
political and religious ideology – once again a trend that has
From a League of Nations to the United Nations
The United Nations is the only global political organisation. It was
established as a product of globalisation and in part it exists
as an attempt to bring understanding and management control to
the globalisation process. The UN seeks to draft and promulgate
international law. It has the onerous task of enforcing those laws on
nation states who offer varying levels of co-operation. The most
visible action of the UN is its involvement in disciplining the
conflict between powerful national states and their annexation
and exploitation of the week. It works in a global framework for
human security. In this regard it is, if not the first then the
most visible attempt of society to deal with globalisation on a
The activities of the UN are interlinked with the issues as well as the
technologies of globalisation. In seeking to operate at a global
level, the UN is engaged in wide spread high-speed communication.
Such communication is needed for it to operate at a global scale
to cut across the self-referential priorities and logic of the corrupt,
the dominant, or the most powerful.
Everyone knows everyone else's business
The Internet, computers and telecommunication are the beginning of a
single global nervous system. A concept foreshadowed by the first
description of the "noosphere". The World Wide Web represents a
kind of realisation of the prediction of the Russian ecologist
Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945) and the French palaeontologist and
philosopher-theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) about the
emergence of the noosphere. Vernadsky imagined it as a “sphere of
intelligence, wherein humanity could employ its evolutionary
gifts as a creative collaborative agent of evolution – and where
the widening conflict between techno sphere and biosphere could
be transformed into synergy” (Allen and Nelson 1986). For Teilhard
de Chardin, the noosphere is a “planetary thinking network – an
interlinked system of consciousness and information, a global net of
self-awareness, instantaneous feedback, and planetary
communication” (Dimitrov and Woog, 2001).
The technology is in place for quick and inexpensive global
communication. In the world we now inhabit, distance does not
seem to matter much; space as well as time has become compressed.
Wherever we are at the moment, we cannot help but know that we
could be elsewhere. Never before has communication occurred
instantaneously and as unencumbered by distance, as well as being at
the disposal of so many. Immediacy and communication of
information has become linked. A major step in globalisation is
that everyone knows everyone else's business and everything takes
place in a virtual present.
The Internet has seriously challenged and changed past practices and
any on-going expectation of the formulation of ultimate
principles of thought and action. The design of unified political
systems, based on democracy, seem most unlikely in a world
characterised by a plurality of conditions, thought and levels of
The nature of human nature
Gribbin and Gribbin (1998) have proposed a theory that, in human
history, there have been glacial periods – successive recurrences
of harsh conditions, broken by benign and bountiful ones. They
argue that this put curiosity, adaptability and intelligence at a
premium in all species, struggling to survive under these conditions.
Natural selection would have favoured those who could most
quickly take advantage of and maximise short bursts of
opportunity available to them. This was the selection criterion
and these were the conditions under which humans showed themselves to
be incomparably successful against all other species.
Our ancestors lived in small, nomadic bands of a few dozen individuals
who received their food each day by gathering plants and hunting
animals. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors, problems such as
finding mates, hunting animals, gathering food, negotiating with
themselves and neighbouring bands, defending against aggressors,
safe-guarding children and finding good habitat became the determinants
of their survival. Natural selection is a slow process, and there
simply have not been enough generations for it to select new
circuits that are well adapted to our current form of life. We
find ourselves with Star Wars technology and Neanderthal wiring.
One can speculate about the influence of our evolutionary hereditary on
the motivation and behaviour of early explorers and current world
leaders. The speculation could include suggestions that
exploration, annexation, colonisation and rapid exploitation of
resources, as they became available, were and remain, part of our
Unity in the uniqueness of diversity
Natural selection favours the individual and not the group, but a
curious attribute of being human is that we are capable of
following innate biological drives while being able to reflect
upon the consequences of our actions. This may be described as
enlightened self-interest. It is in this way that some of our patterns
of social behaviour may be described as democratic individuality. A
great deal of individual freedom is accepted and, to a degree,
encouraged, as long as it lies within broad social rules.
Boundary judgements between individual needs and common good remain
as continuous as it is challenging. This judgement is less
problematic within societies than it is between societies and
cultures. Closely related to the tension between individual and
group needs is the tension between who to include as members of
one's social group and who to exclude. Inclusion in the group,
both directly and at times indirectly, favoured at first the
survival and then the ongoing prosperity of the group. Part of
this process required the identification and exclusion of the
non-members of the group – the exotic other. The exotic other can
be those who gave different aesthetic sensibilities, worship a
different god or organise their political administration by other
than democratic means.
There is a fear and vilification of the
culturally distinct 'other'. In a recent Australian case, the
focus of exclusion and hence, by default, the reaffirmation of
'Australianism' was directed at asylum seekers. Demonisation of
the ethically and culturally different is not new: it can be
found in our early historical behaviour of group maintenance. It
can be exhibited in current socio-political practice, such as the
sloganeering during the recent Australian elections, where
'People who threw their children overboard were not worthy ever
to be considered as Australians' and, to a degree and in various
other forms, it characterises aspects of our globalisation imperative
as much as it characterises various resistances to this
The Ugly Face of Globalisation
The wider the process of economic globalisation, the narrower the
circle of those who benefit from it. The free, global market has
begun to appear less and less free. Both trade and investment
seem to be governed by more and more complicated laws and
procedures in favour of monstrously rich economic and financial
corporations – the real beneficiaries of the free global market.
With the passing of each day, these unaccountable corporations,
with unlimited life, size and power, are taking ever- increasing
control over national economies – largely to the detriment of the
individual consumer, worker, neighbour and citizen. One can find
much evidence that corporate- led globalisation negatively affects the
environment, financial stability, equity, security, food safety,
health and cultural diversity of millions of people; the number
of the countries classified as the ‘most poor’ in the world has
doubled in the last several years. There is a tendency for the
governments in the Western ‘free’ democracy to act as the ‘armed’
militia for the large financial corporations and banks.
In so far as economic globalisation is a process that involves
complexly interwoven social, political, psychological,
anthropological dynamics, it is difficult to grasp it holistically, let
alone predict its unfolding. But only to protest, foresee and
preach catastrophe for a large part of humanity does not help
much. (Dimitrov and Woog, 2001).
Globalisation does not have a specific target, it has effects that
include the erosion of the power of national governments. Nation
states have to share power with others, notably the trans
national corporations. This process has resulted, in what may be
euphemistically described, as collateral casualties. One of those
casualties is the enshrined governmental process of democracy.
There is a part of society whose intuitive judgement is that those who
are the most influential in the ongoing development of the global
economy are harming society in the long term. This belief, and
the protest action it engenders, come from intuitive knowing. But
how does one reconcile such an intuitive knowing with the
national democratic mandate? (Dimitrov and Woog, 2002).
A Complexity Perspective
A globally connected word is a complex world characterised by
contradictions and paradoxes. One such paradox is that the
decline of democracy and the desire to maintain it appear to be
serving the same ends. There is a tension between individual
democracy and the democracy of individuality. Another is, that the
motivation to resist globalisation may be an alternate
manifestation of the same sort of force as the lust for
globalisation. The "will to power" which may be expressed as an
unpleasant economic, resource grabbing dominance, or less
obviously as the enforced aculturalisation of parts of society to
a dominant ideology. That ideology can have a deceptively
attractive name such as sustainability or democracy.
Globalisation may be thought of as manifest evidence of the complexity
of our world. Key principles of complexity (Wolfram, 2002) are
evident in the globalisation process. Examples are, the process
is sensitive to initial conditions, it is governed by many and
not a single set of rules, it is self-organising and has emergent
properties. In such a pluralist complex world no one ideology,
even one as long serving as democracy is going to provide the
adequate social organisational framework.
Advanced states of self-organization require rapid forms of adaptive
adjustment. Elections in democratic societies are held every 4 to
5 years. Despite a majority agreement about a democratic mandate,
this period of time may be too long for an informed knowledge
rich society to be held back from responding to the forces of
The challenge is to avoid creating simplicity on the wrong side of
complexity. To some degree the protest against globalisation is
an attempt to do this. It is trying to bring order, understanding
and control to a complex process under the influence of
tremendous dynamics, by imposing too few and overly simple rules.
Seeking to accommodate complexity, carries its own inherent risks
that in trying to account for and to accommodate an
incomprehensible plurality of forces and eventualities, we end
up, drowning in rules. Perhaps the only response we can make is to
allow globalisation to continue under the influence of
self-organisation but with an increased awareness of the
dynamics, emergence and possible manifestations, which we cannot
control, but nudge towards desirable directions. In this process we
will have to come to accept living in a world without certainty
one that continues to be characterised by paradoxes and
contradictions In having to make such an accommodation what is
annoying is that it seemed so promising that with the compression
of space and time we would gain control.
Democracy as we know it, may have to decline in order to be replaced by
a governmental system that is more representative of a globalised
world which in turn is a complex system reorganising itself at higher
and higher levels of complexity. At the very least it may be
contestable that inter community affairs can be run in a
standardised global scale even by something as socially revered as
Allen, J., Nelson, M. (1986) Space Biospheres. Synergistic Press,
London. Dimitrov, V. and Woog, R. (2001) Use of Fuzziology for
Studying Global Economy. In New Logics for the New Economy, VIII
SIGEF Congress Proceedings, Edizione, Scientifiche Italiane, pp.
Estensen, M. (1998) Discovery. The Quest for the Great South Land.
Allan and Unwin.
Gribbin, M. and Gribbin, J. (1993) Being Human. Putting People in an
Evolutionary Perspective. Orion House, London.
Wolfram, S. (2001) A New Kind of Science. Wolfram Media, Inc.
Dr. Robert Woog
University of Western Sydney, College of Arts, Humanities and Social
Sciences Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC NSW 1797,
Australia Email: email@example.com
Phone: 61 (0) 2 45 701902
Fax: 61 (0) 2 45 701255
University of Western Sydney, College of Arts, Humanities and Social
Sciences Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC NSW 1797,
Australia Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: 61 (0) 2 45 701903
Fax: 61 (0) 2 45 701255