realize now what a stupid idea it was, but at the time it seemed appealing.
It was my youngest daughter’s brainstorm: To mark the advent of 2000,
she said, we should all go up to the highest hill in the city and
see the first sunrise of the new millennium. So the whole family rolled
out of bed at a disgustingly early hour on the morning of January
1, 2000, and set off to Primrose Hill to watch rosy-fingered dawn
make her 21st-century debut.
This was stupid because
we happen to live in London. A January morning in foggy London town
is just about guaranteed to be cold, wet and far too cloudy to see
the sun. And so it was on January 1, 2000. We spent a miserable hour
huddled beneath our dripping umbrellas on the windy hilltop. When
the “sunrise” came, we saw nothing more than a faint glow somewhere
behind the cloud cover. Finally we raced back home, cooked up some
hot chocolate and flicked on the tube.
And then we saw something
that was worth getting up for at the crack of dawn. The BBC, at that
early hour of New Year’s Day, was running film clips from around the
world showing how people everywhere had celebrated the night before.
Pope John Paul II, looking full of spirit and energy, marked the millennium
in St. Peter’s Square. A Scotsman in a green tartan kilt tweedled
his bagpipe from the roof of Edinburgh Castle.
A bare-chested Samoan
blared a conch shell on the beach. A Native American danced in feathered
headdress. Thousands of couples in evening dress waltzed across the
plaza in front of Vienna’s town hall. At the easternmost point of
New Zealand, Kiri Te Kanawa sang a Maori karanga. On the biggest
stage in Tokyo, Suizenji Kyoko spun in her kimono as she belted out
“The Light of the Firefly,” Japan’s homegrown version of “Auld Lang
I was totally fascinated—not
only because these New Year’s Eve parties were so colorful, but also
because they were so varied and so local. That’s not what we’re supposed
to be seeing, after all, in the 21st century. According to all the
leading experts, we have entered the era of globalization. Nobody
has yet produced a clear definition of this increasingly common term,
but globalization seems to have both cultural and commercial
The notion of “cultural
globalization” evokes the emergence of a shared global mass culture
in which billions of people on every continent wear the same Nikes,
eat the same Big Macs, sing along to the same Madonna hit, laugh at
the same episodes of Friends, surf the same Web sites and shoot
for the high score on the same PlayStation games. In a business sense,
“globalization” refers to the worldwide business empires formed by
multinational corporations like Microsoft, Monsanto, McDonald’s and
It's Good and Bad
is more than the flow of money and commodities, according to the Human
Development Report 1999, commissioned by the United Nations Development
Programme. “It is the growing interdependence of the world’s people
through ‘shrinking space, shrinking time and disappearing borders.’”
In the report, which states that globalization offers people opportunities
to enhance their lives and create a global community based on shared
values, mention is made of markets which have been allowed to dominate
Whatever it means, globalization
is clearly a threatening concept to many people. When the World Trade
Organization met in Seattle in 1999, tens of thousands of demonstrators
mobbed the streets to protest against global corporations, global
organizations and global trade rules. Similar protests, some violent,
broke out in several European capitals. When business and governmental
leaders from around the world met in January 2000 for the World Economic
Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the demonstrators were back again, smashing
the windows at the local McDonald’s and emptying Coke bottles in the
street to demonstrate their disgust with “globalization.”
They were at it again
at the U.S. political conventions last summer and in Cincinnati, Ohio,
in November 2000. Of course, the news footage showed a lot of these
demonstrators wearing the same Nike shoes and sipping the same Starbucks
coffee that they were supposedly protesting against—but you can’t
demand too much consistency from a rioting mob.
In a sense, the single
global culture that some people fear has been coming for a long time.
More than 30 years ago, the visionary Marshall McLuhan predicted that
TV, movies and new technologies would join all the far-flung corners
of the planet into a single “global village.” In the 1960s, the McCluhan
notion was an intriguing prediction. Today, it seems to many people
to be a disturbing reality.
As any traveler can
tell you, there’s evidence to support the notion that our varied world
is becoming monocultural. I have taken several extended trips to far
corners of the world in recent years, and I’ve seen signs of this
spreading global culture almost everywhere.
In any hotel room in
any country, I hear the same CNN or BBC announcers reading the news.
At any newsstand in any city, I can buy Time and Newsweek,
Vogue and Marie Claire. In any convenience store or
trading post, I see Pokémon key chains.
On a visit to Tioman,
a palm-fringed island off the east coast of Malaysia, I saw a group
of Islamic women with bright scarves around their heads dancing on
the beach. I raced over to get a closer look at this colorful piece
of Southeast Asian tradition—and realized that these Malaysians were
dancing the macarena, originated by a Spanish flamenco duo.
On the north shore of
ink-blue Lake Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I posed
for a photo with a local tribal chief. To mark the occasion, he put
on his best shirt: a Chicago Bulls T-shirt with Michael Jordan’s number.
Personally, I find such
moments charming rather than depressing. But whether you like or loathe
them, this kind of cultural fusion is frankly inevitable in a world
where TV, radio, movies and the Internet reach almost every city,
village and palm-fringed Pacific island. As President Bill Clinton
said in his final State of the Union address in 2000, “Globalization
is the central reality of our time.” That makes those demonstrations
in Seattle seem futile.
The ponytailed, pierced-body
protester marching in the streets to stop globalization is the modern
equivalent of King Canute at the oceanfront trying to stop the incoming
Still, I think I understand
why the protesters see the march of globalization as a force to be
resisted. For one thing, the globalization of culture is seen as the
twin sister of the globalization of commerce.
This is a scary prospect
to a lot of people. They fear that important aspects of daily life
are falling under the control of borderless, monopolistic mega-corporations
with no particular loyalty to any country or any person, except the
shareholders. We now have to rely on huge, faceless industrial conglomerates
for essential elements of life: food, medicine, communications, transportation,
finance, etc. Even the news media tend to belong to multinational
corporate behemoths these days. Can we trust what they are telling
This innate fear of
big multinational corporations is a key reason for the increasingly
hostile reaction to the new genetically modified seeds that biotech
companies are developing for farmers around the world. By using modern
gene-splicing techniques, molecular biologists can produce new varieties
of crops much faster—10 or 20 years faster—than would be possible
under traditional methods of hybridization.
The available genetic
hybrids (they’re known by the shorthand “GMOs,” or “genetically modified
organisms”) already produce more food per acre than traditional hybrid
seeds. They use less irrigation water and smaller amounts of chemical
pesticides. In the laboratory, biologists are developing dramatic
new species of crops: rice with twice as many vitamins per serving,
beans containing a chemical that may treat hemophilia.
You would think that
most people would welcome these advances, with their potential to
feed the hungry and cure the sick. Indeed, most Third World nations
have eagerly embraced the GMO revolution. But the rich countries of
Western Europe have banned or strictly limited the planting of new
hybrids. The anti-GMO movement is spreading to the United States as
well. During those noisy demonstrations in Seattle, hundreds of the
anti-globalization protesters carried signs reading “No GMOs.”
Why? Many people fear
that the new seeds pose a risk to human health or the environment.
So far, at least, there’s no scientific evidence that this is so.
Americans have been planting and eating GMOs for nearly two decades
now, with no sign whatsoever of health or environmental harm. But
this experience has not mollified the Europeans.
When I asked Michael
Meacher, Britain’s environmental minister, why he doesn’t trust GMO
crops, he replied, in essence, that he doesn’t trust the huge multinational
companies that make them. “I’m not willing to risk the health of our
nation on a bunch of studies put out by Monsanto,” he said.
Another element at work
here is anti-Americanism. To many people, the emerging global monoculture—from
movies to music to Monsanto’s seeds and Microsoft’s Windows—looks
just like U.S. culture. That is, globalization is widely taken to
be a synonym for Americanization.
Let’s face it—most of
the world has a love-hate attitude toward America. People everywhere
admire a lot of things about the United States: our commitment to
freedom, our ingenuity, our openness to ideas and immigrants from
all over the world, our willingness to face up to national problems
and deal with them.
But at the same time,
there is resentment and jealousy over America’s unchallenged dominance
as the world’s leading financial, political, military and cultural
power. Americans living overseas can sense these mixed feelings when
we see how our country is portrayed in the foreign media. The United
States is described as a rich, successful, powerful country—but one
that is plagued with violence, drug abuse, racial tension and political
By the way, the common
perception that creeping Americanization is taking over the whole
world is not completely accurate. Some well-known aspects of contemporary
world culture come from other countries. The Disney Company recently
shut down its flagship store in Berlin because there wasn’t a big
enough market for Mickey Mouse ears and Donald Duck blankets. Guess
what happened: The shop was quickly turned into an “anime” outlet—that
is, a store selling Japanese cartoon figures like Pokémon, Hello Kitty
and Sailor Moon, which have passed Mickey and Donald in popularity.
In the world of sport,
American passions like baseball and football are nowhere near as widespread
as the British games: soccer, rugby and cricket. The most popular
sports team on earth is the British soccer power Manchester United,
with active fan clubs in 100 countries. Manchester United’s global
popularity went even higher last year when the team’s great midfielder,
David Beckham, married a woman named Victoria Adams, who is better
known to pop music fans around the world as Posh Spice, one of the
Of course, if you think
of globalization as a pernicious force, it probably doesn’t matter
where the pop icons come from. The problem is perceived to be a massive
homogenization of music, clothing, language and leisure all over the
world—and a resulting loss of diversity, tradition and local color.
The British essayist Polly Toynbee captured this dark view with her
shorthand definition of cultural globalization: “the ugly spread of
McDonald’s and Disney to beautiful, remote places.”
There’s one major problem
with this theory that all the world’s local cultures are merging into
a single globalized mush: It’s not true. As I saw on New Year’s morning,
2000, traditional local cultures are flourishing everywhere.
The irony of our wired-up,
online, Starbuck’s-studded world is that it is less connected, and
more varied in many ways than what we had before telephones, television
and the World Wide Web. In the year 2001, our planet is more local,
more varied and less unified than it was on the first day of 1900.
At latest count, there were 188 sovereign nations on earth—far more
than ever before in history—not to mention scores of independence
movements hoping to carve out yet another rectangle on the globe.
And each of the new nations is determined to protect and promote its
traditional languages and cultures.
Relish the Differences
A century ago, huge
swathes of world maps were colored pink, red or yellow, depicting
the territory controlled by a few European colonial powers. Across
the vast sweep of Asia and Africa, from Turkey to the China Sea, from
Egypt to South Africa, hundreds of millions of people were subjects
of the British queen. Britain and the other colonial powers imposed
a uniformity of law, language, education and culture over vast stretches
of our planet.
We tend to think of
colonization as a relic of ancient history. In fact, European colonial
rule around the world continued for half of the 20th century. It was
only in the 1950s and ’60s that most of Asia and Africa won independence
from European colonial rule. And not until December 20, 1999, did
Portugal finally give up the last vestige of European rule in Asia,
the tiny state of Macao, on China’s Pearl River delta.
Today, the old patterns
of political dominance have given way to a more complex, geopolitical
reality. The world today is a world of cultural and political variety.
The people and institutions that are genuinely “globalized” are those
that accept and relish this world of difference.
One of the worldwide
institutions that has done the best job of adapting is the Roman Catholic
Church. You only have to see a meeting of the College of Cardinals,
with its lively mix of races, colors and languages, to understand
how the traditional Church has embraced cultural variety while holding
firmly to its core of universal truth.
It may be that we live
in a “global village”—but it’s a village with one heck of a lot of
ethnic neighborhoods. Accordingly, I’d argue that we need a new definition
The “central reality
of our time” is not so much that the whole world is embracing an American-based
monoculture. Rather, “globalization” is the process by which Americans—and
everybody else—are coming to understand, appreciate and learn from
the rich cultural diversity and heritage of the six billion residents
of our globe. We had a glimpse of that as sunrise 2000 was celebrated
around the world.
T. R. Reid is a globe-traveling
freelance writer and London bureau chief for The Washington Post.
His writing credits include National Geographic, TV Guide
and other journals. His recent book Confucius Lives Next Door
deals with the importance of traditional values in modern society.
He holds an A.B. from Princeton University.
Church in a Global Village
by John Bookser Feister
Could it have
been coincidence that Vatican Council II was convoked even as
the world began to see itself, via satellite, as a global village?
The Council was one of the first events ever broadcast instantly
across the globe, and some of its key documents reflect that
new awareness. The
Church in the Modern World eloquently names the new
reality that the Church finds itself in: “The accelerated pace
of history is such that one can scarcely keep abreast of it.
The destiny of the human race is viewed as a complete whole....[T]he
result is an immense series of new problems calling for a new
endeavor of analysis and synthesis” (#5).
The work of the
Church is expressed in the daily actions of its millions of
members worldwide, and also in its many programs of justice
and charity. Recent popes have urged us on. Pope Paul VI, the
first of the world-traveling popes, announced the theme of global
obligations in his encyclical Progress of Peoples. There
he examined the lingering effects of colonialism on the peoples
of the Third World. He wrote, “Development of the individual
necessarily entails a joint effort for the development of the
human race as a whole. At Bombay We said: ‘Man must meet man,
nation must meet nation, as brothers and sisters, as children
of God. In this mutual understanding and friendship, in this
sacred communion, we must also begin to work together to build
the common future of the human race’” (#43).
In our own time
John Paul II has stepped across the world stage as a spokesman
for human respect and global solidarity. In his exhortation
to the Church of North and South America in 1999, following
the Synod for America, he stressed how much all learn from one
another and work for everyone’s benefit: “If globalization is
merely ruled by the laws of the market applied to suit the powerful,
the consequences can be but negative. These are, for example,
the absolutizing of the economy, unemployment, the reduction
and deterioration of public services, the destruction of the
environment and natural resources, the growing distance between
rich and poor, unfair competition which puts the poor nations
in a situation of ever-increasing inferiority. While acknowledging
the positive values which come with globalization, the Church
considers with concern the negative aspects which follow in
Later in his exhortation,
he calls to mind the positive and deepest call of globalization:
“The Son of God, by taking upon himself our human nature, became
incarnate within a particular people, even though his redemptive
death brought salvation to all people, of every culture, race
and condition. The gift of his spirit and love are meant for
every people and culture...” (#70).
Though the Church
is universal, she sees herself expressed in the many cultures
of the world, each according to its customs. This is inculturation,
a key theme of Pope John Paul II’s writings on missionary activity.
Look at the Author
T. R. Reid, London bureau
chief for The Washington Post, is an American whose world travel
has shown him that Asian culture has much to teach Americans about
collective responsibility. Reid, author of Confucius Lives Next
Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West,
details this ideal.
He became interested
in Asia when he was in his early 20s. At the time, he was a frequent
reader of works by Thomas Merton, a U.S. Catholic author, monk and
poet. “That’s one of the reasons I got interested in Asia,” admits
Reid, a frequent guest on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition
with Bob Edwards.
In the early ’70s, Reid
made his home in Japan. “Japan was in a very interesting stage” at
that time, Reid says. “It was no longer a Third World country. It
was not the poor poverty-stricken country that had emerged from World
War II, but it wasn’t a developed country; it wasn’t a First World
country. It wasn’t the rich country that we know Japan as being today.”
Eighteen years later,
he returned to Japan and found an entirely different place. “This
country had become an incredibly rich country.” For him and his wife,
“It was really striking to see this difference we saw with our own
eyes, what has been widely called an economic miracle, and it was
The miracle, he says,
“wasn’t just restricted to Japan; there really was this term that
the World Bank coined in 1993, but I believe it’s true, the ‘East
Asian economic miracle.’ This was a whole series of countries—we can
roughly define east Asia as the countries from Mount Fuji to Mount
Everest—those countries moved from poverty to wealth or from Third
World to First World or from begging to middle class, collectively
faster than anybody has ever seen any region in the world do before.
It was an amazing economic revolution, and they did it in about 20
Throughout those years,
Reid and his wife, and their three children, Homer, 23, Penelope,
17, and Willa, 14, occasionally returned to Japan. A convert to Catholicism
prior to his marriage 28 years ago, Reid and his family now reside
At his parish, the Church
of Our Lady in St. John’s Wood, he is responsible for the parish newsletter
and is a member of the Neighbour Care organization. The group, which
had just begun when the Reid family arrived in London two years ago,
helps transport elderly parishioners to various events in and around
London and serves them special meals three times a year, including