Globalization starts right here, in our very own hearts. We seem to think of it as a diffuse process of such immense scale that we cannot identify its origin or center. We struggle to find a hold, a place from which we can address the ominous transformations, the structurally-imposed inequalities, the institutionally-sanctioned injustice it brings. But we give life to these global processes through our daily interactions. Our individual lives are the seedbed for all that globalization bears. A recent panel discussion at Cornell University regarding the role of the IMF in globalization provided, to my mind, a clear view of this intricate lattice of personal, local and global realities.
It was a microcosm of the world: their genders, their ages, their races and their statuses playing out the unequal power roles of their countries in this brief, individual drama on the stage. While a young, black, female, college student of Haitian descent addressed the audience, Michel Camdessus sat, whispering repeatedly to the professor at his side. His disruptions caused the young woman to continually interrupt her speech. She looked to Camdessus, the former leader of the IMF, to see if his comments required a response or to check if she should continue. She stumbled through her address haltingly with numerous apologies as if it were she who was interrupting these two older, white men of power. Regardless of the reasons for Camdessus behavior, the effect on the speaker was palpable.
This, right here, is the manifestation of oppression, subordination and disregard for human worth. What nefarious forces would cause a young, less powerful, black female to speak with such timidity while a mature, powerful, white male not only ignored but undermined her right to be heard? Certainly characters play a role but in part I suspect that the lifetimes of socialization into a world of individual power imbalances where such differences in race, gender, class and status still exist silently manipulate power dynamics. These interactions are so subtle, so commonplace they have become normal --almost invisible, and therefore all the more pernicious.
While this young woman struggled to make her statement, Camdessus appeared either unconcerned or oblivious to the impact of his distractions. Whether his behavior was purposive or inadvertent, it is equally unacceptable. If it was intentional then it reflects negatively on the individual character of Camdessus and exposes the flaw in an institutional system that would reward such intentions with a position of great importance and power. But more likely, the invalidation of this person's voice was unconscious -- itself an ominous reminder of the pervasive and stubborn insidiousness of inequality. This brief exchange between two people plainly demonstrated on a very comprehensible, human scale the dynamics of inequality at work. It seemed just a human miniature of global power dynamics. Why should relations of global scale be any more equal than ones of human scale? How can an immense multinational organization like the IMF hear the often faint or silent voices of the disenfranchised poor when the leader, of former leader, of this institution does not have the decency, respect or common manners to listen to a fellow panelist at an organized, public event?
Throughout the forum, Camdessus deftly disarmed the other panelists' critiques with diplomacy and sheer charisma. He presented himself as a congenial man bringing years of wisdom from his personal perspective "to share" with his fellow concerned citizens. In doing so, he distanced himself from the IMF institutional position, yet later he claimed still to support most IMF ideology. Playing it both ways, he left himself an out without disowning his legacy. Critical questions launched at him were shed like mere water droplets, quickly rolling down a greased slicker -- a shield of credentials legitimized by great institutional authority and oiled by years of manipulating social situations. "We are all friends here," he claimed with such well-deployed amiability that it would have seemed impertinent for any panelist not to accept the gesture. If not disingenuous, this was certainly presumptuous, and an effective tactic to diffuse critique. Camdessus used affability like a shield and diplomacy as an escape route while he employed subtle disruption and careful manipulation of the discourse like a secret, sugar-coated weapon. Wielding this power of privilege while hiding behind a claim to common ground, he diffused the panelists' critiques and dismissed the gravity of their concerns. He gave us a little insight into the origin of global power dynamics.
There is a human face to globalization, and it is not a pretty one. It is a face of indifference to injustice and domination. It is hard to make out behind its mask of global anonymity and difficult to distinguish from the economic, political and other structural forces that form the skeleton of this monster but it is peering right at us in our everyday lives. In our own towns, and jobs and schools, in the everyday interactions we conduct with people of different races, different sexes, different ages, different classes... we see the face of global power structures begin to take shape.
And what is at the heart of this beast? Inequality.
We need to reign in the grasp of globalization, to maintain respect for individual human beings and cultures. To do so we need to address the structural forces that give body and strength to globalization, but we also need to take note that this seemingly amorphous creature is animated by human compulsions. We need to take aim at its very heart: to work toward more egalitarian, respectful societies at home as much as on the international scene. We need to raise our boys and girls, whether they be black, brown, green, pink or white -- whether they be rich, poor or in between -- with a sense of internal dignity and confidence; children who are not afraid to speak up in their classrooms so that they will not be afraid to speak out as adults; children who are aware of the equal right of others so that those who one day find themselves in positions of power do not purposely or unconsciously dismiss, exploit, or squash those with less. We need to be constantly vigilant of the insidious, potential domination of one individual human being over another if we are to have any hope of turning the global heart to one of equality. Each of us can do this in our everyday lives -- starting with a good look into our own hearts.