A bit more than a year ago, the German term ‘Zeitenwende’ – watershed moment – was frequently used to describe the Russian attack and the war unfolding in Ukraine. What we have been seeing since has brought about a new world order and a change in thinking. While many of us – including myself – saw globalization as something positive with some negative side effects, there seems to be a total inversion ongoing: back to the home turf with closed borders as a protection and to keep everything out that might be questioning our lifestyle and values. This gives rise to more and more nationalistic undertones or the emergence of parties with a strictly local agenda. Unsurprisingly, the result is an increase in tension between countries and supranational organizations becoming increasingly powerless. It feels like a development back to a pre-World War 2 or even World War 1 order where right was not defined by legal frameworks but by military might. Where globalization barely existed and where the personal field of interaction of most people was limited to the own and the neighbouring village.
But is that true? Are we moving backwards? Or are we just moving forward differently?
Globalization was characterized by an increase of international, predominantly economic, cooperation. In its wake, people started to communicate more across borders – social media was born and many of us had a lot more people from elsewhere as ‘Facebook friends’, ‘LinkedIn contacts’ or ‘Instagram followers’ than actual friends in our place of living. We lived in a world where the global often was more connected than the local.
Not only in recent months this was controversial. Globalization critics, ‘Occupy…’ movements or ‘Fridays for future’ questioned the benefits of an economically tightly connected world. In their eyes this is rather part of the problem than the solution since it allows us to offset our destructive behaviours elsewhere. Without natural gas from Russia, the EU would have had to employ a different energy strategy that might have involved more renewables much earlier. Without cheap labour in China or Vietnam, many consumer products would be much more expensive. We want to consume cheap. The result is the disappearance of local knowledge, skills, techniques and ultimately production jobs.
In these ‘Zeitenwende’-times, companies are simplifying their production logistics. They relocate parts of it to the local or regional context. Where before everything global was highly connected, now it seems that connection is reverting to local again. We see the same happening in our social media world: different platforms have been closed in some parts of the world. No Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn in Russia, no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram in China, no WhatsApp in the UAE and TikTok is being removed from government phones in the US.
The real problem I see is that many of the big problems we need to solve in the coming decades cannot be solved without a global perspective and global cooperation. GLOCAL in this sense is not an empty word bubble. World climate does not care about borders and neither do pandemics and diseases, does hunger or the human need for clean water. Our supranational institutions – the United Nations, the European Union and many others have been founded on the joint insight that collaboration and connection is better than war and separation. Without that shared idea, they cannot operate any more.
And we as individuals are no different. Cancel culture does what big politics do on national scale on the local scale. We only accept people into our world that share the same opinion and values. We do not even try to understand why the other has a different view angle. The result – cohesion in society gets lost and replaced by interest groups prevailing over others. A similar pattern – the state cannot operate without collaboration and connection between society as a whole.
But what to do now? We can start with ourselves: not unfriending the girl that posted something we do not agree with. Engaging in debates with people that have fundamentally different opinions and not avoiding them. Building more connections and exchange on the local level. I have the strong feeling that our rediscovery of the other next to us will teach us as a society to accept different – but of course not all – opinions on the global scale again. Doing that, we can establish a more critical but highly needed LOBAL globalization that is based on more than an economic imperative.
by Markus Appenzeller
Cover image: (c) Jer Torp under Creative Common licence