CONTEXT: Chapter 3

Where Globalization Is Taking Us

We are all global citizens.  The tragedy of our times is that we do not know this.” —President Woodrow Wilson

Globalization is taking us somewhere. It's important to know where. And to know where we are going, we need to know where we have been. The forces of globalization already have taken us from somewhere else to here. Understanding these forces and changes will give us a lens, a frame of reference for looking at the future and at what is possible and probable.

At the same time, understanding what the world wants will provide an astronaut's view of where the world is going as well as a framework for effective planning, decision-making and action. Such an understanding will help wrest control of the world away from the abstract forces of "globalization" and give it to the people working to meet all our needs.

It has been said repeatedly, by everyone from spiritual leaders to statesmen, that we are no longer just a part of our family, hometown, state or nation—we are part of something much bigger, we are a part of the entire world. This has always been true in a philosophical sense, but now it is true in a technological, economic, cultural, environmental and political sense. We are no longer actors on a local stage; we are all actors on a global stage. We are no longer just leaders of our local community; our community is now the world.

Similarly, our technology is no longer just a bunch of machines or those machines just a bunch of parts. The combined totality of what humans have created exhibits all the behaviors of a living system, and this living system encircles, embraces and permeates its creators and the so-called natural world.

Globalization may be the most discussed and most misunderstood phenomenon of our age. Its significance to getting what the world wants can't be doubted: globalization plays a profound role in shaping the problems confronted by a now global humanity as well as our available alternatives and solutions to these problems.

But our understanding of this critical force is generally warped by limited vision and our own circumstances. Some claim that economic globalization is making matters worse by pitting workers in wealthy nations against their lower-cost counterparts in developing countries. The other side of this sword, it's pointed out, is raising the life expectancy and living standards of many people in the poorer regions of the planet. Some say that technological globalization is making matters better by bringing life-saving technology to areas currently suffering the consequences of inadequate health care, clean water and other advantages delivered by modern technology— while still others claim that this same technology is destroying native cultures and putting people out of work.

Moreover, certain aspects of globalization are being shaped by rules and laws concocted by governments. Many of these are benefiting a select minority, the rich—usually those making the laws or influencing the process—with the effect of increasing the gap in wealth between the super-rich and the super-poor (those earning more than $1,000 per day and those earning $1 or less per day).

Globalization in its broadest sense goes beyond how most people conceive of it, and it is far too important to be left to the politicians and economists. We need a new way of viewing this epic phenomenon that is empowering, not disabling; that provides perspective and context, not fear; and that is a tool for positive social change, not a weapon of the power structure for maintaining the status quo.

A Planetary Perspective on Globalization

In the big picture, globalization is a process as old as life on Earth. The development of the biosphere was the first manifestation of globalization. Beginning some 3.2 billion years ago, local pockets of life were transformed into interconnected regional and then global systems as life evolved. The first life to appear on the planet had an impact around the globe as the waste products of these single-cell organisms polluted the entire atmosphere with the highly toxic gas oxygen—toxic to this planet's original life forms, that is.  ("Toxic" like most things, is relative.) 

This "pollution," in turn, led to the formation of the ozone layer, which allowed multi-celled organisms to emerge out of the sea, where the protective filter of water stopped harmful ultraviolet rays from destroying them. It also eventually led to an oxygen-rich atmosphere that could support the likes of us. In a general sense, everything that has shown up on this planet becomes part of the globalization process—including, relatively lately, humans, with their technology and economy. 

Seeing globalization as a planetary process leading to ever more complex organisms is key. Recent inputs to the system in human population growth, mobility, and information sharing have intensified the rate at which this is happening. The multidimensional (economic, technological, political, cultural, ecological) linkages of globalization have created what appears to be one vast organism in which the privations or diseases of one part now impact the whole. Just as your whole body suffers if you have a headache, broken arm, or heart attack, so now the entire world is at risk if "just" Bangladesh or Sudan is "sick." And because of our globalized communications technology, this organism now has a nervous system that informs all of us of what is happening all over—insuring that the poorest of us see what the richest of us are doing and have access to. The palace walls are now increasingly transparent, as are those of the hovel.

Globalization to Globalsynthesis

To break free of our limited, often divisive conception of what globalization is and is capable of, a new way of talking about it can be useful. More important, we need to see the increasing complexity of global interconnections as evolving and transforming in ways that make it more powerful than we have yet imagined. As the new technology driving globalization disrupts the status quo and impacts the economy, society and environment, new properties and possibilities come into being. Some properties of this ever-expanding whole are additive, others have been and will continue to be synergetic and thus unpredictable.

Globalization, as usually understood, refers to a process that is integrating the world into one economy.  It is characterized and measured by increased flows of money, goods, services, people and ideas across national borders. But this process actually is part of a larger, ongoing phenomenon that involves the reactive balancing of various natural and human-generated forces, along with the emergence of new, unforeseen properties that result from such interactions. We can refer to this as globalsynthesis.

It's no accident that this coinage echoes the biological term photosynthesis: the process by which plants produce their food and the byproduct of oxygen through the seemingly magical synthesis of sunlight and chlorophyll. In much the same way, globalsynthesis—the interaction of the chlorophyll of the human mind and disparate global forces, from biological, economic and technological to cultural and spiritual—is leading the world to unforeseen and, by today's standards, magical destinations. [Sidebar quote: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."—Arthur C. Clarke]  When the needs and capacities of the global economy, environment and technology interact with local cultures, values and visions, entirely new properties and capacities emerge. Globalsynthesis thus becomes one of the most powerful forces that are driving the world to meet its needs.

As we saw earlier, the process of globalization began with the formation of global ecosystems, and globalization in its current form is both shaping and being shaped by those ecosystems. As the geometry of their names implies, the atmosphere, hydrosphere and lithosphere are global in shape and scope. Human systems now compete for resources and space with the established global ecosystems, and in some cases, undermine the viability and integrity of those systems.

Globalization has turned human technological, economic, and cultural systems into global systems, while, conversely, global ecosystems are being turned into local systems by human impacts. Turning a global ecosystem into a local system is tantamount to killing it— as disconnecting your cardiovascular system from the rest of your body "kills" it, and you. A good definition of a destroyed ecosystem is one that has been cut off from its global connections. For example, a local tributary of a river that has been so polluted by technological waste that it is unable to support life, or a part of a rain forest that is too small to support its original diversity because the forests surrounding it have been leveled for farm land, or the farmland (formerly prairie or rainforest) that is so eroded that it can no longer grow anything— are all ways human impacts on early global systems are turning these systems into less viable systems. We can clearly see that the future of global human systems depends on how they interact with the physical and biological world.

Globalization joins human technological, economic, cultural and political systems with the global ecosystem into one global techno-econo-politico-ecosphere —or "metasphere." But while globalization puts all the systems it transforms onto the same playing field, globalsynthesis integrates all these systems into one organism with properties and capacities that no single system alone possesses. It balances the integrative forces of globalization with the decentralized needs of what the world wants—resulting in a more humane world.

Moving from the beginnings of biological evolution on the planet to more contemporary times, we can see that the processes of globalization and globalsynthesis are shaping the world on a dramatic and ever-expanding scale. What has been happening for the last fifty years is the flowering of a process whose seeds were planted in the origin of life.  

Globalsynthesis is a change agent of the status quo that alters the playing field, reducing the traditional powers of some and creating new opportunities and powers for others.  The resulting stress and conflict within and among nations, corporations, cultures and families need to be understood in a historical and pragmatic perspective and in the context of what the world wants.

As it became more and more visible, globalization became the predominant metaphor and force of this age.  As globalsynthesis emerges, it will be seen as integrating and balancing the forces of globalization with those of the environment and with human cultures and values—what the world wants. These combined forces will be what people remember about this time—not the demise of the Soviet Union, the spectacular economic growth of Japan, the even more spectacular growth and emergence of China as a world power, the spread of the computer and microchip throughout the world, humans going into space, or the destruction of the ozone layer or the rain forests.  As important
as all these are, they are a subset of globalsynthesis; steps along the path of getting what the world wants. 

We will remember this as a time when the forces of globalization and globalsynthesis integrated the world into one ecosphere; one economy; one labor and financial pool; one disease and criminal pool; one telecommunications and transportation network with standardized technology, border-dissolving problems, and sovereignty-undermining opportunities; and one increasingly complex and diverse society—with surprising emergent capacities that were not predictable by the behavior of any of the parts. We will also remember this time for what human society—global human society—did in response to the opportunities and challenges of globalsynthesis in their world.


"To understand a system, you need to understand the system it fits into." —Howard Odum, ecologist

[i] Medard Gabel, Henry Bruner, Global Inc.: An Atlas of the Multinational Corporation. (New York, The New Press. 2003).

[ii] There are over one million citizen groups in both Brazil and India; in the U.S. the number was 734,000 in 1999. Bangladesh has over 20,000, Central Europe over 100,000, Indonesia has over 2000 of just environmental groups (from Bill Drayton, Asoka, and David Bomstein,

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