Globalization and the Human Soul


Photo Credit: [Amanda Sandlin]

In many ways, thanks to globalization, the world is a lot smaller than it was 50 years ago. And, it continues to shrink. As noted by Norton (2014):

 “Today we can move our goods and ourselves from one place to another much more rapidly than ever before, while ideas and capital can travel anywhere in the world almost instantaneously” (p. 78)

Each one of us is connected in myriad ways to other people and places around the world. For example, the t-shirt I am wearing was made in India, the computer that I am working on was manufactured in Taiwan (using resources from the United States and Russia), and I have social media contacts from each one of the world’s continents. Globalization–that juggernaut of economic, political, and cultural processes–appears to know no bounds.

But, are these changes associated with globalization a good thing for humanity (and our planet)?

While there are a number of conventional arguments for and against globalization that I could present here, (as usual) I want to dig a little bit deeper and ask:

Is globalization a good thing for the human soul?

The answer to this question, I believe, is no. I do not believe it is ‘human’ to live in a global village. For the vast majority of human history (we’re talking 10s of thousands of years here), humans lived in small groups of hunter-gathers in intimate connection with one another, with nature, and, with the land. It is only with the onset of the agricultural and industrial revolutions when we began to build permanent settlements. And, only very recently (2007), did the world population pass the threshold from living primary in rural settlements to living mostly in cities.

Interestingly, along with the rise of urbanization (and then globalization), is a concurrent increase in mental health issues. The World Health Organization suggests that depression is now the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting more than 350 million individuals. Might these two phenomena be connected?

Psychologist and environmental activist Chellis Glendinning thinks so. In her fascinating book, My Name is Chellis & I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization, she shows how most ‘primitive’ nature-based societies were participatory, egalitarian, leisurely, ecological, and sustainable–and knew nothing of mental illness. Although we tend to look down about these groups (the word primitive carries a lot of weight!), in reality, their quality of life was likely much better than our own.

All this is to say, while globalization might make sense economically, it makes little sense humanly (and even less sense ecologically). We need to (and many people are) bringing back the local: local relationships, local communities, local food, local land.

While this transition back to a more local way of living will surely not be easy, as Andrew Carnegie reminds us,

Anything in life worth having is worth working for.