Friday, July 01, 2016

Globalisation of Locals

When there is distance between leaders and the led, the story gets stretched. Genghis Khan's living conditions weren't all that different from the rest of the citizens of his world. He was born in an ultra-local world. A world where families basically looked after themselves. A world of fear. He stormed across the continent in an increasingly big wave, destroying opposition. He monopolised violence

Muhammad also brought together tribes that had been warring. The first known written constitution was the Quran. It is the reason the Western idea of separating state and religion doesn't work in an Arab world. The state is religion. The state is law. Religion is law. Over the course of Muhammad's later life, he responded with thought, counsel and reflection to new questions as and when they came up. The general idea being how to build a cohesive society that allowed people to flourish. A way of life with meaning that stopped the centuries of conflict. He drew inspiration from other 'people of the book'.

Manuscript of the Quran at the Brooklyn Museum

What I find interesting about people identifying with the groups they belong to is that a little look at history will show that their deepest conflicts lie within those groups. The great thing about struggling with family conflicts is how easy it is to empathise with others. Some of our hardest torments come from seeing our own flaws and strengths reflected in differing proportions in those we grew up with. Family. Friends from our neighbourhood. Those who seem most painfully different from us are those who are almost the same.

Globalisation often gets associated with big companies. Companies that are too big to listen. Unlike Genghis and Muhammad, the leaders end up living completely different lives from the people. They don't see the reflections of themselves. They end up feeling purely paternal or judgemental. They don't have the emotional toolbox to relate.

I believe big companies are like the work done by Genghis. They have destroyed national borders. Multi-national companies bring together people from all over. They build infrastructure. They spread knowledge. There are lots of positives, but there is also the Big/Small challenge. There is a very real disconnect we have to over come. The story of Sam Walton and the growth of Walmart is a real 'power to the people story'. He flew all over America, speaking to people and getting to understand them. Having conversations. I think there are lots of people who feel they no longer have conversations with those in power. Whether it is companies, countries or religions.

I do not agree with the 'Leave Voters' in the recent British Referendum. A friend of mine recently took a train trip from Berlin to Amsterdam without being asked for a passport. It was a deeply moving experience. As South Africans, it can be very hard to travel the world. As a privileged person, you can jump through the hoops and expenses to get a visa. A lot of the poorer people haven't even left the cities they grew up in. I wasn't poor growing up, but I only left South Africa for the first time when I was 18. My world was Durban and Johannesburg. Getting my European Passport was a very special experience. Having grown up as Apartheid was ending in South Africa, the ability to break down the borders has always mattered deeply to me. It has been a long hard struggle in South Africa. As it has been in Northern Ireland. As it is in Israel. I only got the opportunity to expand my bubble because of my education, wealth, and age. A 'points system' that meant I qualified for the 'Highly Skilled Migrants Program'. This is exactly how Apartheid in South Africa worked. Those who were needed in the white areas qualified for a Dompas. The end of Apartheid was a recognition that freedom of movement of people is a basic human right. It is not something that any humane society can justifiably restrict.

The irony is that our real groups don't respect borders. Taiye Selasi talks about what makes us local to a place. She argues that it is rituals, relationships and restrictions. Someone who cleans rooms in Moscow has more in common with someone who does the same in New York, or in Johannesburg, or Kigali, or Kuala Lumpur, than they may have with the person who the room belongs to. Global Citizens have deep emotional connections to people all over the world. Stories of family troubles. Stories of hurt. Stories of joy.

If we want to create a world of connections, we have to start listening to each others stories. We have to try to understand the people we disagree with. We are better than borders.

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