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Essay: How Globalization Affects the World: From Colonialism to Slow Violence

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  • Published: 22 February 2023*
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The world seems vast, distinct and varied yet, we all feel interconnected and dependent on each other. The seemingly “Large world” is becoming rather “Small.” Perhaps the new inventions and technology are to blame but the major culprit is undoubted Globalization. Globalization can be defined as the process by which formerly separate economies, states and cultures become tied together and people become increasingly aware of their growing interdependence (Compass for a new sociological world, page 27) Although Globalization seems like a collective good, which it can be sometimes in a fair world, Arundhati Roy points out that, “…globalization (is) like a light which shines brighter and brighter on a few people and the rest are in darkness, wiped out. They simply can’t be seen. Once you get used to not seeing something, then, slowly, it’s no longer possible to see it.” (page 1) In my opinion, this captures globalization it ’s raw form, possibly hinting its adverse effects on some countries or individuals.

Sociologist Martin Albrow argues that the “global age” is only a few decades old. Anthony Giddens argues that globalization is the result of industrialization and modernization, which boomed from the late 19th century onwards. Here is a little back story to globalization- World War 1 and the Great Depression sabotaged the globalization of the late 19th and early 20th century. This, in turn, evoked racism, protectionism, military build-up and ultimately to Nazi and communist dictatorship that led to World War 2.  Sociologist Roland Robertson suggested that globalization is as old as civilization itself and is, in fact, the cause of modernization rather than the other way around. Globalization can be observed 500 years ago in the form of Colonialism and Capitalism. To extend trade and markets, the French, British, Portuguese set out to capture other un-wealthy countries and made them their colonies. They exploited the colonies to boost their nation’s wealth and pride. Colonialism soon gave birth to Imperialism. Years passed and now it’s the age of technology and globalization.  Although we think that the years of wars and violence are far behind us, buried and non-existent, unfortunately, it’s untrue.

Rob Nixon’s book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, tackles three major brewing issues of the world. The first and foremost topic he wishes to address is the topic of “Slow Violence”. Nixon describes slow violence as “a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space and attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.” (page 2) He categorizes climate change, deforestation, soil erosion, acidifying oceans, biomagnification and “a host of other slowly unfolding environmental catastrophes” under the broad umbrella of Slow Violence – invisible yet harmful and which can lead the world in peril.  The second burning issue addressed by Nixon is the “Environmentalism of the Poor.” Meaning those who lack resources, opportunities and wealth, as they are the most affected by slow violence caused by other wealthy nations. To state an example given by Nixon – “Offloading rich nation toxins onto the world’s poorest continent” (page 2) This idea was proposed by Summers to help ease the growing environmentalism in the first world nations. This is not only an act of Slow Violence but also exploitation of the poor.  This is not viewed as violence as it takes place in a space and time where those who “don’t count” are. We don’t fashion adequate ways to represent slow violence because it only affects those who “don’t matter.” We can see traces of binary logic seeping into the idea of globalization and even slow violence.

Jamaica Kincaid’s A Small Place is a book of non-fiction, post-colonial literature which describes the environment of the community post-independence. She describes Antigua, from a tourist’s perspective. With the use of interpellation, imagery and irony, she achieves an honest representation of Antigua, informing the tourist. The speaker addresses the situation in the second person’s point of view. This gives the reader the information that a person might know first-hand. Not using the 3rd person’s perspective, is to ensure to not sound too distant.  The speaker’s comment on the “Japanese cars” that are expensive and brand new in Antigua and the tourists from America or Europe’s awe fairly describes the ‘First world/ Western mentality’. We are presented with an idea of medical and health care in Antigua – “the hospital is staffed with doctors that no Antiguan trusts / when the minister of Health himself doesn’t feel well he takes the first plane to New York to see a real doctor.” This not only provides us with a clear picture of healthcare in third world nations but also the difference in the standards of living and environments.

Globalization brings people closer, it is true. Like the American tourist in Antigua. However, it doesn’t help change the fact that places such as Antigua are merely used as tourist sites, to emphasize the natural wonders but not as a nation outside the aspect of tourism. Kincaid mentions how we tend to think of Antigua as this beautiful, evergreen land of peace and bliss. Little do we know, or pay attention to the years of drought, earthquake (page 4,8) Kincaid also highlights the colonialist aspects of Antigua like going to church to thank a “British God” / “bad minded people who used to rule over it, the English, no longer do so” (page 9, 23) Everything is not as it seems and this can be reflected in the lines “what I see is the millions of people, of whom I am just one, made orphans.” (page 31) Colonialization has its repercussions and we need to understand that history is not in the past. History is present in the future, it is invisible just like slow violence.

Slavery too becomes a  discussed topic in Kincaid’s book – “not only did we have to suffer the unspeakableness of slavery, but the satisfaction to be had from “We made you bastards rich” is taken away too.” Sarcasm is employed to heighten the irony in the secret behind why the first world nations such as America, are rich – “you needn’t let the slightly funny feeling you have from time to time about exploitation, oppression, domination develop into full-fledged unease, discomfort; you could ruin your holiday.” (page 10)

“A tourist is an ugly human being” (page 14) says the speaker not to criticise only the tourist but to also criticise the entire industry that paints a false picture of Antigua and many other places alike. To make a place as such which is only used as a spectacle of beauty when there’s horror underneath. To weave Nixon’s idea of slow violence and the poor into Kincaid’s book, she says, “Most natives in the world cannot go anywhere. They are too poor. They are too poor to escape the reality of their lives.” (page 18,19) Kincaid points out the irony in the environmentalism of the poor- how the rich tourist wants to visit the place of those who are too poor to live properly in theirs. Places like Antigua are not given much importance – “repairs are pending” (page 42) The speaker mentions the library that was destroyed due to an earthquake in 1974, still not repaired.

We cannot help but acknowledge the ‘Westernization’ of the world – “What surprised me the most about them was how familiar they were with the rubbish of North America.” This is primarily due to globalization. Slow violence has become a part of the political structure – structural violence. In the book Globalization and Environmental Reform: The Ecological Modernization of the Global Economy by Arthur P. J Mol, we learn how closely globalization and homogenization are related to each other. It also marks the threats of growing similarities in environmental threats and reforms between cities in the North and South of America. Problems like “air pollution, traffic jams, environmental risks related to food products, growing use of energy and drinking water and are all in need of efficient public transport systems, of effective environmental monitoring, control and enforcement programs and of renewable resources and demand-side management of natural resources.” (page 24) All these problems are not only faced by the poor, third world nations but also by First world countries like the UK and America. Globalization affects all economies on the planet, just like Slow violence. We need to be keen and pay close attention to our surroundings to stop something disastrous before it’s too late.

Globalization, Climate Change, and Human Health by Anthony J. McMichael is an article that argues the fundamental threats that globalization poses to human wellbeing, health and the environment.  Globalization is not always our friend, sometimes it’s our foe. Human-induced climatic changes affect not only the climate by raising the average temperature of the earth but also food yields, nutrition and health as seen in Kenya since 1975. The threat of homogenizing/ over-globalization affects the environment and the ecology. McMichael mentions the probability of new influenza with the increase in population growth in Southeast and East Asia; Decline in the available seafood protein due to acidification, ocean warming, deoxygenation and overfishing; Health problems due to the shortage of fresh water – countries like Bangladesh, Vietnam, Egypt, Iraq who live in great rivers will be affected; Finally, the maintenance of food supplies and nutrition for the increasing world population is a major concern. McMichael also talks about the political will in his article of the nations to help and improve the quality of life across the world – “Undertaking primary prevention at the source to reduce health risks resulting from these global influences is a formidable challenge. It requires conceptual insights beyond the conventional understanding of causation and prevention, as well as political will, trust, and resources.”

Environmental Change and Globalization: Double Exposure by Robin Leichenko and Karen O’Brien talks about all the changes that are associated with slow violence that is caused due to globalization. In Chapter 5, Uneven Outcomes and Growing Inequalities, the writer explores the uneven, unstable and unpredictable consequences of global environmental change and globalization for agriculture and rural livelihoods. We are provided with the case study of double exposure in Indian agriculture. Ultimately, it conveys that environmental change due to globalization coupled with globalization is responsible for uneven outcomes in crops and among farmers, especially in rural communities. This justifies Nixon’s theory on both slow violence and environmentalism of the poor. Jamaica Kincaid subtly tries to argue the same point on behalf of all developing nations. Globalization benefits the first world nations more than it benefits the third world nations. The poor nations become a tool to the wealthier states for cheap labour, disposal of waste, disposal of unsuitable medicines in the first world nations, draining of fuel and other resources etcetera.

The connection between globalization and slow violence or global environmental change is often not regarded into consideration. We must acknowledge and accept that first world nations did and still do use and exploit smaller countries. It’s not termed as spectacular violence per se as it doesn’t create an immediate scene or outcry unlike spectacular violence like waging a war or nuclear threats. Yet, it must be investigated with a microscope and analysed as climate change and environmental changes like global warming, ozone layer depletion, depletion of fossil fuels, increasing scarcity of drinking water and other components which fall under the category of slow violence, doesn’t only affect one nation or country who cause it. We all reap the fruits that each other sow. It is a collective phenomenon. It’s an outcry for the whole of humanity and the generations to come. I am not arguing that globalization must stop. Of course not. But it should be supervised and controlled. Equality to all must prevail. We must fashion it so that all the nations can reap the benefits and no nation should suffer its detriments alone.

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