My name is Richard and I am an internationalist.

My name is Richard and I am an internationalist.

My name is Richard and I’m an internationalist. There, I’ve said it. From a very early age, I was determined to travel and see the world. God used that ambition to steer me into Christian mission. It’s been my privilege to visit 44 different countries (so far), and to have worked in different roles in a global Christian mission context, which has given me friends and contacts in and from many different countries. I even married a foreigner (mind you, so did she!).

Following the catastrophe of World War Two, which was nurtured in the imperial clashes of World War One and the nationalistic resurgences of the 1930s, the world turned to internationalism. The Bretton Woods Agreement (which led to the creation of the IMF and World Bank), the Marshall Plan, NATO and the European Steel and Coal Community (the forerunner of the EEC/EU) were all examples of how the Western world sought to solve its problems. And for a while, it worked well. But it’s been creaking at the seams for quite some time. Euroscepticism is not a new word (it has dogged political debate in the UK since the late 1980s). International institutions have been seen by many as increasingly remote, unaccountable, and unconcerned for the condition of the ‘ordinary person’ (even more especially so, since the 2008 financial crash and subsequent recession(s) and ‘austerity’).

In 2003, I wrote the following:

“We think of globalization as an economic phenomenon. The riots at the World Trade Organization Seattle meetings in 1999 and the G8 gathering in Genoa in 2001, books like No Logo, The Silent Takeover and The Captive State, along with counter-strikes from economists and business leaders, embody a passionate debate about the nature and source of human prosperity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The opponents of economic globalization doubt the real motives of corporations that look to move production and expand their markets into Majority World countries. Its advocates argue that ‘there is no alternative’, and that economic globalization can be made to work for the benefit of the poor as well as the rich.

“There are those who advocate globalization as a (largely) unmitigated good. They tend to define globalization in economic terms and look at the expansion of global trade, the decline in protectionism and the emergence of new markets as something that will improve not just those regions currently best placed to take advantage of the new opportunities. Eventually, all parts of the world will take a share of the increased prosperity that flows along every tributary of the new interconnected world. McDonald’s represents a good example of the contemporary homogenization of culture of such a world and its associated reduction of choice and local variation, according to George Ritzer [i]. ‘McDonaldization’ is a process by which consumer choice is rationalized and predetermined according to the principles of the fast food industry. The result – we can only have the products, and the cultural options, chosen on our behalf and offered to us by a decreasing number of global corporations. And these options are closely associated with and determined by the West, so that globalization becomes simply a euphemism for continued Western dominance of the world. Empire lives on after all, in Nike trainers and Gap khakis, smoking a Marlboro Light.

“But not everyone is convinced that such deregulation, coupled with faith in the power of the market, will benefit all. Will the rising tide really raise all boats, or just the yachts and ocean-going motor-cruisers, leaving the pedalos, rowing boats, junks, sampans and outrigger canoes behind to be swamped and flooded? Global economic systems that exploit the poor and benefit the rich. Limited cultural options that create a bland uniform world in the image of the West. No wonder globalization draws such ire. In an article entitled Jihad vs McWorld [ii], Benjamin Barber outlined a similar trend in socio-cultural terms, contrasting the ‘commercially homogenous global network’ of McWorld with ‘a threatened Lebanonization of national states in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe’. Barber called this latter sectarianism ‘Jihad’, and sees it as a reaction, an escape, from McWorld’s ‘dully insistent imperatives’. In ‘Jihad’, the emphasis is on locality, community, culture and identity over against uniformity and economic efficiency. But while Barber believed that globalization would eventually defeat the retribalization of Jihad (‘Jihad may be a last deep sigh before the eternal yawn of McWorld’), others are not so sure. The article ‘The Coming Anarchy’ [iii] by Robert Kaplan presents a frightening vision of a world torn by ethnic conflicts, ungovernable and subject to criminal anarchy. But his scenario presents ethnicity simply as a source of hatred and exclusion rather than identity and meaning, and ignores the ability of diverse peoples to co-exist.

“Western economic and cultural dominance are undeniable realities in the world today. The superb expression ‘Jihad vs McWorld’ remind us that other forces are also in play at the same time. Western elitist hegemony is being resisted. But are we being pushed into a false antithesis, forced to decide which will ultimately ‘win’: the forces of fragmentation or the forces of uniformity? Globalization, defined earlier as increasing global interconnectedness, is changing the economic, political and sociocultural contours of modern societies. There is no longer an easy and clear distinction between what is local and what is international, or what is ‘over there’ and what is ‘over here’, since what happens ‘over there’ affects and influences ‘over here’, and vice versa. And we are less and less sure where ‘here’ ends and ‘there’ begins. Globalization represents neither the incorporation of more and more societies into a single homogenized global culture nor a fragmentation and hardening of local identities. Instead, it is about the increase in options in every locality and the power available to every locality to affect other localities elsewhere. Since this is not available to all equally, it creates new patterns of power and powerlessness, in which some in each country or region become more enmeshed in a global network, whereas others in the same country or region are increasingly marginalized.

“Francis Fukuyama’s famous essay ‘The End of History’ [iv] argued that Western liberal democracy has ‘won’ because of the absence of alternatives since the demise of communism. Perhaps we would be more accurate to argue that we are now seeing ‘The End of Geography’. Our sense of space is compressed because of the speed of communication enabled by information technology, and we are increasingly used to seeing the world as a whole. But more than this, we can now no longer equate certain cultures with certain places.  Huge migratory flows have created large and diverse population variations across the world. The flow of ideas, images and products has introduced possibilities for new identity options to dominant and marginalized cultures alike. Cultures are no longer defined by place. They are deterritorialized. Globalization is leading to ‘one world’, not because it homogenizes but because the effects of geography and of distance are decreasing. We will explore the implications of this for identity and culture in a later chapter. At present, we can note that ‘home’ is an increasingly alien concept in the fluid, mobile, pluralizing world of globalization”.[v]

(Richard Tiplady, World of Difference:Global Mission at the Pic’n’Mix Counter, Carlisle:Paternoster Press, 2003), chapter 1.

This isn’t (directly) a post about the result of yesterday’s referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. I’m writing this for my college’s website and it would be inappropriate to take a position here on behalf of the college. My own views can be read on my Facebook page (and are probably implicit in the opening line of this post). I composed this today to remind myself (and anyone who cares to read this) that the issues and trends underlying this morning’s result (a small majority for ‘leave’, and a divided and jubilant/upset country) are not new. They are deep-rooted within European and global history, and have set and will set the context for the mission of the Church for many years to come. Whatever one’s political views (and I have friends on both sides of the debate), the EU Indyref is but one symptom of much wider historical trends and flows. Neither are going away soon. The implications are too big for one blog post (that’s why I wrote a book on it). We’ve got some hard thinking to do.

Richard Tiplady

Read more at Cain and Babel: a theology of cultural diversity (chapter 3 of World of Difference:Global Mission at the Pic’n’Mix Counter)

[i] George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (Thousand Oaks, California: Pine Forge Press, 1993).
[ii] Benjamin Barber, ‘Jihad vs McWorld’, The Atlantic Monthly (March 1992), reproduced in P. O’Meara, H. Mehlinger and M. Krain (eds), Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century: A Reader (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 2000).
[iii] Robert Kaplan, ‘The Coming Anarchy’, The Atlantic Monthly (February 1994), reproduced in O’Meara et al, Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century.
[iv] Francis Fukuyama, ‘The End of History?’, The National Interest 16 (Summer 1989).
[v] An issue explored in detail by Zygmunt Bauman in Globalization: The Human Consequences (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998).