Globalization is routinely decried for its disruptive effects, particularly as it relates to local culture and community enterprises and institutions. Even as it’s proven to drive significant economic growth, questions remain about its steamrolling influence on the culture.
“Even if we grant that global competitive markets create prosperity, is it worth the fast food chains and the big box chains we see everywhere we go?” asks Michael Miller in an excerpt from PovertyCure. “What about a sense of vulgarity and bringing things to the lowest common denominator? And perhaps most important, does globalization destroy local culture?”
The threats to culture are real and pronounced. It is undeniable that globalization can and has and will diminish or destroy certain cultures, traditions, and enterprises. Yet as Miller and others remind us in, we are not powerless in our response, whether as creators or consumers.
Indeed, globalization also presents a tremendous opportunity for cultural diversity.
In Ireland, for example, increased participation in global trade not only boosted and diversified the Irish economy; it also allowed the Irish to spread their culture around the world, whether through beer or film or music and dance. Simultaneously, the influx of competing cultural influences has increased awareness of their cultural identity, spurring citizens to defend, preserve, and restore the cultural features they care about the most (e.g. the recent renaissance of the Irish language).
As Irish economist Marc Coleman explains, even though the predominant push of globalization represents a “secularized, individualized view of the world,” that message is an opportunity for more traditional or family-oriented cultures to harness those same channels for their voice and cultural perspective. “Instead of complaining,” he says, “let’s actually use globalization to fight back and push our view of the world.”
It’s a reorientation that we would all do well to heed, and it doesn’t just apply to more tangible cultural artifacts. For Christians, as with any other proponent of any other belief system, the avenues for application should be obvious. Whether we’re trying to spread a particular message through more direct communications or cultivating culture and serving our neighbors in the day-to-day economic order, the channels are already there, and they’re only continuing to expand.
“Man cannot live by bread alone,” concludes Coleman. “It’s very important that developing countries do not see the global market and the opportunities of a global market as a substitute for their native culture and values. It’s extremely important to know who you are and what your culture is.”