Wednesday, March 25

Globalization and Human Rights

Globalization can be defined as growth on a world-wide scale. It is the process of integration and international influence of economies and cultures. It is the notion that our world ought to become – and is becoming – a global community. This also means that our global community needs to continue to inch toward a global economy, a global culture, a global (and contextual) theology, among other things. This homogenization of the world is thought by some to be negative in that it is eliminating the “authentic” culture of other countries, but as some sociologists point out, this homogenization actually – in many cases - forces each culture to look at their own culture and it often reignites passion and tradition. One must also point, though, that there no longer exists such as “authentic” self-contained culture. Western ideas and philosophies have become prominent in much of our world today, which is one of the reasons why human rights - largely influenced by thinkers such as John Locke and others - has become a major piece of Globalization. The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (the UDHR), since its publication in 1948, has created many positive effects but also some very negative effects, including disagreements about religion, language, education and other such challenges.

Globalization: The Ups and Downs
This globalization is allowing us to increasingly have the capability to overcome social, political, religious, and economic barriers between cultures. Consider languages, for example. There are some languages which are increasing in usage – such as English, Spanish, French, German, and Mandarin - whereas others dwindle and disappear. English is heralded as the lingua franca (common language) of our time, and many cultures teach it in their schools as a required language. The economy has become much more globalized in the last century as well. Toward the end of World War II, in Bretton Woods, New England, an exchange system in the form of the fixed value of American dollar was adopted, which led to the formation of three major international economic organizations. These three were the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the International Bank for Reconstruction (IBR - later the World Bank) and finally, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). But as with many things, the system did not completely stand. By the early 1970s, the Bretton Woods system collapsed. In 1971, President Nixon responded by ending the gold-based fixed rate, which led to global economic instability. Economically, there are a variety of other considerations – such as neoliberalism.

But along with these language considerations and economic considerations come again the matter of human rights. On the positive side, having a Universal piece on human rights would indicate that it is universally accepted and universally used. But although this document and its intention may be noble, it is most certainly taking a largely Western viewpoint. As the article “The Attack on Human Rights” points out, the Muslim community has difficulty accepting the freedom of religion, largely because “the Western separation of church and state, of secular and religious authority, is alien to the jurisprudence and political thought of the Islamic tradition. And they are correct. The freedoms articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights make no sense within the theocratic bias of Islamic political thought” (103). Part of the problem raised by universal human rights - which itself can be seen as a negative of globalization - is the loss of identity. There can be a gain, as in the Arab woman seeking human rights groups for shelter, but she may lose her Muslim identity in the process, something she may not wish to sacrifice. 

The right to education is another right mentioned in the UDHR. If one holds that every human person is entitled to an education, a number of other questions are raised. What kind of an education? What is the quality of the education? Who should teach? What should be taught? These and other questions arise. There are no simple answers to these questions. Consider, for instance - if advocates for education enter into the Ivory Coast to push education for children enslaved on chocolate plantations, even if the slaves are freed and cared for, are they being provided with the right kind of education? Is the education being provided merely an imposition of Western culture and Western thought onto African culture? Should there be a standard method or standard core curriculum used across the globe - in China, the United States, Mexico, and elsewhere? Who defines what should be taught? Again, I ask many questions, but there are no simple answers. Human rights in a global context are not a simple matter of saying “I am human, I have rights. I will have a good education and be treated fairly by everyone because of the existence of the UN’s document.” This is simply not the case. 

Globalization is clearly something that is at the forefront of all major aspects of life. Our social, political, religious, economic and linguistic world has been and is continually shaped by globalization. In many ways, this globalization has a plethora of benefits, but in other ways this globalization can also come with a homogenizing price which can lead to a myriad of downfalls. One would note that this change in worldwide culture which has been continually been expanding over the past several hundred years is also allowing for our scattered world to become more connected and united. Globalization is allowing us to work together as a human race to solve world problems and in many cases we are finding ways to overcome political, social and religious differences to make the unity of humanity a reality. 

But we are also struggling to come up with answers to difficult questions posed by human rights issues, social justice issues, language and other cultures issues. The way that the United States works is not the way that Italy works, or the way that India works, or the way that New Zealand works. Human trafficking is one of the negative results of globalization, as is international criminals, the pornography industry (which is connected to human trafficking), and similar problems. There are, again, many good things that have come as a result of modern globalization - but there have also been many bad things. In many ways, this calls for a habitus for Globalization. This habitus for Globalization is a personal spiritual encounter with the Other, bearing in mind four distinct pieces of this encounter between the Other - wonder at the mystery of human uniqueness, the recognition of the other, hospitality toward the stranger and reconciliation as a way of living with diversity. Only when we are willing to have a genuine encounter with the Other, including their cultural diversity and recognize this as we can grow and begin to face these challenges together, to create peace by administering justice to the injustice.

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