Cultural globalization: advantages and disadvantages  (2001)

Gregor Paul, Karlsruhe University

When we speak of globalization, we usually refer to economic globalization. Then the discussion focuses on such topics as the international share holder value ideology and the limited possibilities of national politics to cope with the problems of a gobalized market. Of course, the problems of a global market and of share holder value   ideology are also cultural problems. At least they are also a function of   cultural factors. For example, the goal to maximize one’s own profit usually  implies working against the welfare of other people. More generally speaking,   as far as economic globalization is a function of morals or ethics, and as far as morals and ethics are cultural achievements, economic gobalization is a kind of cultural globalization. Besides economic globalization, there is another well known variant of globalization which is more clearly a kind of cultural globalization. In Germany, it is often called Americanization, and it can be characterized by such names and words as Coke, McDonald’s, fast food, (blue) jeans, T-shirts, wellness, aerobics, etc. This globalization might be termed popular globalization.
However, I will mainly discuss kinds of cultural globalization which concern philosophy, religion, theology, ethics, rights, arts and music, and not enter deeply into the questions of economic and popular globalization.

Now, the following points seem  quite clear: (1) The fact that we are all human beings favors the idea of  equality, i.e., the notion of principally equal rights and duties and the  notion of principally equal treatment of all human beings. (2) This does not, and should not, imply that all of us must follow the same identical rules or must be submitted to the same identical treatment. For instance, it would be ridiculous to ask all artists to paint the same identical pictures. Not only does diversity in art usually pose no great problem, in most cases such diversity is even welcomed. There are, however, cultural differences in philosophy, religion, and moral convention which do, or seem to, contradict ideas of equality. Also, if a cultural tradition regards its ethical norms and values as universally valid and tries to realize them in cultures that recognize different norms and values, problems arise. Today, at the beginning of the 21st the century, certain governments indeed hold that the fundamental ethics and morals they regard as valid are of universal validity and hence ought be acknowledged by other governments and other peoples too, and they even try to enforce these ethics and morals on other governments and peoples. Further, since about 1990, some ethical and moral teachings have spread from certain politico-cultural realms over large parts of the globe. I am referring to the spread of ideas of human rights and democracy in the states of Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Taiwan, South Korea and – though to a more limited extend – in the Peoples’ Republic of China. Also, most, if not all middle American and South American states have accepted the fundamental ideas of human rights and democracy. And this also applies to some states in Africa. Thus, there is indeed a cultural globalization that has far reaching practical consequences, namely a widespread, (seemlingly) ever growing acceptance of ethical, moral, and political norms and values which are often labelled distinctively “Western,” and there exist indeed some states, particularly Western states, which even exert pressure to further strengthen and speed up this development. When critically labelled “Western,” the norms and values at issue are conceived of as being functions of distinctively Western cultural specifics and hence valid only for people in Western cultures. This view then reflects the fundamental problem one has to deal with when discussing cultural globalization.

Is validity a function of culture? Does the validity of a certain view, conviction, belief, hypothesis depend on the genesis of this view? Apparently, the theorem of Pythagoras is valid independently of time, place and authorship of its origin. Does the same apply to certain ethical and moral norms and values? And if this were true, would it justify respective kinds of cultural globalization? If it were false, cultural globalization would of course be unjustifyable. If different cultures follow fundamentally different but neverthesless equally valid moral rules, then there is no justification to replace one set of these rules by another. In this case, mutual understanding and mutual tolerance would be the appropriate reaction.

But if validity is independent of origin, then it could be possible that certain culturally specific norms are indeed invalid, even if they have existed and have been acknowledged for a long time. Actually, old and died out cultures which used to sacrifice human beings for religious purposes provide examples that certain cultural norms and practices can be wrong or invalid, and that they might be abandoned even as a result of inner-cultural developments.

Having said all this, I am perhaps able to explicate the question regarding the advantages and disadvantages of cultural globalization in a more precise way.

1. Are there cultural convictions,  norms and values which are universally valid?
2. Are there cultures that do  not acknowledge these values?
3. Given that there are such cultures,  should they take over all or some of these universally valid norms and values,  or should they even be forced to do so?
4. Given that at least some of these universally valid norms and values should be accepted by all cultures, except for just realizing universal   morals, would  there be other advantages? Would there also be disadvantages?
5. Does actual cultural globalization indeed improve the life of all the people concerned? Or does it not, at least in some cases and for a certain span of time, increase the problems  and difficulties of many people? Are governments, or other groups, institutions  and persons, morally and/or politically legitimized to press for certain  forms of cultural  globalization?

Before expressly naming some norms  and values which are often called universally valid, I should like to distinguish  between different kinds, and views, of validity, namely (1) validity based on argument, and (2) validity based on authority. (3) Mixed notions of validity are also possible.

(1) A doctrine, conviction, “belief,” hypothesis, or what else term one may use, can be valid because of logical, mathematical, scientific, and/or empirical reasons. In most cases, such kind of validity is easily accepted by everybody. However, the validity of ethical rules cannot be proved with the same certainty as, e.g., the validity of the theorem of Pythagoras, or as the validity of the proposition that I have money in my shoes. Nevertheless, I am convinced of that the validity of an ethical norm can be shown by a way of argument that in particular utilizes logic, pragmatic concepts of causality, the notion of anthropological universals, and general human experience.

(2) Often, validity is (also) seen as a function of authority. The best known example is religious truth based on divine revelation. As long as secular truth and religious truth are compatible  with each other, there is no problem, but if they are not, there can arise  serious conflicts. For instance, Roman Catholicism (still) teaches that the  Christian god is all-benevolent and almighty. This is a self-contradictory  notion. As long as the Catholic church and its members simply tolerate men  who do not believe in the Catholic god, no problem arises. However, in the  European middleages the Catholic church even burned some such unbelievers  at the stake. This is not to say that the notion of divine revelation must  give rise to conflict. Even some modern Catholic theologians maintain that  the teachings of what they call the great religions are equivalent in all  relevant respects. According to them, they are different but equally valid  and equally incomplete expressions of the same identical salvational truth  which can never be fully revealed (SThZ 2/2000). Such a theological position  paves the way for religious tolerance across the different religions.

Now, what kind of cultural globalization should be accepted or even furthered? And because of what reasons? What are the advantages, what are the disadvantages? What kind of globalization, or attempts of globalization, should be rejected? And because of what reasons?

Some answers seem to be quite clear. If ethics and morality count economic globalization, in particular economic globalization determined by share holder value ideology, must be subjected to international, i.e. global, control. International politics should do everything to work against the inhumane consequences of economic globalization. In this sense, there seems to be no alternative to a global moralization -- or, more precise, morally determined institutional regulation -- of international politics. In the short run, share holder value oriented behaviour and politics may enable the rich to become even richer, and some lucky social upstarts to make a fortune, but in the long run it may become a cause for social unrest, political revolutions and war.

So-called Americanization can be a rather unimportant phenomenon. However, if it is seen as an expression of a secular ethics which contradicts one’s own religious norms and beliefs, serious conflicts may arise. For instance, a young Iranian woman who likes to listen to American pop music and who likes to wear jeans and T-shirts, may encounter some difficulties. On the other hand, a so-called secular state may even forbid certain religiously motivated conventions. In Germany, a state which claims that it treats all people equally without regard to their religious beliefs, in 2000, a female Muslim school teacher who insisted on wearing a shador in class was not permitted to teach in public schools. This, by the way, was not consistent with the fact that many German Christian teachers openly wear a necklace with a crucifix. Especially in Bavaria, many class rooms are decorated with a crucifix.

But what about human rights and  democracy? As already pointed out, if one does not regard validity as a function  of culture, there can be universally valid human rights. Often, the claims  to an inalienable human dignity, the right to life and the right to freedom  (based on moral autonomy) are regarded as universally valid human rights.  If they are indeed universally valid, then they should of course be respected  by all people of all cultures. It would be of great advantage if all human beings  abided by universally valid ethical rules and norms, for such a behaviour  would once and for all preclude the use of force, or at least significantly  reduce it. It would strongly enhance intercultural understanding. This notwithstanding,  no culturally distinctive features that do not contradict these rules and  values would be threatened, or even extinguished. Different languages, different  (non-fundamentalist) religions, different conventions of politeness, different  ways of clothing and eating, different traditions of literature, painting,  architecture, and music, etc. could continue to florish. Also, arguing for  a realization of universally valid principles does not mean, or imply, that  these principles ought be realized at once and without taking into consideration  existing cultural traditions which work against the realization. In particular,  if realization of a universally valid principle actually increases existing  problems and suffering, e.g. giving rise to war, it should be suspended, at least for the time being.

As far as the notion of democracy  is concerned, the argumentation would be similar. If such principles as the  division of power and the checks and balances of power are the best ways to realize universally valid morals, especially universally valid human rights,  they should be put into practice. Again however, this must not be done without taking into account antagonistic cultural traditions, for such a procedure could be inhumane and could severely harm many people.

As to religously distinctive truth, it can be globalized, in the full sense of the term, only by force. This is so for many reasons. It cannot be conveyed by way of mere argument, i.e., by using means which all people possess and can master. Also, it very often contradicts universally valid logical principles. I have mentioned the example of the Roman Catholic notion of an almighty and all-benevolent god. Many people can only be forced to acknowledge the truth of logically contradictory concepts and propositions. Further, religious truth often contradicts causal principles and human experience. For instance, Christianity teaches many miracles. Again, many human beings can only be forced to believe, or at least to say that they believe, that miracles are possible. In Sino-Asian cultures, for 2000 years, most of the scholarly elite did not believe in gods, in an afterlife, or in the truth of contradictions and the possibility of miracles. In the 21st century, the same applies to most Chinese Communist caders. Also, history of religion strongly indicates that religious globalization would be possible only by religious war. Seen from a Catholic point of view the question is whether (the realization of) Catholic truth is more important than abidence by peace and/or common-sensical and secular notions of humanity, or more important than secular notions of validity and truth such as logicalness and empiricalness. It is perhaps only because the Christian church is subject to secular law that Christians do (no longer) force their religious belief on others. Theoretically one can of course make a sharp distinction between secular and religious (or salvational) truth, maintaining that they have nothing do with each other, but this also gives rise to certain problems. Perhaps one must simply admit that, generally speaking, religious tolerance – however it might be justified or motivated – is the only way to preclude religiously motivated cruelty, and that, therefore, religious tolerance is a must. In other words, one must give up the idea of a religious globalization.

One may however object, that there is no universally valid and universally known methodology of argumentation  and of deciding whether a (moral, ethical, politcal) proposition, view or doctrine is universally valid  or not, and that it hence meaningless to talk about universal validity. Such  an objection would be mistaken. To list only some universally valid and universally  conveyable methods of argument:
(1)   principles of logical form such as the laws of non-contradiction, the excluded middle, and the law of transitivity,
(2)   pragmatic rules of causation,
(3)   kinds of everyday human experience,
(4)   reference to anthropological universals, e.g., human abhorrence of pain, hunger, thirst, poverty, etc., and human hope for a comfortable and         dignified life,
(5)   the distinction between validity and genesis (origin),
(6)   the distinction between is and ought, e.g., actual tradition as a mere fact and moral norms,
(7)   reference to the  formulation  of similar moral rules and norms in different cultures, e.g., versions of the Golden Rule in Indian, Chinese,                  Islamic (cf. Khoury, pp. 34-36) and European cultures.

There are other important methods too. It may be of some significance that all listed seven rules are by no means a “distinctively Western” invention. They have actually also been formulated, e.g., in classic Chinese texts, though of course in a different way, in different works and different contexts. One will not find a similar list. Further, I suspect that most, if not all of the listed rules, have been formulated by Muslim scholars too. I only quote al-Kindi (801?–866) who at least implicitly maintained that truth (i.e., validity) is independent of origin:

We should not be ashamed to acknowledge truth, no matter what its source (origin) may be, and even if it is brought to us from earlier generations and foreign people. (Ya’qub ibn Ishaq al Kindi, p. 103. R. Walzer (trans.), p. 12. Cf. also:  Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, and Oliver Leaman, eds., vol. 1, p. 171.)

From an analytical and theoretical point of view, the most important problem of cultural globalization seems to be whether one regards, or accepts, logicalness as a necessary criterion of truth. If one does, then most versions of religious truth prove untenable. As far as belief in a god or gods is concerned, only very general and abstract concepts of a god or gods, i.e., philosophical notions of god(s), remain possible. If one goes further and also regards empiricalness as a necessary criterion of truth, then miracles – i.e., occurrences that contradict natural law(s) – must not be accepted. Only if one once and for all denies respective relevance of logicalness and/or empiricalness, one can maintain that e.g. divine revelation is of greater importance than logically and empirically acceptable views, theories, convictions etc. But if one does, this is of far-reaching and most serious consequences. As indicated, one can no longer decide questions of truth by way of mere argument. Also, it becomes almost impossible to clearly distinguish between questions which can be subjected to argumentation and such which can not. One can then talk and behave arbitrarily and wilfully. Since from a religious point of view there is simply no reason not to teach and to defend salvational truth – for this truth is clearly more beneficial to men than peace and painlessness – use of force seems not only justified but even obligatory. In short, (i) abidence by logic and (ii) belief in a religiously specific (particular) divine revelation are incompatible. Since many people, among them scholars as well as fundamentalists, were or are aware of – or at least unconsciously know of – this basic incompatibility, rational theology has always been (regarded as) either a welcome option or (as) a hated, and bitterly fought, heresy. Jesuits like Matteo Richi could not be tolerated by traditional Catholics. Al-Ghazzâlî was compelled to criticize al-Fârâbî who defended the universal validity of logical principles (Nasr, Seyyed Hossein, and Oliver Leaman, eds., vol. 1, p. 180 and pp. 261-262). Since it will never be possible to logically reconcile so-called secular and so-called religiously specific truth, I again arrive at the already indicated conclusions that (1) religious globalization is impossible, that (2) religiously specific belief theoretically precludes cultural globalization, particularly secularization, that (3) theocracy or, more general, religious government theoretically precludes democracy, and that (4) the potentially dangerous forces of religious power must be dealt with very cautiously. Only if one does not “make things (even) worse,” one ought subject religious power to argumentation, criticize it, and (finally) subject it to institutional control.

However, one need not be too pessimistic.  After all, all human beings try to think logically, regard self contradiction  as self-refuting, know that fire burns, eat when hungry, prove that they have money in their pockets by showing it. All men know how to argue for their views and how to justify them, and all men righty trust that, in principle,  their arguments and reasons can be understood. That  in many cases we  do not give in to a valid argument, is a different problem. As a practical  force, argumentation is notoriously weak. Leaving aside the already sketched  question of logic, empiricalness, and religious truth, the following points deserve  mention. To a far extent, actual practice is determined by (thirst for) power,  indoctrination, intimidation, rhetoric, habits, affection, human relations,  socio-political institutions, etc. rather than by argument. Even in private  life we find it difficult to accept a valid argument that conctradicts our  hopes and feelings – as Nietzsche remarked, a behaviour only all too human.

More precise, ethically justified  cultural globalization, and global discourse about ethically justified cultural  globalization, are hampered by the following factors. First of all, particularistic  political and economic interests make international ethical control of the  global and inhumanely capitalist market virtually impossible. This is to say that the egoistic interests of nations and companies in political and economic power and its respective benefits almost preclude creating international institutions that would limit and control these interests. Creation of such institutions is further impeded by the huge number and complexity of the political, economic and technical problems involved. Now, since it is mostly the people in underdeveloped and undemocratic states who suffer from economic globalization, and since it is the rich states and the global players which are mainly responsible for the inhumanity of economic globalization, these states and global players seem to lack the moral legitimation to ask undemocratic governments for democratic reforms. In short, since the so-called Western states and Western global players refuse to pursue a morally acceptable international politics and economics, undemocratic and fundamentalist governments can justly accuse them of hypocrisy and of following double standards. This leads to the second point, namely that undemocratic and fundamentalist governments can use “Western” morally inconsistent politics as an excuse for their own inhumane regimes. Referring again and again to “Western” egoism and hypocrisy, and in particular to the hypocrisy of the most powerful states and global players, they exploit these features ideologically and as a means for indoctrination. Shifting attention to the moral shortcomings of their critics, they succeed in avoiding any discourse about the (contents of the) criticism itself. This behavior follows a well know rule and pattern. If one wants to avoid discussing whether a certain criticism is justified or not, one only needs to stress that the critic himself could be subjected to the same criticism, and is hence in no moral position to attack others. In other words, if one wants to succeed in convincing others that they should realize –  put into practice – certain moral norms and values, one must be upright, honest, trustful, reliable etc. Though this sounds very old-fashioned, it is simply true. But states, governments, global companies and their influencial representatives are not sufficiently “honest.” Intelligent politicians and political scientists know all this very well. It is precisely because of such problems that humane government and humane politics is the result of efficiently working political, social and economic institutions rather than of mere moral argument, be it as valid as it can be. Third, fundamentalist and undemocratic states and governments, and their main representatives, have a natural interest in the status quo. Cultural globalization, e.g., democratization and acknowledgment of human rights, would significantly restrict their power and all the benefits that result from it, namely prestige, richness, comfort, etc. Hence, these states and governments, and their representatives, are inclined to use all means necessary to secure the status quo. Besides discrediting external influences  as being questionable attempts of morally questionable instances, they try  to further ideologically indoctrinate, and even to intimidate their people.  They try to monopolize information. Accordingly, the public media, the internet,  and even arts and literature are censored. Those who dare to protest are persecuted, imprisoned, and even tortured. Foreign criticism is further discredited by denouncing it as an attempt of political, ideological and cultural imperialism  and colonialism. It is depicted as something unapt for, and even opposed to, the welfare of one’s own state, people and “original” culture. Internal critics are accused of violating the countries interests, of being political enemies, and so forth, and again are persecuted. One’s own state and culture are elevated to the highest goods, at least they are placed far above universal, international, or cross-cultural values. In the first place, people must “love” their motherland and unconditionally submit to the wishes of its “enlighted” leaders. This is a very efficient politics, for it answers the interest and inclination of human beings to be acknowledged as something besonderes. It thus also answers their interest in belonging to a class of men characterized by an important cultural identity. As long as the (nation) state is regarded as a kind of highest good, cultural globalization – in particular global realization of human rights – is virtually impossible. In this context, I like to quote the former German president Gustav Heinemann who, once asked  whether he loved Germany, answered: “No, I only love my wife.”


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