Friday, June 24, 2016

Is globalization really new?

In various parts of Europe, and maybe beyond, you can find ceramics made hundreds of years ago from my husband's hometown in Germany.

There are Roman ruins in Northern Africa, and Roman soldiers included black Africans.

The Ottoman Empire stretched from Belgrade past Baghdad.

The Persian empire stretched to Macedonia.

Marcus Antonius, a Roman politician, commonly known as Mark or Marc Antony, died in Egypt.

When you were in school, you learned about all sorts of various tribes from far away invading some land, taking it over, integrating with locals and influencing culture. You yawned. You wondered what that had to do with your life now. You didn't realize that the point was: culture is never fixed. Europe, Asia and Northern Africa, at least, have always had multi-national economies, even "global" economies. There were ancient empires in Central and South America and sub Sahara Africa , swallowing tribes, changing borders, influencing - or even wiping out - cultures.

Globalization has been with us for a few thousand years. Political unrest in one part of the world has affected another, for better or worse, long before airplanes and cars and even steamer ships. Borders have shifted and reshifted and disappeared and been redrawn. Languages have come and gone. Tribes have formed, thrived and dispersed. Over and over and over. Yet we pretend we need to "get back" to a time that never existed, when borders were absolute, when we were isolated and prosperous.

I absolutely understand the love of a culture in which you are born and/or raised. You hear the music of your land, the language or accent of your home, you smell the food, and you feel your heart stir, you feel a sense of identity. I do. I mourn when a beloved restaurant closes in my home town, or another radio station that played the music I love changes formats, or that I have to curb my accent because, when I use it outside of my region, people can't understand me. But I also love it when someone in the Czech Republic says, upon learning I'm from Kentucky, "Horses!" Or when I meet a guy from Japan that plays bluegrass and talks lovingly about a pilgrimage he made to Kentucky years ago. I know these things will survive as long as there are people that love them and celebrate them. But I'm not going to force anyone to eat barbecue instead of burritos or hummus. I eat burritos. I eat hummus.

You might love your far away roots as well. Finding out that, genetically, I am 29% Celt, more than any other European tribe, gave me an emotional boost for Ireland and Scotland, two places I'd already fallen in love with from vacationing there, and I wear my Claddagh ring with pride in my genetic heritage. But does it really matter? I didn't grow up in Ireland or Scotland. No one in my family ever talked about Ireland or Scotland. The farthest back I ever heard anyone talk about the family was a great great grandparent or two - the story usually involved a wagon or a donkey or a farm, within the boundaries of the USA. I choose to identify with Ireland and Scotland. Would it be fair if I'd found out I was part Shawnee, to start identifying as native American? You can, and may, wear a Claddagh ring and not be from Ireland. That's fine. I don't mind. But identity is tricky. It's complicated. It's personal.

I love the English language. I really do. It's such a hodgepodge. And that word, hodgepodge, is so English. It's an alteration of hotchpotch and associated with hodge, an archaic British English term for an agricultural worker. Did you know that? If you didn't, does that make you less of an English speaker than me? I celebrate English by reading Shakespeare and John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison, and looking up word origins, and going to theater, and reading poetry, and trying to use proper grammar, and supporting literacy programs. I don't celebrate it by forcing people to speak it and getting angry when they don't. And my many English friends don't celebrate it by telling me I'm horrid for using American pronunciations and spellings (they just make fun of me). Yes, I think everyone in the USA that is a citizen, or wants to be, or that wants to live here for the rest of their lives, should be able to read and speak English. But I don't at all mind hearing instructions in another language as well. And I also think every USA citizen should delight in hearing other languages, and even learn another one. I'm not threatened by other languages, because I love my native language and celebrate it - why don't you? You can celebrate your heritage and not be a dick about it.

The global language used to be Greek. GREEK. Now, it's English, and more people on this Earth speak English than at any other time in human history. When the numbers of English speakers declines, give me a shout.

Projections show that new immigrants and their descendants will drive most USA population growth in the coming 50 years - just as they have for the past half-century (all my life). Non-Hispanic whites will remain the largest racial or ethnic group in the overall USA population, even in 2065, long after I'm dead, but non-Hispanic whites will become less than a majority. Among immigrants who arrived within the past five years, Asians already outnumber Hispanics, and there is a projected rise of Asians as our nation’s largest immigrant group (more on these numbers here). The projections also show a change in birth patterns, with a continuing dip in average lifetime births to Hispanic women and a slight rise in average lifetime births to Asian and white women. Today, average lifetime births to Hispanic women are markedly higher than to other groups, but the projections show that in 2065, Hispanics, whites, blacks and Asians would have similar fertility rates. Those projections lead some people in the USA to start breathing heavily, panic, and want to vote for extremists. And I just cannot understand why.

And I bring all this up as we all reel from the vote in the for-now-United Kingdom regarding membership in the European Union. The "leave" votes were from people who feel their language and food and values and even their history are under attack, who feel that intellectuals are a threat to their livelihoods and culture, and who feel left out of decision-making that does, very much, affect their lives. It's a vote based more on feelings than reality. But feelings matter. And woe to any politician, in Brussels or in Washington, D.C., that forgets that. The EU should employ the same participatory decision-making in Europe that it demands of projects it funds in the developing world. EU offices, you do a great job with social media - that's part of the reason people under 50 in the UK voted to stay in the EU. But you do a lousy job at traditional communications methods, and that's part of the reason people 50 and over voted to leave. Politicians, you MUST reach out. You must discuss. You must share. You must ask for feedback and show you have heard that feedback. Or you will have a revolution on your hands.

A friend posted this to Facebook, BEFORE the vote, and I think it's dead on:

Having been doing some canvassing it appears that we are heading for Brexit, but the reasons are peculiarly English and I can't cure anyone of that.

It is not because of Boris or his lying battlebus. I don't think anyone trusts him.

It is not because of Farage and his atrocious shit stirring. He is a dreadful human being and most people know this.

It is not because of the psychopathic Gove and his twisted view of the World. Would anyone let him look after their kids let alone the NHS?

It is not because there are so many wealthy people in Britain who won't be affected by the outcome and can afford the arrogance to ignore all the advice.

It is not because people believe any of the Brexit politicians. I don't think most people are really listening to what they are actually saying.

It is also not because anyone actually cares about the facts or figures or wrong or rights of the EU or any of the arguments. Most people support the EU and believe that it is generally good.

It seems to me that this Brexit vote is because people have had enough and don't care any more about the does and don'ts, they are going to have their day in court and the answer is basically 'anything politicians do not want.' People out there canvassing or working will tell you that the social contract between politicians and the people is broken and that the working man has had enough of shit jobs and shit lives and having to share the little with people who don't speak English and will sleep in their car, so if politicians ask them for a positive the answer is no, not for any good reason, but because it is not yes. Pretty much like the answer always is to them when they try and talk to politicians.

I do think right wing extremists are very much to blame for exploiting people's fears and misconceptions regarding this vote. But the EU is also to blame for this vote, for its poor job of communicating with its citizens, and its poor job of making people feel they are a part of the decisions being made about their lives. Let's face it: government and mainstream media are utterly out-of-touch. Back in 2005, I sat in Germany listening to pundits on CNN International and the BBC say over and over that there was no way French voters would reject the EU Constitution, and I thought, all the while, you guys are in for SUCH a shock. And when the French rejected that Constitution, those same pundits said, "Well, the Dutch will FOR SURE approve it." And, again, I shook my head in disbelief at how out-of-touch they were. And, boom, three days later, Dutch voters rejected the constitution by 61.6% of voters. And it's happened again, with Brexit. How does a fat, middle-aged girl from Kentucky know more than you, EU governments and CNN and BBC and all the rest, when it comes to how people feel and vote?!

I don't live a fear-based life - but oh-so-many people do, and not just in Europe. And rather than make fun of them, or dismiss them, or condemn them, it's time to start talking with them, as humans. If you don't, you can expect these same results when France votes or the Netherlands votes or whoever is next. Or in November right here in the USA...

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