Grappling with change

By Se Young Lee

Last week, when I got off the KTX bullet train at Busan, the second biggest city in South Korea, I saw a McDonald’s and a Burger King. On the way to the hotel, I passed a Lexus dealership, which was a block away from a Cadillac dealership. None of those things were even in the country in 1995 – the year I emigrated from my native country to the United States.

Forces of globalization – a combination of pre-existing social conditions like greed, the need for adventure and technological developments – have been apparent throughout time, starting with the first step into the unknown wilderness by our biological ancestors, the first boat ever built and so on. But it’s hard to think of another time in history where people have been asked (and forced) to process and adapt as much as we have. The Internet has essentially obliterated commercial and informational barriers. International organizations like the WTO, OPEC, APEC and ASEAN have created a new game of economics and trade.

It’s easy for anyone to interpret globalization in a black-or-white manner. Many have praised the forces of globalization as the catalyst that will eventually lead to a new world order – a global utopia living in harmony and reaching maximum efficiency. And many have also denounced the forces of globalization as the catalyst for a global regime of terror that will oppress and keep tabs on every single person in the world through the vast means of institutional control now available or the bringer of global homogeneity of culture.

But both arguments refuse to acknowledge this simple fact: Social institutions such as the government and technological tools are mere conduits of the human wants and wills. They simply manifest our wishes and desires into the physical world and begin to distribute (or withhold) those goods.

As the media often works to perpetuate the social norms by repeatedly showing images most agreeable to the viewing public, governments and technologies often conform to the interests and wants of those in power. Simply to dismiss the presence of human influence in the process would be like giving all the credit to Dostoevsky’s pen and paper for writing “Crime and Punishment.”

Furthermore, it is asinine to ignore the double-edged nature of globalization simply because there are so many examples proving that very fact. Just as the Internet has been used as the great equalizer for the traditionally powerless minorities and activists to galvanize, mobilize and manifest their will at a global stage, free trade has brought a hail of destruction on farmers in developing countries and industrial states that never had the time to build up an efficient agricultural sector like the U.S. and most Western European nations by flooding the previously sheltered markets with cheaper foreign crops. Globalization, in reality, is more of a social instrument – a combination of a tool and a phenomenon at the same time. It can do as much good as it can do harm.

But the most important thing to understand is that globalization is something that cannot be stopped. There are simply too many economic, social and personal advantages, and these gains will continue to press for the world to become smaller and more connected than ever before. What is of utmost importance is for both proponents and opponents of the effects of globalization to drop the childish name calling and obstinate absolutist positions and instead take a critical approach in understanding the potential benefits and pitfalls that globalization can bring.

Only in responsible and knowledgeable hands can globalization be used to construct a world that provides liberties and equal chances to succeed for all of mankind – which can only happen by the most delicate calibration of maximizing the good while minimizing the bad.

Se Young Lee is a junior in communications and the Director of Communications for the Illinois Student Senate. His column runs whenever he runs out of scotch. He can be reached at [email protected] dailyillini.com.