Globalization

Vatican to WTO: Change Your Approach, Remember the Poor

Image via Noor Khamis / Reuters / RNS

A Vatican envoy urged the World Trade Organization to keep promises made to the poor, amid concerns that its tariff-cutting efforts are disproportionately benefiting rich countries. The appeal came as the WTO, a Geneva-based organization that regulates international trade, was holding a four-day meeting ending Dec. 18 in the Kenyan capital.

Escaping The Bonds Of Privilege

REBECCA TODD PETERS offers here a concise treatment of the major moral concern of a large part of Christian social ethics: the structures of globalized economic life and their manifest injustices and unsustainability. She also offers a moral framework to guide the thinking of unjustly, and often blindly, privileged First World Christians about the moral situation in which we find ourselves.

She proposes concrete action guides for how such First World Christians can gradually and intentionally empty ourselves of these privileges in order to stand in solidarity with those whose lives are harmed in the delivery of our advantages. In the end what emerges is a kind of liberation ethics for those who didn’t know they needed to be liberated—in this case, from their own advantages.

More and more primers are being written to help privileged North Americans gain some idea of what exactly it takes for us to enjoy those “everyday low prices” over at the big box store. It should not be so difficult; after all, we can just look at the labels and read on the internet about the people over in Bangladesh and Thailand who work in inhumane conditions to get us our superfluous T-shirts for $4.99.

Peters briskly takes us into the two-thirds world and lets us catch a glimpse of who really pays the price for the consumer goods we enjoy. But especially valuable is her survey of the “neoliberal” and indeed “neocolonial” economic and political structures (trade deals, IMF, etc.) that fix the current regime in place so that the cheap exploited labor of, let’s face it, brown bodies continues to serve the comfort of white bodies in the Northern Hemisphere, all in the name of free-market capitalism and free trade.

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Is Social Justice 'Sexy'?

IT WAS AN average afternoon in the college town of Northampton, Mass. I was sitting at a local coffee shop sipping a latte when I overheard the conversation between two students comparing laptop decals.

“I’m really into the whole child soldier thing. This sticker is about that,” explained one young woman. The other pointed to an emblem on her laptop, remarking, “I’m more interested in the issue of sex trafficking, but I guess everyone is.”

“Yeah,” the other girl responded, “It’s kind of the sexy social justice issue.”

An intense interest in social justice has been a hallmark of the Millennial generation thus far. Within the church, there has been a clear departure from the traditional emphasis on evangelism alone to a broadening conversation about the necessity of addressing physical needs and human rights. Millennials have made great strides in engaging some of the world’s most pressing issues, but is the popularity of social justice a completely good phenomenon?

The Good
As a result of globalization, my generation is more aware than ever about the plight of those Jesus refers to as our “neighbors.” This awareness has heightened funding for NGOs, mobilized willing volunteers, and built pressure for better public policy. We have more knowledge regarding the injustices that people face all across the globe, and we’re often not content to simply cross to the other side of the road. It’s trendy to know and talk about justice issues, and this popularity has often led to action.

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Radical Welcome

ONE OF THE most well-known and revered icons today is Andrei Rublev’s reflection on the Holy Trinity, painted between 1422 and 1425 in Russia. It depicts three angels seated around a table that bears a chalice. The female figures form a circle evoking deep mutuality, interconnectedness, and love between one another. But the circle is open, inviting the world into this profound experience of community. As Christine Challiot, an Eastern Orthodox laywoman, wrote, “Rublev painted the three angels with a circular motion to signify their unity and equality, ‘thus creating a unity to represent the Holy Trinity in its movement of love.’”

This profound reflection is set in the biblical context of giving hospitality to the stranger. The icon depicts the story of the hospitality offered by Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:1-15 to three strangers. Abraham rushed to offer them hospitality—water and food.

The three migrating strangers are messengers of God. The text says simply that they were the Lord; interpreters see the three as the presence of the Trinity. And they, in turn, bring an announcement that Sarah, in her old age, will bear a son, fulfilling God’s promises. Sarah and Abraham suddenly find the tables reversed, and they are the guests at God’s table, being invited into this community of love. Thus, Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson explains, “This is a depiction of a trinitarian God capable of immense hospitality who calls the world to join the feast.”

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Raising Children to Be Global Citizens

Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com
Small boy looking at his globe, wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Before we had kids, we loved to travel, had worldview stretching experiences, and were all together creative in how we lived the lives we had been given. For us, having the right kind of experiences meant far more than have the right kind of house, car or, other possession that could be associated with “success.” As we reflect on our development individually and as a couple in the context of marriage, it is clear that these experiences (and resulting relationships) have shaped us more significantly than any classroom or lecture series. It has been the classroom of real life relationships that have formed us into global citizens who follow a Jesus with a global reign.

And then we had kids …

Calling of the Shepherd

WHEN POPE BENEDICT XVI unexpectedly announced his resignation in mid-February, many expressed admiration for the decision's honesty and humility, and much speculation followed about the reasons for it—and the consequences it would have.

As transition takes shape in the Vatican, Catholics around the world are commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which took place from 1962 to 1965 and which redefined the church's relationship to the world. Vatican II's final document said: "This council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems," referring in part to the "profound and rapid changes ... spreading by degrees around the whole world." Half a century ago, few could have predicted the dramatic changes that were to follow in science, technology, global integration, and social mores.

Catholics know that in the last 50 years the institutional church has been at the forefront of calls for a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world. Catholic social and ecological teaching is well developed and clearly articulated. The church has offered analysis and challenging proposals for financial reform, arms control, care for creation, and multilateral political structures of accountability in response to globalization.

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The Economy and a Pair of Shoes

Worn out shoes, spot-h / Shutterstock.com
Worn out shoes, spot-h / Shutterstock.com

I believe that most people are good, decent folks who want to see their community thrive and be healthy. The can of worms with the globalized economic system we live with, however, is twofold. Firstly, it is pathologically designed to function towards injustice, and injustice implicates the exploitation, destitution, and ultimate collapse of local communities around the world, especially in the poorer countries. Secondly, this global economic system does all that it can to make “community” invisible. The vast majority of those coffee drinkers who stop by the local supermarket or coffee shop to buy a pound of coffee have no idea where there coffee came from, who picked it and under what consequences.

Thus, when one is confronted with the inevitability of making a “global” economic choice, my advice would be to take the time to think about what one would want for his or her own community, and then to question how that far-off, distant community across the world where this or that product is being produced is going to be affected. This is not going to be easy for it requires the determination to discover what is purposely being hidden by the designs of the global economic system. But that is perhaps the price we should be paying to be able to enjoy a hot cup of coffee grown thousands of miles away.

How to Be Happy

THE DOCUMENTARY film The Economics of Happiness, produced by the International Society for Ecology and Culture, begins starkly, with full-screen titles that tell us we are facing an environmental crisis, an economic crisis, and a crisis of the human spirit. As the film goes along, it strongly suggests that those three crises are interrelated.

In the end, the filmmakers and their multicultural array of talking heads ask that we stop measuring human progress simply by economic growth and give priority to the quality of life, the health of communities and their cultures, and the sustainability of our economic practices. In short, they suggest replacing our mad rush toward globalization with a back-to-the-future move to “localization.”

Early in the film, writer-director-narrator Helena Norberg-Hodge tells us about the people of the remote Ladakh region of the Himalayas, one of the highest spots on earth to be inhabited by a settled human community. When Norberg-Hodge first visited the Ladakhis in the 1970s, she says, they were self-sufficient, healthy, and mostly at peace, with themselves and each other. Then came the great Western world with its bells and whistles and manufactured needs. Soon the people became dissatisfied with their traditional way of life and were  driven to compete in a cash economy. Before long, there was open hostility between Muslims and Buddhists, who had co-existed peacefully for centuries, a fraying of the social fabric, and an atmosphere of gloom and depression.

Norberg-Hodge reports that when she first came to Ladakh, she asked a young man to show her a “poor” house. The guide stopped, thought for a moment, and said, “There are no poor houses in Ladakh.” Ten years later, she heard the same guide plead for aid from a group of Western visitors because, he said, the Ladakhis were so terribly poor.

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A Conversion of Connections in the Global Village

Global interconnectedness, Denis Cristo / Shutterstock.com
Global interconnectedness, Denis Cristo / Shutterstock.com

We are connected with people and places through ways and means unlike any previous generation. We live in a “global village." 

We are connected through worldwide round-the-clock television networks, rapid international travel, mobile phones, Skype, and wonders of the Internet. But while such connections are indeed profound, the bonds of our global village run far deeper, for we are also linked through global events and international endeavors. Whether it is sporting events like the Olympics, a royal wedding, or various natural disasters that capture worldwide attention and compassion, the reach and depth of our global village passes through time zones and crosses national boundaries. 

While these characteristics of the global village are astounding, our connections run even deeper as a result of the global process of production, distribution, consumption, and waste. In other words, the architects of our global economy intentionally linked local communities with others that are thousands of miles away. And so, while these massive multinational connections are often unnoticed in daily North American life, once we take a deeper look, we recognize that they are not only evident, but are also far from impartial.

Nobody is Quite Ready for Tomorrow: The Advent of ‘The Hybrid Age’

Globalization & technology illustration, Anton Balazh / Shutterstock.com
Globalization & technology illustration, Anton Balazh / Shutterstock.com

It often seems that just as we begin to get our heads around how we might understand our world, everything changes. There have been tipping points at various moments in history; events or advances which move us from one epoch to another in such a way that we can never see the world with the same eyes again. It happened during the Industrial Revolution; it happened with the Communications Revolution; and it happened on September 11, 2001. 

And according to Ayesha and Parag Khanna, we are approaching (or indeed, have already reached) another of these defining moments—what they call “The Hybrid Age.” In their book, Hybrid Reality: Thriving in the Emerging Human-Technology Civilization, published as part of the TED Books series, they examine how we have reached this moment, and what that means for our futures, and for generations beyond our own.

Hybrid Reality, in a similar fashion to many of the e-books that have developed out of the popular series of talks, reads like a manifesto – and in this case, it is a manifesto for navigating the unknown, exciting, and at times, downright terrifying potential futures which we are opening ourselves up to as technology becomes more and more sophisticated and more and more a part of us.

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