THE FANTASY OF AN “INEVITABLE” GLOBALIZATION
Globalization is therefore more than a concrete set of economic processes or even a completely rational set of political principles. It is a psychologically “gripping” discourse that shapes aspirations and identity. Globalization stands, in this respect, as a modern cultural fantasy, promising economic prosperity and social development. Even in the wake of the disastrous 2008 financial crisis, US president Obama continued to extoll an idealized vision of globalization and its positive effects:
a crisis like this reminds us that we just have to put in some common-sense rules of the road, without throwing out the enormous benefits that globalization have brought in terms of improving living standards, reducing the cost of goods, and bringing the world closer together. (Obama, 2009)
The appeal of corporate globalization, and thus its strength, lies in no small part in its capacity to continually inspire individuals, affectively “seizing” them in its discourses of present and future progress.
Globalization commonly is portrayed, however, in exactly the opposite terms. It is presented as being “inevitable” (Spicer and Fleming, 2007). This view of the international free market is captured, for instance, in then US Undersecretary of State Stuart Eizenstat’s declaration that, “Globalization is an inevitable element of our lives. We cannot stop it any more than we can stop the waves from crashing on the shore” (cited in Fairclough, 2007). Its existence and survival, hence, seemingly have little to do with popular desires. The ideological hegemony of corporate globalization is inexorably linked to its depiction as being patently non-political. Tellingly, its social naturalization is manifested in its being made comparable to an actual natural force. According to former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, “It has been said that arguing against globalization is like arguing against the laws of gravity” (Crossette, 2000). Here the spread of capitalism internationally is an unstoppable phenomenon that humans can neither halt nor contain.
Such a depiction of marketization and change is, of course, quite political, despite its protestations to the contrary. Put differently, the offering up of globalization as inevitable is itself a strategic discourse. Its representation as “natural” and “law like” is a prime means for legitimizing policies and measures associated with enhanced privatization and financial power both locally and globally. In examining the case of the Australian Broadcasting Company, Spicer and Fleming (2007: 533), note that: senior management made strategic use of globalization discourse to legitimate managerial initiatives such as the introduction of competitive contracting and commercialization. The discourse of globalization around which these practices were couched relied upon a trope of inevitability, external pressure and organizational survival.
While the picture of globalization may at times be effective, it is hardly the most inspiring. For this reason, it has often been supplemented with a more emotionally attractive discourse.
These “inevitable” structural changes will supposedly bring with them international well-being, eliminating poverty and delivering even the most “backward” nation into modernity. It is a historical force that will usher in an age of universal democracy, grow the middle classes and create mass prosperity, against all odds and setbacks. The G20 exemplified this resilient capitalist fantasy of globalization in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash, declaring that they remained committed to an “Open Global Economy ... that through continued partnership, cooperation, and multilateralism, we will overcome the challenges before us and restore stability and prosperity to the world economy” (G20, 2008). Former President George W. Bush was even more explicit, maintaining that “[t]he answer . is to fix the problems we face, make the reforms we need, and move forward with the free-market principles that have delivered prosperity and hope to people all across the globe” (BBC News, 2008).
Reflected, then, is the affective fantasy of globalization underpinning its structural transformations and strategic political maneuverings. The marketization of the world is made possible and justified vis-a-vis an ongoing vision of the better future it will provide. However, any such fantasy requires an enemy for its continued survival. There must be some reason that such a future has yet to arrive. The presence of all those who oppose globalization then becomes a threat to progress and collective civilization itself. This rendering of globalization into a global fantasy enhances its social resilience. Its promise of prosperity becomes translated into a deeper framework for framing and securing one’s very sense of self. It constitutes a stable part of an individual’s “boundaries of understanding” that, as Giddens (1991: 47) observes, seems to “possess . answers to fundamental existential questions which all human life in some way addresses.” These discourses, in turn, act to “exclude, or reinterpret, potentially distributing knowledge . avoidance of dissonance forms part of the protective cocoon which helps maintain ontological security” (ibid.: 188).
Ironically, the more it is threatened or appears to be under siege, the more individuals will cling to its survival and desire its strengthening. As Bloom (2014: 2) notes:
Threats to this affective narrative, this story which not only is rationally meaningful and emotionally resonant but also impacts individuals at the deeper psychic level ... then symbolize a threat to one’s very future and as such one’s identity.
For this reason, it is precisely when such globalization seems at its weakest and vulnerable that fantasies of its resurrection are most attractive. In this respect “as revealed in the current economic crisis, capitalism therefore has the potential to remain paradoxically stronger in the face of its own crisis, ensnaring aspirations for change within the past confines of its own idealized future” (ibid.: 17).
Importantly, it is exactly this disappointment with globalization, the constant non-fulfillment of its utopian claims, from which it draws its most potent social strength. It provides the opportunity to continually redirect attention from its own failures and towards its struggle for survival. Moreover, it entrenches identity even further in a narrative of its eventual triumph (Cremin, 2011). Hence, a crisis becomes co-opted into a romanticized story of global capitalist progress.