Local Cultures Being Crushed
Globalization's Assault on Native Peoples
The Progress Report is pleased to present a new writer, Alex Noury, with this special report.
by Alex J. NouryGlobalization has existed for hundreds of years. However, during the past forty years it has become an immense economic, political, social, and cultural force throughout the world. Global communications, new computer software, and the Internet have enabled corporations and financial institutions to fundamentally restructure the way they do business. Just-in-time production systems are now possible in companies operating with internationalized labor forces. Additionally, globalization has enabled corporations to extend their operations across borders much more easily. International coalitions, such as NAFTA and the WTO, have fueled neoliberalism through free-trade policies. The extended reach of corporations from developed countries into the underdeveloped countries suggests that globalization may be more than just a stage of capitalism. International flows of capital have led to the gross augmentation of such corporations, ultimately at the expense of peoples in underdeveloped countries.
Considering this, globalization can also be understood as a force that accelerates capitalism. The power of this force is immense, threatening the social, economic, political, and cultural conditions of people throughout the world, especially in underdeveloped countries. In the New Left Review, Fredric Jameson notes, “the anxiety [caused by globalization] becomes a social one, of which the cultural is merely a symptom: the fear, in other words, that specifically ethno-national ways of life will themselves be destroyed.” Robert McCorquodale, in a 1999 article in Human Rights Quarterly, suggests that the dangers of globalization can be seen in “the impacts of the universal market on diverse cultures and state sovereignty, as well as the pervasiveness of development measured in market terms.” Jameson and McCorquodale infer globalization's capacity to create cultural homogeneity through the spread of American and European cultures worldwide. Inasmuch as the threat is real, subjugated peoples throughout the world have persistently resisted such forces.
Not only does globalization threaten to spread cultures of hegemonic nations throughout the developing world, but it does so at the cost of local cultures. In his 2001 book Resource Rebels, Al Gedicks states, “many cultures share a belief in the idea of a delicate balance in the universe that must be maintained by reverence toward the natural world. Human actions that desecrate sacred lands or destroy entire ecosystems upset this balance.” The destruction of such lands and/or entire ecosystems is a direct assault on native cultures. Sacred, ancestral connections to these lands lose meaning as resource extraction and environmental pollution make these areas uninhabitable. Furthermore, anthropologist John Bodley notes, “the disappearance of tribal cultures over much of the world in the past 150 years can be seen as the direct result of governmental policies designed to facilitate the exploitation of tribal resources for the health of industrial civilization.” These detrimental effects of globalization are relatively indirect in comparison to corrupt corporate practices, often supported by local governments, aimed at eliminating impediments of development.
Oppressive tactics by profit-seeking transnational corporations is in no way out of the ordinary in the global economy. Large corporations with significant political power and seemingly endless capital often ignore ethical business practices while aiming to improve their bottom-line.
In Colombia, dozens of indigenous U'wa peoples were killed by land mines placed around oil wells owned by the Occidental Petro Corporation. In Ecuador, Texaco-Shell was charged with environmental destruction, along with the displacement and slaughter of numerous native groups. The government of Argentina passed laws recognizing land claims of large cattle farmers who settled on Wichí land. Their ancestral land, now destroyed by over-grazing, was later promised back to the Wichí people with the help of Survival International. Despite their efforts to force the provincial government to make good on their promises, the Wichí were denied their land. These examples, detailed in Gedick's book, are only a few cases of the like worldwide.
Despite the innumerable assaults on indigenous peoples in the name of global development, there have been a wide range of successes throughout the anti-globalization movement. Local, national, and international coalitions have been created in an effort to maintain human rights and achieve economic justice. Nonetheless, many analysts look bleakly at the future of indigenous rights throughout the world. International law fails to protect native peoples from the merciless capitalism of transnational corporations. These offenders hide behind trade coalitions and corrupt governments, while practicing patronism, bribery, and intimidation to improve their bottom-line.
Powerful nations, like the United States, need to hold multinationals based within their borders to their own nationally enforced business standards. Until these corporations are made accountable for such business practices, they will continue to violate human rights, destroy the environment, commit economic injustices, and amplify the vanishing of native cultures. Unfortunately, governments, like that of the U.S., are closely connected to such corporations, making this solution remote.
In his article in the New Left Review, Jameson states, “at a cultural level, globalization threatens the final extinction of local cultures, resuscitatable only in Disneyfied form, through the construction of artificial simulacra and the mere images of fantasized traditions and beliefs.” It is this grim, yet increasingly possible vision of the future that we must protect against. With globalization as it is today, there is too much at stake to stand by silent. Immediate action must be taken to protect our global community.
Alex J. Noury is a recent graduate of the University of Florida Anthropology Masters program. He has studied the cultural influences on micro-entrepreneurship in Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles and is currently employed at the National Institute of Health. Alex is the author of Intertribal Trade on the Great Plains: Expanding control on a changing frontier, published in the Florida Journal of Anthropology (Spring 2002). He looks forward to any questions and/or comments regarding his work. You can e-mail him at: Alex10k@yahoo.com
Copyright 2003 by Alex Noury. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission of Alex Noury.
For additional perspectives see Debacles of Globalization and
Fred Foldvary's editorial Globalization & Globalization
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