Is globalization actually disempowering? | Yann Martel


I don’t think that globalization, globalism,
this idea that the world is a village is true. In fact it’s remarkable how culture bound
we are. And that’s not a limitation, that’s just
a feature of us as a species. We are animals and animals operate based on
their empirical senses. So take a deer in a forest. A deer in a forest has the eyesight, the smell
and the hearing that it needs to survive. And so there’s an interesting concept in
zoology of flight distance which is the distance that an animal needs to be aware of something
that might endanger it that will trigger a flight response. So animals have different kinds of flight
distances. So a flamingo if it sees a threatening animal
needs a certain distance so that it can start flapping its wings and fly away. Flamingos are not natural flyers so they need
– so it’s like maybe 150 meters let’s say. So they have senses that are good enough for
them to survive. What we have done with our technology is so
increased our sensorial capacity that if a ferry overturns in Bangladesh we hear about
it here in New York 50,000 miles away which means our senses are overloaded with information
which in an animal would stress it to death. If you increase the deer’s capacity to hear
beyond the whatever it can hear – let’s say a deer can hear, I don’t know what the
distance is. Let’s say a deer can hear 300 meters away. That’s what it needs let’s say. I’m sure it’s closer than that but let’s
say it’s 100 meters away. You know a deer needs to hear that distance
and if anything is coming or running towards it, a lion, a tiger, a wolf the hundred feet
will be enough for it to turn and decamp and so it’s not stressed. If there’s a perimeter of 100 meters around
a diameter, a radius, sorry. A hundred meters around it where there’s
no sounds it’ll be at rest unstressed. If you gave a deer a hearing capacity of 1,000
feet you’d be hearing way more noises than it needs to process. You’d be hearing about wolves or tigers
that are way too far to endanger it. Yet it’s aware of them therefore it would
be stressed. And I suspect in our world and this idea of
globalization we are hearing things that are so far away from us that actually have no
consequence on us as individuals. Now cumulatively of course they do. We are ultimately connected. There are six degrees of separation. So that’s the reason behind human rights
advocacy that when an individual is being tortured to death in Egypt or in China it
should matter to us. It should. But in a practical way each one of us every
single day there’s only so many groans and cries and shrieks from around the world that
we can hear where it keeps on being meaningful. At one point we block it out because it’s
too much. So I think globalization creates a sense of
unity without empowering us that we can really do something about it. And so that’s – it’s that schizophrenia
that we live with every single day. You read about, you know, you read The New
York Times which is a fantastic newspaper with an extraordinary coverage of many realities. Most articles there’s very little you can
do about. And so it’s kind of disempowering. So I find globalization while in a sense being
well-meaning giving us eyes around the globe is also some ways disempowering because it
tells us things about which we can do nothing. So ultimately I think we have to limit the
information and go deeper. And so I think that’s what often happens. You see that for example with NGOs, with charitable
organizations who specialize. So, you know, they’ll specialize about saving
the panda bear or the human rights situation in Haiti or about educating girls in Africa. They will narrow their focus so they can have
an impact. And that of course that has been helped by
globalization. We are aware of more knowledge that it’s
overwhelming. It’s a tidal wave coming our way and you
sort of select which bit of the water, which bit of the wave you want to try to engage
with meaningfully.

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