Since media scholar Marshall McLuhan coined the term “global village” in the 1960s to show how mass media was narrowing cultural and geographic disparities, globalization has become all-encompassing. It reached its peak in the mid-1990s, when we came the closest to global peace, including the collapse of the communist bloc, peace processes in the Middle East, a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and reconciliation in South Africa.
All of this symbolized the collapse of old institutions such as nationalism and established religion in favor of free trade in goods and ideas – particularly in the view of those who wanted to believe it and didn’t let reality get in the way.
The September 11 terrorist attacks were the beginning of a wave that peaked with the nationalist-isolationist convergences of the middle of the second decade of the 21st century – Trump and his America First policy, Brexit, the rise to power of ultranationalist governments in Poland and Hungary and the strengthening of movements with fascist attributes in Italy, France, Greece and elsewhere. Israeli journalist Nadav Eyal created a bestseller out of that.
And then Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine and roused the forces of globalization from their slumber. According to a certain scenario, a revolt by forces of globalization could play a considerable role in a Ukrainian victory.
Over the past two weeks, international firms, one after another, particularly those trading in goods and financial services, have pulled out of Russia – from the favorite brands of the wives of oligarchs to Visa and Mastercard – while Google Pay and Apple Pay have limited services. McDonald’s is perhaps “the” symbol of globalization and Americanization. When it opened in Moscow for the first time in the 1990s, tens of thousands stood in line, but after growing pressure, it has announced that it is temporarily closing its stores in Russia.
The commercial pressure should increase the opposition to Putin at home. Even now, thousands of courageous Russians have taken to the streets to protest the war, and the more that people feel the effects in their pockets, on their tables and at stores, the more the public will call for an end to this unnecessary, unjustified war.
More than being good news for Ukraine and Ukrainians and for Russia and domestic opponents of the Putin regime, it’s good news for the world. Globalization is not a dirty word. On the contrary, we should embrace these international companies because only capitalism can produce peace.
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The giant corporations are not devoid of their problems. They pollute the environment, exploit disadvantaged populations, inflict harm upon the local culture and ethos and make many subservient to a culture of consumption and a “fear of missing out.”
But – and it’s a significant but – they want you to be alive and thriving and independent, and that’s not something that can be said about countries in general and anti-globalist nation-states in particular. Whether you patronized H&M or Louis Vuitton, whether you’re a fan of Starbucks or Nespresso, of iPhone or Android, there’s no brand in the world that would ask you to kill and be killed on its behalf.
There’s no brand in the world that would brainwash you over its significance and over its mystic-metaphysical essence as the “homeland” does. There’s no brand in the world that would decide your way of life or take things from you that you don’t want to give away; that would judge you by the color of your skin or your sex or sexual orientation or religious faith.
The greatness of capitalism is its blindness to all the things that are important to nation-states that go to war. And capitalism’s current reappearance is an opportunity to be reminded of that.