Friday, December 16, 2005

The Collapse of Globalism, by John Ralston Saul

Subtitled ‘the reinvention of the world’, Canadian author John Ralston Saul takes us through a history of globalism, its guiding ideology, its failures and successes, leading us up to what he considers its current falling away as a potent force.

Saul cites the starting date of globalism as 1971. We’ve had it for 30 odd years now. Amongst it many promises, it was supposed to bring us more democracies, lift poor nations out of poverty and lift living standards all round. Instead, we have widening gulfs between rich and poor, entrenched poverty and more and more wars and less democracies

Anyone who has read Saul’s other books will know that globalisation has been one of the author’s main themes for the past 10 years, since his ‘big’ book, Voltaire’s Bastards. Saul is one smart cookie and knows heaps about this subject. However, for someone who doesn’t understand with great proficiency how international markets and interest rates etc. etc. work, you can find yourself grasping to understand some of what he is saying. Also, because the author is making judgements himself after digesting much information, you find yourself in the position of having to trust that what he is saying is right, without coming to a complete understanding of it yourself. (Or maybe I’m a complete dummy.)

When Camille Paglia’s reviewed his book Voltaire’s Bastards, she said his writing style was a bit dull and lacked vitality. That’s what I tend to think. Salutary, yet his prose twirls around in somewhat self-referential circles. Despite that, I did read Voltaire’s Bastards twice, and got much more out of it the second time.

Saul makes some big claims, which I’m sure many will dispute. Whilst not stating outright that globalism is responsible for wars and massacres (Rwanda), he does in a round about way link them up. When discussing Rwanda, he says that one of the reasons it took so long for the West to address the problem was that our thinking had become addled by free market ideology, of globalism as a system that is inevitable. Therefore it was impossible for our elites to think imaginitely in terms of choices and options of what could be done. Saul applies this principle of addled thinking to other military crisises.

There was much in the book I totally agreed with. Like when he described our managerial elites as being completely passive, despite their titles as ‘leaders’. They are all slaves to an ideology and can’t think independently or imaginitevely. Also, this managerial class think they are capitalists, whereas they are the oppossite, highly fearful of risk and thinking outside of the box.

Another point I totally agreed with was when Saul described himself always asking at whatever university campus he is visiting whether they teach Islamic culture and the Koran. The answer is invariably no. This is a question I’ve always had. Why aren’t our so called elites doing more to learn about Islamic culture, and not in a superficial way. For example, it drives me nuts whenever I hear our political leaders - John Howard does this quite a bit – say what a great religion Islam is. They’re talking a lot of rubbish, because it seems obvious they’ve hardly paid any attention to the religion, its history and cultural contributions. The next time Howard says he respects and admires Islam as a great religion, he should be asked if he’s read the Koran, and if so, what’s his favourite teaching from the Koran.

I find Saul’s books a bit hard to penetrate. That’s a minor negative against him for me, although I have read practically all of his books, ironically enough. Maybe I need to re-read this one.

I hope that doesn’t sound all bad! John Ralston Saul is a much needed author in these times of madness. Many passages in the book were quite amusing, as you could see the author shaking his head at all the silliness that goes on in our culture. His message is that the only hope for the future of our civilisation is for citizens to get involved in how our countries are run, using common sense to prise the elites’ grasp off our culture and institutions.

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