The world is not flat

02 May 2012

By Christian Ryan Maboloc

Thomas Friedman is wrong to say in his celebrated book, “The World is Flat,” that the world is always within one’s reach, or just a click away with the use of a mouse. Think, for instance, of people who live in the poorest provinces of the Philippines or workers who earn below the minimum wage, and one will realize that the Internet is not readily available to all. This is for the simple reason that the flat-world economy that Mr. Friedman is talking about is no more than the egocentric forces of capitalism that continue to hound the poor masses and keep them in oblivion and disease, ignored by their fellow human beings.

The forces that have flattened the world, notably the computer, Netscape, the World Wide Web, outsourcing, in-sourcing, in-forming, the search engines, the microchip, and others are not things that you can buy in a wet market. As noble as they are, these things are instruments of business and enterprise. Still, a flat-world economy is run by money and greed, and more than the convergence that it seeks to achieve, the bottom line is profit and more profit.

The fact of the matter is that while the Philippines has been able to corner a share of business process outsourcing, the reality is that this will not change the status quo. Ultimately, people are reduced to mere instruments of a western lifestyle that simply seek to find comfort and reduce the inconvenience of having to prepare and file income taxes at home. The basic issues of economic injustice, inequality, human rights abuses, and global poverty remain ripe because the concentration of world power remains and stays in the global north. The global south is still suffering from dictatorial regimes, manipulative economic systems, and the hegemony of a western culture.

Of course, without taking anything from the glory of a globalized economy that has resulted in the creation of vast wealth for many peoples and societies, the Third World remains aground and is unable to step up to the plate. Global resources remain wildly and unjustly distributed. Consider, for instance the cost of an F-117 fighter jet at $140 million, and imagine the possibility of saving thousands of lives by buying vaccines for children at $10 dollars per child instead of building expensive weaponry and venturing into outer space.

Indeed, China has become a global power and many of the world’s biggest economies are on the lookout. It is flexing muscle toward its neighbors but has been unable to control internal corruption and environmental damage caused by its local factories. Massive bailouts of $800 billion in the United States and 110 billion euros for Greece last year mean that there is money available for financial systems but nothing in terms of fighting global poverty, hunger and ethnic violence.

The recession of the US economy due to poisonous and toxic subprime debts—an “inside job,” if we are to take the word of a documentary of the same title—is no more than a symptom that development is a myth. Even in America, the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has remained wide. Life, indeed, begins with murder. Consider the hundreds of millions of sperm cells competing for a lone ovum in order to create human life. The same is true for every country on the planet. It is never about what we feel or what we think or what we believe. It is all about what we are seeing, and we see that there is so much evil in the world.

The world is not flat. It remains unreachable to millions of poor children, and many of them may not even see the beauty and wonder of life for they have been forced into becoming expendable slaves of a hegemonic value system that puts premium on money and achievement but neglect the basic humanity of each individual.

Of course, Francis Fukuyama’s assertion that liberal democracy is the end of history remains highly debatable. One can simply take note of the violence in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. As of late, one can pursue and consider the fact that if systems are put in place, then the efficient and effective disposition of power can commence. But an ideal political theory has never been possible in a pluralistic world. Freedom has remained a precious commodity and the people of Oriental cultures have remained loyal to tradition and their own value systems. The Jasmine Revolution has launched a new wave of hope across the Arab land, but the end result of it is still unclear. For ultimately, the end that we seek is the happiness of people, their well-being, and unless we untie this notion from a highly economized value system, the world will be as difficult for many as it has been.

Thus, it is not about “How does one live a good life?” but rather “Is the good life still possible?” The good life as defined by Mr. Friedman is not the life that we intend to live. While such a life offers great comfort and convenience, for all intents and purposes, life is beyond any economic meaning and can never be reduced to whatever it is that you find in Google.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc is a member of Ateneo de Davao University’s philosophy faculty.

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