Globalization vs. Nationalism. Gross National Product vs. Gross National Happiness

First Prize, Undergraduate Category, Essay Contest 2016

December 31, 2016

Oksana Kravchenko, age 21, is a student at Moscow State University of International Affairs, Russia. Future lawyer and present dreamer, she loves to meet new people believing them to be friends waiting to be discovered and to explore new places considering each of them the next wonder of the world.

ESSAY TOPIC: Is nationalism an asset or hindrance in today's globalized world?

This could be our best century. Urbanization, integration, coming together. New era and new renaissance. This could be a century of life expectancy going up and illiteracy going down, a century of surge and tantalizing opportunities, a century of further evolution and unleashed potential. This could be a century of rapid changes and breath-taking innovation. A century of triumphant globalization—this could be our best century.

And this could be our worst century. Growing complexity, inequality, fragility. Global rippling effect with everything occurring in one place ultimately affecting everything else. This could be a century of dismal failure and universal plummet, a century of systemic shock and the world put into chains. This could be a century of pandemics, of people excluded from the global conversation. A century of triumphant nationalism—this could be our worst century.

But then, is it an either-or question? And why do we expel the opportunity of our best century being, at the same time, our worst one? Why do we regard globalization and nationalism as mutually exclusive with the former invariably considered a virtue and the latter a vice?

In fact, it is a deep-rooted preconception that globalization represents an utmost blessing which implies free trade, free movement of capital and people across borders. And undoubtedly, from such a perspective, globalization benefits everyone on aggregate endowing us with cooperation and peace. It seems to be all about tolerance and inclusion and leaving no one behind. Implacably coordinated orchestra with millions of like-minded individuals working together towards common ends. Nationalism, on the other hand, is much more about fear and hatred, about originating lies and mistrust. It is pure alienation and our retreat towards past of restrictions and borders and myopic view of the world.

In this context, viewing both phenomena in question as mutually exclusively looks downright explicable. But there is an underbelly. Achilles' heel of globalization. Come to think of it, humanity would have never grappled with nationalist movement but for globalization and its redistributive effects. According to globalization-free scenario, societies would not have given birth to Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Viktor Orbán. And we would not have witnessed Brexit. And there would not have been this apocalyptic sort of feeling which suffocates modern politics.

Sycophantic globalization, despite its alleged democratic and inclusive approach, coins winners and losers and brings to the table disproportionality, the consequences of which are overwhelming. People, deprived of sufficient interaction across diverse communities, fall prey to the idea that they no longer share in the benefits of a globalized world, that they are victims of unreasoned politics. And so we have what we have: millions of those unrepresented by politicians and patently disillusioned with the establishment gradually give in to the desire of adopting self-interested stance and reclaiming control of their own lives. And the world ends up engulfed with protest, nationalist votes. But globalization skirts this issue talking its way out of thorny questions with the help of endless supply of vague scientific terms.

It is a deep-rooted preconception that nationalism represents an utmost curse, a topic which is unpleasant to address in a conversation. A rash on a sensitive skin of our world. Its aching burns and bruises. However, here is some food for thought. A rash is the most efficient deterrent from eating more chocolate. And burns save us from rushing further onto the fire. In essence, those side effects are mere indicators of glitches in a system. And to a certain extent, nationalist movements play the same role: we would never have been able to tell we were doomed but for antagonism dominating political arena.

Unarguably, we are a tribal species. Society is woven out of family groups, which in their turn form larger units and communities. In our perception there firmly stands out the notion of "us" as opposed to "them." Those, who are not embraced by a circle, will perennially remain foreigners and aliens, and that is perhaps the only truth unanimously shared. As far as globalization is concerned, it introduces something different, namely community expansion, washing out circles and drawing down bridges to family castles. Such a tendency is terrifying since in the long run it boils down to cutting social capital and, consequently, trust. Furthermore, it entirely contradicts our inherently conservative nature and entrenched resilience against changes. Idol with feet of clay, globalization makes a bold declaration that everybody around is our family. In the wake of it, our mind can`t help but encounter the most unconformable questions: "Who truly is my family?" and "Am I alone?". Therefore, globalization and solitude are not that wide apart.

As for nationalism, it is definitely more parochial bestowing upon us a sense of being rooted, a sense connectedness in a close-knit community. It is cozy and makes no grand endeavors to transcend the ordinary limits of human existence eliminating borders. It does not aspire for global governance and connives at our greatest whim—to stay tethered to the golden past. With its disarming sincerity nationalism is undeniably human putting forward the idea that gross national happiness, security and welfare are much more important than gross national product. On top of it, nationalism is cruelly rational with its statement that humans are merely too different to get mixed and blended together. To put it differently, nationalism is that second face of Janus and not necessary the ugly one.

Countdown has begun. This could be our worst century. A century of split world, divided world, of world torn apart. This could be a century of walls: political walls, trade walls, communication walls. A century of iron curtains and blind spots. A century of failed McDonaldisation with burgers and fries no longer sweetening the pill of rampant corruption, incurable illnesses, unalleviated conflicts and grinding poverty.

And this could be our best century. A century of extraordinary progress and people working miracles together and raising above geographic constraints. A century of us achieving Millennium Development Goals long before the due date and dissolving all the barriers. But in fact, there is no either-or option. Without globalization in the first place there would be no need to refuse so vehemently pervasive xenophobia and nationalism. And as long as globalization is our new reality, nationalism is our safety net. Our ski poles to slide the slippery slope. Our godsend and our asset which ensures that humanity does not overdo with chocolate and does not scorch its wings while getting warm by the global fire.

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