GLOBALOCAL: PART 1
This post is aimed directly at the Facebook group I just created of the same name. Its purpose is stated in the following description:
“This group seeks to connect the global to the local, questioning whether anything today is entirely one or the other. Beyond thinking globally and acting locally, the group seeks to develop a praxis through which global and local citizens can both think and act locally and globally. It looks for globalizationʻs beauty and violence in the local community. It also sardonically views Hawaiʻi as the center of the world.”
The border between local and global is blurry – a bit like that between micro- and macroeconomics. Clever economists say that:
“while these two studies of economics appear to be different, they are actually interdependent and complement one another since there are many overlapping issues between the two fields. The bottom line is that microeconomics takes a bottoms-up approach to analyzing the economy while macroeconomics takes a top-down approach…”
But seriously, that doesnʻt really describe the border.
So what Iʻll focus on here is really where micro-globalization is visible, rather than exactly how it connects to macro-globalization. Iʻll organize this discussion around a few themes that occur to me as the central ones of global capitalist expansion.
DIVERSIFICATION: Waikiki as post modern city
First of all, globalization seems to be the postmodern economy (another post in the near future will address this concept, but the following definition will have to suffice for now: the simultaneous existence of multiple worldviews in a society and an individual) In the film Blade Runner, which is considered by most commentators the postmodern film, Los Angeles has become a multicultural megacity, “overrun” by Asians with signs and advertisements in Japanese. Its climate has altered so as to be unrecognizable: it rains constantly. It is Las Vegas on steroids, with every vice so available as to be hardly worthy of the term.
Waikiki is precisely this today. Most signs are in more than two languages, but Japanese signage and interpreters are a given. An unexpected and ironic silver lining to this is the greater presence of Hawaiian culture in Waikiki, though this was a planned initiative following on the native business vision of George Kanahele, and not universally applauded.
While Waikikiʻs climate remains recognizable, but the beaches that bring the tourists in the first place are now mainly artificially pumped sand and climate change is causing their disappearance – there is no beach at all in front of the Sheraton. After cleverly turning Hotel Street in Chinatown into a bus-only street, the district’s prostitutes moved to Waikiki, where they remain. It’s no longer shocking to think of Waikiki as a place of vice. Fights and shootings are commonplace, and it is an area to avoid after midnight. Waikiki has become (at least during the day) a sort of Disneyland – like Las Vegas, and contributes to Honoluluʻs status as the most densely-populated city in the US. And because locals avoid Waikiki like the plague, what happens in Waikiki stays in Waikiki.
Waikiki is Ridley Scott’s Los Angeles in 2019.
Didn’t I just say diversification was the first trend in the globalization of the local? The presence of the opposite is not implausible or even necessarily contradictory. In fact, we should recognize that all the trends of globalization have their opposites acting simultaneously – this allows a much richer discussion of these trends that are so large as to be difficult to see. In Waiʻanae the other day, I noticed a new Jack in the Box where a local diner used to be. This “restaurant” joins the McDonalds, the KFC, the Starbucks and the Burger King that are already in Waiʻanae. I see this trend everywhere – franchises replacing locally owned businesses, creating the stripmalled sameness in places as different as Waiʻanae and Hawaiʻi Kai. This homogenizing effect has been decried in many quarters, and is the effect of the winner-take-all merger mania of corporate America. But to say it makes us all the same is to oversimplify the process. Certainly classes continue to exist, and there is much homogenization within classes, so that the poor in Hawaiʻi today probably resemble Appalachian poor more today than they used to. But there are also regional variations and trends – while working class people in Hawaiʻi enjoy mixed martial arts as much as their mainland “counterparts,” and both may wear BJ Penn shirts those same counterparts donʻt sport “Defend Hawaiʻi” apparel.
These two trends – diversification and homogenization are merely the start of the globalist impositions on us. I will discuss two further trends in part 2: privatization and “Democratization.”
APEC, HAWAIIANS AND GLOBALIZATION
In 1837, the Hawaiian historian David Malo wrote that “large fishes will come from the dark ocean … they will eat us up, such has always been the case with large countries, the small ones have been gobbled up.” Malo was referring to the colonialism taking place at that time, as well as Hawaiʻi’s emerging, and subordinate, place in a new world. Today, what some refer to as neocolonialism, a new colonialism led by corporate interests rather than states, is linked to the process of globalization – a multi-faceted process of increased interconnectivity of the world’s economies and communications, with greater flows of capital, people and ideas across national boundaries. Since the beginning of Western contact, the Hawaiian people have been caught in a struggle between the ways of the past and those of “the future.” But whose future is it? The upcoming conference of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) provides an opportunity for Native Hawaiians to consider their role in the ongoing process of globalization. While globalization is often portrayed positively, the benefits mainly accrue to multinational corporations and large investors. The costs tend to be paid by the poor, by indigenous peoples, and even sovereign states tend to bend to the will of organizations like the World Trade Organization (WTO), which forward an agenda of globalization. Even powerful countries like the US have been forced to repeal environmental and labor laws because they were judged to be barriers to trade. APEC, with 21 member countries in the Pacific and Pacific Rim, is the regional equivalent of the WTO .
While it is almost never discussed, the signs of globalization in Hawaiʻi are all around us. Tourist dollars go to mainland- or foreign-owned companies, while we receive a trickle of this money as employees of tourism-related businesses. Most of this income is spent at businesses owned by major corporations, not by Hawaiians or local people. Money travels through Hawaiʻi, not to it.
While globalization has positive effects, such as increased access to information about distant countries, it is primarily driven by the needs of trade. Globalization needs to be seen as an ideology and an agenda rather than an inevitable process. This ideology has been called by some “globalism.” Its assumptions – namely that trade is the single most important factor for nations and communities – often collide with Hawaiian values. For Hawaiians, notions such as pono (righteous balance), lokahi (unity), and malama ʻāina (care for land and environment), do not prohibit or even discourage trade, but view it in a larger context balancing it with social and spiritual forces. So rather than directly oppose APEC and its globalist agenda, Hawaiians should engage in a discourse with policy makers over the possibility of another way of thinking about economics and trade. Thirty years ago, sustainability was not a factor in international trade. Today, APEC has sponsored an essay contest for high school students with the question “What does sustainability mean to you?” So these concerns – the health of our people and communities, the right to maintain traditional economic practices – can be part of the agenda, but we have to make it happen.
An international group of activists, scholars and community leaders will be holding a conference called Moana Nui from November 9th through the 11th at Calvary By the Sea Lutheran Church and the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies at UH Mānoa. At this conference some of the alternatives to the globalist agenda will be discussed. Economists like Walden Bello from the Phillippines and Lori Wallach from the US, Hawaiian studies professor Jon K. Osorio as well as cultural practitioners from across the Pacific will consider the role of native peoples in shaping our collective economic future. We must ask ourselves if we want the future to be like the present, or if aspects of the past, such as our former economic self-sufficiency, and our former self-governance, can be part of it.