CNN plays silently on the television monitor that hangs from the ceiling across the airport lounge. From where I'm sitting I can see that Lou Dobbs is talking seriously with a seemingly distinguished older man. Even though I can't hear what they're saying to one another, a headline across the bottom of the screen informs me that the words accompanying the pictures of these talking heads concern "The End of Globalism." Given that I can count no less then four languages being spoken by the travelers trying to make connections around me, and that I myself am about to board a flight to London, this headline, "The End of Globalism," hangs in the air rather like a toreador's red cape.
And that's good news for a guy like me with nothing better to do for the next six and a half hours than think about things like words and the uses we find for them.
In this case, globalism reminds me of another term we used to kick around: cultural diversity. I remember once being invited to the Indianapolis Art Center to participate in a kind of debate about what cultural diversity meant. What hit me almost immediately was that cultural diversity was, first and foremost, a fact of contemporary life. We could argue over what to do about this, but denying its existence was absurd.
The same thing is true when it comes to globalism. In terms of the way we live now, there can be no end to it. I am old enough to recall days when, for most Americans, a trans Atlantic trip to Europe like the one I am undertaking was a once-in-a-lifetime experience - if they got to do it at all. Cheap oil and affordable airfares made it possible to travel places my grandparents only dreamt about. Now, at Heathrow in London, I watch two teen-agers in Arab dress filling out entry cards for a raffle to win a sports car that's on display in front of a duty free shop.
A center for international financial dealings, London seems more a global city than an English one. The English themselves can barely afford to live here. The average home now costs 276,000 pounds - with a pound roughly amounting to something like $1.70. Prices in the city have recently risen 44 percent while salaries have only gone up 7 percent in the same period. An ad in the Underground urges young Brits to consider teaching. It promises a starting salary of 24,000 pounds with a (taxable) bonus of 5,000 more after the first year. Meanwhile, a pub lunch of fish and chips and a pint of beer for two costs 19 pounds - or close to $35.
This is where globalism's slip begins to show. The globalism proffered by promoters and apologists for capitalism - a means, that is, by which free trade would bring prosperity, social and political reform to peoples in need of these things - has yet to live up to its promise. Globalism in this sense has, in fact, often looked more like old-fashioned imperialism, the exploitation of have-nots by globe-trotting haves. Globalism was supposed to bring rights to sweatshop workers and environmental protections to ravaged landscapes. Yet in San Diego, it's said surfers often find themselves bobbing to the surface through a haze of human waste washed out to sea from the shantytowns surrounding Tijuana in Mexico.
This is not an image you're likely to find on CNN International, an overseas offshoot of the cable broadcast giant. Aimed at English-speaking business travelers, CNN International provides news, sports, weather and lifestyle tips to globalism's foot soldiers. Packaged amidst the news of natural disasters, geo-political upheavals and World Cup scores are features on the best hotels, high-tech gadgets and futuristic inventions. Want to relax at a five-star spa in India? CNN International can tell you where to go.
CNN International is a vivid reminder that globalism is a daily fact of life for a significant class of people for whom travel to Dubai, Singapore, Beijing or New Delhi is commonplace. For them, the world is a great market described by competition and measured in terms of profit and loss. But more than that is their necessarily expanded sense of time, space and the relationships possible therein. If the rich, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed, are different from the rest of us, so are the members of the international business class.
Globalism ending? In Paris, the host at a restaurant called L'Homme Tranquille (named in honor of John Ford's film The Quiet Man) asks where we're from. When we tell him, he lights up. "Indianapolis? The Pacers! The Brawl!" He watched it all on NBA Europe and couldn't get enough. As far as he's concerned, Artest is a hero - and Indianapolis is cool. He serves a succulent cut of chicken, prepared by his mother in the kitchen downstairs, cooked with honey, coriander and lemon. "My mother," he says with justifiable pride, "has made this dish for 30 years." "GO PACERS" is written at the bottom of the check.
This is the first of four columns written with the support of a Creative Renewal Fellowship made possible by the Arts Council of Indianapolis and the Lilly Endowment.