Bound Together: How Traders, Preachers, Adventurers, and Warriors Shaped Globalization
A few days after my wife and I had moved into our home in New Haven, Connecticut, an electrician came to fix some electrical outlets that weren’t working. Jerry was middle-aged and friendly, and he asked me what I did at Yale. When I mentioned my affiliation with the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, he seemed stunned, as if I had just confessed to being a charter member of a Colombian drug cartel. “Oh! God help you,” he muttered. Puzzled, I asked what was wrong. Jerry was clearly surprised to meet someone who he thought actually worked for globalization. “Isn’t it true that globalization destroys the rain forest?” he asked by way of explanation. My protestation that the closest I had ventured to the Amazon was to order a few books did little to help my standing.
But Jerry’s reaction had raised important questions. What precisely is globalization, and why is it accused of damaging the rain forest? It seems to have appeared out of nowhere, and now it is everywhere. Almost every problem, even extraordinary developments, has been laid at the door of this phenomenon called globalization. Its role in damaging rain forests is perhaps the easiest to understand. Forests are being cleared mainly to create farmland for the world’s growing population. Rising international trade and the growing demand for construction materials and furniture have brought traders and loggers into the act. To answer Jerry’s concerns, I thought it was important to understand who the globalizers are, what they are doing and why, and how long they have been at it.
Since the word globalization appeared in the dictionary, its meaning has undergone a massive transformation. Just two of the dozens of de?nitions of globalization illustrate the problem in grappling with this phenomenon. Writing in the Encyclopedia Britannica, Jeffrey L. Watson defnes globalization in cultural terms-as “the process by which the experience of everyday life, marked by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, can foster a standardization of cultural expressions around the world.” The offcial World Bank defnition of globalization is stated, not surprisingly, in purely economic terms, as the “freedom and ability of individuals and firms to initiate voluntary economic transactions with residents of other countries.” Left-wing critics, echoing Karl Marx’s observation about the “werewolfsh hunger” of capitalism reaching the four corners of the world, see globalization as synonymous with expansionist and exploitative capitalism. Looking at globalization through the prism of business and economics helps one to understand the Internet, the mobile phone, and the cable TV-connected world we inhabit, but it does not explain how human life was globalized long before capitalism was formulated or electricity invented.
Many recent books, notably Thomas L. Friedman’s The World Is Flat, have explained how mobile capital, trade, and technology have created today’s instantaneously connected, interdependent world. Economic historians like Kevin O’Rourke and John G. Williamson have shown how the transportation revolution in the late nineteenth century kicked o? large-scale trade and migration, laying the foundation for the current era of globalization. In fact, in their view, globalization began when large-scale trading brought about a convergence of commodity prices all over the world. But globalization defined in strictly economic terms leaves unexplained the myriad instances of global connectedness and indeed convergence that appeared long before the steamship.
The term globalization emerged because the visibility of our globally connected life called for a word to sum up the phenomenon of this interconnectedness. But if one looked under the hood of our daily existence, one could see a multitude of threads that connect us to faraway places from an ancient time. Without looking into the past, how does one explain that almost everything, from the cells in our bodies to everyday objects in our lives, carries withinitself the imprints of a long journey? Why in that first instance did human beings leave Africa and become a globalized species? Most of what we eat, drink, or use originated somewhere else than where we find these objects today. Almost everything we associate with a nation or take pride in as our own is connected with another part of the world, however remotely. Today’s capitalist business model can explain why Starbucks coffee, an iconic symbol of globalization, is sold in thousands of locations around the world or why Japan’s Canon camera is a globally recognized brand. But the economic definition leaves other questions unanswered. How, for example, did the coffee bean, grown first only in Ethiopia, end up in our cups after a journey through Java and Colombia? How did the name of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteswar, translated into Chinese as Guanyin and in Japanese as Kwanon, inspire the Japanese brand name for a camera?
Endless other questions point to deeper processes at play. How is the same gene mutation found in three people living in continents thousands of miles apart? How did Islam, born in the deserts of Arabia, win over a billion converts in the world? How did Europeans learn to play the violin with a bowstring- made of Mongolian horsehair? Or, for that matter, how did the ninth-century Arab mathematician al-Khwarizimi lend his name to the algorithms that now run the world of information? How did the economic model of growing sugarcane with slave labor, developed in the eastern Mediterranean, reach the Carib- bean? Why was there no fiery kimchi in Korea before Christopher Columbus found chili pepper plants in the New World? How did the United States currency get its name from a German silver-mining town? Why are the grapes that yielded the first barrel of wine in California called mission grapes? How did the Chinese paper-making technology reach the West and end up producing the stock for the book you are reading? The questions are as varied as they are unending, and they go to the heart of the all-embracing phenomenon of global interconnectedness. The economic definition of globalization cannot explain why an electrician in New Haven cared about the Brazilian rain forest or how global awareness of such issues has arisen. As we shall see in Chapter 8, the story of how the word globalization emerged is directly linked to the visibility of growing integration of the world. The term globalization, reflecting awareness of these global connections, grew out of the very process it describes a process that has worked silently for millennia without having been given a name.
This book attempts to show that globalization stems, among other things, from a basic human urge to seek a better and more fulfilling life and that it has been driven by many actors who can be classified, for the sake of simplicity, as traders, preachers, adventurers, and warriors. These globalizers left their original habitats in the pursuit of a more enriching life or to fulfill their personal ambitions. In so doing, they not only carried products, ideas, and technology across borders, but with increased interconnectedness they created what Roland Robertson calls “intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.” Despite his distaste for “globalization,” electrician Jerry’s concern for the health of the planet squarely places him among the globally aware who are themselves a product of an intensely interconnected world. Literally, of course, one cannot talk of such global connections until the first circumnavigation of the globe by Ferdinand Magellan in 1519.
However, in the broad sense of expanding the known world-which the Greeks called oikumene-and linking the fate of geographically separated communities, globalization, as a trend, has been with us since the beginning of history. The same forces, sometimes with different names, are at work today in connecting the world ever faster and tighter. Multinational companies, nongovernmental organizations, activists, migrants, and tourists have been continuing the process of integration that began thousands of years ago.
This book is thus the result of a personal quest for an understanding of, if not answers to, some simple questions: Who are the globalizers, and how does one explain the global origins of everything that surrounds us? My search for the answers to many such questions altered my understanding of globalization, and the way I look at it today is quite different from when I started out. I have tried to understand the origin and transformation of goods and ideas as they travel the world from where they started, looking at the global voyage of commodities and concepts. In order to grasp the forces that have spurred various global journeys, I have focused on a selected set of commodities and ideas as examples of a broader trend. I have tried to identify the main actors and their motivations. To appreciate the trajectory of these actors-traders, preachers, adventurers, and warriors, and the goods and ideas they have carried, I have looked at them over a millennial canvas.
My story of globalization begins with the journey of anatomically modern humans out of Africa some fifty thousand years ago. Out of the necessity for survival, these people were the first adventurers who over generations moved on, occupying the inhabitable areas of the earth, and taking divergent paths before settling down and reconnecting with other dispersed human communities. I have abandoned the conventional format of presenting a linear history of a particular people or territory and have tried instead to trace the growing connections and interdependence through the action of these four actors. A brief chronology of the role played by the four actors is given on pages 321-330.