Isolationism or globalisation?

There are a myriad of opinions on globalisation, some in favour and some in opposition! I had a conversation with a friend, in which they revealed that they harboured some doubts about this phenomenon which sprang up in the 18th century.

Their worries were rooted in the fact that despite advancing transportation, communication, and technology to previously unimagined heights: globalisation was, in the same stroke, responsible for the unforgivable crimes of erasing borders and confusing national identities; to name but a few.

It was an argument I had heard before, although significantly more eloquently phrased than ye olde: go back where you came from.

The other difference was that the person I was chatting to was also an immigrant to this country. Of course, this initially stunned me, though perhaps it was just such a jolt that allowed me to keep my mouth shut and hear them out.

Their idea was that the world was becoming too disconcerted, too confusing, and that human minds could not withstand such a degree of interconnectedness. Yuval Noah Harari was quoted: "With such vehemency my ears sizzled with sapience."

What shocked me the most was a description of the solution, not because it was especially brutal or radical (though you can make up your minds about that) but because it sounded so familiar.

To be clear, the speaker's solution to the scourge of globalisation was engaging in isolationism, or, as it is sometimes known, siloing. This way of life entails cutting off communication and cooperation with anyone considered an outsider in order to preserve the customs and traditions of a particular group.

Some tribes in the Amazon live in this way, the person reliably told me, and they are completely happy for it, apparently. Wow, I thought, is multiculturalism so awful as to make such an immense setback sound utopic?

Credit - Pixabay

I smoothed down my indignation long enough to continue in my silence and remember why their solution sounded so familiar and noticeably less radical than it should have. I had come across it before. It was a drinking fountain conversation, a water cooler musing, and at the same time also an idea that human beings had been grappling with for thousands of years.

The most explicit iterations of this are in the story of Babel and the Sumerian account: Enmerkar and the Lord of Aratta; narratives in which multicultural civilizations end up scattered to the various corners of the earth.

What I have noticed in these stories, is that instances of human collaboration always result in vast improvements. I have also surmised that these conclusions, whether they involve the division of peoples or the deviation of language, are consistently framed as negative consequences rather than positive outcomes.

Implying that, in our ancestors' minds at least, the end of multiculturalism was viewed as a thing that was decidedly detrimental.

How will we look back on it? Will we look back on it, I wonder? I doubt it.

If these stories prove anything, it is that immigration has long been a hot topic and a necessity, both. What is needed now is a modern-day contextualization of that ancient discussion, for it is no longer as simple as it used to be.

Marshall is a self-taught student of psychology, hugely interested in diasporic politics and contending with the question of how we can all best function within an increasingly polarised society.

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