Ochenski: Chaos theory 

Did September 11 sound the death knell for globalization?

Critics contend that “globalization” is simply good old British Imperialism in a different hat, replacing “The sun never sets on the British Empire” with “The sun never sets on the global marketplace.” The continuing track record of rich, “developed” nations plundering the resources and people of poor, “developing” nations lends credence to this argument. Globalization supporters, on the other hand, see the theory as one way to break down the barriers between nations while helping to create more overall wealth. The end result, in the lexicon of those advocates, is that “a rising tide lifts all ships.” Meanwhile, President Bush’s new “global war on terrorism” and entropy, an old law of physics, seem destined to bring globablization to an early end.

First and foremost, Bush’s “global war on terrorism” looks like it will render “free trade,” one of the foundations of globalization, an anachronism. Just this week Bush announced a new task force to review worldwide terrorist groups and any individuals in this country that may support them. In the inimitable dialect of the Bush administration, the president’s spokesman used such terms as “foreigners” and “aliens” to describe, among others, exchange students. While Tom Ridge, the president’s pick to head the new Office of Homeland Security, was more charitable in his use of the term “non-citizens,” he nonetheless proclaimed that “a point of access becomes a vulnerability” in describing the tougher scrutiny that will now be applied to student visas. The squirrelly part of this equation lies in how those who review the background information for student visas determine what constitutes a “terrorist organization.” Remember, if an Afghan student had fought with the Mujahedeen against the Russians only a few years back, he would have been considered a “freedom fighter.” Now, without question, he would be dumped into the “terrorist” category. So much for “free trade” in global knowledge.

Taking Ridge’s quote a bit further, if a “point of access” is now defined as “a vulnerability,” doesn’t that sound the death knell for “free trade” in goods and services, too? Since America went on red alert following the September attacks, routine border crossings between Mexico and the United States are now taking up to three hours. Think about that—three hours sitting in a stationary line of traffic in the hot desert sun just waiting to cross the Mexican border. Last week two El Paso children, ages 9 and 13, died of carbon monoxide poisoning after falling asleep in the camper of their parent’s pickup truck while endlessly waiting to reenter the United States after visiting their grandparents in Mexico. And they weren’t even “foreigners.” Why the long wait? Immigration and security personnel now deem it necessary to root through every trunk and open every hood on every car or truck coming into the country. If the wait was lethal for the children, think what it might be like for livestock, fresh produce, or other perishable goods. Such actions beg the question of what might be coming in on the thousands of container ships that off-load in American harbors and ports every day. If “invulnerability” is our goal, “access” will increasingly be seen as our enemy.

Last week’s headlines that America’s food supply could be the next target for bioterrorism must be seen as yet another, perhaps insurmountable, hurdle for globalization. It is inconceivable that any nation, let alone one of our complexity and size, could possibly screen all the food that it imports for every imaginable bioterror weapon. Meats, vegetables, fish, processed foods (open the cans?), and flowers all pour into this country daily by the tens of thousands of tons. Currently, food safety inspectors cover the tiniest fraction (reportedly less than 1 percent) of these imports—and they are only looking for your everyday violations like rodent feces, insect parts, mislabeling, etc. The magnitude and cost of extending bioterror monitoring to our total imported foods and goods stream would take so many people and require so much money that even those goods that made it through would be so expensive their markets would collapse. Thus ends “free trade” in global commodities.

Which brings us to entropy—the law of physics that says the universe moves inexorably from order toward chaos. For instance, no matter how much you try to have a clean and tidy home, there will always be dishes that get dirty, dust that materializes from nowhere, and clutter that spontaneously generates from the everyday process of living ... in other words, chaos, albeit on a small scale. To restore order, we must expend energy and wash the dishes, dust the mantle, and physically remove the clutter.

What goes for the universe and our daily lives also goes for globalization.

No matter how much we try to instill order, the world tends toward chaos. Nothing demonstrates this as well as our current situation. From nowhere, planes fly into the World Trade Center, anthrax spores float through the halls of Congress, and suddenly, the order that we imagined has turned to chaos. And now, in a desperate attempt to restore order, we are expending enormous amounts of energy in the form of manpower, money, and material. In the meantime, even though it seems we have plenty of problems to keep us busy at home, our nation is expending even more energy to wage a war halfway around the globe, trying vainly to instill our concept of order on another government, another religion, another people.

Opponents of globalization will continue to protest at meetings of the World Trade Organization, cursing the exploitative manipulations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which have an all-too-close tie to our nation’s appetite for oil and natural resources. Proponents will continue to paint a fantasy of world order. When all is said and done, however, entropy will win. There is simply not enough “energy” (money, manpower, material) to impose our version of “order” on the entire world, all its people, religions, and governments. When it does, globalization, like the British Empire upon which the sun now routinely sets, will be relegated to history’s trash heap of failed attempts.

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