Tag: global civil society

On the Word ‘Global’

The word ‘global’ has become so frequently used in Western strategic debate that is has almost become background music. On one level, overuse robs it of resonance. But on another, it might be contributing to the conceptual and rhetorical overstretch that has led the US to overextend itself.

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The ethics of buying an iPad

This is not an iPad. It is also not an
ethical statement.

Globalization is no longer the Western world’s ethical quandary.

The biggest story in globalization this week has been the saga of Mike Daisey, the storyteller who posed as a journalist in a theatrical monologue about working conditions in Apple’s factories in the People’s Republic of China. Daisey, who has now been outed as a fabulist, lied about his visits to China and what he saw there, greatly exaggerating the misery in the places that manufacture iPhones, iPads, and the other accoutrements of the smart set.

The discovery of Daisey’s fabrications prompted This American Life to retract a segment of the show that Daisey had based on his monologue. Yet most of the debate in the Mac blogosphere (yes, there is such a thing, and many, many people read Mac blogs as avidly as sports blogs) has focused over the question of whether Daisey got to the essential truth about Apple products. Ira Glass put it best in his discussion with New York Times correspondent Charles Duhigg:

Ira Glass: But to get to the normative question that’s kind of underlying all the  reporting and all the discussion of this, the thing that we all want to know when  we hear this is like, “Wait, should I feel bad about [conditions in Apple’s factories]?”  As somebody who owns these products, should I feel bad?  And I don’t know that I feel so bad when, when I hear this.

Charles Duhig: … And that argument is there were times in this nation when we had harsh working conditions as part of our economic development.  We decided as a nation that that  was unacceptable.  We passed laws in order to prevent those harsh working conditions from ever being inflicted on American workers again.

And what has happened today is that rather than exporting that standard of life, which is within our capacity to do, we have exported harsh working conditions to another nation.
So should you feel bad that someone is working 12 to 24 hours a day in order to produce the iPhone that you’re carrying in your pocket—

Ira Glass: Well, now like, when you say it like that, suddenly I feel bad again, but okay, yeah.  [laughter]

This isn’t the place to reprise the arguments in praise of cheap labor. Instead, what I want to do is dispense with the notion that the alleged exploitation of Chinese workers is an ethical problem uniquely for Westerners.

The hidden assumption in ethical debates over globalization has always been that Westerners export crappy jobs to poor countries and benefit from those laws. But that’s an outmoded, 1990s way of thinking about the problem. In the 21st century, the key insight is that Chinese consumers are benefitting just as much or more from the displacement of Western manufacturing to China.

The prompt for this is a report that new activations of devices running the iOS operating system (which powers the iPod, iPhone, and iPad) is now taking place at a greater pace in China than in the USA. MacNewsNetwork has the story. It’s a simple reminder of the fact that Ira Glass is not the only person to have an iPhone in his pocket. Now, in fact, it’s more likely that the iPad sold last week was activated in China by a Chinese owner than in America by an American.

That’s a real shift in the ethical debate over globalization. No longer are working conditions in factories the sole concern of Western activists. Quite the contrary. Transnational activism is now likely to be much less important in determining labor standards in “Third World” countries than domestic activism. Given that increasing wealth means that there will be increasing resources to fund reform movements within developing countries, transnational activism is now more likely to be a simple exercise in paternalism. After all, if the manufacturing and the consumption of these goods are both taking place within one country, then the international dimension of ethical debate is now much less important.

(Let’s take a second to remind ourselves just how much richer individual Chinese are now than they were even 20 years ago:


This is the growth curve for a country that will soon be able to sustain its own ethical activism.)

So, enough with the ethical solipsism. It’s time for a more robust framework of ethical debate over globalization that takes into account the manifold complications of an incompletely developed world, one in which many Shanghainese are wealthier than many Londoners. To pretend that this is an issue of the “West” and the “Rest” is to dismiss the ethical agency (and perhaps responsibility) of developing-country consumers and governments.

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Pondering Social Media and Global Civil Society

Random connections between things: Today, I’m at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy giving a guest lecture on global advocacy networks, in a class on Statecraft taught by my colleague Dan Drezner, who has an article coming out in the next issue Brown Journal of World Affairs on whether or not the Internet and social media empowers civil society or instead simply offers states new tools of repression and governance.

Then, with all that freshly bobbing around in my mind, my doctoral student sent me this video, which speaks to the same question of whether social media primarily empowers citizens or states. I don’t have time to formulate an informed opinion on the issue because I’m off to lunch, but the video is very good, and I wonder what readers think about this question.

Iran: A nation of bloggers from Mr.Aaron on Vimeo.

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What if a Caliphate had a Seat at the UN?

So this past week I traveled to New York to conduct interviews with representatives of the Holy’s See’s Permanent Obverver Mission to the United Nations as part of my project into norm contestation among global civil society actors during multilateral treaty negotiations.

I found the papal diplomats to be informed, open-minded, friendly and intellectually engaged about human rights and human security. But they didn’t at all like the idea that I was interviewing them as part of a project on “non-state” influences on UN treaty-making.

They imagined I’d be interviewing other governments as well, when in fact they’re on a list otherwise filled by NGOs I’ll be talking to, since the focus of my project is on “global civil society.” (Though one source wittily pointed out that the NGO reps are the least civil actors out there, because they’re not trained as diplomats.)

It’s true the Holy See has the ostensible status of a state for the purposes of multilateral treaty negotiations. It sits on deliberations over UN treaty, declaration and resolution language, and though it doesn’t vote on these documents the Pope chooses whether or not to sign them. Plus the fact that the culture at the UN strives for consensus means any individual actor has a fair amount of influence as a veto player, so the Holy See is in a great position to stick it out until other delegates are worn down and tired of arguing to get language into treaties that reflects its principled positions.

My project isn’t about the Holy See’s status, but these dialogues with my informants got me thinking about the issue. There’s been a lot of criticism over whether the church should have this power relative to other non-state actors – other NGOs have the right to be in the building, and lobby delegates constantly in the hallways, but no other non-state actor has the right to actually sit at the table and negotiate with governments. One of the articles I read as I prepped for this trip suggested that either the Holy See should lose this status or, to be fair, other religions should be represented as well.

Interesting idea, eh? Suppose Saudi Arabia, for example, were to enter into a treaty with the city of Mecca similar to Italy’s treaty with what is now the Vatican City State, and Sunni Islam were to re-establish a caliphate centered in Mecca but territorially distinct from any Muslim majority state, with transnational moral authority over all Sunni Muslims, and then it sent diplomats throughout international society on the model of the Catholic church. Shia Islam could create a parallel Imamte perhaps centered on Tehran.

Would a dynamic like this make for a moderating political Islam, capable of integrating into international society and institutions as the Catholic Church has done, separate from the politics of Islamic governments, though sometimes allied with them; and able to represent Islamic perspectives on issues like the laws of war, family policy, human rights, etc, from outside the politics of the nation-state system? Would it constitute a space from within which the silent moderate Islamic majority could exercise a greater influence on political Islam? Or, would such an institution be vulnerable to capture by extremists and bode ill for a pluralistic international society?

Thoughts?

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