A History of globalisation, by Eric Koo Peng Kuan

A Chinese saying states that, “One person’s plans are limited, but many people’s thoughts may do wonders.” A bit far fetched, true, and one can actually argue against such a statement. But essentially, the saying meant that many ideas are better than only one. And this point is proven by man’s perpetual habits to hold meetings in a group to trash things out whenever he cannot decide on an important issue. Thus, in our modern, pragmatic society, we are concerned with adopting the proven method that works best in any issue.

This concept is not hard to understand. But previously, a flowering of ideas and philosophies had led to the instability of society and the political control of a ruling class may be threatened dangerously. Thus, leaders in the past had realized the importance of keeping the masses ignorant and in line with their own trains of thought. Twice in Chinese history, rulers have acted to destroy deviant thoughts from what is considered politically acceptable, the first was in the 4th century B.C. when the First Emperor of Chin destroyed scholarly works of antiquity and killed thousands of scholars. The second was in more recent times, when Chairman Mao Tse Tung declared an abrupt end when his policies were criticized during the “Hundred Flowers bloom together” campaign during the 1950s.

In the West too, we find the ruling classes in European society reluctant to empower the masses with knowledge during the feudal age. The clergy and nobility preferred to keep the serfs in their place through time honoured traditions and practices, sometimes even bordering on absurd superstitions. Only with the great European revival of civilization, the Renaissance period during the 15th to 17th centuries, did new thoughts and philosophies come into the forefront of society. New ideas and thoughts led to research and curiosity of the sciences, and this led in turn to new technological inventions which gradually culminated into sparking the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.

The concept of encouraging new ideas persisted into the 20th century, but again, knowledge is subordinated towards the pursuit of state agendas and purposes. The rise of totalitarian regimes, such as that of fascist or communist dictatorships, however, hoard knowledge as their leaderships understand fully well the disastrous consequences if masses are not kept docile and ignorant. The defeat of fascist regimes in World War Two in 1945, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, proved that both styles of government were considered defunct and outmoded, impedance to economic growth and societal progression.

Nevertheless, there are still surviving communist regimes in the world and also fascist style dictatorships in Third World countries in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America, albeit watered down versions of course.
The invention of the Internet, and the improvement of cell-phone technology changed all that. Even if modern state governments desired to keep their societies enclosed and ignorant, the existence of a thriving free economic system influenced by liberal capitalism, makes such a feat almost impossible. For one, media coverage is now posted over the Internet, and people can decide for themselves the truth of the matter by reading information yielded by various sources. Thus, globalization directly encourages a rapid flow of ideas and makes change inevitable. No longer may a state allowing widespread Internet access to the population be able to block information so easily. Similarly at the social level, it is hard to imagine the world going back to the days without the Internet or the cell-phone.

1. The main gist of this argument can be found in this book. See Ernest Volkman, Science goes to War – The search for the ultimate weapon from Greek Fire to Star Wars (United States of America: John Wiley & Sons, 2002)

The writer has a M.Sc in Strategic Studies and is a member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), London. He currently writes commentaries and analysis articles on international affairs, security issues and terrorism for newspapers. The views expressed here are his own and he can be reached at erickoopk@yahoo.com

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