Ours Are Emerging Times

The movement of planetary integration that five decades ago we began calling 'globalization' has recently entered a new phase of acceleration. Like many others in the West, Americans have long known the day would come when they would have to treat the Chinese as equals. What they have had to come to grips with in the past five years is that this would not wait until 2040 or 2050 to happen -- the day has come and gone. And the Chinese are not just their equals. They have become their bankers -- with the unprecedented level of interdependency that entails.

Why are we collectively failing to grasp the extent of this paradigm shift and its far-reaching consequences?

First of all, because the West has a de facto monopoly on the narrative of globalization. We talk of an increasingly multipolar world, use acronyms (BRICs, CIVETS), concepts (emerging, multipolar), regions (Asia, Latin America) or countries, as if the simple fact of uttering these words allowed us to truly grasp the magnitude and permanent nature of the changes at hand.

This quasi-monopoly has led us to think that what is happening at the moment is a crisis -- one that the West will emerge from still in the global driver's seat. Is it really?

For two-thirds of humanity today, the series of events the West has been referring to as a "crisis" since 2007 simply aren't so. At worst, economic growth is slowing -- but still to double the average Western rate. The West has also dominated the global conversation more broadly, its leaders even sometimes equating the financial crisis with a "crisis of globalization".

This too is false -- and Eurocentric.

Trade and investment between Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Far East has risen in many connections by over 1000 percent in the past decade (yes, one thousand percent). Globalization simply does not cease to exist as a result of its no longer being driven by America and Europe.

The second major issue with our current global narrative is that we have kept it largely faceless and nameless. We still live in a world where on the one hand there is Bill Gates and Angela Merkel, Barack Obama and Madonna, Oprah Winfrey and David Cameron, and on the other "the Chinese," "the Indians" and "the Brazilians." The new actors of globalization aren't concepts or acronyms; they aren't even regions or countries. They are individual women and men, and it is time we became acquainted with them.

Chinese, India, Arab, African billionaires are also generous philanthropists in their countries and worldwide, even if they don't sign Bill Gates' "Giving Pledge" or make the front page of the New York Times.

Beyond the daily impact on our world, a rebalancing act of planetary magnitude is in the works. For the first time in five centuries, sixty-something white men from Western Europe and North America are no longer calling all the shots across the globe. The balance is shifting: it takes only a few minutes in any major Asian airport to understand that the exclusive invitation-only party is over for the West.

And takes just a few more minutes to understand this is only fair.

The third issue has to do with the crisis of the modern democratic process in a globalized age. Churchill once wrote that democracy was the worst political system with the exception of every other form of government. For most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the issue of democracy was about people's self-determination and their right to live in a democratic state. While Francis Fukuyama's The End of History has proved its limits, a whole new tension is emerging from the fundamental limitations of democratic governance. We are asking governments elected within the confines of nation-states for four or five years at a time to adequately confront issues (global warming, fishery depletion, energy supplies, water and food shortages) which span the entire planet and require decades to adequately confront.

Western countries, particularly the United States, have abdicated the role of consistent leader on these issues while often undermining the international bodies that would be the best stewards of the process.

In the meantime, electorates have not surprisingly begun to question whether their short-sighted governments should be entrusted with their own wealth and future, let alone that of the world.

So how to confront these new realities?

1. Continue to break the Western, quasi monopoly on the global narrative. For the world's sake but also the West's, the story of our planet needs to be decentralized, which requires decentralizing information-gathering and storytelling. Point-to-point journalism means an increasingly holistic understanding of our world. Let us access more articles about Iran coming from Austria or India. Give us more articles about mining in Mongolia by experts from Brazil. Learn about building advanced infrastructure from the Turks. We need to enrich the current global narrative and give voice to the many who have been shut out of traditional media structures.

2. Use all tools at our disposal to get acquainted with the people who are newly-empowered. Where there aren't tools, let us build them and use all the platforms available to connect and learn about the real lives of billions once on the periphery of Western empires and now becoming central to globalization.

3. Use new transnational issue driven networks to advance the debate on global issues rather than waiting for the agenda to come from Washington or Beijing. Whether UNITAID or the Clinton Global Initiative, new virtual and creative tools now allow for global participation in fundraising and development spending.

Our global narrative is stale, and international dynamics are shifting more rapidly than most in the West recognize. Many of the countries we refer to as "emerging" no longer are -- they are well out of the cocoon. Information structures are evolving, traditional hierarchies collapsing. This needs to happen faster: new times, not just countries, are emerging.