Fear of a Bland Planet

A lament for what is lost. I suspect each generation has similar regrets, reminding me of Woody Allen’s treatment of nostalgia in Midnight in Paris:

Darwin’s Arch, the magnificent rock formation near the Galápagos Islands, collapsed last month. It took millions of years of erosion, and then gravity finished the work instantly. It was witnessed by a handful of divers on a nearby ship, Galapagos Aggressor III. What’s left over is being renamed “the Pillars of Evolution.” Why not “Darwin’s pillars”? Probably because Darwin is problematic now. Far safer to name things after the pitiless laws of nature, which cause every poorly adapted beast to disappear from the face of the earth forever.

The world is always disappearing. And faster than you think. The British writer Peter Hitchens visited Bhutan some 16 or so years ago in the first years after it had been introduced to the television. The mountainous and mysterious little country that sits between China and India was ruled by a king who famously privileged “gross domestic happiness” and who banned blue jeans. Hitchens worried about the effect of television on this peaceful, quiet, and devout kingdom. His essay made me long to visit a nation that was culturally formed by Buddhism and whose mountainous geography was so imposing that the two giants of Eurasia had not dared to conquer it.

Hitchens was right to worry about the effects of television. Now, Bhutanese youth are crowding in the capital city, Thimphu. They have smartphones. The traditional culture of Bhutan — its sports, music, and folklore — competes directly with the Bollywood hits that are beamed in to their Motorola phones. Elements of land reform that other nations completed in the 19th century are still part of active debate. And yet, the young King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck just this year abolished the last laws criminalizing same-sex relations and was congratulated by a native identity lobby group, Queer Voices of Bhutan. Such a development was literally unthinkable three decades ago, and yet also inevitable once Facebook arrived.

Even still, something left over from Bhutan’s mannerly and courteous culture shines through. An article about these changes dictated to Vice by Tashi Tsheten, a gay Bhutanese man, noted that Bhutan has never had a single pride parade and doesn’t plan on it. Why? Because “parades are a form of activism where people go out on the streets and talk about policy and legal changes; that’s not something that we Bhutanese agree with.” A Buddhist nation can be queered, but they won’t march about like a bunch of drumming Presbyterians in Belfast. How long can that last? Social media is like a different kind of social physics. Perhaps there will be a police-shooting incident in Nevada someday, and within hours the youth of Bhutan will put Thimphu to flames like Minneapolis last summer.

Global capitalism talks about diversity and multiculturalism, but we are all modernizing toward conformity. Globalization destroys diversity. Sometimes it does so with a malign purpose, such as the Chinese Communist Party using every totalitarian means to extirpate the native Muslim cultures of Western China. But half the time it is hardly intended at all. It proceeds by our attraction to power and wealth. Bhutan’s Buddhist culture, if the lines of transmission are set the right way, will slowly be zapped away by the parts of India’s culture that are made for export. Much of that culture too will have been borrowed by America.

Our desire for better and more easeful lives, not only for ourselves but our children, optimizes for the selection of a few lingua franca. Half of all human languages still spoken today will cease to exist before the end of the next century. Most of them before they had the chance to develop a literature. There will be efforts to preserve and revitalize these treasure chests of human culture and civilization — but it’s like trying to make water gush from a sand dune where there was once a riverbank.

Source: Fear of a Bland Planet

Douglas Todd: COVID-19 and the de-globalization of Canada

Too early to tell to see whether business models will change:

Many young people from China who are in Canada on study visas are returning home because they’re feeling isolated and lonely and yearn to be with their families, says Burnaby immigration lawyer George Lee.

The departure from Canada of people on study, work and travel visas is just one of many signs that globalization, which promotes the free movement of goods and humans, is suffering a setback because of COVID-19, says Lee, who has frequently travelled to China to serve his clients.

Canada began turning around all international visitors to Canada at airports on Wednesday, and will close the U.S. border to non-essential travel on Saturday. Ottawa has also banned almost all people returning to Canada who are not citizens or permanent residents.Even though the Liberal government announced on March 12 it would again hike its quota of immigrants — to 341,000 new permanent residents this year, 351,000 next year and 361,000 in 2022 — the government was forced to announce three days later it was cancelling all citizenship ceremonies, citizenship tests and retests.Globalization has been a big factor shaping both Canada, where 22 per cent of the population, is foreign-born and cosmopolitan Metro Vancouver, where 45 per cent of the population is foreign-born. Since 87 per cent of Canada’s COVID-19 cases have occurred as a result of travel outside the country, Vancouver International Airport is now only one of four airports in Canada open to foreign travellers.

The efforts of Canada and other nations to stop the virus are creating barriers to trade and transnational migration.“In the midst of all this, the bizarre thing is that China is inviting its citizens to return home, saying it’s safer than being in Canada or the U.S.,” said Lee, referring to the country where the novel coronavirus began, and which has grown into the world’s second largest superpower in large part because of the movement of technology, capital and people.

While Lee says many people on temporary student, work and visitors’ visas are returning to their homelands, Vancouver immigration lawyer Sam Hyman adds that some others appear to be extending their stays in Canada, with the government allowing them to remain longer than their permits stipulate.Asked how he believes COVID-19 will affect Canada’s future migration policies, Hyman said “the last thing we want now is for anyone to politicize all this.”

But that’s what the supports of globalization, including the author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, fear is happening.

“The coronavirus outbreak has been a gift to nativist nationalists and protectionists, and it is likely to have a long-term impact on the free movement of people and goods,” author Philippe Legrain recently wrote in Foreign Policy, in a piece headlined The Coronavirus is Killing Globalization As We Know It.

Even though the disruption caused by drastic border and health-protection measures is expected to be temporary, the British political economist said the public is realizing there are risks to relying on global supply chains and that people are vulnerable to seemingly distant foreign threats. Some business leaders worry about what they’re calling de-globalization.“Many ostensibly liberal governments have slapped restrictions on travel and trade that are more draconian than ever (Donald) Trump dared impose at the height of his conflict with China last year,” said Legrain, who wrote the book, Open World, as a counter-argument to Canadian author Naomi Klein’s No Logo. “It provides fodder for nationalists who favour greater protectionism and immigration controls.”
In addition to tightening the borders to combat COVID-19, this month Ottawa made other moves affecting migration.It’s restricted temporary foreign workers entering the country, barred anyone who tests positive to COVID-19 and suspended the family-reunification program. Most contentiously for refugee advocates, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday suddenly changed tack and stopped accepting asylum seekers as they try to cross into Canada on foot. About 20 to 50 had been arriving each day and there had been confusion about whether they were going into quarantine.
At the same time Ottawa is giving would-be immigrants more time and leeway to obtain permanent resident status and has stopped deporting people.

All in all Hyman believes the government is “doing a good job in extremely trying circumstances” as it attempts to offset its welcoming migration policywith protecting the public’s health. Lee, the immigration lawyer, believes Canada is acting “generously” with migrants, adding no restrictions on permanent residents and relatively few measures hampering the country’s fast-growing cohort of 642,000 foreign students, 141,000 of whom come from China (43,000 are in B.C.)“I think Canada is very gentle in this regard. It’s not acting like China, which is just shutting everything down,” said Lee.

Only the next few weeks and months will reveal how COVID-19 plays out in changing Canada’s approach to the cross-border movement of people and to globalization itself, which up until recently has been the most far-reaching economic phenomenon the world has witnessed.

Source: Douglas Todd: COVID-19 and the de-globalization of Canada

It’s not a small world after all: Pico Iyer

Pico Iyer on the enduring human differences:

Of course, the gulfs and divisions that remain aren’t entirely a terrible thing. When people say the world is growing homogeneous, losing its savour and individuality, I wonder if they’ve been to Yemen or Ethiopia recently. If someone tells you that we’re all blending into a Disneyland whole, singing “It’s a small, small world,” take them across town to where Haitians and Somalis are struggling to get by. Covering six Olympic Games in 14 years reminded me that the family of man is about as united and harmonious as many another family, even when on its best behaviour.

In Isfahan, Iran, not long ago I found the stores filled with pirated copies of Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, and last year in North Korea I saw a local crane forward to ask two visiting workers from Apple how Tim Cook’s management style differed from that of his celebrated predecessor. In the mausoleum where Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il lie, embalmed, we saw the sleek MacBook that the latter was said to have been using when he was reportedly felled by a heart attack on a train (our two Appleites confirmed that this was the perfect model to have in 2011, when he died). It’s wonderful that we can share more and more, and enjoy the tastes of foreign cultures in our hometowns and online.

But pity the politician who assumes that will really bring him any closer to Beijing or Tehran. The only way we’ll survive the global neighbourhood is by assuming we know nothing and recalling that a “Yes” in Tokyo – or Mexico City – conveys what we would mean by a “No.” I love the way that we can experience Jamaica, Pakistan, Haiti, Vietnam in our classrooms and cities; I shudder at the notion that to see them is to think we understand them or can easily be one with them.

Some people worry that soon all of us will be speaking English; my deeper fear is that, even if we are, we’ll still be largely incomprehensible to one another.

It’s not a small world after all – The Globe and Mail.