“Development and Social Change” by P. McMichael

Nowadays, it became a commonplace practice, on the part of many political scientists, to discuss the notion of linearly projected social, cultural, economic and scientific progress, which is now being closely associated with the concept of Globalization, as utterly controversial. In its turn, this can be explained by the fact that, as some of these scientists note, there are a number of counter-beneficial side effects to this progress, such as the destruction of traditional societies, the emergence of previously unknown environmental hazards and the deterioration of people’s sense of cultural identity. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that the contemporary Globalization-related discourse revolves around the question of whether the benefits of world becoming ‘flat’, such as the substantially improved standards of people’s living, the expansion of world’s markets and the dramatically increased efficiency of manufacturing processes, overweight earlier mentioned side effects.

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In his book, McMichael (2004, p. xIii) outlines this discourse’s dilemma with a perfect clarity ‘Do we continue expanding industry and wealth indefinitely/ or do we find a way that human communities… can recover social inti­macy, spiritual coherence, healthy environments, and sustainable mate­rial practices?’. Nevertheless, there are good reasons to believe that the arguments directed against Globalization, and ultimately against the very notion of development/progress, are nothing but the byproduct of their advocates’ intellectual arrogance. In this paper, I will aim to explore the validity of an above suggestion at length, while exposing McMichael’s idea that ‘the development is not just a goal – it is a method of rule’, as fully legitimate. The reason for this is simple – as it will be shown later, this idea is being fully consistent with the most fundamental laws of nature, which serve as the foremost driving force behind the process of Globalization.

When it comes to discussing the notion of development, in regards to human societies, it is important to understand that this notion is being essentially synonymous to the notion of evolution. In its turn, the notion of evolution came to being as a result of scientists having grasped what accounts for the very essence of universe’s workings, concerned with the continuous process of non-organic and organic matter increasing the extent of its complexity. Nowadays, we are aware that initially, universe’s matter accounted for only the isotopes of hydrogen and helium (García-Bellido 1999). Nevertheless, as time went on, the elementary particles of hydrogen and helium never ceased undergoing a qualitative transformation, which in turn resulted in the creation of a more complex blocks of matter. As of today, there are 118 chemical elements listed in Mendeleev’s periodic table.

The same can be said about the evolution of organic matter. After all, even today’s school children are being fully aware of the fact that the contemporary life-forms have evolved out of utterly primitive organisms (Stewart 2003). Just about anywhere we look, we get to see a variety of different emanations of the process of organic and non-organic physical matter growing ever more complex. Therefore, it will only be logical, on our part, to assume that the dynamics within human societies are also being fully reflective of the most fundamental laws of nature, concerned with enabling a physical reality to attain ever-higher levels of complexity. The reason for this is simple – given the fact that human societies are essentially material (they consist of people endowed with material bodies), the qualitative dynamics within these societies never cease being fully subjected to the most basic physical laws. What it means is that Globalization, which is essentially a process of human civilization attaining qualitatively new levels of complexity, has been dialectically predetermined. This is exactly the reason why, the claims that Globalization is ‘immoral’ and that people should be actively resisting it, can be best referred to as utterly counter-productive. After all, there has been not even a single instance in the history of people having benefited from trying to violate the objective laws of nature.

Nevertheless, given the fact that, as it was mentioned earlier, the continuous development of human societies appears to be predetermined by the very laws of nature (which implies the notion of ‘development’ being synonymous the notion of ‘improvement’), why it is not only that many ordinary people continue to refer to this process in strongly negative terms, but many well-established social and political scientists, as well? The answer to this question can be formulated as follows: the majority of those who oppose development/Globalization tend to discuss the subject matter from conceptually fallacious perspectives. For example, Western countries’ continuous socio-economic development, which is assumed to be the major driving force behind Globalization, is being often referred to as the actual reason why people in so-called ‘developing’ countries continue to exist in the state of an extreme poverty (James 1997).

According to the advocates of such an idea, the economic sustainability of Western societies continues to depend upon an exploitation of natural resources from the Third World countries. Therefore, the process of Globalization naturally results in such exploitation assuming rather grotesque forms. After all, one of Globalization’s foremost objectives is an eventual elimination of national borders on world’s map ‘The global economy ignores barriers… if they are not removed, they cause distortion. The traditional centralized nation-state… is ill equipped to play a meaningful role on the global stage” (Ohmae 2005, p. IV). In other words, Globalization facilitates the process of underdeveloped nations’ natural resources being mercilessly exploited by Western transnational corporations, because it is so much easier for these corporations to operate in countries with ‘weakened’ national borders (Udombana 2000).

The careful examination of such a claim, however, exposes its conceptual inconsistency. The reason for this is quite apparent – the process of Western countries’ continuous socio-economic and technological development results in these countries’ economies growing progressively less dependent on natural recourses. Nowadays, people’s endowment with an intellect has the ability to replace natural resources, in a literal sense of this word. The validity of this statement can be best illustrated in regards to the ‘evolution’ of Atlantic telephone cable. Initially, 80% of the original Atlantic cable’s self-cost accounted for cooper. The self-cost of recently laid fiber-optical Atlantic cable, however, amounted to only 10%. Yet; whereas, the old cable could only sustain 128 parallel calls, the fiber-optical one can sustain 750.000 parallel calls (Hoag 2006). In the near future, it is namely technology-intensive sectors of world’s economy, which will be able to maintain their competitive edge. Therefore, the fact that many citizens in Western countries continue to experience a sensation of guilt, because of what they believe amount to the ‘immoral’ side effects of progress-inducing Globalization, in regards to the Third World countries, does not make much of a sense, whatsoever. As time goes on, Western economies require less and less natural resources, in order to remain fully sustainable (Quinn 1992).

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Another, commonly used argument in defense of an idea that the very notion of socio-economic and technological development/progress emanates ‘evilness’, is being concerned with an assumption that the process of human civilization remaining on the course of progress necessarily results in producing a number of different environmental hazards (Hudson 2009). In order to substantiate the soundness of their suggestion that the process of human civilization continuing to become ever more technologically advanced, results in producing a heavy impact on the environment, the critics of Globalization usually point out to the phenomenon of a Global Warming, which they believe was triggered by humanity’s most recent industrial activities.

According to Huppert and Sparks (2006, p. 1878) ‘Consensus is definitely emerging that the major causes of increasing natural catastrophes are related to global warming – the direct consequence of industrialization’. Such suggestion, however, does not hold much water. After all, the eruption of one average volcano emits as much carbon monoxide into the atmosphere as do all world’s power plants together, over the period of hundreds of years (McCright & Dunlap 2000). Apparently, while criticizing the very concept of development/progress, on an account of its presumed ‘environmental unfriendliness’, the opponents of Globalization remain unaware of a simple fact that, if anything, it is specifically the process of human societies growing increasing advanced, in technological sense of this words, which helps to preserve natural environment more than anything else does.

For example, by the end of 18th century, there were virtually no forests left in Europe, because almost all the trees had been cut down to build ships and to be used as a firewood (Hoffmann 1996). Before the beginning of Industrial Revolution, the absence of sewers in Europe’s even largest cities was causing these cities’ residents to dump their biological waste onto the streets and into the rivers. This was exactly the reason why, before Britain started to become an industrialized country, the windows in British Parliament’s building had to be closed on permanent basis – at that time; Thames River itself was serving as London’s only sewer (Cordulack 2003). Industrialization, fueled by a newly discovered natural resource coal, however, made it possible to improve the environmental situation in Europe within a matter of comparatively short period of time.

Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that even today, the rate of just about any country’s environmental advancement relates to the rate of such country’s technological advancement in geometrical progression (Keyfitz 1996). Given the fact that the functioning of an advanced countries’ economies is being consistent with the foremost principles of economic liberalism, there is also nothing particularly odd about the fact that it is specifically the members of Western (developed) societies that can afford the luxury of enjoying a clean environment. As it was noted by Eiras and Schaeffer (2001, p. 4) ‘In countries with an open economy, the average environmental sustainability score is more than 30 percent higher than the scores of countries with moderately open economies, and almost twice as high as those of countries with closed economies’. It is needless to mention, of course, that by referring to ‘open economies’, Eiras and Schaeffer mean ‘globalized economies’.

What has been said earlier also exposes the conceptual fallaciousness of a suggestions that development necessarily leads to the depletion of natural resources, and consequently – to the end of a civilization, as we know it. This simply could not be the case, because development leads towards the discovery of qualitatively new natural resources (Sigfusson 2007). For example, it was due to the depletion of Europe’s forests by the end 18th century that the introduction of coal was made possible. After that, humanity switched to oil, as the primary source of energy. Once, world’s oil deposits will be depleted, it will necessarily prompt scientists to figure out a practical way for turning hydrogen into yet another abundant source of energy. Apparently, energy crises serve the purpose of providing an additional momentum to the pace of civilizational progress (Ilmakunnas & Torma 1994).

The suggestion that there can be no other but strongly beneficial effects to the concept of development is being also contested from another perspective. As practice indicates, many people believe that, despite the fact that the process of Globalization does result in the continuous improvement of living standards in just about every country on Earth, it nevertheless undermines the sense of people’s cultural identity. According to Sánchez (2010, p. 71) ‘(due to Globalization) we are facing both a breakdown and a disarticulation of institutional and symbolic mediations from the past… that are having a strong impact on identities’. In its turn, this explains why, during the course of recent years, there has been an increase to the number of anti-Globalist demonstrations, taking place throughout the world.

Apparently, there is a certain rationale to Lang and Hines’ (1993, p. 84) suggestion that ‘Today, more than ever; universalism is under siege. To be sure, the victori­ous march of science, state and market has not come to a stop, but the enthusiasm of the onlookers is flagging’. Nevertheless, there is very little rationale to anti-Globalists’ intention to actively resist development/progress as such that, in their view, results in undermining people’s cultural identity. The reason for this is simple – an individual’s sense of cultural/national self-identity is only one among many emanations of his or her existential identity per se. This is why, even though Globalization does diminish the acuteness of people’s identity-related cultural anxieties, it simultaneously provides them with an opportunity to attain a qualitatively new ‘post-industrial’ identity. Let me elaborate on this idea at length.

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There can be few doubts as to the fact that the process of world becoming ‘flat’ does result in the unification of social and cultural conventions (Nuyen 2003). In fact, Globalization’s ultimate slogan may well be – one planet, one currency, one country, one language. This is because the ultimate objective of a continuous socio-economic and scientific development, which has been defining the qualitative subtleties of human civilization since the dawn of times, is to allow people to enjoy as much comfort as possible. In other words – the stronger is the extent of cultural, social or technological unification in a particular society, the easier it is for its members to enjoy their lives to the fullest, as standardization fosters the pace of a technological progress.

This is exactly the reason why there is a negative correlation between the quality of living standards in every particular country and the intensity of citizens’ cultural anxieties. As it was noted by Dobbelaere (2004, p. 167) ‘Examining the impact of CNP per capita, as a context vari­able, on (citizens’) cultural commitment for the eleven European countries… we found a significant and negative relationship’. To put it plainly – the better is the quality of people’s life, the less they are being concerned with exploring their cultural affiliation/religiosity. The example of Norway, Sweden and Denmark, as countries that feature world’s highest standards of living, is being quite illustrative in this respect – the overwhelming majority of these countries’ citizens is non-religious and non-nationalistically minded (Verweij, Ester & Nauta 1997). This also explains why it is namely in the countries of a Third World, where citizens appear to be utterly concerned with the danger of losing their cultural/religious identity, due to Globalization. Apparently, their strongly defined sense of such an identity is nothing but a psychological extrapolation of their inability to enjoy Western standards of living – pure and simple (Kinnvall 2004).

What it means is that, contrary to what people that oppose Globalization believe, the very concept of ‘identity’ is something that is being in the state of a constant transition, with such state of affairs having been dialectically predetermined by the laws of history. For example, prior to French Revolution of 1792, Europeans never even thought of their identity in terms of a ‘nation’ but solely in terms of what happened to be their class and religious affiliation (Kissane & Sitter 2010). The consequential rise of bourgeoisie, as a new social class, established an objective precondition for Europeans to think of their identity in terms of a ‘nation’, which explains why 19th-20th centuries are being commonly referred to as the ‘centuries of nationalism’. Nowadays, the qualitative essence of an exponential socio-economic and scientific progress/development, closely related to the concept of Globalization, exposes the very term ‘nation’ as largely outdated. This, however, does not mean that Globalization deprives people of their sense of self-identity. What it does, is that it transforms their sense of self-identity from being concerned with the concept of nation to being concerned with the concept of intellect.

On the one hand, Globalization does encourage people to wear the same clothes, to watch the same movies and to consume the same food. On the other hand, however, it provides them with the countless new opportunities to explore their sense of self-identity by affiliating themselves with newly emerged professional careers, by being able to travel the world without having to apply for visas, and by remaining instantaneously aware of political, economic and social developments in even most distant parts of the world (Internet). The unification/standardization of system’s (such as society) external emanations, in conjunction with the simultaneous increase of the extent of such system’s internal complexity, is what Globalization (development) is all about.

Therefore, the argumentation of anti-Globalists as to the fact that Globalization destroys what they refer to as ‘cultural diversity’, can be best defined as laughable. Individual’s cultural uniqueness is nothing but an external skin-deep peel, which has very little to do with the actual essence of his or her existential identity. For example, as recent back as four hundred years ago, Russians used to be known as religiously minded barbarians, who used to celebrate their cultural uniqueness by wearing long flea-ridden beards. However, after having opened themselves to the world and after having chosen in favor of a secular and essentially cosmopolitan living (beards had to be shaven off), Russians eventually attained an opportunity to celebrate their cultural uniqueness by flying space rockets and by sailing nuclear submarines (Lewitter 1985).

The final criticism of Globalization, as an ‘identity-destroying’ process, is being concerned with what anti-Globalists perceive as Globalization’s ‘euro-centrism’. According to the critics, it is not only that Globalization undermines the inner integrity of indigenous societies, but that it results in world’s ‘westernization’ – just as it used to be the case during the course of a colonial era ‘Dress code which is getting globalized is overwhelmingly the Western dress code… When we examine the languages which have been globalized, they are disproportionately European – especially English and French’ (Mazrui 1999, p. 100). Nevertheless, there is no intentional ‘euro-centric’ maliciousness to Globalization’s cultural self-actualization. Globalization does not simply deny any value to a particular culture’s material manifestations, but singles out the manifestations that are being worthy to become the part of a global post-industrial reality. For example; whereas, even as recent back as hundred years ago, pizza used to be considered an exclusively Italian food, it now attained a truly international popularity, which is why it nowadays can be bought just about anywhere in the world. The same can be said just about any other ethnic food that tastes good, such as Chinese chow mein, Indian curry, German bratwursts, etc.

At the same time, while helping to promote a ‘useful’ manifestations of people’s cultural uniqueness, Globalization denies the validity to those that, even though formally relate to the concept of culture, are being much more affiliated with the concept of primeval savagery. We need to understand that, given the fact that, as it was mentioned earlier, Globalization exposes the very concept of a ‘nationhood’ as obsolete, it is no longer appropriate dividing people alongside of what happened to be the specifics of their racial, national or cultural affiliation. Nowadays, it makes so much more sense referring to people as the agents of civilization, on the one hand, and as intellectually underdeveloped savages, on the other. The realities of today’s living justify the soundness of an earlier suggestion, because as of today, there are essentially two types of human societies, which can be generally defined as Western (urban) and Traditional (rural).

The representatives of Western highly urbanized societies are being known for their intellectual open-mindedness, their secularized attitudes and most importantly – for their strongly defined sense of individualism. The representatives of Traditional (rural) societies, on the other hand, are known for their strong sense of ritualistic religiosity, their tribal intolerance and their collectivist attitudes. Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that it is namely the ‘traditionalists’, who seem to be particularly opposed to Globalization as something that threatens their ‘culture’ – Globalization exposes traditionalist cultures, heavily imbedded in ritualistic spirituality, as simply an extrapolation of its affiliates’ cognitive atavism. Apparently, these people’s traditionalistic-mindedness is nothing but the byproduct of their subconscious strive to ‘blend’ with the environment, as the ultimate mean of ensuring own physical survival – a clearly animalistic psychological trait. In its turn, this again emphasizes the objectiveness of Globalization as a process that simply cannot be stopped.

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I believe that the earlier deployed line of argumentation, in defense of McMichael’s suggestion that ‘the development is not just a goal – it is a method of rule’, fully supports the legitimacy of paper’s initial thesis. Given the fact that the concept of development correlates with the foremost principle of evolution (the continually increased complexity of physical reality’s manifestations), there can be no spatial limits to how this concept extrapolates itself. In other words – development is indeed a method of rule, because it is only by remaining in the state of continuous development/transformation, that a particular society is able to ensure its competitiveness.


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