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Globalisation and what it should really mean


Why I’m writing thoughts on


Messages that are not just for Christmas


The suffering in Syria


The humanity of history




Thoughts on …


Globalisation and what it should really mean


Language evolves, and always has. The meaning of words and the way they are used can change over time. This is not something we usually pay much attention to and most of the time, in informal situations at least, we are happy to communicate with each other without worrying too much about linguistic precision. As long as we know more or less what we are intending to convey to others by the words we speak and what is being conveyed to us by the words we hear or read we can make conversation and read what someone has written. We use language to share our thoughts and ideas all the time and in everyday conversation we do not constantly ask people what they mean by such and such a word. Nor, when we are talking or reading, do we constantly use our smart phones to look up the precise meaning of words in online dictionaries.


Globalisation is the word I am going to focus on here. I think we all have a rough idea of what it means. It has become one of the buzzwords of the day. It is latched onto and bandied around to explain a lot of what is happening to our own and other economies. We more or less know what is implied when it is used even though it covers a wide range of activities such as trade, finance, share dealing, overseas investment, multi-national corporations and migration. Because it encompasses so many activities it lends itself to different aspects of the overall concept being emphasised according to the specific issues being discussed. For example, the effect of global trade is discussed when domestic industries are threatened by foreign competition and the effect of overseas investment comes under the spotlight when large businesses are taken over by foreign companies.


I don’t know what the word globalisation originally meant when it was first used but inevitably it was seized upon by economists eager to add another nugget of jargon to their repertoire.1 Having been in circulation for a number of decades it is since the Brexit debate in the UK and the emergence of Donald Trump in America that its widespread use has enabled it to enter public consciousness.  


Over the past year economists, politicians and the media have unwittingly conspired to elevate the significance of the phenomenon of globalisation into something approaching a force of nature. Increasingly, and for good reason, it has come to be seen by many as something harmful and destructive, a force with malevolent intent.


The harmful effects of globalisation are seen when jobs are lost to other parts of the world and the livelihoods and standards of living of employees in the countries which are losing them are threatened. There are harmful effects when investment decisions are made not in the interests of a particular country and its citizens but in the interests of shareholders in massive global corporations or of wealthy overseas owners. And harmful effects are evident in the appalling inequalities that exist in the world where workers in poorer countries are exploited and CEOs, directors and the managerial middle classes do very nicely thank you. The notion that wealth trickles down to those on low incomes is seriously diminished when the trickle is so slight as to be virtually invisible.


It is not surprising that the political and public discourse in many countries is focussing on the negative effects of globalisation more than the positive. Far too many people are not doing well because of it.


Unfortunately in concentrating on the negative aspects of globalisation we tend to overlook all that is good about it. There is a lot that is good, and which will continue to be good, and a lot more that needs to be good.


Trade is good because it allows people in different countries to have the benefits of products they are unable, or find difficult, to produce themselves. Obvious examples of these products are fruits that are grown in warmer climates, wines, commodities such as oil and minerals, and a wide range of manufactured goods that include vehicles, washing machines and clothing. As well as giving consumers the benefit of using and enjoying products from other countries trade allows home businesses to expand their markets, increase production and thereby create employment – clearly a positive aspect of globalisation. Add to this the fact that trade is good for competition which encourages product innovation and helps keep prices down, something that is of enduring interest to the consumer.


There is nothing new about trade. Societies in different parts of the world have traded with each other for thousands of years and from the Middle Ages onwards the process accelerated rapidly. Trade in itself is not something to be feared but it needs to be conducted within a framework that is fair and sensible. (see post on Free Trade and Protectionism)


Apart from trade there are two other key benefits of economic globalisation. A certain amount of foreign investment in a country is beneficial if it creates jobs for those who live there and a return for those who are investing. And migration is good because it enables skills to be shared and occupational shortages to be filled.


But it is beyond the confines of economics that the real meaning of globalisation can be seen and its positive impact becomes apparent. The concept embraces much, much more than trade, business and finance, essential as these are. It is much greater than the way economies are interconnected although one might be forgiven for not being aware of this given that the media concentrates almost exclusively on its economic effects. It is time we became fully aware of the way we are global citizens in so many other aspects of our lives.


What are these other aspects? Many of them we simply take for granted as being a part of modern life. They don’t even register as belonging to the discussion about globalisation and yet in one way or another they involve virtually everyone on the planet.


One of the most obvious aspects is that more and more of us are regularly visiting each other’s countries. The miraculous, comparatively recent, invention of the aeroplane has made this possible. Air travel today is cheap, quick and easy and is used to take people anywhere abroad for holidays or business. And, it is worth noting, that as we fly we can see the whole world below us which is surely the ultimate global experience.


When people arrive at their destinations they immediately communicate with those who live there. The chances are that for many of us travelling from the UK this will be in English but there will be a few – too few – of us who will be able to speak the language of the country we are visiting. In fairness, there will be some of us who try to use the odd word or phrase but that is usually our limit.


Communication with the inhabitants of other countries is not only face to face. Technology has enabled video links all over the globe to become commonplace and emailing, texting and social media are ubiquitous forms of social contact that connect people across oceans and continents. It is another modern miracle that someone can talk to a person thousands of miles away who might be in a big city but could equally be in an extremely remote location such as the Amazon jungle or the Sahara Desert.


It is technology and the internet which allows us to see instantly where we are going on our foreign holiday and discover interesting information about places we can visit. Our interest in geography lasts long after we study the subject at school. We are fascinated by documentaries about people in other countries as well as those about the physical features of the landscape like mountains, deserts and great rives. As for natural history – crocodiles, tigers and the rest – our interest is insatiable.


We also have an insatiable interest in news from other countries. Almost every news bulletin contains something about another country. Disasters and tragedies are particularly well covered but the lighter side of life gets a look in too.


And there is sport of course. Many of us watch sporting occasions taking place overseas – football and rugby world cups, the Olympics, tennis, cricket – and we enjoy the spectacle of nations competing with each other. Coverage of Premier League football reaches a massive global audience of about 3 billion people.


It is not just sport that is global. Culture in all its forms reaches across the world. People can view solo singers, rock bands and orchestras performing in any country and they can watch television programmes and films made anywhere. Those who participate in these cultural and sporting activities socialise with people from other countries and form friendships with them.


Knowledge and ideas also reach across the world. They have done for thousands of years. This is how people learned to farm, make stone and metal implements, use written language and acquire mathematical concepts including our number system. In more recent times it is how the industrial revolution developed in many countries and latterly how technology has spread. It is how advances in medicine, science and the humanities have been shared among people everywhere. Of crucial importance to the whole of humankind this global reach forms the basis of international research and academic collaboration in, I imagine, virtually every field of knowledge.

Amongst the biggest ideas that have been shared throughout the world is that of religion. There are large numbers of Christians and Muslims in many countries throughout the world and followers of other religions can be found in many different places.  


Whether or not they arise from religious beliefs the values that determine the way we live have become more global. Civilised ideas about human rights, social justice, individual liberty and democracy are increasingly widespread although sadly not yet universal. Similarly there is widespread acceptance of the idea that all human beings should be treated equally irrespective of their gender, ethnicity, disabilities or sexual orientation. There is further progress to be made in these areas but on the whole better attitudes are prevailing.


Our understanding of our global responsibilities is better too. We understand how our actions affect each other in different parts of the world and, with a strong element of self-interest involved, individual nations are now more willing to participate collectively in measures that prevent harm being caused to human beings or the planet itself. The international agreements to reduce carbon emissions and to eliminate the use of CFCs are two of the best known of these measures.


Our collective global responsibilities extend way beyond agreements to combat climate change. Individuals in many countries show their concern for people living elsewhere by giving money to charities working to alleviate poverty and improve healthcare. National governments have budgets for oversees aid and give commitments to take in refugees. Whenever there is a natural disaster of any kind an impressive amount of international assistance is immediately mobilised.


One final aspect of globalisation must be mentioned – the fact that we live in each other’s countries. Global migration of Homo sapiens out of Africa took place some 60,000 years ago and human beings have been migrating globally ever since. In modern times a large number of people migrated to America and Australia where they settled and made their homes. In the second half of the twentieth century and up to the present day there has been a significant amount of migration to Europe from various places in the world. Societies are not only greatly enriched socially by immigration there is a considerable benefit to their economies. Immigration and emigration are the truest expression of globalisation. – people of different nationalities living and working together in society, some of them marrying and having families so that at the family level at least nations become united.                                                   

 Looking at what the concept of globalisation embraces beyond the narrow confines of economics one can see the vastness of that which it covers. It touches all the aspects of our lives that have been mentioned and more can be added: the globalisation of cuisine – not just McDonald’s but Chinese, Indian, Italian or any sort; the globalisation of fashion or of leisure pursuits like shopping or computer games; the globalisation involved in international regulations in respect of air travel, marine transport and health and safety; and the globalisation implicit in international law.


The globalisation that exists in today’s world is, then, colossal. It is everywhere and affects nearly everyone in the world. We need to think about the concept in the terms outlined above and not simply in terms of interconnected economies. This is clearly a vast interconnection but the interconnection we have in other respects is even more vast. It is an amazing phenomenon, one that goes back as far as the great civilisations of the ancient world and one that will last for as long as our species survives.


But its true meaning needs to be acknowledged and what we have today needs to be nourished and built upon. The word has been hijacked by politicians, economists and business people and this has diverted our attention away from what it should really mean. We must certainly recognise, and act upon, what is harmful about economic globalisation but this harm must not be allowed to distract us from acknowledging that the true concept is overwhelmingly a force for good.


However, there is still a lot more that needs to be done. Globalisation must become a force for even more good in the world. Our ambition must be a global community in which no government is allowed to let its people live in poverty, suffer human rights abuses, engage in conflict, be exploited in the work they do, be short of food or water, or be without proper health care.


We must create a global community in the widest sense of the word community, not in a narrow economic sense, a community in which the well-being of everyone is the priority.


Our global community must include all nations whatever the size of their population, whatever their GDP and whatever their system of government.2 We can still preserve our national identities but we should allow these to sit within the framework of an even more globalised world than we have at present.


The globalisation I have described has brought people of different nations closer to each other. The world has shrunk. We are as close to people in other parts of the world as if they were living in the same street or village – hence the term global village. Now is the time for national governments to come together under the jurisdiction of a much strengthened United Nations to guarantee a good quality of life for everyone on the planet. If we reach a position where there are no national boundaries in the pursuit of this good quality of life we will witness the real meaning of globalisation. 



1    The word is not in the 1979 Concise Oxford Dictionary


2    Being a member of the EU is not being global – Europe is not the world. One of the reasons why I voted for Brexit was because I felt we needed to look outwards beyond Europe.   See Thoughts on the EU Referendum.




Thoughts on …


Why I’m writing thoughts on


Self-analysis. We all do it. Sometimes we do too much, sometimes too little. How accurate it is we can never be sure and nor can we be certain how useful it is. But on the whole I expect it is mostly beneficial. We do, after all need to try and understand our actions and behaviour and what lies behind them. Here’s hoping that the few thoughts that follow will assist my understanding rather than just be an exercise in self-justification or self-approval.  


So, some self-analysis on my reasons for writing this occasional column for my website. Ego massage was going to be my number one reason but I’ve changed my mind. This is the beauty of self-analysis – you can change your mind as often as you like. Ego massage has slipped to number two but since it’s been mentioned let’s look at it now. It’s a key driver in human behaviour. We all want to feel good about ourselves and one of the ways we can achieve this is through presenting ourselves to other people, being noticed by them and, even better, gaining their approval. We do this in our social interactions which include our face to face conversations with people and these days our online conversations on Facebook, Twitter and the like. My online social interaction, the web column, is a way of being noticed and, except for the fact that the process is in one direction only, is not too different from some of my more serious face to face conversations. Nor is it too different from expressing views or sharing pictures on Facebook and Twitter and it’s certainly no different from writing a letter to a newspaper


I have a feeling there’s quite a lot of ego massage involved in writing Thoughts On  but as trying to boost our self-esteem seems to be part of the human condition I’m not going to be too anxious about this.


If ego comes in at number two what then is the number one reason for writing my column? I think it’s because of another vital ingredient in the human condition – the need to be creative. Whether it is drawing, painting, designing, making things, composing music or writing, our species has an instinctive need to create. Many people’s creative impulses are often constrained through lack of time but when this becomes available they seek fulfilment by being creating something, whatever form it may take.  My creative impulse is to do what I’m doing now. It’s almost a compulsion. I need to organise and write down my thoughts on various aspects of life and in doing so I end up creating something.


I usually spend some time thinking about what I’m going to write. The thinking and the writing helps clarify my thoughts and understand the issues involved in whatever I am focussing on. I like to try and tease out and test the arguments for and against a point of view and then organise my ideas systematically. For me it’s important to attempt to reach my own conclusions about different issues and I find the process of thinking and writing  helpful in achieving this. It’s the third reason why I write Thoughts On and why I’m writing this now.


The fourth reason is that clarifying my thoughts for myself may in a small way help others do the same if they are able to read what I’ve written. I think it is essential that everyone should think seriously, in a rational and logical manner, about matters that are relevant to their individual lives, family lives and communal lives. We owe it to ourselves as intelligent human beings to think rationally, to form our own opinions, and to look at all sides of an argument or plan of action. We should listen to, and read, a wide range of opinions from different sources but we should aim to arrive at our own points of view – not points of view that simply echo those of our political leaders and not necessarily  points of view we have always held. If anything I write helps people clarify their thoughts or revisit their beliefs this seems a sound enough reason to communicate some ideas.    


If anything I write goes beyond this and helps persuade people to do something that will make the world a better place that is an even stronger reason for communicating some thoughts. It is reason number five for posting them on my website. It fulfils my need to believe that I may be making a minute, probably infinitesimal, contribution to shaping a better world.


Deeds, especially little deeds of kindness, will contribute rather more than words to making the world a better place. But, who knows, maybe my little deed of assembling a few words on various issues will contribute something, however small, to the well-being of someone, somewhere.


I would like to have ended with reason number five but I’m going to have to conclude my thoughts by lowering the tone a little. There is one final reason why I am writing these posts. It’s because of another great driver in our lives, one that is ever-present. Money, of course. Mammon, lucre, dosh. There’s nothing intrinsically sordid about it but acquiring  too much of it can often be viewed unfavourably. I don’t want or need a lot but I’d be happy to acquire a very tiny amount from selling my publications. If writing Thoughts On draws people to my website I live in hope they might just be tempted to buy something they see there.




Thoughts on …


Messages that are not just for Christmas


All over the globe billions of messages are being sent this Christmas. Happily billions of them are still sent using unbelievably old forms of technology  – folded pieces of card with pictures or designs on the front, placed inside envelopes and miraculously delivered to our homes. The cards have printed messages in them – variations on the theme of wishing people a merry Christmas and a happy New year – but astonishingly they also contain handwritten messages. Handwritten messages in 2016?  Surely not. Something’s gone wrong somewhere.   


Well, not really. Nothing’s gone wrong with the onward march of technology. It is firmly in control of certain aspects of our lives. In the great human endeavour of communicating with each other it insists that for the most part we convey our messages, whether written or visual, using email, texts or social media. Which means that in the next week or so billions of personal messages with seasonal content will be winging their way through the ether as well as being handwritten in cards.  


Added to these billions of personal messages are billions of commercial messages. Advertisements clamour for attention on mobile phones, tablets and computers and, as they have done for a lot longer, on television, in the print media and on hoardings. Their underlying message is simple: part with your cash, buy this product and something in your life, or somebody else’s, will be better. If this turns out to be true I guess I will reluctantly have to concede that it will not have been too bad a message for Christmas.   


Away from commercial and personal communications it’s the time of year when we hear messages from the great and the good. The Queen will have a Christmas message as will the prime minister. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s message will be contained in his sermon and the Pope’s will be delivered from the balcony of St Peter’s Basilica. We probably don’t remember much of the detail if we listen to, or read, their messages but by and large we usually approve of the sentiments expressed.


Those who attend church services will listen to messages about the meaning of the nativity and how Christianity came into existence because of the birth of Jesus. They will hear about joy, hope, peace, salvation and love, and they will be reminded of the life and teaching of Jesus. I hope that amongst the messages delivered from pulpits or elsewhere there will be those that challenge us to reject the frenzy and the materialism that have become so embedded in the culture of Christmas. I hope, too, there will be messages that help parents understand that buying children expensive presents is not the best way to shape their character or bring them happiness.


The message from the nativity story that I like the most is literally … a message: the message of the angels.  In a blaze of light that suddenly comes out of the dark a truly celestial message is spoken to fearful shepherds who have been watching over their flock of sheep. The context of the message gives the words an amazing power and authority.  I like those that are used in the authorised version of the Bible rather than those found in other translations:1


And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.


Luke Chapter 2 v 13-14


Peace on earth and good will toward men. What a fantastic message. It doesn’t matter whether it’s taken to mean an inner peace or the peace that is the absence of conflict. Let’s have both sorts.   


My seasonal message is that messages are not just for Christmas. We need joy and hope all year round. We need peace all year round. We need inner peace and should continually try to help others and ourselves find it. And we need the absence of conflict – in our personal lives and in the lives of communities and nations. It is up to all of us to avoid conflict when it threatens our individual relationships and to speak out against it when it afflicts the world in general.  


For peace to prevail we need love. I’m not sure that love came down at Christmas as the carol says. It has always been a basic human instinct and emotion.  But it does seem to me that the message of love was proclaimed as never before in the life and teaching of Jesus. For this reason, whatever our beliefs, we can surely all come together to commemorate the birth of this unique and special person – the person who, after all, told us that we must even love our enemies.


We need more love in the world and we need it every day of our lives. Let’s resolve to build up our store of it and use it all the time in our deeds, words and thoughts.


Have a joyful Christmas and a happy, loving New Year – the whole year and beyond.



1  Wikipedia has an interesting section about the translation.




Thoughts on …


The suffering in Syria


These are thoughts on something of which I have no direct experience: the terrible suffering caused by war. From the images I see of the war in Syria, and the news reports I listen to, I get a sense of the suffering and know objectively what it involves but this is totally different from the full horror I would feel if I lived in the middle of the fighting. If I saw my loved ones being killed or seriously injured I would feel, as we all would, the unbearable emotional and mental anguish of such an event; if I were injured myself I would experience both the mental and physical distress this would bring.


Watching footage of the war on television, or videos on YouTube, at least tells us what is happening to our fellow humans in another part of the world and we should use what we see to summon up as much empathy as we are able. We should do the same when we are confronted by the statistics relating to the conflict. They tell us that over a quarter of a million people have been killed, 13.5 million  are in need of humanitarian assistance, over 6 million are internally displaced and 4.8 million refugees are in neighbouring countries.1


The statistics are horrific but it is when we think about the horror at a personal level that we get closest to the pain and suffering. What is it like for a mother and father to see their child killed, or for someone to see her husband or father or sister killed? What is it like to endure the all-consuming torment of loss for days, weeks, months, years? What is it like for a teenage girl or a young man in his twenties to lose their sight or lose a limb?


And as well as all this emotional and mental turmoil is the ever-present anxiety of trying to protect one’s family from the shells and bombs, the constant worry of food and water shortages, the utter despair of having one’s home reduced to a pile of rubble and the distress associated with becoming a refugee.


What is taking place in Syria is a vision of Armageddon. It is unbelievably awful. Over many decades I have watched and listened to reports of war and bloodshed all over the globe but the extent of human misery in this conflict has, I think, distressed me more than any other.


I believe human beings are instinctively compassionate and will go out of their way to care for others when they need help. As individuals and as a nation we are also generous in donating money to good causes. We must use our generosity, our compassion and the empathy we posses from our personal experience of suffering to do as much as we can to help and support those whose lives have been torn apart.


What can we do? What can I do? Two things we can do immediately. One is that we can, and must, continue to donate to the charities which are providing help and relief on a daily basis in the country. Whether they are involved in medical treatment, or the supply of food or shelter, what they are doing is immense. They, and their workers on the ground, represent the human spirit at its best. The very least we can do is donate whatever we can afford to support them. We must not allow ourselves to believe that there is nothing we can do or that the situation is of less concern because it is in a far-off country which has brought the disaster upon itself. The Syrian people are our neighbours in the biblical sense and we must not walk by on the other side.


The second thing we can do immediately is to urge our politicians to do more. Without delay the government must increase the funding for humanitarian aid in the war zones and in refugee camps in adjacent countries. It should double from 20,000 to 40,000 the number of refugees it aims to resettle in this country over the next few years and it must allocate more money to local councils to enable this to happen.


Beyond urging our political leaders to provide more money for humanitarian aid and to double the number of refugees allowed into the country we should also urge them to  engage much more strenuously in efforts to bring about a ceasefire and a lasting settlement. Securing a ceasefire will be a daunting task especially now that government forces are gaining the upper hand in Aleppo. I would like to see our Prime Minister speak to Vladimir Putin personally to try and persuade him to recommence the existing ceasefire negotiations and would also like her to ask other heads of state to do the same. When a ceasefire is agreed it will then be necessary to flood Aleppo and other parts of Syria with a huge UN peacekeeping force.


I find it deeply depressing that humankind has not been able to eliminate the savagery of war from our modern way of life which otherwise is mostly civilised, caring and rational. The brutality of the present conflict should impel us towards finding peaceful solutions to conflicts of any sort and ensure that this becomes one of the most urgent priorities in our political thinking and policy making.


At an individual level we all need to exercise far greater control over the aggressive instincts that have shaped our behaviour for tens of thousands of years. We need to understand the various factors within our minds and bodies that lie behind physical aggression and be able to act calmly and rationally to overcome feelings of hostility or hatred. It is essential that schools throughout the world teach their pupils to understand their instincts and emotions, teach them not to be aggressive and convey to them both the horror and stupidity of war. 


Ultimately it is through educating people that we will be able to move towards a new world order in which all countries commit themselves to resolving conflicts peacefully and a global organisation is put in place to make sure this happens. This will clearly involve a loss of national sovereignty and the acceptance of global law but I see such an acceptance as a more important form of globalisation than the one that receives so much attention today.


For the moment it is up to all of us who have been deeply affected by the suffering in Syria to make our views known as widely as possible. Those who regularly use social media should use this method, others should write to newspapers, including the online editions. We can all email or write to our local member of parliament and to the prime minister and ask that much more is done to help the vast number of people who desperately need help.


Let us get giving and get writing. That’s what I’m about to do.2  



1   Dept for International Development, Syria Crisis Response Summary, 1 November 2016. Other estimates of the number of people killed are much higher than the DFID’s figures.


2   I have made a donation to UNHCR, not enough for sure, but something. I have written to my MP and the Prime Minister (see letters) and sent a letter to the Western Daily Press.




The piece below is taken from my edition of School Report written ten years ago. I think it is as relevant this Remembrance weekend as it was then.


Thoughts on …


The humanity of history 


The act of remembrance is an important event in the school calendar. Every pupil at this time of year, whatever their age, should take part in a solemn service and stand in silence to reflect on two of the great truths which the occasion brings to the fore. One of these is the courage of those who made the supreme sacrifice, and the other is the ugliness of war.


Thinking about the wars of the twentieth century reminds us of some of the best and worst features of humanity: courage, heroism and self-sacrifice on the one hand and suffering, brutality and disregard for life on the other. This disquieting contrast is an enduring theme of the story of our past which is not only evident in times of war but can be seen at any point in the flow of history. When our pupils look back at the past and observe how individuals and societies have behaved they see clearly what has been good and what has been bad. They see immense qualities of endurance, resourcefulness, compassion, loyalty and courage; they see advances in civilisation and great movements for democracy, equality and social reform. But, sadly, they see even more clearly, the dark side of history - the darkness of servitude, cruelty, poverty, disease, injustice and endless mass killing, all of which have blackened the story of humankind.


Most of us are understandably fascinated by the past and we relish its every detail. Indeed so extensive is our interest that history has now become a major leisure industry complete with numerous dramas and documentaries on television, epic films and popular heritage sites.


But it is important to remind ourselves that apart from this intrinsic interest history serves a greater purpose. It gives us a perspective on humanity in all its raw complexity and this is why it is an essential subject for schools to teach. If we encourage our pupils to reflect on the dark side of history and understand the suffering of those who have passed this way before us, we help them develop their humanity. And if we can do this for them as individuals then that, of course, will be good for humanity as a whole.  



                            Shrouds of the Somme on College Green, Bristol