Talk Back on Globalization

Bill McKibben says last winter’s protest in Seattle were an attack on something even more pervasive than free trade: the conventional wisdom. How different is the current anti-globalization movement from the anti-war protests of 30 years ago?Read the article being discussed: “Muggles in the Ozone


Dan Raphael
Seattle, WA

I was very much a part of the 60s, and my active opposition to the war in Vietnam remains the greatest passion of my life. I have never cared so much about anything else. What I believe accounts for the passions of that time, and specifically of the antiwar movement, was the intersection of massive, institutionally-mandated violence on the one hand, and the sense of alternative possibilities on the other. The violent response to the civil rights movement domestically and the violence of the US government in Southeast Asia stood in daily contrast to the free universities, kitchens, theaters, communes, and political organizations widespread at the time. Additionally, the cultural messianism of the hippies, fueled partly by frequent ingestion of LSD and other drugs, and partly by music that celebrated alternative visions, served to further underline the contingency and transience of the existing order.

My personal experience of this was apocalyptic; it really seemed as though a new world were emerging from the bloody labor of the present. Anguish and hope were intertwined, and the personal threat of being drafted and sent off to war or jailed for resistance intensified these extremes.

Today is a far different reality. We are at a turning point potentially far more significant even than that embodied in the social upheavals of the 60s, because the issues coming to the fore are of the most fundamental sort: struggles over literal control of life, in the form of genetic coding and genetic engineering; and struggles against corporate control over the economic life of the world. However, the personal sense of threat and also of hope are not comparable to that felt by masses of people during the Vietnam war era. I say that not to downplay anyone’s feelings and certainly not to suggest casualness about committed involvement in ongoing social struggles, but as a recognition of the relative lack of perceived alternatives at the current time.

This is the key. While things were certainly bad during the 60s, there were many visible signs of institutional transition to a sought-after world. Today, there is nothing comparable — the gray edifice of things-as-they-are seems unbroken. What was once an opening has now become a co-opted cubicle in business as usual. Thus, the movements of our time are experienced with a full range of fear and determination, but without a visible sense of a way through the maze of corrupt institutions and interlocking obstacles that form the world order.

Finally, the cultural tone is different. The hippies are gone, widespread personal experimentation with drugs has a lower profile, and is certainly not celebrated in entertainment media, and nothing comparable has emerged to fill a role even vaguely similar to that of the hippies … a sort of cultural catchall for possibilities real and imaginary.

Bill McKibben responds:

Excellent points. When you argue againt biotech foods, are you really arguing for agriculture as we know it, for example? If so, there’s very little upside there — no vision of a new world. For me, one of the sweetest moments in Seattle came when a French farmer started handing out samples of his Roquefort in front of McDonald’s — it was a reminder of a different, more sensorily rich, world. But as the hippie possibilites have faded, I’m afraid that the thrill of anarchist anger may have risen — there was definitely more of a punk than a psychedelic note to the proceedings.

Still, cultures of resistance might create their own pleasures over time. We shall see.

Bill Haase

The difference is the Internet! The power structure is having difficulty controlling information flow.

  Bill McKibben responds:

Absolutely right. I’ve fretted about the Net for years, because I don’t want so many screens in my life. But it turns out that in this respect Orwell may have been wrong — the machines seem to give us at least as much power to look at “them” as vice versa.

Raymond Modiz

The anti-war movement was against war and the violation of human rights. The anti-trade movement is against peace and the exercise of human rights.

  Bill McKibben responds:

As I tried to make clear in my piece, I don’t think it’s an anti-trade movement as much as an anti-measuring-everything-by-money movement. But as for human rights, you might ask, say, Aung San Soo Kyi. it’s not, I grant you, a simple equation: opening economically can mean opening politically. But it can also fundamentally restrict a nation’s ability to chart its own destiny.