Babel Revisited

by Martin Overby

In the 1950's, America's golden years, Walt Disney put forward a new theme in his amusement park that aptly sums up our fin de siecle moment in time. It's a Small World...after all! This entertainment pioneers' unrealized prophecy fuels the thoughts of national and business leaders the world over and goes by the name - globalisation. A threatening idea for some and opportunity to others, globalisation has many facets. The English language, capitalism, travel,universal telecommunications, all blend in making a turbulent mixture. America's multi-culturalism and economic dominance make it both the natural proponent and the one most likely to reap the greatest rewards.

How Far Can it Go?

Globalisation in the realm of commerce has great advantages. Examine the watch you're wearing; it probably came from either the Far East or Switzerland. Both places have specialized in watch production and produce for the world market. The savings in having one large factory instead of numerous smaller local ones is easy to see for small items like watches. Other products which require extensive hand labour, like clothing, manufacture are transferred to places where the labour rates are cheapest. Yet this transfer is a two edged sword - jobs are lost to foreign workers. The momentum of globalisation forces companies to seriously consider producing for the international market both for the savings available (and necessary) and the multiplication of the market size itself.

Nothing Comes Easy

There are global risks that accompany global business ventures. All the problems of remote production from raw materials shortages to finding good managers add spice to what is normally the mundane affair of manufacturing. Countries that are hard to do business in lose out to those which work to attract business by improving infrastructure or eliminating official corruption. A recent technological advance, the Internet is evolving into a global business tool. In the future, design, accounting, warehousing/distribution and production may all be remotely related to each other on a global scale. This creates potential difficulties for governments who like to tax businesses and people. The free movement of goods and services is important because the world is increasingly inter-dependent. Think of where your car's fuel comes from or your favorite cheese - things would certainly be different if you couldn't get these basics easily. If any deliberate action were to prevent global free trade - war would be a likely outcome.

One World -- One Language

The English language deserves a mention because it is the language of international business. While almost half of the world's 6500 languages face extinction within a generation, English usage grows so that a quarter of the world's population will employ the language by the year 2000. American popular culture from CNN to the X-Files follows the language to remote places bringing about an increasing global cultural homogeneity which MacDonalds hamburgers and Coke initiated only a generation ago. Some lament the lost charm of cities such as Paris or Rome as they conform to an international norm to attract travelers and business. Yet the standardization of verbal and electronic communication only strengthens the pace of change in the world market.

The Beginning or the End?

Ultimately, the world of business is based upon trust and understanding between people whether locally or globally. That trust is being tested to new extremes. Man has never seen a time like this and it's hard to conceive its outcome. The Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11)1 is interesting because it draws attention to what could happen when everyone understands each other. This story has come full circle and we have returned to the gates of Babel. Has the confusion of languages and remoteness of cultures kept us from each others' throats or delayed man's self-deification that is hinted at in the Babel story? Some speculate that this is the final chapter of man's sojourn on earth which is certain to have a dramatic ending. Walt Disney's 'Small World' may paradoxically be a mite too small and that would be an ending he'd find hard to write.

1. God purposely confused man's language and separated man to confound man's endeavours saying - "Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this [The Tower of Babel] is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them." Genesis 11:6

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