A Predictable Rebellion

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
11 April, 2018
Editorial: 192
Fecha de publicación original: 7 diciembre, 1999

Let me talk about what is mine; don’t make me listen to anything else

The World Trade Organisations’ (WTO) ministerial summit in Seattle has come to an end and as the ashes of protest settle all sorts of unforeseen analyses will now arise. The rich countries have been stretching things to the limit and, with the aid of their sycophants, they felt that the elasticity of their privileges had no bounds. Endless talk over the last few years about globalisation, one world, digital rifts and other chit chat of a superficiality bordering on pure cynicism, has managed to put up a smokescreen so dense that we have not been able to see either the wood or the trees. Accustomed as we are to listening just to the sound of our own voices (see editorial “Beware, the South is gettting nearer”), we still find it difficult to take on board the fact that information and knowledge are no longer just the domain of those with the best libraries and research centres on the planet. Power, like hot butter, is progressively spreading throughout the networks in ever thinner, more extended, more diluted layers, and more difficult to detect if viewed from a traditional perspective.

The Seattle summit encapsulated these contradictions in an apparent ceremony of confusion. As Quim Gil so correctly put it in an interesting contribution he made in en.medi@, those against globalisation organised their protest via cell phone networks and the Internet, which is a bit like going to buy wool and coming away with a whole flock of sheep. Anecdotes of this kind, so much loved by the media, mask the fact that what happened in Seattle is just one more step on the ladder towards a situation where real globalisation is playing a determining role. A globalisation articulated by telecommunications networks, satellites and technological environments puts one unavoidable item on the agenda: the world is one and getting smaller and closer all the time and it is governed by a bunch of politicians, financiers and transnationals only just capable of perceiving that the foundations of their power are shaking beneath their feet.

The Seattle conference was doomed to be a fiasco a very long time before it happened and, since we have mentioned globalisation, we can even put a date on it (arbitrary, as dates always are) – 1959, when the first Sputnik was launched or, an even more significant one, in the seventies and beginning of the eighties. Satellites launched during those years, many equipped with remote sensors and the dense telecommunications networks constructed as a direct result of them, provided a privileged vantage point from which humanity could look down on its own planet as from a street balcony for the first time. And apart from the beautiful images of the blue planet “in its setting” as seen from the moon, or other equally stunning cosmic landscapes, the detailed picture we got of our home was not exactly an idyllic one. In less than five years, some of the worst predictions made by scientists and ecologists have come true, along with other unexpected surprises. In quick succession over just a few years, came climate change, global deforestation, desertification, cross-border pollution, the hole in the ozone layer, constant loss of biodiversity, the impact of poverty on the physical environment and global environmental degradation.

With almost no time to digest the “new photograph”, along came a kind of globalisation about which no theories had been written (we only just had a vague metaphor for a “global village” based, above all, on TV) which forced us to suddenly face up to the inevitable fact that we were all in this mess together and that we did not have the right tools to deal with it. Confronted with these global challenges, so closely interconnected on a planetary scale, political systems and the international community’s social, political and economic relationships of the time did not exactly provide us with the best means to deal with them. While globalisation was demonstrating the irrefutable truth that our mutual interdependence was going to become the new key factor for coexistence, a small group of countries, led by the USA, did all they could to convince us that nothing had changed, that the same rules still applied and that they were enough, more than enough, to overcome any new obstacles.

And so they went on while an empire vanished unexpectedly before their eyes, more than one wall came down, the Internet appeared and each new image presented by scientists showed the accelerating degradation of the planet. Why change? After all, the 20% of the population they represented was still happily consuming 80% of the earth’s total resources and their media made sure that the rest of the world’s population never got the opportunity to express themselves. More important, this happened not only on a media level, but also at successive world conferences attempting to construct some kind of framework to deal with the wide range of challenges posed by development and the environment: international trade, transfer of technology, imbalances in the gases affecting the ozone layer, climate change, deforestation, etc. At all these summits, the above-mentioned group of countries systematically imposed their point of view on the rest via economic blackmail, political pressure and the mafia-like threat of human rights violations. But the machinery was getting more and more rusty all the time.

Warnings were issued at all of these conferences without exception. For those that might have forgotten, we only have to look back at the last few important conferences. Kyoto (December1997) was a milestone in the sense that the agreement reached at this summit on climate change was no more than a last minute make-up job between the industrialised nations. None of the developing nations felt bound by this almost apocryphal document, hurriedly tacked together in the last hours of the last day and whose only objective was to “have something to give to the media”, as some organisers unashamedly admitted. Alarm bells should have gone off all over the planet in February this year, when the Biosecurity conference was held in Cartagena de las Indias (Colombia), as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity. For the first time, a conference of this nature closed without reaching any agreement at all and with all concerned up against one another. Developing countries refused USA proposals for legalising the plundering of their biological resources anywhere in the world and imposing their criteria for the commercialisation of genetically modified organisms. Seattle conference organisers should have girded their loins.

Now we can expect loads of ideological junk to be tossed our way over the next few months. The impact of NGO demonstrators on the conference, the hitherto unheard of role that poor countries played by insisting on reaching consensus in the decision-making process, the repressive action of the police or organisational mistakes made by the host country and its supposed allies, will all be examined in detail. All the fuss will once again try to distract us from the fact that things have changed considerably over the last two decades, that the present power structure is not that inherited directly from the sixties (however much second-rate sociologists hurriedly tried to defend it in any available newspaper) and that the activities of human networks supported by telematic networks will become major players now whether we like it or not. That is what is meant by that oft-repeated cliché: the world, ladies and gentlemen, is getting more and more complex. So, prepare yourselves for a future that is not on the cards.

Translation: Bridget King