As my unfortunate 2nd years are finding out just now, I like that old way of viewing globalization as ‘a web of interconnections’. Migration patterns, new trading relationships, new information flows: they add up to a web connecting us all.
Like a web, for sure, once we’re in it, we can’t escape. There’s no way out. Adjust, be activated. Enact globalized neoliberalism. Embrace it. Become its Apprentice; enter the Dragon’s Den with your latest business idea (your café, restaurant, gizmo, app, whatever).
Likewise, for the (democratic, or otherwise) state somewhere outside the rich world, there’s no development path anymore. The WTO makes sure of that. In the hope of never seeing any more NICs (South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan) trying to enter the rich-world club, it strips away the mechanisms used by those states to nurture capitalist firms such as Samsung: ‘no more tariffs, guys; quit those subsidies, all those supports you’re so fond of, y’know, the ones that protected your nascent industries, gave them that leg-up you knew you had to give them’.
In this sense, globalization goes ahead and connects societies up to a web of interconnections, but it then doesn’t let them get anywhere within it. They’re only there to be eaten. Their consumers are there to buy rich-world goods; their workers to work, in one form or another (sometimes as actual employees, perhaps much more often merely as distant sub- or pracari-contractors) for rich-world firms.
We’re doomed here. This is no place to be. We can try hard. We can try to be entrepreneurial, to be brave. But we’re not gonna make it. This is no way for us all to live. Sure, life isn’t just a grim time. There’s love, bonds to connect us, sports, education, beer. But we need to find something else, surely to God.
And so here we meet up with the earthly backdrop to Interstellar, the big hot movie at the moment. Earth is doomed. Luckily, there are some signs of hope. A clandestine group of creative experts – those working in the knowledge economy? – has been working out of sight of everyone else. They’ve noticed something hopeful. A worm hole – oi, don’t laugh – has been found lurking near Saturn. If we dedicate our energies, some of us can reach it, even go through it. Damn it, man, some already have. They’ve been entrepreneurial.
Of course, we can’t all go; no, most of us will just be left behind to rot and die, although there is a slight chance – if the worm hole does lead us to a brighter, golden future – that we might all be saved.
No prizes for guessing, but a few do go. They’re all Americans, but it’s Hollywood. And shock horror, they do make it through the worm hole. Maybe there is hope. Praise be to the entrepreneurial subject!
But then here’s the thing. There are three worlds over/up/back there and none of them offer us an alternative to planet Earth. One is incredibly stormy, with massive tsunamis. In international political-economy terms, it’s sort of the Japanese option: crisis after crisis, an uneasy existence, not worth dying for. Another is so cold and barren, sort of Soviet-gulag-Siberian, sort of contemporary North Korea in winter. That won’t do, either.
There is, however, one final planet. It might do the job. It’s going to be hard work to make it an option, but hey: we’re entrepreneurial. And Americans are used to taking a place, colonizing it, re-populating it, adjusting it to their ways of life. Bingo, then: we have a new frontier and God knows that’s just what we need, if we’re ever to escape this place.
It’s all sort of entertaining. To me, though, what’s really striking about Interstellar is that we only truly reach this final planet after some wiggly-jiggly crazy physics stuff. Basically, our hero leaps into a black hole – I said, don’t laugh – and in doing so somehow manages to learn how to operate in a fifth dimension, which then lets him shape events in his past in such a way that earth can be saved and his return secured.
I’ll be honest: I was bamboozled. It was sort of like Quantum Leap on whiskey & steroids. But there’s a lesson in what happens.
Before we ever reach this third planet – the new frontier – all of us humans have to take something on board. Without learning how to control gravity, there’s simply no escape. Sure, we can leap through a worm hole or whatever, and find distant planets and all that, but we’ll never reach the truly golden one. (In Interstellar, it’s because our heroes run out of fuel. It’s only because our man gets into the fifth dimension that we/humans/Americans eventually get to the new planet.)
Here on earth, we also can go ahead and look for an alternative: a set of more reformist, state-centred capitalist ideas, or even a set of socialist sort of ideas. We can mess about us much as we like, but Interstellar teaches us that it won’t get us anywhere. There is no alternative. It’s neoliberal globalized capitalism for us all, like it or lump it. Get on with it. Activate yourself. Be good.
There’s more. Even if one day we think we’ve learned something new and can now go ahead and put it to good use to change society – in Interstellar, the idea is that we need to learn how to control gravity, as they (us in the future?) have, and then we can go about leaving worm holes around the place – all that awaits us is the frontier, populated by a select-few entrepreneurial scientific-engineering types, led by a clandestine state working behind our backs, offering nothing but the same old problems that got us here in the first place. So maybe there is an escape from Earth, but the (final? next?) frontier won’t operate any differently from what we’re already used to. Go ahead and dream, but be realistic, folks. By all means try to control gravity; it won’t get you anywhere different. There is no other society.
This brings me back to globalization. What a fate. Wageless life. Precarity. A planet of slums. Drone strikes. Austerity. Diffuse governance. Fake democracy. Maybe some work; maybe for some.
But then again maybe – and is this all Hollywood’s logic wants us to focus on? – well, maybe some good times. There’s love, bonds to connect us, sports, education, beer. Movies. Yay. Do we really need to find anything else?