Will no one challenge this god?
Thursday 06 May 1999
Professor Giddens has often written innovative and important books. He diagnoses issues brilliantly - the consequences of modernity for example. But the shine that automatically attaches to his every word is leading to some fairly flabby thinking. What is astounding, however, is that so few among the many who have attended his lectures have interrogated him on some of his more outlandish assertions. He is a shrine. The Tony who has the approval of that even more blessed Tony. Why, even Hillary Clinton spoke up during one of the lectures to question him.
I attended the final lecture. I have never seen so many professors, politicians, writers and pundits all stacked on seats in a lecture room. Ralf Dahrendorf, Fred Halliday, the querulous Peter Lilley, Lisa Jardine were all there. Some questions were asked but veneration rather than dissension prevailed. In fact, people were agitated and enraged; and as we left, much of this was expressed on the staircase and in the cloakrooms. But not in presence of the man who has made himself the God of Globalisation.
This submission is facilitated by the format of these lectures (only one Reith lecturer, Dr Patricia Williams, a black American feminist, has been denied this reverence) and the problems inherent in Radio Four, which seems determined to retain an identity that is pure establishment, white, Western and imperial. Why else would they take Mark Tulley to Delhi to introduce Giddens where the third lecture was delivered? Were all the Indian intellectuals out to lunch? Is this what "globalisation" means, then? The First World dominating what happens and controlling who should tell the stories of what is happening?
But I digress. My point is that much of what Giddens presents as The Truth is questionable and yet a massive hush has settled over it. This is hardly democracy, the theme of the last lecture.
Consider the indescribably sanguine view Giddens takes of the reality of globalisation. His optimism is enchanting but can only be sustained if you are part of the privileged global elite. The share of the global income of the poorest people in the world has dropped from 2.3 per cent to 1.4 per cent in the last decade (while the share of the richest fifth has risen from 70 per cent to 85 per cent). Local communities, cultures and values are being destroyed. These people are struggling to create a future that feels authentic to them. They are not rooted to some irrelevant past. They simply want the right to choose and incorporate change, but on their terms. However, the pushy globalisation we have at present is putting people into a single tunnel future.
And although Giddens would deny this, that future is American. This is why it is nonsense to say, as he does, that these processes are no longer under the control of the rich countries or that we now have "reverse colonisation" - because, apparently, Hispanics are all getting under Wasp feet in LA and Brazil is selling television programmes to Portugal.
In all the lectures there are examples of sweeping statements which don't hold up to scrutiny. Giddens says that Nelson Mandela is more familiar to us today than our neighbours because of the explosion in instantaneous electronic communication. Gandhi was as well known and loved more than 60 years ago and when Marilyn Monroe died, my mother, who lived in Uganda and did not even have a telephone, wept for days.
There is no stated awareness of the fact that in the West today there are groups of people whose values remain profoundly indifferent to the moral mess that post-modernism has created and that these are not villagers in Pakistan but town-dwellers in Bolton. Most of all, there is no mention at all of the massive movements of dispossessed people who, one could say, have become the human debris in our runaway world.
There are many other points which could and should have been raised at the lecture, in the press and the media. But they are all sleeping on the same soft mattress of consensus politics. The BBC, other journalists and many academics want to be near to the political magic circle. The political leadership needs confirmation that what they are doing is cost- free and almost totally benevolent.
Gidden's greatest achievement is that he has been able to do both with disarming charm. Our misfortune is that he has been allowed to get away with it.
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