by Christos and Mary Papoutsy

We want to wish everyone a healthy, happy and blessed 2001. As we enter both a new year and a new millennium, the rarity of this occasion prompts many of us to reflect upon the past year and the upcoming one with a broader perspective. This milestone marks many turning points for our society, witnessing, for example, the end of the cold-war system which so firmly characterized world politics for decades. The years following this momentous collapse, so aptly symbolized by the razing of the Berlin wall, were often labeled "post cold-war" as the world order continued to change and evolve rapidly. But a clearly discernible, new system has emerged, a system now identified as "globalization." Established almost worldwide, globalization governs how nations, communities, individuals, and the environment interact. With this new system the world has become an increasingly interwoven and interconnected place. As a result, whether one represents a company or country, one's opportunities and threats increasingly derive from the connections developed by globalization.

Our new international system, globalization, is best exemplified by a single world: the Web. Our society has gone from an old system built around division and walls to a system increasingly built around integration and webs. The new vocabulary of computerization, miniaturization, digitization, satellite communication, fiber optics and the Internet form the internal workings of the new globalization system. While the driving idea behind globalization is a world-wide free market, the system itself is built upon a foundation of three components which overlap and affect one another: the traditional balance of political and military power between nations; the balance between global markets and nations; and the balance between individuals and nations. What sets this system quite apart from its predecessor is the last component, since it empowers individuals to influence both markets and nations more than at any other time in history. Increasingly, individuals are acting on the world stage directly, unmediated by state.

Recognizing that globalization is the new international system, we should all take care to ensure that it is not just made up of microchips and markets, but also of men and women, with all their peculiar habits, traditions, longings, and unpredictable aspirations, based as much upon commercial, technological, and moral issues as upon political ones. As technology leads our society farther ahead commercially, many moral issues remain unresolved. And some of the most critical ethical questions remain as old as Christianity and even written history. On the occasion of a new e-millennium, it is therefore fitting and proper for society to ask a series of probing ethical and religious questions such as "Is God in Cyberspace?" or "Where do moral and ethical values fit into this advancing technocracy?" or even "How do we raise our children in this fast world?" And finally, we must all come to the ultimate question, "How is globalization going to affect me, my family, and my community?"

For there is nothing about globalization or its quintessential symbol, the Internet, that eliminates the need for ideals, morality, ethics or codes or restraint on human behavior. The more society becomes dependent upon new technologies, the more we need to approach these advances armed with our own ideals and codes of ethics.

In Thomas Friedman's latest book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, one can read about the author's visit to a Lexus luxury car factory in Japan. This facility was producing 300 Lexus sedans daily, assembled by 310 robots and a limited number of humans conducting quality control. On the way back to Tokyo in the Bullet Train, while eating an e-sushi box dinner, Friedman noticed a story in the International Herald Tribune. It concerned the right of return to Israel of Palestinian refugees, an article which would clearly agitate both the Arabs and the Israelis. Traveling at 180 miles per hour on the most modern train in the world and reading a story about one of the oldest corners of the world--the Middle East--where inhabitants were fighting over who owned which olive tree, seemed truly symbolic to Friedman of the way half the world seemed to be moving forward building a better Lexus, dedicated to a process of modernizing, streamlining, and privatizing economies in order to thrive in the system of globalization, while the other half of the world, sometimes half of the same country or even of the same person, was still caught up in the fight over who owned which olive tree.

But Friedman reminds his readers that the olive tree is still important, since it represents everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us and locates us in this world, whether the connection is to a family, community, tribe, nation, religion, or most of all, a place called home. Olive trees are what give us the warmth of family, the joy of individuality, the intimacy of personal rituals, the depth of private relationships, as well as the confidence and security to reach out and encounter others. The nation-state, he asserts, will never disappear because it is the ultimate olive tree, the ultimate expression of our linguistic, geographic, and historical home. Each of us has the capacity to be rich or smart, but none of us could be rich or smart alone in this world. In other words, none of us could be a complete person alone. For we must be a part of, and rooted in, an olive grove. In the cold-war system, the most likely threat to one's olive tree was from another olive tree. It was from one's neighbor coming over and seizing one's tree or violently digging it up and planting his own in its place. That threat has been diminished today in many parts of the world. Instead, the biggest threat today to one's olive tree is likely to come from the Lexus--from all the anonymous, transnational, homogenizing, standardizing market fevers and technologies that make up today's globalizing economic system.

Technological advances and moral values are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, as we progress with increasingly sophisticated inventions, we may even have a greater need for emphasis upon ideals, moral values and ethical restraints. The roots of the ancient olive tree, whose ownership has fueled many a dispute over the past millennia, can now nourish and enrich our society with ethical and moral values learned while tending the olive grove. The age and steadfastness of this marvelous tree can remind us of our valuable connections to our families, communities, tribes, nations, religions, and homes and how we must maintain these in the years ahead and not allow technology to create e-walls and divisiveness as the cold-war system of politics and world order had done in the last century.

The only way, therefore, that our society can find ethical or moral behavior on the Internet is if we bring these values to it, lessons we have learned in our homes, schools, and churches, the olive groves of our communities. "A healthy global society is one that can balance the Lexus and the olive tree all the time, and there is no better model for this on earth today than America," claims Friedman. We concur. Let us all strive to incorporate our ethical values into our technological advances, serving as a beacon for the whole world, preserving this precious legacy.

(Second posting date 22 March 2006)

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