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Expired · 28th April 2011
Ray Grigg
Human societies do not behave rationally. This is the conclusion reached by Robert Prechter, an American financial guru and social theorist who outlines his ideas in a 1999 book, The Wave Principle of Human Social Behaviour and the New Science of Sociometrics (New Scientist, May 22/10).

Prechter argues that societal moods swing from optimism to pessimism – so called Elliott Waves – and these swings control the movement of financial markets, investment strategies, consumer purchasing patterns and even popular trends such as fashions, films, books and music. "Positive moods" are reflected in such words as "unifying", "liberating", "joining" and "tolerant", whereas "negative moods" are indicated by "fragmentation", "separation", "restricting" and "bigoted / xenophobic".

According to fellow scholar, John Casti, the last great "megachange" that buoyed optimism was the official beginning of globalization in 1975 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (Ibid.). This positive mood lasted until 1999 when the real value of money, as measured in gold, peaked. Since then, Casti argues, globalization has created a deepening pessimism. Its very foundations of "income balance, free movement of labour, reduction or removal of trade tariffs, and the like", have failed. Income disparity and protectionism are increasing, not decreasing.

But the pessimism is rooted more deeply than in commerce and social justice. Casti cites the work of John Petersen, a non-profit think-tank founder whose "predictive modelling" coined "megachanges". His modelling also identified other unsettling trends linked to globalization, including "the collapse of the global financial system, the end of oil, serious climate change, dramatic rises in food price, and more."

The ideas of Prechter, Casti and Petersen all identify a generally negative mood coursing through human society. While globalization has brought many promises of prosperity and some clear benefits, beneath the superficial hue of optimism are systemic flaws that are creating a deepening and pervasive apprehension.

The paradox of globalization is that it offers connectivity and cooperation while its size and complexity highlights our individual powerlessness and precariousness. Economic, political, social and environmental globalization also means interdependence and vulnerability – whatever happens anywhere on the planet affects everyone elsewhere. The effect is a feeling of being overwhelmed by information and forces beyond our personal control.

The earthquake and subsequent damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is just the most current example. As a consequence of events in Japan, British Columbians are compelled to monitor local rain and seaweed for radiation levels. Rotating electrical outages in Japan have broken the global supply chain for auto manufacturing, one of the world's most complex. Of the 3,000 parts that go into a car or truck, "each of those parts is made up of hundreds of other pieces supplied by multiple companies. All it takes is for one part to go missing or arrive late, and a vehicle can't be built" (Globe & Mail, Mar. 29/11). Consequently, auto plants in North America are shut down and workers are laid off. An interruption in the supply of Japanese computer chips and other digital components has the same global effect.

The integration of the world's financial system into a global network of interconnections creates another kind of precariousness. The ramifications of relaxed lending and investment policies in the US culminated in a 2008 seismic shock to world banks and economies that is still being felt. Consequent debt in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Iceland and Portugal all reverberate around the planet, affecting employment, exchange rates, savings, retirement plans and our individual sense of security.

Terrorism causes global edginess. The unrest generated by a burgeoning human population creates humanitarian, political and military complications that affect all countries. Global food supplies are tight enough that crop failures in Australia, Ukraine or Russia force up the price of bread in Canada. A radical Islamic group in Afghanistan or a deranged dictator in Libya produces global disturbances. A fundamentalist preacher ceremonially burns a Koran in Florida and enraged mobs kill innocent United Nations' employees in Kandahar.

But the most important influence of all occurs with Earth's biosphere, the living environment that enwraps our planet. Emissions from coal plants in China or tar sands in Canada bathe the entire world with pollutants. Melting ice in Greenland raises oceans everywhere. Diseases and exotic species spread easily with our global transportation systems. Because communication and media connect instantly to every part of the planet, everywhere becomes local. A round Earth provides no escape.

If the global mood of pessimism is to change to optimism, then our governments must think beyond trade agreements to environmental protocols that protect our atmosphere, oceans, fisheries, forests, soils and climate. Ecological security is primary. Everything depends on it. Although such security can never be guaranteed, at the very least we should have some sense that the deteriorating conditions on our planet are being reversed.

To regain our feeling of individual empowerment, we need a paradigm shift from spending and exploiting to conserving and caring. We also need awareness and initiatives that will counterbalance globalization with localization. These are rational things we could do to improve our mood.