While reading Thomas L. Friedman’s description of how he exclaimed to his wife “I’m going to write a book called The World Is Flat,” I could hear in my mind Martin Heidegger retorting, “The worldview is flat.” In the book he did write, Friedman considers the flattening of the world to be a phase of globalization that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Heidegger’s work The Age of the World Picture there is no mention of “globalization” as such. Yet the essay does describe how a confrontation of worldviews results in the “flattening” of objectivity. This paper will demonstrate how Friedman’s notion of globalization as the levelling of the economic playing field brought about by technological change is consistent with Heidegger’s metaphysical notion of a confrontation of worldviews. It will also propose that our current age of globalization, although markedly different from Heidegger’s age of world picture, represents a metaphysical shift anticipated by him. Finally, it will suggest that reflection on the different metaphysical groundings of the medieval, modern and postmodern ages reveals a technological spectrum that begins with the mythology of creation and ends with the ideology of globalization.
Conference Theme: Technology and Globalization
The globalization of the world is a phenomenon that has always depended on technology. Although much of the recent attention to globalization focuses on it as a recent development, escalating since the end of World War II and exploding in the post-Cold War period, the world’s diverse societies have been drawn into complex inter-connections throughout the modern period, and even before with the great ancient empires. Yet, the phenomenon of globalization involves technology and the distribution of power, and is therefore a topic, which cries out for the attention of philosophers. As philosophers, we have much to say about the ways technologies interact with, affect and are affected by society. Inspired by the international popularity of Thomas L. Friedman’s Book The World is Flat, the 2007 meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Technology will be focused on the ways that technology shapes and is shaped by the multidimensional phenomenon of globalization.
While reading Thomas L. Friedman’s description of how he exclaimed to his wife “I’m going to write a book called The World Is Flat,” I could hear in my mind Martin Heidegger retorting, “The worldview is flat.” Friedman provides this anecdote in the opening chapter of his book entitled The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. He considers the flattening of the world to be a phase of globalization that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Heidegger describes the flattening of objectivity in the appendixes of his 1938 lecture entitled The Age of World Picture. On the one hand, according to Friedman’s journalistic historical account, the flattening of the world occurs when new technologies are utilized in such a way that the economic playing field between developed countries inEurope andNorth America is made level with developing countries such asIndia andChina. Thus, Friedman is able to put forward that, “I am convinced that the flattening of the world, if it continues, will be seen in time as one of those fundamental shifts or inflection points, like Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, the rise of nation-states, or the Industrial Revolution – each of which, in its day … produced changes in the role of individuals, the role and form of governments, the ways business was done and wars were fought, the role of women, the forms of religion and art took, and the way science and research were conducted, not to mention the political labels that we as a civilization have assigned to ourselves and to our enemies.” (Friedman 48)
On the other hand, according to Heidegger’s philosophical analysis, the flattening of objectivity occurs when objectification results in a corresponding loss of Being that is in turn compensated for by imparting value to objects whereby needs are objectified and the value itself becomes the objective. Thus, Heidegger is able to propose that, “Value appears to be the expression of the fact that we, in our position of relationship to it, act to advance just that which is itself most valuable; and yet that very value is the impotent and threadbare disguise of the objectivity of whatever is, an objectivity that has become flat and devoid of background.” (Heidegger 142) I will demonstrate, although Heidegger does not explicitly make such a statement, that Heidegger’s sense of the flattening of objectivity corresponds to his characterization of the world as picture and that it follows from this characterization that the worldview itself is ontologically flat.
Although Friedman is primarily writing anecdotal history and Heidegger is primarily doing philosophy, the common subject matter for both is the significance of technological change. While Friedman sees late 20th century globalization as the beginning of a “fundamental shift,” it is fair to say that Heidegger, if he were alive today, would consider globalization to be a continuation of, and possibly the fulfilment of, the world becoming picture. It follows that Friedman can speak of the flattening of the world only because he already lives in Heidegger’s age of world picture in which the worldview is already flat.
The Age of World Picture and the Flattening of the world
Heidegger opens his lecture The Age of World Picture with a reflection on the metaphysical ground of the modern age. This exercise reveals five essential phenomena: one, science; two, machine technology; three, art as aesthetics; four, human activity as culture; and five, the loss of the gods. (Heidegger 116) He then proceeds to investigate the essence of modern science, which is not to be found in terms of a change in degree from old science to new science, as if modern science is marked by progress over Greek science. The essence of modern science lies in research. But what, he asks, is the essence of research? The essence of research lies in three characteristics: one, knowing by procedure that secures a sphere of objects within the realm of Being; two, the methodology demanded by the rigour of that projected planning such that the sphere that is projected becomes objective; and three, the ongoing activity, whereby research it is not ongoing because it occurs in institutions but rather it requires institutions because it is ongoing. By way of methodology, a sphere objects comes into representation. Clearly, the sphere of objects in the physical sciences differs from the sphere of objects in the humanistic sciences. Yet physical science does not become research through experiment. Rather experiment becomes possible because knowledge of nature has been transformed into research. The physical sciences achieve rigour in exactitude while the humanistic sciences achieve rigour by remaining inexact. Experiment in the physical sciences corresponds to source criticism in the historical humanistic sciences. As in the physical sciences, the methodology of the historical sciences aims at representing an object sphere. With representation of an object sphere, history becomes objective and historical explanation means reduction to intelligible objects. The result, Heidegger claims, is that historical research cannot attest to the great as such because the unique is explained as the exception over and against the ordinary and the average. (Heidegger 118-123)
Friedman identifies “forces” that have flattened the world. In light of Heidegger’s characterization of the historical sciences, each one of these “forces” can be considered an intelligible object that is projected as an explanation for what Friedman describes as globalization, which is itself an object that is made intelligible by this sphere of objects. Later I will address the question of whether globalization may be considered a worldview. For now I will focus on the object sphere represented by Friedman’s research, namely his methodology by which he objectifies these forces by calling them “flatteners” and numbering them from one to ten. Flattener #1 is the intelligible object labelled as “11/9/89” and described as “the fall of the Berlin Wall,” which Friedman says “unleashed forces that ultimately liberated all the captive peoples of the Soviet Empire.” (Friedman 51) Flattener #2 is the intelligible object labelled as “8/9/95” and described as “Netscape went public,” which he says “was a huge flattening force.” (Friedman 62) Flattener #3 is the intelligible object labelled as “work flow software” and described as “a quiet revolution that most people had no clue was happening,” which he says “enabled more people in more places to design, display, manage, and collaborate on business data previously handled manually.” (Friedman 78) Flattener #4 is the intelligible object labelled as “uploading” and described as “one of the most revolutionary forms of collaboration in the flat world,” which he says is “fundamentally reshaping the flow of creativity, innovation, political mobilization, and information gathering and dissemination.” (Friedman 94-95) Flattener #5 is the intelligible object labelled as “outsourcing” and described as “the combination of the PC, the Internet, and fiber-optic cable,” which he says “created the possibility of a whole new form of collaboration and horizontal value creation” and meant that “Any service, call center, business support operation, or knowledge work that could be digitized could be sourced globally to the cheapest, smartest, most efficient provider.” (Friedman 131) Flattener #6 is the intelligible object labelled as “offshoring” and described as “when a company takes one of its factories that it is operating in Canton, Ohio, and moves the whole factory offshore to Canton, China,” which he says means that “it produces the very same product in the very same way, only with cheaper labor, lower taxes, subsidized energy, and lower health-care costs.” (Friedman 137) Flattener #7 is the intelligible object labelled as “supply-chaining” and described as “a method of collaborating horizontally – among suppliers, retailers, and customers – to create value,” which he says “is both enabled by the flattening of the world and a hugely important flattener itself, because the more these supply chains grow and proliferate, the more they force the adoption of common standards between companies, the more they eliminate points of friction at borders, the more the efficiencies of one company get adopted by the others, and the more they encourage global collaboration.” (Friedman 152) Flattener #8 is the intelligible object labelled as “insourcing” and described as “a whole new form of collaboration and creating value horizontally, made possible by the flat world and flattening it even more,” which he says “came about because once the world went flat, the small could act big – small companies could suddenly see around the world.” (Friedman 169) Flattener #9 is the intelligible object labelled as “in-forming” and described as “the individual’s personal analog to uploading, outsourcing, insourcing, supply-chaining, and offshoring,” which he says is “the ability to build and deploy your own personal supply chain – a supply chain of information, knowledge, and entertainment” and is “about self-collaboration – becoming your own self-directed and self-empowered researcher, editor, and selector of entertainment, without having to go to the library, or the movie theatre or through network television.” (Friedman 179) Flattener #10 is the intelligible object labelled as “the steroids” and described as what Friedman calls certain new technologies, such as wireless, “because they are amplifying and turbocharging all the other flatteners,” which he says “are taking all the other forms of collaboration … and making it possible to do each and everyone of them in a way that is ‘digital, mobile, virtual, and personal’ … thereby enhancing each one and making the world flatter by the day.” (Friedman 188) After offering this catalogue of flatteners, Friedman proposes that, “right around the year 2000, all ten flatteners … started to converge and work together in ways that created a new, flatter global playing field.” (Friedman 203) He calls this Globalization 1.0 in order to distinguish it from two more versions of globalization that he describes as driven by subsequent technological developments.
Friedman’s methodology obviously does not follow the rigour of scientific experiment. But neither does it conform to the standards of scholarly historical research. For example, the book lacks source citations. Moreover, it does not contain a bibliography. Yet it would be wrong to say that Friedman’s representation of globalization is a completely subjective account. Rather than citing sources, Friedman goes to the sources. He does not stay home and read books. He travels the world and interviews the movers and shakers of globalization. He has what might be called journalistic “street cred.” When Heidegger gave his lecture The Age of World Picture he focussed his attention on comparing the methodology of the physical sciences to that of the historical sciences. Thus, he presented source criticism in the historical sciences as analogous to experiment in the physical sciences. Yet he acknowledges the possibility of non-scholarly research when he states, “Because historiography as research projects and objectifies the past in the sense of an explicable and surveyable nexus of actions and consequences, it requires source criticism as its instrument of objectification. The standards of this criticism alter to the degree that historiography approaches journalism.” (Heidegger 123) Clearly the object-sphere projected by Friedman’s flatteners qualifies as “an explicable and surveyable nexus of actions and consequences” for which the standards of source criticism are those of journalism. However, Heidegger does more than acknowledge journalism as a form of research. He anticipates Friedman’s methodology as the future of research, when he states that, “The scholar disappears. He is succeeded by the research man who is engaged in research projects. … The research man no longer needs a library at home. Moreover, he is constantly on the move. He negotiates at meetings and collects information at congresses. … The research worker necessarily presses forward of himself into the sphere characteristic of the technologist in the essential sense. Only in this way is he capable of acting effectively, and only thus, after a manner of his age, is he real. Alongside him, the increasingly thin and empty Romanticism of scholarship and the university will still be able to persist for some time in a few places.” (Heidegger 125) Once the world becomes picture, research workers like Friedman are acknowledged as the real authorities with a credibility that lies beyond the rigour of scientific objectivity. Heidegger explains that “they are to bring the world into the picture for the public and confirm it publicly.” (Heidegger 139) He called them “technologists.” We call them celebrities.
Technological Change and the Confrontation of Worldviews
Although Friedman’s journalistic methodology of objectification lacks the standards of scholarly objectivity, his notion of globalization as the levelling of the economic playing field brought about by technological change is consistent with Heidegger’s metaphysical notion of a confrontation of worldviews. To say that the worldview is already flat does not mean that the worldview was at one time not flat and that it became flat. While Friedman may propose that the world is being flattened by various forces, he can identify each of these technological trends only because he has already conceived of the world as picture. I propose that we can consider Friedman’s presentation of globalization as a worldview, one that clashes with other worldviews, including other portrayals of globalization. In Heidegger’s The Age of the World Picture there is no mention of “globalization” as such. Yet his essay does describe how a confrontation of worldviews corresponds to the advent of worldview. He contends that, “The fundamental event of the modern age is the conquest of the world as picture.” (Heidegger 134) Although Friedman considers the flattening of the world to be a recent technological development, Heidegger holds that the metaphysical conquest of the world by human subjectivity has been unfolding for sometime. Thus, I think it is safe to say that its current phase, what we now identify as “globalization,” appears to be new because the technologies are new and their proliferation is more widespread than it ever has been. However, the technical thinking that produced these technologies is not new. This makes “globalization” a continuation of an earlier development, a continuation that is perhaps the tail end of something old. It can only be considered new for those peoples who are being exposed to rapid technical development for the first time. As each of these cultures adopts new technologies and engages in the corresponding project of objectification they undergo the same corresponding loss of Being that we have already undergone and they also in turn compensate for this by imparting value to objects whereby their cultural needs are objectified and the value imparted to them itself becomes an objective. Insofar as different cultures produce different objects of value, we speak of the confrontation of worldviews as a conflict of values. However, each culture is adopting the same metaphysical position. As Heidegger puts it, “Because this position secures, organizes, and articulates itself as a world view, the modern relationship to that which is, is one that becomes, in a decisive unfolding, a confrontation of world views … .” (Heidegger 134) In other words, the cultural objects produced by different cultures in accordance with their own subjectivity may represent different values but the confrontation of worldviews results in the same “flattening” of objectivity. In this sense, Friedman’s notion of globalization as the levelling of the economic playing field brought about by technological change is a manifestation of Heidegger’s metaphysical notion of a confrontation of worldviews.
Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Globalization
Our current age of globalization, although markedly different from Heidegger’s experience of the age of world picture, represents a metaphysical shift anticipated by him. Since the time Heidegger gave his lecture in the 1930s, there has been a great deal of technical development and a corresponding proliferation of new technologies. Yet he was able to recognize that what we now call globalization is inherently large in scale. As he puts it, “… everywhere and in the most varied forms and disguises the gigantic is making its appearance.” (Heidegger 135) We can hear him anticipate globalization as characterized by Friedman when he describes how, “The gigantic presses forward in a form that seems to make it disappear – in the annihilation of great distances by the airplane, in the setting before us of foreign and remote worlds in the their everydayness, which is produced at random through radio by a flick of the hand.” (Heidegger 135) (I wonder what he would have thought about TV channel surfing?) Heidegger observes that the phenomenon of the gigantic, and hence, what we might call the phenomenon of globalization, originates in a “blind mania for exaggerating and excelling,” or what we might call mass-media hype. However, he holds that this is not a sufficient explanation, for, as he says, “The gigantic is rather that through which the quantitative becomes a special quality and thus a remarkable kind of greatness.” (Heidegger 135) The result is a metaphysical shift from what is calculable to what is incalculable. He explains, “… as soon as the gigantic in planning and calculating and adjusting and making secure shifts over out of the quantitative and becomes a special quality, then what is gigantic, and what can seemingly always be calculated completely, becomes, precisely through this, incalculable.” (Heidegger 135) While Friedman’s flatteners are calculable insofar as their large scale flattening effects can be demonstrated using statistics, globalization has a “special quality” is incalculable insofar as it is presented to appear as something necessary. Although Friedman acknowledges that he is a technological determinist, he does not hold that undergoing globalization is inevitable for all peoples on the planet. (Friedman 460) Yet he does hold that those peoples who chose to join the flattening of the world and are not hindered from doing so by war or politics, will inevitably be better off for it. According to Friedman’s worldview, globalization has the special quality of “progress” while for others this special quality may take the form of a spectre. In either case, it seems to me, globalization as a worldview is ontologically flat and is thereby ideological in character.
From the Mythology of Creation to the Ideology of Globalization
By way of conclusion, I would like to suggest that reflection on the different metaphysical groundings of the medieval, modern and postmodern ages reveals a technological spectrum that begins with the mythology of creation and ends with the ideology of globalization. This observation is not found in Heidegger’s essay. However, he does distinguish between the metaphysics of the ancient, medieval and modern periods. One of Heidegger’s defining characteristics of the modern age, one that I consider more explicitly manifested in the postmodern, has to do with subjectivity and imagination. Heidegger states that, “Man as representing subject … “fantasizes,” i.e., he moves in imaginatio, in that his representing imagines, pictures forth, whatever is, as the objective, into the world as picture.” (Heidegger 147) I think it follows that a worldview such as Friedman’s portrayal of globalization, or any other worldview for that matter, is not only ontologically flat; it is an ideological phantasm. This does not mean that globalization is not real. In the same way that Heidegger considers research workers like Friedman to become “real” through their effective representing to the public phenomena like globalization in terms of an explanatory object-sphere, that object-sphere in turn also becomes real. Nevertheless, it is a real fantasy. In other words, Friedman has become a celebrity through writing a bestselling explanation of the hype of globalization which in turn has contributed to the hype of globalization. While the mythology of creation is composed of fictions that reveal a truth, the ideology of globalization is composed of truths that construct a fiction. Both creation and globalization are real phenomena. However, in the age of world picture, a worldview such as globalization appears to be self-evident while a religious belief like creation appears untenable. Some Christians have tried to make religious belief credible by presenting Christianity as a legitimate worldview. However, I hold that this project turns the mythology of creation, and indeed, Christianity, into an ideology. The same is true of Islamic fundamentalists who compensate for the loss of their culture by objectifying religious values and defending them. Rather than promoting or protecting religiosity, these religious worldview conflicts, which are also part and parcel with globalization, are characteristic of Heidegger’s age of world picture and thus both further rather than hasten the loss of the gods. Although Friedman’s notion of the flattening of the world is preoccupied with economics and monetary value creation, these materialistic features are not what make his worldview flat. Religious worldviews are also flat. All worldviews, as worldviews, are flat.
Friedman, Thomas L. The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. First Updated and Expanded Edition.New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.
Heidegger, Martin. “The Age of World Picture.” The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays. Trans. William Lovitt.New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1977.
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