Monday, April 23, 2012

The Amber Road: The Silk Road's Forgotten Brother

Hello all! Xaralambos here with your weekly blog post!
Last time, I looked at the effect of British control in India, and how that lead to various changes within both cultures.  This time my sights are set a bit further northeast, and I'll try to examine the effects of the creation and duration of the Silk Road's forgotten younger brother, the Amber Road.
Amber, known as the "Gold of the Baltics" during the middle ages, is fossilized tree resin, and has been used since neolithic times for its various uses, ranging from a perfume component, to an ingredient in folk medicine. The Amber road came into existance to facilitate the Transfer of said substance across Europe. Because Amber was often found on the coasts of the Baltic and North Seas, often the fastest way to transport it to areas where it was wanted was overground. The various routes used to transport the amber became colletively known as the Amber Road, and Stretch from the Baltic and North Seas, Through Italy and Greece, and into Egypt. One of the shorter, but possibly oldest routes led from Modern day Estonia, from the Baltic coast, into Poland, around the Alps, and eventually reached the Adriatic coast. Several other routes existed within germany and most of Central Europe, distributing Amber throughout, but we'll focus of a segment of this route. The effects of the Amber road were prominent throughout its various routes, but it's effects on the cultures in Poland are rather interesting. The Cultures in that Area interacted with the roman empire along that route, which linked the Baltic shores with an amber refinement and processing center. The road had been under the control of the Celtic tribes, but was later put under the control of the Romans and Germanic Tribes, During this time, the route was used not only for the distribution of amber, but also for the distribution of various other wares, such as slaves, or other raw materials. According to the works of Pliny The Elder, a Roman soldier led an expedition into the Baltic area, and returned with a large amount of amber, which the Romans were quick to integrate into their society by using the amber as jewelery, and as a method of propaganda for the various Gladiator fights and colosseum games. Though the Road was destroyed by Germanic and Sarmatian assaults and eventually fell into disuse, It's effects on the various groups is apparent, as amber road Traded goods have been observed within various Przeworsk sites. Moreover, another culture within the area, the Wielbark culture, was home to one of the largest burial sites within Poland. Among the various relics unearthed, various accessories and similar items made of, among other things, amber were found.  Again, we find that through the Trade routes, various cultures came into contact with each other, and each culture was changed in some way from the experience.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Extradition and globalization

Abu Ahsan has been held in jail for six years in the United Kingdom for allegedly running Azzam Publications, a jihadi website. However, the site was hosted on American internet service providers, which is grounds for possible extradition. (You can read the whole story here.) "Extradition" refers to the act of a country surrendering an alleged criminal to another country for trial. In this case, extradition is controversial because some Europeans are not convinced that the United States will treat Ahsan fairly.

The concept of extradition is not a new one, but its growth in notoriety is directly proportional to the rate of globalization. The advent of commercial air flight in the mid-twentieth century, for instance, has made it easier for criminals to evade the law of their own countries. As extradition becomes more commonplace, it becomes naturally less "cut-and-dried" and more bureaucratic in nature; the Roman Polanski sexual abuse case, now thirty-five years in the making, is a heavily-publicized example of this.

The United States has formal extradition treaties with many countries around the world. They are colored light blue in the map below:

File:United States extradition treaties countries.PNG

The International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL), which pledges allegiance to the UN's Declaration of Human Rights, is the primary international organization facilitating extradition, among other cooperative efforts across the globe. As borders continue to blur in the twenty-first century, organizations like INTERPOL will grow in significance as justice becomes a more global than national issue.

- Luke

Monday, April 9, 2012

Globalization and the Pervasiveness of Culture

Hello, It's a Small World fellers!

Today, I'll be giving you the breakdown of our recent globalization seminar!

It started out a bit rough - we had to switch rooms and adjust to not having a projector on the fly. Once we had a room, though, everything came together.  Bobby presented first, and focused on the globalization of Asian trade routes. Next, I shared my research on the globalization of martial arts.  The highlight of my presentation was a shoutout to Bruce Lee.  Finally, Frances offered several minutes on the globalization of meditation, and treated us to a few minutes of meditating.  Overall, it went very well.

An important, underlying theme in all of our presentations was that through globalization, countries, borders, and large geological separation between people can no longer contain a culture.  Pieces of individual cultures spread like wildfire into other nations, and some form of that cultural practice finds a permanent place in the nations it encounters.  No nation can avoid contact with other cultures.  Whether it was merchants going to and from China. or martial art masters leaving their home area to search for new pupils, people come into contact with cultures different from their own.  

At the same time, it’s fallacious to conclude that globalization will lead to a fusion of all cultures.  In contemporary America, a first-world country with internet connecting it to almost every other nation in the world, many citizens exist without knowing key elements of foriegn cultures, like how many Middle Eastern cultures consider showing the bottoms of one's feet a major insult.  People are slowly becoming aware of other people's cultures as we move towards tolerance among cultures, but we are far from a giant conglomerate of all the cultures of the world smashed together.  

Monday, April 2, 2012

The End of Globalization

Over the last century or so, our world has been globalizing rapidly. The process has been occurring since cultures were formed, was accelerated in the exploration during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when Europeans were brought into contact with people and goods from all over the world. However, now that we have entered the communications and digital era, the diffusion of culture is taking place at a historically unprecedented rate. We have not hit this point yet, but the day is coming when globalization will have ended. There will still international exchange, but no net flow. Just as chemical reactions and natural systems reach a kind of dynamic equilibrium, so also will we reach a point of cultural equilibrium.
Globalization is the process where one country ships its cultural products to another nation. We can see the results of this everywhere. Pizza and tacos have become fully integrated into American cuisine, foreign books are being translated, and American music and film is enjoyed everywhere in the world. Whereas exchange was formerly mediated by long travels, it is now mediated by such instant media as television and the internet. Consider the zoo, for example. A long time ago, one elephant could be brought to a town as a main attraction, where people would flock to see this unusual that had never been seen in America. Nowadays, we can all look up a picture of an elephant, giraffe, shark, or whatever animal we want to see on the internet. We can watch videos of them on the Discovery Channel or Youtube. This is a good example of what I am talking about, but it mostly just gives me an excuse to post this cute picture of an orphaned baby elephant with a raincoat. Now you don’t have to go to the zoo!

This was exciting years ago, but most people have seen most of the exotic animals worth seeing from Africa. If they haven’t, they can just google whatever it is that they haven’t seen. There is no new cultural exchange here; it just takes time for everyone in a country to adapt to a new influence.
Part of what makes foreign countries and their citizens so interesting is their foreignness. I’m not exactly sure what goes on in Nepal, but I’m slightly curious because it’s different than America. Much of a national identity is formed by portraying other countries as distant others that we aren’t like. There is much to be gained from a positive national image, but this distinction between “us” and “them” is disappearing. English is widely becoming the universal language. People eat American food, talk about American politics, and are influenced by American thought, no matter where they live. Eventually, our national identity will be lost to the larger concept of a global identity. This is neither good nor bad, but it will be the end of traditional ethnicity as we know it. There are still some countries that are “others” to us and will be for some time, perhaps forever. This is not due to a lack in globalization efforts, but factors to be discussed presently.
There seems to be no purpose in dividing ourselves along national lines. I can have just as much in common and communicate with someone in England just as well as someone in my neighborhood. The main factor dividing us is primarily economic. As it is communication that is driving the equilibrium, places with little communication will not adapt. A good example of this is Uganda, Southern Sudan and other places where Kony is active. The idea behind the name “Invisible Children” is that people there are unable to properly communicate their own helplessness. It is up to the coalition of first-world countries to communicate with each other to give them a hand. The direction we are headed in is toward a world divided by economic status. The rich and powerful will always associate with the other rich and powerful from around the world. There is nothing wrong with this, but they have similar interests and goals. The middle classes of the world will always be a large society online on Facebook, Twitter, or other forums. It is only the very poor that is left out. Even in our own country, not that we have any truly poor people here, but one’s society is in some part determined by one’s immediate surroundings. People are always complaining about the barrier keeping the lower classes from accessing the upper echelons of society. I see no reason why this should not become worldwide.
A person is a person is a person. The internet, as an open mic for anyone with a voice and a computer, has been promoting this concept of egalitarian international exchange. Some people do not have access to this medium and will not be able to join in the growing community. They will always be the “other” to us. The wealthy, who control external sources, will always retain their position. Cultures are on track to collide and the result will be an international community without any distinctly national characteristics. Instead of the national poor, the poor all over the world will form a universal lower class. Globalization will have ended and we will have the world and each other. Gone is the intrigue of foreign ideas and foreign people, they are us now. We have no national cultures, only a culture of what has been communicated to us by anyone in the world. Is this good or bad? How are your feelings toward other countries changing? These questions of identity are important for us in the days to come.