The story of Friedman’s Lexus and Olive Tree has precisely reflected my story about two years ago. I was in Toronto for a youth summit in which I met dozens of young people throughout the world. There, I could feel the modernity mixing up with a “we” feeling as global citizen amidst the diversity as, I believe, it is played out in today’s globalization system. Networking was established along the meeting, and through social media engagement, networking is maintained. Those are all what Lexus represented in my case. Globalization has partially affected the way I think and altered my understanding to see the world. Back then, I was only a 20-year-old boy raised in Javanese culture which I believe I belong to this community. I agree of what Friedman used for the term olive tree saying that it is what gives us the warmth of family, the intimacy of personal rituals, the depth of private relationships, and the confidence and security to reach out and encounter others. However, do the two clash each other and form new identity? To some extent, I would say, it does.
In his book, Friedman apparently argued that the biggest threat today to olive tree – everything that roots and anchors us – is likely to come from the Lexus which is referring to homogenizing and standardizing market forces. A real olive tree backlash would occur because the Lexus is so overpowering thus it can overwhelm every olive tree in sight-breaking down communities and crowding out traditions. Not in the Erikson case. He came with lighter-but-rational opinion saying that globalization at the level of social identity is tantamount to a re-negotiation of social identities, their boundaries and symbolic content. Nobody is quite certain as to what it means to be an Indonesian, an Australian or an American any more, but this does not necessarily mean that these identities are fading away. I concur that some of them are in fact strengthened and some are shrunk. Global processes truly affect how people living in particular localities, creating new opportunities and new forms of vulnerability. The way Erikson sees the world today is through the identity politics. Even if he did not clearly mentioned that globalization has contributed to the development of identity politics, it seems that his explanation explicitly said so.
Some view that identity politics is a form of anti-modern counter-reaction to individualism embodied in globalization, others say as strategy of exclusion. What he meant does not necessarily judge that identity politics is to contradict the force of globalization, but rather a concept to identify the way people think and act toward globalization in general. As globalization contributes to the changes of society or local, the new term “glocalization” came to the surface which was first coined by Roland Robertson. He said that glocalization means the simultaneity of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies. We cannot avoid the inflow of information nowadays we got from internet or new lifestyle brought by celebrities in the Western hemisphere. Thus it brings into new dimension where global influences blend with local values forming new kind of identity without essentially replacing the traditional one. However, when it comes to reality, somehow it is hardly to prove that globalization does not clash with localization. We can see Erikson’s statement of the phenomenon,
“Modernization and globalization actualize differences and trigger conflict. When formerly discrete groups are integrated into shared economic and political systems, inequalities are made visible, since direct comparison between the groups becomes possible. Friction occurs frequently. In a certain sense, ethnicity can be described as the process of making cultural differences comparable, and to that extent, it is a modern phenomenon boosted by the intensified contact entailed by globalization. You do not envy your neighbor if you are unaware of his existence.”
Is globalization always associated with the destruction of cultural identities? It is a yes-or-no answer. Yes for its character of being “deteriorated” as globalization is accused of diminishing the significance of locality in cultural sphere. No because globalization is proven, in several cases, to strengthen local identities. The case can be found in Erikson’s story of his Constitution Day celebration in Norway. As in his childhood, in a less intensely globalized world, nobody was aware and rarely seen to wear folk dresses in the urban center of south-eastern Norway. But in the present, more than half of the women wear folk dresses. At this point, network has played important role in daily life as it undoubtedly shapes preferences and understanding. Network is important since human-being is created as social actor who needs to interact with each other. Social media shows greater role to affect people’s understanding toward something and that affects the relationship among others.
In summation, I argue that globalization is unavoidable and in fact affects our identity. Since identity matters, as our principle of life, it could generate clash with the rapid inflow of globalization that can be both strengthening or weakening identity. Friedman’s thesis emphasized the clash between Lexus as a form of modernity and Olive Tree as cultures or roots we belong to. The notion is understandable. On the other hand, Erikson also highlighted the development of identity politics as to identify whether or not identity change in light of globalization. The thing is that we cannot judge globalization solely on its destructive characteristic, but to some extent it helps backward-looking society to become more inward-looking.
Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and Olive Tree (New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1999)
Thomas Hylland Erikson “How can the global be local?” in O. Hemer, T. Tufte and T. H. Erikson, Media and glocal change: rethinking communication for development (Buenos Aires: CLACSO, 2005)
Glocalization accessed from http://searchcio.techtarget.com/definition/glocalization on November 11, 2011 at 05:09 p.m.
Agung holds a bachelor’s degree in International Relations from the University of Indonesia (UI), graduating in 2012. His prior leadership experience was President of International Relations Student Association (2011) and Indonesian youth representative for G20 Youth Summit in Toronto (2010). Agung is currently working in a global PR firm in Jakarta.