If one presumes to write a history of the century five years in, one must either have a lot of chutzpah or a lot of information. Thomas L. Friedman has both. Three time Pulitzer winner and foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times, Friedman is all a-twitter about his latest discovery: the world is flat!
Leaping back to the cosmically coincidentally positive date of 11/9 (1989), marking the fall of the Berlin Wall, the author suggests that from that day forward the world became noticeably flatter. The World Wide Web created a fenceless reality with instant feedback in which Bangalore would become as close as one’s own (American) backyard: “The flattening of the world is largely (but not entirely) unstoppable and…holds out the potential to be as beneficial to Americans society as a whole as past market evolutions have been.”
That proviso “not entirely” has several important reference points. One is the undeniable fact that some parts of the world will never be flat, and the author very fairly speaks to the director of an Indian children’s center who reminds us that 70 million citizens of the sub-continent will never enjoy the bounty of the flat world. They will not have “a decent job and a car,” pretty much the hallmarks of a society that has arrived in the twenty-first century. In fact, most of them will never have or even understand indoor plumbing or clean water. The Indian template of poverty can be overlaid on large parts of Africa and Latin America.
It can also be overlaid, lamentably, on our close neighbor, Mexico. As one pundit quips, “China is eating Mexico’s lunch.” For a variety of reasons, Mexicans are not elbowing up to the table of out-source and techno-space. They are vastly outnumbered by Chinese and Indian geeks and grabbers. This reader wonders why Freidman did not throw Roman Catholicism into the mix of possible reasons for this deficiency, as it has the historically embarrassing record of keeping its people poor, dependent and always with the Church.
Another threat to the flattening of the world (which the author obviously views as a Good Thing) is what the author has dubbed “Islamo-Leninism,” asserting that the anti-American terrorist movement spawned by Osama Ben Laden and others is not primarily religious in origin but instead has as its goal a lock-step utopia peopled by a ritual-bound proletariat controlled by a traditionalist elite. Should the terrorists prevail, our world would become “round” again, intellectually blocked off and shut down by conservative forces for whom flattening, opening, comparing, is a Bad Thing.
This is thought-provoking stuff. Readers will find something to disagree with and much to admire in the theories that Freidman has fired off so rapidly and, one might say, prematurely, to describe and define our times. Highly recommended.