Understanding globalization takes on new urgency in the wake of September 11

Understanding the psychology of globalization helps in coping with the way people have reacted since the aerial attacks in the US.

By crashing passenger planes into iconic buildings where people work, the terrorists hoped to destabilise civil society through striking at our trust in them as safe spaces where the social imagining can be shared.

While the changes caused by globalization are relatively slow in destabilising the implicitly shared meaning of life reflected in the social imagining, the effect of the attacks has been a quick demonstration that groups hold together by the shared symbolic activities that comprise the social imagining: play, customs, rituals and the arts.

The creative intellect produced the symbolically "safe" spaces that have been destroyed, and the creative intellect will strengthen the symbolic life that will replace them.

Meanwhile, people are grieving for the weakening of their social imagining of the symbols that create safe spaces for conducting their lives. But the positive side of this is that it forces us all to pay attention to the way societies hold together.

Terrorism is a pathological and collective form of the despotic state of mind which everyone has experienced in a petty form whenever they have felt excluded or wanted to exclude others; the emotions behind it include all or some of the following feelings:

  • a sense of inner uncertainty about one's value
  • looking back to a time that seems safer
  • moral judgment about others
  • wanting to punish or retaliate
  • withdrawal within arbitrary limits, leading to rigidity
  • a need to enforce repression
  • arrogance.

President Bush's speech to Congress on September 21 was carefully crafted to reinforce stability at this time of cultural crisis. It used familiar imagery from the social imagining of shared values to stabilise his listeners' responses at the level where people can continue to maintain the structure of civil society.

Grief makes the emotions less stable and there is ample evidence that many people are experiencing some degree of despotic response to recent events. Grief and dismay can find a more positive outlet by consciously sharing in the effort to define our local, regional and global social imagining of:

  • the symbols of community
  • the symbolism of its public spaces
  • the customs, rules and traditions of its people
  • the institutions and associations which bind them.

The fundamental fact of human societies is that we are bound together by how we subscribe to these things. The social imagining is the way we portray the meaning of our shared lives (and therefore our individual meaning) through a whole range of metaphors and symbolic activities, from daily customs to the high rituals of public life. Symbols of our shared lives have always ensured the survival of humans because they are the way we are programmed to hold together in groups.

© Virginia Kenny 2003.     Page last updated: Oct 10, 2001 9:12 am