by Jack McLean
Published in Gulf Islands Driftwood (1998)
“Coming of age” has become a trendy catch phrase these days. Motion pictures, television, writers of fiction and nonfiction are attracting audience attention with “coming of age” stories. The last one that caught my eye was an advert for Chris Bohjalian’s recently published suspense thriller Midwives. The ad tells of a “complex and rivetting coming of age tale.” The expression coming of age beckons both reader and viewer through psychological intrigue: a dramatic turning point, an initiation or self affirmation, an awakening. The heady phrase also is also tied to tied to the notion of empowerment and sexual initiation.
Here I would like to turn the phrase to the bigger picture of humanity’s collective life. For the process of coming of age applies, not only to fictional or real life characters, but also to humanity’s ordered societal life. Ultimately, I am convinced that the coming of age of the human race suggests that we are moving inexorably toward world unification, a recognition of humanity’s oneness and wholeness and some form of world government.
Let me say at the outset that my use of the word globalization is particular. It is not an endorsement of the destruction of local, ethnic cultures by lawless transnational corporations, a licence to kill or to destroy the environment, the domination of the third estate by the economic elites, and huge profits made on the backs of underpaid, overworked, labourers in sweat-shops in India, Bangladesh or Asia. That face of globalization is ugly indeed. But there is another face to this word globalization: that of viewing the whole earth as one country, and its citizens as members of one family, where social justice is the dominant ethic.
The process is intriguing. What seems to be occurring is that symmetrical microcosmic and macrocosmic relationship found in the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, still proving true today. It might best be simply described as “as for great, even so for small” or vice versa. What holds true for the growth and development of the human body and the individual also holds true for the body of humanity. An irresistible process, similar to that which drives individuals to maturity and self realisation must also function at the world level in the political, economic and social spheres.
Coming of age consciousness is clearly apocalyptic and points to rapid evolution followed by sudden transformation. It has all the features of a moving drama. Recognition of humanity’s oneness can be gradually perceived only through crisis, the predominant feature of our age. The unity of nations can be forged only in a crucible of untold universal suffering.
British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (d. 1975 ) in his twelve volume Study of History likened the birth, growth and death of civilizations to the patterns of growth and decay in living organisms. One of the patterns that Toynbee discerned in his monumental study was that of “challenge and response.” Civilizations flourish when they are able to ultimately overcome the challenges brought on by dysfunction. The remnant that survives and adapts to the newly emerging environment also participates in the creation of the new world order. Toynbee felt that war ravaged western civilization was on its last legs but that a larger world civilization might yet be born, one that was more fully integrated and less dominated by Caucasians. We have already begun to discern the early evidences of that process in decolonisation, Pacific Rim economic activities, new Asian prosperity and in free and fair global trade.
At the end of the day — or better put — at the end of the age, the fittest will be those who survive, not by conquering with “tooth and claw” in Darwinian fashion, but rather those who perceptively discern the spirit of the age, who correctly perceive the movement of history and both take up its challenges and concern themselves with its requirements. For every age, like every person, has its own personality, a spirit that characterises its emerging identity. Our Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) is clearly expressed by a word that has only recently emerged, a word that could not have come into use except through a quantum shift in consciousness — globalization.
Globalization is the key to understanding the present age and will determine the course of world events in the third millennium. Although this word originated in the field of macro-economics, globalization is a code word that may be applied just as fruitfully to other vital fields than world markets. Globalization also applies at the political level and envisions a more fully functioning UN, supported by strong auxiliary agencies, including a truly effective world police force that could be mustered to crush aggressors and impose peace upon belligerents, aggressors who in frenzies of violence continue to callously massacre innocent citizens in civil strife. In religion or spirituality, the term may be applied to the concept of a world faith, or to discerning common core patterns of spirituality in the great religions. Today globalization even applies to “world music” in the hybrid strains that blend African, European, North and South American, Caribbean and Asian songs.
Locally, each of us can contribute to the process of globalization by combating prejudices and stereotypes, becoming volunteers, participating in international organisations and joint ventures, protecting the environment, learning the folkways of other cultures or joining Interfaith or UN associations. World unity is no utopian dream. It is the functional imperative of this age and the next.