Global Neighbourliness

Share this post

Fraser Watts writes about Global Neighbourliness.

There has been much talk about the recent lurch to populist right-wing politics being a response to ‘globalisation’. We live in a ‘global village’ in which there is increasingly free movement of money, goods, people and information. That poses challenges, because one part of the world can no longer isolate itself from others.

The Global Village

Syrian refugees. Fraser Watts discusses neighbourliness in the context of migration.
Refugees in Europe.

In broad terms we have been through three stages towards globalisation. First, movement between different parts of the world was so difficult that particular parts of the world could do their own thing, without much impact from others.

Second, there was a phase of growing global traffic, but of a kind that was much more open to rich countries than poor ones and involved rich countries exploiting poor ones. Rich countries could have the benefits of global movement with the down-sides.

But we have now reached a third stage in which there is more equal traffic between rich and poor areas, which means that rich countries have to take the problems as well as the benefits of globalisation, including mass migration, global terrorism, cheap goods from low wage economies etc. That has led to something of a backlash in developed countries.

What is to be done? The horse has bolted. There is no way in which we can go back to the earlier stages of isolation, or one-way exploitation. Two-way global traffic is here to stay, and we need to find a way to make the best of it.

There is a parallel with how national communities have evolved. There was a time when rich and poor could keep themselves so separate that it was almost an apartheid system, rich and poor segregated from one another. But gradually that has broken down, and we have had to recognize that the only viable way to run a country is for us all to accept a measure of responsibility for each other. Like it or not, the rich can’t any longer get away with ignoring the poor.

The global community now faces a similar challenge. Rich countries can’t get away with ignoring or exploiting poor ones. We have to find a mutually acceptable way of co-existing, though that is going to mean some loss of privilege for the wealthy countries.

Establishing ‘Neighbourliness’

The religious word for this development is ‘neighbourliness’. The Jewish tradition has some fine principles about treating fellow Jews as neighbours. Jesus extended and broadened that tradition. For example, in his story of the Good Samaritan, he urged Jews and Samaritans to treat each other as neighbours. Now, things are going further; there is now no practical alternative but to treat everyone in the world as our neighbours.

Moral principle and self-interest both point in the same direction here. Neighbourliness is certainly a good ethical principle. But there is also self-interest involved. We may not like having to be concerned about other people round the world, but we just can’t get away with doing anything else. Self-interest is going to force us into doing the right thing, and building a new world order of global neighbourliness.

Jesus’ story about the rich man (Dives) ignoring the poor man at his gate is especially pertinent. In the long-term, when they were both dead, Dives realised that ignoring the poor man not been in his own best interests. Now, rich countries don’t have to wait that long to realise that ignoring or exploiting poor countries is not in their best interests. There is no alternative to global neighbourliness.

– Fraser Watts

Image credit: Syria Freedom