With its sparse oases and isles now fully mapped, its arid deserts and snowy peaks mastered by commercial flight, its vast blue oceans crisscrossed with submarine communication cables, and all of it constantly surveyed by satellites, it seems impossible to talk about human civilisation today without first talking about the planet as a whole on which we make our home; the globe.
I touched on this in my last post. Be it through ‘globalisation’, the ‘world stage’, the ‘world wide web’, the ‘global village’, ‘global warming’, the ‘GFC’, the ‘UN’, the ‘WHO’, the ‘GPS’, ‘world politics’, ‘world peace’ or ‘saving the planet’, the ‘globe’ has become the first fact of modern life, the rubric under which our day to day lives are processed and make sense.
We hear an awful lot about it, but what actually is this elusive ‘globe’? What do we really mean by that word? It’s possible to start ruling out certain possibilities. For instance, the ‘globe’ is definitely not Earth. When people talk about the ‘world’ or the ‘globe’ in the way they so often do, it’s clear they’re not talking solely and scientifically about a lonesome third rock from the sun in an obscure corner of the universe. They’re talking about something else.
Specifically, it has to do with life, biology, the defining characteristic of our otherwise unnoteworthy planet. To some extent it includes all plant and animal life, but its scope is primarily focused on a much narrower phenomenon which smells… slightly anthropocentric.
Let’s cut to the chase. The globe is all about us. Humans.
But even this doesn’t get to the bottom of it. When we talk about the ‘globe’ we’re not just talking about any other species or a collection of individuals living their own lives in isolation from one another. We’re not even talking about every single human being on this planet. Instead, what we’re talking about is a network of ideas about people, and the interactions and relationships between those people. From families, friends and neighbourhoods to social networks, markets, ethnicities and nations; we’re talking about an impersonal vision of the aggregate of all interpersonal relationships, both real and imagined, and attempting to explain them as a functioning whole.
Because of this, the ‘globe’ is looking more and more like an idea which is impossible to know anything concrete about. Put simply, the ‘globe’ is a metaphor for humanity, an abstract notion very loosely defined, perhaps more symbolic or poetic than actual, and not nearly as inclusive or all-encompassing as we’d like to imagine (more often than not it’s expressed from a decidedly Western perspective). We tend to talk about the globe as though it’s a single person, something we’re somehow at once a part of and apart from. But is this the best way to understand humanity today? Is humanity best thought of as a globally conscious entity?
In other words, is it helpful to conceive of humanity as a single, synchronised actor, aware at all times of what it’s doing, where it’s going, as though it’s headed in a direction or toward a coherent objective at all? Or is it better to imagine ourselves as pockets of isolated, unaware, uncoreographed chaos and mess? It’s clear that one conception has more sway over the other in modern cultural discourse, but it’s just as easy to see that both are always there. What does a preference for the former really get us? What is its explanatory power over the latter, and more importantly does it really map onto reality?
These are pretty tough questions, and they’ll take time to dissect fully. But they’re the sorts of big, open-ended questions this blog was set up to explore. With help.
Let’s start small. What does the ‘globe’ mean to you? Be as creative as you want in your answer.