Is global citizenship about Google, Amazon and Facebook, or is it about aspiration to higher goals?

"Responsible leadership in government, business or civil society is founded on (responsible) global citizenship" - Malcolm McIntosh

“Responsible leadership in government, business or civil society is founded on (responsible) global citizenship” – Malcolm McIntosh

Does the rise of the global citizen mean the demise, or at least the transformation, of the nation-state? Certainly, anyone who has spent any time in China in recent years will tell you that everyone is full of ideas and politics around a table and over a beer, but much more circumspect online: it’s all very Orwellian. And as social media expands into every corner of our lives and into every crack in our brains—in almost all countries—we must wonder if in gaining the world, and therefore giving birth to global citizenship, we are not giving ourselves away to whoever is collecting the ‘big data’ at the supermarket checkout and in the global etherspace.

This morning Amazon told me, with no sense of irony, that I might want to buy Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered from 1972. How did they know? And why didn’t they know I already had it, from way back in 1972?!  Should we welcome the growing diminishment in personal space and the growing neural network as the next phase in human development? And rejoice that I can now be in immediate contact with my cousins in Damascus, Shanghai, New York and Berlin? Or are we selling our souls to the commoditisation devil?

Does global citizenship, as expressed through our engagement with the non-taxpaying all-American Google, Amazon, Facebook, Starbucks and Twitter, define global citizenship? Or, as the pieces in this special edition of The Journal of Corporate Citizenship argue, is global citizenship about some aspiration to higher goals of liberation, global democracy, enlightenment and concern for issues such as climate change, poverty, human rights and governance?

Google will apparently do no evil and Facebook will connect us all. We will all be friends and war will be no more? Should we be interested, concerned or paranoid when the co-founder of Google says its search function ‘will (eventually) be included in people’s brains’ so that ‘when you think about something and don’t really know much about it, you will automatically get information’?

Is this the future of scholarship, the creation of knowledge and the getting of wisdom? Is this global citizenship – to be so connected? And is responsible leadership – on the part of Google – the next frontier of business and human development?

We don’t really know what responsible leadership looks like in the context of the 21st century

We must therefore distinguish between the economic and political process currently known as globalisation, and globality, which is the ability to see our one world as shared space. The sense of globality has been nascent throughout history but was propelled to new heights of awareness by the beautiful, mellifluous pictures of planet Earth taken from space by astronauts in the late 1960s and onwards. Global citizenship, if the pieces in this special edition are correct, is more concerned about the downsides of globalisation and concerned with the upsides of globality. Responsible leadership is shown in an understanding of globality and all the issues that go with knowing that the Earth is a limited, delicate, shared space inhabited at the time of writing by 7,111,633,250 people – and growing at the rate of several per second.

I note that the very first article published by the Journal of Corporate Citizenship by Jan Aart Scholte in 2001 came from one of the first transdisciplinary conferences involving business, NGOs and academia and was on disaggregating the literature on globalisation. Then Scholte argued that globalisation had many facets including homogenisation, liberalisation and westernization. Given the rise of the BRICS, and particularly, China, would we say the same now about globalisation? The singer and songwriter Billy Bragg has said that this century ‘is not about ideology, it’s about accountability’ at all levels and this is my feeling from interviewing people at Occupy sites around the world in 2010. As Bragg said: ‘who are you, who put you there, and how do I get rid of you?’

At a global level these issues become enlarged and it may be that we are already in the hands of Google et al. in how we proceed, as many of our national leaders are constantly fighting internecine tribal battles in their political parties or with their local electorates and have little time or space to raise their games to become globally responsible leaders. But, as all these articles attest, this is what is needed at this time in the history of humanity. Responsible leadership in government, business or civil society is founded on (responsible) global citizenship, which in turn rests on rethinking the global good society.

This an edited version of the editorial by Malcolm McIntosh appearing in issue 49 of The Journal of Corporate Citizenship: Creating Global Citizens, out next week.

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