Like every modern phenomenon you can think of, globalization is a massive jumble of contradictory trends, of the hopeful and the hopeless, the humane and the barbarous. It is like the opening of "A Tale of Two Cities," the best of times and the worst of times.
It is the most important change in the history of mankind, and often the latest name for the conspiracy of the rich against the poor. It is the phenomenon most subject to the efforts of econometricians and statisticians, and the least understood and measured change in our time.
This last paradox is particularly important because -- although we know vast amounts about the flow of capital and spending power around the world, and the figures fill the media every day -- we also see very little reflection of the personal experience of globalization by ordinary people around the world. We see the Wall Street traders; we don't see the sweatshop workers or the farmers driven from their land. We see the joy but not the misery.
This is an important omission, because it is people's personal experience of the phenomenon that really counts. Not just for the poor, but for all of us. In the end, we all have to take globalization personally.
I think I can say in all modesty that I've been to some places in the world that most CEOs would never dream of going. Often in search of new products, sometimes just for the hell of it, sometimes just to see for myself what's really going on. I've held mutated babies genetically handicapped by toxic waste dumped in local streams. I've spied on illegal loggers in Sarawak. I've seen babies living near Mexican tobacco fields that were born without genitalia -- and if anything made me take it personally, that did.
The Mexican example was particularly shocking -- and not just for me. Scientists had traced the cause to pesticides, but the American tobacco companies that bought the crops grown there wouldn't accept responsibility, because they said the fields didn't belong to them. And knowing that representatives of these companies would be in a Cancun conference I spoke at, I showed them the slides.
There was absolutely no reaction from them at all: no embarrassment, no outrage, just a bloodless sense of good manners.
I'm occasionally accused of taking these issues too personally. As if being in business were necessarily a cold-hearted, objective, pseudo-scientific project to manipulate consumers. But I've also learned over the years that it can't be that anymore. The future of the world depends on us all taking it personally.
Not everyone, I know, can take their grievances straight to the boardrooms of the corporations that are exploiting the planet and its people for profit. But we all must believe that we can do something. As Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
Sometimes, it's just a matter of knowing where to start. That's why I've brought together some of the brightest thinkers on the problem of globalization, and written a new book, "Take It Personally." Some of the sharpest minds in the anti-globalization movement -- including Naomi Klein, Paul Hawken, Ralph Nader, Vandana Shiva, and David Korten -- have contributed to this handbook on how to make conscious choices in your own life which will help get informed, engaged, and passionate about turning back the tide of globalization.
I'll be traveling around the US over the next few months to talk about the book and to meet all of you committed citizens. Check my schedule on this Web site, and I'll see you soon.