Session 2 - A Global Crisis


Previously, crises were not so radical, so as to be defined as "birth." We defined them as steps in our evolution. There were many such steps in the history of humankind, but the current crisis is fundamentally different from those of the past.


We've always wanted to discover the new, forthcoming state (once we realized that some form of revolution in our lives was mandatory). It could be a social revolution, a political one, a technological revolution, or a revolution that arose because of some new discovery, such as new continents, new weapons, or a new technology such as the internet, which helped us develop new connections.


Yet, there has never been a revolution that so radically changed every aspect of our lives, and affected the whole of humanity—every continent, every country, every family, and every person.


While we are still in the "prenatal" stage of the process, we cannot confidently say that this is what is happening. However, we can already see that we're heading toward birth. The situation, which we will define as our "prenatal crisis," increasingly presses us, both collectively and individually.


This is why we are unable to maintain family ties, we are increasingly reluctant to marry, and if we do, we quickly divorce. We don't know how to conduct a family life, how to raise our children. We cannot seem to cope in our jobs, in our social ties, and generally, we're being dragged into miscomprehension and disorder.


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The uniqueness of the current crisis is its global impact. Never before has there been a crisis of such a grand scale.

Main Points

  • All crises that humanity underwent in the past were local, at different levels.
  • The present crisis touches people at all levels and aspects of life.


"At this stage of history, the human footprint on the environment has grown to a point where global ecology is significantly disturbed. Notable are the severe impacts on biodiversity loss and the perilous modification of the global climate system due to greenhouse gas emissions."

"Bending the Curve: Toward Global Sustainability"

"I'm very concerned of things getting out of control."

"The European debt crisis could have consequences that would be 'worse' than the collapse of Lehman Brothers, he said."

Engage Yourself

Question 1: The above session video and video transcript text states that the global crisis is reflected in all aspects of life. Please check the areas below in which you feel that there is indeed a crisis.

If one of your selections is “Other,” please specify:

Question 2: View and consider the video clip below [link to the clip here, if needed].

According to this video clip and the above opening session video and transcript above, what is the difference between past crises and the current crisis? (you can use the session transcript text above if you find it helpful.)

Question 3: In a recently published article, Dr. Manuel Escudero, a UN special advisor on globalization, mentions various trends indicating the global and multi-layered nature of the crisis. Here is an English translation of the article listing those global trends:

Traces of a disconcerting global reality
By Dr. Manuel Escudero, 1 SEP 2011
Filed in the Opinion section.

We are living in a new global reality that disrupts us from our usual "beaten path." It is worthwhile to describe the characteristics of this new global reality--noted here are 10--presented in the confidence that upon seeing them grouped together as a whole, it becomes clear that rather than merely living in an era of change, we are actually experiencing a change of era.

These are some of the new characteristics of reality:

1. The public authorities are "shrinking." A large part of the problems that we experience in our daily life cannot be addressed in isolation by each country (the problem of sovereign debt or the regulation of financial markets, global terrorism or climate change). This raises the problem of the limits of democracy: it results in difficulty for citizens to give their vote to any political option, knowing that anyone's capacity to resolve problems is more than restricted.

2. In addition, during the second half of the twentieth century we learned that the unbounded growth of the public sector does not resolve all the problems. This does not mean that public policies are unnecessary. The ultimate goal of policy (Philip Petit) is freedom, understood as the eradication of all types of domination exercised by a few individuals over others. The intervention of the State is necessary to help people to shake the dominations suffered, but it is also necessary to prevent public abuses by a democracy that is much more deliberative and argumentative.

3. While democratic governments show their limitations, the power of global enterprises has increased in the last decade as a result of globalization, deregulation, and privatization. If the Fortune 500 companies were a country (data as of 2010), it would be the second largest in the world, with the equivalent of two-thirds of GNP of the United States, and double that of Japan or China. And this raises the issue of to whom are these new global powers accountable.

4. Partly as a spontaneous response to the increasing power of global corporations, there has risen an international tendency for social regulation of the corporation on the part of a growing number of affected groups: sustainability, corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship. It appears that companies are beginning to adhere to certain standards of social conduct, environmental and governance, making intermingling and co-mixing the new role of business in the twenty-first century as an economic institution with positive impacts on society and in the global arena. However, this tendency is not yet consolidated and furthermore, financial investment institutions have not accepted this in their majority.

5. Also, an extremely important aspect of the social fabric has changed: the generation of legitimacy. Legitimacy--the moral license to operate--comes from public opinion (Habermas). But today, public opinion is not only generated through local and national media, but above all, public opinion is generated by social networks: an exponentially increasing amount of analysis, opinions, comments, and links generated by the users themselves. Through the Internet and its platforms (Twitter, Likedin, Facebook, Google, blogs, etc.), a growing number of ordinary citizens have become a powerful source of reflexivity (Giddens), for quickly creating states of conscience and legitimacy, both for public authorities and for private.

6. When this fact is added with other supplementary evidence: social networks are being revealed as a powerful multiplier and facilitator of the massive intervention of ordinary citizens in the public agenda. The last six months have shown us abundant examples: the Arab Spring, the 15-M in Spain, the mass demonstrations in Tel Aviv, or the riots in the UK and the response of the public to them.

7. These trends have been aggravated by the economic and financial crisis of 2008. First, investment of global financial institutions, hedge funds, investment funds, and pension funds, flanked by private rating agencies have created a truly unprecedented situation: the same institutions that gave rise to the crisis in the first place, which have emerged unscathed and economically strengthened from the same, hold the ropes to democratic bodies such as the United States or Europe.

8. Budgetary constraints and unemployment have been combined to produce the greatest income inequality ever recorded in our lives. In Spain, more than one million families have all their family members in unemployment. Income inequality in the United States is the largest since the Census Bureau began its statistics in 1967. In this same country, the income from work of those that made more than 50 million in a year, rose in 2008 to $ 91.2 million, but in 2010, it became the chilling figure of 518.8 million. These 74 Americans garnered from their income the equivalent to what 19 million low income Americans made. At the same time, the large global corporations remind us every day that they are making significant profits, despite the crisis. If we consider again the Fortune 500 companies as a single country, it would be one of the fastest growing countries in 2010, ahead of China or India.

9. The crisis has finally revealed a new and crucial feature: a multi-sided world in which new economic powers, such as Iran, will assert its voice. This will eventually lead to a new global, multilateral reality, both in economic and political terms. It is not unreasonable to think that we are on the threshold of a new international monetary agreement, which will anchor the system to a basket of currencies and not only the dollar, and that, ideally, will also ultimately agree to regulation of financial institutions in investment. But, when this happens, it is possible that not all of us will be comfortable: India, China, Brazil or Russia could bring ideas and suggestions that are unfamiliar to those who live far from the epicenter of globalization.

10. And the final inescapable characteristic, there are other crises, less mentioned, but also determinative. We live on a very populated planet (Jeffrey Sachs) in which the four pillars of world population growth: climate, population, water, and electricity, are subject to growing bottlenecks. Along with the threat of rapid climate change, there are 1 billion people at risk of malnutrition, 1.2 billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, and 1.8 billion have no access to electricity ... And these figures are only the announcement of the crises in food security, water, and energy, that we will continue experiencing intermittently in the future.

Before this change of an era, what fit were two intellectual positions: the most natural is confusion, and the feeling of powerlessness. But what also fits now is the conviction that a primary task of great social significance today is that social scientists, and political and economic researchers set aside their prevailing beliefs, and make an effort in order to see reality as it is, with the hope of, at least, the ability to ask relevant questions.

In your opinion, which one of the above global trends is the most worrisome, and why?

Question 4: Please watch the next video clip below [link to the clip here, if needed]. In your view, what is the main conclusion from the clip?

Question 5: One of the main arguments of the first unit in this course is that the personal crisis that many of us are experiencing today is actually part of a much larger process that all of humanity is undergoing.

If you had to present this argument in some public setting (television, lecture, etc.), you would...