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Localization: The Antidote to Isolationism

By: Andrew Hickson (Community Administrator) - Euro-Com International B.V.

12 December 2016

As 2016 draws to an end, I have found myself reflecting on a year which I guarantee will be a popular answer in Pub quizzes for generations to come. If a question is asked, and you find yourself clueless, there’s a strong statistical chance that ‘Chuck Norris,’ or ‘2016’ will be a reasonable shot in the dark. 

2016 has seen the tragic passing of so many cultural heroes; Mohamed Ali, Prince, David Bowie, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Caroline Ahern, Terry Wogan, Leonard Cohen to name but a few.

From a sporting point of view, it can legitimately be christened ‘The Year of the Underdog’: from Leicester City’s stunning 5000-1 scaling of the Premiere League, to The Chicago Cubs magically repealing their 108 year Curse of the Billy Goat, to Ireland finally overcoming the All Blacks (which took place in Chicago during their celebrations week…thanks Chicago!) after 111 years of hammerings and near-misses.

Over the last year we have watched in disbelief as the world has lurched from one crisis to another. Frankly, this year has felt like one continuous storm. From domestic and international terrorist attacks, to streams of refugees fleeing wars and conflicts, to devastating storms and reports of climate change, we are primed to live on edge and in fear.

Yet, statistically speaking, we are living in the safest and arguably most enlightened period in human history. However, in a year where “Post-Truth” has been declared the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year, it’s fair to say that statistics and facts have taken a backseat in the search for an overall narrative.   

“Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.” – Steven Pinker

If we were to look for examples of underdogs from outside the sporting world, it would be hard to argue against the inclusion of the successful leave campaign for Brexit and President-elect Donald Trump. Whatever way you want to break it down, the ‘Remainers’ and Hillary Clinton had a far greater cache of resources.

I am not going to argue the pros or cons for either side in either vote here. Thousands of commentators have weighed in on these topics, and these will continue to be subjects of study and debate for years to come. I am going to focus on one issue which has played an important, if slightly over-looked role in the election in America and the Referendum in the UK: Isolationism.  

Isolationism Examined

Isolationism is defined as “a policy of nonparticipation in or withdrawal from international affairs.” Isolationism, depending on whether you are “a bleeding-heart liberal ‘remoaner,’” or “a xenophobic right-wing nationalist,” is either "a refuge of the weak and narrow minded whose fears and prejudices are putting us all at risk," or "the cure to the ills perpetrated by a global elite who have lost the run of themselves and need to be reminded that charity begins at home."  

“Britain voted for independence, it didn’t vote for isolation and so we have a choice: are we going to choose to build an open, global-facing economy, or one that’s closed and isolated? If we choose the latter, then our economy is finished. If we choose the former, we stand a chance of flourishing greatly.” – Lord Wolfson

The isolationist rhetoric, however, became a dog-whistle for the right-leaning, nationalist subculture in the UK. So while legitimate arguments could and should be made for the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the message got mired in a turgid mudslinging battle with overtly racist tones. The sad irony of everything that has transpired with Brexit is that the E.U. was built to prevent the very kind of nationalist fervour that its economic mismanagement and political heavy-handedness has provoked.

“It's easy for a generation that has only known peace and relative prosperity to forget that the arc of the political universe is long, and it bends toward wherever you point it. If that's toward chauvinism and isolationism, well, that's what you'll get”  – Matt O’Brien

In the US, Donald Trump’s campaign, with his “Make America Great Again” slogan, sought to echo the isolationist rhetoric of the “Leave” campaign. Donald made numerous references to Nigel Farage, even going so far as to invite Nigel on stage at a rally in Jackson, Mississippi. President-elect Trump referred to himself as Mr. Brexit, and stated that his win would be “Brexit-plus-plus-plus.”

The concept of Isolationism has a far more complicated history in America. Up until the attack on Pearl Harbour, America had almost always chosen to embrace isolationism over unnecessary involvement in conflicts taking place outside their borders.

In both WWI and WWII, America did not get involved until American interests were threatened. Not wanting to get involved in armed conflicts that are happening half a world away was a pretty understandable position to take. However, Donald Trump’s messages on NATO and Climate change are alarming to say the least. For all that we can know about Donald Trump, given his mixed messages on most topics, it is fair to call him an isolationist.

“Staunch isolationists see any international agreement as an entanglement and a constriction of America's free movement in the world. Treaties on climate change or nuclear disarmament or free trade are subject to this as well, as are agreements on human rights. Although an isolationist America might very well agree with the underlying cause of such treaties, being bound by quotas or being forced to act because of certain articles in a treaty is unacceptable to isolationists.” – Paul Smits ("Donald Trump and the Sin of Isolationism”)

For those Brexiteers who were furious at Obama’s “back of the queue” remarks, and who felt that leaving the EU would allow for closer ties in the US/UK special relationship, (this needs to be a status on Facebook ala “It’s complicated”), Donald Trump’s list of first phone calls: Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, India, Japan, Australia and South Korea, does not inspire confidence.

Nor does the NY Times report that Donald told Theresa May “If you travel to the US you should let me know”… That sounds like the kind of thing you’d tell an Australian backpacker in a hostel in Hanoi.. kinda in the hope that they don't take you up on the offer, but knowing in the back of your head that they inevitably will. Although confirming that St. Patrick's Day will be celebrated next year was reassuring.

“We need to develop a more positive and honest political debate, finding ways to put more power in the hands of citizens, and reinvigorating public life with fresh ideas. There is huge anger from those who feel that they have been left behind by globalisation.” – Tom Fletcher (Former British Ambassador to Lebanon and Twitter Diplomat)

Necessary Friction Drives Our Industry

There is a necessary complexity which exists in our industry. In my opinion, this complexity is one of our greatest resources. We are staffed and developed by people who have an affinity for other cultures. Euro-Com International, by any measure, is not a large player in the world of translation and localization. However, we work with clients on every continent. Our 38 direct staff cover 11 different nationalities, many different religious beliefs (or not as the case may be), different sexual orientations, and perhaps most relevant in this current climate, different political ideologies.

The nature of the job means that we are constantly in communication with people from other countries and other cultures. This often leads to the most obvious areas of friction for us. Watching a female Kazakhstani account manager, based (and educated) in Germany, discussing processes and protocols with a male Egyptian (Dutch trained) project manager is something that needs to be seen to be believed.

It is a necessary friction and it is brilliant. It drives us to be better. To show more understanding. To see things from someone else’s point of view. To express and develop our empathy for others.

Empathy: The Key to the Localization Industry

There is a war coming. As professionals in the Localization industry, we must realize that we are on the front lines and we need to fight back. Our industry is under attack.

The nature of the localization industry means that if you work in localization, you are going to have colleagues from other nations. It is our job, as professionals in the localization industry, to fight the swell of popularity for this isolationist oratory.

Every time you read calls to put “Britain First”, or “America First”, or calls to close Dutch, German, or French borders, just remember our industry exists as a living, breathing reminder that no one country can survive on their own.

It must become our mission to not just facilitate ‘the nuts and bolts’ localization of products and messages, but to become incarnate examples of what is great about 'going global' for people who live in doubt and in fear of foreigners. We must celebrate our staff, our colleagues and our peers, and take a determined position in the war on localization.

We are the antithesis of and the antidote for Isolationism.