The definition of “peace” has expanded from the absence of military confrontation to include the reduction, amelioration and possibly elimination of the root causes of social, political and military conflict.
Naturally, limiting nuclear weapons while working toward their elimination, on the same rationale as justifies the prohibition of chemical, biological weapons of mass destruction is a first priority. And this is an issue, like many others, which cannot be satisfied through mere “lip service”; it requires an almost daily monitoring to keep it on the front burner of all political actors of all ideological stripes. And as with other shared global issues, it demands the endorsement, monitoring and even the policing of international agencies. And, in turn, that points to the decline in the relative influence of the United Nations, the World Court, the World Health Organization and the International Labour Organization. The Paris Climate Accord is sadly a voluntary accord, without the kind of teeth that would seek, expect and require compliance, including sanctions for non-compliance.
In order to establish a “world perspective” among municipal, provincial and state politicians, local media, and local school boards have to start thinking about how to integrate significant news on a daily basis from around the world. And the enhanced circulation of the daily DOW and NASDAQ numbers does not qualify as satisfying that benchmark. The old adage “all politics is local” has to be injected with the single steroid that “local now includes the planet”. While there are a few issues that require specific local expertise, we have both the means and the need to access best practices from sources around the world, to help us design strategies and tactics for our local situations.
And, in order to facilitate that new approach, a differentiation between the what and the how of our political decisions is relevant. Let’s examine a few of the issues faced by all local, regional, provincial and national governments:
· We all face a surfeit of garbage and those mountains are going to continue go expand
· We all face a need for clean water, sewage treatment plants, desalination capacity, lake, river and ocean restoration
· We all face the impact of the tech revolution, including its impact on school curricula, employment planning and training, employment displacement
· We all face rising global temperatures, and the implications of our dependence on fossil fuels, not only for manufacturing and transportation, nobut also for a plethora of conveniences and especially packaging
· We all face growing poverty, as evidenced by the widening gulf between the have’s and the have-not’s, linked to a rising river of refugees that knows no borders, no harbours and no collaborative strategies to accommodate it
· We all live in jurisdictions where the laws lag far behind the capacity and speed of technology to invade and compromise personal, organizational, governmental and national security
· We all face a welter of mixed messages about the state of our world, requiring a level of profound literacy skills that sorts the “wheat from the chaff” and makes “meaning” out of the chaos served by multiple completing sources, both individual and organizational. This also impacts our shared need and obligation to equip citizens to discern and to interpret reality in a manner that holds public servants much more accountable than currently.
· We all face instability with respect to global economic forces, trade trends and practices, animated by a growing cabal of affluent, greedy and heavily armed with both lawyers and accountants, who can and do ferret gazillions of dollars out of reach of national revenue agencies, thereby depriving the public accounts of their legitimate contributions.
· We all face a growing need for the proverbial safety net, including assistance with food and prescription acquisition, access to affordable quality health care and creative and pro-active strategies to enhance human dignity, the motivation to work and to commit to life-long learning, and to participate in stable domestic relationships
· We all face a cultural indoctrination that renders every human being a “means” (or widget) in the plans, strategies and plans of large corporations, governments, and even not-for-profits…and this reduction’s embedding in the mind-set of all authority in the culture demands a significant shift away from the commodification of what it means to be human.
· Another cultural meme concerns our concept of time, driven by an instantly responsive and addictive technology, market systems that are highly reactive to the most miniscule hiccup (political, economic, trade, climate, military or terror)
This list is easily extended to include many more.
Yet, the more important aspect of the shared “issues” is that responsibility for each and everyone is unable to be contained within national, provincial or civic borders. There is quite literally no legitimate way to ascribe responsibility for air and water pollution, for the global income gaps, the penchant for violence as the preferred means of pursuing justice, the greed and profiteering among international mega-corporations, the invocation of radical interpretations of various religious dogmas, and the tidal wave of “strong-men” leaders and the twisting of the digital media into instruments for hate, lies defamation and propaganda.
What’s more the political institutions in both developed and developing nations that currently stand as our “protection” and our “defense” and our “hope” for our shared future remain closeted within very narrow confines. Those confines, based on history, tradition, custom, culture and various sets of laws seem intractable to a world that is so changed as to be unrecognizable to those who wrote those laws and established those traditions and developed those cultures. In a word, our current and evolving reality has far outstripped the capacity of our national and the few beleaguered international institutions to cope. And the gap between what existing laws and institutions can and will accomplish and our shared and growing need for relevant, applicable and cross-border covenants to address these many issues grows daily.
The income gap, while extremely serious, is even more significant as a metaphor for what “we” (the citizens of the world) are prepared to tolerate, endure and attempt to withstand, fully aware that this gap, by itself, is unsustainable. Access to clean water, air and land, education, access to healthy food, access to quality health care, freedom from violence from domestic, state and non-state actors, access to work with dignity, the right to vote and participate in public debate in some form of citizen-activated governance and personal and public safety and security…..these, while being a minimum requirement and legitimate expectation of all sustainable cultures and the individuals living within those cultures are nevertheless also a list of the deprivations to which most humans are subjected…and they are subjected to such conditions with impunity.
Those responsible will throw an array of excuses for not aggressively delivering such a bare list of “doables”. Cost, human resources, history, the laws, the traditions of our ‘tribe’…the expectations of our people, the silence of the people in demanding such “perks” (and what reasonable thinking person would consider them perks?) International habits, focusing on national sovereignty, is another of the limiting if not precluding factors.
National sovereignty, that mantra to which more and more “white supremacists” and “populists” are resorting, like “free speech” has to be limited, circumscribed and restricted in a deliberate and permanent manner, a manner to which all nations are prepared to subscribe. And that has to be one of the more naïve and ephemeral and utopian statements every to be committed to type.
There is a clear difference between tribal culture, ethnic culture, linguistic culture, religion and food and entertainment culture on the one hand, and national sovereignty on the other. And there is no reason why the surrender of a limited, and equal degree of national sovereignty, for the benefit of the whole planet, should limit the growth and sustainability of unique cultures. Surely national boundaries can encompass many indigenous cultures, provided that a starting point is a deep and articulated respect for those unique indigenous cultures. And this perspective, while shifting some of the prevailing premises of how nations formed and developed, merely opens to the new realities of the world’s changing capacity to communicate, to research, to support and to envision new ways of doing things in the public square.
As a free-lance journalist, covering a city government in a small town in northern Ontario, I was frequently dismayed with the response I received, invariably, when I asked a municipal politician a question like: “Have you or the city staff checked into how other northern Ontario towns and cities have addressed ‘this’ issue?” After that “blank” look swept overt their faces, screaming, “What are you talking about?” or “How dare you suggest such an approach?” they usually demurred to a whispered “No”!
Provincialism, parochialism, isolationism, are, none of them, attributes of a healthy, growing and motivating and stimulating communal culture. They are, rather, severe limits to possibilities and potentialities. A typical example, also from a northern Ontario family:
A young adult son speculates in the kitchen of his family home, before his parents, that he hopes to attend medical school to become a family practitioner. Astounded, his mother immediately retorts, “You can’t do that! We are not that kind of people!” Whatever she intended, that young man remembered her words, accepted her limiting psychological (and irrational) circumscription and retold the story as a verbatim in his mid-sixties, after graduating with his doctorate in Family Relations.
Conflict, comparisons, judgements, and a vain attempt to “sign” every aspect of our lives, as public servants and politicians is a sure path to a downward spiral and even more darkness. We have to rethink the way we do politics and public service away from self-aggrandizement and back to attempt to serve the legitimate needs of the public. Domains of specialists, while appropriate in the operating room of major hospitals, university labs and lecture halls and court rooms, is a false equivalence if and when applied to the public square. We, the ordinary citizens, cannot afford to permit the “specialists” to decide all public decisions, lest we all fall into the trap currently gripping the United States, a total rejection of what the hinterland calls the “effete” snobs, their evaluation of the “rule by snobs”. And just look at what they grasped on to, as their choice of replacement…an iconoclast who probably does not even grasp the damage he has done and will continue to inflict, pending the self-emasculation of the Republicans, caught in the web of preserving their political status and careers.
None of the this is rocket-science; even the most casual observer can pick up the clues. However, it is going to take some “electric jolt” for the global political culture to awaken to the reality that superficial, short-term, narcissistic and ultra-nationalistic ideologies, policies, promises, campaigns and restrictive laws are, taken together, a recipe for disaster.
The wisdom, the history, the patience and the “circle” of indigenous people, fully conscious and practicing a collaborative spirituality with the planet, can still serve as a beacon to which to turn our shared political compass, in our “shared” attempt to pass successfully through this very deep and truth-defying fog, of a new kind of war. In every country, indigenous people have suffered the slings and arrows, the rubber and loaded bullets, the disparaging taunts and the outright character defamation that make that eminently suited to provide leadership out of the slough of racism, poverty, discrimination, the loss of hope and the deprivation of their languages and culture. Will we invite them to lead us out of our own darknesses, blindnesses, hubris and complacency? If we can make the even the binary choice for “life” and all of its bounty, over death and all of its multiple threats, we can win this new ubiquitous conflict for survival.
This is a war that is effectively, like a scheming and toxic fungus or tumor, eroding the very body politic of the globe. It is a war based on selfish, narrow, frightened and narcissistic private (including racial, tribal, ethnic, and even religious) interests and motivations.
Human rights, are not restricted to rights under the law: they must include the right to breathe, to drink clean water, the right to access education, health care and work with dignity and the right to live in safety and security in one’s rightful place. And, if the laws are slow to embody them, then the laws have to change, And if the people responsible for the laws are not prepared to pass such reasonable and sustainable and pro-active law, in the best interests of their “constituents” then those people have to be replaced.
And a somnambulant, insouciant, detached, disengaged, self-declared victim populace is in not condition to take such spinal, and vehement and self-supporting activist steps.
As Pogo reminds us, “we have met the enemy and he is us!”