The Thinking Post is a forum for ideas that promote greater understanding of our world and present a variety of perspectives on the goings-on of humans on planet earth. This is where you are urged to think out loud and share your thoughts with passion. It is where ideas get battered around, and large picture thinking goes beyond tweets, slogans, and sound bites. The Thinking Post seeks to inform, enlighten, challenge, inspire, and help readers make educated decisions about their world.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Blog 3. The Large Picture of Politics – One Person’s Pathway to Taking World Governance Seriously
Senegal Hand-Carved Thinker (Contours look male)
The Thinking Post. I was born in Ireland in 1933, grew up in its heartland, at age 24 came to the US, became a US citizen in 1962, and lived and worked in Sacramento/Yuba City/Woodland/Davis/Monterey/ Pasadena-California, Cuernavaca-Mexico, Hong Kong-China, Macao-China, London-England, Lisbon-Portugal, Houston-Texas, Chicago-Illinois, Eufaula-Alabama, Orlando/Jupiter-Florida, Washington DC, Albuquerque/Santa Fe-New Mexico, Hopkinsville-Kentucky, and Philadelphia-Pennsylvania.
Where is my true home? In my senior years I have come to realize that fundamentally I am a creature of our planet. That is the home that I share very intimately with billions of other living creatures–humans, animals, fish, insects, microorganisms, and plants. I am what you might call above all else a planetician, that is, a person who sees himself as belonging to planet earth as a whole over and above any particular part of the planet, and belonging to the human family as a whole over and above one particular group of people. Of course belonging to the planet and to the human family does not negate belonging to and having special ties with a particular part of the planet, such as a country, or with a particular group of people, such as Americans or an extended family group. It is a matter of a hierarchy of belonging, but more on that below.
Growth in Understanding Who I Am. Yes, I am Irish. Yes, I am an American citizen. But more basically, I am a citizen of planet earth. I spend my days and nights traveling with billions of other creatures through space and around the sun on a spaceship that is pulsating with life and energy. I share the same fresh air, the same water, the same rich soils, the same star-filled skies, the same source of heat, in all – the same traveling spaceship with my fellow travelers. Even in my advanced years, I need to grow into the full realization what that means, its advantages and its responsibilities.
Growing up I had a sense of responsibility to my family, a vague sense of responsibility to the country of my birth and later to my adopted country, but little or no sense at all of responsibility to the planet. A sense of responsibility to the planet only came with the understanding and awareness of shared traveling on our planet spaceship, and hence shared responsibility for shared traveling conditions. Growth in understanding this shared responsibility means a change in attitudes to the planet and a determination to cherish and protect the planet and not violate or harm her in any manner by polluting its water, air, or soil, or making the planet in any way less livable for its many creatures. Damage or violence to the planet’s interconnected systems of land, air, and water anywhere negatively impacts all systems and all life as we are seeing in the growth of carbon dioxide emissions and the effects on climate change and global warming.
If the Creator made planet earth as part of the creation of the cosmos, the least that is expected of me as an intelligent creature of the planet is to cherish and nourish the planet and protect it from pollution and forces that would be destructive of or in any way diminish its inhabitants’ life support systems and quality of life. That is the best way for me to honor the Creator of the planet, not participation in the erection of grandiose pyramids, temples, cathedrals, and mosques, which would seem to be a primitive tribal response to the divine and a misplacement of human energy and resources. Historically, it would seem that humans, myself included, were motivated to support the building of great structures and perform ritual acts of obeisance in honor of rulers, emperors, tribal chiefs, gods, etc. more out of fear of retribution than of admiration. The Aztecs sacrificed humans daily atop their pyramids out of fear that their sun god, Huitzilopochtli, would not rise in the morning. In my more lucid moments, I know that the Creator has no need of imposing structures and elaborate ceremonial performances, yet others and I persist in the footsteps of our ancestors, fearing divine retribution of some kind. Maybe we should consider honoring the Creator weekly or at least monthly by establishing a planet holy day, a Creator’s day when all humans do something to nourish the planet and improve the planet’s quality of life. I think the Creator would be very pleased with such an observance and it could be very educational. Imagine 6+ billion humans doing something positive weekly or monthly to improve the quality of life on the planet! Surely the vast majority of humans would respond positively to such an invitation.
A Recurring Question. In these twilight years, as I approach the end of my allotted span of life on earth, I have been bothered by a nagging question. What have I done to contribute to the betterment of life on our planet? What has been my contribution over the past 77+ years? What has been my footprint? I scratch my head and wonder am I a failure as an intelligent creature of planet earth? The best that I can say is that an objective evaluation would in all likelihood conclude that I have not been a major negative influence, but neither have I been much of a positive influence. I might as well not have lived as far as the planet is concerned.
In my local sphere of influence, my immediate family, my immediate community, my place of work, I have been on balance a small positive influence. My wife and I, following the environmental maxim coined by Rene Jules Dubos, a French-American microbiologist, “think globally, but act locally”, have planted shrubs and trees in our garden and have not used pesticides of any kind. But outside of these local areas, my influence quickly drops to zero. Maybe I was never meant to be anything but a local small bit player in a small corner of the planet. I rush to remind myself that any positive contribution, no matter how small to any corner of the plant, is a very good thing. To aspire to accomplish anything over and above that maybe sheer conceit.
But maybe, just maybe, I am meant to contribute something beyond the local, beyond country, to the planet, to the spaceship we are traveling in. Like what? A contribution to a greener planet! A contribution to the quality of life on our spaceship! An eye pleasing painting! A formula for reconciling political and religious conflicts! An uplifting piece of music! A best selling novel! A scientific discovery! An insight into the nature of the divine! A trip of exploration to the moon or beyond! A foolproof formula for losing weight! A trip of exploration to the depths of the oceans! A program to reduce crime! A breakthrough in medicine that alleviates the suffering of many! An innovation that improves living conditions on the planet! An idea that brings about positive change in how we think about the planet and ourselves!
Now, that last one is something I could tinker with in the short time I have left. I do not have the skills or the stomach to accomplish any of the others. But thinking is something I can attempt. My 77-year old brain is still capable of a few thoughts now and then. And I am not as wedded to traditional ideas of politics and religion as in the past. And I am not as reluctant to accept new ideas that challenge long-held worldviews once the evidence is strong if not compelling in their favor.
Ideas that Change Understanding. An idea outside the mainstream is going to take a leap beyond my normal way of thinking, a leap outside my culture, outside the political, social, and religious systems of thought and practice that I grew up with. In the last few years, I already have made a small leap in thinking of myself as first and foremost as a creature of the planet. But even if I succeed in making other small leaps in my own mind, will the leaps benefit anybody? Even if they don’t, that should not stop a little thinking. Thinking outside one’s political, social, and religious systems are seldom well received by others. In fact, it is often received with hostility and ostracism. I know that long held ideas and convictions persist even when the evidence is stacked against them. Try to convince some even with overwhelming evidence, logic, and common sense, and they remain unconvinced still.
And anyway, in my old age, what do I have to lose in taking a leap outside the parameters that I grew up in? A small voice warns me-perhaps a lot! Despite the warning, I press on. People my age usually have the time to do some serious thinking, and too few of us put that thinking time to productive use. We usually associate serious thinking with think tanks and much younger people. But why not have some think tanks populated with or at least sprinkled with retired people? Creative thinking need not be limited by age. We need to tap into the creative ability of seasoned minds as well as younger minds and give the owners of these seasoned minds-old farts like myself-a place of dignity and importance in our world. Retirement from my life’s work should not mean retirement from contributing to the wellbeing of my community, the betterment of society, or improving the quality of life on our planet. In America, ex-presidents are expected to contribute to society and to continue their leadership role in one way or another. Why not a similar expectation from all retired people?
In browsing the Internet recently, I came across The Elders. As their website states, The Elders “are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering, and promote the shared interests of humanity”. Every community should have a group of elders who come together to offer their collective experience, wisdom, and creative thinking in service of their communities across the planet. When I retire, that is something I would like to be a part of.
A Leap Up to the Large Picture. So here goes my small leap outside my comfort zone. Two ideas have been rattling around in my brain for some time and they flow from seeing myself as a citizen of the planet. These two ideas take a fresh look at political belief systems and religious belief systems. And both ideas concern themselves with what I call the large picture. Most of us are born into, grow up, work, play, and die having small pictures of ourselves, small pictures of the world we live in, and small pictures of our understanding of life and the universe around us. Many of us live or have lived in a restricted environment of our own making with very limited horizons and restricted parameters within which we are constrained or restrict ourselves to think and live.
When I look at our planet through the eyes of an astronaut from space or through the eyes of the Creator, I do not see any borders or boundaries. I see one large mobile home shared by all the planet’s living creatures. The birds best exemplify this shared life as they move and fly across the planet at will. Unfortunately, I, in consort with my fellow humans, have set up or have acquiesced in borders and boundaries that have served to divide people and set group against group. The systems we used to establish these borders and divisions have been and continue to be for the most part politics and religion. Like many animals on the planet, we humans are very territorial, which means that we stake out a claim to a particular space or habitat on the planet. I have done so and perhaps you have done so too.
Part of expanding my picture of our planet will be changing my understanding of politics and religion and working to place both politics and religion in a more planet-friendly and human family-friendly perspective. The challenge is to develop a perspective big enough to transcend multiple political and religious preferences and differences. This entails debunking long-held and deeply rooted myths and allegiances to what may be for some unquestionable political systems and belief systems. This may take some beyond their comfort zone, and be unsettling. But all stretching of our horizons, all changes to accepted parameters are unsettling to some degree.
The Large Political Picture. The big picture of understanding who I am politically invites me to see myself not only as a member of my extended family with family responsibilities, but also as a member of the larger human family with human family responsibilities. The large picture invites me to see myself not only a member of my town/city/county/parish/state with community and state responsibilities, and a citizen of my country with citizen responsibilities, but also as a creature of planet earth with planet earth responsibilities. I must be concerned not only with the quality of life in my neighborhood, and in my state and nation, and with the pollution of air, soil, aquifers, lakes, and rivers on the local, state and national levels, but I must also be concerned with the quality of life on the planet, with climate change, global warming, global pollution, sustainability, and globalization. I must not only be interested in the politics of my county, city, state, and nation, and who represents me at these levels, but I must also be interested in the politics of the United Nations, the European Union, and nations like Rwanda, Uganda, the Sudan, China, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and who represents my interests with these entities.
I must not only read my local newspaper and USA Today, watch my local TV station news, and read/contribute to blogs on the Internet, but I must also read online the Economist, The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune and watch World News on the Internet, and write letters to editors/websites to make my concerns known. I must not only contribute to my church, to the Salvation Army bucket outside my grocery store, and to local and national charities to help make a difference especially to disaster relief such as the victims of 9/11, the hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti, but I must also contribute to international charities-Relief International, Doctors without Borders, International Red Cross, etc., to help make a difference especially to the victims of disasters such as the earthquakes in Haiti, China, and Pakistan, the floods in Pakistan and China, and the Indonesian tsunami.
The Large Picture enables me to see no conflict with having allegiances to family, community, state, nation, and planet, all at the same time. The large picture enables me to see no inherent conflict between county/parish, state, national, and world governments. They are all parts of one hierarchical system of governance. Sure there will be tensions between the various governing levels, but nothing that rational people cannot work out. There is no inherent conflict in being an active member in the various parts of the planet and the planet as a whole. In fact, being active in a part of the planet, by its very nature affects the entire planet in some way or another. To think otherwise is like saying what I do to part of an apple by taking a bite out of it does not affect the whole apple. Almost everything I do at any level, affects the whole planet whether I am aware of it or not. Unfortunately, most of us are not aware how our daily activities affect the planet.
The Large Picture gives me to understand that politics is not only people coming together to get things done at the local, state, and national levels, but it is also interaction between nations at the united Nations, the European Union, and group-on-group interactions among cultures, civilizations, and religions. The large picture compels me not only to be concerned with the politics of my country and my country’s relationships with other nations, but also to be concerned with the politics of the planet and the politics of my country as part of the planet. The large picture compels me to view the planet as our spaceship and to be concerned with the operation of the spaceship and with the operation of specific parts of the spaceship to the extent that they affect the quality of life on the spaceship as a whole. I feel I must be concerned with genocide in Rwanda and pollution in China as well as carbon monoxide emissions in the United States for these human activities directly affect the quality of life on the entire planet. The large picture compels me to see that it is critical to have unified command and control of our spaceship if we are to achieve peace and quality of life on our voyage through space and time.
The Large Picture enables me to see that not all politics is local but that politics is also global, and in our increasingly interdependent world, what happens at one level or in one corner of the planet impacts all levels and all corners of the planet. We possess fairly good mechanisms to provide input to and control politics at the local, state, and national levels, though these mechanisms vary greatly in effectiveness across the planet. We possess immature and underdeveloped mechanisms to provide input to and control politics on the world stage.
I ask myself: why, after approximately 5,000 years of historically documented development, is our planet in this year of CE 2010 divided politically into 195+ separate nation states, lacking consensus over basic issues, pursuing diametrically opposed goals to the point of violent conflict and war, and with no viable movement toward common governance?
Since what one sovereign nation state decides to do or not do directly impacts the entire planet and the quality of life of all the inhabitants of other nation states, the sooner all parties come together and act jointly for the common good of all, the better for the quality of life on the planet. This is particularly true with respect to the acquisition of armaments-particularly weapons of mass destruction, issues of war and peace, environmental degradation and issues such as pollution of soil, water, and air, uncontrolled urbanization, carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, drilling for oil in our oceans, climate change, and elimination of poverty, hunger, and disease. We all would regard it as insane to send a spacecraft on a mission to Mars or even to the space station with 195 independent commanders on board, each with separate agendas. Yet, that is precisely what we are doing with the spaceship Earth.
The Large Picture opens my eyes to the need to become involved in working towards unified world governance. I do not sense any urgency among leaders of the nation states to work towards a system of common governance so as to present a united front in addressing Earth’s major problems. Attempts have been made in recent history following World War I (The League of Nations) and World War II (The United Nations) to unite the Earth community to unified action, but these efforts have fallen much short of their goals.
There is currently no political party in the nation-states or members of a political party that currently advocate a unified world government. There are no planeticians in positions of political power or even running for political office at this time. The very concept of planetician may be foreign to most of Earth’s inhabitants. It may take a major threat from outside Earth such as an invasion from another planet or immanent collision with a large asteroid to arouse the community of 195+ nations to unified action. Since I see neither of these events on the horizon, I urge citizens of earth to take steps immediately to elect professed and committed planeticians to represent them in political institutions and governments and to undertake active campaigns to educate fellow inhabitants of Earth to become involved in working towards unified world governance.
The need is urgent, for the complex 100 million year-old ecosystems, which support all life on Planet Earth including human life, are under tremendous pressure, and the measures to protect them from extinction are not in place. Do nothing and catastrophe will happen. Maintaining the status quo of warring nation states is not an option. The large picture propels me beyond the tribe and the nation state to the planet as requiring the highest allegiance, not the only allegiance, but the highest, as the whole planet requires a higher allegiance than any particular part of the planet. Just as common sense requires me to have a higher allegiance to my entire home and its inhabitants than to any one particular segment of it or any one particular inhabitant.
What impact would this growth in understanding, this leap to the large picture have on human society, if widely accepted? This understanding should help me realize that I should have a greater allegiance to planet earth above allegiance to my country. As I have already stated, having greater allegiance to the larger entity does not deny allegiance to the lesser entity, for the lesser is contained in the larger. At this moment in history, for most people their highest allegiance is to their country and for some it is still to their tribe with little or no thought of the planet. That is like having a commitment to the safety and wellbeing of one room in my house, with little or no concern for the other rooms and their inhabitants.
If widely accepted, growth in allegiance to the planet will contribute to the gradual phasing out of the once all powerful nation state; to growth in the transnational circulation of ideas, technology, values, culture, fostered by the Internet and the Worldwide Web; to growth in tolerance and acceptance of diversity; to lessening of tensions and threats of war between states; and to growth in freedom, global commerce, and global governance.
"An invasion of armies can be resisted; an invasion of ideas cannot be resisted" -Victor Hugo.
(The next blog will discuss the large picture of religion.)
Inputs, expansions, adjustments, counterpoints, rebuttals, etc. to the above are very welcome. ajm