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Global Commons Governance Instead of World Leaders

photo of James Burke

James Burke
27th November 2012


Thomas Olsen:

“A truly interesting article in Club of Amsterdam’s e-Journal, issue no 152 (Nov 2012), under the title of “One Minute before 12: Understanding the Global Model”, reports on a comprehensive and ‘complex model’ study titled “Effects of Political and Social Conditions; Demographics; Global Finance and Economy; Energy, Food and Fresh Water Production and Consumption; Environmental Effects”. Its subheading is a very stark reminder of what the article and the underlying study concludes; that we now are in “The Consequence Era”. The following quote describes what they mean by that:

“This is not some futuristic horror scenario; this is with us today now, and must be dealt with now, and not in some distant future. Now is the moment when we must carefully look at the mathematical evaluation of how all these factors will affect each other over time. We must set aside complacency as well as political or dogmatic belief, analyse the empirical evidence, and connect those critical dots. There is no more time for opinions, only for science and hard mathematical models, to under-stand the true reality. We must act accordingly.
[…]This realization must also constitute an invitation to world leaders, responsible decision makers, corporate heads and global thinkers to come together now, and to work on urgent solutions immediately, to preserve the continuation of human civili-zation in a sustainable, dignified and peaceful way.”

It continues to present a (what it calls) “Global Master Model”, one that intends to identify areas of concern and guide how we shall move forward. It comprises eight points:

1. Monetary and economic systems and their critical debt sustainability issues

2. Governmental/Political trends, conflicts, dogmatic and religious dynamics

3. Corporations and their behavior impacts under missing global regulations

4. Energy production, global energy economics, and critical conflicts

5. Interconnected Farmland, Food and Water factors and their sustainability

6. Environmental Impacts, pollution, weather and habitation consequences

7. Human overpopulation and its interconnected demographic behavior effects

8. Security; cyber-terror; terrorism as the emerging form of ‘political discourse’

My commentary to this very well presented article is not to dispute its findings. To the contrary, I neither can nor intend to dispute the facts it presents. But – and this is a serious ‘but’ – the idea that there will ever be an egalitarian world-government, or some other world-power that can, like John Rawls’ idea of “Justice as Fairness”, where (what he called) a ’veil of ignorance’ on behalf of the ruling elites, would eliminate their self-interests, putting this aside in favour of equal opportunities across the (global) board, is truly utopian.

Throughout history have dominant ideas been imposed with the help of hegemonistic forces, masking their ambitions in ‘good-for-all’ kind of terms. The one we currently ‘suffer’ from is the call for constant, eternal and global (economic) growth. Also this call supported itself on serious research and mathematical logic. People actually believed it to be the answer to everybody’s prayers. It however proved wrong, simply because some parameters where forgotten – or ignored. For instance was the actual objective, spelled ‘markets’, commonly confused with the more egalitarian-sounding term ‘people’. The architects of globalisation did mean all (foreign) markets – but only some (not foreign) people.
The fundamental problem is (and has always been) that it’s typically said that (quote) “There is no more time for opinions, only for science and hard mathematical models, to understand the true reality” (from the here quoted article’ One Minute before 12: Understanding the Global Model’)
But already Karl Popper – knighted five decades ago and dead since two – noted that science always struggles with what he called the problem of induction, meaning that certain assumptions must be made, and treated as ‘underlying facts’ when (scientific) truths are developed. So, when the assumptions changes, the truths must change too. Debating socio-economic developments, using hard economic mathematical methods, we must therefore take into account that that ‘black swan’ may once again appear, i.e. the one that 300 years ago overthrew the western assumption that all swans are white.

This was however also claimed in 1955 by anthropologist Melville Herskovits (one of the founders of the concept of cultural relativism) who wrote that ‘given the premises, the logic is inescapable’. It has never been harder to prove him wrong than now.
Where does this take me? Well, just to be provocative enough to make my point: How do we know that we – in 50 years or so from now – will not praise what we today call terrorism as being the birth of the ecological revolution – where people finally took up arms against the ever-hegemonic state – a state that obviously failed to see, or ignored, the plight of its people? Only by finally using the single thing the individual ‘has’ that the state ultimately cannot control – the self – could people overthrow the hegemonic structure of the state that proved itself totally unwilling to deal with the core questions that this (and other) article raises.

All drastic changes have initially been seen as disturbances or, as in this case, a true evil. Only time will tell how those disturbances and/or evils will develop. Some will be forgotten, some will be banished by history as just that, while other may develop into something we in the future will consider beneficial. Like the French Revolution. Hence, to assume that “an invitation to world leaders, responsible decision makers, corporate heads and global thinkers to come together now, and to work on urgent solutions immediately, to preserve the continuation of human civilization in a sustain-able, dignified and peaceful way” would be the way forward is actually very limiting. We must realize that these people are much more a part of the problem than a part of the solution. The reason for this is called vested interests.

As of today we may not have a better structure to offer than the Westphalian state. But before Westphalia did most societies live with a totally different reality. This was not only the case outside Europe, but also for most Europeans. So why do we believe that, just because Europeans invented and exported this structure 3-400 years ago – arms in hand, and at the expense of almost all other governing structures around the globe – it cannot change once again? Who knows, is 400 years perhaps the end of the lifecycle for just about any socio-political model? Actually, our state- / capital-centric model probably need to change or most of the problems the quoted article raises will remain till the end of times – which according to that article could be very soon!

I am not a revolutionary. And I do not support ‘terrorism’. But just as all roads used to lead to Rome, do all clues today lead to the suspicion that the state is the culprit, or at least the smallest common denominator in today’s conflict-prone world. By ‘the state’ I refer to the vested interests that are channelled through a faceless machinery by non-committing bureaucrats, where the individual is reduced to a loyal voter and powerful groups, representing sectorial interests, use the political system to advance their cross-border interests. People are not in conflict with people across the globe; states are – as the best way for vested interests to advance their agenda is to be seen represented by the state. The race is on, and even Obama knows the perils of being squeezed between the voters, every 4th year, and the lobby that bankrolled his campaign – every day. The fiasco in Copenhagen 2009 was not because our elected leaders do not understand the issues or the urgency. But as mere puppets they have no space to act.

There are indeed many initiatives taken to get around this problem. The problem with those initiatives is that most of them make the assumption that the state must take the lead – or, as in many cases – that ‘a particular state’ must take the lead. But this is doomed to fail, since nobody is going to willingly cut the very branch he is sitting on.

A new wind is however blowing; the Commons. A third force, supplementing but not replacing both the public sector (based on the state) and the private sector (based on capital) – where peer-to-peer collaboration is at the core – is picking up speed. It may still take long before it can influence any other areas than what by media is typically called ‘culture’ (music, film, computer-code, etc), but some promising research is also being done in the political arena. How will the w.w.w. affect what Jürgen Habermas called the ‘public sphere? The reason why Habermas’ public sphere was important was that it identified the role of the people also beside their role as an electorate. In other words, Habermas recognised that ‘people’ have both the right and the desire to influence their elected politicians also in between elections. That is democracy.

So is for instance the small but progressive German university Leuphana University in Lueneburg conducting a research project on principles of democratic representation, titled: The Principle of Democratic Representation in a Globalising World: A Gap in the Governance Literature? From these kind of projects will hopefully – sooner rather than later – new and better models for local vs global (often called glocal) governance emerge, by which the kind of urgent issues the eminent article that this paper refers to can be both better and more effectively addressed.”

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