Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Problem with Short-Termism — Learning Lessons the Hard Way with COVID-19

If you have ever stopped to consider our typical response to a global challenge — whether it's another instance of genocide, an illegal nuclear weapons program, or a financial crisis, or whether it is climate change, unprecedented migration, or a potential pandemic like Ebola — you will have noticed that our knee-jerk response is to find a solution based on short-termism (also known as expediency).

What I mean by an expedient solution is one that has three features: First it is reactive — we lurch from crisis to crisis attempting to put out the fire of the day. Second, it is based on a consideration of short-term benefits without regard to long-term consequences. Third, it is based on a narrowly-conceived self-interest that fails to take into account the broader common interests of an interconnected humanity. 

A consequence of this expedient approach is that we never get to the root of any of our global problems and successfully solve them. Instead we content ourselves with temporarily extinguishing the flames while the embers continue to smolder, waiting for the gusts of wind occasioned by the next crisis to restart the fire. How many times have we seen this phenomenon play out with repeated genocides despite our loud promises of "never again!" Nuclear proliferation and illegal nuclear weapons programs proceed apace despite our protestations that they must stop. The number of refugees worldwide is greater than it's ever been. Financial crises recur with greater ferocity and fears of potential pandemics have been averted only for us to find ourselves in the thick of a swiftly-moving COVID-19 pandemic without adequate preparation. 

Another consequence is that our solutions to one problem often sow the seeds of the next disaster: We sent arms and trained fighters to dislodge the Soviets from Afghanistan only to find that we had created a new challenge in the form of the Taliban. We then entered into a war to uproot the Taliban and ended up mired in a conflict that continues to this day.  

To make matters worse, our solutions to various global challenges are often incongruent with each other and end up undermining each other. In a quest to lock up much-needed energy resources in the form of oil, a country will agree to overlook the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by another country as China did during the genocide in Darfur, warning that it would veto any attempt by the Security Council to formally declare the killings in Darfur a genocide.

A recent example that illustrates the disastrous consequences of problem-solving based on short-termism involves the decision by the Ecuadorian government to build a dam. Its purpose was to meet the country’s energy needs and help lift its population out of poverty quickly. To achieve this goal, it borrowed vast sums of money from China . Unfortunately, in their eagerness to do the deal, neither Ecuador nor China paid adequate attention to the fact that the dam was built just below a volcano. Consequently, only two years after the dam was completed there already were 7,000 cracks in its machinery. In addition, large amounts of silt, trees, and bushes were piling up in its reservoir, rendering it ineffective. Not only did the completed dam fail to achieve the goal of alleviating poverty, but the Ecuadorian government soon discovered that it did not have the means to repay its debt to China. In the end, Ecuador has ended up worse off than it was before it embarked on this venture. Its energy needs are still unmet and China now gets to keep 80 percent of Ecuador's most valuable export, oil, making Ecuador even poorer than it was to begin with.

For decades we have ignored the glaring evidence that short-termism is an outworn habit that does not serve our well-being. The COVID-19 pandemic is now teaching us, in the hardest way possible, that we simply can't do business as usual anymore. It is time to change our collective dysfunctional habits now, chief among them the habit of employing expediency to solve global challenges. The prolongation of a universal crisis that is playing out across the world is forcing us to think ahead, plan proactively for a time when we can emerge out of a global lockdown, and revive our battered economies. We need to do all this while also preparing for the possibility of a second and third wave of infections caused by the coronavirus and while working on antidotes and a vaccine.

The obvious question is: Is there an alternative method we can employ to solve our global challenges that is more effective, constructive, and empowering than short-termism? If so, what is it? The simple answer is: Yes; we can opt for a principled approach to solving global challenges. What, you may ask, does this entail? Essentially it requires that we do three things: First, identify a set of shared foundational principles that can form the basis of a new system of global governance. Second, get a handful of national leaders who are trusted and have standing in the international community to agree to these identified principles and then seek the consent of all their fellow world leaders. Finally, get the nations to commit to applying these shared foundational principles methodically and uncompromisingly whenever they want to solve any given global challenge. 

For those of you who are skeptical that such agreement is possible, I would invite you to consider the universal adoption of a new principle of the "Responsibility to Protect" otherwise known as R2P at the global summit in New York in 2005. The process that was followed to achieve this goal is highly instructive and can be used as a roadmap to replicate a similar success in achieving global consensus around a set of shared global ethics.  If you would like to learn more about the process employed, you can read more about it in my book "Building a World Federation: The Key to Resolving our Global Crises." 

Fortunately, a number of prominent figures have been talking about the importance of identifying and agreeing upon a shared set of foundational principles or what they sometimes refer to as a set of “shared global ethics.”  A couple of blog posts ago I shared with you an analogy given by Professor Kishore Mahbubani, formerly Singapore’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and later Dean of the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He describes the world as a ship with 193 cabins, each of which has its own set rules and staff to govern its internal affairs. In addition to pointing out that the ship as a whole lacks both cabin and crew, he also observes that the governing rules being applied within some of these cabins pose a direct threat to the ship as a whole and may cause it to sink with all its occupants. Even prior to Professor Mahbubani's astute observation, the governing body of the Baha'i community in its 1985 message to the people of the world, titled "The Promise of World Peace," urged leaders to begin solving their problems by identifying the principles involved and then applying them, rather than turning to expedient solutions. Gareth Evans, former foreign minister of Australia and long-term head of the International Crisis Group similarly expressed his view that the only way to find viable and effective solutions to problems of governance was to first identify the principles involved and then apply them methodically. He bemoaned the fact that this was not current practice at any level of government that he had seen. Others who have joined the growing chorus calling for nations to adopt a set of global ethics include Pascal Lamy, former director-general of the World Trade Organization, and Ian Goldin, professor of Globalisation and Development at Oxford University. 

By far the most compelling reason for adopting a set of global ethics is this: Just as there are physical laws that govern our lives — such as the law of gravity — so too, are there principles that govern our social reality. The most important of these principles is the oneness of people and nations. These laws operate on us whether we choose to recognize and acknowledge them or not. However, let us be clear: We ignore them at our peril. Imagine what would happen if we were to build an airplane without taking into account the law of gravity. No one would want to fly in it as the result would be disastrous! Why then, do we think when building institutions and organizations that govern our societies — whether political, social, financial or otherwise — we can ignore certain principles and truths about who we are as human beings and our relationship to each other without consequence? We flout these social realities at great cost to ourselves. It is no wonder that our social institutions are crumbling.  

Let us then commit to working together to replace our destructive habit of short-termism with the empowering, future-building habit of seeking principled solutions to our global challenges!

Sunday, April 5, 2020

We’re Birthing a New Global Order — It’s Going to be Messy!

Famous 20th century psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, pointed out that while we are often faced with situations in life that are beyond our control, one thing that no one can ever take away from us is our choice about how we react to these circumstances. This precious freedom to choose our reactions can spell the difference between living a life fraught with fear, anxiety, and a sense of helplessness, or one that is infused with a sense of meaning and purpose, and marked by serenity, inner peace and joy.

While the coronavirus pandemic and its twin, the global economic recession threaten each and every one of us in multiple ways, we would do well to  remember that in the midst of this turmoil, we retain individual and collective choice. We can either choose to respond to these twin challenges with fear, anxiety, and a complete loss of hope — all of which trigger feelings of apathy and lethargy that ultimately cause us to procrastinate making decisions and taking constructive action. Alternatively, we can choose to perceive these same circumstances through a different and more empowering lens: What if we view these disasters as a collective test that offers us a prime opportunity to birth the kind of world we have been longing for, a world of peace and security in which the dignity and nobility of each human being is universally acknowledged and upheld? Choosing to view our reality in this light has several benefits: We free ourselves from the intense mental and psychological suffering — the deep unhappiness, depression, fear, and anxiety to which we otherwise subject ourselves — a suffering that depletes us and affects our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. Not only do we then become ineffective actors in shaping our destiny, but we also become an added burden on others. This shift in perspective also has the incredible benefit of energizing us with hope. It offers us a vision of what is possible despite the circumstances. It also provides us with tremendous motivation and energy to act tirelessly and with focused determination and perseverance to create the world we want and deserve.  

When I look at everything that is happening, I can't help but think that our global society is going through a period of metamorphosis akin to the one that the caterpillar goes through before it becomes a butterfly. There are a couple of features of this process that are particularly relevant and shed light on our current process. The first is that once the caterpillar cocoons itself, it begins a dual process of destroying its old self while simultaneously preparing to emerge as a completely transformed creation. During this period of cocooning, the butterfly releases enzymes that literally dissolve its former shape, turning it into a messy liquid goo. At the same time, small clusters of cells called "imaginal discs" that have always been latent in the caterpillar and that are the building blocks of each part of the butterfly-to-be start to multiply and prepare themselves for the emergence of this wondrous new creation. This building process quickly accelerates eventually yielding a fully-formed butterfly. These twin processes of integration and disintegration occur simultaneously. Yet, while it’s going on, to all appearances the process seems messy, chaotic, and unpleasant and unlikely to result in anything good. The second feature is that the new creation is of a higher order than the old, with greater capacities: While the caterpillar is earth-bound, the butterfly has the new-found ability to fly and, in that sense, to literally rise above and transcend its former limitations. It also has a broader perspective and is able to see a wide range of possibilities. The third feature is that despite the initial paucity of imaginal discs, they multiply rapidly in the midst of all the disintegration. Ultimately, the butterfly is read to emerge at exactly the right time, when there is nothing left of the caterpillar.

What if this process mirrors exactly what we are currently experiencing? Our old world order is crashing down around our ears. It is undoubtedly messy and painful. We are literally experiencing the implosion of the social, economic, political, environmental, and religious systems we have painstakingly built. Isn't this likely to be happening because these systems  are clearly not fit for us at this stage in our collective historical evolution? Dare we not hope that what will emerge from this is a radically new global order founded on a radical shift in our very conception of society and of our reality as human beings? We are already beginning to see some leaders of thought observe that it is time for a completely new approach. In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Henry Kissinger observes that no one country, not even the United States, can go it alone to overcome the virus. He asserts that “addressing the necessities of the moment must ultimately be coupled with a global collaborative vision and program.” A few days prior to that, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres raised the clarion call for a massive, multilateral response based on “shared responsibility and global solidarity” to build a better world. He urged us to remember that, “we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world” and observed that our world has irrevocably changed, saying, “We can go back to the world as it was before or deal decisively with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to crises.” 

Let us then grab this opportunity to develop the capacities, powers, moral standards, and institutions fit for our current stage of development. For this to happen, however, we must hold a vision of the kind of world we really want and deserve — a better world founded on the awareness of the oneness of humanity, a oneness that is the operational principle of international life, including our institutions and the principles upon which they are based. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

COVID-19 and the Global Economic Crisis: Stumbling Blocks or Stepping-Stones Toward an Effective System of Global Governance?

We humans are strange creatures. We often tend to put off making important decisions and taking vital action until we hit a crisis point. We do this in both our individual and collective lives. The problem is that in today's world some of the decisions we have steadfastly refused to make can spell the difference between life and death. We are learning this the hard way with the coronavirus pandemic and its twin, the growing global economic crisis

And yet, there are still constructive choices we can make. Rather than stumbling blocks, we can choose to treat these crises as stepping-stones helping us build an effective system of global governance fit to respond to our collective needs in the 21st century and beyond. We have known for a long time that climate change poses a dire threat to life on earth in many different ways. We have also known that the continuing proliferation of nuclear weapons increases the threat of a nuclear war, which, whether deliberate or accidental, will have horrific consequences. Yet, we have been content to stick our heads in the sand and abdicate responsibility for making collective, global decisions that will ensure that these nightmares are mitigated or never come to pass. 

We have made the same mistake with respect to the looming threat of pandemics. For years, we have talked about the possibility of such an event, and yet we have failed to take the necessary steps to ensure that we were prepared to tackle such a crisis swiftly and effectively. While some voices have for many years been calling for the creation of a limited form of global government, most of our leaders have been unwilling to countenance such an idea. Yet, finally, in the face of the enormous physical, economic, and mental suffering we have begun enduring in the wake of the coronavirus, we are starting to hear voices among the world's leaders calling for the creation of some kind of system of global governance that is capable of responding to the needs of the 21st century. Such voices should be encouraged and applauded.

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Arancha Gonz├ílez Laya, expressed her view in a piece published by The Washington Post today that it is "time to be bold and envision new ways forward for our international institutions." She clearly articulated the goal: "to find ways to reinforce the institutions that work, replace those that do not, create those that are missing and, overall, promote simplicity, effectiveness, coherence and cohesion." 

What an incredible call to action! This is precisely the kind of leadership we need — one that is willing to acknowledge and dispense with systems that are not working and no longer ensure the well-being of those they were created to serve. And one that recognizes the need for collective consultation in order to conceive of new global structures: capable of managing collective problems that impact humanity as a whole.

Also today, the views of Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of Britain were clearly laid out in an article published by The Guardian.  He cut straight to the chase, urging world leaders "to create a temporary form of global government to tackle the twin medical and economic crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic." 

He highlighted the obvious yet often unacknowledged fact that "this is not something that can be dealt with in one country," rather it is something that requires "a coordinated global response," starting with "some sort of working executive." 

This kind of call confirms world historian Arnold Toynbee's predictions in the last century that — despite our strenuous resistance to any notion of a world government — once we faced an existential threat, we would rapidly,though reluctantly, abandon our resistance in favor of a world government, albeit limited in scope to what is absolutely necessary to effect the global management of global challenges.

We, the people of the world, have a choice to mitigate our global suffering and to ensure that our hardships have not been in vain. It is up to us, one and all, to demand of our leaders that they seize this opportunity to demonstrate the statesmanship, vision, and courage required to build those global decision-making and enforcement institutions we so desperately need to meet the urgent needs of an inextricably interconnected world.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The COVID-19 Pandemic: We Sink or Swim Together

If there is one thing the world is learning rapidly, it is that tackling the global COVID-19 pandemic  requires acting collectively to manage a collective problem. This has been a lesson that humanity has long resisted as it has stubbornly clung to outworn habits of nationalism and competition fueled by all sorts of fear such as fear of the “other” or fear of insufficient resources.

Over the years, circumstances have afforded us ample opportunity to learn the importance of collective action. We have confronted a number of growing global crises that endanger our peace and security. Climate change, migration, the growing extremes of wealth and poverty, and nuclear proliferation rank high among them. And yet, despite the severity of these crises, we have been unwilling to give up our old maladaptive habits of focusing on our self interest, both on the individual and national levels. We have stubbornly refused to admit that the advantage of the part can only be ensured by guaranteeing the advantage of the whole, and that we are all better off when our primary loyalty is to the human race as a whole. We have failed to understand that if we are to thrive as individuals and nations we must ensure that all nations and all peoples can thrive.

Now, however, the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus is giving us a unique and unprecedented opportunity to learn this lesson quickly. Indeed, we are being given a crash course in the truth of the oneness of humanity and its inextricable interdependence and in the need for collective action. The stakes are high — it's do or die for many. We  can and are learning this lesson, albeit slowly: Whether at the city, county, state, national, or international levels, we are being painfully forced to learn this lesson, kicking and screaming as we go.  

The good news is that our self-destructive behaviors — including excessive focus on nationalism, xenophobia, and racism — are simply long-standing habits, and habits can be changed. Renowned historian Arnold Toynbee, writing in the second half of the 20th century, concluded that the global community must change its habits if it were to survive. He went on to predict that it would ultimately do so, but only when confronted by an existential crisis — which he believed would be precipitated by the atom bomb. He theorized that, once confronted with such a crisis, humanity would rapidly shed its old habits — albeit reluctantly — and embrace new ones, including the recognition that we need some form of world government with the authority to ensure humanity’s collective interests.

The COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating one of the areas in which we must have mechanisms of global governance — including collective decision-making and enforcement — to protect the world community against global pandemics. In this regard, we are gradually becoming conscious that we need to engage in collective action, collaboration, and coordination on a scale never seen before. We are learning this at different levels — within countries, such as the U.S., where it is becoming apparent that our response is a patchwork one, depending on which city or state we live in. We are also learning this at the regional level: The European Union is beginning to grasp that there needs to be far more coordination at the regional level to take steps protecting the citizens of the EU. To this end, the EU has taken initial steps such as closing the EU's common borders. And we are beginning to learn this at the global level where organizations like the World Health Organization have been trying to get nations to act but lack the authority to pass binding regulations that governments would have to follow, let alone the ability to enforce their recommendations.

It is time to ratchet up our learning. Just as the virus is spreading exponentially, so too must our awareness of the oneness of humanity and of our inextricable interconnectedness grow, resulting in the acknowledgment that it is time to build a new system of global governance fit for the 21st century and beyond.

The awareness we need is perfectly summed up by the following analogy offered a number of years ago by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.  He observed that there had been a time not long ago when the nations of the world were like self-contained boats sailing on the sea of international life. Each boat had its own captain and crew, and the main purpose of the international order was to create rules that ensured that the movements of these boats were coordinated to avoid accidents. However, time has moved on. Our current reality is completely different. Given the unprecedented degree of our interconnectedness, our situation could more aptly be described as that of a ship consisting of 193 cabins, each representing a nation state. The problem is that, while each cabin has its own captain and crew dedicated to maintaining order within that cabin and serving it, the ship as a whole lacks both captain and crew.  

What we may well ask, are the concrete implications of this analogy? The first is that in a time of global crisis, such as the world faces with the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no one at the helm of our ship capable of steering us clear in the stormy and turbulent seas. Nor do we have hands on deck dedicated to the collective good — the business of saving the ship as a whole  — rather than the narrow well-being of the members of one or other of the cabins onboard. The second is that the principles and rules by which the inhabitants in one cabin govern themselves could actually prove detrimental to people in other cabins and could cause the ship as a whole to sink. It is not hard to recognize how this plays out in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic where actions taken by one national government such as restricting the export of medical supplies would detrimentally impact the citizens of other nations. 

For humanity to survive and thrive all this must change. We must quickly craft new global decision-making institutions that have the authority to pass binding regulations to protect us all in certain narrow spheres where the only solution lies in collective action. We also need global enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all nations comply with these collective rules.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

We Owe it To Ourselves to Elect Honest and Trustworthy Leaders

The accelerating spread of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, brings with it some valuable lessons and opportunities for growth. We are learning firsthand the dangers of putting up with leaders who are dishonest and untruthful and who are more concerned with their own interests, whether political, personal, or financial, than the interests of the people they represent. We are becoming more deeply aware that truthfulness and trustworthiness are no longer qualities that are merely desirable in our leaders. Rather, they are essential and non-negotiable criteria of electability, as our very lives depend on them.  

COVID-19 is affording us the opportunity to witness firsthand the disastrous ramifications of a culture of obfuscation, concealment, and outright lying that has become endemic to our social and political lives worldwide. In the midst of this public health crisis, the inability to trust what our leaders tell us can prove fatal. If we find our leaders have downplayed the severity of the contagion as occurred in China, Iran, and currently in the United States, why should we believe them when they tell us that it is time for drastic measures such as quarantine? Similarly, if our leaders have misled us regarding the availability of medical equipment such as masks, ventilators, and hospital beds, we are more likely to believe rumors and to discard instructions not to hoard materials, such as masks, that must be reserved for our health workers — our first line of defense.  

Even when it comes to the likely economic fallout from the coronavirus infection, our past experience with health crises indicates that only one third of the economic impact is attributable directly to the crisis, for example as a result of death, inability to go to work, and reduced production. By contrast, as Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund explains in a recent interview on the PBS News Hour, a whopping two thirds of the economic impact is due to loss of confidence and uncertainty. Leaders have the responsibility to bolster our confidence by being open, transparent, and truthful; at the very least they must refrain from behavior that exacerbates any existing uncertainty and confusion or contributes to loss of confidence.

The good news is that if we don't like the state our world is in, we are not stuck with it, nor are we doomed to repeat the habits and patterns of the past if they no longer serve us. We have the opportunity to make different and more empowering choices that will eventually change our social reality. We could begin by demanding that candidates for political leadership be known for their qualities of honesty, truthfulness, and consequent trustworthiness, which we know are so crucial to our wellbeing and security. We should prioritize such qualities over platforms and promises, many of which are often left unfulfilled. 

If we are to be successful in electing leaders worthy of our trust, we must first be willing to continually hone our ability to investigate the truth without prior prejudices or conceptions. In other words, we must refuse to abdicate our responsibility to discern the truth by blindly believing everything we are told regardless of the reliability of the source.  

Having adopted this new mindset, we must examine the motives, record of service, and demonstrated qualities of the candidates. In the digital age, such information is relatively easy to ascertain. It is not hard to glean information about a person's past dealings, both in matters of family and business. If a candidate has shown themselves to be incapable of being faithful to their spouse, the one person they have sworn to love and cherish all their lives, why would we expect them to treat us, the unknown masses any differently? It doesn't make sense to assume that, once in office, they would miraculously transform their character and demonstrate a high degree of loyalty to their electorate. Maybe they will, but chances are they won’t. The same holds true for those who have demonstrated their untrustworthiness in business dealings. If they have been in the habit of cheating, lying, and fraudulently dealing with their business partners, vendors, or customers, why would we have any expectation that they would behave differently once they are in positions of power and subject to greater temptation of larger rewards? It is similarly easy to ascertain a person's motives based on their record of service: Have they been more interested in advancing their own ego and interests or have they consistently demonstrated that they put the interests of their communities above their own?

In sum, our experience with the coronavirus, while painful, is also providing us a rich opportunity to build a more peaceful and secure world. If we start by recognizing that we have the power to make different, more constructive choices by honing our individual ability to investigate the truth for ourselves and by demanding that our leaders possess the qualities of honesty and trustworthiness, we will have taken some crucial strides toward such a peaceful and secure world. 

Saturday, February 29, 2020

The Coronavirus: Looming Disaster or Golden Opportunity?

Over the past year there has been no shortage of looming disasters that pose a serious threat to humanity including uncontrollable wild fires and forest fires precipitated by climate change, and the dangers of an accidental plunge into nuclear war as a result of miscalculation and brinksmanship.  The recent outbreak of a novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, is now likely to become the pandemic that we have been fearing for some time. Although much is still unknown about the virus, what experts do know is that it is extremely contagious, like the infamous 1918 Spanish flu that infected approximately one third of the world's population and killed between 20 and 50 million people, and that the new virus' likely mortality rate is 1% to 3% of those infected. While the threat to human life is already engendering fear and anxiety, knock-on impacts to the global economy are likely to be just as severe. To contain the virus borders are being closed, flights canceled, whole towns locked down, factories and schools closed, and sporting, entertainment, trade-show, and other large events canceled. In a world as interconnected as ours is, such restrictions disrupt manufacturing and retail supply chains, with the dual effect of threatening access to supplies and potentially causing a global recession.

It is no wonder that our typical response is either to feel fearful, helpless, apathetic, and sink into despair or to feel angry, frustrated, and quick to blame someone else -- the people of some other country, health officials, or even our neighbors and friends who unwittingly carry the infection and expose the rest of us to it. While such reactions are understandable given the level of risk associated with the spread of the coranavirus, and the many uncertainties that accompany its spread, in reality both reactions are destructive and do not serve us. Moreoever, when we feel helpless or angry and blame others, our perceptions of the options available to us tend to be blinkered. When we need to be most creative and energetic in crafting constructive responses and solutions, we become apathetic, depressed, and anxious. We also become more prone to a fight-or-flight response and to conflict with others. All of these emotions ultimately lead either to inaction, delayed or half-baked action with too little done, too late, or to endless blame-games that, in the end, also do not help us meet the challenges at hand.

What if instead of viewing these same events, including the spreading coronavirus, as looming disasters, we were to view them as a supreme opportunity for humanity to finally learn to communicate in a spirit of goodwill and transparency, and to cooperate and collaborate on finding workable solutions that benefit us all? What if instead of viewing other nations and their actions as enemies and threats, we viewed them as indispensable and valuable allies with whom to join forces in the fight against a global threat? Commentators like David Ignatius of the Washington Post and experts like the editors of Nature Medicine are starting to suggest that the coronavirus presents us with a unique opportunity to do just this. For this to happen we need to change our perspective on social reality from seeing disparate nations each concerned exclusively and foremost with its own well-being to seeing a single global organism, a single global community that is interconnected in much the same way that the limbs and organs of the human body are connected. Just as it would be nonsensical and futile for the liver to claim that it was not concerned about the health of the kidneys because it was focused first and foremost upon its own well-being, and just as the heart could never be truly healthy in a body where the lungs were riddled with disease, so, too, is it nonsensical and futile for individual countries and social groups to claim and act solely or even primarily without regard for the consequences and benefits to other countries and groups. What if we understood that the only way to guarantee the well-being and health of any one of our nations requires ensuring the well-being of all nations? Such a shift in perspective would reveal new ways of organizing our global community, of decision-making and behavior that open up new and effective pathways to addressing the seemingly intractable challenges of our time.  

Such a shift in perspective requires both awareness and acceptance of the reality of our unprecedented interconnectedness as a global community of nations and of the imperative to act together collaboratively in order to solve collective challenges. It also requires us to acknowledge that we have the power to make different, more empowering choices. I will elaborate further on these thoughts in subsequent weekly blogposts that are part of a new series about indispensable mindsets and habits that will bring us the global peace we so dearly want.  Please stay tuned.

Monday, June 11, 2018

New Book: Bridge to Global Governance

Bridge to Global Governance: Tackling Climate Change, Energy Distribution, and Nuclear Proliferation
New Publication!
My purpose in writing this book is several-fold. My primary aim is to propose a workable first step in the creation of global decision-making institutions that can effectively and efficiently attend to the urgent and immediate needs of the 21st Century. I hope to demonstrate that it is possible to build a global system of governance that serves all the peoples of the world and that is founded upon the principles of federalism. I believe that the best approach is to start in a narrow sphere of international endeavor and then to build outward, gradually and methodically expanding into broader spheres as success inspires confidence. As a starting point, I propose breaking the logjam caused in our global life by the complex of three seemingly intractable problems: global warming, inequitable distribution of energy, and nuclear proliferation. Success in this urgent but narrow sphere of international endeavor would bring immediate benefits to all and thereby engender hope, free us from the grip of paralyzed will, and inspire confidence to expand the spheres in which we apply this methodology, covering ever-widening areas of collective need.

Another purpose of this book is to demonstrate the power of even a handful of individuals, particularly those in positions of leadership motivated by only the best interests of humanity rather than self-interest and exhibiting certain sterling qualities like freedom from prejudice, to bring about organic and far-reaching changes in the structure of our global governance institutions that in turn foster peace, prosperity and stability in our global society. In a world where the rule of strongmen seems to be once again on the rise, where leaders unabashedly stir up the ugliest and most divisive of human emotions like xenophobia, racism, and sexism to gain and maintain their grip on power, and where the forces of nationalism appear to be gaining ascendancy resulting in the increasing fragmentation of human society, I believe it is essential that we remind ourselves of a better world which could be ours if we only bring ourselves to demand leaders with qualities that inspire trust and engender unity.

Lastly, but by no means of least importance, I aim to illustrate the power of consciously and deliberately weaving a set of universally agreed, global ethics into the very structures of our global governance institutions. It is not sufficient for our leaders to possess ennobling qualities. In addition, the very composition, voting structures, and processes that govern our institutions must also embody principles of oneness, equity, and uncompromising focus on the collective good to inspire trust and confidence in the governed and guard against the corrosive forces of self-interest and corruption.

The model I propose is based on the remarkably successful European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) adopted after the Second World War to enable the recently warring countries to rebuild their devastated economies and national polities despite critical shortages of coal and steel without falling into the same traps that doomed the same countries after World War One. As I will explore in depth, we can derive much inspiration and many lessons from the ECSC about how to solve the complex, entrenched problems facing us today, in particular the three-fold complex of global warming, inequitable distribution of energy, and nuclear proliferation. The ECSC had many strengths from which we can learn, ranging from the way it came into being, to its composition, funding, powers, and guiding principles, and most importantly to its role in bringing a lasting peace to Europe. The  successes of the ECSC inspired confidence among its member nations to deepen and expand their cooperation to encompass additional domains of economic, security, and legal policy in what we know today as the European Union. Although the ECSC also suffered from certain weaknesses, these are no less instructive as we strive to shape global governance institutions that are fit for purpose for the 21st Century and beyond.

In this book I hope to offer a useful model for action. Although the argument rests on textual resources and analyses, footnotes would obstruct what I hope is a natural flow of ideas. Those who wish to dive deeper, however, will find these sources in a bibliography at the end of the book, broken down by chapter.

World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.

---Robert Schuman, May 9, 1950

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