Initiatives to ‘save the world’Posted: November 7, 2008
Having gotten intrigued by the expression of all the well-intentioned goals of the “Global Marshall Plan” initiative — among other such efforts I looked at — I tried to investigate the basic charter and principles, organizational, operating and decision-making structure, only to find a somewhat confusing discussion about how that initiative should define itself and its mission. This is indicative of the essence of the problem: an organization that aims at helping the world overcome its problems gets bogged down in its own operating principles. Many concepts and terms that may be familiar to Europeans were mystifying to me, and the intentions expressed raised more questions in me than they answered. This is an attempt to sort out some of these questions, so as to ask them in a clearer, more specific way that might help develop more specific and useful answers.
Initiatives such as this one seem to be fueled by a sincere sense of concern about existing conditions and their extrapolation into the future, perhaps outrage or guilt, or both, about “our” (whoever the “we” might be) role in letting things deteriorate to this level of danger or misery.
They then appear to make some assumptions, consciously or unconsciously taken for granted:
– that some organized effort (‘initiative’) might be able to help remedy the problems,
– that these efforts should be guided by a ‘mission’, usually expressed in terms of the absence of the problems (e.g. eliminate hunger, disease, war, unfair economic conditions, injustice);
– that there are (known? already available or easy-to-perfect?) remedies: agreements, tools, forms of organization, actions, arrangements, or at least articles of good faith to which all powers of good faith should subscribe, that would result in elimination fo the problems, if accepted / adopted and applied;
– that the initiative might be able to achieve their adoption, by its activities supported by volunteer work and donations of funds, by then somehow inducing the actual decision-making entities (e.g govenrments) to adopt the respective policies and implement corresponding programs.
What is not or only rarely “made very explicit in such mission statements are specific answers, for example:
1. What, specifically, would these measures / remedies and activities be?
2. What is the evidence that they would be ‘superior’ (a claim made e.g. about the proposed “Eco-social Market Economy” or more preferable, efficient as remedies) than existing arrangements? (Beyond the well- intentioned claims of wanting to remedy problems?)
3. What are the reasons these arrangements have not been adopted / implemented yet (if they are so preferable)? What are the forces working against this?
4. What steps / actions are being considered to overcome such opposing forces? And the convictions about their superiority?
5. How can their ‘global’ implementation be achieved?
– through a ‘global treaty’? (Signed by whom? what if the treaty partners are just those opposing forces now preventing their adoption?)
– through decisions / decrees of a ‘global government’ of some kind? Global comprehensive (‘imposed?) implementation?
– by incremental introduction — either global but selective implementation on some partial aspect, to demonstrate both feasibility and desirability? If so: what aspect? How?
or ‘full / comprehensible’ implementation in a selected territory or place?
6. Regarding the ‘treaty’ approach (as in the ‘Global Marshall Plan’):
How would violations of the treaty agreements be dealt with? Sanctions? Imposed by what entity (that must be more powerful than any of the partner entities to be able to enforce them?
7 What would keep such a superior treaty-enforcement entity from falling victim to abuse of its power?
These questions seem to make it clear that some central mechanisms that would guarantee the success of such an initiative and world order simply are not available / worked out yet. Just relying on good intentions all around is clearly not sufficient; the concepts of what is fair, equitable, just, sustainable, culturally and spiritually acceptable are so different that they cannot be relied upon as conflict-resolution devices, being themselves the very sources of conflict. There is, to my knowledge, no convincing historical evidence for a central all-powerful government being immune to incompetence, flawed understanding of the problems they try to solve, insufficient information, bureaucratic calcification, or the temptations of abuse of power, — all of which would make resulting mistakes the more catastrophic, the larger, more powerful and all-encompassing that entity. This is why it is widely and understandably viewed with some suspicion.
For these reasons, I suggest that such efforts should focus much more specifically on finding and developing mechanisms for overcoming these fundamental obstacles. For example: the refinement of the concept of ‘balance of powers’ (checks and balances) — so far one of the most promising governance ideas humanity has produced, but which is still not working well enough; — the issue of whether such a global organization should unquestionably be based on traditional arrangement such as territorially defined treaty partners (‘nations’ etc.) especially when current globalization trends already show non-territorial forces and networks overlaying and overpowering the nation-based organizational structures. Or the primitive concept of democracy based on majority voting either by territorially defined groups or their representatives, also determined by majority voting (which by definition overpowers the minority).
Most of all, it would seem essential to develop better forms of ‘automatic’ triggering of sanctions for breaking agreements: mechanisms (to be agreed upon together with the respective treaty provisions) that automatically kick in upon, and triggered by, an act of violation of a treaty agreement. Such arrangements would obviate one of the major ‘justifications’ for a central all-powerful world government.
There are available embryonic suggestions for such solutions: these should be investigated, developed, discussed and tested, as the priority concerns of such organizations. Their current — apparent — reliance on existing organizations that currently are seen by many as not only incapable of dealing with the problems but even as contributing to them — is worrisome.
Some might consider these ideas as much wishful thinking as the reliance on universal good will to solve the world’s problems. But shouldn’t they then show us some alternative approaches we could discuss, refine, and get behind?