GEOGRAPHIES OF REFERENCE

My young friend (and nephew) Florian Pellet recently posted a 1997 article from the Cato Institute (Boaz, David. Creating a Framework for Utopia, Vol. 31, No. 6, November/December 1997) as an interrogation on what it means to be a libertarian. The article coincides with a number of my own preoccupations regarding the management and care of public spaces. As I am into my 18th year living in France and it has been 15 years since the article appeared, I believe this article is ready for commentary: the key insights concern not only time and historical context, but essentially geography. Here’s why.

The article, “Creating a Framework for Utopia” offers an enticing view of the Libertarian philosophy as a philosophy of individual liberty and community self-determination. It makes a strong argument for the freedom to innovate and the right to self-determination. But, as the author implies clearly in his title, “Creating a Framework for Utopia”, he is not concerned with practicalities but with daydreaming about a world in which we are free to pursue our dreams unfettered by practical consideration.

As a plea for a libertarian Utopia, a number of major fallacies very quickly become evident. The first, and the least forgivable of the author’s intellectual shortcuts is his very obvious anti-government bias. For Boaz (and writers published by the Hudsun and Cato institutes generally) “that government is best that governs least”.

How often have we heard this platitude? And how often must we hear it more before we learn to question such simple mindedness?

To paraphrase the United States’ founding fathers, gathered in Philadelphia and prepared to risk all for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, governments are instituted among men to secure these rights. After a bloody and ill-financed seven year war of independence and after a six-year experiment in confederation politics, many of the same founding fathers agreed to a centralized union governed by a membership charter, the United States Constitution. The preamble to that document reads:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It was understood then that a government (by the people and for the people, if you will) was necessary to ensure the public good.

What is missing from the Boaz article is not only that governments are necessary, but any mention of the values that such governments serve: the public good defined by a majority of citizens through their representatives met in Congress. Indeed, such governments are necessary and even to be hoped for because of their capacity to create and promote “public values”.

These ideas are so fundamental as to be pointless in repetition. And yet, if we do not repeat these truths we are likely to miss the fact that these truths assume the existence of a public good, that there is a greater public good in well organized (and governed) collective living than in individual selfish organization.

The second fallacy in the Boaz approach is the implicit assumption of market efficiency and the author’s failure to so much as acknowledge market failure. Fifteen years down the road from Boaz’ original work, the evidence of market failure is all too evident: the 1999 reform of United States banking laws (the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act) which created banks “too big to fail” led to the 2008 world financial markets meltdown; Increased concentration of media power and the relaxation of media ownership rules in 2003 led to complacency in following the Neoconservatives as they manipulated public opinion and a weak president; Merger and acquisition approvals from the Department of Justice far too numerous to count have resulted in anticompetitive markets where high barriers to entry encourage the creation of economic power at the expense of innovation. Absent responsible regulation, the “market approach” to regulating public spaces consistently fail to produce “socially desirable” outcomes.

Why the quotes around “socially desirable”?

Because social desirability is the quality expected and the end result of a political process and public policy.

Competitive and accessible education for the brightest and the best is a socially desirable outcome, public healthcare and a confident, healthy workforce are socially desirable outcomes for their benefit to worker productivity, a vibrant and competitive media landscape is a socially desirable outcome when you consider the importance of an informed citizenry. And yet, for each of these examples (and there are others) we Americans have accepted mediocrity: in education we have accepted that a liberal arts education should be an exercise in a student’s ability-to-pay, or at least, mortgage his/her future (although to be fair, localized and community based alternatives exist). With respect to health care it remains to be seen whether Public Health Care as it is now conceived will deliver on its public policy potential. Concentrated and monopolistic media ownership have led to complacency on critical national issues – the matter of public safety and security, the right of privacy, global warming and the depletion of major national aquifers.

Markets do fail and the social ills which confront America today are largely a reflection of those failures.

The third and perhaps most important fallacy in the Boaz argument, is the author’s failure to account for the practical aspects of geography in his Utopia. Boaz develops as a central premise the idea that historically there is tension (and competition) between centralizing and decentralizing views of authority. He notes that for any “country larger than a city, local conditions vary greatly and no national plan can make sense everywhere”. But, rather than develop the attractiveness of local scale for market economies, Boaz launches into a discussion of “economies of scale”, a traditional and well documented approach to the creation of wealth.

The issue is not the creation of wealth, but the scale at which wealth is created and redistributed as a matter of fairness and equity.

Boaz writes in his section of a “Framework for Utopia”

What we need is not utopia, but a free society in which people can design their own communities.

I couldn’t agree more.

But it is not enough to agree; one must understand that community is first and foremost geographic. It is rooted in place. It exists and is viable because of water resources or fertile land or access to some special ingredient that gives its inhabitants and the inhabitants of its trading area a competitive advantage in producing a tradable surplus.

Wealth creation is a matter of trade and tradable surpluses. And it is here that market theory becomes relevant. One cannot trade if one does not have producers of goods or buyers willing to exchange for those goods.

Trade and comparative advantage are central to the economic functioning of the community and geography is the sole criterion for sustainable development. But geography is not of itself sufficient to explain community development. Communities exist within hierarchies of communities and share specific values by treaty or by acknowledgement of suzerainty.

For instance, cities that participate in the hierarchy of French cities share a language, a set of laws, ideals about social justice and the meaning of life. They acknowledge a shared history in terms of a succession of events. By the same token, the cities that participate in the Mediterranean hierarchy of cities share a water resource and acknowledge a shared history of rivalries and outcomes as do the cities and communities on the North Sea and of the Baltic and Black seas.

It is these stories that create sustainable human relations, not the pursuit of riches or the accumulation of wealth. It is shared stories such as these that create the conditions for sustainable redistribution of wealth and for cooperative development, in short, the conditions for creating a utopia of cooperating and prospering communities.

Social Conservatism and Engaging with the World

A high school friend who has devoted his life to “seeking God in his creation” and to community service recently sent an excerpt from the book The Culture-Wise Family: Upholding Christian Values in a Mass Media World. I took the excerpt as a challenge, first because the text was in Portuguese and I needed to prove to myself that I could still read and master ideas in Portuguese. Secondly, after 17 years in secular France I no longer feel the need for God as an affirmation of Life, Love or purpose and this chapter offered an opportunity to think upon “engagement”, “conformity” and “coming out from this world” in the sense proposed by Paul to the Romans, by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:1-2).

[To begin, and to keep matters simple, I did find the text in English and suggest that if you are not familiar with Portuguese you might want to read the chapter in English. Have a look at Who Stole Our Culture?, which you will find on the World Net Daily website, www.wnd.com.]

There is nothing to recommend about the author William S. Lind, unless you consider that he has coined a media-friendly moniker and is successfully exploiting this simplification among those who long for aesthetic and philosophical certainty.

Just what then is “Cultural Marxism”?

According to Lind, “cultural Marxism” is a subversive ideology, with a “deliberate agenda” to undermine Christianity and in so doing, destroy American culture.

In his chapter, Lind traces a plausible connection (loosely and with considerable license) between the Marxist observation of tension between social classes caused by competing social and economic interests and Marxist atheism. Starting from the vantage of class struggle (as if this were the only path to change) he traces the ideology through anarchist movement to the Italian theorist Antonio Gramsci and the Hungarian philosopher Georg Lukacs, to the Frankfurt School of social thought uprooted by the National Socialists in Germany and transplanted to New York. From New York, Lind traces the ideas of Western Marxism through Herbert Marcuse to the “counter culture movement” of the 1960s, concluding

That generation, which runs every elite institution in America, now wages a ceaseless war on all traditional beliefs and institutions. They have largely won that war. Most of America’s traditional culture lies in ruins.

Of course, Lind continues with his own prescription for “taking back our culture” which is nothing less than “Coming out from this world” (II Corinthians 6:17).

I have several problems with this article. First and foremost, the logic and the reasoning in this article work only if you reason from the standpoint that we live in an “us versus them” world, populated by conspirators who would “defeat” another, in short, a video-game world. This is all very Star Wars, very Manichean, simplistic and reductive. It is the case of good versus evil, where, if I am right, you must be wrong. If I believe in God (or do not, as the case may be) anyone who disagrees or challenges my deepest belief is against me.

The second problem I have with this piece is the unspoken belief that “Marxism” is bad and is diametrically opposed to … well not even capitalism, but Christianity. The dichotomy of Marxism and Capitalism I can understand. But Marxism and Christianity…? Maybe if you consider that anarchists and socialist revolutionaries were bent on overthrowing the capitalist order to ensure social justice. But surely, those are not the Marxists we see everyday who, in small ways work for social justice and to alleviate human suffering.

Finally, I dislike this article because it is prescriptive invites me into a world of belief that I cannot abide, the world of the socially conservative. It would have me agree about things I reject completely and absolutely and the public evangelist ideal that what I believe should be a matter of community record. I will not profess my faith except as a community act. I will not bear public witness but would expect those who “seek God in his creation” to have patience with me and see the spirit of Life, Truth and Love in me.

It is as if the need to believe in and affirm a purpose for life precluded any possible argument for millions of years of biological experimentation, as if it was foreordained that we should occupy the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder, and that God will show his chosen species a way out of the evolutionary mess we have created for ourselves.

Here is the text from an excellent review I also found on-line, at a website calling itself, Armchair Interviews:

“The authors have a biblical world view that says that the purpose of man is to know, love, and serve God. Therefore anything that moves someone closer to that end is good. If it does not—it is not good. It is that simple.

“This would explain why Pat Boone would lead his family out of a viewing of the movie, “Paint Your Wagon” in the early seventies. Why? Because the premise of the movie was that the town would be a better place if there were more woman of a certain type—a prostitute. And much of the movie focused on how to get these women to town.

“Many people would say that this is simply entertainment, point to the number of awards the movie garnered, and say that Pat Boone was narrow-minded and out of touch with the times. Pat Boone’s response would be that the movie did not cause people to know, love, and serve God—and therefore should be avoided.” (Bob Pike, “The Culture-Wise Family”, a review published in Armchair Interviews)

In my own life, I have preferred to live as Paul counseled the Romans (Rom.12:2), that they should not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind so that I might prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.

EXPATRIATE CITIZENSHIP

The following was written as a meditation introducing the theme of a luncheon conference on Expatriate Citizenship in a Connected World. The United States Consult General, Diane Kelly, was our featured speaker.

To paraphrase the French adage, “pour faire la République, il faillait faire des républicains” let me suggest that to create a global community we must first cultivate global citizenship.

I am a professional expatriate. Thirty-four of my sixty years have been spent overseas:
I was born and raised in Brazil (where I survived three “revolutions” or moments of high national tension and political turmoil: President Getulio Vargas’ suicide in 1954, Janio Quadros’ resignation in 1961 and succession by left-leaning João Goulart, and finally, the 1964 military overthrow of João Goulart.) I then lived 26 years in the United States (New York and New Orleans) and I am now in my 17th year in France.

My childhood years provided a ringside seat on the early stages of globalization. Indeed, my parents, brothers, sister and I were the embodiment of liberal capitalism, enjoying the fruits of diversified country risks and free trade. Our neighbors and friends in the local community could easily see and admire in us, ad hoc ambassadors, in my father’s words, the benefits of modern consumerism and the apparently unlimited benefits of the free market.

Communicating with the universe. Pioneer 1 Plaque
We watched as the promise of a new era and a grand “Alliance for Progress” inflamed passions and hopes in Latin and North America (1961). Then came the Great Society, the Vietnam War, the first energy shock (the Arab Oil Embargo of 1974) the Iranian Revolution and the overthrow of Somoza regime in Nicaragua.

As a young adult in New Orleans I watched as communities were torn by internal strife (Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador) and then rebuilt through multilateral, US-led programs administered by the United Nations.

As parents of teenaged children completing their education in Europe, we watched as the Stockholm Declaration (1972) became the Earth Summit (1992) and these found their way into a pragmatic discussion of object-oriented development strategies and environmental management. The OECD’s “International Development Goals” were reformulated as the United Nations’ “Millennium Development Goals” to become a road map for multilateral cooperation and community development.

There is no doubt these changes are at least partly the result of improved communications, from transportation and mobility to telecommunications, 24-hour news cycles and the now ubiquitous Internet.

But it is not obvious that these changes have all been for the good.

Globalization has meant the shifting, transformation, blurring and even elimination of traditional barriers, those lines of demarcation that define self and set apart the other. For it is barriers that define community geographies whether political and administrative, cultural or ecological.

Such geographies are universal, the exist everywhere. But everywhere they exist they are different, they are expressed differently and experienced differently. My Americanness, Frenchness or Dutchness is really nothing more than a descriptor for the frame of reference I bring to my experience of the local community. We may be Sunni or Alawi, Christian, Muslim or Jew, but in a deeper sense we are first citizens and participants in a local community, sharing in the transformation and trade in local environmental outputs, and that by choice and by virtue of friendship and mutual respect is what makes us citizens.

And so we are French, American, Dutch, German or Canadian. But it is because we live in peace that we are not obliged to choose.

INVESTING IN AND EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES

The image of the state as a sovereign, self-contained and geographically circumscribed guarantor of public welfare is dead, if such an image ever really existed. In its place we are increasingly confronted with the reality of delocalized power centers and competing city regions struggling to win and hold a place within a hierarchy of cities defined in terms of trade and territorial interests.

For the generalities, let me explain. A “nation” is a collection of cultural, ethnic and social identities organized around a common public discourse – a founding myth, a shared language, a unique geography – and shared rules concerning public intercourse. It is commonly agreed that a nation’s authority is sovereign in defining its national and territorial interests, and that authority is maintained through a monopoly power on the use of coercive force.

The reality of nation building is that nations are built-up through alliances of wealth-producing territories, generally city regions organized into hierarchies. Such hierarchies are arbitrary and user defined, reflecting criteria as diverse as the number of books published over a period of time, the number of births per thousand women, tax collections, or commercial banking deposits.

Whatever benchmark one uses, one must always come back to territory’s ability to generate sufficient wealth to maintain and grow its position within the relevant hierarchy.

Wealth and the local economy
A city may be thought of as a closed system, an economy endowed with a certain ‘patrimony’, or capital. Local production systems employ that ‘patrimony’ to support production for local consumption, for the local market.

Inputs for manufacturing and service production are provided locally or outsourced. As local demand grows in volume and sophistication, more local suppliers are brought into the production process, replacing factors that were formerly imported. The process of import replacement combined with a culture of quality improvement then combine in a virtuous spiral to create more jobs and better products at ever more competitive prices driving growth and wealth creation.

A city region is a collectionof markets, ranging from machine tools and parts manufacture to health, social services and public safety. Production for local markets is exchanged locally with wealth remaining within city limits. Surplus production and energy (in the form of ‘services’) however, may be exchanged in neighborhing economies where a product or service may enjoy a differential advantage. Such exports bring ‘new’ wealth into the local economy in the form of ‘profits’. Within city limits, such ‘new wealth’ is redistributed through cultural activities, taxes and transfer payments.

Local production and community problem solving
In this simplified view of a closed system, local production satisfies local market demand: a local solution to a local problem. In the real economy, multiple production processes operate concurrently operating according to rules of fairness and equity.

Local production, whether cultural or in terms of goods and services, is a measure of an economy’s market capacity. Vibrant cities are attentive to local markets. They organize and reorganize markets to meet local demand. While production capacity can be augmented in the form of technology transfers and non-local producers may enjoy differential advantages, local production alone creates and sustains the conditions necessary for local problem solving and technological appropriation. No amount of money investment can make a technology transfer sustainable without local appropriation.

The UNDP and the ISI@MED program
The United Nations Development Program (UNDP, www.undp.org) has found a way to support and encourage local capacity development in the Mediterranean area, networking local and regional producers (who are in the business of local problem solving) into communities of practice. The Information Society Initiative for the Mediterranean (ISI@MED) is focused on empowering local communities through information exchange and the use of information and communications technologies (ICT).

ISI@MED is a three-year program underwritten by the UNDP and supported administratively by the Marseille Center for Mediterranean Integration (www.cmimarseille.org) to promote local capacity development by helping territories shape participatory and integrated approaches to local problem solving based on information access and sharing techniques.

The focus is to bring information and communications technologies to bear on solving local production problems. Working within a framework of decentralized cooperation (the United Cities and Local Governments and other peer networking organizations), ISI@MED will target three Mediterranean city regions, Latakia in Syria, Tripoli in Lebanon and Oujda in Morocco to develop exchange and dialogue on addressing community information issues to solve local problems.

ISI@MED will produce a best practices manual for ‘information society’ practitioners in those communities before working to build peer-to-peer cooperation between city and regional governments of the southern rim of the Mediterranean, including Dakar, Senegal.

Turtle Island and European-American Settlement Patterns

Like so many of my generation of European-Americans a significant part of my conscious being has been devoted over the short span of my life to answering the question “Who am I?” In the face of the material well-being of my generation what could I possibly want? Surely, life was more than about wealth and material comforts.

I suppose the idea that I should know who I was started when my father, seeking to humor my awkward teen existence shared a cartoon parodying the “now” generation with the headline, “Who am I?”. I didn’t think it was terribly funny but I knew that adults were themselves humored by what passed for consent so I let the remark slide. My father probably never thought again about the subject or knew how deeply he had influenced my thought process.

The issue was undoubtedly that I should be constructing a focused adult life in anticipation of assuming an adult identity. He probably did not understand for all of his preoccupations that my life was already under construction and that my adolescent rebellion was already about community and my identity within that community.

The first question then concerned the observed asymmetry of power between the local production system and my privileged ‘colonial’ status. What was it about the encounter of two systems that created unfair advantage? Why was one system local, the other not? Which of these systems was my community? And if my community was the local production system, how could I accept an advantage originating outside of the local community?

[ Before I go any further, I should explain what is meant by “an advantage originating outside of the local community”. I was born and raised on Hummingbird Island, the eldest son of a professional manager responsible for a food processing business that purchased and transformed local farm produce for sale and consumption in Europe. Payment for the transformed produce was made in the United States to merchants who “hedged the risks” associated with the local production system, using the profits to finance additional production operations. ]

To my young eyes and 20/20 vision, since augmented by 40+ years of hindsight and a clear sense of what we know today as “globalization”, this international production system produced a redistribution of wealth, from Europe to South and North America. The redistribution in Europe took the form of purchasing economies (production and sale of less expensive, grain-fed livestock) resulting in lower market prices (increased disposable incomes to consumers) and for producers, lower factor costs at given market prices. For the land- and labor-rich host country this produced employment and land rents. Nothing was taken unfairly.

But this was only one facet of the colonization process. Other facets have since become apparent. The transfer of wealth from one economic system (Europe) to another (North and South America) produced a streamlining of local production processes from credit to manufacturing machinery and data processing, generating ever more wealth; it encouraged population growth and replication of European-style systems of social hierarchy, mobility and social geographies. Economic forces encouraged the progressive removal of natural ecosystems from their primary organic function supporting Earth communities of life and biodiversity. In short, this form of colonization succeeded in reproducing European-American settlement patterns, disenfranchising Native Peoples and advancing the day for “Mother Earth’s Great Purification Ceremony”.

More profoundly speaking, the success of the European colonial system, the “dominance paradigm” now fully mature and “in possession of Turtle Island” must inevitably turn to its next challenge, global scarcity and the control of food and water production systems. This is what is happening today all over Africa and in less developed areas of the world where land, water and labor are plentiful.

Where will it all end?

An old Indian friend whose life model is deeply rooted in community practice and collective intelligence, and who actively anticipates Mother Earth’s Great Purification Ceremony reminds me that the civilization disease which expresses itself as a belief in “individual”-ity, is a social cancer that can only be checked by

Human Persons in-Community, and so in-tune with the Song ‘n’ Dance of Life Herownself, whatever the geographical origins of their Ancestors…

In answering the question “Who am I?” my old Indian friend might as well have said “it is not so much ‘who’ we are that matters, but how well we DO what we ARE”.

This is in fact what he said.

Poverty and the Ohio Media Circus, or When is a circus not entertainment

Recent buzz in the blogosphere has concerned itself with Kelly Williams-Bolar (Kelly Williams) a socially ambitious, presumably single mother of two young girls “trapped in poverty” and condemned to substandard schooling.

I became aware of the facts through an article on the progressive website, Truthdig: A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste–Except in Ohio. The dramatic headline was accompanied by a picture of a straightened, nappy-haired black woman whose bloodshot eyes were on the verge of tears. Nothing like the attractive, forty year old woman pictured in the press

The reading trail led me to essayist, Marcia Alesan Dawkins www.marciadawkins.com and an abundance of media spin, from local ABC affiliate WEWS’ report on the sentencing, Woman Gets Jail Time in School Residency Case, to the Cleveland Leader’s confusingly headlined article, Mother Gets Jail Time for Lying to Get Kids in a Better School System and the Akron.com Community News and Notes website, Walsh Defends Prosectution of Williams-Bolar, moves to dismiss deadlocked charges

Headline writers and editorialists must be having a field day.

But this is the way a free press works.

The contest is between those who feel justified, by virtue of professional achievement or material wealth, living in an exclusive neighborhood and school district and those who believe that the dominant, materialistic discourse of our society has condemned a large segment of our citizens to permanent social disadvantage, an attitude we might forgive among certain minorities. The entire process, if one believes the Summit County Prosecutor (and we should believe her as the legitimate representative of the public order), was exacerbated by defendant Williams’ brinkmanship and insistence upon access to neighboring public spaces.

Did Kelly Williams and her father bring the problems upon themselves?

Only the people of Ohio and Summit County can say for sure. Even then, it may take judicial remedy, a lengthy appelate process and possibly even legislative remedy for justice to be served.

So where then does the issue lie?

At issue are the social values that define our public spaces, the right of public access and the old question of separate but equal. In a larger sense it is about how citizens in outlying counties, townships and municipalities insulate themselves from the social problems of neighboring jurisdictions. It is about metropolitan governance and a shared idea of citizenship.

The problem is not Ms Williams’ social ambition nor even her questionable character, but the failure of the State’s education system to anticipate and remedy the special needs of individuals trapped in poverty, the failure of the State to remedy something that is obviously separate and just as obviously, not equal.

The war on poverty is not something that is happening in far away Africa, South Asia or in the favellas of Rio de Janeiro. The war on poverty is happening in our own backyard. Ms Williams’ fight and the media circus that she inspired simply call attention to the rigidities of a system built around economic priviledge and material access.

The Kelly Williams case reminds us that ours is a shared destiny and that poverty has no place in the equation.

Three reasons why Julian Assange should be released

A friend wrote yesterday to ask whether I thought Julian Assange should be prosecuted.

A response was not easy. I have a sense of the harm Assange has done, but I also see the humor and I understand that unfair prosecution would only further damage America’s credibility and reinforce America’s ‘bully’ image.

First, the humor. The American diplomats who were exposed for their less than flattering undergarments, have done nothing that diplomats the world over and from time immemorial have not themselves done: spoken freely in private.

The publication of the correspondence is like an embarassing statements made over an open microphone by a careless politician.

The second reason the incident should be ignored is that nothing good can come of suppressing the urge to ‘expose the truth’, especially when that ‘truth’ is tainted and America’s credibility challenged as it has been following the manipulations of the press and public opinion by the neo-conservative “Project for a New American Century”, PNAC.

Finally, the decision to prosecute Jullian Assange should be perceived not as an act of revenge by embarassed public servants, but as a political act. A case for prosecution should be made and defended publicly. More harm will come from an arbitrary act of political censure perceived as a surrender of political control than would come from simply letting the storm “blow over”.

Political control is the key. America, under George Bush surrendered political control to a conservative clique operating as the PNAC. A clueless, populist president surrendered control in favor of revenge, mobilising American forces and invading Afghanistan even before there was sufficient proof of Osama Bin Laden’s personal responsibility and before anybody knew Al Qaida was the name given by the CIA to the list of proxy operatives they funded and fielded in their Cold War crusade against the Soviet “Empire of Evil”.

Symbols are important and Assange has been transformed into a symbol of personal freedom, truth and justice. The authorities would be well advised to think twice.

Post-script, added 10 January 2011.
The Alternet.org website on January 3rd posted a carefully argued and convincing piece in support of Jullian Assange. I recommend it to anyone who still wonders about the justness of Wikileaks’ actions. You will find the article here:

WikiLeaks’ Most Terrifying Revelation: Just How Much Our Government Lies to Us

Millennium Development Goals and institutional dialogue

Over the past several years I have become increasingly aware of efforts to coordinate international development and cooperation. There is no doubt this reflects growing public awareness for environmental and developmental issues and, in France, at least, results directly from significant public debate about the nature and logic of progress and development.

How does this concern me? Like so much in life that is revealed only as the spirit becomes receptive, the Millennium Development Campaign comes after a near-lifetime of efforts to understand my own Self in terms of non-American, non-protestant, non-English-speaking Others. Issues of Self and Other are at the heart of international efforts to save the planet and defuse cycles of stress and violence that have long characterized our western societies and only this past century gave us two European civil wars.

Several years ago, on the fifth anniversary of the Millennium Declaration, I read a PowerPoint presentation regarding the millennium goals.

Download MDG Report

I had heard of the project but dismissed it as something for do-gooders.

September 2010, five years on and the Millennium Goals continue to be the focus of concerted international efforts to cultivate fairness and reddress poverty; Five years on and we have not taken our eye off the ball.

What is the Millennium project?

First, the Millennium Declaration was an affirmation of the United Nations. It was a consensus declaration for the empowerment of civil society in pursuit of “fair and sustainable development”. The declaration acknowledges the principle of national sovereignty and affirms that certain values are essential to international relations, including : freedom, equality, solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature and shared responsibility.

The declaration then lists a series of objectives :

– peace security and disarmament
– economic development and poverty eradication
– protecting our common environment
– human rights, democracy and good governance
– protecting the vulnerable
– meeting the special needs of Africa
– strengthening the United Nations

The Millennium Declaration was signed 10 years ago. It marked the transformaton of the international political agenda by affirming that henceforth and for the next 15 years, international civil society would have an agenda.

There is no question that the only path to improve our human habitation of planet Earth is one of fairness and social equity. Solidarity in the name of what is right and just and improved working and living conditions are the only way to prevail against darkness, anger and terrorism. (It is worth noting that the Millennium declaration was in place a full year before Al Qaida unleashed war on Western materialism.)

I am not sure that “Mother Nature” can sustain another billion “consumers”, but it is clear that the conditions necessary for dialogue and accomodation cannot be achieved if people do not feel themselves respected and ultimately, responsible for their own welfare.

Growth in a world of finite resources can only occur if there is a sense of shared destiny and a common vocabulary, whatever the language. The values and objectives expressed in the Millennium Declaration have become a benchmark for institutional cooperation and just as importantly, they have provided a political and economic vocabulary for cooperation.

In September 2010 the United Nations Millennium Campaign, with financial support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, published a report on progress toward MDGs, “Millennium Development Goals Report Card: measuring progress across countries”. This report makes some astonishing discoveries with respect to an improving human condition.

This is certainly a “higher order” for world governance. It may have taken 10 years to gain currency in my thinking, and I can only wonder how long will it take to find an echo among my peers. Is there a tangible community of like minded thinkers?

Ultimate questions

A recent article on the website www.spirituality.com suggests that the choices one makes reflect one’s model of living. In the words of Mary Baker Eddy, “Life in and of the Spirit… is the sole reality of existence”.

What is your model?

People make choices according to the prism of their existence, a system of values regarding what is known (consciousness) and beliefs and projections about what is not, about what is beyond consciousness. We in the West project the “beyond consciousness” as an affirmation of the “purpose of man as being the end of history”. A grand idea, of course, and one that we have nurtured collectively over 4000 years of Western Civilization.

We consider that life has purpose, that we exist to find it, explore it, share it and even, to harness it in the interest of progress. We even export purpose as an assertion of “truths which are self-evident”. And in this respect we have a long history of colonialism dating at least to the beginning of the fifteenth century, if not to paleo-christian times and the institution of the “church militant”.

Christian Science—not just an alternative

This sense of purpose, along with a Spirit of Enquiry forms the very basis of our Western “world view”. It is this combination of determinism and curiosity which led to the crowning of Western Civilization with rational science and a self-proclaimed “enlightenment”.

But are we truly enlightened? Have we by understanding the physics of nature to the point of deconstruction, reached the threshold of yet another dark age?

This article in Spirituality.com provokes a reflection about man’s ultimate achievement. It makes me wonder if progress is now or can ever be a shared idea.

If we live in the present and share stories from the past, we can only go forward alone…, for where our treasure is, there will our heart be also. (Science & Health, pg 451:14-16)

Enclosures

The Stone Wall at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New York

Today’s note is inspired by a Google photosearch for an image to illustrate the word “commons”.

The Stone Wall at Storm King Art Center, Mountainville, New YorkThe idea of a commons implies both freedom and its opposite. As we use the word, a commons is a place where the representatives of a free people meet in a rite of political comity. It is also however, an enclosure, a space secured by law and to which access is restricted. One might speak of a such a community as a community “bound by a commons”.

What is needed is a new understanding of the commons as being either “socialized” or “wild”. Looking at the problem in this light, a “wild commons” would be established by common agreement as beyond property limits, beyond the pale of “socialized” spaces. Such agreements should govern the oceans, the Antartic, the noosphere, outerspace and as much of a national territory as can be reasonably set aside. In short, we are speaking of creating “public parks” on a global scale, somewhat like Antarctica. What could be more important?

Such distinctions are already possible. We live in “socialized spaces” we consider “public” and cultivate intimacy in our “private spaces” and anything that is outside of “socialized space” is considered “wild”. The problem we face in the 21st century however, is that such “wilds” are no longer wild and are hardly self-sustaining.

A “wild commons” is needed to protect biodiversity, much as zoological establishments (“zoos” in plain English) today are focused on preserving and cultivating biodiversity. Such establishments for the promotion of biodiversity could not exist without agreement of the “socialized commons”, which is to say, without comity and collective authority.

Would a new authority be required to implement a “wild commons”?

I think not. Yet, if man has learned anything from his history it should be that authority cannot exist without enforcement and that the first requirement of enforcement is submission to a rule.

Submission entails surrendering the will to resist but it can also be understood as a negotiation whereby some rights are surrendered in exchange for the preservation of others. This is the art of compromise and it is more than ever necessary in promoting the stewardship of our public spaces. Acknowledging the necessity of a “wild commons” implies diversity and long term sustainability.

In order to return to the idea that enclosures are systems which produce “commons objects” (sic), perhaps what we need is to rethink the commons not as a space of shared activity but as a regulated space of non-activity.

If you are interested in exploring this further, you might have a look at the classic economics text The Tragedy of the Commons. Alternatively, a great deal of literature is currently being generated with respect to the strategy of developing networks of Marine Protected Areas. These are an absolutely indispensable first step toward the preservation of marine diversity and the safeguard of trophic marine systems.