Tag Archives: Environment

Forget ‘Normal’ Politics

5 Feb



            Political life is filled with policy choices that are made mainly on the basis of calculations of advantage, as well as reflecting priorities and values of those with the power of decision. In a constitutional framework of governance the rule of law sets outer limits as to permissible outcomes. The legitimacy of the decision depends on adhering to these procedural guidelines, and the fact that if the societal effects turn out badly it can be corrected by altering the ‘law.’ Of course, all sorts of special interests behind the scene manipulate this process, and the public debate mirrors these pressures. The results of highly contested policy choices usually reflect the power structure (class, race, ideology) more than they do the outcome of rational detached assessments of the public good. At present, the national public good in the United States is being held hostage to the lethal extremism of the gun lobby as led by the National Rifle Association (NRA), which combines special interest politics with a political culture that is violent and militarist. Such a political culture seems unlikely to be able to prohibit the sale of automatic assault weaponry to private citizens even in the immediate aftermath of a series of horrific shootings in American schools and public spaces by individuals gaining access to assault rifles and pistols.


            If we agree with this line of interpretation, we must have the courage to raise radical questions as to whether under these conditions a flawed democracy is any longer capable of serving the national public good in fundamental respects. In my view, the only morally responsible position is to mobilize the citizenry around the need for drastic reform of American democracy. At the very least, the role of big money in shaping policy choices and the electoral process must be ended, and the glorification of violence and militarism must be repudiated. To seek such results a reliance on  normal politics is to inhabit the land of illusion. In some respects, a revolutionary situation is present in the country but a revolutionary movement is no where to be seen. Only utopian reasoning can be hopeful about the future of the country, and it is the case of hope against hope. 


            This politicization of policy choice is to some extent inevitable, and is usually not so threatening to the wellbeing of a country, but at present there are increasingly harmful repercussions that follow, also with respect to global stability and security. Within societies where policy choice depends on governmental action there is a play of contending forces, but the outcome is at least coherently oriented around a shared commitment to the national public good. Internationally, in contrast, there are no social forces, other than transnational civil society actors (NGOs), that are dedicated to the global public good. Governments, including that of the United States, determine and justify national policy choices by reference to the pursuit of national interests. When a dominant state opts to play a global leadership role as the United States did after 1945, it can sometimes promote a type of imperial world order that is beneficial to itself, but also at the same time helpful to most other states and to the human community generally. Such initiatives as financing the economic reconstruction of Western Europe, the establishment of the United Nations, and the promotion of international human rights illustrate such a convergence of national and global interests. But note that global interests, aside from civil society advocacy groups, have no independent base of support. Even the United Nations, which is supposed to promote peace and justice for the whole of humanity is little more than a collection of unequal states each jealous of its sovereign prerogatives. In addition, the UN gives an unrestricted special blocking power (veto) to the five permanent members of the Security Council. The UN despite its many contributions has been unable to become effective in curtailing violations of international law by leading states and their friends and has not been able to meet such global challenges as ridding the world of nuclear weaponry or fashioning a constructive response to climate change.


            In relation to climate change there has been an overwhelming consensus among relevant experts for over two decades that global warming is causing severe harm to the ecology of the planet, and that this situation is likely to reach an irreversible tipping point if the average temperature on the earth rises above a 2°C level compared to what it was at the start of the industrial age. This knowledge had been irresponsibly contested by a well-funded campaign of climate skeptics that has been especially effective in the United States in hijacking the public debate, and undermining policy choices that are in accord with the scientific consensus. The skeptic undertaking is funded by fossil fuel interests, and is being managed by some of the same public relations firms that delayed public appreciation of the link between cancer and cigarette smoking by several decades. This campaign has destroyed the capacity of the United States to play a constructive leadership role needed to establish an obligatory framework for prudent restrictions on the level of greenhouse gas emissions. Without U.S. leadership there is lacking the political will on a global level to act with sufficient seriousness to protect the global interest, and human destiny becomes jeopardized in a highly destructive manner from the perspective of species survival.


             Just as national democracy needs drastic reform, so do the structures and procedures of world order. One direction of reform would be to establish institutions with resources and capabilities to serve distinctively global interests. Steps in such a direction would include a global revenue producing mechanism, a global peoples parliament, an independent UN peace and emergency relief force, a repeal of the veto right in the Security Council, a revision of the authority of the International Court of Justice by converting current ‘advisory opinions’ into binding enforceable decisions, convening a nuclear disarmament process, and upgrading the existing UN Environmental Program (UNEP) to the status of super-agency called UN Agency on Environmental Protection and Climate Change.


            Such a thought experiment as this is oblivious to horizons of feasibility that befuddle politicians and set artificial parameters limiting responsible debate.  My diagnosis is anchored in an interpretation of horizons of necessity. By recognizing this huge gap between feasibility and necessity it is implied that normal politics are futile, and in their place we are forced to embrace utopian politics, which can be described as horizons of desire, faith, and hope.


Seeing Light: The Blogger’s Delight

7 Jan



            While reflecting on my prior blog lamenting the challenges of sustaining civility amid tumult and controversy, I came to appreciate my own partial captivity in realms of darkness. The negativities I tried to discuss are the shadow land of my blog experience, which is more essentially lived in the sunshine of new and renewed friendship, solidarity, mutuality, and the new emotional and spiritual resonances of our era, what I would call, in the absence of greater precision, the emergence of ‘digital love.’


            What becomes possible, although there is no doubt that it produces its share of blood, sweat, and tears, are invisible communities of commitment to a better future for humanity, all of it. Such communities keep candles of hope flickering during an historical period of thickening darkness when even the will to species survival seems to be in doubt. Why else would the world choose to live with nuclear weapons? Why else would political leaders turn their backs on the alarming scientific consensus as to the growing hazards and harms associated with climate change? Why else would the 1% be allowed to indulge super-luxuries while more than a billion struggle daily with the ordeals of poverty?


            It is in this spirit that I write from an aspiring identity as ‘citizen pilgrim,’ not content with the way the world is organized or the way rewards and punishments are distributed, seeking of a better world as a bequest to the future. It is not sufficient to be a ‘world citizen,’ which to be sure takes an step away from the privileging of identities of nation, race, religion, and gender, an implied acknowledgements of the primacy of ‘the global interest’ and ‘the human interest,’ but still tied either to present security structures built around territorial claims or tied to some project of political unification that succumbs to the seductively misleading promises of  ‘world government.’

In contrast, the citizen pilgrim is more concerned with time than space, favoring the profound readjustments that would be needed if the human species is ever in the future to fulfill its spiritual potential as well as satisfy its material needs and take the sort of prudential steps necessary to stave off civilizational catastrophe.


            It is a grand thing to be dedicated to such a vision of impossible possibilities, the sole foundation of hope in our time that is not built on illusion. Yet such grandiosity is irresponsible unless coupled with a willingness to take present suffering seriously. It is this ethical imperative of the immediate and existential that has led me to do what I can to challenge oppression and side with the weak, marginal, and most vulnerable in their struggles for emancipation, rights, and justice. While all of us are entrapped in the downward spiral of world order, many are denied the minimal decencies of life on earth, while others are allowed to flourish, either benevolently through their works and prayers, or dishonorably by stealth and by making the most of systemic corruption.


            I have strayed from my original intention, which was to make amends for my lack of graciousness so evident in my tiresome complaints about the torments of blogging. I wanted mostly to thank all those whose warm words of encouragement and support have given me the confidence and stamina to persist during these two years, and more than confidence, feelings of gratification that in some small way enclaves of truth telling are being constructed in cyberspace while the rulers are sleeping, building sanctuaries for those of us who seek refuge from a corporatized media that plays with our minds to induce the wrong fears while stimulating our most destructive consumerist appetites.  Without doubt it is this experience of digital love, new to this century, that is allowing the light to get through even on the darkest of days!


            It is my belief that there are many flickering candles throughout the world that partake of the special energies of place, culture, and memory, expressive of an array of distinctive identities unconsciously conjoined by mainly unrealized and unappreciated affinities. I would like to believe that we are participants in the founding of a new world religion that dispenses with institutions, dogma, and metaphysics, affirming a semi-conscious network of spiritually resonant citizen pilgrims aroused to action by urgent end-time challenges.  Perhaps, just perhaps, ‘hope against hope’ (Nadezhda Mandelstam) is not yet an outmoded indulgence!