A Question of Perspective

May 13, 2009

1. Historical Background

Usually media deal with day to day political questions, politicians speak of global interests, CEO’s feel as global players. In fact, this reduces the horizon. We refer to the human sphere, a limited part of out planetary ecosystem. Mankind is a minor element of the biosphere. Other living beings are far more successful, take insects or bacteria. Even our domestic animals outnumber humans by large. Our present world-economy and international politics are the result of WW2 and postwar contracts mainly determined by the victorious alliance. The bipolar world has undergone an outright revolution since 1989 with the collapse of the socialist block. Today, the world is shaped by an uncontrolled expansion of one superpower that has somehow lost reality-control. The present economic crisis is the consequence of the erroneous equalization of freedom with uncontrolled economic activity. This vision has led to regard everything beginning from inanimate nature to our fellow human beings as elements in a giant business environment.

Why is there such a cleavage between Europe and the USA in this fundamental outlook on the world ? Mere political, religious or ideological categories are not adequate to explain this. A short historic flashback may help. Recalling the immigration story of the USA, people have fled persecution, intolerance or misery mainly in Europe and arrived in the new world hoping to find a haven of peace. In fact, they brought with them mentalities from their contemporary European society and tended to conserve these values and behaviors as a means of finding a cohesion in a shifting context. We can see many religious beliefs dating back to before 1800, political concepts from the 19th century and economic ideas from before WW2 determining the present US landscape presently. One ethnoreligious group was the Jewish community from central Europe that fled persecution from 1880 to WW2. According to Wikipedia : In the Middle Ages, European laws prevented Jews from owning land and gave them powerful incentive to go into other professions that Europeans were not willing to do. During the medieval period, there was a strong social stigma against lending money and charging interest among the Christian majority (based on Leviticus 25:36), who decried the practice as “usury”. As a modern system of capital began to develop, loans became necessary for commerce and industry. Jews were able to gain a foothold in the new field of finance by providing these services: as non-Catholics, they were not bound by the ecclesiastical prohibition against “usury”; and in terms of Judaism itself, Hillel had long ago re-interpreted the Torah’s ban on charging interest. In the modern world, intellectual professions have traditionally been considered particularly “Jewish.” These include banking and finance, law, medicine, science, social sciences, psychology, academia, and more recently computers.

While Europe suffered a complete destruction of it’s social framework and value system during WW2, many preexistent European values moved to the US society and are determining the present situation. These historic facts partly explain the difference in political development based on an individualistic approach, whereas Europe has gone in a more collective direction. Concerning 1989, the US have not gone forward, but have revived concepts from before the great depression. This explains ( in part) why the US have relied so heavily on the finance sector and committed some of the same errors, leading to the economic dohuwabohu.

2. Definitions of Nature

After these remarks, I would like to switch from politics to the next level. We tend to refer everything surrounding us to our human system of values, the anthropocentric vision. This is a spontaneous property of every living creature. Since we have been so successful, we have managed to partly overcome natural selection and immediate dependency on our ecosystem by culture and lately the technological instruments.

Resuming the presocratic origins of natural philosophy goes beyond the scope of this simple Blog. The stoic definition of nature was the all-embracing, the normative. Nature was also the antithesis of culture, metaphysics and technique. Christianity distinguished the natural and the supernatural. Galileo wrote : La filosofia è scritta in questo grandissimo libro che continuamente ci sta aperto innanzi agli occhi (io dico l’universo), ma non si può intendere se prima non s’impara a intender la lingua, e conoscer i caratteri, ne’ quali è scritto. Egli è scritto in lingua matematica, e i caratteri son triangoli, cerchi, ed altre figure geometriche, senza i quali mezi è impossibile a intenderne umanamente parola; senza questi è un aggirarsi vanamente per un oscuro laberinto. He thus introduced scientific thinking into our relation to nature. The term „Philosophie der Natur“ was reintroduced in the 18th century and led to speculations about the relation of man and nature.

Mankind has maintained an ambiguous attitude towards nature. It ranges from a romantic idealization to a possessive exploitation, from an introverted contemplation to ruthless destruction. Scientific approaches tend to focus on respectful analysis, while commercial activities bring about massive damages. This is reflected in the ongoing discussion.

3. Changing Concepts

The original definition of politics comes from the Greek polis, the city. Politics is the process by which groups of people make decisions. We tend to have an image of party politics, ideology, power struggle that unfortunately does not live up to this definition. Institutionalization and historic events have formed is.

One crucial moment was the French revolution of 1789, whereby the separation of powers was introduced, along with the principles “liberté, fraternité, égalité”. Aristocratic privileges were abolished, the state became secular. At this moment we have to redefine this concept, namely, we need to abandon religious and ideological concepts. Most constitutions call on some religious principle. More than this historical relict is not acceptable. We are experiencing wars, terrorism, massacres by governments and groups in the name of religion, in fact these are simply political movements usurping political power and legitimacy. The west and especially the USA have to refrain from building up a provocative counter position.

And politics has to be separated from the grip of economics. No country has been capable of maintaining a clear separation of powers allowing politicians to translate the will of the voters. Reality looks rather like a democratic election of representatives, followed by an intensive lobbying by all kinds of groups ( completely unrelated to the popular will and factual majorities) to bend politicians around. In fact the Goliath economy is always stronger than the political David.

Modern states need a redefinition of political powers creating a complete separation between politics, economic forces, religious groups to allow politicians to take their decisions to the best of their knowledge and without external pressure. This is of course wishful thinking, but it has to be the aim.

Going back to the idea of nature, we have outgrown the concepts inherited from our constitutions, the US was created in 1787, how could they foresee today’s state of affairs ?

Mankind is colonizing the solar system. This is our common framework. And the consequences are evident. Not our petty politics set the pace for our common action. The solar system with it’s physical laws, the planet earth with it’s chemical, biological and ecological laws is our existential support and determines the supreme guidelines. Mankind is ( a particular) subspecies of the biosphere, among many other living beings. We have to achieve a radical expansion of horizon. We have to abandon the wrong idea that we are the center and only purpose of creation. It is nature that created all life, including man.

Our decisions and actions have to follow these principles :

Is our activity compatible with an ecological equilibrium, is it sustainable, do we respect the principles of surrounding nature and do we make responsible use of fossile, natural and human resources, sparing and conserving all we can for future generations ?

Political left-right categories, telescoping new words into used and abused terms is simply not appropriate any more.

For this purpose, we have to integrate natural and social sciences into our national and international institutions.  These groups of scientists must have a well-defined role in the political decision making that goes far beyond their advice of experts. We don’t need panels and papers that are not translated into specific government decisions and actions. State secretaries, ministers need to be experts for all the problems we are facing today. This does not mean a technocratic government as we have seen.

It means that new positions are created, representing and institutionalizing the latest scientific knowledge. And this knowledge has to serve as the basis for the administration. Not complete layman opinions, not big corporate, ideological etc interests. For this to work, the voters need to be better informed and to exert much more direct power upon the politicians. Once every four years ( US model) is not enough, with Internet, people can express their will every day if necessary. And the political culture needs to evolve accordingly. Using low taxes, lean state arguments as the only yard-stick for all decisions is simply undemocratic and shortsighted.

4. Enlarging the Picture

Along this line, one nation cannot bring this about. We need international institutions ( I refer to the United Nations) that are not the punchingball of regional, religious, economic or ideological alliances. The UN is the victim and hostage of the veto powers and communities of purpose not devoted to the common cause. While we observe this tussle, time is running out. A clean beginning on fresh premises is needed.

A new organization replaces the UN and uses another approach to reach consensus. The historical facts of 1945 are simply not relevant for coming generations. Special privileges for veto powers are undemocratic. A tried and tested system would consist of two assemblies. The first one gives each member one vote. The second gives each nation a number of members according to it’s population. And an executive council must take operational decisions. But there is a special catch to this : These assemblies are only one part of a supreme organization.

Since the supreme entity is planet earth ( as long as we have no settlements elsewhere), each sphere has it’s representation :

the geosphere

the hydrosphere

the atmosphere

the biosphere

They must be regarded as legal entities obeying natural laws and placed above the narrow self-interests of mankind. Their equilibrium, their sustainable development, their survival is the supreme guiding criterion.

Each one of them is being represented in an planetary council, along with mankind.

This council has the responsibility and function to mediate between the natural and the human interests.

Again, experts of natural and human sciences  provide objective and unbiased criteria to reach a consensus.

This council is the authority granting rights to it’s members.

Each sphere is subdivided into logical substructures :

The hydrosphere consists of the different rivers, lakes, oceans and all regional and functional cycles we know.

The biosphere counts with the all living organisms from bacteria, flora and fauna. Mankind does not only have a political representation in it’s resurrected UN. All civil populations are members with their innate and inalterable rights based on their biological origin. Of course these civil populations and their individual members must be protected with their specific cultures, independently of their social, political, ethnical, gender etc attributes.

5. Conclusion

The main idea behind this ( I admit, quite Utopian ) concept is to free nature and civil populations from their dependency of national governments. As we know, even developed nations have a structural democratic deficit. Developing countries struggle on a much more elementary level in a larger context that is unfavorable to a peaceful and prosperous development.

Civil populations are invariably the defenseless victimss of dictators, rivaling warlords, economic competition, natural disasters, epidemics, poverty to name just a few. The presently available juridic instruments and institutions serve a noble purpose, but they are biased by the anthropocentric view. Governments have almost absolute power over their natural resources, economy, agriculture, population and therefore protection of certain minorities often can only be implored in order to be graciously granted by those in power. This view is wrong. Human rights are no luxury, no privilege. The ruling class cannot decide over life and death of their population on arbitrary criteria. It is exactly the contrary.

Every single human being receives his dignity and human rights independent and super ordinated to the political organization he or she is living in.

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2 Responses to “A Question of Perspective”

  1. […] The rest is here: A Question of Perspective […]

  2. Yeah, Thanks for the great info especially on Historic background.

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