After my last blog post, on democracy and its shortcomings, I had originally planned to plough on into a discussion on capitalism, as another bright and breezy topic (!). But there has been some interesting feedback and discussion on democracy, and I’d like to share a few more ideas that have emerged since my last post, mostly around global governance.
GLOBAL PLANETARY AUTHORITY
A friend drew my attention to Angus Forbes’s call for a Global Planetary Authority. On their website they say:
“After 250 years of the increasingly destructive Anthropocene, a separate authority needs to be set up to protect and enhance the natural assets of our incredible planet for the next 1000 years. We now run a biosphere. We have joined mother nature in the driving seat. We are the first species ever to do so and we are doing a terrible job because we are not properly organised… So we have to create a global authority that is fit for purpose, designed specifically to do the job of protecting a biosphere.”
To this end, the VoteGPA campaign is looking to garner one and a half billion votes, saying that this will give them the mandate to create a GPA.
I agree with Forbes on the following points:
- the relationship between humans and nature has fundamentally shifted, and we would be disingenuous to pretend that we don’t have the power to destroy our biosphere, or at least materially alter it for the worse (the book Defiant Earth is a gut-punching wake up call on this topic)
- attempting to avoid ecological disaster through on a nation state basis, as in the UN conferences on climate change where delegates seek to protect their national interests, is not working – we need to recognise that, no matter what country we come from, we all live on the same planet, connected by our oceans and our atmosphere.
However, I have a lot of reservations about the feasibility and conceptual basis of a GPA. On the feasibility, even if he manages to gather the one and a half billion votes, I don’t see the Putins or Trumps of this world bowing down meekly and allowing the GPA to levy taxes on their citizens to support its work.
And conceptually, it feels very “dominator” to me – a small central authority of “experts” imposing its will on the rest of the world. Isn’t this the kind of oligarchy that we’re trying to move away from?
I fundamentally believe that we need to move out of our current dominator culture and into a mindset of partnership, in which we acknowledge that everything and everybody is connected, and gather together to co-create a better future.
WORLD POLITICAL PARTY
I am a member of the Great Transition Network, and we’re currently having a discussion around a proposal for a WPP written by Heikki Patomäki, a Finnish political scientist. The idea is to create a transnational association dedicated to democratic principles and processes that, under an umbrella of shared principles and aims, spawns a vast network of semiautonomous nodes at all levels.
I agree with him that there is an urgent need for political action on a global level, that “shared problems require shared action”, and that “A sustainable global future will be impossible without a fundamental shift from the dominant national mythos to a global worldview”.
Most of the critiques that I have read so far centre on the fact that a WPP would face the same problems that undermine the effectiveness of the national political parties we already have – that no country is willing to put itself at a competitive disadvantage by doing what is necessary rather than what is economically expedient.
A couple of alternative models have emerged from the discussion. The Simultaneous Policy concept (SIMPOL) consists of a series of multi-issue global problem-solving policy packages, each of which is to be implemented by all or sufficient nations simultaneously, on the same date, so that no nation loses out. Citizens who join the campaign can contribute to the design of those policies and to getting them implemented. By joining the campaign, citizens agree to ‘give strong voting preference in all future national elections to politicians or parties that have signed a pledge to implement SIMPOL simultaneously alongside other governments, to the probable exclusion of those who choose not to sign’. This pledge (the ‘Pledge’) commits a politician, party, or government to implement SIMPOL’s policies alongside other governments, if and when sufficient other governments have also signed on, and SIMPOL only gets implemented if and when all or sufficient nations have similarly signed up.
The idea is getting some traction: in the UK where SIMPOL is most developed, at the last national election in 2017 over 650 candidates from all the main political parties signed the Pledge. Of those, 67 are now Members of Parliament, which is about 10% of all UK MPs. Elsewhere, there are 14 pledged MPs in the Irish Parliament and 11 in the German Bundestag, plus a handful of MPs in the EU parliament, and in Australia, Argentina, and Luxembourg.
Clearly there’s a long way to go before the concept can be proven, and looking at the past it may seem a stretch to believe that humans could act in such a concerted fashion, but maybe we will be united by crisis.
THE GOOD COUNTRY
Another member of the Great Transition Network mentioned The Good Country, which launched a few months ago.
The feelgood video on their website ends with the invitation: “If you’re a member of the human race first, and a citizen of your own nation second…. If you’d like governments to focus a lot more on collaborating, and a little less on competing…. If you see a great future for humanity, if only humanity could learn to work as one… then you’re one of us. Welcome home to the Good Country.”
All sounds good, but how does it work? According to their website, “Research shows that at least ten percent of the world’s population shares the Good Country’s values and its world-view. That’s 760 million people, the third most populous nation on earth, and nobody even knew it was there. Until now.”
They believe their AI platform will enable ‘big conversations’ in which citizens can comment, discuss and ultimately rate recommendations so as to inform the creation of crowd-policy. “Normally, this approach is only possible in small focus groups, but the AI technology behind Remesh makes it possible to “take the temperature” of the Good Country’s entire population simultaneously – doing away with traditional binary voting systems and removing the need for a government bureaucracy.”
So it’s more grassroots in its approach than the GPA or the WPP, and feels more “partnership” than “dominator”, which I like. But can it access and influence the big levers of power, like political parties and multi-national corporations? It’s too soon to tell.
THE THEORY OF FLAWS
While I was at Yale in 2012, I had a number of conversations with Professor Richard Foster at the School of Management, and he shared with me his Theory of Flaws – that all systems created by humans are necessarily flawed, because humans are flawed. It’s hard to fault the logic.
To aspire to perfection may, then, be unrealistic. But when we look at the current fruits of our systems of governance – separatist, self-protecting, combative, short-termist, ego-driven – it seems that we have plenty of room for improvement.
I’ll leave you with a final thought – or more of a question, really. What is the disruption that will lead to a form of governance better suited to creating the kind of future that we want?
Check out this video on Bill Sharpe’s Three Horizons Thinking, presented by the wonderful Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics (and it is to my regret that Kate is the only woman featured on this blog post – and even then she is presenting a man’s theory – where are all the women’s voices on this topic?!).
Horizon 1 is business as usual, a degenerative and divisive economy. Horizon 3 is the emerging future, a regenerative and distributive economy. We may accept that we want to move from H1 to H3. And in between we have H2, which is the rogue element of disruption that can give us a sufficient jolt off our current track that we can jump onto a new one. Some potential disruptions get co-opted by H1, and we get more of the same. But some enable us to leap to H3.
What will it take for us to move beyond dreaming of better governance, and actually make it happen?