April 18, 2010 Leave a comment
Does history show that humanity is gradually, but irrecoverably, moving towards a larger and larger sense of a common identity? Is humanity, despite obvious setbacks and hiccups, moving towards a greater sense of moral obligation towards not only ones family, clan, or nation, but towards all humans – and perhaps, in extension to this in some far-off future, towards all living beings? Or are we actually still bogged down in a Christian, Communist, Rostowian or Fukuyama-like “end of history”-syndrome, in insisting that our societies, thought and morals necessarily move forward or that our society and morals constitute the high point of history?
Is a significant part of mankind thus any closer to calling themselves world citizens instead of citizens of this or that nation, area or religion?
One might at least make the claim that we are getting there slowly, that man’s consciousness has moved from being rooted in the family, to the clan, to the nation and now, to a degree at least, to be rooted in a supra-national, international, or global mindset or consciousness. But if we are interested in advancing such a global consciousness, how do we go about doing so, and is the UN a hindrance or stepping-stones to achieving it?
The UN was an obvious and necessary step forward from the nationalism and consequent mayhem of WWII, and it is difficult to imagine the world today, imperfect as it is, without it. After all, the General Assembly is the closest we have come in history to an actual parliament of man and the near-universal commitment (at least in practice) to human rights treaties is also a huge step forward, however much improvement there may be room for. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the General Assembly is executively weak and ineffective in comparison to the Security Council, the IMF and World Bank. It is also obvious that the UN will probably never willingly transform itself into a global organisation instead of the international one that it is at present, especially because any change to the UN Charter is impossible without the concurrence of all permanent Security Council members – and why would they want to change a system that has served them so well and, in the case of dwindling powers such as Great Britain and France, given them a disproportionate level of influence for decades.
One could therefore claim, as George Monbiot does, that we must rid ourselves of any notion of the international and embrace the global, that any global democratic structure must be more directly representative than the UN presently is, and it should therefore be an “an assembly formed by the world’s people … global, not international”. According to Naomi Klein, one might also use other avenues, such as the trade unions, only on a global scale, as well as truly enforce the global rights through the treaties that are already in place and signed by the governing representatives of a significant part of humanity. To Klein, “a truly globally minded society … would include not just economies and capital, but global citizens, global rights and global responsibilities as well”.
And what then of civil society? Although progressive-minded civil society organisations are obviously a potent and necessary counterweight to state monopolisation of power, and the human rights infringements and participatory apathy that tends to accompany this, are they of any use in advancing a global identity or society? The answer to this question, I believe, is a cautious and qualified ‘yes”. After all, structures of power never transform themselves from the top, but always due to pressure from below. Most, if not all, advances throughout history, such as the abolition of slavery or decent working conditions, have after all not been given from the authorities or leaders, but demanded by civil society movements or individuals demonstrating, striking, boycotting and taking to the streets. What it will take, however, is not only a structural readjustment (not to be confused with structural adjustment), but equally important, a mental one, as civil society will only wittingly or unwittingly help bring about a global agenda if its organisations and individual members have a global mindset.
These matters are interlinked, however, as freedom encourages more freedom. This is so because when people are linked together by a common humanity they have no need to be regulated or outwardly controlled, but by replacing freedom with oppression, repressive government also makes social solidarity impossible. Some theorists and politicians insist that humankind is inherently selfish or evil, and that given too much freedom, it will reveal itself to be a heartless monster (strangely enough the same theorists or politicians tend to advocate economical freedom using the same arguments). Others, however, are more cautiously optimistic in claiming that the human species is successful precisely because they manage to harness collective energies through cooperation, man being naturally cooperative instead of competitive. If we are to promote any form of global identity and society we must obviously (cautiously) accept the claim of the latter rather than that of the former.
“Is this Utopian? A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not worth even glancing at, for it leaves out the one country at which Humanity is always landing. And when Humanity lands there, it looks out, and, seeing a better country, sets sail. Progress is the realisation of Utopias” – Oscar Wilde, The soul of man under socialism
“We do not need to have a picture of what a true world would be like in order to feel that there is something radically wrong with the world that exists” – John Holloway, How to change the world without taking power