Genova, the Azores and our Common Future
Genova - July 2001 - had a big impact on my life, probably on anybody's life here in Italy. Several hundred thousand protested the gathering of Heads of State - the G8 - and were brutally beaten by police who had been instructed, on Bush's orders, to "be tough this time". Some of my Italian friends, Ivan and Vitale, were there and they returned shocked at the unprecedented violence that had been unleashed, by all accounts unprovoked. At the time, I said war has just been declared on the people and I wrote, enraged, that the kind of progress the mighty are talking about is not really the progress we want. At the time, one of the recurring taints thrown at the emerging global movement for justice was that it had not come up with any positive proposals.
Fast forward to Azores - January 2003 - the passage from one year to the next. Wind outside, logs crackling in the fireplace. Someone asks the question: What is it we really want? If we don't want Bush's war, we don't want "their" globalization, what can we do about it? Good question. Difficult. Susan suggests that Justice is the major problem. Prohibitionism and the non-separation of Church and State, to be exact. Agreed, but what can we do about it and what about all those other areas of life that are messed up too? We started listing them up - justice, the economy, the energy monopoly, scientific progress, the environment, health, education, ideas in the straitjacket called intellectual property, the way society is organized and how the media manages not to inform us of what's important.
We somehow knew we were not alone, but we really had no idea how many were out there thinking about the same things we did as the world slowly but very deliberately was steered towards a major conflict. "Why the war" had been written by one of those courageous souls out there. It is a lucid analysis of the reasons behind the "war on terrorism", well worth re-reading.
Brainstorming what could be done about the sorry state of affairs on this planet, the three of us, Susan, Robin and myself decided that what was missing was organization - a new kind of organization for those resisting the developments we were witnessing. Networked intelligence, swarming, not really organization at all - rather something reminiscent of a swarm of bees or a colony of ants. After all, the high and mighty would hardly have to budge at our individual efforts to effect change.
But imagine people linking up all over the place pushing things along towards a common goal - what they could do! We felt we were at the very forefront of an important movement being born. Indeed, many others were already at work, imagining our common future just like we did and even starting to build it, as we since found out. But then and there, we just had to wrap our minds around that idea and work out where such a movement would likely have to go. That was the origin of the document I am appending here, describing the interconnected areas that we believe need attention.
Robin Good and his Communication Agents project were born. Robin had already been sharing the communication technologies that are available on the internet. Communication Agents are those who put these new technologies to use to bring about positive social change.
Now what exactly is positive change, is of course exquisitely a matter of personal opinion. Here's our outline, open to change, to criticism and to further input. I know that you, too, care about our common future - your comments are more than welcome.
Areas For Change
("Change is the only constant in this universe")
We are living in interesting but also very dangerous times. A world war is not a remote possibility any more. Religious wars are in again, one could almost say, if it wasn't so obvious that most wars are really fought for economic reasons. Although the current adventure of a clique around and behind the Bush presidency ostensibly finds its justification in "fighting terrorism", the religious undertones are quite unmistakeable.
Despite official protestations to the contrary, Jews and Christians are pitted in mortal combat against the Muslim world, while all three of these religions go back to essentially the same biblical tradition! The interpretations may be different, but the story is the same. And the laws and moral concepts of each one of those religions are used to justify - more even than the threat of terrorism - the violence that fills TV screens daily.
Something is awfully wrong here. Church and State seem to have melted almost imperceptibly into one glorious mess. Islamic jihad - holy war - against Bush and his crew of re-born Christians while Sharon's Zionist faction is working in the background to keep the two main players at each others' throats. Whatever happened to the concept of separation of Church and State?
Our whole Western culture has been infected by a serious virus, the confusion between worldly law and religious or moral law. One of the most widely known documents showing that confusion is what Moses apparently received and passed on to his people as the Ten Commandments. If you look at them, you will see that worldly law (also known by the Latin name "mala in se") is quite well mixed up with religious or moral law (which is known by the term "mala prohibita"). This confusion of mala in se and mala prohibita, which has entered the law books is what justifies a concept of "different" people who are natural enemies to be eliminated by violent action. Ultimately, it is the justification for violence and - as we are experiencing - even war.
Justice has been largely perverted into a system of control. Prohibitionism - the enforcement of moral rules through criminal law - is a case in point. All kinds of behaviour thought to be morally reprehensible is prohibited by law, while personal safety and security seem to count less and less in the face of a perceived threat of "terrorism".
The rules of justice are due for overhaul. What should be on the books are laws necessary to protect the individual from outside interference, both from the State and from individuals who do not respect life, health, property and the sphere of privacy of others. What should not be on the books are moral dictates that have nothing to do with our living together in harmony. Respect for the individual and for any communities we may form should be guiding principles.
The Economy is rigged today to funnel money away from productive use by a mechanism of interest, profit and return on investment, leaving most of us to do the work while the resources end up in the pockets of a few. Even countries are indebted up to their eyeballs, many of the developing nations are so badly in debt that foreign "money providers" have come to practically own their natural resources. Closer to home, taxes have become - at least in part - simply a way to make us foot the interest-bill, with the government doing the collecting and then paying interest on the "national debt".
The economic system should, by reason of its basic set-up, favour distribution of resources, not concentration in a few hands as it currently does. Speculation should be discouraged while free and direct economical exchange should be facilitated. The creation of monetary values by credit, currently a prerogative of commercial banks, needs to either be in the hands of the state or be organised directly by and for the members of smaller communities. The interest mechanism must be eliminated by re-arranging the monetary set-up so as to promote easy circulation of money created not as a debt but as a credit.
Energy production is based almost exclusively on burning or atomically disintegrating non renewable fossil resources, such as oil, coal, gas and uranium. Alternative technologies are deliberately sabotaged in order to maintain the status quo - and the energy monopoly by a handful of multinationals.
We need networked, distributed, non polluting energy production using abundant and/or renewable fuels. Candidates are out there in abundance. A breakthrough is eminently possible if funding can be somehow drummed up for serious research in the right direction. Hydrogen seems close to breaking through but is by no means the only option.
Science is not really helping to bring about this breakthrough due to certain tenets which are "fixed in concrete". Real innovation in the energy field is not possible unless science basics be re-examined in open discussion. This would be a pre-requisite to seriously advance our way of energy production and to develop non polluting and non destructive technologies.
Added in December 2007: What we need is real innovation in technology, where abundant natural resources are put to use that will make the need for oil and the wars for its control a concern of yesterday. Much work has been going into making those abundant resources available to us, and the work is being done by individuals, not by corporations or governments.
The more conventional technologies range from energy conservation to solar, wind and water - tides, waves and river hydroelctric without a dam. A lot of work goes into making hydrogen a viable option as a transportation fuel, and into using hydrocarbons more efficiently. Battery technology is taking quantum leaps. But what is really going to bring the needed breakthrough is the shift in thinking that is brewing in the undercurrents. Some are bold enough to think that such forces as gravity, magnetism, and even the energy inherent in space all over the universe can be harnessed for our purposes.
Whatever the breakthrough technology will turn out to be, it will spell the end of the monopoly on energy production. We will generate our own energy and feed part of it into the grid, reversing the top-down energy supply model into an interconnected one where each node on the network is stable, self sufficient and contributing to the efficiency of the whole.
Science itself is largely controlled and kept in a quasi immobile state by controlled education. Our method of forming scientific consensus, the peer-review system, practically excludes paradigm challenging work by denying it publication and discussion. Facts and experiments that get in the way of the current system of faith in science are disregarded, labeled as oddities or worse - are ridiculed.
Science should be driven by the demands of art (application) and funded in a way that does not give special interests a right of veto. To balance a growing trend towards ever more specialization, we need generalists, people who can see the "broad picture" to connect the various strands of research in an effective way. Basic assumptions and scientific paradigms should be routinely and continually open to question and review.
The Environment or rather our thoughtless treatment of it, is another problematic area in need of attention. We are poisoning ourselves by saturating the beautiful environment of this planet with the many toxic by-products of fossil fuel combustion, with millions of tons of toxic chemicals we manufacture and use in a senseless war against bugs and weeds. Not to forget electromagnetic pollution produced by various technical applications such as radar, radio, television and the now ubiquitous mobile telephone.
We should be personally aware of and be taking care of our environment. It really is one big world wide "commons" - a resource that belongs to all of us. No one, whether state, corporation or individual has the right to monopolize or endanger this resource. Spaceship Earth, as Buckminster Fuller called it, should be kept in good working order. Our health depends on this to a great extent.
Health is controlled, in the western world, by a monopolistic, pharma centered kind of medicine which has effectively suppressed any valid alternative. Most nations are finding this to be very expensive - their health care programs are going broke. Yet, through globalization, this model is being imposed on the developing countries. No one has made an "operating manual" for the upkeep of our own bodies. There is no real prevention in Western type medicine. We're promoting illness by an exclusively symptom oriented approach and by our use of largely toxic, xenobiotic "remedies". Psychiatry has become an instrument of social control rather than being a healing art.
We need a simple health operating manual - for efficient nutrition and prevention - and real freedom of choice for the individual. Diverse systems of medicine should compete on an equal footing. No one system, however scientifically hyped up, should have a healing monopoly. Compulsory treatment has no place in a rational approach to health. Prevention should be the mainstay of all health oriented action. Treatment must find and remove the cause of illness rather than treat its symptoms.
Education is largely based on formal learning and is geared to perpetuate the existing scientific and economic paradigm as well as the official version of historical events. Critical thinking and our ability to evaluate as well as the acquisition of practical, survival related skills are not promoted. Educators are trained to teach, not to help others learn and even the subject of communication itself is poorly understood. It is hard to search out the truth about any particular subject and today's education system certainly is no great help.
An effective educational system should promote the ability to research, understand and evaluate. Questioning of paradigms should be encouraged. This could effectively allow those now considered "black sheep" to realize their full potential. Students must be put on the path of learning how to learn and how to question. The learning process should be a life-long endeavour. Educational content and information can be freely accessible on the net today. Acquisition of personal survival skills and self actualization on all levels should be promoted. Interpersonal communication skills are important both for educators and students.
Added in December 2007: In an excellent paper titled Parasitic Learning and Other Observations of the Zeitgeist (PDF), Teemu Arina, a friend in Finland, gives a good idea of the future of education and the deep changes that will be necessary to bring education in line with the requirements of a networked society. Teemu started his own company at 16 and was the youngest teacher in Finland. His presentations at international gatherings are much sought after. For more, explore Teemu's blog.
Added in July 2008:Vinay Gupta, in How to save the developing world for sixty million dollars outlines a campaign that could jump-start education for the billions that have so far been excluded.
Human potential has been a long neglected area. One could even say that schooling, television and the limitations of science are factors that actively suppress any ability which does not fit into the current very limited scheme of things. The use of "special" abilities such as intuition, telepathy, telekinesis, and similar is actively discouraged by society. Also the extension of our life span falls victim to a clear lack of interest in optimal nutrition and an emphasis on toxic remedies in western medicine.
The abilities of the individual - however "strange" they might seem - should be accepted, nurtured and strengthened in family and educational settings. We must learn to use our intuition to guide us in our decisions. Limiting the use of television would go a long way in making people more smart and alert. Life extension should be actively researched and any progress made accessible to all.
Intellectual Property laws tend to prevent, rather than promote, the free and productive use of ideas. Copyright makes information subject to ownership and thus less accessible. The patent system has been accused of stifling outside-of-current-paradigm technological progress. Patent laws have no provisions to guard against inventions being bought up and shelved by special interests. This severely limits our ability to put such inventions to productive use. The patenting of life forms, plants and seeds tends to monopolize, for the profit of a few, what was once considered a common - a resource everyone was free use.
We should move towards limiting copyright, examples are the Creative Commons approach to copyrighting, Copyleft, Public Domain, as well as the Open Source software movement. Legislation both for copyright and patents should favour the sharing of works while providing reasonable compensation for limited time. It should promote bringing intellectual property into the public domain. No protection should be afforded for biological "inventions" such as any living creature, bacteria, virus, plant and seed.
Social organisation is highly centralized and authoritative, bringing us ever closer to an all-controlling police state. Democracy is a sham as it does not offer real alternatives - although the existence of political parties gives many of us a false sense of having a choice. Leaders aren't chosen based on merit but rather on their access to public media. World affairs are substantially controlled by a relatively small minority, operating behind the scenes and exercising control through politicians who owe them their election.
The purpose of government is to provide an environment of peace and security so people can pursue their personal goals toward happiness. We need more direct involvement of people and various interest groups in the political process. Decentralized government - a preponderance of local rules and regulations - for communities not necessarily with a geographical focus, could facilitate personal involvement. Leaders should be responsible for the running of affairs - not the making of policy which should evolve co-operatively - and should be subject to continuous public verification.
Public Media and information are under the control of a restricted circle of magnates and powerful special interests and seemingly, further consolidation of these power centers is on the agenda. Disinformation and propaganda, rather than information, is the rule. The so-called mass media have become a powerful tool of control and source of confusion.
We need independent, distributed, interactive, community based and highly personalised media. Indymedia, peer-to-peer networks, weblogging and personalised newsfeeds are parts of an early model of this necessary change of paradigm.
Added in December 2007: Social Networking and Peer-to-peer technologies are rapidly transforming the mediascape. The web, as it is transforming from websites to dynamic (blog type) websites, to multi-media capable social interaction points is turning out to be a real alternative to the 'mass media' of yesterday. Blogs and social network sites such as Facebook, Linkedin, hi5 and others with the backup of YouTube and Google Video are definitely on the upswing, and they will become much more important still. Their ease of use, low cost to the user, and multi media capability will likely make them a preferred channel for citizen reporting, for the publishing of individually or collaboratively produced content. Peer-to-peer services that offer the next generation social interaction tools are not far away and we may catch a first glimpse in this coming year. Users will, and this, in a way, is a perpetual struggle, "take back the net from the corporations" despite all the sophisticated commercial planning.
Mobile computing comes into the picture as a factor in favor of a broadening social network. The mobile phone and the personal computer will meet somewhere midway and their synthesis will be a boon to social networking. Hopefully there will be increased awareness of the health costs associated with our current microwave-based mobile communication hardware, stimulating a change to other systems that do not have these drawbacks.
Added in December 2007:
Privacy versus Transparency
The need for transparency was not part of the original article and was first stressed by Bert in a comment. Then I came across Wikileaks, a site that has the express purpose of promoting transparency while protecting the identity of the source of information, and I posted that in a comment as well.
More recently, in a development not understood by many, Lawrence Lessig, one of the founders of both Creative Commons and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said he'd change his focus after ten years of working to bring about more freedom and choice in the area of intellectual property. He was going to concentrate on honesty in government, and on the enemy of honesty: corruption. An article in the Economist tells about that change of focus and about Lessig's determination to use technology to promote transparency.
As the net becomes part of our lives, there is of course a price to pay for all the free access to information. The price is our personal privacy. Every time we use one of the social networking services, sign up for a blog or some other free service, we lose a bit of our privacy. But we may well be turning necessity into virtue here. As we voluntarily give up more and more of our privacy and our lives become transparent, that concept of transparency will gain importance in other ways as well. Since anyone who is on the net in any significant way is already transparent, we shall be in a much better position to demand that governments and corporations become transparent as well. Citizen reporting is only a start. We will be turning the tables on government secrecy and with a good justification: We already gave up our privacy. Now it's the government's turn. So I think we will be seeing a move towards more awareness on the issues of privacy and transparency.
The concept of privacy that today accompanies the right of governments to keep from us any significant insight into what they are up to, is losing weight as we have given up much of that privacy already. One might say down with privacy, long live transparency!
It should be understood that this outline, even with the occasional update, is synthetic and by necessity skeletal. There may be other equally important areas to add. The interconnected nature of all these areas should be clearly understood. Anyone working in one area should be aware of the others and find out how changes in their specific area of interest may affect others. All of these of course form a developing vision of our common future.
posted by Sepp Hasslberger on Saturday June 28 2003
updated on Monday December 13 2010
URL of this article:
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