Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Another Leftward-aimed Zinger... on "Globalization"...

I told you all that I would spend a little while aiming my ire leftward, helping prove that my "Modernism and its enemies" riff is not just a liberal rant in disguise. True, I feel our civilization is under desperate danger at present from one particular direction. But let me maintain momentum and shine light on the other locus of romantic anti modernism, for a little longer.

I want to talk about the silly obsession of many leftists toward the word "globalization". A three-parter.

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A few years ago I gave a dinner speech for the World Federalist Society (led by former independent Presidential candidate John Anderson). And before you call me a sappy "one-worlder" let me add that I also gave a keynote at a national convention of the Libertarian Party! (see: Orcs, Essences and Civilization: The Case for a Cheerful Libertarianism) So go ahead, try to cram my politics into a category!

At the WFS gathering, I pointed out a few factors they really ought to note, before pushing for new styles of international governance.

1. Antipathy toward increasing world structure or 'government' has different sources, depending on where you look.

Dictators and oligarchs see it as a threat to their local power.

Small nations see it as a vehicle for hegemony by the US et. al.

Major corporations see it as likely to become yet another taxing authority.

Western political classes see it as arising out of the UN, and thus becoming an impotent talking society in which action becomes impossible and 3rd world perceptions dominate.

Americans almost instinctively perceive it as a potentially dangerous accumulation of centralized power.


The thing I most often focus on is the last of these. (Citizen empowerment is my fetish. See:
http://www.futurist.com/portal/future_trends/david_brin_empowerment.htm )

Indeed, my own son, at age six, expressed a deep worry about even the notion of a World Government, since "There wouldn't be anywhere else to run away to, if it turned bad." (Clever boy!)

I think it's very important to peer closely at the average voters and citizens in the West - especially the US - since they will ultimately decide whether this issue becomes a front-burner item. In dozens of talks and speeches, I have found that most people I meet express a set of shared values -- whether republican or democrat etc -- a vast majority of them declaring high fealty to:

(a) suspicion of authority
(b) individualism
(c) accountability
(d) tolerance (well, mostly).


Their principal difference is nearly always WHICH real or potential center of authority they worry about. But when it comes to this particular topic, nearly all deeply worry about internationalization of authority.

The left worries about this internationalization of power falling into the hands of their particular bogeymen: imperialists, aristocrats and faceless-rapacious corporations. The right worries about socialists and UN bureaucrats and snotty "consensus scientific" or academic elites.

And yet, can you honestly try top project your mind a thousand years into the future and not picture some kind of government that spans the globe and/or Solar System, at least at some level? Okay then, how about 500 years from now? 200? Can you honestly say our present status quo will survive all consolidating pressures, in the face of crisis after crisis, even for another few decades?

Elsewhere I talk about Whatever Comes Next ... or WCN. An acronym chosen deliberately to avoid hot button words like "world government". Surely SOMETHING will come next, eh?

Or will Pax Americana last forever, as our mad neocons contend?

(Hint: their behavior is actively shortening Pax Americana's reign. Indeed, that is a chief complaint against these bright fools. At present I see no possible WCN on the immediate horizon that can claim to be better than PA has been, for 60 years of relative peace and growth. But the neocons will end it all, the way Alcibiades helped end the reign of flawed-but-noble Athens.)

In any event, I have only touched upon a HUGE topic, pointing out that the left and right each have reasons to loathe and prevent discussion and planning and argument aimed at examining the process, and ensuring that it will be done WELL.

What are the attributes that we should be aiming for, in world law? And which should be avoided?

Here's a scary thing. The one thing that both left and right never discuss is giving the individual standing before international legal bodies. The right wants corporations protected. The left wants NGOs to be empowered to protect the helpless. Nobody is talking about letting you and me stand up for ourselves! Letting individuals rambunctiously take center stage and have our day in court... even though that's what worked best, in the nation states of the 20th century.

...more on this soon...

18 comments:

Dave Baker said...

I think you're exactly right, David, that preserving the standing of the individual should be our number one goal in the process of globalizing. Coincidentally, this is also perhaps the greatest risk we run in undertaking this process. World government threatens to make our democracy less "direct."

For example, suppose the UN were to become more like a world government. You and I don't vote for our UN ambassador. He/she is nominated and confirmed. Though I'm not as familiar with the EU, my impression is that it's similar in this regard.

This is not to say that world government is a bad idea; rather, we need to fight hard to make sure a world government is democratic. As you've pointed out, the US pretty much rules the world in many international matters. So we now have something like a weak world government, and it's an aristocracy -- only American voters have a say.

cryptochrome said...

I think you meant the World Federalist Association, not society. The Federalist society is a right-wing political organization.

Max Kaehn said...

What are the attributes that we should be aiming for, in world law? And which should be avoided?

World law should be fairly minimal: enough to make sure that contracts (anything from business to peace treaties) can be honored between smaller groupings, but with enough freedom that different places can choose their own rules. That allows people to adopt good ideas from their neighbors, or vote with their feet when all else fails.

Seth said...

Maybe a "world" government will be more acceptable when we colonize mars. Think about it... then there would be somewhere to run to.

cryptochrome said...

I'm of the opinion that an effective world government incorporates a strict framework with limited powers available to the world government, much like in the american model where we have a heirarchy of powers reserved to the individual, state, and nation. This is related to the idea that legal control is most naturally applicable at certain scales. In this manner, there is a dynamic tension and no level can gain complete control.

In theory anyway - power has certainly been progressively centralized in the US. However it has been to a far lesser degree than it may have been otherwise.

Personally, I would favor something along these lines but with emphasis on very different scales: individual, family/household, neighborhood, city, metropolitan/county, regional, world (planetary, planetary system, solar system). Actually you could have different aspects overlap (biome vs regional). Or have an emergent system with cities/metropoli (the most natural scale of organization) signing onto treaties together and establishing larger systems with benefits and responsibilities.

johnistpropaganda said...

"Surely SOMETHING will come next, eh?"

Surely, but the $42 million question is "what stake will we have in it?"

I may not have Mr. brin's credentials, but even a fool like myself can see that we probably won't be top dog for much longer if things continue in this manner.

Why?
1. The recent trend towards downplaying the value of science, and all things reasonable and earthly, in america's leadership role can only serve to stagnate innovation. In the paradigm shift that is the techno-revolution, i my mind mankind's most important revolution to date, innovaton is key. it will be left to young upstarts like china.

2. Then there is our newfound xenophobia, er, patriotism. We've decided to have nothing to do with any such kyoto treat, and have taken the official stance that global warming is a myth. Then there is our "We're america. We'll do whatever the fuck we want to iraq" swagger-- not participating in the curent prepubescent global government, the UN. Small wonder the US is losing friends fast.

3. Our work ethic, well, sucks quite frankly. We're known for being fat-n-sassy.

Our bussinesses long ago embraced globalization (GM,Wal-mart,etc) making us rich. our citizens have done like wise through world travel and the internet, making us cultured. Now why can't our government?

An aside:
"There wouldn't be anywhere else to run away to, if it turned bad."
Quite clever indeed. But, assuming we, the human race, don't blow ourselves to pieces (and i think this is our true test, not "who has faith in who"), we will have good times and bad in the future, just like in the past. All we can do is ride it out.
-jp-

Tony Fisk said...

1. Antipathy toward increasing world structure or 'government' has different sources, depending on where you look.

You left out the reaction of various public interest groups and NGOs, as demonstrated by the anti-globalisation furore accompanying the World Economic Forum summits in 1999-2000. What were they protesting about? The reasons were probably as many as the groups involved, but I think an underlying theme was fear of disenfranchisement of local cultures.

Anyway, this doesn't weaken the point you were making. What it does do is crystallise a concern that's been niggling at me since I responded to the anonymous comment on the stability of diamond structures in your last post. Having suggested that the stability question arises from taking a purely visual interpretation of something teetering on a narrow base, my subversive subconscious threw this at me. A vision of how diamonds can be stable:

..........1
.........111
........11111
........21112
.......2221222
......222222222
......322232223
.....33323332333
....3333333333333

Where 1, 2, 3 = first/second/third world economies.

Diamonds in the pyramid! Eek! It even covers third world dictatorships!!

I don't doubt that it's now me that's getting a bit fixated on the model rather than the reality, and it's probably been covered, but I'd be happy if someone could knock this construct over! Meantime I'll take solace in the thought that at least it's an improvement from when 1/2/3 = friends/romans/countrymen and rabbit/relations/friends.

At present I see no possible WCN on the immediate horizon that can claim to be better than PA has been

My thought is that you won't find it on the horizon: it's possible that it's bubbling up under our feet as we type.

Which, I think, may be where this piece is headed...?

(apart from wikipedia etc. the inner Google keeps making noises about 'Piers the Plowman', but it's a bit incoherent, even by my standards!)

There wouldn't be anywhere else to run away to, if it turned bad.

(Where did he come up with that one!!?)

There does seem to be an innate need for sanctuary, doesn't there? All we can hope for at this point is that WCN can empathise with this need.

What could?

Finally, @johnistpropaganda
"...even a fool like myself can see that we probably won't be top dog for much longer if things continue in this manner."

While the 'things that are continuing in this manner' are of concern, being 'top dog' is part of the problem under discussion.

NoOne said...

According to David Brin,

"Here's a scary thing. The one thing that both left and right never discuss is giving the individual standing before international legal bodies. The right wants corporations protected. The left wants NGOs to be empowered to protect the helpless. Nobody is talking about letting you and me stand up for ourselves!"

Since libertarians take their cue from Groucho ("I refuse to join any
club that would have me as a member") rather than Karl, this is not surprising. However, provided the world govt. to be is not hijacked by some special interest group, the heterarchical nature of the Internet should help in flattening hierarchies and lead to direct participation by concerned individuals.

There seem to be three hysterical memes going around at the moment: i) we are losing our competitive edge, ii) it is only a matter of time before radical Islamists start blowing things up here and iii) the fundies are taking over. I think i) is exaggerated and while we may take a 20% hit or so, the best and brightest will still come here because the US is unique among nations in its acceptance of immigrants. We'll get used to ii) like everybody else and as for iii) according to Hober Mallow, while religion can be a useful passive force to organize people, it always over-reaches and falls flat on its face when it becomes active.

Jeff Huber said...

"But the neocons will end it all, the way Alcibiades helped end the reign of flawed-but-noble Athens."

Concur completely. I've posted about this at my site, comparing the Iraq invasion to the Sicilian Campaign.

I now believe the most important strategic consideration for this country is how it will land in the post Pax Americana world. I'm thinking we need to position ourselves in a "first among equals" status. How to do that exactly, I'm not sure.

Commander Jeff Huber US Navy (Retired)

Dave Baker said...

@johnistpropaganda:

3. Our work ethic, well, sucks quite frankly. We're known for being fat-n-sassy.

As a blanket statement, I don't think I can accept this. We are known for being fat, but that probably has more to do with our eating habits.

In the white-collar sector, American workers are the most hard-working and down-trodden of any first-world nation, except perhaps Japan. In the major European countries, some have an enforced 30-hour work week, while most hew to something like the traditional 40. American white-collar workers routinely go for 50+ hours a week, often without overtime pay of any sort.

You might say that our blue-collar workers are lazy compared to foreign labor, and in a sense this is true -- simply because our workers are kept from being exploited by US law and their weakening but still-strong unions. This is why foreign workers are cheaper: they have fewer rights.

Jay Denari said...

World government threatens to make our democracy less "direct."

It's not direct now, and is becoming even less so, but we have the technology to make it a truly direct democracy if we want to.

As noone noted, the internet should play a major role in that, but I'd also like to see cultural investment in interactive TV being used for serious debates on public policy. If we want to keep democracy alive, we need to recreate government as an administrative body while reasserting citizens' rights to true legislative authority.

I remember a Poul Anderson novel in which most decisions were made by groups of randomly selected citizens who debated and voted on given issues via interactive TV, judges and other officials were selected for limited terms at random from the adult population by their social security numbers, etc. Expanding that to the globe is simply a matter of providing the technology & education to enable people to express themselves.

I think we could make such a system work in time. It would be far more representative and all but eliminate the risks of corruption.

David Brin said...

Good comment Dave Baker. Only I would go farther. WCN must not only be "democratic"... it must be dispersed, divided, with far more checks and balances than we can currently even imagine. All kinds of elites must be sicced upon each other from the very beginning, and as an inherent part of the Constitution. Or else time will turn even democracy into something horrid.

Of course, my sensibilities here arise from the Anglo-American Enlightenment, which is based upon the very same pragmatic eye toward inevitable human corruption, addressing it with the pragmatic tool of accountability. Europeans, coming our of the French branch of the Enlightenment, think it will be enough to imbue the bureaucracy with the right platonic spirit of service. Likewise, if the New Confucians design WCN, they will say that traditions of meritocratic service will suffice.

Ack. But here's the tragedy. The one group that might design a workable WCN is the one group avoiding all thought about it. Americans. The very paranoia toward authority that would cause us to design checks, is the same paranoia that makes us incapable of thinking more than a decade ahead, or ever imagining an end to Pax Americana (PA), let alone using our temporary sway at the top, as leverage to ensure that WCN will be loose, accountable and individual-centered.

Whiskey1, I run into lots of libertarians who yearn for space colonies to have someplace to flee. But honestly. That could be a very, very long time.

Tony Fisk... didn't I speak of the clever lefty response to my diamond metaphor? It is exactly the model you described. a bourgeois "diamond" resting on the back of a pyramid of 3rd world labor and resources. I recall having posted a refutation to that, did I mis-remember? If it did not get posted, remind me. Important to refute.

Tony added: "At present I see no possible WCN on the immediate horizon that can claim to be better than PA has been" -> "My thought is that you won't find it on the horizon: it's possible that it's bubbling up under our feet as we type."

Remind me to post (someday in the fall or winter) my paranoid fantasy of how the EU will conquer the world. Not only is it plausible... I cannot right now imagine anything on this earth, short of an asteroid impact, that can prevent it.

Commander Huber: I thank you for your past service to this country. (I was "almost" a Navy man... scheduled to be a Rickover boy, in fact. Happened in a nearby parallel world... where we probably lost a sub!) In any event, we would be grateful it you would report to us what you hear -- anything either confirming or refuting(!) the appearance of a fierce political purge of the US Officer Corps. In earlier postings I have attacked the Democrats for ignoring this monstrous thing, instead of doing their duty and standing up for the Corps, which is the one major force standing between us and a very cold wind.

Onward.

Tony Fisk said...

@David:
I recall having posted a refutation to that (diamond in pyramid), did I mis-remember?

You may well have done, but I don't recall specifics. It would do no harm to repost a link because it is a compelling image and so it is important to refute, as you say.

Remind me to post (someday in the fall or winter) my paranoid fantasy of how the EU will conquer the world.
So you do still do fiction? ;-). Actually, what I think might be bubbling up has more to do with Jay Denari than some 'Bergey Man' from Brussels.

In any event, we would be grateful it you would report to us what you hear -- anything either confirming or refuting(!) the appearance of a fierce political purge of the US Officer Corps.

I did a Google search on this issue, and, apart from one reference to a purge at the CIA last November, (and your good self) I drew a blank.

There might be a bit of circumstantial evidence to be found in the affair of the 'silent applause'. It's tempting to think that certain disgruntled commanders might have exercised a bit of 'Satyaghari' in interpreting orders, but it's hardly compelling.

(Interesting parallel, though: in 'Gulag Archipelago', there's a macabre true tale of soviet party officials rising up to give a standing ovation to one-who-is-more-equal (Stalin?), and then realising, with growing horror that no one has the courage to stop !)

David Brin said...

Urk! It turns out I had already written the rebuttal to "the diamond rests on a pyramid"... as part of this 3 part series... but hadn't posted it yet.

So hang in there.

daveawayfromhome said...

sez Dr. Brin:

"Remind me to post (someday in the fall or winter) my paranoid fantasy of how the EU will conquer the world. Not only is it plausible... I cannot right now imagine anything on this earth, short of an asteroid impact, that can prevent it."

For one possible scenario (including places to run away to!)and the American response to it, see Daniel Keyes Moran's "Last Dancer".

Phil Howison said...

Remind me to post (someday in the fall or winter) my paranoid fantasy of how the EU will conquer the world. Not only is it plausible... I cannot right now imagine anything on this earth, short of an asteroid impact, that can prevent it.

And yet, can you honestly try top project your mind a thousand years into the future and not picture some kind of government that spans the globe and/or Solar System, at least at some level?

David, do you mind explaining why you see this consolidation as inevitable?

And is your view related to neofunctionalism?

Consider: globalization is marked by simultaneous integration and fragmentation. One explanation is that economies of scale cause centralisation, but centralisation also incorporates old loyalties, and creates new ones - independent bureaucracies and large armies, for example - that can spark future conflict. I can't see this being avoided on a global scale.

My other point is that change of this sort is driven by technology. Technological changes that favour large, centralised institutions will increase state power. Current changes seem to favour individual power, especially by allowing individual control of communication. Decentralisation of culture means more varied identities and loyalties, which will challenge state power,

If you see global integration as inevitable, maybe you should read some writings on postinternationalism.

Patriot-X said...

My own, personal fear/resistance/concern about globalization was not addressed here ... or I did not recoognize it.

A simplification for illustration: Lefties insist on one thing, Righties insist on another. Globalization would require one Plan for all to follow. The Plan might be simplified enough for local variation ... but some of the fundamental components of all personal ideology are not negotiable.

So, in order for a Plan to work, Lefties will be required, by law, to give up some core tenet of their faith, as will Righties.

The Plan (WCN) becomes the top of the pyramid/diamond, rather than the supporting base. The top is the centralizing authority (hopefully not embodied in a Lone Leader) and Law. The base is the mass of individuals capitulating their own unalienables in order to conform to the Plan.

The American model was government as slender ribbon of rails under the juggernaut engines and passenger cars of individual momentum. Government supports the chaotic wills of massed individuals.

WCN, by its nature, will require radical Islamists to relinquish the rule of religion ... or futurists to relinquish the rule of "reason."

Who gives in? Who compromises their principles?

My concern with globalization is that my own insistance on personal accountability and determination will be eliminated by (for example) a theological majority decision ... or that my rabid individualism will quash the comfortable and comforting election of others to obey their deity before their selfish impulses.

John David Galt said...

You seem to be confused about the word "globalization" which (as used by most people, including those protesting against it) refers to integration of the world's economies, not its governments. But as most of your post addresses the latter topic, I will too.

The size and scope of governments is pretty much determined by weapons technology, as explained in Davidson and Rees-Mogg's "Blood in the Streets" and its sequel "The Great Reckoning". When great advances in weaponry are being made, giving an advantage to the country where it happens, empires expand because it's cheap and easy to do it, and trade prospers. When weapons tech is stagnant, so that even the least advanced countries have access to the best kinds of weapons, large empires are no longer cost-effective to maintain; countries break up, trade suffers, and crime increases because it's more cost-effective to do it than to fight against it.

And the entire 20th century has been the latter type of period, except for a brief period, 1945-60, where the Bomb gave the US and our friends security. It could have given us an empire for longer than that if we had been willing to use it aggressively, but the human cost would have been huge. That opportunity is now gone; it's only a matter of time until wealthy individuals have the Bomb.

Meanwhile, there is, to my knowledge, no R&D going on that is likely to produce more effective weapons and thus reverse the trend toward decentralization. Instead, the Pentagon is spending all its effort on "smart" weapons which are not any more destructive than the old ones, only more selective. "Smart" weapons are an improvement in the eyes of sensitive people such as ourselves who worry about collateral damage, but our opponents don't care about that when they use their weapons. (Though they'll continue to use our news media against us if we let them.)

As for international governing bodies: The UN's public image as a benevolent force for world peace has been mostly bogus from the beginning. The UN is primarily a club formed by and for the winners of World War II for the purpose of nailing down the fruits of their victory. Similar bodies have been formed after previous major wars (the League of Nations after WW1, and the Congress of Vienna after Waterloo), and each would up being discarded as irrelevant around the time the world was realigning for the next war. We're realigning again now, and the UN hasn't long to last. I predict that the next world war will start with China attacking Taiwan sometime between 2010 and 2020.

Finally, on the desirability of world institutions (a subject I address last because, unfortunately, an idea's desirability has nothing to do with whether it will happen in world politics): I support efforts like the International Criminal Court to establish that there are some things no government may do. However, I would never trust a world body with its own armed force or even its own taxing power, because it would inevitably become a world empire, and your son's fear of that is well taken. There always needs to be a balance of power, and that balance should be among more than two powers for greater stability.

But as you say, individual rights must be the ultimate goal, and all government bodies at any level ought to be built with those as the highest priority. The trick is to build a structure that will sustain as much individual freedom as possible, even though weapons tech will change and cause power to shift as the centuries pass. Maybe no government can really be flexible enough, and each will eventually need to be overthrown. That's the picture I get from studying history.