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Has the nation-state become obsolete?

29 Sep
Nation states cause some of our biggest problems, from civil war to climate inaction. Science suggests there are better ways to run a planet
Try, for a moment, to envisage a world without countries. Imagine a map not divided into neat, coloured patches, each with clear borders, governments, laws. Try to describe anything our society does – trade, travel, science, sport, maintaining peace and security – without mentioning countries. Try to describe yourself: you have a right to at least one nationality, and the right to change it, but not the right to have none.
Those coloured patches on the map may be democracies, dictatorships or too chaotic to be either, but virtually all claim to be one thing: a nation state, the sovereign territory of a “people” or nation who are entitled to self-determination within a self-governing state. So says the United Nations, which now numbers 193 of them.
And more and more peoples want their own state, from Scots voting for independence to jihadis declaring a new state in the Middle East. Many of the big news stories of the day, from conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine to rows over immigration and membership of the European Union, are linked to nation states in some way.
Even as our economies globalise, nation states remain the planet’s premier political institution. Large votes for nationalist parties in this year’s EU elections prove nationalism remains alive – even as the EU tries to transcend it.
Yet there is a growing feeling among economists, political scientists and even national governments that the nation state is not necessarily the best scale on which to run our affairs. We must manage vital matters like food supply and climate on a global scale, yet national agendas repeatedly trump the global good. At a smaller scale, city and regional administrations often seem to serve people better than national governments.
How, then, should we organise ourselves? Is the nation state a natural, inevitable institution? Or is it a dangerous anachronism in a globalised world?
These are not normally scientific questions – but that is changing. Complexity theorists, social scientists and historians are addressing them using new techniques, and the answers are not always what you might expect. Far from timeless, the nation state is a recent phenomenon. And as complexity keeps rising, it is already mutating into novel political structures. Get set for neo-medievalism.
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On Diverse Uses of Public Lands: An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul

9 Jan

The armed standoff in Oregon concerning the Malheur Wildlife refuge is only the latest is a long series of conflicts over “public” lands, as R. McGreggor Cawley has pointed out in a recent op-ed in The New York Times. In a quick overview of that history he points out:

In other words, the federal government has attempted to do what Payne, Ammon Bundy and their compatriots ask — “return the land to the people.” Had the Western states accepted the offer, we might have avoided a long train of controversies leading to the Oregon occupation. But when the Western states declined, the second caveat in the Hoover committee recommendations was put into play, and Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act, establishing a permit-and-fee system for regulating grazing on the public lands. All of that was to be administered by the Department of Interior’s federal Grazing Service — an entity that would eventually become part of the Bureau of Land Management.

But things, as we see, didn’t work out. Conflicts remain. He concludes:

This is what’s important about public-land conflicts: They raise thorny questions about abstract political concepts like democracy. Creating wilderness areas, or instituting environmental regulations, inevitably restricts someone’s access to the land or the purposes they would prefer to see it put to. For those who are restricted, the government’s action may not appear very democratic. It’s in these disputes that we get outside the abstractions of political science and reckon with big questions in a very immediate way: How do we all decide what this land is for, how best to use it, who can be trusted to administer it and how our competing visions for it can be heard — right down to each acre of grass, each deer and each gallon of creek water?

It is in this context that Charlie Keil has drafted an open letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul in which he urges that recognize a diversity of use categories for public lands – the Federal Government administers an eighth of the nation’s landmass – and that we listen seriously to “the armed cowboys in Oregon”.

* * * * *

Open Letter to Bernie Sanders and Ron Paul,

Could you both endorse a statement along the following lines?

We need to recognize a variety of different kinds of public lands: Wilderness, boondocks, the commons, public property, all increase the value, the sacredness, the importance, the preciousness of private property.

We need to create 1) true wilderness areas, 2) wilderness corridors, 3) boondocks surrounding the wilderness areas and corridors working as buffer zones where only a very few people are specially permitted to go there (mostly for religious or spiritual reasons), 4) commons for grazing and other seasonal usages, and 5) public properties with rules for local community sharing. The more we do this, the better off all the diversity of species and diversity of socio-cultural systems will be. The healthier the wilderness, boondocks, commons and public lands are, the happier the human individuals and societies will be.

Finally, the values and treatment of private properties will be enhanced in direct proportion to the amount of land we can safeguard, keep beautiful and healthy all around our human settlements. What might be called a win, win, win, win, situation for all of Creation! And for all of humanity too. The very opposite of a “race to the bottom” or a “tragedy of the commons” in which everyone (people, plants, animals) become losers as a few people with big machinery plunder MotherNature some more.

I don’t believe the armed cowboys in Oregon are Jefferson’s yeoman farmers wanting to homestead. They seem more like the thugs that genocided the Native Americans to steal their lands. They are there in sympathy with convicted arsonists? Burning trees to create grasslands for cattle and more hamburgers? They want to renew the war between grazers and farmers? Do they stand for a land redistribution of some kind that I don’t understand? Let’s hear them out, amplify their message, have some discussions, explain the urgent needs for more wilderness, and then restore the land to wildlife refuge, this time with a boondocks perimeter, plus a commons where Wes Jackson’s perennial grains can be tried out.

Wish I could sign off as a vegetarian but I still crave some free-range chicken once in a while,

Charlie Keil

‘Freedom of Speech,’ by David K. Shipler – NYTimes.com

6 May

Still, there’s trouble in paradise, the former New York Times reporter David K. Shipler finds in “Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword.” Our free speech bounty still produces discord, he writes. He crisscrosses the land to provide close-ups of five clashes: Parents are rumbling with teachers and administrators over which novels get assigned in class; federal prosecutors are muzzling whistle-blowers and journalists; a theater faces defunding for its edgy political work; on the Internet, bigots are testing our free speech principles; and across the nation, activists fear that the Citizens United decision will allow the moneyed to smother free speech with television commercials.

via ‘Freedom of Speech,’ by David K. Shipler – NYTimes.com.

Dr. Takeshi Utsumi: Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming

31 Oct

David Hays introduced me to Takeshi Utsumi sometime back in the 1980s. Both of them were members of an on-going seminar convened at Columbia University by Seth Neugroschel on the topic of Computers, Man, and Society. This was one in a series of seminars that Columbia has run since the middle of the 20th Century. The seminars are housed at and funded by Columbia University, but are open to participation by the general public.

Neugroschel’s seminar featured wide-ranging discussions of the social impact of computing technology. I often timed my visits to Hays so that I could attend the seminar. Those visits came to an end in the mid-1990s when Hays died. But I reconnected with Neugroschel’s seminar when I moved to Jersey City in late 1997 or 98.

Utsumi was born in Japan in, I believe, in the mid-1920s and immigrated to the United States in the mid-1950s. For the past several decades he has been traveling in South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to meet with people and groups seeking funding for projects in distance learning, telemedicine and the like. He then directs them to an appropriate place in the Japanese government where they can obtain funding for their work.

All this is in service of his idea of a Global University System (GUS), “a worldwide initiative to create advanced telecom infrastructure for accessing educational resources around the world. The aim is to achieve ‘education and healthcare for all,’ anywhere, anytime and at any pace.” You can find a 2004 interview with Utsumi HERE.

He is particularly interested in peace gaming, and has included an essay on it in the collection, Global Peace Through The Global University System. Here is an abstract of and link to his contribution.

Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming
(A Personal Recollection on Its Inception and Development)

Abstract: As a computer simulationist, I conceived in 1972 an idea of establishing a Globally Collaborative Environmental Peace Gaming (GCEPG) with a globally distributed computer simulation system through a global grid computer network, with a focus on the issue of environment and sustainable development in developing countries. This is a computerized gaming/simulation to help decision makers construct a globally distributed decision-support system for positive sum/win-win alternatives to conflict and war. It can also be used to train would-be decision makers in crisis management, conflict resolution, and negotiation techniques. This gaming approach is to devise a way for conflict resolution with rational analysis and critical thinking basing on “facts and figures.”

Over the past three decades I played a major pioneering role in extending U.S. data communication networks to other countries, particularly to Japan, and deregulating Japanese telecommunication policies for the use of Internet e-mail. I also contributed by conducting innovative distance teaching trials with “Global Lecture Hall (GLH)”tm videoconferences using hybrid delivery technologies, which spanned from Korea, Japan, New Zealand, Finland, Italy, France, Russia, Turkey, Brazil, etc. 


Using this background, we are now creating a Global University System (GUS) with colleagues in major regions of the world, which will be interconnected with Global Broadband Internet (GBI). The GCEPG is one of the proposed ways to utilize the GUS and GBI in integrative fashion. A similar scheme with globally distributed computer simulation system can be applied to various subjects as creating a new paradigm of joint research and development on a global scale. This will foster not only wisdom by collaborative interaction on knowledge but also true friendship among people around the world with mutual understanding and lasting peace. 

This paper briefly describes the history of the GCEPG project since its inception in 1972 and its future direction. It is a companion to the opening chapter “Creating Global University System” of the book “Global Peace Through The Global University System.”

Conjunctions on the Autumn Equinox

22 Sep

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Early yesterday afternoon I found myself sitting in the sanctuary at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Manhattan. The Parish was founded in 1835; this is its third church, built in the second decade of the 20th Century. It is Byzantine in style, with glittering mosaics on the interior.

The pipe organ is the largest in New York City, and one of the ten largest in the world. I didn’t know this when I sat there yesterday, as that was the first time I’d even been in the church. “Byzantine” didn’t even click in my mind, yesterday as I sat between my sister and her friend, Yoshiko, but I was certainly thinking “icons” (“iconoclasm”), “Greek Orthodox,” and even “Russian,” the conjunction of which all but added up to Byzantine. But didn’t. This was, after all, an Episcopal Church, no?

Yes.

The Wikipedia tells me that it is this parish that brought Leopold Stokowski from Europe in 1905 to be its organist and choir director.

Holy crap! says I to myself, no way!

Way.

Stokowski went on to direct the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, and had become something of a celebrity when, over 30 years later, he ran into Walt Disney at a restaurant in Los Angeles. Walt invited him over to his table and Fantasia was hatched. Not then and there, mind you, it took awhile. But that’s when the wheels started turning.

Walt’s father, Elias, had been one of many carpenters who worked on The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. And that fair featured a Japanese exhibit and pavilion on a small 16 acre in a lagoon. It was the unexpected hit of the fair and the first time most Westerners had had any contact with the Japanese, who’d only recently been subject to forced entry by Admiral Perry in 1853. Continue reading

The REAL Source of Cavities and Gum Disease | Global Research

2 Mar

As NPR reports:

Prehistoric humans didn’t have toothbrushes. They didn’t have floss or toothpaste, and they certainly didn’t have Listerine. Yet somehow, their mouths were a lot healthier than ours are today.

“Hunter-gatherers had really good teeth,” says Alan Cooper, director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “[But] as soon as you get to farming populations, you see this massive change. Huge amounts of gum disease. And cavities start cropping up.”

And thousands of years later, we’re still waging, and often losing, our war against oral disease.

Our changing diets are largely to blame.

via The REAL Source of Cavities and Gum Disease | Global Research.

Christopher Mitchell: We Need Spectrum for Our Communities | Mag-Net

14 Feb

Now, as the federal government decides how to allocate new spectrum that is becoming available, it has to make a decision. Should additional spectrum go to the big wireless carriers, should it expand the potential of unlicensed networks, or should there be a mix?

We think the highest priority should be setting aside spectrum that can be used to create low-cost tools that allow our communities to build their own networks. We do not need a more powerful AT&T or Verizon. Our ability to build networks has been limited by policies that restrict local authority to invest in networks and the monopoly power of incumbent operators. We have been hamstrung by federal policymakers that believe Internet access is best expanded by giving all the resources to a few massive companies controlled by Wall Street.

via Christopher Mitchell: We Need Spectrum for Our Communities | Mag-Net.

Happy Pluralist Multicultural Pearl Harbor Day

7 Dec

At the beginning of the week, when I was thinking through my writing schedule—which had, once again, been perturbed by this and that, such as the dance competition I’d been to over the weekend—it seemed possible that I’d wrap-up the main line of my pluralism series today, Friday December 7. I picked the day because it was my birthday, one of those milestone birthdays, and so a good one on which to more or less (but not completely) wrap-up such a project.

And that goal seemed well within reach when I posted the penultimate installment, Facing up to Relativism: Negotiating the Commons, on Wednesday. However, I’ve decided not to do it. Oh, sure, I could jam it on through. I’ve got a fairly robust outline done and I know more or less what I want to say. But I’ve decided to hold off a day or two.

For one thing, Fridays have become a casual sort-through-things-and-see-where-we-are kind of day. Such sorting-out and stock-taking is essential to keeping several lines of activity in motion, but it’s antithetical to concentrating on any one of them. And writing that last post will require concentration.

After all, it WILL Be a summing-up of a line of thinking that’s occupied me for the past year and a half, a line of thinking that’s touched base with just about everything I’ve studied and written about over the years: literature, music, cognition, the brain, culture and cultural evolution, film (cartoons in particular), and graffiti. That’s a stew that would best simmer a bit before I deliver it to the table.

* * * * *

Here’s what I want to hammer home in that final post: the connection between pluralist ontology and the ethics and aesthetics of multiculturalism. Now that I’ve made the connection (in Wednesday’s) post it seems obvious to me. But I didn’t see it coming, and that despite the fact that I have spent a great deal of time sorting out matters of culture, identity, and nation. Continue reading

Dance to the Music: the Kids Owned the Day

6 Dec

It IS, after all, about them, no?

Here’s the scene: A middle school auditorium in suburban New Jersey. It’s late Saturday afternoon on the second day of a dance competition. The auditorium is filled—but only loosely—with young dancers and their parents, other family, and friends. They’re all waiting for the last performance of the competition.

Some hip hop comes up on the sound system and a few of the dancers begin moving to the music. Some of them are standing up from their positions in the audience and are dancing in place. A couple others, at the far left and far right down front, are dancing in the outside aisles. More start joining in.

Down front, in the center, the action photographer—the guy who’s there to shoot photos of each dance number so they can then be sold to parents—is sitting down front on his high swivel chair. He’s smiling, swiveling in the chair to survey the scene, and he starts clapping on the backbeat.

That’s me.

Now another hip hop number comes up and, in a whooshhh! dancers get up out of their seats, rush to the aisles, and the aisles are jammed with kids joyously dancing. Five, six, eight, eleven, fifteen years old, a few older. Even the dancers waiting in the wings on stage for the final number, they danced too.

All dancing. 100, 200, maybe more. Dancing.

It was wonderful.

It made the day

How so?

Competitive dance.

What’s that?

What it is is an industry. There are some 200 companies in the USA that hold dance competitions, regional and then, in some cases, national.

Oh, You Mean Like Dancing with the Stars, only for kids?

Something like that. I don’t really know how it works because I’ve only seen this one day’s worth. What was going on that afternoon is that various dance studios would enter students in the competition as solos, duets or trios, small groups and so on, and they’re divided into a bunch of age groups so you don’t have four year olds competing against fourteen year olds. Continue reading

What Have I Learned from Sandy? Resilience Begins in Responsibility

8 Nov

I phrase it as a question because, though, considered as a weather event, hurricane Sandy is over and done with, as a psycho-cultural-historical event, it is only in the early phases of its life. In an earlier post (Thoughts on Sandy: We Must Change Our Ways, NOW) I talked about the need to restructure our world:

We have to rethink and restructure. We have to decouple and downsize. Otherwise we’re committing suicide by “civilization” and technology.

That idea isn’t new to me. It’s been with me in one form or another for a long time.

But, whatever lessons Sandy has for others—and I hope her lessons have been deep ones—I’m beginning to think that she does have a lesson for me, a lesson about self-reliance, community, and their interdependence. Still, I’m not sure. It’s too soon to tell. In any event, before I get around to a tentative account of THAT lesson, I want first to talk about some other lessons.

Sputnik, Martial Law, Berlin Wall

These lessons are personal lessons, though not entirely so. They are lessons about the intersection of my life with the larger currents of history. As such, I don’t expect that these historical events will have the same or similar significance for others, though they might. Briefly, these are the events:

  • 1957: The Russians launched Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to circle the earth
  • 1968: Martin Luther King was assassinated, riots broke out, and martial law was declared in Baltimore
  • 1989: Berlin Wall came down and set the stage for the reunification of Germany

I was ten years old in 1957 and was fascinated by outer space, rockets, and such—a fascination stoked, no doubt, but various TV programs by Walt Disney and films such as Forbidden Planet (1956). The launching of Sputnik marks the first time my dreams and fantasies met-up with history.

The launching of Sputnik was certainly a world historical event. Shorn of politics, it was the first time that humans stepped off of the earth to inhabit outer space, if only briefly. But of course, we can’t divorce Sputnik from Cold War politics, nor did I do so as a ten-year old. I knew, in my ten-year old way, that it was important for America to beat the Russians in the space race that Sputnik had catalyzed.

However, by the mid-1960s I had decided that, if the Cold War was in fact a real and pressing international conflict, it was a conflict dominated by a military-industrial complex that was more interested in preserving itself than in preserving the peace. The war in Vietnam had made me a pacifist and the counter-culture had almost made me a hippie.

Almost. I wore hippie clothing, listen to the Beatles, the Doors, and Jimi Hendrix, and smoked weed—yes, I inhaled. But I never made it too full-out hippiedom. I was too much of an intellectual for that.

And when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, riots broke out in Baltimore, where I was attending The Johns Hopkins University. The riots took place in East Baltimore, far from the North Charles Street campus of university, but that made no difference when martial law was declared. The whole city was put on lock-down. Curfew was 4PM and National Guard vehicles and men patrolled the streets. Of course I had to break curfew, along with some of my hippie (and non-hippie) friends. Continue reading