Another World is Possible
I have a long bet on the internet, but let's be clear: it's not a world-saving wager. I have faith that we'll (eventually) muddle our way out of the Great Recession, but into what kind of future? Seriously, how does a world of seven billion work?
My macro-level spider-sense is tingling, and it's hard to see where global change can come from, what deus ex machina could conceivably save us. Time to do a little digging.
The internet delivers bits, not justice
Open data, open source, free global communication, I love these things. I've made a blessed career out of them. They are fun and interesting and wonderful, but they are ultimately means, not ends. As Shakespeare said, "the proof is in the pudding." Results matter.
The internet is like an un-rigged election: a necessary prerequisite to a functional democratic structure, but hardly a guarantor of good outcomes. It makes sense to protect, to improve, to extend availability, to fight for it the way we do for clean air and water. But don't confuse yourself: clean air, clean water, free elections and a groovy internet don't add up to justice.
And what might that look like, justice? Interesting question.
The macro problem we have is that 4/5 of people don't really get anything close to a fair shake, and that we might run the planetary ecosystem into the ground maintaining a way of life that the other 20% really enjoy. That's the test we face as a species.
Homo Sapiens: pass or fail?
Failure is humanity in decline. It's the implicit downfall written into the problem: a gradual crumbling of consensus, dis-integration, and recession to smaller, more isolated communities, struggling to survive alone.
At this point I could go off on a long rant about all the wrong, evil, stupid, embarrassing, inhumane, and fail-filled things happening that trend us in that direction. Just scan the headlines and you can see the institutional, moral, ecological, economic and political basketcase that is Planet Earth circa September 2011. The Dark Future practically preaches itself these days.
But instead, just for a change of pace, I'm going to posit the alternative. What is success in the face of our challenge?
Let's say success is an integrated a world in which nobody has to spend all day looking for clean water, people don't starve, and everyone has access to as much quality education as they have the will to pursue with meaningful work to follow. That plus we have a sustanable global carbon cycle.
That's a tall order, but if you're gonna be a bear, be a grizzly. More importantly, with that goal in mind, we can say progress is moving the dial meaningfully towards a healthy, literate, ecologically stable globe in which human beings live dignified, meaningful lives.
Progress tends to be a two-steps-forward/one-step-back affair. It's easy to get discouraged, but there are good signs too. Dictatorial figures have lately been overthrown, and for all their missteps and setbacks there are a great many nations successfully pursuing "development" on one track or another.
"Another world is possible"
It isn't possible for every place to be equally wonderful. After all there are only so many great mountains, redwood forests, mineral deposit and so forth. The bounty of the natural world is scarce and unequally distributed, and history has left our man-made goods (and bads) spread unevenly as well.
Still, it is not soft-headed to believe in a world in which every place, every life, is kissed with beauty.
For where does the sun not rise, the stars not shine? Where do flowers not bloom? Where might great works of art and architecture not improve the surroundings? Where might people congregate in good faith and fellowship and not find joy?
And so we begin to feel the contours of an ideology, and in its promotion the inklings of meaning and a purpose.
- Internationalism is the future. Xenophobia is the past. We either make it as a species or we face a dark future as nations.
- As per de Toqueville, accumulation of fortunes is wasteful and aught to be avoided. It rarely even serves the fortune-ate (more money more problems) and ties up resources that could be doing good elsewhere.
- Public goods don't create themselves; they need promotion: works, services, spaces.
- We need more power, cleaner. Transportation and mechanical conveniences mean making use of energy, and there isn't enough to provide for everyone as it is. Efficiency is imperative (always), but incomplete as a solution.
- Raising standards for health and education everywhere to take advantage of our potential as a globally integrated species is the best way to make progress.
As the lefties say, Another world is possible. We need to be bold in the pursuit of this better world, because what we have now is not the best. It's good for some, but what good is good when you're malnourishing more than half the planet and headed toward the edge of a cliff?
There should be no established interest above reform in making things better. No sacred cows. Hanging on to the good a few have today at the expense of a better tomorrow for all is not only morally small, it's also pragmatically flawed: hunkering down is historically a path to extinction. It's who dares wins.
And where do you fit in all this Mr. Koenig?
For my part, as an idea man, a word man, a code man and a talker, I see my role as first of all simply getting this point across. Specifically, to get it across in a way that makes the case for collective action clear.
Because while recycling and veaganism are great and I love riding a bike, I don't think an accumulation of personal consumption or lifestyle choices will get it done. We have to do something together if we want to see real change. We might even have to be willing to risk some of what we have now in order to make a better tomorrow real.
And in order to do that, for people to risk some of what they worked so hard to get, what they grew up with and enjoy so much, they have to see the upside. The great tragedy of our time is we're too divided and fearful, we don't see the big picture, the big possibilities. We've got blinders on as a people. I want to help us take them off.
I could go on further, but it would rapidly descend into rambling. Each of those bullet points above deserves a blog post in and of itself. Maybe I just gave myself a set of future writing assignments. We'll see!