Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Optimism is nice, but will it bring change?

Written by on . Published in The greater we

‘The Greater WE’ presents a case for a massive global economic and social restructuring which is led by civil society in response to the dearth of political will to implement genuine change for our common future. The Salzburg Trilogue, comprised of politicians and civilians, meets annually to discuss these possibilities. However, at the risk of sounding pessimistic, revolutionary change led by civil society sounds more idealistic than realistic.

The aims of the Salzburg Trilogue are indeed noble and the normative framework is holistic. All nations are to have equal grounding and all people are invited to participate in reorganising the processes guiding ‘appropriate’ global development. However, this idea has some fundamental and perhaps fatal flaws. It seems to overlook that we humans are often regrettably indifferent or apathetic to others’ needs. People that choose to push environmental and social justice agendas rarely see much effect, especially at the macro scale. The development machine is powerful and politically driven, and poverty alleviation is a big business with high stakes and billion-dollar budgets. A handful of well-intended individuals won’t change that too easily. It is said that ninety-nine per cent of the world’s resources are held by one per cent of the people. It is also believed that many of the worlds’ richest remain wealthy by retaining their resources, rather than sharing the bulk of their wealth with the poor. This imbalance of money, power and therefore influence is true at a global scale. So, how are we to find consensus on principles guiding the future of our common world?

The Question of Universalism

The normative framework proposed by the ‘Greater WE’ seeks to “creat[e] a common set of principles and norms – in future maybe even values – that transcend cultures and religions and provide the basis for us to work and live together”. This is exceedingly problematic. Who will decide which norms and values shall form the new social fabric for the entire world’s population? How can it even be proposed that whole cultures should need to alter their normative structures and value systems, given they do not match with that which is put forth by the Salzburg Trilogue (or any other governing body)? This system may invite widespread disregard of the framework.

In addition, the proposed change calls for individual commitment to restrictions on consumption. But, truth be known, people like their flat screen TVs, their cars and their iPods. Strong economic growth isn’t compatible with social equality and ecological conservation, given the current global business model. Development creates jobs, thereby increasing incomes, which promotes consumption and perpetuates the cycle. Most people who are in a position to satisfy their ‘wants’ rather than their ‘needs’ would be hard-pressed to give up their toys and privileges for the greater common good. So, how are we to find consensus on principles guiding the future of our common world?

The Challenge to civil society: Can they be well-coordinated?

The ‘Greater WE’ states that “it’s up to all of us, to civil society, to work towards such a frameset of agreement”. How will this be generated, implemented, regulated, and maintained . . . and by whom? I’ve attended meetings where diverse groups of 10-15, working to a common agenda, were deeply challenged to meet consensus. Is it even remotely possible, given the diversity of religions, cultures, norms and value systems actively practiced around the world, that a global civil social consensus can be achieved? This is not to say that the idea itself isn’t desirable, especially when considering that many of today’s politicians are merely marionettes at the hands of corporate control. But who will decide, and who will guide the new framework? Would governance by civil society not be vulnerable to the same abuses by which our current governments are now shaming themselves?

Politicians have largely failed their constituents, and indeed the invisible hand (corporate control) needs to be banished. Structural flaws in democratic systems have allowed an abuse of power, and left in its wake colossal environmental and social messes. Other systems of government are no better. Perhaps civil society is the answer to genuine progress in this arena, but how can this be coordinated? The whole point of government is to coordinate a group of actors who have the interests of the greater whole of society in mind. While this is clearly not the case in many countries, working outside of these government structures will require a tremendous effort and coordination, and monitoring for abuse. Multiply this monumental challenge by the requirement of reaching a global consensus from civil society, and you have an incomprehensible challenge!

Moving forward

In a world where millions of people follow the ‘Tweets’ of Justin Bieber and Rihanna, rallying up the masses isn’t at all inconceivable. A few strong figureheads could really tip the balance in favour of any agenda. Identifying influential figureheads from every context would be vital to rallying a global consensus. If this can be achieved and a new revolution can gather momentum, this normative framework for a ‘Greater WE’ becomes possible. The media won’t be an easy pushover; nay, I daresay they are a major part of the current problem. Technology presents tools and avenues to work around this fact, if only enough concerned global citizens would join forces, find consensus and act in the interest of the greater common good.

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Sarah Stamp

I am a recent graduate of international development practice and planning, a masters degree program based in Brisbane, Australia. Originally from the US, I've been travelling abroad for several years, and have found Australia to be the place with which I most closely identify. My research interests are centered around issues of social and environmental justice, which I've studied vis-a-vis multiple and various sectors including agriculture and food security, indigeneity, education, and natural resource management.