Albert Einstein famously asserted that “we will not solve present problems with the same thinking that created them”, so pointing out that the problems we now face—problems like climate change, rising income inequality, financial crises, resource depletion, and so on—are the product of old ways of thinking. The problems remain unsolved, in other words, only because our thinking hasn’t yet caught up. So it’s our thinking that needs to change.
Perhaps the best way to understand this is that new developments in technology, communications, and so forth, always evolve faster than the way we think about and understand the world. As the prominent U.S. philosopher, Ken Wilber, points out, “…technological innovation happens very fast because you can change the materials of production fairly quickly—put down your bow and arrow, pick up a hoe, dig a hole like this, put in the beans, watch. But…the worldview, the cultural accoutrements of religion, meaning, beliefs, shared values and so on… moves much more slowly, because this involves not just picking up a new piece of matter, but an interior subjective transformation of consciousness—a notoriously slow and difficult process.”
The speed of technological innovation is very evident in globalisation; in the globally interconnected nature of communications, financial flows, economies, the internet, and so on. Our world has rapidly become a global village. But it’s a global village that is yet to be matched by genuinely global thinking. That is, we have a global economy, but the way we think about the world essentially remains national. We still think about and understand the world through the prism of nation-states and usually with one nation in particular in mind—our own. This is reflected by the fact that, today, despite our globalised world, governance remains essentially national too. Since we still think nationally, that should be no surprise.
Thus, on the one side we have a global economy along with its attendant global problems, but on the other, we have only national thinking and national governance. As Einstein would have recognised, it’s not surprising we face global problems when we’re still trying to employ outdated national thinking (and governance). If we’re going to solve global problems, not just our economy, but our thinking and governance, must become global too. No amount of lobbying, protest, Corporate Social Responsibility or whatnot can change this. Indeed, the only thing that can is some form of binding global governance.
The longer this mismatch between global economy and national governance goes on, the worse global problems will become. And this isn’t just the case concerning climate change, financial crises, and so on, it also subverts the ethical and safe introduction of new technology—the very aims the IEET exists to promote. This occurs because the global free-movement of capital forces governments to compete destructively with one another to attract investment and jobs. Any government that failed to implement competitive policies—that is, policies that favour business, corporations, the banks and the rich—would only be punished by capital, corporations, investment and jobs moving elsewhere. Likewise, any government that failed to allow and support controversial new technologies, such as genetically modified crops or fracking, risks losing out to its competitors.
Thus the ethical, safety and accountability issues associated with new technology tend to be overlooked or inadequately considered as governments race to be first to implement them, or at least, not to be left too far behind. Likewise, public opinion is often conflicted and dumbed down by warnings from industry that failing to introduce the new technology quickly would only put the nation at a competitive disadvantage and so cost jobs. In other words, the need to stay competitive routinely trumps the need for sustainability, safety and public accountability.
So whether it’s making new technology safe and accountable, or whether it’s solving today’s global problems, the topic of global governance is rapidly moving up the agenda. But what would an appropriate model of binding global governance look like, and how could it be achieved?
One initiative that takes a novel approach is a global citizens campaign called the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) at http://www.simpol.org .
Simpol calls for virtually all nations to act simultaneously on climate change and on many other global problems, because if all nations act simultaneously across multiple issues, no nation need lose out. Not only would nations that might lose on one issue gain on another, simultaneous action would break the vicious circle of destructive international competition all nations are presently caught in, so opening the way to cooperative action that’s in everybody’s interests. But here’s the rub: Citizens who support the campaign have declared they will vote in future elections, not for one party or the other, but for ANY politician or party – within reason – that has committed to implement Simpol’s range of policies if and when all or sufficient other nations have also signed up.
Here, we can see a new potential that is of particular relevance to the deadlock that currently characterizes U.S. politics. Because, with support for both Republicans and Democrats being quite evenly matched, only a relatively small block of Simpol supporters in the key U.S. states could make it in the vital electoral survival interests of both candidates or parties to sign up. Given a block of Simpol voters firmly pledged to vote for whichever party or candidate signs on, and given a fairly even balance of support between the two parties, supporting Simpol becomes in the vital survival interests of both candidates. If one signs up, the other has no choice but to do so too. At the same time, signing presents no risks because implementation only occurs if and when all or sufficient nations have also signed on. So, for politicians, signing up is a win-win, whereas failing to sign up cold cost a politician his seat. And that would be regardless of any funding for either side provided by vested or corporate interests.
Sound far-fetched? You may think so. But Simpol has already made in-roads in countries across Europe and elsewhere. At the last national election in Great Britain in 2010, for example, 200 parliamentary candidates signed on to the campaign and 24 of them are now Members of the UK Parliament. Some Members of Parliament in the European Union, Australia and elsewhere have also signed on.
So for those who recognize that a move to some form of cooperative global governance is now vital, Simpol represents just the kind of global thinking we need. It could just be the political game-changer we’ve been waiting for.