At this stage a World People’s Representation is an idea, a vision that, if made a reality, would place the task of making the rules for global cooperation into the hands of the women and men from all over the world who have been elected directly – without the mediation of politics – by the people to serve as representatives for all. This in turn would constitute the paradigm change necessary to overcome the impasse caused by the inadequacy of all current ways of governing and enable humanity to make good use of the abundance of civilizational achievements available.
This book is about the single most important question of our time: How can we, as humanity, achieve the cooperation needed to tackle and consequently solve the accumulated host of existential problems we are facing right now, or will be facing in the near future. While I am writing, we have to deal urgently with a pandemic and its economic, social and political consequences. But there is much more. We have to tackle the ongoing destruction of the life-enabling biosphere of this planet which is our only home. We have to be vigilant to not let any international conflict get out of hand and morph into a nuclear war. We cannot simply accept the fact that millions of refugees and migrants are wasting away in forsaken camps or drowning in the waters they are attempting to cross. We should not accept that a highly developed economy is resulting in ever-increasing inequality: extreme wealth for a few, a precarious life for many and outright poverty for even more. We should not allow that, amidst having to face all these and more problems at the same time, we are growing ever more divided because of devious manipulation spread via various forms of media which originally held out the promise of bringing us closer together.
We should urgently rush to solve all of these and other global problems not mentioned here, but we are not going to be able to solve any of them. Why? Because it is politically impossible to achieve the permanent global cooperation essential to tackling the problems and ensuring security, prosperity and ultimately the survival for humanity. As long as we do not sort out an answer to the question of adequate cooperation, we shall remain impotent and forced to stand by helplessly and watch petrified the inevitable arrival of more and more misery and destruction.
After these initial sentences it might look as if this will be a book about doom and gloom, but it is not. It is a very optimistic book in which I try to show that we do have the potential not just to avert the dangers threatening us and ensure we are safe, but we can do it in a way which will increase global prosperity and improve the wellbeing of the people from the outset.
In order to explain my approach, I shall briefly introduce some key concepts often used in this book; a more elaborate discussion of these concepts can be found in the first chapter. Cooperation is defined here as the action or process of working together to the same end, be this be for a common, mutual, underlying or even unexpected benefit, and this can happen voluntarily or involuntarily. Competition is said to be the opposite of cooperation, but here it is recognized that competition can also be of service to cooperation. The human ability to cooperate has been foundational to all civilizational achievements throughout history, and the progress or decline of particular civilizations have almost always been caused by success or by failure in cooperation. Since globalization has created a world that is interconnected and, in many ways, interdependent, all questions of how to overcome obstacles that concern all of humanity, can only be answered by considering global cooperation.
When I use the word “dividedness“ with reference either to humanity as a whole or any part of it, I mean the quality of being divided and unable to cooperate, as opposed to being united and able to cooperate. Dividedness can manifest itself in various ways and the reasons for this can be analysed. My principal interest is in the paradigmatic reasons for dividedness, the reasons that are intrinsic to the very design of our current economic and political order as well as to our worldview.
One of the basic assumptions in my approach is that our current way of organizing cooperation is informed by an outdated political paradigm which is no longer able to facilitate what is needed. Here my understanding of paradigm is the distinct, basic assumptions of a group of people (regardless its size) about the natural and the social world which are relevant to political, economic, social, scientific or other forms of cooperation and, this is important, including ideas about decision making and the allocation of power. It is well known that assumptions, even if they are proved false, are particularly difficult to change if they achieve the status of paradigms among a group of people. In other words, if that change would affect power relationships. We know that even scientists, by training the most rational people among us, have at times refused to acknowledge new scientific insights when they threatened to result in a change of power relationships within their group. Similarly, at present, despite the high level of knowledge we have attained in virtually all fields of scholarship, paradigmatic assumptions about the political order are still determined by outdated ideas which are resistant to change.
In this way, as I see it, our current political paradigm is the main obstacle to progress, to improving our ability to create the institutions we would need to adapt to the situation in which we find ourselves.
Institutions are understood to be the “rules of the game in a society”, as the economist Douglas Cecil North has defined it (see Chapter I), more formally, constraints devised by humans which shape human interaction. They can consist of fairly informal constraints like sanctions, taboos, customs, traditions or codes of conduct, or more formal rules like constitutions, laws or property rights. In respect to cooperation, I view “paradigms” as pertaining to how we think about the world, about relationships and the like; about how we should cooperate and, as “institutions”, to the way we actually regulate our way of cooperating. So, if the paradigm does not function as an appropriate explanation for the situation in which we find ourselves, the creation of appropriate institutions will be thwarted and, hence, cooperation will fail, progress is stymied and decline can set in.
As said, this is the situation we are in at present, and this is what stops us from undertaking the urgently needed action to allow us to progress and to prosper. It is about ideas, of how to overcome outdated ideas and about accepting new ideas relevant to the question of how we should and could relate to each other. It is about ideas which will make all the difference. To continue relying on the old and outdated paradigmatic ideas condemns us to remaining mired in a condition of helplessness, unable to oppose various destructive forces, only able to stand by helplessly as we observe how developments career off in a dangerously wrong direction. To condense the essence of what I want to say, I call our current paradigm the “paradigm of dividedness” against which I propose the acceptance of a new “paradigm of unity”. Letting go of the old and obsolete paradigm and accepting ideas for a new and more appropriate one would mean we could tap into the nearly infinite potential of possibilities which humanity has at its disposal.
This requires some preliminary explanations. Our worldview, our basic assumptions about how the world and society functions, might be very deeply rooted but it does not constitute a law of nature (even though we are sometimes told so). To understand this is one of the basic skills every anthropologist has to learn, if he or she makes a serious attempt to understand another culture. What mattered in the past was the worldview of one’s own culture, but by now the forces of globalization have loosely bound all cultures together by economic, technological, cultural and many other ties. Whether we like it or not, the world is interconnected, we depend on each other globally and we do already share some kind of a common outlook. However, this has not translated into the creation of smoothly functioning institutions which would enable us to come to grips with global problems. We do have institutions which do not function as they should, and they cannot help us to solve the problems which are threatening us, let alone set us on a road to genuine prosperity for all. Right now, we are stuck in a rut. Globalization and interconnectedness have not spontaneously produced the new paradigm we need. Arriving at a new and appropriate paradigm requires much more than just standing by and letting the forces of the market do their work.
Globalization has brought enormous wealth to a few. It has undeniably allowed many previously poor people beyond the West to join the middle classes but, for the majority, it has been a rather mixed blessing. The disruptive speed with which the changes it has brought in its wake arrived has had an intoxicating effect on some but has had a deeply disturbing effect on many others. No wonder globalization and everything which seems to be related to it is resented by so many. However, globalization is a reality and cannot be turned back without even greater suffering and potentially devastating conflict. And the problems we are facing as humanity will still not go away.
We cannot wish away the reality shaped by the forces of globalization, but we can view our options differently. Globalization is described as the greatest transformation which has ever taken place in the history of mankind and, whereas most other great transformations were accompanied by war and bloodshed, although it has caused great upheaval, globalization has been a mainly peaceful event up to now. This can be regarded as important progress. Usually, what has been established by war and held together by threat of force is difficult to change without resorting to violence. No less important is the fact that, by now, the whole world is interconnected and shares not only a common outlook but also a common infrastructure (the Internet, means of transport, production chains, interconnected financial systems, institutionalized scientific cooperation, personal relationships between people all over the world and so on.). This too constitutes progress. The essential peacefulness of globalization, the various already existing forms of interconnectedness and common infrastructure, and the common outlook which has been built up (despite the remaining divisions) present us with opportunities which should not be wasted.
Viewed in the context of the history of mankind, globalization is a process which has already been around for several thousand years. In its long first stage, mankind spread out over the planet in many small groups, developed culture while leading a nomadic style of life and subsisting by hunting and gathering. Change came when agriculture was invented and a sedentary lifestyle was adopted. People’s lives underwent an even bigger transformation after systematic warfare was developed. From that point, the process towards globalization was up and running. The subjugation of peoples by successful warriors, the enslavement of others, the foundation of the state and subsequently empire-building drove the process forward. Long distance trade, world religions and migrations helped to disseminate ideas over ever larger regions. The systematic exploration of the world, inspired and enabled by the scientific revolution in Europe and the subsequent violent colonization of large parts of the globe by Western powers prepared the ground for the stage of globalization we are now witnessing.
This latest stage has, as said, taken place peacefully and its success as well as its downsides can be attributed to the fact that the modern political economy, inspired by neoliberalism (see Chapter I), has succeeded in providing a more or less unified blueprint for national economies to follow. In doing so, it has provided a framework within which the energies of competition can be harnessed. By permitting entrepreneurs increased freedom, privatizations, lower taxes, fewer regulations, easier access to investment capital and the like, great forces of productivity were unleashed which have propelled the world into the state of interconnectedness and helped create the level of common outlook we have now reached. However, even if we appreciate the constructive role of neoliberalism in advancing humanity, it must also bear the responsibility for our inability to solve problems, for the suffocating deadlock in which we (and the economy) are now entangled. Its unfounded belief in a spontaneously emerging order achieved simply by freeing the forces of the market is a dangerous illusion as we are now discovering. Now, as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has made visible, we are having to pay a high price for chasing after ever greater efficiency, forgetting the need for resilience in our headlong pursuit. The neoliberal focus on the “self-interested” individual and, despite enormous material gains for some, the denial of the existence of society has in many ways decreased the quality of life of many individuals who are, of course, also undoubtedly part of wider society. Extreme and politically dangerous inequality is one side of the coin and widespread disillusionment, no less politically dangerous, is the other. Neoliberal arguments have instilled a fear of the constructive and organizing state, and this has created the strange situation in which the economic actors desperately need the help of the state (or of central banks) in times of trouble (which has become now a quasi-permanent condition) but also has taken away the means of the state either to prevent destructive economic development or to lend innovation an effective helping hand where it is urgently needed.
At present, the inbuilt flaws of the neoliberal approach are uncomfortably materializing and this is bearing down on the lives of the people. Usually, the blame is not looked for in the deficiencies of neoliberalism but other scapegoats are sought. People, parties and nations are pitted against each other and assuming adversarial positions, instead of coming together to solve the problems. Most strangely of all, although the term “neoliberalism” is no longer used by its proponents, almost all of the quarrelling parties would, if push comes to shove, still underwrite the premises of neoliberalism, which have already assumed a nature-like status. Assumptions like that of the intrinsic “selfishness” of human beings have even found support among some biologists (and are convincingly refuted by others, see Chapter I) and have contributed to a starkly one-dimensional or distorted picture of the human condition, which makes it even more difficult to trust each other and cooperate.
It is particularly difficult to blame the principles of neoliberalism for our misery because by and large we share these principles, or at least some of them; we are deeply involved in one way or the other and we are benefitting from its achievements. Our bewilderment is compounded by the issue of manipulation, of disinformation, of the constant and confusing ideological bombardment by old and new forms of media. These developments can be understood as the struggle for power and influence of various group interests but also as a symptom of the confusion born of the general disillusionment prevailing among so many people. Neoliberalism has successfully argued against the powers of governments to organize society, but it has devised no protection against the private powers contriving to organize society according to their wishes and for their own profit. What is already happening, and even worse, what is still to come when new technologies (artificial intelligence, automatization and the like) are refined, is frightening to many. Neoliberalism offers no tools which will raise the participation of the people in decision making, or democracy in general; instead, it is bestowing general legitimation on wealthy and powerful elites to accumulate even more into their own hands. Disturbingly, it also does not provide any solutions to the various (above mentioned) existential problems affecting all humanity, including the very wealthy elites.
I cannot see any promising way forward within the confines of the present worldview. We are truly at the end of the road which our current paradigm provides, and yet, provided we are able to transcend the current paradigm and opt for a new one, we could have it all. We could build on what has already been achieved, harness the potential we have at our disposal, solve the global problems and attain sustainable prosperity for all. This is not what is promised by various political movements throughout the world, which hold out very different solutions to our predicament, or worse, to the predicament of selected groups only. These movements are backward oriented and usually dangle the illusion of a return to something like past glory for countries, for religions or for old ideologies. The nub of the problem is that models of the past do not hold the solutions for the future. We can learn from studying history, we can evaluate what we have at present and we can envision what we can do with what we have at our disposal.
What we need in addition to what we already have is the ability to arrive at decisions for all in a way beneficial to all. We need clear global rules which allow us to cooperate and we need the supervisory powers necessary to ensure that the rules are not violated. If we achieve this, we can also establish the rule of law as a global reality, we can ensure international security to a very high degree (without having to resort to something like a global army) and we can agree on a new monetary order which would provide a stable foundation for an otherwise free market economy and be able to assure abundant revenue to allow any country to build and maintain modern infrastructure and give continuous support to innovation as well as to the endeavour to transform our economy in a way non-destructive to the live-giving biosphere on which we depend for our survival (for more on this subject see Chapter III). Under these conditions, we would be equipped to tackle all the existing global problems and to do so in a way which is beneficial to the people and does not burden them. We could build inclusive institutions everywhere and we could get rid of the extractive ones. All of this, and much more, would be possible if we could find a way to act as a united humanity.
I can hear the objections already: Envisioning a united humanity means envisioning a utopia and this is definitely not done in our time. As we all know, utopias can turn into dystopias. There is, as a part of the current paradigm, a heavy taboo on envisioning the future (see Chapter IV) and an even heavier one on anything which would involve the design of institutions in a position to influence existing power relations. Hence, no one should think about doing this on a global scale. I am aware of the strength of this taboo and that it might prevent many from even catching a glimpse at any vision of the future which differs radically from what we have now. It is understandable that this taboo evolved in the twentieth century, after the devastating experiences to be laid at the door of mass ideologies. In a way, I share this view and I personally do not expect solutions from any of the ideologies or -isms currently in fashion. However, at this stage, this taboo blighting visions for the future has morphed into a protection mechanism for the current system of dividedness and destructive anarchy. The taboo has now become part of the trap in which we are mired at present. By itself this system and the detrimental way it distributes power is the very reason for our current impotence to prevent the actual ongoing race towards a dystopian world. Only by radically questioning this system, of which we are all part and which constitutes the mental universe in which we live and in which we believe and to which’s realities we ascribe a nature-like status, can we find a way forward.
Our current political system is caught in a trap from which it cannot escape unaided. In countries with authoritarian governments, we find ineradicable systemic corruption and the political system in democratic countries is at the mercy of private money and private power. It is distrusted and currently easy prey to divisive propaganda peddled by various new media. But this is not the sole reason for its dysfunctionality. The underlying problem is not because people, under the influence of manipulative propaganda, are making unwise decisions, rather that, by design, people do not have a real say in rule-making and are not actually in a position to take steps to prevent the misuse of power. People have no choice but to vote for one of the interest groups or parties on offer and these, in turn, are dependent on the money of private powers. The system is deliberately fortified against any real involvement of the people.
As a method of selecting leaders it has, in the era of social media, become even more dysfunctional than it previously was. Any path people might have been able to take to navigate their way through and elect the best and most trusted leaders has been almost swamped by a cacophony of propaganda and highly overstated personal appearances. Even if this does work on a national level (not well but somehow), it cannot work on a global level. However, global cooperation is the key to both prosperity and stability on a national level and to our ability to solve the existential problems which are threatening all humanity.
A promising new paradigm can evolve only if we are willing to admit the idea that the people, all of them, should be involved in decision making and controlling all power relationships. Only if the people are enabled to elect their representatives unimpeded by any of the existing power relationships will the elected representatives be entrusted with the legitimacy to make rules for all of us and instate the rule of law in place of the rule of force and manipulation. This is what we desperately need. This would open a way out of the otherwise inescapable trap we are all in right now. This is the core supposition which can lead to a new paradigm; one which enables cooperation on any level: The knowledge that we can view ourselves as one humanity, not just as a kind of a conglomerate of people, loosely linked together by various connections, and fearful of each other, but as a one humanity who is able to act when needed, with all the potential this entails. There is a realistic alternative to the negative developments at work right now; in fact, everything is in place not just for escaping the trap we are in and solving the existential problems, but also for attaining a new level of civilization in which we can make good use of the manifold aspects of progress already happening, instead of having to fear it. It would be one in which we could indeed enable a world with an intact biosphere; one in which freedom, security and prosperity for all would go without saying. Change is coming anyway, so, why not make the best of it?