Governance

Cultural and spiritual revolution
requires changes in social, economic and political systems -
especially in the way government is conducted

One of the articles in Rediscovering The North American Vision (IC#3)
Originally published in Summer 1983 on page 30
Copyright (c)1983, 1996 by Context Institute


In addition to our relationship to the land, we also need to consider our relationships with other people. This has become especially challenging in our shrunken world where we obviously need orderly and peaceful relationships between people all over the globe, yet at the same time there has been a general loss of faith in the effectiveness of governmental institutions at even the national level. Can we use the challenge of the global level to suggest new approaches to government that would improve all levels? William Ellis is the Executive Secretary of TRANET, the Transnational Network for Appropriate/Alternative Technologies (P. O. Box 567, Rangeley, ME 04970), and is very much involved in the process he describes.

IT WOULD BE ILLUSORY and hypocritical to talk of a major cultural and spiritual revolution without recognizing that it will be neither sustained nor effective without major structural changes in the formal social, economic and political systems by which we are governed and by which we govern. It would be equally illusory to speak of future government without recognizing the unalterable transformation in human thought and modes of being now in progress. To speak sensibly of government we must recognize that formal "government" is merely one part of a complex of informal and formal "governance."

Each of us is governed and governs by many forces. Physical forces hold us to the earth; biological forces dictate what we need to physically survive; inner spiritual forces determine our requirements for meaningful life; social forces govern our associations with other people. Families, churches, employers, schools and technologies are all parts of the system of governance. Each influences what we can do and how we can influence the behavior of others. Government is only one element in this system of governance. Government is only necessary, and only effective, when some other element of governance is ineffective.

Applying this at a planetary level, we see that current discussions of world order are premised on the omnipotence of the nation-state. They seldom recognize the full range of forces that are part of the system of governance. In fact, the nation-state system of World Governance is an invention of a few European rulers made within the last 200 years. It was spread from a small sector of the earth to the rest of the world by the force of arms, the dogma of a religion shaped to do its bidding, and an economic-industrial system which relied on it for control and protection.

World order based on the nation-state assumes that the resources and the people within a political boundary are the inalienable property of that nation- state. Leaders within each nation-state gain control through some competition that eliminates opposition. Once in power, and in order to maintain power, they must strive to maximize their nation’s share of the world’s resources. They are entrapped in a competitive world system. Though recognizing a degree of economic interdependence, no nation dares recognize its political interdependence. The fact that all persons have a stake in programs and policies which distribute the world’s resources is given no voice. Nor is the selection of national/world leaders open to all those effected by the choice. Each nation- state is accepted as politically supreme, autonomous and independent regardless of the effect its government’s actions have on people outside, or even within, its borders.

There is nothing inalienable or permanent in this European invented form of government. The study of history, even European history, reveals many alternative political systems. In fact, history shows that the societies with the least bureaucratic and hierarchical structures have had the greatest stability over time. Many of these societies are based on precepts that are much more in line with the emerging new age than the precepts of the nation-states. Consider, for example, the Native American system of governance.

For Native Americans the whole culture – religious, economic, social, technological and political – was based on the concept of a community of beings, or more correctly a community of Being. Each individual – human, animal, plant, and even the forces of nature – were parts of a single living cosmos. Each has its purpose and its proper niche as part of the whole. The individual, the person, was not bent on mastering nature, controlling others, or competing to win respect or property. Each strove to perfect his being in harmony with and as part of the whole. Human rights were not a matter of law bestowed by government. They were parts of one’s duty, and his obligation to Being. Each being, human and non-human, was responsible for developing not only his own creative powers but those of all others of the universe of which he was part.

The Native American economic-political system designed itself from this metaphysical understanding. One could not own property for property had its own being. Even tools, clothes and utensils had a being and purpose to be fulfilled. One’s future and the welfare of his family were not assured by an accumulation of material wealth but by one’s service to Being. Elaborate ceremonies were developed to provide for the broad distribution of food, shelter and the other necessities of life, particularly to the aged and weak. The dignity of the individual was gained not by what he owned but by what he was able to give away – his contribution to society. The great hunter, or craftsman had no concept of selling the product of his work. His duty to being was to create for the benefit of the community. The natural political system was one of cooperation, consensus and confederation, rather than one of competition, confrontation, and struggle for power.

Variations on this theme were well known in Africa and Asia as well as the Americas. They were the rule rather than the exception before the advent of European expansion. They are perhaps too idyllic to be copied without change in the over-populated, under-resourced, and stressful world we know today. But by envisioning ourselves in the framework of alternative governmental systems we may be able to break the bonds which tie us to the dying paradigms of the passing age.

Governance for the coming age cannot be based on the narrow concepts of government through bureaucratic nation-state hierarchies. The current transformation is wholistic and multidimensional. In keeping with this transformation, government at all levels should be wholistic and multidimensional. We must recognize the many forces of human governance and construct a world order which reflects, promotes, and takes advantage of the emerging spiritual and ethical affirmation of human rights and human dignity. Future government can be pictured as multidimensional networks which provides each individual with many optional paths through which he can provide for his own well being and can participate in controlling human affairs.

At the planetary level, a multidimensional system of world governance is, in fact, nothing new. World religions have never completely surrendered their power of governance to the nation-states. New systems of supranational control have been created by multinational corporations which have not only been able to avoid the meddlesome interferences of national governments, but have probably been a positive force in avoiding destructive wars between nations in which their financial interests were involved. The oil producing countries, through OPEC, added another dimension to world governance which goes well beyond the boundaries of nation-states. And increased travel and communications have helped other sectors of the global society to ameliorate the power of nation-state governments to sow dissensions. Such examples prove the world order has many dimensions; they also show that grass roots participation has not yet been provided for in global decision making.

These beginnings must be extended to provide a system of optional ways in which each planetary citizen can express his preferences for the world of the future. A World Council of Ethnic Groups could provide one channel for each individual to reach up from his local village to the highest echelons of World government. A World Council of craftsmen could be another. A World Council of Communities; a World Council of Laborers; a World Council of Homeowners; a World Council of Religions; a World Council of Nations; a World Council of Businesses and other world councils would provide other equal voices for expressing the needs of the grass roots. A Council of World Councils could assure coordination, guarantee balanced representation, and provide over-all direction in world affairs.

Such a world government representing more than the territorial rights of nation-states could reduce the tensions which lead to wars and could give people new agents to which to declare their loyalties and allegiances. But merely substituting many parallel hierarchies for one would not necessarily assure human rights, equity, democracy, peace or self-realization. Each vertical hierarchy might still remain open to dominance and elitism. New forms of governance call for a more fundamental reordering of our channels of communication and governance. They call for horizontal linking at the level of the individual and their communities as well as multiple vertical linking to the seats of world direction.

It is not even necessary to destroy or replace the current world government system in order to put into effect a system of governance which gives more voice and more power to the people. As has been stressed throughout this article, formal government is only one element of world order. Non-formal, informal, nongovernmental, and voluntary agencies already play significant roles even within the very hazardous and faulty U.N./nation-state system.

The primary need is for transnational people-to-people networks in which the grass roots can build solidarity based on an understanding of one another’s desires. The strategy for this is to build horizontal networks as complementary alternatives to the existing order. This "second level of world governance" could grow to take over many, if not all, of the functions now performed by the association of nation-states.

The embryos for such a new system of governance are slowly taking shape. Sister Cities International is a transnational twinning of cities which provide technical assistance to one another to solve urban problems; Action Aid from London has helped small communities and small industries provide mutual assistance. The Experiment In International Living helps students learn about one another’s culture by living in one another’s homes; TRANET promotes bilateral links between groups developing appropriate technologies; the International Communities Exchange provides information for groups wishing to exchange experiences in new lifestyles; and many other transnational networks are helping to promote a non-governmental world system of cooperative self-reliance.

To date few of these non-governmental networks have given serious attention to their potential participation in world governance. Those which have, the official NGOs associated with the U.N. agencies, have spent many fruitless days reacting to empty proposals and hackneyed propositions advanced by U.N. committees and bureaucracies. They have spent little effort in creating their own initiatives to bring peace and understanding among people or among nations.

Notable exceptions to this general rule have been the Pugwash Conferences. Initiated by Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and other leading scientists at the height of the Cold War, the Pugwash Conferences bring together leading scientists from all parts of the world, irrespective of the relationships of their respective nations, to discuss world problems without the hindrance of official national positions. Although elitist and confined to the problems of science and society, Pugwash provides a model on which other people-to- people networks might be built as the harbingers for a New Age world governance.

As transnational networks mature and converge there is a growing realization that self renewal, local community action, alternative technology, human rights, ecological concern and other transformational activities must be linked with developing concepts for a just world order. It is not enough to "rearrange the chairs on the Titanic." A just world order can only be built by recognizing the radical reformation of human thought now taking place throughout the planet.

There are many networks. Some have their heads in the esoteric clouds. Others keep their hands and feet mired in the too real land of development aid. Others have locked themselves in their academic ivory towers. The 1 980’s is a time of coming out and coming together. The new governance must have many elements, the spiritual, the technical, the social, the economic, and the political. They must be harmonious and unified, and they must be rooted in the minds, hearts and souls of all people. As stronger transnational people-to-people networks are built, and as bridges between the many new movements grow stronger, a new governance will emerge for the fuller development of the human potential.

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