By Miki Kashtan, The Fearless Heart, January 5, 2021
In 1961, at five, in a conversation with my mother, I was working out what to say, as a future prime minister, to all the prime ministers of the world. In 2017, with the same global passion and a larger vision, I convened a group from several continents to submit a global governance model to an international competition put together by the Global Challenges Foundation. Our question: what would it take for everyone in the world to be able to participate in actual decision-making about the multiple, overlapping, existential global crises humanity is facing? Our commitment: a true win-win system, based on genuine willingness, that works for the most powerful and the least powerful; no losers. The result: an ambitious, radical, and low-tech system.
Our entry didn’t get selected.
And it was no surprise – and immense grief – to me that what was selected had a lot of technological bells and whistles, and no radical implications that I could see. And the grief has only intensified watching the unfolding of the Coronavirus crisis.
This is the last of the originally named 9-part series I embarked on writing in April. As with every other topic I have explored in this series, I see the appearance of the pandemic as exposing profound and fundamental fault lines that existed before and the acuteness of the crisis pushes them into our awareness with more forcefulness. In this case, what I believe is being exposed are the dangers inherent in how we make decisions for the whole. Over the last century in particular, progressively fewer people make progressively more decisions with progressively declining access to wisdom, all while the decisions made have progressively larger impacts.
This very phenomenon was what led the Global Challenges Foundation to initiate the competition to which we submitted the entry that wasn’t selected, and to which I come back soon. As they saw it, we have challenges that are impacting the entire global population, and we have no truly global mechanisms for making decisions, since the United Nations, the only international body in existence, is based on nation states, and is thus limited in its capacity to work globally. I would personally add that the United Nations, and just about all the nation states that make it up, operate politically and ideologically. They are not designed for efficient and caring ways of attending to practical problems such as how to deliver medicine and food to people, how to prioritize needs when there isn’t enough for everyone, or, more specifically, how to respond to global warming and to pandemics. Being beholden to political, economic, or ideological commitments means that nation states focus there rather than on the immediate issue at stake.
Patriarchy and Centralized States
While the challenges of political, economic, and ideological commitments interfering with caring for the whole intensified with the emergence of nation states, they didn’t start there. The root issue is the progressive concentration of power, and its use in decision-making, that patriarchy brought to us through two of its core mechanisms: accumulation and control. States emerged soon after the emergence of patriarchy, shifting the power of decision-making from local communities immersed in the commons sensibility to central locations primarily concerned with extracting wealth from the many, and from beyond, for the benefit of the few. When I say “from beyond” I mean it very literally. After reading David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years, it’s vividly clear to me why patriarchal states would, by necessity, turn into empires. It has everything to do with how resources are used and shared.
Prior to the intensive farming methods that characterize every patriarchal state, many human societies lived in peaceful, sustainable co-existence with the life around them, often for thousands of years, even when cultivating food. When the European colonizers arrived in what is now California, they couldn’t understand why and how people lived in such easeful abundance without the intensive cultivation of grains they were accustomed to. In other parts of the US, the Europeans thought that harvesting only half of the yield was a sign of laziness rather than what it was: careful, empirically based wisdom about what it took to maintain sustainability over long periods. The European mindset was already steeped in patriarchal accumulation and control to such a degree that anything else made no sense.
This prior wisdom depends on “enoughness” rather than the “always more” that characterizes patriarchal states. To create always more in patriarchal states, land was over-grazed, over-cultivated, over-irrigated, and simply not cared for. This led to deterioration of the land and, in tandem with the growing demand for resources to sustain the non-producing courts and armies of the central bodies of control, to the cycle of growing violence, invasions, and ever more extractions leading to a faster and faster depletion of resources. The land in what used to be the Fertile Crescent and the so-called cradle of civilization was farmed so intensively, irrigated to the point of becoming saline, and thus requiring ever more upkeep to maintain it.
The wisdom also depends on collaborative processes embedded within communal, interdependent relationships that were also lost. When one individual rules a larger and larger group of people, using more and more force, the pool of intelligence that informs any decision is smaller than would be necessary to invite the creative, generative, emergent clarity that is inherent to humans coming together to solve problems collaboratively. This capacity to collaborate well for sharing resources for the benefit of all is what we have evolved to do, and which patriarchy is a detour from.
This is why nation states, as deeply flawed as they are, are not the source of the problem. They are only an expansion of an existing problem. And, since the 18th century liberal-capitalist-rationalist victory, nation states, so-called liberal democracy, and capitalism have become, through colonization and overall European supremacy, a touchstone and ideal to strive for. I see the results as an overwhelming impoverishment of our collective capacity.
The language of individual liberties and rights has replaced the focus on needs, care, and collective well being. Centralized governments are taken for granted as an essential aspect of life, instead of what they are: a human, patriarchal invention that could just as much be replaced with some other approach to governance that may mobilize our collective wisdom better.
Competition is seen as the only true economic activity or motivation for innovation and for efficiency, instead of the robust processes of the commons that sustained us while orienting to care for the whole. Participation in decision-making is reduced to voting, which is both individual and several steps removed from actually participating in decision-making. “Jobs for all” is a slogan that has swept the world instead of questioning the institution of wage labor as the primary form of modern exploitation, replacing the subsistence economy, which was collaborative and dignified. It seems to me that only pockets of indigenous cultures still uphold deeply enough the ancient ways, and even fewer hold the wrenching question of what a path to restoring the flow of life with more than 7.8 billion people could look like.
Even as we have gotten worse and worse at collectively making wise decisions, the impact of decisions made anywhere has become progressively more pronounced through globalization, something I spoke about in part three of this series, “Grounding in Interconnection and Solidarity.” If we needed anything to show us how inept we have become at managing our global situation.
This is precisely why establishing mechanisms of global governance, by themselves, will not solve any problem, or may well make it worse. Unless the basic mechanisms that are used for making decisions are dramatically changed, creating a global governance system will only centralize power even more, and remove whatever meager autonomy smaller nation states might still retain to address their own challenges without imposition from the world’s political and economic centers of power.
A Picture of Possibility
This is why some of us who participated in the design of the global governance model, we submitted three years ago, still feel clear and passionate about what we did and why we have received overwhelmingly positive responses from those who have studied the model. And part of the anguish I live with, constantly, is the gap between how clear it seems that moving in this direction can dramatically shift us away from destruction, and the reality that none of us knows how to jumpstart the massive shift a collaborative, bottom-up governance system calls for. And yet our collective march to extinction is so blatant; existing bodies are so incapable of responding; and top-down, competitive, low-trust ways of functioning are so deeply implicated in our current predicament, that making this shift happen may be our only path to a livable future. So I keep trying. Most recently, I submitted an essay to the journal Kosmos that was, again, not accepted, this time because even though they were specifically asking for visions for transformation, their style is more of a personal essay. So, rather than a public platform with many readers around the world, I am, once again, doing it here in my own much smaller platform, with some small modifications for context and relaxing the world limit, and with all the context I gave it above.
From the beginning of this project, the work was deeply inspired by the brave experiments in Rojava– the first-ever feminist, ecological, self-governing region in the world. One of the sections of our submission was a long list of all that has inspired us and shaped our design. The more I hear of Rojava, the more I plan on, and want to be there for at least an extended visit.
The transition, then, may start like this…
Someone reads this story, gets excited, and activates sufficient networks to make the initial move possible. A group of us from around the world comes together, maybe in Rojava, to work out finer details of the design. We then identify a group of people who have moral authority and global reach, and invite them to form the Global Initiating Circle.
They are young and old, south and north, female and male, Nobel Peace laureates, religious leaders, political figures, and activists. Ranging from Melati and Isabel Wijsen, teenage sisters in Bali, whose campaign to ban plastic in Bali was put into motion in 2018, to iconic figures like Desmond Tutu, the invited are known for their wisdom, integrity, vision, and courage. We ask them to shift the course of human evolution; to usher in a new phase by initiating a new global governance system to serve the whole of life on planet Earth. Here is a first draft of what such an invitation may include (note that the “you” refers to the people receiving the invitation):
We designed a gradual, many-year, iterative transition to a global system of circles reaching unanimous decisions through facilitated dialogue. Without an easy exit fallback, participants would lean in towards convergence, wisdom, and creativity, instead of out towards compromise or domination. Facilitators would support finding solutions from principles all agree represent the issue. We build on Mary Parker Follett’s distinction between integration and compromise, along with many examples of collaborative decision-making around the world.
Not all issues are the same, and our system cares for that. The heart of the system is Local-to-Global Coordinating Circles for routine decisions. We anticipate starting with the local circles comprising everyone, wherever people are ready, then gradually coming together, sometimes in mixed groups, sometimes in separate groups depending on local cultural variations. Eventually, Coordinating Circles would make most decisions beyond private households. Everyone could then participate in making decisions that affect them.
Decisions involving effects or inputs beyond local circles would be made by unanimously selected representatives. Anyone selected, including for the Global Coordinating Circle, would remain accountable to their own local circle. If locally recalled, representatives would lose their standing in all their other circles and be replaced everywhere.
For complex problems requiring research and deliberation, we designed Ad-Hoc Randomly Selected Circles. Everyone selected comes as themselves, not representing any role or group. These circles are empowered to engage with experts and to initiate public deliberation with tools such as pol. is –before reaching their decisions.
For problems with significant controversy, mistrust, or systemic power differences, we designed Ad-Hoc Multi-Stakeholder Circles, where those invited advocate for needs and perspectives that arise within their role, to catch deeper wisdom and build trust. For example, an integrative response to climate change would require the presence of CEOs of energy companies, representatives of acutely affected communities such as Pacific Islanders, climate activists, politicians, and others to carry sufficient moral authority to sway the entire global population. Confronting and integrating with, rather than demonizing and dismissing each other’s perspectives would bring the depth of issues and creative solutions to the table.
Feedback and agreements about conflict are built into the entire system. We are counting on people’s wisdom and goodwill and on moral authority, with no coercion, to adapt and transform what we envision so it becomes truly attentive to needs on the ground.
We envision you, the Global Initiating Circle, beginning by convening a global random selection of 5,000 people to name the most pressing issues. For each of the issues, they would invite stakeholders, and, with them, continue to identify and invite additional stakeholders until everyone needed for the decision is there.
We offer a toolkit for local circles to help populate the Coordinating Circles, including suggestions for attending to conflict. When geopolitical disputes prevent regional circles from forming, we anticipate regional multi-stakeholder circles addressing them, or creative ways of identifying multiple pathways to global coordination. Eventually, we see large, well-trained bodies of nonviolent peacekeepers making war a thing of the past.
We will also support you to produce massive training in facilitation to support all emerging circles.
Your primary task is to accompany this multi-year process, gradually giving people, everywhere, full authority to decide their own fate in collaboration with others. When a Global Coordinating Circle is ready to assume your responsibilities, your work will be done.
Will you lend your support to this effort?
If this kind of an invitation went out to those with sufficient clout to activate the transition, would enough of those invited say “yes” to starting a voluntary, peaceful turning-around of thousands of years of separation and suffering to embrace, again, our evolutionary collaborative makeup?
IMO, the international human rights framework, being centered on both individual and collective rights based on self- determination, mutual respect, freedom from fear and want, is an important tool for achieving the form of local to global governance you propose.It is the culmination of centuries of work and has informed potentially useful global efforts like the 17 sustainable development goals. These are only useful if people use them to hold their governments accountable and to transform the goals and processes of decision making. If we expect co-opted governments and institutions to carry them forward they are useless. If we choose to use them, we have a global basis for lawful resistance that provides a common ground for the transformation of governance ad economies, while ensuring local autonomy to support evolutionary responses to climate, eco and economic chaos. I would be happy to engage in your grand project if we can agree that the aspirations of the human rights framework are a good place to begin.