Where is my New Millennium?
When that changed is not important for this diary.
But the 20th century was greeted, at least in the West, with great expectation. The 19th century era of heroic materialism had created more concentrated industries and institutions that gathered knowledge and self conscioiusly applied it to doing what had not been done before — building transcontinental railroads; having synchronous messaging over great distances; creating more goods at cheaper prices available and affordable for more people; mechanizing agriculture, logging, shipping, fishing, and, of course, fighting wars. The US Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War had spawned a small peace movement, shocked at the inhumanity of mechanized warfare. The end of the slave trade and the elimination of legal slavery, even in the US plantation South, spawned movements for the liberation of women and ethnic minorities. The industrial management of Dickensian England filled with Scrooges holding millions in poverty spawned new community movements, Christian charities for the poor, Karl Marx’s bitter analysis of a system he named "capitalism", socialist philosophies of common living for the common good, and a labor union movement. Depending on who you asked, the 20th century was going to be the era of prosperity through technology, the growth of commerce enriching us all, or the promised completed revolution of 1848. In the wildest imaginations, people would live undersea, go to the moon, climb the tallest mountain, find the last end of the earth, and bring Christianity to all the world. Meanwhile, most people lived as they always had. my grandfather plowed rented land using a metal plow and a mule and raised cotton with his own labor and the help of his neighbors; the community went to its one church; folks sought to get a school and a doctor in the community; my grandfather got a mortgage on his crop each year in order to buy seeds and supplies and have a little set aside to live on; at the end of the year, he paid off his mortgage if he was lucky, the weather agreeable, and the market prices high enough.
The 20th century did not start until 1914. The consequences of that most brutal of wars brought legitimacy to the peace movement, the illusion of the promised revolution, the beginning of a hundred year (if we are fortunate) global war that still continues, and the seeds of todays most pressing issues — advertising, finance, healthcare, insurance, corporate triumphalism, entrepreneurial religion, fundamentalism, defenses of various privilege, aerospace technology, electronics, telephony, exclusive use of fossil fuel energy in developed areas, urban growth, unwinding colonialism, marketing, technological surveillance, and more. My grandfather would understand Julius Caesar’s world than he would understand the world that I live in. Production might be an individual problem, but not a social one; finance and distribution of produce became the critical social problems. Production was a matter of political will, either in a corporation board or a government. "Can we produce it?" became secondary to "Can we afford to produce it?" So much for the great inventor-spawned industries of "can-do" mythology. The world was so transformed that by mid-century a US president (Eisenhower) created a commission to explore new goals for Americans.
So, where is my new millennium?
We are all futurists now as well as historians, able to create alternative narratives about the past and project alternative narratives into the future. We sense that most of the issues on our plate are holdovers from the 20th century. World leaders should have come to an agreement to end war as a political tactic by now. The poverty within the world of plenty that became such a prod to conscience in the 1960s should have ended by now, both within the US and through development aid from the "First World" to the "Third World" (does that shorthand even make sense anymore with tent cities in Sacramento?). The economic use of the environment should have been transformed in the late 1970s. Renewable sources of energy should have been available massively by the mid-1980s. The trend toward global climate change should have been fixed by 1990. And on and on, one missed opportunity after another. When will the Second Hundred Years War, that started in colonial scramble, spawned revolution, genocide, a Cold War, and a conflict between private armies of terror–when will that war end? When will (in Carl Oglesby’s phrase) the "war without end" be shut down?
What 21st challenges and opportunities might there be to deal with? How does that affect our vision of politics? What practically can we do starting now to, you know, progress?
Here are the major themes I see for the 21st century:
A democratic global order: No not the one US presidents keep referring to, right before asserting US exceptionalism or "responsibility". Shall I state that from the negative side? Avoiding neo-feudalism, in which private contracts between protectors and protected become permanent obligations allowing no exit.
Devaluation of privilege: Devaluation in the culture, in the geography, in public policy, in economic transactions. What is privilege? Orwell sums it up best. All are equal but some are more equal than others. Exclusive neighborhoods, entitlements by ethnic identity or gender or sexual orientation or educational achievement or social role or political power or economic wealth or celebrity or "social contribution" or the happenstance of family lineage or geographical location or presence in the blogosphere. Does any of that pinch yet?
Environmental disaster response: Assuming we can successfully rid ourselves of the unsustainable baggage of the 20th century or even if we can’t, we are going to have some significant environmentally caused dislocations and disasters. How prepared we are to deal with them can mean the saving of thousands or millions of lives, avoid potential conflict in the scramble for resources, lay the foundation for remediation, and provide the constituency for change in the way we account for our use of the environment.
Empowering civil society No not NGOs, not some Third Way institutions. Empowering local informal networks of individuals engaged in political, economic, and cultural activities and projects on behalf of local communities, empowering regional networks that support civil society so as to empower a global civil society. This goes beyond institutions and movements and all that folderol. A hint of this is in the constatly shifting networks in the blogosphere (and not just the political blogosphere). This activity is primarily volutary and unincorporated and might use the facilities of institutions (library meeting rooms, blog diaries and comments on name blogs, goods and services from businesses) and might be involved in movement alliances, but essentially is informal and fluid.
Deinstituionalizing the economy: We have only an inkling of an outline of what this is. The allocation of resources, production, and distribution of goods and services occurs in an economy broader than the institutional (or firm/government) model of conventional economics. There is the household part of the economy, gift transactions in the economy, black markets and other informal economic transactions through networks of people outside stable, slow-changing, legitimized, legally defined institutions.
Regulating institutional secrecy: This is really about a dramatic reversal of the current situation regardling individual privacy and institutional transparency. And is the first step to institutional accountability, whether the institution be government, corporations, or cultural and social instutions (universities, for example). The Catch-22 here is that regulation requires an institution, and who regulates the regulators to ensure that they decisions are transparent. Dealing with that Catch-22 is the major theme here.
Global mutual security framework: About $2 trillion of the $60 trillion global production of goods and services are devoted to direct military expenditures. No one has estimated the total expenditures globally for past, present, and future wars that ripple backward claiming resources and labor and constituting a sizeable economic sector. One thirtieth of global GDP is certainly better than the one-twelfth of global GDP that existed during the Cold War. The way to dramatically lower these costs is through a build-down (cutting production and destruction of existing weapons) that can only occur if people and national governments feel secure in disarming. And that security is best provided through a mutual security framework that permits the resoluton of issues and the deterrence of aggressive behavior on the part of nations. NATO and SCO are two pieces of this emerging framework. Creating the institutions that link these with each other and with the UN Security Council will be a century-long project.
Comprehensive and seamless social infrastructure: Yeah, infrastructure is a lousy term. It’s an abstraction for the common resources available to ensure economic productivity, political influence, cultural participation, and individual excellence. Transportation of water, food, all other goods and services. Disposal of garbage and sewage. Energy avaliabilty. Education. Health care. Protection from crime and epidemic and environmental disaster. Recovery after crime, epidemic, or environmental disaster. Recording of contracts and signficant personal and real property. Resolution of disputes. Order. Justice. Welfare. A mixture of private, public, voluntary, and local resources. But it must be comprehensive in scope, universal in availability, and seamless in interaction with individuals. Comprehensive. Universal. Seamless. Those are the themes.
Organizational model for lifelong education: Lifelong education is a concept given much lip service and little action. One reason is the failure to figure out what organizations are responsible for what pieces. Consider what is now organized as K-12 education. We now have industrial-age public school buildings and curriculum, charter schools of varying degrees of innovation, and home schooling. Outside a few school systems, the public school system only has responsibility for supporting education that occurs within its buildings; the other organizational forms are viewed a threatening scarce (and they are) resources. Or consider what passes for adult education and training, limited by the time available to the students and their willingness to study. And yet post-college continuing education is going to determine how flexibly society can respond to continuing changes.
Devolution of political power: Global political institutions enable the devolution of power a much as the concentration of power. Global institutions provide the opportunities for regions to become autonomous even as nations combine into regional institutions. Just as the centralization of US government in the 20th century created a regional framework that devolved federal power by mid-century and forced states to devolve power into multi-county regions and urban councils of government, the growth of global institutions means that these institutions and national institutions check and balance one another. This also places incentives on more international regional structures. There is an implicit consensus on the geographic pieces that make up this, if not the exact boundaries and functional relationships: Europe, Russiia, China, Southeast Asia, Pacific, Asian Subcontinent, Central Asia, North Africa, Middle East, Subsharan Africa, North America, Carribbean, Central America, South America, Antarctica, Near Earth Outer Space, Earth’s Moon.
Biological and neurobiological technology ethics: How far do we go in modifying our "natural world", ourselves and our mental processes? What are the restrictions? This is the bioengineering counterpart of the environmental movement spawned by the industrialization of chemical technology, especially organic chemical technology. How do we recover from the effects of misguided decisions? On the other side of the issue, exactly how far to we want to preserve, recover, or reconstruct the "wild" (in Gary Snyder’s sense)?
What we know about how to change things
The first half of the 20th century saw change, well of some kind, as inevitable. It was the 20th century, the Modern World, fundamentals were being questioned and driven back as far as the intellect could go about art, music, sexuality, social organization, economic organization, politics, communications, language. The second half of the 20th century became focused on making (or resisting) change. "Change" became a political slogan. To the point that both candidates in the hangover of the 20th century mood into the 21st century used that theme: "Change you can believe in" (McCain–Do you remember that?), "You are the change you have been waiting for." (Obama’s field campaign).
But what do we know about how society, the economy, and politics get changed.
Think global, act local: All politics is local. Local is where you are. You can affect small contexts without being overwhelmed (OK, maybe not with one two-year old in a family). Personal networks are local. Even national political campaigns and global movements have local "field organizers" or "community organizers". Anyone, anywhere can gather a dozen or so committed people and change the world (Haven’t you actually seen this happen? Think about it before exercising your knee-jerk cynicism. What happened to the Cold War? Who gave it the shove over the cliff?) The temptation of all reform movements is to jump to national or global scale because the issue is so pressing. If you just have a dozen or so people, where are going to get your million-person march on Washington? Except through networking with other folks who have a dozen or so people or with established institutions who can mobilize a dozen or so committed volunteers who in turn can mobilize 50% of the institution (the secret to why the GOP loves churches).
Change happens through actions not drama: Speeches, posturing, protests, demonstrations don’t change a thing. Haven’t you noticed that? Nor do phone calls, blog posts, letters to the editor, mass media campaigns, marketing. A little heretical, isn’t it? People change things, and all of this drama is intended to persuade or pressure people who are not yet involved in changing things to change them in the way that we want them changed. Dramas carry one of three types of narrative: greed, fear, accomplishment (success). Dramas intend to divert people from what they are currently doing and get them doing something else. Whether there is anything wrong in that depends on what the something else is. Drama also seeks to solidify the identity of an in-group. Whether there is anything wrong in that depends on the actions that the group does as a disciplined unit; again, the actions are key.
Action has dramatic effects: Walk into a diner and sit at the counter. That is an action. A normal ordinary action. Unless you are black. Unless you are in Greensboro, NC. Unless it is 1960. Action doesn’t seek to persuade; it forces a decision. Do we or do we not have equal protection under the law? If we do, the lunch counter clerk does not have to think; it’s just like any other customer. If we don’t, the police and courts need to tell us that, not the clerk. Not dramatic in intent. Dramatic in outcome.
People resist external power but not internal empowerment: "Make me do it." is only effective if it is a means of exerting leadership for folks who do intend to provide support. If it an excuse or a manipulation of followers, nothing happens. External power corners. Internal empowerment releases restrictions. This applies to folks in "positions of authority" as well. Leaders need followers to follow. You change a wise leader’s direction by not following. You destroy a foolish leader by not following. That is the inherent power of so-called "passive resistance". So when looking at leaders, you need to ask "Who does the leader lead?" When you know who the followers are, you know the leader’s priorities. Revolutions don’t happen when barricades are thrown into streets; they happen when the followers stop following. And do so on a massive scale. And even the enforcers stop following. And do so on a massive scale.
Acting like the change has already happened makes it happen: This is a variation on forgiveness is easier to get than permission. Consider a very difficult issue. Letting women have equal protection under the law to the privacy of their bodies and decisions about their bodies. The abortion issue is not about abortions; they still happen. The abortion issue is not about choice; women still can choose to ignore the law, risk sepsis, and so on. The abortion issue is a fundamental issue of economic class. Do all women have the same right of access to abortion services that are legal and safe that wealthy women do? The abortion clinic movement of the 1970s began before Roe v. Wade and sought to provide safe and legal abortion (indeed a broad spectrum of female reproductive medical services) to women of all economic classes. Organizers found willing doctors, clinic space if necessary. They conducted information, referral, outreach, and education services in their communities and raised funds for the clinics. To duplicate that today would require ponying up for expensive security and personal protection services for doctors, staff, and patients. If there is the will in a local community, it can be done again. And there are still existing clinics that can be supported financially and with volunteer participation. The widespread presence of abortion services makes their presence less controversial. But in the current culture, one must also deal with teenage pregnancy, spouse abuse, and family financial difficulties like the revolution has already occurred. Exactly what those service are is open to the creativity of local community female reproductive clinics and their supporters. In the area of climate change and independence from fossil fuels, local community efforts to massively install residential photovoltaic systems even if they do not allow taking the house off the grid–even if they are not highly efficient because of shade or prevailing weather–creates energy network effects that move power companies in the direction of lowering CO2 emissions.
Change is not without cost: The easiest changes are those that have the most widespread support and have generally recognizeable individual benefits. The more difficult changes have narrow support and signficant individual costs to finances, careers, privacy, security, or freedom. If one is acting as if the change has already happened, how does one act if the change in question is that the military-industrial-media complex has already been shrunk to a human scale? How does one act if the change in question is that global labor and environmental standards exist for all products and services? How does one act with respect to national security knowing that the cost of acting if change has come is much higher in other locations around the world and that the constraints you might be able to have here might make those costs higher for someone else. War has a high cost; peace does as well. The cost show up in different places.
Beauty changes hearts and minds; economics solidifies the change: Want to transform a distressed neighborhood? Clean up, paint up, fix up, encourage others to do the same. Start having beautiful cultural events that get people out enjoying themselves. And make sure that the time that you buy with those tactics is used to set up real economic opportunities, even if it is only neighbors paying each other for doing their laundry (to use a hackneyed example). Decrease the money going out of the neighborhood; increase the money coming into the neighborhood, have enough diversity of enterprises to circulate the money coming in multiple times before it goes back out. Have enough immediate necessity products and services to circulate the money rapidly through the community. Have a way of directing savings in the community into investments that create paid work. (Grameen Bank has a great way of doing this.) Make sure there are means of protecting these changes from disruption; some folks outside the community will not be happy with its development. Does this work? Every time it spontaneously has been tried it works.
Legislatures and Congress ratify changes after they have already occurred: This is what you saw in the Civil Rights Movement. This is what you are seeing with the movement for marriage equality. Enough said. Don’t hold your breath. Make the changes and watch them follow. Do Congresscritters not all have Blackberries?
This is where I am supposed to pivot to my hope for the new decade and the actual beginning of the new millennium. I don’t know that we’re there yet. I feel like we are still on the bridge to the 21st century and hoping that it is not a bridge to nowhere.