How many realise that we are living in a fools' paradise?
In an article from 'The Spectator' headed 'The Oil Shock to Come', James Srodes warns that there will be an end to the supply of oil. As the supplies dwindle they will become more expensive, and competition for the remainder will sharpen in a gathering gloom (or storm?). Capital required to attempt even a partial substitute supply will already be too little, too late, even if solar, wind or nuclear options could be ready in time - which is unlikely.
Are we prepared socially, politically for the coming world tensions? Do we see the 'powers-that-be' reading the 'signs of the times'? Are they campaigning on the need to cut back on consumption, the drain on non-renewable resources? No, economic growth is what wins elections. Are they proposing a tax on carbon products usage (oil, gas, coal, wood,)? Don't be silly, they are reducing taxes to popularise their campaigns. Are they in any sense leading the people to face the horrendous challenges ahead? What! No plan to survive future shock? No answers at all?
The events of Sept 11th 2001, seriously rattled our cage, and the world.
The targeting of the two World Trade Centre buildings and the Pentagon was a disaster of staggering proportions, perhaps similar to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, for America. That the White House escaped is almost certainly to the credit of the passengers in the fourth jet, who, hearing by mobile phone of the planes hitting the two towers of the World Trade Centre, took the courageous step of attacking their hijackers; beyond hope of their own survival. Their action brought down their plane in open bushland instead of the White House.
What was the message of these messengers of hate? Probably a build-up of antagonism to America over many foreign country interventions, latterly Iraq, and its failure of responsibility with regard to Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Palestinian response to the political stalemate and the provocative spread of Israeli settlements has been stone throwing by youths and here and there a suicide bombing, followed by the incursion of Israeli troops, gunships and armour into Palestinian land. The problem appears to be in America's too-hard basket. Why? Do Israel's interests dominate American politics? And is Israel's multiparty style of government incapable of overcoming the difficulties in coming to a rational conclusion of the admittedly difficult problems; especially the rival religious interests in the city of Jerusalem?
To eliminate the threat of terror seems a virtual impossibility. For many followers of Islam, Osama bin Laden is a hero of the Jihad, the Holy War against infadels . To implicate the followers of Islam is an easy option for him. Despite rejection of his Jihad call by many, perhaps most Muslims, Islamic fundamentalists in Sulawesi (one of the larger islands in Indonesia) accept him as their spiritual inspiration and leader - in the threat of a bloody Christmas for thousands of terrified Christians who are finding the protective military quickly fading away.
Many worry that the air raids killing of innocent Afghani could isolate the West in a growing confrontation with Islam. In addition there is a suspicion in America that Iraq was involved in terrorist training for the Sep 11 attacks and a growing pressure to attend to the ‘unfinished business of taking out’ Sadam Hussein. Such widening of the conflict may invite an increasing enmity and isolation for America and associated nations, with the danger of further unpreventable lines of attack.
The anthrax mail penetration has brought a rising fear, necessitating very costly measures to safeguard the people, while air travel fears have sliced through a thriving tourist industry, worldwide.
Had we not better read the message as well as trying to answer the immediate problem - get to the cause? Is there a real diplomatic solution to the hate that has caused this? If our only answer is the heavy pursuit of justice of the perpetrators what does this say about the standard of government that we call democracy? After all the mass of the people have no desire to see more of what is going on. The people are for peace, in Israel Afghanistan Iraq and all other places involved. It is leaders not the people who create war, which is always the failure of politcs.
The fracas in Seattle USA, at the WTO round of world trade talks to increase free trade, is the shape of things to come, with the pressure for freer trade coming from big business and finance, together with the need for developing nations to gain access to first world markets. Economic rationalisation is the cry of big business, which is seeking to cope with overwhelming competition from the third world, in primary products and cheap manufactured products.
Third world living standards, terrible by first world standards, have perhaps been improved by the opportunity to sell to first world countries. But the question arises whether exploitation of child and prison labour is a factor in the low prices of imports. However that may be, the impact of 'a level playing field' on the labour forces of first world countries is like a tidal wave. The opening gambit of the 'future shock' of globalisation of world trade is now with us, and hard-fought-for conditions of labour are vanishing; due to the push for contract labour, while jobs themselves are vanishing.
Environmentalists also fear the disregard for environmental concerns which will be ignored in the free trade rules on the WTO agenda, driven as it is by economic rationalists in the first world and the unfettered economic drive of the third world. Environmentalists are quite clear that there is no room on this planet, with its finite resources, for all of the world's population to live as the first world does. What could be the answer?
If economic rationalists ever think of this in the night, no doubt they quickly put the thought out of their minds. Australia's trade Minister was upset by the confrontation of the protesters. Does he have any understanding of the serious concerns of many? And how can there be democracy without disagreement when people are seriously concerned? How willing is the government to hear? The thought that national governments are being driven to assigning all rights to control economic life in their own countries to the World Trade Organisation is a matter of serious concern.
The heavy dislocation of life in the era of the industrial revolution is likely to be worse in this era of globalisation, and we will all be affected. The new era will severely test every one in the years to come, and could shatter any lingering confidence in our 'democracy'. Will we cope? A reduction in the standard of living of the better off is likely to upset everyone. Has democratic government an answer?
The confusion, and helplessness, which arises from all this is well illustrated by the words of Bill Clinton regarding the protesters. His first words were: 'We should have the leaders of the protesters take part in the talks.' That went down like lead balloon with the delegates. His next words were a denunciation of the violence. Fair enough, but any further mention of protesters' involvement in the talks is hardly likely. Third world delegates are already digging in to exclude all matters with regard to labour conditions or environment protection. It is clear that the increasing conflict of the interests in the world is going to be a major test for humankind. It has been said that war is the failure of politics. Will world politics have any chance of coping? There is a lot of hard work ahead to resolve the escalating problems created by the worldwide demand for a better life in a globalised economy.
Many things will have to change, including what we value in life - materialist aspirations may well have to give way to a higher value being placed on social and spiritual well being. Will there be any other place to go?
While massive problems of the world loom ahead, we are kept in the dark, mesmerised by 'bread' (cheap market goods) and circuses' (sport and entertainment). Government is fast losing any power to resolve the future reasonably in our favour, any more than Anthony Eden did, attempting to resolve the problem of Hitler with a scrap of paper. Governments are preoccupied with short-term political success and we are discouraged from seeing the trend to a troubled future. The economy is in good shape they say. Is it? We are having a boom with a public blowout on furnishings, electronics, big homes etc. and the government is buoyed by the high retail sales. Does what cheers the government cheer everyone else? Surely the only good economy is one where all who can work are employed. The government gloats over our economy - retail sales are up! So is our ballooning debt, and bankruptcies. We are supposed to work harder - be more competitive - or just smarter. But can we possibly do it?
Are governments in control, or only pretending. We now face the prospect of those who, having subverted the power of the people, have themselves become slaves - driven by the forces of world finance and business. Money power dominates the people in our elections, and now the enormous international money, which floods in and out of our borders, is dominating government. As a nation we are at the mercy of speculative money flows that have little to do with investment, jobs or wealth production. We have embraced deregulation of the dollar. Maybe we had to. We were probably at the mercy of the developing world anyway. We have high living costs, and we face low overseas costs of production. With tariff barriers down, our shops are full of cheap imports, often as good as or better than we produce. Our low inflation is heavily dependent on the flood of cheap imports.
At the WEF conference, China's representative wonders why the West wants to 'engage ' with China. That is, inviting them to join the WTO group of trading nations (our reason being to open up the Chinese market to our exports). He made the comment: "Why, we'll kill you, with our so-low labour costs". We are in big trouble. Never mind the retail sales, the cheap imports, the wonderful show opening up the Games. We, as a people, are facing the flood - the judgment on our self-indulgent ways, which have matured under the protection of our trade, immigration, and defence barriers. Life ahead could be grim. Will we cope?
We should realise that disasters do not fail to occur because we don't expect them. A thing never to be forgotten is a photo of two little children playing on the beach. Printed in a 1915 English magazine over the caption 'The Halcyon Days of 1911', it highlighted the unawareness that preceded the catastrophe of the First World War. Unawareness and unpreparedness will not make our future go away either.
A placard, in a wild S11 demonstration, stated:
'GLOBAL DEMOCRACY NOT GLOBAL FREE TRADE'
Presumably S11 protestors do not realise that global democracy will mean free trade. The globalisation of business hurts us, but benefits millions less well off. The billions are waiting in the wings. Global business is simply jumping the gun; breaking down the economic advantages we gained through imperial conquest, and maintained by naval power. There's no way we can protect our privileged lives forever.
Consider this! With the present world population just on 6 billion, a world parliament of (say) 6000 members, and a representative democracy, membership of this ‘world parliament’ would be roughly as follows:
We know the S11 fight is really about big world business, judged to be ripping off the poor. That's the basis of their 'righteous' anger. But, in reality, world business is preempting international politics, by raising the trade possibilities of the (far) less well off in the world, using what might be described as 'trade democracy' - not marvelous, but it operates in a world democratic vacuum. It is a matter for sober reflection that it has taken a long time for any sort of democracy to prevail - anywhere.
Let's face it; first world countries have come nowhere near establishing a real democracy. Party and factional politics, if not dictatorship, dominate all. Democracy demands self-restraint, if not unselfishness. World democracy, much more, will mean a denial of self-interest of a completely new dimension for first world countries; anyone for world democracy???
With such limited public input we really have no democracy. It is our comparative wealth, and complacency that is being devoured - very swiftly. The elusive vision of democracy as defined by Abraham Lincoln (rule by the people - via parliaments with, at least, genuine representative government) is receding further and further away from us in the pressures of globalisation.
We have to face the future - there's no escape any more. And at a time when an active, intelligent involvement of the people in self-government is so much needed, we are no closer to the reformation of our 'democracy', to involve the people cooperatively and constructively, than we were years ago. Why is it, that in all other academic disciplines there is deep attention to necessary change, while our political institutions continue in protected sterility?
Unelected minority groups constantly challenge the authority of government and, as governments accelerate legislative efforts to set the country right, ignorance of the law, as no excuse, is being challenged with the claim that not even judges know all the law - and Ministers of the Crown claim they cannot be responsible for what they don't know! It is not news that governments are looking increasingly helpless in the face far-reaching global change. If 'power to the people' has been so elusive within our democracies, what prospect can there now be for the democratic hope of rule by the people; to have any chance in the maelstrom of global forces, let alone to control them?
If we are to find a solution to the future with all its threat to the well being of mankind, we need to resolve the question of why democracy is so weak at creating a strong and well-guided society. Where are we failing? Is there a fundamental cause we have missed? Why is it that 'democracy', as we know it, makes such troubled government; with so much conflict? So many seem to know what's good for us; so many are ambitious to 'represent' us in the places of power. But who is willing to tap into the combined wisdom of the people? How many want a real democracy?