Today, an article entitled “The World Will Run out of Breathable Air Unless Carbon Is Cut” came up on my feed. We live in worrying times: how are we going to avoid going down a path of even deeper gloom?
Climate-change-denying, far-right movements are gaining power in Europe, with populist movements sprouting up on the left. The European Union is on the verge of collapse, with Britain voting to leave, Greece forced into austerity, and Germany apparently calling the shots. In the UK and in the US we are bickering about who should lead our political parties.
It’s not surprising that the financial markets are currently making Britain pay the price, by lowering the UK’s credit rating, the pound falling through the floor, and billions of pounds wiped off the stock markets in a matter of days. The current instability is making everyone panic, and who can blame them. Where will it end? If we continue down the Brexit path of leaving the EU, businesses and entrepreneurs will surely see little reason to invest in little Britain, exports will surely fall, jobs will likely go abroad, farmers will probably go bust, and there may be many other repercussions that we haven’t even yet considered. Even if all of these are false prophecies, we live in uncertain times.
The blame for the UK’s and the wider world’s troubles is variously put on foreigners (and other local minorities), on politicians, on racists, on the uneducated but not, it would seem, where it most strongly lies: with the mass media, a handful of ultra-rich manipulators, and within the systems of government themselves. Donald Trump’s rise in America, Boris Johnson and fellow Leavers in the UK, and Rupert Murdoch with his global media empire (among others) have a huge responsibility for taking us down the road towards mutual self-annihilation. But the problems lie within the structures we have inherited which, intentionally or not, disenfranchise huge numbers of people. By ignoring the voices of the poor and the excluded, the huddled masses – whether they are in forgotten council estates, leaky boats crossing the oceans, desolate suburbs, or believing that they can fight back by joining armed fundamentalist groups – are in jeopardy of having no say in what becomes of this increasingly fractured and fractious planet. With hate crimes increasing by the day, we are learning to trust each other less and less, and to think that it’s acceptable to blame our neighbour for our problems that are no fault of theirs, and in any case beyond both of our control.
Whether it’s an escalation of the fight over resources into full-blown war, unmanageable migration caused by destruction of homelands and livelihoods (by drone and proxy warfare, unsustainable agriculture, lack of food or means of making a living, climate change, or a host of other reasons), the world seems to be becoming a less safe place for humans and other life. As we retreat into our closely guarded nation-states and pull the drawbridges up, we think that somehow, by protecting what is “ours” will make everything better, at least for “us”. But who are the “we” that we are protecting? After all, we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants, except perhaps for a few million Africans whose ancestors never left the birthplace of humanity.
If we don’t somehow enfranchise those who are ignored by “progress” and at the same time look out for the future of the planetary environment, we risk going forward into a time of darkness, and probable self-annihilation, given the amount for weaponry the planet contains and the unsustainable rate at which we are using up – or wilfully destroying – our natural resources: not least the forests, the oceans and our atmosphere.
Those who believe that there must be a positive way forward in all this gloom, must join together to argue against negative and self-defeating views, for example that we have to retreat from the wider world in order to protect our own interests. The existing political parties and structures have failed us in so many ways, not least (in the UK and the US) with their two-party, confrontational nature, corporate influences, corruption and inability to implement much-needed electoral reform.
The party system in place in the UK and US does not allow for full expression of differing points of view or even consideration of what might be possible, given another way of looking at things: instead arguments are confined to a very narrow interpretation, controlled largely by the corporate media, of what is deemed possible or indeed desirable to discuss. The hold over our thoughts by the powers-that-be extends to dismissing arguments for things such as a universal living wage, the abolition of nuclear (and other) weapons, the removal of national borders, or the adoption of a common currency, and labelling those who would dare raise such ideas as lunatics (or simply dreamers), hinders the progression of ideas of how we might envisage the future together.
The populist “fringe” movements of Trump and UKIP, Corbynite Labour and Sanders, Greens and Nationalists everywhere, seem to speak more directly to the people themselves. Are we in danger of splitting ourselves down the middle, leaving wide swathes of those unmoved by such appeals (including many elderly, poorly educated, and apathetic people) with no “centre” to hold on to? It seems at the moment that we in the UK might need a unifying figure (the Queen? Theresa May? Caroline Lucas?) who can restore some semblance of calm and rationality to the situation.
I’m a firm believer that the democratic will of the people must be upheld, as long as the rights of minorities, and those who cannot speak for themselves, are respected. I also believe that education in how our systems of government work, and that voting itself, should be made mandatory. Suffrage must be universal for every adult, all people must have an equal vote, and the voting systems themselves must be transparent.
I also believe that there is a progressive majority, both in the UK and the US, not to mention Europe and the rest of the world, but that this has remained unexpressed, repressed by the oligarchies that have developed in the last half-century or so. Private money, big business, and of course organised crime, must not be allowed to play a part in politics.
What is needed is a mass movement for global justice, and even global government. A crazy idea perhaps, but one with many adherents. If we are to stand up to the corporate interests and the bigots, we will need a huge push to involve more people in politics. In order to do so we need to emphasise that there is something better than fear: a hope for – and a stake in – their own future. In order to achieve positive change, we need to engage with our local communities, in a way that is outward-looking and forward-thinking.
We panic at our peril: it clouds our thinking and makes us jump to short-term solutions to ease our fears. The answers will not be easy, and I have little faith in our current political leaders to come up with them. What is needed is the calm space to look at where we are now, come together to work out solutions which work for the greater good of ourselves, our countries and our planet, and to figure out how best to get these ideas implemented, within the constraints of the situation we find ourselves in.
My belief is that: with a fair, equitable and agreed set of rules to live by, whether within existing structures or new ones, we can convince people that it is possible to live amicably together with our differences. Whether working on new trade agreements, improving existing ones, revising constitutions, or proposing universal actions on climate change and sustainable development, the views and hopes of those who wish for a more just and peaceful world must be listened to. We on the “progressive left” (or whatever you prefer to call it), need to up our game.
People who favour peace over war, oxygen over greenhouse gases, democracy over tyranny, and love over hate: get out there and work together or we are doomed, both as a species and a planet. I joined Global Justice Now today, and aim to get more involved with issues in my local area. Will you join us?
Some grass-roots movements in the UK:
Bringing the SDGs to life: real change for real people
A start at putting in place the conditions for world government:
In trying to sketch out some ideas for a global constitution, here a few key precepts that I believe must be adhered to:
The rule of law:
- Everyone agrees to be bound by a set of rules
- Everyone is responsible for ensuring the rules are followed
- The rules can be challenged and changed if enough people agree
The rules would be drafted in accordance with the following principles:
- Human rights
- Life and liberty
- Freedom of thought and speech
- Freedom of movement
- Freedom to trade
- Protection of the environment
- Sustainable agriculture
- Rights of animals
- Protection of natural resources, wildlife and land
A few rules to start off with:
- Respect the lives and freedoms of others
- Treat others as you would be treated
- Act in accordance with your hopes
- Work together towards improving everyone’s situation
The rules of Ultimate Frisbee (which is self-refereed) contain the following lines:
Spirit of the Game places the responsibility for fair play on every player. Highly competitive play is encouraged but should never sacrifice the mutual respect between players, adherence to the rules of the game, or the basic joy of play.
We would do well to follow this concept in everything we do. If all else fails: