Much of the political discourse we hear these days, on environmental as well as other topics, all the Byzantine complexity of geopolitical machinations and jockeying for position among countries at the UN or in Bali or wherever, calls to mind Shakespeare’s “sound and fury, signifying nothing”. One wonders whether there might be a better way.
Richard Black of the BBC has hit this nail on the head, and encapsulated a key characteristic of Natural Patriotism: we have come to a point in human history where solving the world’s problems is hindered rather than helped by our cherished, but perhaps anachronistic, concept of geographically circumscribed nations:
“When the primary threats to human health and livelihoods came through wars and invasions, basing the global power system around nation states had a logic to it. But you have to ask if it still has any logic when, as Tony Blair among others has argued, environmental concerns may be the biggest long-term threats to our civilisation. Rising seas will not stop at borders, nor crops magically continue to grow within countries that have cast their votes a certain way in the UN climate convention. The atmosphere does not care whether a carbon dioxide molecule comes from Warsaw or Wellington or Ouagadougou; tuna stocks are affected no differently if ravaged by Libyan or French or Chinese ships.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself (although I took a stab at it a year ago). Now that’s what I call thinkiing outside the box. Probably too far outside the box insofar as, obviously, it’s a non-starter in practice. And overly simplistic in principle too — if democracy works only marginally well in a nation like ours that makes up a small fraction of earth’s population and is pretty well endowed with natural resources and human capital, how could we make it work on a unified planetary scale (the dreaded “one-world-gummint” conspiracy boogeyman that the far-right likes to trot out to rile up the voting base)? The numerous comments on the BBC site after Black’s essay illustrate the difficulty of this rocky territory.
Still. For the sake of argument, it’s refreshing to hear someone with the courage to go back to first principles and ask whether the basic foundation of how we do things needs reconsideration — to drill through the accreted layers of historical artifact and arbitrary structure that have hardened into the quasi-sacred traditions that we spend so much time and energy and resources killing each other over. Is there a better way? Does humanity have the strength and foresight to take control of its destiny? To fix things that are the way we’ve always done them but are nonetheless transparently counter-productive? Getting rid of nations sounds radical and over the top. But isn’t that, in effect, what the European Union is doing, gradually and without much fanfare? It is becoming a federal system of states much like the USA is, or was at its beginning. And I can’t shake the sense from nearly every news article I read these days that the EU is decades ahead of the USA in progressiveness and forward-thinking policy. Maybe there is a lesson for us yanks here.