(Politics and the Human Spirit – Installment 12)
Continuing the discussion from Part 9 (Managing the World in the 21st Century), perhaps the most important question of our time is:
Who, at what level of society, should decide what?
Before addressing that, let’s reiterate the main point made in the last two articles (Part 10 and Part 11): The noble side of human nature (that finer spirit within us), inspired by trust and good will, needs little regulation… while our savage side (our carnal disposition) is driven largely by fear and self-interest, causing conflicts and chaos in human affairs that need to be minimized and resolved with regulation ranging from self-control to international standards, laws and law enforcement. That said…
There are two principles that might help answer the question above:
- Every decision should be made at the lowest possible level, but high enough to take into account the well-being of everyone affected by the decision.
- Every individual and every group should be free to make decisions… within the framework that’s been set up by higher levels.
We need to start looking beyond the simplistic, aggravating view of federal rights vs state rights vs human rights… to replace that old-fashioned notion with a more realistic view of overlapping, nested chains of management levels throughout human society—from individual to family to community to city to province to nation to world… massive national systems overlapping with massive religions overlapping with massive international corporations… all embedded within and sprinkled throughout the global ecosystem.
That more realistic snapshot of humanity, coupled with the two principles above, can provide a much more stable base for the management of human affairs. A few examples:
A new airport. Building an international airport involves a worldwide transportation network. There are travelers, mail carriers, and airline companies throughout the world who will be affected by the decisions about a new airport, so an international or world-level regulatory body—in this case the UN agency ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization)—has to be involved in the planning, development and operation of airports to ensure safe, orderly growth of the worldwide air travel network.
At the same time, all of the nearby home-owners and businesses will be impacted by the noise, so some neighborhood decision-making authority also needs to be taken into account.
Levels between global and neighborhood also come into play. Various ground transportation networks (bus lines, trains, subways, highways…) may want to link up with the new airport to move travelers to and from other destinations.
Within the framework of ICAO standards and recommendations, the various city and county governments and local and national aviation agencies provide funding and management for each airport.
So a new airport needs decisions to be made at various levels. National aviation agencies like the FAA make decisions within the framework set up by the world-level ICAO. State, provincial, and city government agencies make decisions within the framework established by those higher-level bodies. Airlines and other transportation companies and networks, in turn, make decisions within those established frameworks. Also taken into account is the well-being of the local residents and the environment (for example, ISO-14001).
That’s one example that shows those two principles in action: decisions are made at many levels to take into account the needs of everyone affected by the decisions, and decisions at each level are made within the framework established by the higher levels.
Wi-Fi and cellphones. I can grab my cellphone here in Colorado and call someone driving along the Autobahn in Germany. A century ago that would have seemed like a miracle, but today we take global communication technologies for granted.
Here’s how it happens.
The ITU is a UN agency that makes sure telecommunications and cell phone technologies evolve smoothly everywhere in the world by…
- standardizing equipment and systems worldwide,
- managing wireless frequencies worldwide in a fair way, and
- helping poor countries to develop telecommunication infrastructures.
If you take a moment to appreciate your cell phone and its capabilities, you can understand why the ITU is a great example of how world government could and should work. Its purpose is to keep things peaceful and orderly by providing a compatible umbrella for all of the businesses, nations, and telephone users in the world… working hard to make sure even the poorest of the poor have access to the global network.
What self-interested business or nation is going to do that charitably for the entire world, with no strings attached? None.
Only a world body like the ITU can be committed to the good of the world.
Certainly there are and will always be challenges. In the 1980s, when twisted copper wires and circuit switching were still the worldwide norm in telephone networks, the ITU developed the “ISDN” standard (Integrated Services Digital Network) to make the worldwide telephone network more efficient in carrying voice, video, and data than anyone had ever dreamed possible. A fantastic revolution was underway!
But… at the same time, fiberoptics, packet-switching technologies, and radical new protocols like TCP/IP were being developed, which would eventually replace the copper network with a far cheaper, far more efficient network of fiberoptic lines. The ISDN standard would soon become outdated, as voice, video, and data could stream through the Internet, bypassing the traditional copper-wire network entirely.
The ITU’s ISDN standard is still used in telecommunication networks in many parts of the world… while elsewhere it’s considered an archaic standard nicknamed “It Still Does Nothing.” The ITU had to adjust accordingly. They now manage most of the standards for packet-switching and fiberoptics as well as the more archaic standards.
What we can learn from that important story, while forging a world government, is to develop the best standards possible to ensure worldwide compatibility in all facets of human affairs. Implement the standards… but be ready to adjust them—even to replace them—when something better comes along.
In other words, standards developed by a world government would have to remain flexible to accommodate a diverse and changing world. Even if they are only recommended, not compulsory, they will quickly become the norm.
The main purpose of a world government (transformed from the current UN), in my view, would be to establish a global umbrella of very basic, somewhat flexible standards across a wide range of human affairs—telecommunications, politics, social mores, economics, entertainment, sports, industry, and so on.
The standards would be simple enough so that any particular nation, religion, industry, or other human group could customize and expand upon the basic world standards to develop a unique set of standards suitable to the “personality” of that group. The adjustments would usually be done within the framework of the higher-level standards… but in some cases the new techniques and technologies might be so radical that they ignore the existing standard (such as the ISDN) altogether… and if the new way is a significant improvement, then they become part of the standards adopted by the higher level group.
Such a nested set of standards would ensure a high degree of compatibility (thus ensuring world peace) and also enough flexibility to encourage worldwide diversity of culture, nationality, religious belief, and business model.
The Internet. The Internet is an even more transformational technology than cellphones— placing all the world’s knowledge at the fingertips of every online computer user in the world… but there’s a problem.
While telecommunications standards are handled by a world body (the ITU), the Internet is controlled by various independent groups, mostly here in the States… and there’s currently a hot debate about that.
In a nutshell, here’s what’s happening:
The US wants to keep the Internet running as it is today—making total information available to everyone… regulated by groups in the US, where most of the funding and development of Internet technologies have taken place.
Some countries want to tailor the content of the Internet so that it’s more suitable for their citizens. Some Middle Eastern countries, for example, might like to screen out porn, material related to alcohol and drugs, and other subject matter deemed unsuitable for Muslims.
Russia and China also would like some control over information streaming in and out of their societies… for example, by regulating unsolicited bulk email, or “spam.”
In the past few months there’s been a cold war brewing between the free-wheeling US and the more controlled societies. Essentially, the ITU wants to provide the type of sensible, world-class regulation to the Internet that it’s done for Wi-Fi… but the US is reluctant to relinquish the reins.
This situation would be easily resolved if Internet control were relinquished to a world government as described above, in which the UN’s umbrella standards would be very basic, dealing mostly with technical details to ensure worldwide compatibility.
Each nation or other large group could then tailor the informational content streaming in and out of its domain, so as not to destabilize or offend the society and its sensibilities.
It would be nice if the US would graciously turn over the Internet reins to a world body like the ITU that has the best interests of the world at heart… and if all of the major international standards bodies would come under the umbrella of a United Nations that’s been empowered to be a world government.
We’re moving in that direction, but we’re not quite there. Case in point, the WSC (World Standard Cooperation organization), which was formed in 2001 from the close association of three prominent standards bodies: ITU, ISO, and IEC. Here’s their motto:
“IEC, ISO and ITU believe that international standards are an instrument enabling the development of a harmonized, stable and globally recognized framework for the dissemination and use of technologies, best practices and agreements, which support the overall growth of the Information Society. Indeed, their transparent and consensual mechanisms, based on the possible contribution of all interested stakeholders, as well as their extensive network of national members, represent strong assets for market relevance and acceptance, as well as for more equitable development.”
Of the three groups of the WSC, only ITU is under the UN umbrella. It would make sense for the IEC and ISO to come under the umbrella as well… and that will probably happen once the UN is allowed to become a legitimate world government.
Ultimately, all of the international standards bodies should be pulled under the umbrella of a world government… a restructured, empowered United Nations.
Hopefully that gives a general idea of how human society is managed today, struggling to sustain an uneasy peace in a quickly evolving world… and how an empowered United Nations with a growing set of stable standards will be the key to a more peaceful, more vital planet.
One important point in closing:
The standards should focus on promoting the noble, ethereal qualities of human nature and discouraging the savage, carnal qualities. That’s something that’s not been emphasized directly up to now.
Politics and the Human Spirit series:
1 Introduction 2 Privatization and the public good 3 Military 4 Information 5 Spirit of Society 6 Education 7 Regulation 8 Economics 9 Managing the World in the 21st Century – 10 The carnal line between noble and savage – 11 Embrace the divine; it’s where we shine – 12 Who decides what? – 13 Finally… good politics
Best and worst countries to be born – Election fraud 2012 – Best and worst US presidents – Humor in politics – Biggest political news – End of the American dream – Blown to bits in the computer age – Standards, the key to peace – What Obama and Stalin really have in common – Bad counsel and a short leash – Capital punishment & the human spirit