We're being stressed but also brought toward unity

commentJune 29, 2012 

Europe is coming apart over the euro. The Arab spring has passed, leaving a turbulent, permanent winter in the Middle East. Is the world really coming apart? We in the United States have become regionalized, deadlocked and ungovernable. We are less alike (look at all those brown skins) and resolutely disagreeable. Are we coming apart also? This theme has been developed by a number of pundits, mostly right-leaning, in the last few months.

Giants such as Reinhold Niebuhr, who saw prospects, even the inevitability, of increased globalization, despite the outbreak of World War II, were muddle-headed idealists. Wendell Willkie, the Republican nominee for president in 1940, after touring the world, wrote a book with the self-explanatory title "One World." So he got it wrong. Think so?

Poppycock. Niebuhr, Willkie and thousands of others have it right. Yes, there is a long list of centrifugal forces prying social unities apart. But there is an equally long list of more forceful, gravitational influences pulling us together. The gloomy forecast hides a political agenda.

If the world is coming apart, then Americans should withdraw to their defensive borders and leave international affairs to the armed forces. If our own nation is ungovernable, let the states, private organizations, corporations and individuals do it all as they did in the good old days. National policies addressing health, education, housing and the general welfare are not working and not required.

But the world we live in is one of inescapable change, the front edge driven by the broadening strength and sophistication of human knowledge. Technology and science, including social, political and economic science, lead the way, sometimes dragging sectors of an undereducated populace along. We move inexorably, if unsteadily, toward a world and a nation of increasing interdependence, unity and, yes, harmony, leaving not-so-good old days behind.

Existing systems are stressed, not because the unifying forces of science and technology are destructive but because updating is a necessity. Forty years of Cold War froze our domestic institutions in place.

The international institutions established after World War II, such as the World Bank and the IMF, have worked remarkably well. While imperfect, the United Nations has been a force to be reckoned with for effective negotiation, particularly compared with the League of Nations that it replaced. The European Union has discovered, like our Founding Fathers who replaced the Articles of Confederation with a Constitution, that a common currency must be tied to some measure of national control over the economy. The current 60-year era of grumbling in Europe replaces names like "the Sixty Years War" and "the Hundred Years War." Europeans are not going back. The U.N. has added a dozen far-reaching treaty organizations. To bypass weaknesses of the Security Council, we now have the G-8 and the G-20. International regional organizations are gaining strength and respect. G-whizz, what's next? Many Alaskans are engrossed in Arctic Conferences; others, this week, are at the Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro. Maybe this year, finally, the United States will get on board with the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Isolationism in a rapidly integrating world is ridiculous and self-destructive.

Institutional revision is overdue here at home. Fortunately, Chief Justice Roberts blinked when faced with a second opportunity to overthrow modernity. America has now become the last Western democracy to adopt some form of universal health guarantee. Whoever controls the U.S. Senate next year, we should get rid of the 60-vote requirement to pass anything in the Senate and the Electoral College, a design intended to give elites the final word on picking a president. The Citizens United case is just the icing on the cake of political and economic control by a financial super-elite. In this system, election processes are hard to distinguish from selling soap or cereal. It will take the effort of an awakened citizenry to effect change but, eventually, it will happen. So, give a warm greeting to international tourists in Alaska this summer and on to the Olympics!


John Havelock's new book "Let's Do It Right," addressing the November vote on calling a Constitutional Convention, will be available by August.

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