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John Havelock: The neighborhood is universal

John Havelock

Loyalties evolve; once local, they are now universal. For thousands of years, generating a genetic inheritance, loyalties ran close to home. Core loyalty went to family -- a minimal, survival-oriented group sharing the gathering of food, shelter, accumulated wisdom, the envelope of protection. The family was maintained or merged within the context of a clan, maybe a village or, in a larger context, a tribe. Tribes were big enough to operate under well-understood rules, like rules of unquestioning obedience to authority building collective strength. Tribal rules included commitment to a tribal deity who rewarded obedience and punished the wayward. Here began patriotism.

Tribes inhabited territory, enough to create an agricultural breadbasket or subsistence region centered on the village. As organizational success enhanced reproductive success, intertribal friction increased. This could mean war but cutting a deal usually worked better. Common or preferred languages evolved from these deals. The city-state arose as a form of expanded organization, and as military capability demonstrated capacity to enlarge territory and generate profit, empires of conquest also developed.

From the early years of the second millennium A.D., the nation emerged as a larger form of common protection. City-states, ruled over by micro-royalties, merged or forged alliances to resist military empires. Sometimes it was easier to join a more benevolent empire. Diplomacy seemed to work better than war.

Meanwhile, the world was shrinking, from a flat surface with one edge just beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, to a globe. The "New World" carried a double meaning. The advantages of trade mixed with the benefits of diplomacy created a whole new world of nations over ensuing centuries. By 1940, Wendell Willkie, the Republican candidate for president of the United States, correctly but prematurely politically called the new reality "One World." Willkie's campaign called for the creation of world government. He lost but as World War II drew to a close, the United Nations was formed. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund followed.

Since then, the number of international organizations, formal and informal, has increased several-fold as the need for transnational responses in every arena has been recognized. Recently, the explosion and democratization of communications, sweeping aside national boundaries, has added a new dimension to Willkie's One World. Increased recognition of the profound interdependence of the peoples of the new world has lead to growth of the NGO community, non-governmental organizations moving with youthful energy to address issues neglected by the sluggish nation-state complex.

NGOs are not all benevolence and loving thy neighbor. Their objectives reflect practical self-interest as trans-boundary infections are recognized. The spread of disease is the product of ignorance. Poverty, tyranny and violence are linked to international tension and war. Patriotism, loyalty to one's own nation, still survives, you bet, but the world of our concerns is the world, even while millions of Americans prefer a retreat to the clamshell, denying the realities of contemporary global existence.

Long before this hour, millions of concerned people, young, and old, dedicated their lives to the welfare of billions of people around our new world. Alaska lawyers helped in educating Bosnians in due process. Alaskans know of the dedication of Jack Hickel, Wally's oldest son, as a medical missionary in Africa. Led by Malcolm and Cindy Roberts, dozens of Alaskans have made Bridge Builders a vibrant element in the Alaska community, reminding us of the importance of linking the vast multitude of clans or ethnicities in the interest of domestic tranquility and global peace. A recently retired Interior Department attorney, Roger Hudson, has for decades committed his spare time to spreading the word through an NGO called Results. Results focuses on the centrality of education in addressing disease, malnutrition, poverty and tyranny.

These are just a few examples out of the many contributions Alaskans are making to the new world supported by the thousands more who give through donations, large and small.

The world today requires an inclusive loyalty, honoring the ancient instruction to love your neighbor as yourself. Like it or not, the neighborhood is now universal. Why not join in?

John Havelock is a lawyer and former Alaska attorney general. He lives in Anchorage.


John Havelock
commentBy JOHN HAVELOCK