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Civic Engagement Futures

Posted By Administration, Sunday, November 4, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program scans the horizons of citizenship and residency in this blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Society is an instinctive human structure. Society established the concepts of nation and state to organize itself. It developed the political, economic, and social systems to govern itself. It created the notions of citizenship and residency to engage its people.
 
Citizenship establishes rights and responsibilities linked to a country, its democratic and governance systems, and borders. The status can be acquired either at birth, based on the parent’s citizenship and/or the territory of birth, or later, through naturalization in a foreign land. Residency refers to the physical location where a person lives. It provides a framework to exercise rights and responsibilities related to daily life, such as earning a living or education. Citizenship seems linked to the concept of nation and democratic participation in politics, whereas residency connects with economics and social matters, and the notion of state.

Citizenship dates to ancient Greece. A citizen was someone who was born and lived in a city, having rights and responsibilities linked to both the organization and governance of that city. As such, at that time, citizenship and residency overlapped. Similarly, following the Peace of Westphalia, when an individual was very likely to be a member of one nation living within the borders of one state, the citizenship and residency coincided.

Nowadays, world citizens traveling, working, and living in jurisdictions different than those of their place of birth, embrace multiple citizenships. At the other end of the scale are those who have either lost all privilege or renounced their citizenship in protest of losing trust in the system. Civic engagement allows an individual to have from one to multiple residencies and from none to many citizenships.

Citizenship has become virtually borderless in the European Union (EU), which is an international body of collaboration. In this context, citizenship now represents mostly an individual’s national origin, together with their participation in the democratic process in their country of origin. Residency links individual’s rights and responsibilities with the territory in which they earn money and access systems that support their daily life.

The concept of residency is then kicked up a notch by one of EU’s members, Estonia. In its quest for competitive advantage, the country has become a leader in digital governance. Estonia has branded itself as the “new digital nation for global citizens” through its e-residency program. Estonian e-residency is an online platform that enables anyone in the world to register a business and manage its money. For example, it provides access to a network of financial and other professional services. An applicant becomes an Estonian e-resident and receives a government-issued digital identification, based on government identification from their country of origin. In this context, e-residency raises questions about how the digital government manages one’s foreign credentials, and how the entrepreneur governs its business legally across borders.

Concurrently, e-residency seems to be a flavour of investor citizenship, offered by many other countries that aim to attract capital, for which, in turn, they provide an expedited path to citizenship. In the process, the concept of citizenship has shifted even more towards economics, losing its flair for political debate and democracy.

The Chinese social credit score has piloted another alternative to civic engagement. The program aggregates an individual’s political, economic, and social data. A high score gives priority access to higher flexibility and living standards such as career advancement, housing, or mobility. The system takes the Western versions of the marketplace and social media aggregation to a new level of profiling, social value, and societal stratification. The social credit score seems to considerably amplify the social and economic aspects while keeping an eye on political activities. Such a paradigm raises significant ethical and moral questions, questioning one’s ability to exercise civic rights and responsibilities regardless of the score.
 
Such emerging types of civic engagement seem to play at the intersection of several dimensions: (1) links to the physical place(s) of birth, work, or living; (2) the omnipresence of daily life; and (3) levels of trust in the societal organization, governance, and engagement.

At the same time, the concepts of citizenship and residency do not overlap as they once did. In the process, civic engagement seems to struggle with who and where one can vote so that they can have a say in the democratic process. For example, some migrants can still vote in their country of birth. Although they have lived abroad for a long time, losing touch with the realities of that state, their civic engagement influences decisions for the daily life of those who remained. Is it fair to those who stayed? Concurrently, migrants cannot vote in the country of their residency, where they are not yet citizens, although they contribute to the economic and social system. Is it fair to these newcomers?

As society continues its fluid advancement, should it consider transferring citizenship rights and responsibilities to the concept of residency related to the territory surrounding our everyday life, rather than the place of birth?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  citizen  life  residency 

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What if anarchy is merely what we make of it?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, November 1, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the anarchy in the light of international relations. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The international system has changed considerably since the appearance of the modern nation-state in the 17th century. Over time, more and more countries around the world have discovered the advantages of democratic governance, economic integration, and political cooperation in multilateral forums—and their interactions with each other have evolved as a consequence. Although anarchy continues to lurk behind the scenes, many actors on the international stage no longer seem bound by scripts of power politics or structural imperatives.

In recent decades, a new theory has emerged to explain this evolution. Constructivism asserts that international relations are not the immutable result of human nature or material structures, but instead are socially created through shared ideas. Alexander Wendt and other constructivist scholars contend that social interactions give meaning to ideas, which in turn shape the identities and interests of international actors—and it is these social constructions, not anarchy itself, that determine the nature of international relations. In other words, anarchy is what states make of it—and while some may respond with self-help schemes, others increasingly choose international cooperation and collective security.

If anarchy really is what states make of it, then their changing worldviews ought to have some effect on international relations. There are many schools of thought as to what drives such social change, but one of the more intriguing was advanced by Ken Wilber as a “theory of everything.” Building on the “spiral dynamics” model of human development first formulated by Clare Graves, Wilber contends that individuals pass through discrete developmental stages—from egocentric to ethnocentric to “worldcentric” and potentially beyond—as they mature, contributing to the aggregate mix of developmental levels present in the larger society. If enough people within a society begin exhibiting emerging levels of consciousness, its developmental “center of gravity” may shift toward this higher-order worldview.

The impact of such social evolution on international relations could be profound. Referring to developmental levels as color-coded “memes,” Wilber suggested that societies where an ethnocentric worldview (“blue” meme) prevails would likely see others as threats, while those at the next higher level (“orange” meme), embracing autonomy and scientific materialism, might treat them as competitors. Among those societies in Europe and North America where a pluralistic, postmodern “green” meme is more pronounced, international cooperation has become the norm. However, upward progress is not inevitable; even in “advanced” Western societies, approximately 70 percent of the population remains at the “blue” level or below, making regression to previous levels of development an ever-present possibility.

The corollary of shared ideas shaping international relations is that not everyone is always reading from the same script. States where the “green” meme is manifest still have to deal with countries operating at the “orange” and “blue” levels—not to mention the occasional power-hungry, egocentric “red” regime. Put another way, while liberal democracies like the United States and its allies traditionally see international relations in cooperative, “win-win” terms, states whose worldviews center around competition and conflict cannot be easily ignored.

Unfortunately, until all the great powers embrace a more cooperative, less confrontational vision of international relations, war among them remains a real possibility. There are few signs that Chinese or Russian societies are developing in this direction—or that their autocratic political systems would respond well to such social change. Meanwhile, U.S. advocacy for the liberal world order it helped create has become lukewarm in recent years, while less lofty ethnocentric and authoritarian sentiments are making a comeback across the globe, threatening to drag a number of nations back down the proverbial development spiral.

Even if we suppose that further progress in international relations is simply a matter of shared belief, getting all the great powers to imagine anarchy in the same way is no simple matter. And until they each construct worldviews centered on international cooperation and mutual interests, conflict among them is far easier to envision.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  international relations  power  worldview 

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Rebalancing Societal Governance

Posted By Administration, Sunday, October 28, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program continues her nation-state discussion in her ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The two fundamental concepts that society has organized itself into are nation and state. The success of this model was observed when the distance between nation and state was almost non-existent. Today, the nation and state seem to have distanced considerably. Although society’s organization model has shifted, its governance structure still follows the one intended for the stage when nation and state almost overlapped.

The nation-state governs society’s internal (e.g., law, tax) and external (e.g., defense) affairs through a governing entity structured based on three interacting systems: political, economic, and social. The three systems operate most successfully when they are in balance. The equilibrium between the societal economic and social systems is meant to be maintained by politics. Imagine this balance as a triangle with all three sides equal, with politics as its top vertex, and the economic and social dimensions as the other two vertices at the bottom. Imbalance arises when the three sides are not equal anymore. The situation arises created when one of the vertices overshadows the other two, or when two vertices grow apart. As an example, some might consider that the exacerbation of religion, during various time periods, elevated the importance and influence of the social system, at the expense of the economic and political ones.

Nowadays, it seems that politics’ capability to balance economy and society has dwindled again. This time, economic dominance prevails. The economic vertex has outgrown the politics and social ones. With this, the distance between the political and social system has increased. As such, the two aspects left behind by the overgrown economic system (i.e., political and social), often struggle. What has changed since the days when societal governance operated optimally on a foundation of its balanced political, economic, social systems?

Exponential advancement in technology enables the world to connect globally, share information and collaborate in ways not possible before, further transforming the political, economic, and social systems. Big data and social networks have created powerful feedback loops between information and political microtargeting, partisanship, and polarization. Ironically, such tactics have diminished ideological differentiation amongst political parties, while strengthening party unity in decision-making for those elected to serve in governing bodies. In the process, partisans are incentivized to participate in the voting process, while the rest are forgotten, increasing their disengagement in politics. The question is how could the use of big data and social networks be turned around to take us back to what democratic politics used to be?

Economic dominance and technology seem to have increased the level of collaboration amongst groups of nation-states and their citizens, enabling migration. Migrants participate right away in the economic and social system of their new country. They engage in the development of their new country through economic and social contributions, yet have little say in the democratic process. Obtaining the right to vote and participating in politics has a lengthy time lag, which excludes them from political engagement. As a result, societal governance tends to misrepresent their rights and responsibilities. The political-economic-social is, once more, unbalanced.

In the process, the nation-state has diminished its capacity to ensure the protection, development, and well-being of its citizens through edifices such as education, healthcare, or culture. Given the increasing distance between nation and state, and the imbalance observed in the political-economic-social governance, how might a society organize and govern itself such that its citizens feel empowered to harmonize civic rights and responsibilities with their values and aspirations?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  economics  society  state 

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Rethinking Societal Organization

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 26, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the concept of nation-state in her eighth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Today, emotions seem to run high about trade, politics, governments, policy, national pride, and much more. Numerous individuals may feel disenfranchised. How might society be organized such that it enables its members’ agency to harmonize civic rights and responsibilities with their values and aspirations?

Society is an instinctive human organization in which individuals continuously interact with each other, making it a living entity. Its members might share a similar social fabric, or live in the same geographical area, or participate in the same political-economic-social governance structure and avenues for civic engagement.

The two fundamental concepts that society has structured itself into are nation and state. Being human-made, both ideas are artificial. A nation is a group of individuals who share a common heritage. A state is linked to a territory and its internationally-recognized boundaries. A nation-state is a nation living within a state. In many contexts, a nation-state is equivalent to a country.

These concepts were born in the mid-1600s, during the negotiations for the Peace of Westphalia. This treaty established the foundation for international law, diplomacy, sovereignty, foreign and internal affairs, which ended wars and empires, while recognizing multiple states, most being nation-states. Some might feel inclined to note that in a way, the treaty ended the times’ flavour of globalization. At that time, nation would mostly live within the boundaries of a state. As such, the distance between nation and state was almost nonexistent.

Down the road, during post-colonialism, while borders were drawn sometimes artificially, nations might’ve been split amongst several states, introducing some distance between nation and state. Nevertheless, the Westphalian nation-state has continued to succeed, registering its peak during the peace treaties that ended World War I.

Since then though, the nation-state seems to have declined. In the aftermath of World War II, the artificial divide introduced by the Iron Curtain was (in historical terms) short-lived. Once the Curtain fell, everyone wanted to see what was outside of it. Furthermore, the development of the European Union eliminated the borders amongst some member states. It enables each nation to travel, work, and live without boundaries across the EU while preserving the autonomy and territory of its member states. In such an environment, state borders switched from an international to an internal, administrative affair. In this context, representatives of several nations could now live within the boundaries of one state. As such, the overlap between nation and state has diminished. Nations and states seem to have continued to grow further apart.

Similar migratory trends have been observed well beyond Europe. World political and economic tensions have pushed individuals to seek living solutions beyond their birth nation-state. As a result, migration is at an all-time high. A nation now has representation across multiple states. For example, the Indian diaspora spread across the world contributes not only to the development of their adopted country, but also to that of India. In the process, they also make their heritage known outside their country of birth, creating nuances of it elsewhere. The concepts of nation and state seem to have continued to grow further apart.

Migration seems to have changed the nation-state relationship in two ways. First, the relation between nation and state is not one-to-one anymore. Second, the two concepts don’t overlap as they did during Westphalian times. A distance between them has been emerging.

What should happen with this growing distance, especially when considering the role of the nation-state in the politics-economics-social governance and in civic engagement? The situation could become even more complicated when considering how unpredictable extreme natural, political, or economic events might push populations to seek shelter in friendlier territories. Furthermore, with increasing signs of globalization shifting to more decentralized, local, but distributed preferences, trade and information wars, etc., one could wonder whether we are living the modern version of pre-Westphalia. What would it take to build a contemporary model addressing societal organization issues that becomes at least as successful as the one built in the 17th century?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  nation  society  state 

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Futuring Cultural Dynamics

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 22, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program addresses the cultural dimensions of futuring in her seventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Most policy decision-making models are based on demographic information that considers elements such as sex or ethnicity, as the staples of diversity. They aim to tell the story of particular population segments. However, over the last few decades, globalization and significant political shifts have driven substantial growth in population migration. From the turn of the century, the number of international migrants has increased by 70%.

The shift has boosted the stream of people’s interactions, coupled with their actions, perceptions, impressions, observations, and interpretations, across time, space, and scale. Ethnographic and cultural heritage experts identify this fluid stream of change with culture. They would argue that migratory impacts are most likely to span decades.

The aftermath of increased migration seems to raise questions about how cultures might evolve. Traditional demographic methods have difficulties in identifying the nuanced metamorphosis of population segments. As a result, policy-making appears to miss critical cultural developments that would otherwise pinpoint characteristics and needs of populations in flux.

By excluding cultural nuances in policy making, do we limit our choices for the future?

In The Art of Choice, Iyengar defines choice as “the ability to exercise control over ourselves and our environment. To choose, we must perceive that control is possible.”

She argues that the type of culture we grew up in influences our understanding of what choices are available to us. For example, as children, each of us heard some expectations about our future. Some of us were told to do what our family tells us to do, or others might have been asked what would you like to do? The former might tend to look up at their elders to show the path in life and protect them from selecting the wrong choices. The latter might be better off when exercising the personal option. The two approaches associate with collectivistic and individualistic community types, respectively.

Individualism/collectivism is one of several other cultural dimensions. Cultural studies experts measured these dimensions at country-level. They believe that the scores are stable over time as they reflect values transferred from parents to children and rarely change in later life. The experts argue that our early-life exposure to these cultural dimensions has consequences on our formative and adult years and the relationship between our identities and how we choose.
 
Nevertheless, most recent migratory trends have usually involved younger generations. Between now and later life, newcomers adjust to their new location, live and go to school in a new cultural environment, while bringing forward their cultural heritage. During the transition, migrants’ old and new cultures mingle. Traditional population segmentation methods cannot capture such transitional nuances. Existing policy-making tools do not seem to give justice to these individuals, and the societies they live in, anymore.

Cultural economists, data ethnographers, or those focused on culture analytics and social networks have also attempted to define and model cultural indicators. Their information-intensive approaches seem limited though in capturing culture’s fluid states of emergence, transformation, limitation, disappearance, and renewal.

Should instruments aiming to capture the transition of cultures include, beyond cultural dimensions, elements such as societal structure (e.g., globalized vs. distributed/local), population dynamics (e.g., participatory vs. siloed), intellectual humility (e.g., agility vs. consistency in holding opinions), resilience, or the nature-culture dualism?

Wouldn’t decision-making and policy design be better informed by a lively cultural understanding mediated through both economic and ethnographic approaches that are constituents to one another, not separate of each other?


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  culture  decision-making  policy 

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Will robots teach us to care?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Polina Silakova’s tenth post in our Emerging Fellows program examines the future of work through robots. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The last couple of months have been particularly loud with all things about women’s rights. From the freedom to change a T-shirt on a tennis court to gender equality at C-level roles – the world seems to be going through some sort of “Equality Checklist” in all possible aspects of life. This made me curious: if one day we achieve the sort of gender equality we are seeking, what would the world look like? How would this play out with changes in other areas of life? And why are we trying to create this future in the first place?
 
These days many corporate and public bodies are trying to close gender equality gaps at every level of their organisation. At the same time, trend analyses indicate that ubiquitous robotisation will replace many of skilled labour jobs and free up people for work… in the care sector. These jobs require the ability to connect emotionally, build relationships and empathise – the qualities robots don’t have. According to the International Labour Organisation, two-thirds of these jobs are occupied by women; and traditionally they haven’t been valued much. There is hope that being less replaceable by machines, this type of work will become more valued and more attractive in the future.
 
Indeed, one of the perverse attributes of capitalistic society is that we value and incentivise work which is directly linked to visible outcomes, such as profit, growth or innovation. It gets all the credit. While its enabler – caring work, a lot of which is unrecognised and unpaid, such as looking after kids, elderly or people with disabilities – remains in the shadow. With our habit to define each other by what we do, somehow work as a full-time mum or carer has become a negligible (not to mention unprofitable) occupation. But can we be successful in business when our family is not cared for? Or, as futurist Alvin Toffler used to ask: “How productive would your workforce be if it hadn’t been toilet trained”?

Due to the current perception of care work as a second-rate occupation and related low pay, we already don’t have enough care workers to look after those in need. Although there is no certainty whether these jobs will be better paid for in the future, it’s quite likely that robotisation will push more people to become a part of the economy of care, even if only as a way to maintain social bonds. At the end of the day, being useful for somebody is a part of human nature; and getting paid for it is a by far better alternative to the unemployment bench. This will, in turn, lead to a more even gender distribution in this job segment, further contributing to it being valued more.
 
Had traditional female roles as carer received a proper role in the economy, would we see this push for gender equality in the business world? Would more people be choosing carer roles, knowing that they will receive a decent pay and recognition? Equality is not about blindly erasing differences between men and women. Nether it is only about providing equal opportunities at the top of the career ladder. What is missing is the recognition of the importance of the carer work which enables our progress as a society and re-writing economic models to make it a true part of the economy. It requires a cultural change and the revision of our values. By reshaping the future of work, robotisation is expected to be a driving force for this shift. But do we have to wait for it to start caring for carers?


© Polina Silakova 2018

Tags:  robot  society  work 

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Can the world be made safe through democracy?

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 15, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program examines the possibility of making a safer world by means of democracy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

From a realist perspective, international relations amounts to little more than a power struggle among states, each of which acts essentially the same, regardless of its particular nature. Like billiard balls ricocheting off one another in an anarchic game of realpolitik, states amount to “black boxes” whose external behavior reveals nothing about their internal workings—or so the theory goes. But a growing body of empirical evidence suggests democracies can behave quite differently than other states, with profound implications for the future of warfare.

The Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant was first to recognize that a world of constitutional republics might someday bring perpetual peace, but it wasn’t until the 20th century that liberal democracy became widespread enough to put his hypothesis to the test. Since then, study after study has found that wars between mature democracies are indeed less common than conflicts involving other kinds of states. Kant anticipated this phenomenon would come about because citizens who bear the human and financial costs of war would naturally be cautious if empowered to authorize hostilities. Furthermore, democratic political norms favoring compromise and respect for human rights tend to make republics a bit less bellicose—at least when dealing with states similarly governed.

This democratic peace theory comes with a caveat, however: When confronted by autocracies, democracies are just as likely to wage war as any other state. Aggressive imperialist, fascist, and communist regimes repeatedly learned this lesson during the 20th century, often finding that their democratic rivals could mobilize superior political and economic resources when provoked. On the other hand, autocratic regimes that transitioned to democracy—such as Germany and Japan following World War II— became much less threatening to their neighbors, as Kant’s hypothesis predicted.  

Given these developments, it’s not surprising that the United States and its democratic allies came to view the promotion of democracy around the world as a matter of self-interest. Whether inspired by liberal ideals or neoconservative concerns, “making the world safe for democracy” became synonymous in many Western circles with making the world safe through democracy—that is, pressuring autocratic regimes to adopt democratic reforms, by force if necessary, for the sake of both national security and human rights. Sadly, American diplomatic and military efforts since 9/11 to spread democracy at gunpoint ended in disaster, arguably making the world less safe.

Compounding this trend is the troubling decline, after decades of almost uninterrupted progress, in the number of fully functioning democracies around the world. Illiberal regimes have come to power in Venezuela, Turkey, Hungary, and elsewhere around the world, and the erosion of democratic norms in the United States has undermined America’s soft-power appeal and claims to leadership of the so-called “free world.” Nevertheless, reports of democracy’s death are greatly exaggerated; for all its flaws, the social, economic, and, yes, security benefits of this form of government still greatly outweigh any alternatives, and it is likely to further spread in the future.

Although democracy has undoubtedly reduced warfare among its practitioners, it is unlikely to diminish the potential for great-power conflict anytime soon. On the contrary, Western democracy-promotion efforts have exacerbated tensions with Moscow, which blames Washington for the “color revolutions” that overthrew friendly regimes in Ukraine, Georgia, and across the Arab world, while Beijing is wary of any political liberalization that might undermine the Community Party’s hold on power. Consequently, Russia and China have emerged as exemplars of authoritarian governance, undemocratic alternatives to the United States in a multipolar world. Meanwhile, America’s emergence as a great power actually led to its war-making deliberations becoming less democratic. Congress has gradually ceded its constitutional authority over national security issues to the president, while the voting public has largely lost interest in military matters since the end of mass conscription and the advent of an all-volunteer force. Under such circumstances, great-power behavior can often bear a striking resemblance to billiard balls after all.


© Craig Perry 2018

Tags:  democracy  liberal democracy  soft-power 

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What visions of society from the Global South can we learn from?

Posted By Administration, Friday, October 12, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Daniel Riveong has written his sixth post in our Emerging Fellows program. He examines globalization through African and Islamic approaches to social values and economic thought. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

While globalization recalibrates the relationship between the West and the Rest, our discussions of socio-economic systems are too often dominated by Western sources. More specifically, our choices seem to be either neoliberal capitalism or socialism. This both marginalizes the full diversity of human thought and also deprives us of new ways of imagining socio-economic systems. We should look towards other traditions and consider what we can learn from African and Islamic approach to social values and economic thought, as a way expand our options on building new socio-economic systems and also helping us revisit Western thought.

African social-economic concepts are deeply rooted in communalism, such as in ujaama (familyhood), ubuntu (“I am because we are”), masakhane (“let us build together”), and others. Tanzania’s first president promoted ujaama is an African approach to socio-economics. Ujaama draws upon the idea of an extended family. The individual is deemphasized in favor of communal land ownership, communal labor, and village self-sufficiency. The primary difference from socialism and capitalism is that ujaama, as an economic plan, sought to regenerate the socio-economic systems of communal African villages.

While the ujamaa socio-economic plan ultimately failed, the idea of a more communal system of governance and economics continues in Africa, as represented by Desmond Tutu’s promotion of ubuntu and Tony Elumelu’s Afri-Capitalism. These African concepts emphasize reciprocity over selfishness, collaboration over competition, and reconciliation over punishment. While these concepts arise from the African context, they share similarities with the ideas of conscious capitalism and inclusive capitalism.

In contrast to African guiding socio-economic philosophies, Islamic thought has long sought specific guidelines over wealth and trade. Islamic jurisprudence on economics, called muamalat, encourages trade and wealth. Yet in Islam wealth and trade comes with its limits: profits must be earned responsibility and spending must have a social benefit. There are guidelines on how wealth can be earned, how much profit can be attained, and how it is to be used.

Islamic economic guidelines state that profits must come from being productive, fair, and socially responsible. For this reason, making money from money is prohibited; thus, charging interest, selling uncertainties, and gambling is off-limits. The absolute prohibition on interest was common in the Christian tradition as well, until debates in the 15th century helped to differentiate between interest and usury.

Eleventh-century Islamic scholar Al-Ghazali prohibited excessive profits, warning against attaining more than 10% profit margins or more than 5% for essential goods. (In comparison, in 2016 companies like Apple achieved margins of 21% and John & Johnson 23%.) Echoing today’s socially responsible investing movement (SRI), Shariah-compliant funds have long prohibited investing in socially harmful companies, such as in tobacco, defense industry, etc.

While there is much to learn from rethinking socio-economic systems within the context of communitarian values (such as in ujamaa) or social responsibilities (as outlined in muamalat), such thinking does also exist in the West. We should revisit these similarities in traditions and reinterpret older Western concepts such as “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (what does brotherhood mean today?) and the Roman law of res communis (how can we rethink the Roman concept of the commons?). We should treat these times of uncertainty about capitalism and neoliberalism as an opportunity to revisit the moral basics. Even Adam Smith, the figurehead of capitalism, warned against selfishness and ignoring the poor. What would he say about where we are today?


© Daniel Riveong 2018

Tags:  Africa  globalization  social value 

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Polymer Graduating Class of 2028; Social Impacts and Human Coexistence

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Maggie Greyson, a member of our Emerging Fellows program travels to next 10 years and imagines the alternative futures of plastic industry in her third post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

(Graduation Speech from the Dean of the Plastics Better Alternatives Now Institute)

We are here today to celebrate the polymer students of the Plastics Better Alternatives Now Institute Graduating Class of 2028. Your social impact work is changing our world and we have special awards given exclusively for plastics that are compostable, derived from renewables and are 100% biodegradable. Congratulations!  

(Pause for applause)

We started this Institute in response to the Plastics Better Alternatives Now (BAN) List 2.0 of 2017. Dozens of countries around the world started to eliminate single-use plastic in the 2010’s. In response, we convened a Board of Advisors with global experts in science, design, climate change and human factors, to advise us on new forms of

Grads, social impact work is in your synthetic makeup. Thank you for your contribution this year reminding us that the Tupperware Party changed the paradigm for women after WW2. It is hard to imagine a time when keeping food fresher longer was a social innovation but less time spent preparing food meant more time to develop other skills, like entrepreneurship. One of the best projects to come out of the Social Innovation class this year was the Tupperware Roadshow Festival. This group of students adapted fully biodegradable (PHB), food safe plastic for 3D printers to make customized reusable containers for remote regions.  

In your first semester, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch Business Management class teamed you with The Seabin Project. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this project, a Seabin is plastic bucket that floats on the surface of the water and vacuums up plastic debris, microplastics, and microfibres without harming the wildlife. This entrepreneurial student group created a business plan with a DIY design that inspired participants of the 2028 World Economic Forum to create tens of thousands of jobs for humans in plastic collecting technologies.

Remember when Kenya banned single-use plastic bags outright in 2017, and the cascade effect which lead to job loss when factories were shut down? The Single-Use Disruptor class was challenged to find an equilibrium between environmental destruction and social well-being. The class globalized an existing job-sharing model that provided new income streams for women who replaced bags of convenience with straw baskets and to reduce the number of single-use plastic bags.

We give our enduring gratitude to the Ecoalf Foundation for their renewed sponsorship of the PETA Competition for Ethical Fashion. We recall that our sponsor had humble beginnings as makers of top quality, fashionable clothing, and shoes made from recycled materials. Ten long years ago they worked with just 3,000 fishermen collecting only 250 tons of plastic from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. This year’s award goes to the collaboration that created the most PETA-Approved Vegan leather. Students in the Global Trade Route course aided 400,000 fishermen who lost their jobs in last year’s overfishing crisis to gain employment in a partnership that also restored the Italian fashion economy. Brava!

Again, congratulations to the Polymer Graduating Class of 2028 and especially those receiving their PHB stamp of approval. You have matured in your abilities to support humans for better outcomes. We hope that as alumni you continue with your commitment to clinical trials of the genetically modified bacteria. We will eventually turn PET plastic back into its original components for recycling with the world’s most valuable mutant bacteria. Good luck and stay in touch as we develop a post-grad degree, Nanotechnologies in the Food Packaging Industry.


© Maggie Greyson 2018

Tags:  design  industry  packaging 

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Looking for Unicorns

Posted By Administration, Monday, October 8, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Maggie Greyson has written her second post in our Emerging Fellows program. She envisions the future through the metaphor of unicorn. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The alluring and untamable unicorn is a cultural symbol of purity and grace, wealth and prosperity, or love and independence. It is said that this extremely rare, wild creature would rather die than be captured. This fantastic beast appears in the history of many civilizations yet there has never been any evidence of a metaphysical existence.

Bigfoot is the name of an Ape Man that lives deep in the forests of North America. Governments in both Canada and the US are currently being sued by believers for not protecting this hairy 800-pound legend. In retaliation, the government of British Columbia is calling the group’s leader Todd Standish a “vexatious litigant” tying up valuable court resources defending a folklore. What if the courts prove a bipedal primate with feet 24 inches long does not exist? Who wins if the Sasquatch habitat is not protected from a deforestation rate of 6,000 acres of open space each day? What is really going on here?

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People only see what they are prepared to see.” The future is envisioned for us every day by traditional media and social media. At best we have a blurry fragmented image of the future punctuated by dystopian tales that outnumber utopian ones. Unfortunately, a positive ending is like the elusive Sasquatch, invisible to the untrained eye.

Ralph Waldo Emerson also said, “We become what we think about all day long.” For example, headlines in mainstream media about the World Economic Forum Future of Jobs Report released September 18, 2018, say that AI will cause 75 million people to be out of a job by 2022. Words like warning, displace, loss, and “robots taking over jobs” often accompany announcements like this. Fewer people will ever read that report but it also says that in the same time frame, “133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms.” We cannot yet imagine what all of the jobs are going to be. If we think about the 75 million lost jobs conventional logic might suggest that the future looks like mass unemployment of the Great Depression. Collectively we need to spend time preparing to see something we have never seen before, which is more nuanced than haves/ have-nots.

In 2014, Wired Magazine reported that about 100,000 people were content moderators paid a meager sum to remove objectionable content such as beheadings, child porn, and hate speech in people’s newsfeeds. Seeing the most egregious acts of humanity hundreds of times a day caused emotional breakdowns with symptoms similar to PTSD. In the last four years, developments in AI and fact-checking tools replaced many of these toxic jobs and offensive materials are removed more efficiently. Before the elections in Mexico, over 60 publishers, universities and civil society organizations collaborated on a platform called Verificado 2018 to help reveal hoaxes faster. Verificado spread news literacy videos to help close the gap between what can be detected by their platform and what memes are being shared quickly through social media without critical thinking. From day one, they set the expectations that the technological solution will work better if critically thinking humans participate.

Humans have special powers of ingenuity, imagination, and the ability to interpret nuance. What if we don’t look for the unicorn, but seek inspiration from it. Humans have always demonstrated that when we believe, we don’t need evidence to overcome. How might we help people think the unthinkable? What examples will prepare to us see the future as anything other than blurry, menacing and unknowable?


© Maggie Greyson 2018

Tags:  civilization  human  metaphor 

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