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Can human rights preserve liberty?

Posted By Ruth Lewis, Monday, June 24, 2019

Ruth Lewis a member of our Emerging Fellows program asks if human rights can preserve liberty in her sixth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

How do we regard human rights and liberty now and in the future? Can our current understanding of human rights and values guide us toward a better understanding of the challenges that we face every day to our free choice and will, preventing harm to society?

 

Our current notions of individual liberty and human rights were developed through the Enlightenment in response to the separation of church and state, and in the mid-20th Century, in response to the terrible atrocities committed during World War 2 and beyond.  They reflect our growing awareness and action to remedy our appalling treatment of minority ethnicity, disabilities, women, refugees, and children, to prevent acts such as torture, unlawful incarceration and genocide. These principles were laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), and in regional instruments like the European Convention on Human Rights (1950).  They lay the foundation of minimum protection of individuals and groups from the worst of humanity’s barbarism and to promote human life with freedom and dignity that is conducive to our physical, mental, social and spiritual welfare.

 

Our personal liberty is to be bounded only by these international and regional agreements for the purpose of respecting other people’s right to freedom, civil order and the welfare of society. This includes of the right to privacy, protection of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, opinion and expression. These agreements prohibit any propaganda for war, or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that provides incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. 

 

The International Declarations and Covenants protections came into force in 1976, ensuring legal enforcement by all signatory parties. Together with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 (2015), these agreements show the most noble aspect of human values that we aspire to uphold and promote for current and future generations’ rights and liberty. In this context, this includes the right to economic, civil, cultural, political and social development.

 

Yet despite these intentions, in today’s society we see outcomes of commercial or State enterprise that undermine the intentions of our human rights.  These outcomes subvert the free will of the individual and promote hatred, racism and violence within society.

 

For regular Internet users, our access to vast amounts of information promotes our sense of liberty, and amplifies the reach of our free speech and commercial opportunities.  However, covertly our online presence is tracked and inundated with incentives to buy products, and to think or behave in a certain way. These incentives are curated through computer algorithms that follow our online entries, forming a profile as a basis of commercial business models that look to inform or change the way we would otherwise entertain our free will or action.  Through lack of active prevention, these algorithms also foster online prejudice, racism and hate, drawing followers of like mind toward vilification, creating bullying, intimidation and racist propaganda which spreads throughout the online and physical world.

 

Human rights and values are supplanted with short-term exploitation of human liberty for profit gain, for manipulation and misuse.  Our freedom to make personal choice and lifestyle is eroded or falsified, and those who may do harm seem incentivised.

 

Our Human Rights of the present and future must be based on custodial governance over our present liberty and resources in order to preserve our humane society for current and future generations. We must govern our commercial and State enterprises for social benefit as well as profit, and protect the community and individual in accordance with our Human Rights and societal values. 

 

Global Human Rights commissions and various standards associations are now beginning to recognise these online violations, and seek to redress this gap by defining emerging codes of conduct for our online service providers and developers. These new conventions seek to make the latter accountable for the ‘unintended’ consequences of their business models, and to include human values in the design of online innovations.

 

Commercial enterprise innovation and growth is now being incentivised by global standards towards developing long-term commercial goals and non-financial societal measures for which they may be held accountable and protects Human Rights. Society is endorsing through positive investments in sustainable enterprises. This facilitates the path toward liberty in the face of challenges brought about by our modern world. But how will our governance and policy mechanisms evolve in the future to ensure liberty?

 

© Ruth Lewis 2019

Tags:  liberty  rights  society 

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Will technology enable more socially beneficial patterns of consumption and production?

Posted By Esmee Wilcox, Friday, May 24, 2019

Esmee Wilcox publishes her fifth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program. She investigates the possibility of applying technology to socially beneficial production and consumption. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

I have a stack of letters beautifully written and illustrated in a box at home, that represent a different world of communicating through my teenage years. With the technologies I have to hand today, the breadth of my network is vast. I can easily access individuals to work with, to share ideas, to tackle problems together. But the polarisation of views from vast echo-chambers is undeniable. These are the issues of trust we face by connecting more virtually. By 2050 we’ll have entered another paradigm shift from now in how and who we connect with and what technologies we use for this. So what can we do now to ensure that the technologies we design help us connect and organise in socially beneficial ways? What patterns of consumption and production would start to emerge if we did this? Why is this important?

 

Communities have always self-organised around the problems they notice. Whether child-rearing, food distribution, flooding or fracking. The intractable social and environmental problems of our time are also forcing state hierarchies to look more to community networks as better routes to tackling them. Social media ‘influencers’ are ahead in capitalising on technology enabled networks to commodify their personal social capital. Their skill is in making you feel personally connected whilst accessing vast networks. State actors are starting to look to their community equivalents, individuals who use social media to connect younger, apolitical audiences. Access to community grants is no longer dependent on institutionally biased, lagging processes, but the social capital that these influencers have accrued persuading funders of the local impact.

 

By 2050 we may be much more dependent on our ability to consume and produce locally with the environmental economics of long supply chains having long been unviable. We can imagine having to produce technology that we can degrade locally without poisoning the land we rely on for food. We can imagine the expansion of communities that are designed to enable consumption and production of food to connect people in socially beneficial ways.

 

But how might our ‘socially beneficial influencers’ design and make use of new technologies that make these patterns of consumption and production all pervasive? Influencers can readily participate in thematic and place-based communities, keeping the boundaries porous to access and welcome in new ideas. It’s not exclusively the proviso of the elites to have access to a range of networks. It’s not just the cities where the scale and movement of people brings in new ideas. Our influencers might look to technologies that can track and display the impact of communities’ collective behaviour to make it easier and more rewarding to see progress towards different social norms. That also make it easy for everyone to participate, countering the social gradient.

 

The more expansive social networks of local technology-enabled influencers should make it easier to readily connect our needs to produce with our needs to consume.

Co-housing developments and intergenerational living schemes are already in existence. These provide connectivity in place of privacy that help us produce and consume efficiently. We might not want to live that closely with each other but influencers can open up our private networks and build trust by proxy to put in and take out without high transaction costs. So the network that we utilise in creating closed-loop systems is expansive. We’re re-imagining closed-loop systems with technology that enables us to splice together as specialised units of consumption and production.

 

This is, of course, dependent on access to technologies that are being created by corporations and governments. To what extent will it remain in the interests of corporations to encourage over-consumption, and trust in our fellow citizens to be eroded by trust in the ‘brand’?

 

This is where social entrepreneurs have an interesting locus. They already successfully harness the technology of our day to create policy changes as well as changes in consumer behaviour. In what ways might social entrepreneurs persuade corporations that create technologies to move production and consumption into the hands of communities? Can our ‘socially beneficial influencers’ trade their social capital with corporations? Why would corporations be interested?

 

The potential is there for technologies to enable communities to self-organise systems of consumption and production that are no longer dependent on the arbitrary assets that they find within their local boundaries. We can imagine a shift in motivation to do so as we look ahead to 2050. We can imagine social entrepreneurs having a role in helping communities align their assets. We need to think further about the relationship between those who create the technologies and the communities themselves.

 

© Esmee Wilcox 2019

Tags:  corporation  society  technology 

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Will automation do away with markets?

Posted By Tim Morgan, Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tim Morgan devotes his fifth blog post in our Emerging Fellows program to the role of automation in new dynamic systems of social self-governance. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Markets are social systems which facilitate transactional exchanges of property, goods, services, and information. Markets reallocate resources and enable distribution. Exchanges within and between markets broadly establish the expected value of subsequent transactions. Markets can span the globe or a single neighborhood. Markets have created widespread material wealth by spurring economic growth via productivity. Markets are the social structures which define the modern industrial era.

 

Markets in toto form the social system known as the Private Sector. The Private Sector defines a sphere of control over a vast section of human affairs, one that frequently jousts with the older Public Sector of government institutions.

 

Markets benefit society by creating more prosperity for more people than is possible by the Public Sector alone.  However, the Private Sector’s flaws are now obvious. Markets have no inherent systemic mechanism for mitigating the problems they cause, such as environmental harm or social divisiveness. Markets cannot price or own non-market externalities, so they try to ignore them. Markets simply want to do Market things and consider anything else to be a distraction or interference.

 

Markets only price in externalities when they are forced to via constraints like taxation, regulation, legal liability, or mass social pressure. The strength of the Private Sector lies in its ability to create economic value for individuals via Markets. Its weakness is that it is systemically blind to non-economic value.

 

The Public Sector is failing to moderate the externalised damage created by Markets. Luckily the same information technologies which accelerate Markets are also enabling the emergence of a new sector centered around non-economic value. Digital networks and automation are allowing people to connect in new ways towards common interests. What is emerging is a new Social Commons Sector. Shared information is their resource, automation is their tool, and enhancing common social value is their primary concern.

 

This new Social Commons is forming because networks and automation can connect anyone into new dynamic systems of social self-governance. It has been increasingly disruptive to business-as-usual for years. The Arab Spring, #MeToo, and recent schoolchildren climate change walkouts are just a few examples of its ad-hoc social organizing power. Networked social power is also influencing how Private Sector market entities work. Social enterprises like Benefit corporations measure themselves by both fiscal and social bottom-lines. Publicly held corporations are increasingly being held to diversity and sustainability standards by their shareholders and customers.

 

Other groups are automating acts of public good. Custom smartphone apps schedule free pickup and delivery of excess restaurant food for the homeless, coordinate community composting, report pollution, or alert virtual guardians to watch your GPS-tracked walk home. The Social Commons is an automation-enabled sector which is filling-in the small gaps and beginning to take big swings at big problems. This nascent sector is poised to interpenetrate and rewire the other sectors to solve the wicked problems they have created.

 

Markets are not going away any more than Institutions went away when Markets bloomed into power two centuries ago. Both the Public and Private Sectors are necessary and are here to stay. But both will have to reckon with the rising influence and power of a new networked Social Commons.

 

© Tim Morgan 2019

Tags:  automation  society  technology 

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What is driving inequality?

Posted By Felistus Mbole, Friday, May 17, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program investigates the causes of inequality in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

Global inequality has been on the increase for decades. There are fewer people living in poverty today yet global society is probably more economically unequal than at any other time in history. This trend poses obvious threats such as lack of social cohesion and sub-optimal economic performance. What is driving this inequality? What does this mean for the future?

 

There has been a continual shift from agriculture to other sources of livelihoods, accompanied by urbanisation.   The economic opportunities created by this shift require more skilled labour than agriculture. This has made it harder for the less formally educated to engage economically. If they manage to find employment in industry, the disparity between their pay and that of the more skilled is stark. The trend is likely to worsen as urbanisation increases.  

 

The constant today is the rapidly accelerating change in technology. Currently, skill-based technology is a key driver of income and economic growth. Sadly, the poor who have less skill are not benefitting as much from this technologically driven economic growth. The inequality gap thus continues to widen. The situation is likely to be sustained into the future unless remedial action is taken.  The introduction of simpler forms of technology such as use of mobile telephony presents hope.  

 

Closely accompanying this technological change is globalisation. Technology has enabled economic integration at a speed which was unimaginable a couple of decades ago. In pursuit of greater efficiency and effectiveness, organisations can open business offices in faraway countries for both production and distribution of goods and services. Offshoring of production to low-income countries creates employment opportunities, improving incomes and decreasing income disparities across states. This could, however, generate income disparities in the target country as the more skilled get a premium on their labour. A reduction in trade barriers and emergence of regional trade agreements has also played a role in expanding globalisation. Globalisation and technology are self-enforcing. Firms and individuals who have the resources to take advantage of globalisation and technology benefit most from it. This further compounds the inequality gap.

 

Another driver of inequality is government policy. Countries that have reported decreased inequalities have implemented policies that promote redistribution of income through social protection transfers and progressive taxation.  A significant share of national revenues in such states is spent on public services such as education and healthcare, and infrastructure. Sectors which support the livelihoods of the majority such as agriculture in agrarian economies are sufficiently funded. Such policies empower most of the citizens rather than benefiting a small minority. Although an effective driver of equality, government policy is highly subject to political will. Public corruption on the other hand acts as a tax on the poor. 

 

What does this mean for inequality? Not much can be done to slow down globalisation or the rapid change of technology. These trends are not negative in themselves. They present opportunities for realising a more equitable and sustainable society. Technology such as digital infrastructure can be used to effectively deliver public goods such as health and education at scale. In addition, progressive taxation and a clamp on public corruption could create a more equal society.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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What are the threats of growing inequality?

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program warns about the threats of inequality in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

 

A widely held belief is that the defining factor between the wealthy and poor members of society is their level of hard work. This is underpinned by the view that the poor can pull themselves out of their situation by their bootstraps. The proponents of this theory find it easy to justify growing global inequality. They probably feel secure in their status and are little bothered by the growing level of inequality. Are they truly secure or is this just an illusion? Let us examine the threats that growing inequality poses to society.

 

The global economy has witnessed growth for decades. This growth has been accompanied by increase in inequality in most regions and individual countries within these regions. If Piketty can be believed, the underlying factor to this is that the return on capital is greater than overall economic growth. While per capita growth has been sustained, there has been a more proportionate distribution of this growth among the various wealth segments.  The profit share often surpasses the wage share of GDP growth.

 

It would appear that economic growth will be sustained despite the inequality. So why bother? This is not the case. Growing inequality is potentially harmful to social cohesion. People find it hard to connect with those noticeably different from themselves. Inequality could result in natural tensions between the various economic groups. It could lead to tensions between the rich and the poor who feel disenfranchised.  It could also lead to loss of trust in the government and public institutions. The poor could begin to feel that the government has failed them or does not care about their plight. Inequality could be a threat to democracy and the rule of law as witnessed in the Arab uprising. Wealthy elites who assume power could implement policies to entrench their own interests at the expense of the poor.

 

Inequality also has economic consequences. Employment income is a key factor of inequality. Growing inequality means that those at the bottom of the economic pyramid in society would effectively experience a sustained erosion of their disposable income. They would not be able to invest in their personal development and that of their children through quality health and education. This would in turn decrease the quality of labour available in the economy. Their ability to contribute to the economic growth of their nations would also be impaired, further widening the inequality gap.  The end result would be a degradation of the supply side that perpetuates itself in a negative feedback loop.

 

What does this mean? Effective engagement of all sections of society is necessary for sustained and strong economic growth. There is a need to enable each citizen to contribute to and benefit from the economic growth of their country. This can be attained through investment in public goods and services such as health, education, and infrastructure. If the national cake is not shared, it is unlikely to grow as fast as it potentially could. It could even stagnate.

 

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  inequality  rights  society 

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What is the future of capitalism?

Posted By Administration, Thursday, January 17, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Felistus Mbole a member of our Emerging Fellows program envisions the future of capitalism in her first blog post in 2019. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Capitalism has the capacity to excite both love and hate in equal measure, depending on which side of the divide one stands. I will look at capitalism as it exists today and then explore these two questions: Is capitalism a good or bad thing for society? What is the future of capitalism?

Capitalism is a social phenomenon where the market players or owners of capital set prices based on demand and supply. The market eliminates inefficiencies with the aim to maximise profits. In the absence of competition or where it is minimal, monopolies and oligopolies result. There is a willingness among market players to adapt to change for greater efficiencies and more profits. This adaptability is typified by an ever-growing dynamism fuelled by technology and innovation. There is a constant search for new ways of doing things and new products. In capitalism, self-interest pays. The more capital one has, the more profits one is likely to make which further adds to what one has. Capitalism is self-reinforcing. Capitalists become wealthier as the providers of labour in society become poorer.

This classical capitalism is a free market economic system founded on the private ownership of the factors of production such as land, labour, capital, and entrepreneurship. In such an economy, there is minimal interference by the state and individuals have free will to make decisions regarding their property and labour – without infringing on the rights of others.

Capitalism in its pure form is almost non-existent. There are no free markets as such. The state intervenes through tax policies and by regulating markets to ensure that there is no manipulation. Left to their own devices, the owners of capital would oppress the providers of labour through dismal wages and poor working conditions. This is especially the case in situations of excess semi-skilled labour supply such as in Asia and Africa today.

Where there is strong competition, capitalism delivers value to the whole society. The contrary is true in monopolistic and oligopolistic situations where the benefits largely accrue to the owners of capital. The growing use of technology, especially automation, and the need to remain competitive has led to consolidation and concentration in many sectors. Deloitte cites technology as the number one driver of acquisitions and mergers in 2018. A lot of the wealth of companies today relates to economic rents from copyrights and patents related to technology and other soft forms of property. This is making competition a lot harder to achieve than in past decades. Globalisation has presented opportunities for capitalists to further their profits by expanding to markets previously beyond reach.

Despite all the fears and criticism, capitalism has delivered value to society.Globally, the last few decades have seen a greater decrease in inequality than in past centuries. However, there is growing inequality both across and within countries. There are segments of the population, even in progressive economies, being left behind which could lead to discontent and unhappiness. The increased use of technology has led to more demand for specialist skills and less use of unskilled labour.

The situation can only worsen with the prospect of immense automation in the second half of this century. This will be further exacerbated by the anticipated aging of society due to higher life expectancy in the next 50 years. The youth bulge in Africa and Asia will be no more. These two factors will result in high dependency ratios. Yet the need for human inputs to sustain the dynamism of markets through innovation, the essence of capitalism, will remain. The more educated who have cognitive skills that are valued by this capitalist economy will continue to be in demand. This will drive inequality between the skilled and unskilled segments of society further. A situation that is not sustainable.

Capitalism does not exist in isolation but in the bigger planetary system whose resources are bounded. Natural resources are dwindling and the need for humanity to live in harmony with nature for sustainability is escalating. The future of capitalism depends on the sustainability of the planet. Businesses thus need to abide by the nine planetary boundaries. Capitalists have great influence over society and are a key driver of the sustainability of the planet. It is the business of business to safeguard the planetary resources for itself and future generations.

What does all this mean for the future of capitalism? Capitalism in its current state is unsustainable. Capitalism needs to transform into a more responsible form. Mixed economies where capitalists address the inequalities in the societies by subsidising the incomes of those at the bottom are inevitable. Simultaneously, governments will need to ensure that everybody is given an opportunity to engage with and contribute to the economy. Governments can realise this by providing public goods such as education and healthcare which would in turn support capitalism. Both outcomes can be realised through progressive tax policies. States will also need to effectively regulate markets by establishing frameworks for property and contract rights, and planetary boundaries, and to provide a level playing for all market players.

© Felistus Mbole 2019

Tags:  capitalism  economics  society 

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Do you wonder how to ignite futures for a regenerative society?

Posted By Administration, Monday, December 3, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program publishes her twelfth blog post on the possibility of establishing a regenerative society. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

A growing and moving human population, as experienced in recent history, has expanding needs, wants, and desires. Such motivations have led to the creation of an

amplifying artificial universe of things that is at odds with existing resources. The tension obstructs resource regeneration. How might we ignite futures that alleviate that tension?

It seems that the artificial societal constructs established in past centuries, able to harmonise society at other historical crossroads, have not been able to keep up with the society of 2018. Could we ignite regenerative futures by redesigning these artificial societal constructs?

A metaphor to imagine the complexity of natural and artificial constructs in society could be a tree. Imagine the roots of a tree as representing the natural constructs of society, comprised of cultural dynamics and their intertwinement with nature. The trunk of the tree would represent the artificial constructs of society: organization, governance, and civic engagement. The interactions amongst societal organization, governance, and engagement would proliferate as branches, each with a different length. The forms of expressions we desire in society might spring out in the leaves of a tree. They could include our aims for freedom of speech, aspirations for literacy, anchoring our lives in values such as trust, or daily life enjoyments such as healthy eating.

The methods of understanding for how we might achieve those forms of expression would be ingrained within the stem of the tree. The imaginary stem would require the wisdom of sketching the unthinkable coupled with the making of artificial things, including intelligence. A vibrant tree both lives and regenerates. A vibrant society assures daily life in the context of a regenerative paradigm.

The vision might look naïve to many. A regenerative society might seem yet another utopia. Businesses must respond to the realities of making it to the next quarter, diminishing their ability bandwidth to consider longer time horizons. Sciences are anchored in evidence-based and deterministic causal requirements, challenging imagined future worlds that lack traditional proofs.

The vision might resonate with the humanities field. Artists and designers provoke our imagination. Social scientists raise awareness. They are more likely to anchor their voices in the complexity of human nature and its surrounding environment. However, they still struggle to find a common view on basic concepts such as what “social” means.

The vision makes sense to many inter-disciplinarians. The struggle is in finding a language that resonates across disciplines. Each defines a similar concept in different ways. Historically, multiple disciplines come to the table, present their view, listen to other opinions, and then leave without much progress in a common understanding and commitment to igniting regenerative action. Finding a common language doesn’t seem to work. Perhaps this is an indication that a common language does not matter?

Facilitating diverse dialogues that ignite action through societal engagement seems to register some progress though. Although timid, the discussions could gain vigour when supported by societal constructs fitted for 2018 and beyond. Could today’s changemakers get inspired by earlier generations of visionaries who, at times when societal complexities were exacerbated, created innovative policies or treaties that broke down convoluted environments and drove society forward?

 


© Monica Porteanu 2018


Tags:  artificial construct  society  vision 

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Where should the artificial societal constructs of tomorrow be rooted?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Updated: Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Monica Porteanu, a member of our Emerging Fellows program devotes her eleventh blog post to the artificial societal constructs. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

Society’s means to organize, govern, and civically engage are artificial constructs. They interact with each other and with the intuitive, non-artificial aspects of society. As one would expect, the interactions are in continuous motion. Consequently, over long stretches of time, the distances amongst societal constructs have varied. However, history has shown several moments in time when such distances and interactions functioned at an optimal level. Could those moments inspire our look into societal futures and the ability to act towards a preferred vision?

Society’s means of organization, the nation-state and its links to international law and diplomacy, were established in 1648 by the European Peace of Westphalia. The treaty brought peace and equality amongst nations, the states they lived in, and religions they practiced, ending centuries-old fights and empires. It defined the role and responsibilities of a state, its relation to the nation(s) on its territory, and other states. At the time the model registered such great success, the concepts of nation and state almost overlapped. The distance between them was minimal.

Society’s means of governance, the political-economic-social system, is optimal when politics balance the economic and social components, maintaining the similar size of and distances amongst the three.

Society’s engagement model relies on the concepts of citizenship and residency. Citizenship seems to be closely linked to that of the nation, since most individuals would acquire it at birth, based on their parents’ citizenship. In this sense, citizenship is also closely linked to one’s ethnicity. At the same time, residency seems to link more with the administrative functions related to territory and performed by the state. In a nation-state, citizenship and residency would be identical most of the times. The distance between them would be minimal. At the same time, citizenship seems to be the tool to participate in a nation’s politics as one would require that nation’s passport to vote and participate in its democratic system. Residency is the tool to exercise one’s rights and responsibilities related to the economy and society of that state.

History describes stories of flourishing periods. One could notice that some registered minimum distances amongst its artificial societal constructs. For example, during the golden age of ancient Greek civilization, in city-states, the concepts of nation and state, and those of citizenship and residency overlapped. During Westphalian times, the distance between nation and state, citizenship and residency, and politics, on one side, and economics and society was almost nonexistent. What both these periods seem to have in common is that they operated in a network of entities that valued more local administration, e.g., the city-state rather than the broader environment.

Over the last century or so, economic dominance, migration trends, and technological evolution seem to have contributed to the decline of the nation-state, society’s way of organization. The political-economic-social balance in societal governance has also been affected. Such decline and imbalance have created confusion between the meaning of societal civic engagement, i.e., citizenship and residency. Considering the global trend toward urbanization, should society’s artificial constructs be rooted in city-level everyday life, across networks of similar environments? What would it take for urban residents to be citizens too?

Their rights and responsibilities would straddle democratic political-economic-social participation within the boundaries of their city-level everyday life. The city would resemble a state. What would be different from past flourishing periods is that not one, but multiple nations would live in this state, as it already is the case in large urban areas. Such a model would take us back to society’s non-artificial, intuitive, and fluid transitions and interactions of cultures and the questions raised by such dynamics.


© Monica Porteanu 2018

Tags:  artificial construct  citizenship  society 

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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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