Advice and Consent: thoughts for a twenty-third century

Thirty-nine years ago Paul McCartney wondered where he would be on his 64th birthday.

I have been 54 for some months now and, as I contemplate the coming decade, I wonder whether Paul asked the right question. Why not ask, “when he’s two hundred”? in 2167?

The practical answer is, of course, that “two hundred” doesn’t rhyme with “shut the door” and so he might have re-written the song to make it work. And then, besides telling a story, music is about entertainment; Who would buy a song about scarce resources? Finally, who’s to say it would be any fun living two hundred years, or, that the world would be a better place for such longevity? The patriarchs of old aren’t around to tell us and I’m not sure that I would believe anybody among living.

The 200-year question wasn’t asked in 1967 probably because we didn’t know then what we know today about genetics and planetary interconnectedness. We could not possibly have comprehended the implications of population growth a mere forty years ago. We lived then, in a never-never-land of unlimited resources and a brave new world of science and technology.

I do not disparage this heritage; it could not have been otherwise. There was insufficient critical mass of humanity to anticipate let alone comprehend such developments, just as today there is an unwillingness to accept the moral and economic imperative of third-world solidarity. If we were intellectually unprepared then, are we any better prepared today?

I think so, if only because we now ask the question. We have looked mortality in the eye and are stronger for it. Here then are a few modest thoughts for the New Year.

2007 will be a year for the practice of planetary consciousness:

a year for thinking people to continue their challenge of received ideas about “good” and “bad” and so, to practice long-term consciousness, the two-hundred year outlook for instance, even if only in their own lives.

a year in which good people look at themselves in the mirror and ask whether they live with empathy, whether they are growing their understanding of the connectedness of life?

a year in which enlightened self-interest becomes the guiding ethic of thinking men and women who ask what they can do for a better twenty-third centennary (of the christian era, of course — here is material for yet another ethnocentric debate!)

The question of the twenty-third centennary begs the question: How should we see the twenty-third centennary?

I will not be around in the year 2167, and so would not wish something for myself. Nor would I wish something for my children whom I know, or my children’s children to whom I am introduced from time to time — to my great pleasure! Two hundred years is approximately two and a half life times, somewhere between 8 and 10 generations which makes for alot of genetic experimentation, alot of “cultural water under the bridge”.

The question of what I want for the twenty-third centennary is not merely a rhetorical rendition of a pious wish and I most emphatically reject any such soft and fuzzy platitudes as “healthy environment”, “world at peace” or “social justice for all of God’s creatures”.

What interests me is the hard and eminently practical: “What will it take to make such a world a reality?” and “What can I do today to help forumulate such a vision?”

From the height of my 54 years, from my experience, readings and general culture, I can say without any doubt that such idyllic outcomes would not be possible without a planetary enforcement system, and by “enforcement” I mean, recognized authority.

Human society would not be possible without the formality we think of as “advice and consent”. When we seek a neighbour’s advice we defer to his wishes. The neighbour may grant or withhold assent. If he also has authority you may be bound by his response. What is sometimes extended as mere courtesy to a neighbour, at other times, defines an individual’s relationship to a group, and even, of one group to another, thus forming a “comity”.

Such a comity, whether of “nations”, states within a federation or individuals in a club is a neighbourhood network of “proximities”.

A “comity” of Carribbean nations exists under the aegis of the North American superpower. There are a North Atlantic comity and a Latin American comity. The European comity is anchored in the principles of the Treaty of Rome and a growing vision of European union. An African comity is defined by East-West competition for natural resources. There is a Central Asian comity defined as shared history, religion and energy resources. There is an “Islamic” comity defined largely by opposition to neo-colonial cultural imperialism. In short, there are as many “comities” as there are membership groups.

The “international arena” is where these interest groups meet, negotiate and resolve their differences. What these groups lack are the coercive power to enforce group decisions. They exist in a limited fashion but do not, in any measurable sense constitute an authority.

Is politics the answer? Probably not. But politics implies a process which, if freely engaged, binds those who are so engaged. The outcome of any process of engagement is an agreement on deferrence and assent which engages the comity, universally and without exception.

So my first act for 2007 is a political act to engage freely in the struggle for the long term.

I have joined a group of like-minded individuals who share a vision for Aix-en-Provence. Would this be a vision for France or for Europe? I don’t know. But wherever it leads, if it does not ask the 200-year question, I will have no part of it.

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