“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Back in March, a lost Malaysian airliner (milked for as much entertainment-news value as the cable networks could squeeze out of it) shoved the Ukrainian crisis off the headlines. Now another Malaysian airliner disaster (involving exactly the same model as the still unaccounted for MH370) has occurred, bringing the Ukrainian crisis front and center again with a vengeance. Metaphysics is a bitch.
The world has gone mad, and yet most people carry on with their lives as if it’s just the new normal. The shoot-down of MH17 over eastern Ukraine, filled with passengers from around the world (including the world’s leading AIDS researchers) is a global tragedy still being cast in American and British media as either a whodunit, or an international game of realpolitik between the US and the USSR…I mean America and Russia.
Beyond the knee-jerk finger pointing, to mix a physiological metaphor, it seems pretty clear what happened. Of course, it could turn out that the Ukrainian military accidentally shot down the Malaysian airliner, as it did with Siberian Airlines flight in 2001, in which 78 people, mostly Russians, were killed. But almost certainly Russian separatists, armed by sophisticated surface to air missiles provided by Putin’s mischief-making Russia, shot down the airliner, thinking it was a Ukrainian military transport plane like the one they’d downed only days earlier.
“We don’t have time for propaganda,” President Obama said. “We don’t have time for games.” He then proceeded to engage and indulge in both by adding, “This is happening because of Russian support.”
Both sides—the fraying Ukrainian government and its newfound American ally, and the thuggish separatists and their Russian overlords—are engaged in a full-fledged propaganda war that underlies and overarches an increasingly deadly and dangerous global conflict.
During the Cold War, America and the West never lost sight of the fact that Russia had, like us, thousands of nuclear warheads ready to launch on a minute’s notice. They still do, as do we.
Yet now President Obama leads a growing chorus on both sides of the Atlantic calling for ‘isolating’ Putin’s Russia completely, thereby pushing their backs to the wall. Pushing the defunct international order, which Obama is so found of citing yet so feckless in actually supporting, can only worsen an already volatile situation. Do we really want to raise the Cold War from the dead, and fight it all over again?
Finger pointing, even and perhaps especially when culpability is clear, only exacerbates conflict. The choice isn’t between nuclear confrontation and lily-livered appeasement. Even Ronald Reagan understood that. The choice is between a global vision and response, and a throwback to Cold War mentality and reactiveness.
If the resolution of this and other intractable conflicts is not through the fast fading ‘international order,’ and nation-state games played out with increasing indifference on a global stage, then where does it lie?
It begins with realizing that the United States no longer has any ground to stand on as the moral leader of so-called free world. It begins with realizing that the post-Cold War order, based on the ‘sole remaining superpower’ idea, was a non-starter from its conception, and that the post-World War II order is history.
An internal collapse always precedes an external catastrophe, which finally signifies the end of an old order. That’s the real meaning of 9.11. But before another catastrophe occurs (made by states and not stateless terrorists), the foundation for a new order has to be poured, or a turn in a new direction cannot be made. We saw this with the end of bi-polar order and the prematurely peaceful end of the decades long superpower standoff.
Because no alternative, however small, was in place when the USSR economically and politically collapsed, and the US morally and socially collapsed (which occurred simultaneously in the early ‘90’s), the world descended into chaos. It happened slowly at first during the Clinton years, epitomized in seemingly remote places like Srebrenica and Rwanda. Then it accelerated, risibly and visibly under Bush-Cheney, with 9.11 and Iraq, both of which were propagandized to the hilt by the old media and the likes of Thomas Friedman.
The world stands on the brink of catastrophe, which all thinking people see coming. And yet leaders and citizens alike are paralyzed, unable to conceive of another course. It’s a monumental failure of imagination, not just by politicians and government leaders, but also by activists and religious leaders.
A global society requires a global polity. Something new urgently needs to be created, a new component in the world’s political architecture arising from the new global reality, and the ashes of the old order. I’ve advocated for a non-power-holding body of world citizens, independent of national governments and the UN system, in East Africa, the evolutionary birthplace of both ancient and modern humans. But whatever form a global polity takes, it will have no axe to grind or national interest to serve. By putting forth a vision for humanity, with workable responses to urgent crises across the spectrum of the growing human crisis, it would light the way ahead, and hold national governments and international institutions responsible for their actions and inactions with respect to humanity as a whole.
The principle is simple—the sovereignty of humanity can and must trump, in tangible form, the defunct premise of the sovereignty of nation states, and the international order built on its foundation. Increasing interconnectedness and technology now make an effective, non-elitist global polity, redounding to the expansion of democracy at the national level, possible, indeed feasible; the growing worldwide crisis, which is rendering the collapse of the old order impossible to deny, make it imperative.
If you think, ‘this has nothing to do with me,’ think again. Like it or not, we’re all citizens of the world in a global society now. If you ever want to fly again without fear of being shot down, open your heart, use your head and raise your voice.