How on Earth can we live together – How can we agree to agree?
The Tällberg Forum 2011 will be taking place on 29 June to 3 July 2011 in Sigtuna, Sweden. The theme for the Forum is “How on earth can we live together – How can we agree to agree?”. It will once again be a conversation about the whole – and in the interests of the whole. Global problem-solving mechanisms are not emerging to deal with global problems, and national sovereignty is often proving an effective obstacle to international agreements. At the same time many new systems solutions to systems problems are emerging on the ground around the world. But injustice and inequalities between and within nations are rising, and in the end, no progress will be made unless people agree on both the nature of the problem and on what the steps towards a sustainable and inclusive future look like. This is what the conversations at the Tällberg Forum 2011 in Sigtuna will be about.
Both the natural environment and human activities are under extraordinary pressures. We all know where they come from:
· population growth and changing demography
· changing human behaviors and new dominant aspirations
· the scarcity of resources and the need for economic growth
· the relentless emergence of new revolutionizing technologies
· the fading relevance of traditional, political institutions and organizations
· the manifest fragilities of the financial systems
· the globalization of value creation, markets and governance solutions
· the rising reactions and oppositions to these trends. The evolution of the contradictory nature of human beings.
There is wide agreement that humankind is facing an order of complexity never before encountered. We might find ourselves in a double bind, neither understanding fully the functions and workings of nature nor the consequences of our own inventions and makings. If anything, this is an age of ambiguity, of flux. In control? Out of control?
The institutions and technologies that have been a prerequisite for – and a result of – the unprecedented economic growth of the last century have contributed to the enhanced risks and fragilities that we now have to deal with. The paradox is that new technologies and new institutions will be the prime solution to the problems that the old institutions and the old thinking have contributed to.
At the heart of today’s human predicament lies the procurement of energy, as a prerequisite for all activities. And all energy is derived out of nature. There is rising hope that imminent access to cheap and highly efficient solar power will solve this predicament, but the energy systems in place continue to add the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming.
Also, increased economic resources – to use for education, health, food and improved living standards – are necessary to meet the demands of population growth and poverty eradication. Billions of jobs need to be created over the next decades – but what kind of jobs? The context is one of great deficits – government budget, trade and accounts – for many nations, including the US, Japan and several European nations. To tackle them leads to political unrest, destabilized institutions, and sometimes even difficulties in upholding the rule of law, international conventions and human rights.
In parallel, the world has become increasingly interconnected. Independent nations have become interdependent, but continue to implement policies in their “national” interests. We live out and play out the contradictions. Old concepts, such as national sovereignty, and old institutions, such as the nation-state, are no longer applicable in their original form to the real world we live in. This reality is not reflected in how we go about our affairs. The present negotiation regimes and legislative processes are not working, be it in the field of climate, energy production, disarmament, security regimes, trade negotiations, migration or humanitarian assistance.
Of course, all is not bleak and there are however reasons to be hopeful. New efficient technologies are emerging. People are connected like never before. An entrepreneurial awakening is one of the most powerful drivers of our time. Young people are bringing new ideas and strong passion to the discussion. But there are also strong contradictory trends of fundamentalism, populism, nationalism and racism that are reactive to these underlying major trends. This is a time full of contradictions which makes borders, networks and flows even more difficult to govern and add to the complexity of implementing cohesive long-term policies and learning processes.
For 2010-2011, the Tällberg Foundation is designing a set of conversations to help us better understand the systems nature of the problématique. We will ask the hard questions of how we possibly could come to agreement on how to unbundle the interlinked and interdependent risks and possibly address them. How can we agree to agree?
An entry-point into the conversation is to take a close look at how leading world cultures have developed their methods and forms to come to their agreements. An underlying assumption is that the narrowness of nation-based cultural identity is becoming increasingly dysfunctional in a world of tight and close interdependencies. We have to move out of a historically narrow definition of what a “we” represent into a definition of a wider concept of “we”.
An inspiring vision: the Global Thing
The ting is a centuries old assembly of free people to agree to resolve disputes peacefully and to make decisions democratically from which evolved norms and the rule of law. It is of Scandinavian/North Germanic origin and its vestiges remain today in the names of Scandinavian parliaments, courts and county councils.
Assemblies similar to the ting can be found in the Anglo-Saxon folkmote (meeting of the people), the direct democracy of the New England “town meeting” dating from the 17th century, the African circle of elders under the baobob and indigenous meetings such as the Longhouse of the Onondaga Nation in North America and the peace ring of Peru.
As in the early sagas, the ting is represented by the circle. Those outside the ting were outlaws. Those who come to the ting come to agree on the problem.
The evolution of the Old Norse word þing – thing, in English – to mean the object “thing” derives from the Latin causa –a judicial lawsuit – and the French chose –thing – and exemplifies contradictory human nature in the rule of law. The Scandinavian ting fostered processes of consensus based upon the rights of human beings in an appointed communal meeting-place. Roman law established the adversarial nature of justice based upon object or property rights, the thing as legal cause of action between parties, a legal contest inter partes or ex parte.
This schism lies at the heart of the question: how can we agree to agree? The causa focuses on the problem at issue from the perspectives of sides and their interest in the problem. The ting assembles parties as parts of a wider community to resolve problems and disputes.
The Global Thing harmonizes the schism and stands for both the assembly of free people and the legal cause, the object of the assembly, the thing or problem to be solved.
Today we point to specific disputes and argue from our specific interests to the problems: energy and food supply, water resources, human rights, trade frameworks, financial regulations, terrorism, etc. We make many agreements on many such problems brokered by the compromises of interests, money and power between sides.
Climate change is such a problem. Copenhagen is such a result. The Doha Round is such a problem and such a result. Integration is such a problem, as are migration, the public debt, criminality, housing, healthcare, trafficking., etc. All inter partes. Between sides. Afghanistan is a problem, now a 30 year war waged in turn by superpowers taking sides for or against. Ex parte. From one side.
Can we agree to agree? As with the central question posed by the Tällberg Forum – How on earth can we live together? – this question can be asked at every level, between two people, two nations or regions, among ourselves in a globalized world, as human beings with nature.
This question – can we agree to agree? – can be applied before any and all issues, disputes, conflicts and challenges. The question defines the prerequisite problem. Me, you, us. Only we can agree to solutions that determine the decency of our relations.
To step into the Global Thing is to agree to agree. To acknowledge a wider concept of “we”. To remain outside the Thing is to be outside the law, an outlaw.
This question leads unambiguously to responsibility. We define this as the courage when responsibility is needed. The need to join the Thing, the circle. The need to take part, not to take sides. The need to agree. Failure to meet this responsibility makes cowards of us all.
This is our common problem. The failure to agree to agree upon the need to agree. In any instance at issue, with every need for such responsibility – climate, energy, water, integration, food, housing, poverty – new questions emerge:
How can we dissolve the process of finding a solution from the interest of the parties?
How can we remove both the problem and the solution from their perceived ownership to serve specific interests?
The Global Thing asks can we agree to agree and assume the responsibility that is needed, not by taking sides, but by taking part in solutions according to the right and good, from equity and conscience – ex aequo et bono – to secure the decency of the human system, to establish new norms for life on Earth and to reclaim our credibility to promise hope.
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