Competition and Co-operation

Having watched Rich Hall’s recent excellent BBC4 programme, ‘Working for the American Dream’ on the development of the USA, and coming across the United Nations focus on sustainable development, led me to this reflection.

The USA was built on conquering supposed virgin lands, and people making loads of money by exploiting those lands, their resources, indigenous peoples, and the people who actually did the work. The system was essentially competitive, and at the top the US system still is. It appears to be still dominated by those with money and power, and there is an apparent aversion to co-operative ideals – hence the bizarre denigration of ‘socialism’ as in some way bad, and the refusal to countenance universal health care.

Due to the size of the USA and its economy, this system has to some degree been exported across the world, but significantly resisted by more co-operative or collaborative approaches, notably in Europe, where provision of social and health care are regarded as important. US disdain of this has become clear, in the shape of the Trump administration, which even appears to seek to undermine the great collaboration of the EU.

Meanwhile, the UN wrestles with the issue of sustainability in a world of incredible challenges on climate, biodiversity, resource depletions and all their consequences. What is clear is that there are now no virgin lands to be colonised, and indeed we must create some to give nature adequate sanctuaries. It is also clear that the world’s problems can only be resolved by co-operative approaches.

Of course, in psychological terms the adolescent stage of development of ego is characterised by differentiation and competition. As we develop and grow psychologically we naturally open up more to love, empathy and co-operation. A similar process operates at a ‘nation state’ level.

The world cannot wait for the USA to ‘grow up’, but if only it would.

Featured image shows tug of war at 1904 Olympic Games, St. Louis,
by Charles Lucas via Wikimedia Commons

 

Satyagraha

Resurgence and Ecologist magazine is now in its 50th year, and its evergreen chief editor Satish Kumar is in his 80th year. In the May/June 2016 issue he reminded me of the significance of MK Gandhi’s concept of satyagraha, which can be roughly translated as non-violence, but in an active way that refuses to submit to wrong or co-operate with it in any way, with a dedication to truth. This is similar to the reasonably successful approach of Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in USA.Read More »

A psychological take on Brexit

Consider a man or woman. As individuals our job in the early part of life is to develop the psychological ego, so that we become effective members of society. As this process proceeds, we also begin to become aware of this ego entity we have created, and to transcend this to some degree – to co-operate with friends, family, co-workers and so on. In the limit, we realise that we are all interconnected and our job is to contribute something to the whole – which is what we really came to this earth for. Ultimately we are spiritual entities whose job is to transcend that ego we ourselves created.

Now consider the nation state. Its life process is no different. In the early stages of nationhood we develop a strong identity and go through various processes of self assertion, looking after our people and not worrying too much about others. Of course, wars happen from time to time, we form alliances and these and the wars and the problems get bigger and bigger. In the limit the nation realises that its job is to contribute something to the whole rather than just look after number 1. Thus were created the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United Nations.

None of these bodies is perfect. All have unsatisfactory characteristics that need to change. Just as within the nation state it is people’s job to work to improve it, so within these greater bodies it is the nation state’s job to work to improve the institution to more perfectly accord with what is needed. So it is the UK’s job to stay within the EU and work with our brothers and sisters (for that is really historically what they are) to improve the Union.

To withdraw and attempt to go our own way appears to be a nostalgic attempt by the national ego to revert to an earlier, less co-operative level, a primitive ‘sovereignty’ such as in the days of empire. In a world with mounting problems, particularly related to resource depletion and global warming, this is precisely the wrong way to go. The need is for nation states to transcend their nation-egos to a greater degree in order to satisfactorily address these problems.

The campaign for the UK to leave the EU is essentially appealing to our immature ego to step back from the great progress made so far. Fear and selfishness is its name.

Featured image courtesy of agsandrew and Shutterstock

 

A decent life

The recent interventions of David Milband and Angeline Jolie Pitt in the debate about refugees are timely and appropriate.

The refugee system across the world is in crisis, at a time when we can expect massive increases in the numbers, due to increasing effects of global warming and related warfare. Chickens are coming home to roost.

As Miliband says,

  • There are currently 60 million displaced persons around the world.
  • The average time someone remains a refugee is 17 years.
  • A total of 80% of refugees have remained without any economic status for over a decade.

As Jolie Pitt says

  • people feel “angry” and “cheated” by the huge numbers crossing borders around the world… eroding public confidence in the ability of institutions in power to deal with the issue.
  • It has created the risk of a race to the bottom, with countries competing to be the toughest in the hope of protecting themselves whatever the cost or challenge to their neighbours and despite their international responsibilities.

It seems a time when political ‘leaders’ lack vision and empathy. Why don’t we give the UN the resources to really get on and solve the problem, before it gets many times worse – and if necessary create ‘new frontiers’ that will provide a good living and employment and education for all refugees. Central Asia has been mentioned, but there must be other possibilities such as greening and solar farming parts of the Sahara.

Is there really a problem of resources? This is the United Nations of the Earth! Try a simple thought experiment. Each central bank, at the same time, ‘creates’ say 1% of its annual money supply (out of thin air) and puts it in an account to be spent by the UN. Since it happened to all currencies at the same time there can be little effect of devaluing one against another.

Maybe not the right answer, but it shows that the problem is one of political will, and is not insoluble. But of course it would depend on a massive parallel effort to keep corruption in check.

Retreating inside the walls of our nation-state-egos [eg Brexit] might make us feel temporarily safe, but is long-term self-defeating in a world that will become increasingly unstable because of this lack of empathy.

Everyone deserves a decent life.

Featured image of Rwandan refugee camp in Zaire by CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons