Year end, arbitrary limitations and the relativity of doing good.

It’s this time of the year, when others write beautiful speeches or look back at what has happened over the last twelve months. Unfortunately, I’m not a person of beautiful words[1]; nevertheless I dare reflecting a bit over time and new beginnings.

How relative New Year Days are know at least all among us who are at the same time exposed to Gregorian and Chinese calendars. To me it always feels a bit odd when, in the last week of December, my Asian business colleagues send me best wishes for the New Year, knowing that theirs won’t be due until a bit later, in January or February of the following year. Disregarding the relativity of time, year by year we all celebrate some “random” day as it would be the beginning of something new (or only that particular day would have the capacity for doing so), yet not all of us at the same day. That recognized, we must acknowledge that not only time is relative.

The same is true for borders. The environment knows no national borders, a fact that environmental protection and global justice experts have suggested for decades and which in 2013 became more evident than ever before. We need to look at and protect the Earth as a whole if we want to avoid unstoppable deterioration. Some of us, who did exactly this, ended up being jailed in Russia for some absurd charges. Luckily enough they all were freed again, and what for me was the most meaningful event in the ending year, helped many people around the globe understand that despite of being five to twelve some among us use any opportunity to further exploit newly available natural resources[2], destroying very sensitive and so far almost untouched ecosystems. More importantly, the action of the Arctic 30 team also proved how citizens without the limitation of national borders can stand up for something that matters to us all.
In big contrast to their action stood all those who avoid global consensus by hiding behind their nationality.

COP19 in Warsaw was the best example of how even in the 21st century certain ladies and gentlemen are still not able to lead political debates in the manner of grown-ups, constantly hiding their incompetence behind “matters of national interest”. Unfortunately, it’s them who make the decisions for our planet: a small[3] elite of people that don’t share the sorrows of millions of global citizens who as a consequence of climate change will lose everything they own and who will be forced to relocate[4] within the next few decades. An elite, that eats and sleeps very far away from the 2.6 billion people who live on less than two dollars per day, and far enough from the 80% of world citizens who earn less than ten dollars a day.
Environmental protection is no priority for them, nor is global justice, because both would work against their interests in getting richer by exploiting the poor and/or common goods.
To them, nationalism is exactly the right means to glue together a system that would no longer work were the poorer 80% to find out that they should actually not address the “foreigner” with their anger over daily injustice done to them, but those responsible for it, who are the leading elite of their own country. Unfortunately, they are blind as well and consequently, nationalism has in many countries become the leading voice again: Spain, Australia, Norway, Iceland, Austria….the list is never-ending.

“Tradition is the first refuge of scoundrels, before they are shaken out, and have to scurry to patriotism.”
Raj Patel, in: Stuffed & Starved

Marx might have been wrong in his prediction that communism would help to overcome classes and their fight against one another, yet he came definitely closer to reality than any other political scientist seeing that in a capitalistic society people would be alienated from their work[5] and that modern societies would be divided into those who own capital (controlling the system) and those who don’t own anything (the controlled)[6].
It is exactly the mentioned alienation from their work that lets people do horrible things, believing to be doing the right thing, as Hannah Arendt correctly identified in her book about Eichmann[7]. Ironically it was a false feeling of patriotism that let Jewish citizens from around the world condemn Arendt for her work without even having understood a small percentage of the meaning and value of it; lack of objectivity being part of the reason why we as a society didn’t make any benefit of her insight[8].
Seeing today’s global challenges through Arendt’s eyes, we will find that Abbott, Napthine, Putin, Rajoy and Co are actually not evil, but all obsessed with goals that are totally wrong, and which they pursue with such vehemence because they believe in them being the right thing to do. If we manage to clear their minds[9] and make them work for the good thing, we might have a chance to direct politics into a meaningful direction.

Persons, who in the 21st century still believe that nationalism was the right means to protect them from harm, are not only blinded, but fooled by their elite fellow-citizens who abuse their county citizenship pretending to be equal partners. Whereas nationalism might have protected members of a geographical entity with strong military power from physical harm by a foreign intruder in the middle ages, such concepts are in 2014 no more than absurd concepts; concepts which in a world that we know not to be flat do more harm than good to the vast majority of global citizens[10].
Dividing world citizens into different “classes” separated by borders according to some random idea of nationality does not only help the elite in each country to further exploit the poor, but it also prevents us from protecting nature and common goods as citizens of one single world.

Only once we start to think as equal partners on a planet with limited resources will we be able to address those issues that urgently need to be solved together. Consequently, reconsidering our perception of nationality, citizenship and usefulness of the system we support might be a good start into the new year.

All the best for 2014 to all of you!

[1] Recently, I’ve been told that my blog was just about complaining. I’m sorry if readers feel so and would like to add that if I’m criticising, then this wasn’t to complain but rather to point at room for improvement. I understand my critique in the Kantian sense of criticism, which is an exploration of perceptions, not a prosecution of facts.

[2] The Arctic and Antarctica are the two only remaining places on this planet that have so far been saved from major direct human degradation, mainly due to their remoteness. Due to climate change these places become now better accessible, and already, companies like Shell and Gazprom run there to exploit and destroy what belongs to all of us: part of a system that needs to be protected not to lose the complete stability of the whole system.

[3] Well, small in relative terms (e.g. compared to the global human population). Considering of how poor the outcome of those COPs usually is, the 10’000 or so representatives from almost 200 countries still seems like a lot.

[4] To who knows where, given that climate refugees are not yet accepted as refugees anywhere in the world. See also: Who will host future climate change refugees.

[5] and hence what they create

[6] See Marx, 1848. The Communist manifesto and Marx, 1867. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy.

[7] Hannah Arendt, 1963. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

[8] A short summary: Hannah Arendt has in Eichmann in Jerusalem come to the conclusion that it is not people who are evil, but the alienation from what they are doing that makes them doing evil things. Consequently, Eichmann, himself not evil but a man of very high intelligence and following the orders of his bosses, became a very effective killer, by “automatizing” the slaughtering of thousands of Jews in a more efficient way using trains to transport them in huge numbers instead of having them walk one by one over very far distances. The same technique is nowadays used to slaughter millions of animals worldwide on a daily basis, without anyone protesting, but rather applauding for very successful logistics.
Ironically, Arendt (herself Jewish) was vehemently attacked and condemned by the Jewish community for what she had found. They were not able to understand the content of her work nor to separate their own biography from pure political science, a gift that Hannah Arendt had like no one else and which made her become what she was: one of the most objective, analytical and brilliant political scientists of all time. Unfortunately, it seems that only few people have chance and capacity to read her works.

[9] I agree that some of them probably need more than just words, and that a knock on the head here and there might be necessary or at least speed-up the process.

[10] At least the 80% that live under 10 dollar per day, rather even more.


About blaubear

Born in 1973 in a small village in rural Switzerland and into a society largely dominated by cows (not only was the human population of one-hundred-and-forty outnumbered by them, but politics driven by unreasonable subsidies for diary products) I was connected with nature from early age on. Observing nature on one hand and the deficiencies of a dysfunctional Swiss agricultural policy with farmers that had lost connection to the land that provided their income on the other, I soon started to question society and the meaning of life. Suffering also under a farcical public education I developed curiosity to discover on my own. That was how I soon learned that little of what I had been taught was true. Skepticism and interaction with people from for me new cultures fostered my interest for the world and eagerness to leave a life shaped by federalistic layman-ship. At the age of twenty-three I hit the road for the first time, an event that later translated into passion. Traveling between cultures has since become part of my life. At the age of thirty-three I finally realized my dream and did a degree in Environmental Engineering from which I graduated in 2009, only to leave Switzerland once more for my "real home" Spain. Unfortunately, the stay was a short one: a couple of months later I was offered a job in Southeast Asia, where I worked and also lived (with some interruptions, e.g. I live in Melbourne since late 2012) ever since. Having worked for a Japanese company earlier in my life, I soon felt captured again by Asian culture and thinking which makes a lovely contrast to my European heritage. My journey through different countries and cultures has taught me that regardless of how different our thinking and values are, no matter what approaches we take, we all can learn from each other. And if we are open enough to see the common instead of pointing out the differences, then we have a chance to live in harmony and peace: Life is all about integration, not exclusion! It's an old wisdom that "knowledge is power", as such I never get tired of being around new people, having interesting talks, and reading lots of good books. I hope that my blog can contribute to the conversation.
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2 Responses to Year end, arbitrary limitations and the relativity of doing good.

  1. Pingback: How royals can change the world | Ideas for a greener environment, a fairer society and a future driven by sustainability

  2. Pingback: The WTO and nationalism as a contradiction to sustainable development and global equity | Ideas for a greener environment, a fairer society and a future driven by sustainability

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