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The Global Players: Governments, Civil Society and Business

Spring/Summer 2004 (by Rinaldo Brutoco | Kosmos Journal)

GN3 Editorial Comment: Many are beginning to see the tri-sectoral or threefold nature of global social life through the activity of civil society, governments and business. There is also increasing understanding of the essential and complementary roles of the institutions of culture, polity and economy in the pursuit of integral sustainable development. As the article below discusses, the balance of power is shifting and new paradigms are necessary in order to harness a growing global collective intelligence towards sustainable development. Economic power implies greater responsibility and business must be conducted "in a way that is sustainable for society and the planet."

What started out as an interview with Rinaldo Brutoco by Nancy Roof turned into a full-scale article. Rinaldo was so articulate that after the first question he was able to carry the ball alone ending in 15 pages of valuable text. We have pared it down for this issue and will include more in future publications. What catapulted Rinaldo into action was the following question: Governments are losing as business and civil society are gaining global power and influence. Sovereign states arose with the Industrial Age and economic progress. In the 21st century they are no longer capable of furthering economic growth so people have begun to look to business and civil society for leadership. How do you see the relationship between these three global forces?

This is one of my favorite topics. You are asking about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the three sectors of global society. Sovereign nation states operate unilaterally, bilaterally and through multilateral institutions that they create such as the United Nations. Civil Society is equally diverse. Business encompasses both the local employee who makes coffee and donuts on the corner or serves a taco on the streets of Tijuana all the way up to the largest corporation in the world.

Sovereign States in a Global World

Let's start with governments. They are the easiest to understand. From the late 1600s to 1700s all the way up through the 20th century you find a period of formation of national sovereign states. The concept of sovereignty is a post-medieval concept. It was the solution to social organizations at a time when society had very different interests, challenges and opportunities. As is the case with most if not all institutions they often survive long past their useful viability. They were created four hundred years ago, became the dominant political force and are now irrelevant.

Why? Because the concept of sovereign nation states has little legitimacy in a world that is inherently global. That vendor selling tacos in Tijuana is in global commerce. The cost of the meat he puts in the tacos and the cost of the corn tortilla are based on global commerce and international treaties. But we believe the fiction that somehow because he is doing this on one side of the Mexican-American border it is more relevant than if he did it on the other. You can play this fiction out through endless iterations. American trucking interests say that each Mexican truck illegally stopped within 50 miles of the border violates NAFTA. They do it because they have the power to do what they want, despite the fact that they have a treaty to the contrary. They are trying to resist the nature of global commerce even with their next-door neighbor. That silliness extends ad infinitum. Why? We don't live in nation states anymore. We are global citizens.

About 25 years ago people started asking me where I was from. I had the good fortune to be born in Canada, raised in the U.S., and lived overseas for extended periods of time. I've often wished that some green skinned people would land in a saucer. It would be the best thing in the world because then we would realize that someone with brown, yellow or red skin would look very normal. We'd see the contrast so dramatically that we'd all come together.

Although it is humorous to mentally picture little green men from space, it is nonetheless an apt way to encounter a very serious subject. Obviously, we are all part of one global family. That is our primary allegiance -- if you doubt that for a minute, ask an astronaut who has viewed our beautiful blue planet suspended in the vast void of outer space and they will validate this point. Hence, forces inherently larger than they can control affect sovereign states, which are historical and artificial divisions within our home planet. Worse yet, their attempt to control by utilizing these artificial separations is causing an acceleration of the breakdown of human society.

Air knows no borders. Acid rain knows no borders. Oceans know no borders. Coral reefs know no borders. In fact from 150 miles in space you can't see any borders at all with the possible exception of the original Great Wall of China, which today is not a border. This shows the utter irrelevancy of borders. That we hang on to the national thing gets us into unlimited amounts of mischief.

A modern day example would be that the U.S. has gone to war with Iraq. Apart from questions of morality and complex geopolitical issues, it is obvious that national sovereignty is a major issue. Let's forget that for a second and say: You know there was a guy in my little village of Ojai shooting at the police. The police are entitled to go take him out. That is a legitimate function of police power properly used. Therefore, if the world's village chooses to pass rules and certain individuals choose not to follow them, they should be subject to the normal processes of law. This means arrest by an internationally appropriate police force and trial in an appropriate international forum.

The International Court is the proper place for international crimes to be tried. I regret to say that the U.S. refused to sign on to the International Court. Let's get on with it and disband the armies of the world, which have no useful purpose, so that we can have a police force that is effective. Police issues include global terrorism, money laundering, illegal conduct of corporations and individuals all over the planet who are engaging in anti-social behavior beyond the reach of one sovereign state and clearly affecting the entire global community. Nation states that cling to their old sense of power create endless mischief.

The aggregate of individual sovereign states at the United Nations is equally as mischievous. It is not because the UN isn't well intentioned. I have profound respect for Kofi Annan. At the end of the day he is trying to fix something with a broken system. What is beyond sovereign states and the United Nations? That is the most interesting question.

I'd like to make another observation. There was a widespread global belief that at the end of the Cold War there was only one superpower left. Russia was no longer able to go toe to toe with the United States. I think it's fascinating that the policy that was at the core of the Cold War was called MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction. If the purpose of the military is to assure Mutually Assured Destruction on everything on the planet something is fundamentally flawed. People thought there was only one superpower left at the end of the war. We now know that was incorrect.

There are two superpowers. Of the two, the United States is the least strong. There is a more powerful force in the world today. That is world public opinion. So the end of sovereign states is when you are the only armed titan left. But you still aren't in charge because the entire game is a broken game and no longer has merit or value. World public opinion has more power.

How do we know that? Because in the face of world public opinion the U.S. has been forced to change its ways and will be forced increasingly every time it sees itself as a renegade, because the rest of the world perceives that that is what it is. That to me is a fundamental observation. So while we thought we had three legs on this milking stool, it turns out they aren't the three we thought they were. It isn't sovereign states, civil society and the business world. It is actually only two because civil society has the ability to form and reflect public opinion. The world business community is there too. What happens to a three-legged stool when we remove one leg? Unless the person sitting on it exercises independent balance it will collapse. Does it look like it's collapsing? It is up to us, civil society, who are sitting on that stool to exercise independent balance.

There is only one question to ask. How can I serve? The balance is in knowing that the spiritual dimension is the force that runs through all of these items and it is that which gives us our balance.

Civil Society a Rising Force

Civil society is rising at the end of an era of sovereign nation states where all power was descended from Deus Rex, the King, by God's will or some other hierarchical system (typically patriarchal). However denominated, that system became incorporated, developed into nation states, ran its course and is no longer effective. A new force called civil society is arising in the vacuum. Fortunately there is a powerful tool which society has created without realizing it; it transcends all the power blocks currently known on the planet by several magnitudes. That tool is the Internet.

Because we are becoming independently viable it is giving us the opportunity to create, act, and function like a global brain. In the process we are developing the resources for civil society to achieve a level of effectiveness that would have been impossible in a sovereign nation state system and would have been highly unlikely without the interconnectivity the Internet provides.

The metaphor of global brain is powerful (see Sidebar 1). If you take the impact on human society of radio, magazines, newspapers, televisions and motion pictures, combine them all, and multiply by 100, you still don't equal the emerging impact of the Internet. It is not just a means of communication or a means to spread ideology or stories or culture. It is actually thought itself. It is collective global intelligence.

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