Monday, June 18, 2007

Breakthrough and the Great Pattern

Today's crisis comes into better focus if we recognize that it is remarkably like four which occurred in the past. A solution then seems to emerge.

It all began some two million years ago when our ancestors in Africa were driven from the forest by global warming. These small creatures, only four feet tall, were vulnerable and it seems likely they developed 'shout communication' to warn one another and to alert others when new sources of food were found.

The next great advance was made when Cro-Magnons developed true speech. The previously dominant Neanderthals had vocal chords but there is no evidence they used them for speech.Writing then became the driving force leading to the evolution of towns, cities, and empires such as those of Egypt and Persia.

The next great advance occurred when Greeks and Jews developed alphabets creating a new way of thinking. The printing press then spread this way of thinking across Europe leading to the evolution of today's western nations and to democracy, mass education, and all the essentials of western society.

Now, in the Electronic Age, we make the greatest, fastest, and most dangerous advance of all. In particular, we see the essential features of 'printing press' society thrown into crisis. \

Nations and democracy are in transition. Meanwhile, new forms seem to be evolving in China and elsewhere in Asia, India, and perhaps Islam. A new age, and new thinking, are clearly evolving in the electronic age which is transforming the world but English-speaking peoples retain nations, politics, and thinking essentially unchanged in 300 years.

Will English-Speakers Survive? The danger faced by English-speaking nations comes into sharper focus when you realize that no leading nation made the transition from one communications system to the next. Can English-speaking nations be the first? Can Americans change the very essence of the governmental system they have been taught to believe is almost sacred?

Canadians are in a better position as we make changes to accommodate French-speaking Quebec and grant greater powers to provinces and native peoples.The economy has declined, however, and the education system in many respects is static. And of course, looming above it all is the grim realization that, if the US goes down, Canada's fate is dark.

More About a North American Community

OK, the lets think about how it might be structured.

Would there be a continental administration, a constitution, big buildings, and the trappings of sovereignty?

No! The new system would be based on electronic communication and which favors de-centralization so it would seem simpler, cheaper, and more effective to have it based on regional councils. These might be made up of delegates from existing state and provincial legislatures, who would, in turn, send delegates to a central body.

I suggest that the central body, for historic reasons, might be called the Continental Congress. Some Canadians might object to that name as too ‘American’ but it would be appropriate.

The Continental Congress could be a ‘moveable Feast,’ traveling the continent rather than being established in one place inside a gigantic building with a huge staff. By meeting in various centers, like the original Congress of the United States and the first Parliament of Canada, the delegates would come to know the continent and dialogue with its people. By keeping numbers small, they would be able to use existing facilities in national, state and provincial capitals.

When not in session, electronic communication would permit them to keep in touch and attend day-today work.

National legislators, bureaucrats, and media people, of course, will fear loss of power
and I can see negative stories coming out of Washington and Ottawa. Regional counterparts, however, will see a whole new chariot ride.

Envisioning a New North American Community

CBC Public Environmental Forum, Toronto
Photo Eric Christensen/Globe and Mail

North American Community—what would it Feel Like?

I don’t think anyone can imagine a new North American community any more than people in the late Middle Ages could have imagined the Renaissance, or George Washington could have imagined modern America.

However it’s an intriguing subject, so let’s play with it.

First, I think we should begin with ‘feel’ because essentially, we’re dealing with emotions. I add that we are already dealing with deep emotions as the existing political systems are eroded, especially among print-oriented intellectuals.

People wish to be reassured that the existing system will continue but fundamental change is taking place. For example, the regionalization of North America is increasingly a fact; as Joel Garreau brings out in the “Nine Nations of North America”. It seems clear this trend will continue as increasing numbers of people are thinking regionally, especially outside the traditional power centers. Many of these new thinkers are now part of the mainstream. They are not simply responding to traditional resentment of eastern power. Rather, they see things in new, regional ways because they are increasingly aware of their own ‘regional nation.’

So let’s assume that this idea will come to feel right and be accepted; the way the people of Britain are coming to accept the European Union. What then? What will the thing look like? We can predict that separate nations will continue to exist but that people will develop multiple loyalties. They will first feel themselves to be citizens of the planet. Earth Day, has become a major celebration. Secondly, they will consider themselves citizens of the continent. They will also be citizens of their 'regional nations’, while still being national citizens.

This may seem fuzzy but we might remember that it seemed fuzzy in 1776 too and they made it work. Citizens of the 13 colonies were divided and uncertain but, in the end, they took on American citizenship without betraying local loyalties. I suggest it can be done again. Furthermore, fuzziness is characteristic of the electronic age.

So let's continue...

Cooperation will increase between regional legislators and bureaucrats in the US, Canada, and Mexico with video conferencing as a key instrument bringing them together. Regional cabinets will gradually form—in the same casual way that George Washington’s cabinet came together. There will be greater efficiency, and more democratic participation, in a host of areas where regional cooperation is already active—electric power exchange, pollution control, transportation, Great Lakes waters, manufacturing, immigration, agriculture and fisheries.

You may say these things are already happening and it isn’t necessary to create a new level of government. My response is that we must form a community:

First, we must do it to solve our environmental issues which have now become survival issues. Continent-wide cooperation is essential to solve these problems. Canadians have long been frustrated over what they see as foot-dragging in Washington over environmental issues, in particular, and we need political clout south of the border. Americans have made counter-charges. Better these charges are made face-face in a political forum where action can be taken.

Secondly, we would feel better about ourselves. We would sense that we have a mission, that we are doing something of importance.

Thirdly, government could be cheaper, more effective, and more humane because it would be closer to the people. It has proven impossible to scale down the enormous bureaucracies of Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian federal bureaucracy, relative to population, is even larger than the American. By putting government into a new electronic, streamed-down environment, it will become possible to phase out old structures.

The most important issue of all could center on Canadian fresh water resources which are the greatest in the world. Water is the source of life itself and, in a world which is warming, it could become more critical than oil. As the United States grows increasingly short of water, Americans are already looking to the north. Will they get the water they need?

Not necessarily.

Canadians are emotionally attached to waters
in a way which is hard to understand for Americans whose personality has been shaped by ‘dry-land’ experience. The American mythology is based on covered wagons, cowboys, outlaws, Davie Crockett, Buffalo Bill, Custer, the Oregon Trail, Death Valley, Judge Roy Bean-‘The Law West of Pecos’, gold rushes, mining rushes, oil rushes, railroads, highways and automobiles. This is the stuff that makes legends and a nation. The Canadian personality, in contrast, has been influenced by water in a way that Americans have never experienced and this may explain the intangible but real difference between the two peoples.

The shaping of the Canadian personality goes back beyond Plymouth Rock, perhaps even before Columbus, to the time when European fisherman were attracted to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the richest fishery in the world. French adventurers then moved up the ST. Lawrence River while the British went into Hudson’s Bay. Both groups then followed the river systems of North America until they reached the Pacific, Arctic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. These amazing ‘adventure capitalists’ set up fur trading empires covering the continent and used water as their communication system and almost their life-blood.

This spirit is still alive in Canadians who own more boats and spend more time on water than any other people. Its influence over several centuries has made Canadians’ softer’ than Americans. It doesn’t make them any less tough, just different. It also makes them environmentally conscious and it is no coincidence that Green Peace, for example, started in Canada. Canadians are passionately concerned about conservation and wise use of their water. They have already refused many proposals to ‘exploit’ it.

For the United States, this could mean problems and perhaps the worst strains along the border since the wars of 1812. American need for water will become even greater, despite all efforts at conservation, and the shortage could become desperate. Americans would then look to the north at neighbors literally ‘swimming in it’ and demand that it be shared. Canadians might respond that ecosystems should not be destroyed to put water on golf courses. This could lead to demands from dry land Americans that muscle be applied:” If they won’t share water, why should we share jobs? Stop manufacturing cars in Canada!”

An angry debate could easily develop. This is one more reason why: a
North American community is needed and inevitable.