Issues of global citizenship:
is it just too dumb
to consider it possible
to contribute to a better world?
Dennis Argall

During 2004 there were some complex political processes in Australia, but a pervasive consideration was the way in which the language of the War on Terror came to dominate discourse. At the end of the year, having made a number of comments over time on this matter, it seemed difficult to see how at the abstract and higher policy level real change could come about.

Other perspectives on world issues became obscure, or questionable. And violence became such a dominant theme of life... I had written to the Australian Foreign Minister in September 2003 that:

Your assertion of effectiveness of violence in international policy drifts down to validate the use of violence by non-states in international affairs, and increasingly by individuals in national and sub-national affairs, and indeed, I suggest, in domestic life. We are dealing not just with a narrow national security issue but a large ethical dimension.

We have also seen a dissipation of public opposition to the war, much of the anti-war movement now driven by fringe groups, and a loss – certainly in Australia – of momentum in mainstream political opposition to the violence-based government lines on the 'war on terror'. Fear is relatively easy to maintain, in a complex and disconcerting world, where disasters of natural and human origin have increasingly perverse impact as populations grow and mobility and the distances in space and opportunity between the advantaged and disadvantaged grow.

I found myself influenced by views expressed in an ABC radio interview by Marshall Rosenberg, founder of the Centre for Non-Violent Communication, who had been talking to the Aboriginal community in Redfern, Sydney:

MICHAEL VINCENT: Why do you believe that young people in Redfern, who may have taken part in the riot, and were just as frustrated and just as angry at the death of their friend, could have used non-violent means to get their point across?

MARSHALL ROSENBERG: Because I've found all over the world that if you show people a third option, beside passivity and violence, they'll pick the non-violent action. But where [can*] the students learn that? They are ...* taught by teachers who have words like right, wrong, good, bad and that use punishment when you're bad, and reward when you're good. So that's teaching people that when you think you're right and the other side is bad, you use force, punishment to get your way. [*my minor editing of transcript for sense, see link below for spoken words]

MICHAEL VINCENT: And your means of communication doesn't use those words?

MARSHALL ROSENBERG: Non-violent communication shows that all words that imply wrongness, blame or criticism, are tragic expressions of the needs of the speaker. So, we suggest that we transform all of these enemy image labels, like that's rude, that's stupid, that's wrong, that's racist – into a language of life. That we say clearly what needs of ours are not getting met and that we learn how to see what needs of the other person is that person trying to meet, by treating us the way they're doing. And when we have that consciousness, we're far more likely to find a way of getting our needs met and the other person's needs met.

extract from ABC PM Program 26 August 2004

That is a very hard task, I thought, for daily life... and one of my children promptly suggested I was not always abiding by such principle. But it seemed to me a principle entirely consistent with my earlier concern that a state's resort to violence – on its own initiative and justified by its sense of moral right – was as poisonous as, and itself contributory to, social discord down to the level of domestic violence. Time and proper research may show what has happened to mental health crisis statistics in this period.

It also focused my mind on my rejection of the hostile behaviour of many involved in the antiwar movement. The logic of Rosenberg's argument was that many good people would stay away from demonstrations against war while those demonstrations themselves were often violent in language. And more seriously, that angry and ugly demonstration would only compound the whole ethical and social and political problem.

At a personal level I thus wondered what could be done to work with other people, in other countries, to achieve better mutual understanding.

In November 2004, Arundhati Roy, accepting the Sydney Peace Prize – also not entirely Rosenbergian in expression – put the issues very clearly:

It is mendacious to make moral distinction between the unspeakable brutality of terrorism and the indiscriminate carnage of war and occupation. Both kinds of violence are unacceptable. We cannot support one and condemn the other.

The real tragedy is that most people in the world are trapped between the horror of a putative peace and the terror of war. Those are the two sheer cliffs we're hemmed in by. The question is: How do we climb out of this crevasse?

For those who are materially well-off, but morally uncomfortable, the first question you must ask yourself is do you really want to climb out of it? How far are you prepared to go? Has the crevasse become too comfortable? If you really want to climb out, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that the advance party began the climb some time ago. They're already half way up. Thousands of activists across the world have been hard at work preparing footholds and securing the ropes to make it easier for the rest of us. There isn't only one path up. There are hundreds of ways of doing it. There are hundreds of battles being fought around the world that need your skills, your minds, your resources. No battle is irrelevant. No victory is too small.

The bad news is that colorful demonstrations, weekend marches and annual trips to the World Social Forum are not enough. There have to be targeted acts of real civil disobedience with real consequences. Maybe we can't flip a switch and conjure up a revolution. But there are several things we could do. For example, you could make a list of those corporations who have profited from the invasion of Iraq and have offices here in Australia. You could name them, boycott them, occupy their offices and force them out of business. If it can happen in Bolivia, it can happen in India. It can happen in Australia. Why not?

That's only a small suggestion. But remember that if the struggle were to resort to violence, it will lose vision, beauty and imagination. Most dangerous of all, it will marginalize and eventually victimize women. And a political struggle that does not have women at the heart of it, above it, below it and within it is no struggle at all.

Well, I wanted to move in my own directions for the same broad purpose. I searched the internet to see if there were organizations in our region with whom one might make contact. The Australian Government, consistent with its very narrow focus on national security issues was in conflict with ASEAN, unwilling to sign a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and further demonstrated both narrow vision and an arrogant superiority with assertion of a 1000 nautical mile security zone. But these were not easy issues into which to foray as an individual.

I found myself looking for human-level opportunities at the UN's online volunteering web site. This led me to Nabuur, a remarkable new internet 'mechanism' based in the Netherlands, aiming to build 'virtual neighborhoods' around communities in the Third World. Not an NGO building a central structure, but an idea for a universal mechanism where people can help people. More on this will be available here shortly, there has been some coverage in the New York Times, 27 January. I am directly involved with several Nabuur 'village' projects, beginning as facilitator of discussion here in East Java. Conversations with the Nigerian facilitator of a Cambodian village, himself also the 'local representative' of a 'village' of one million in Nigeria, have led us to host here this new project focused on empowerment of local communities.

Nabuur (an old Dutch word for 'neighbour') is a mechanism for new cooperative and supportive networks all over the place, empowering local communities and supporting what they want to achieve. The short term objective is to link 1000 villages in the next couple of years. I have now recorded this conversation with Nabuur's founder, Siegfried Woldhek, to develop the vision.

Come and join us... this is all new and interesting and you can help shape it. If you've read this far, you must have the stamina and interest for it!

---- postscript:

When I first read Robert McNamara's Blundering into Disaster [New York 1986] I was scathingly critical of his notion that what the world needed was a carefully devised strategy to survive the second half of the nuclear age. Gorbachev and Reagan had, meeting in Reykjavik in October 1986, blunderingly tossed out officials and agreed that nuclear weapon numbers should be reduced by 50% and it seemed to me that planetary survival depended greatly on such blundering and risk taking far more than on grand designs. It was pleasing to see that McNamara had made progress in his views in the 2004 film Fog of War, notably in his 'Lesson #2: Rationality will not save us.' It would be especially good if people could learn and change while still in executive situations.

In my view we will not find lasting solutions to global problems so long as we are protective of major reputations, so long as government and political leaders cannot change their minds without being thought fools, cannot be brought back to review ethical principle - while we fail to have any secular ethical base to modern secular society. And we will not get out of all this unless ordinary people have the opportunity and encouragement to find empathy and mutual understanding and are able to improve themselves by understanding and supporting each other. You can see why, from that perspective, I was impressed by these views expressed by Siegfried Woldhek, founder of Nabuur, in this forum:

Something fundamental has changed in the world. Thanks to the new communication media it has become possible to interact worldwide as if we all live in one village. And act as good neighbors.

If your – distant – neighbor is stuck with a problem you try to help. Together with other distant neighbors you find solutions and jointly you deliver these. Everyone contributes according to his or her capacities...

That is the NABUUR principle. A global network of virtual neighbors. People who can count on each other because they care about the place. If there is a problem in the place, the one who lives there tells about it. The distant neighbor can contribute to the solution of the problem. His/her knowledge or skills. His/her physical support or financial means. As much or as little as (s)he chooses. With the possibility to follow the effect of his contribution through reports and images.

And tomorrow the roles may be reversed.

NABUUR facilitates the contact between those neighbors. It brings people with problems in direct contact with those that want to help solve them, wherever they are in the world. Jointly they come with solutions. With as few layers between them as possible. And with maximum effect.

In other words, NABUUR is a concrete mechanism for a global mobilization of skills, knowledge, manpower and other resources.

That seems a good process to support (more about it now in the conversation Siegfried and I have recorded), but it it rooted in innocence, fraught with blunder; skepticism can kill it quickly.

Dennis Argall
17 February 2005