Saturday, July 26, 2014

If only systemic sense could prevail

Further to my earlier post, colleagues concerned like me, at the continuing systemic failure of governance and public policy have alerted me to intelligent and insightful arguments that point to other ways of understanding and governing. If  only these understandings and associated practices could prevail!

Continuing with the complex, contested issue of Palestine - Israel, an article in the New Yorker on'Israel’s Other War' by draws attention to the longer term systemic consequences of Israeli policy.   

"It’s an awful thing to make a truly tragic mistake, one that costs many lives.  It’s worse to make that same mistake over and over again. Four operations in Gaza, an immense number of Israeli and Palestinian hearts that have stopped beating, and we keep ending up in the same place. The only thing that actually changes is Israeli society’s tolerance for criticism. It’s become clear during this operation that the right wing has lost its patience in all matters regarding that elusive term, “freedom of speech.” In the past two weeks, we’ve seen right wingers beating left wingers with clubs, Facebook messages promising to send left-wing activists to the gas chambers, and denunciations of anyone whose opinion delays the military on its way to victory. It turns out that this bloody road we walk from operation to operation is not as cyclical as we may have once thought. This road is not a circle, it’s a downward spiral, leading to new lows, which, I’m sad to say, we’ll be unlucky enough to experience."

Writing in the Toronto Star, Gabor Maté (published on Tue Jul 22 2014) captures the disillusionment for many now in their 60s and 70s, like me, who grew up supportive of the ideal of a democratic Israeli state - an ideal that no longer survives in a defensible form.  He writes: 

"As a Jewish youngster growing up in Budapest, an infant survivor of the Nazi genocide, I was for years haunted by a question resounding in my brain with such force that sometimes my head would spin: “How was it possible? How could the world have let such horrors happen?”

It was a naïve question, that of a child. I know better now: such is reality. Whether in Vietnam or Rwanda or Syria, humanity stands by either complicitly or unconsciously or helplessly, as it always does. In Gaza today we find ways of justifying the bombing of hospitals, the annihilation of families at dinner, the killing of pre-adolescents playing soccer on a beach.

In Israel-Palestine the powerful party has succeeded in painting itself as the victim, while the ones being killed and maimed become the perpetrators. “They don’t care about life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, abetted by the Obamas and Harpers of this world, “we do.” Netanyahu, you who with surgical precision slaughter innocents, the young and the old, you who have cruelly blockaded Gaza for years, starving it of necessities, you who deprive Palestinians of more and more of their land, their water, their crops, their trees — you care about life?"

There is, unfortunately, no shortage of contemporary contexts in which ideologues drive us collectively in the wrong direction. Profound systemic consequences are already evident in Sri Lanka, Canada and Australia as these links testify.

On a rare positive note the British government is to be commended for sticking to its carbon reduction targets, as indicated by this announcement from the Secretary of State, who said:

"Above all, maintaining the Fourth Carbon Budget at its current level demonstrates the UK’s commitment to its climate change target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050. The UK has the world’s most transparent system of binding emission reduction targets, which are used as a model throughout the world. Today’s decision cements the UK’s place as a global leader in combating climate change, which will allow us to play a central role in delivering a global deal to combat climate change at the end of 2015."    

As I have written elsewhere the UK's 'Committee on Climate Change' is an important institutional innovation - so it is good to see that its role in governance is working.  Importantly this case exemplifies how, when there is political commitment to what is ethically and scientificaly justifiable, it is possible to stand up to Treasury idealogues, as this article by Simon Inglethorpe indicates:

"The decision amounts to a personal victory for [Secretary of State] Davey as it means Treasury calls to weaken the budget – and leave the door open for more gas-fired electricity generation in future – have not prevailed.

“Ed Davey deserves praise for standing up to the Treasury’s wrecking efforts, and the prime minister credit for holding firm on this crucial commitment,” said Greenpeace’s political director, Ruth Davis. “George Osborne has done everything in his power to water down the UK’s keystone climate change policy, putting at risk vital investment in our energy system and our credibility in global climate negotiations.”

I imagine it is too much to hope that a moratorium on all fracking will emerge as a systemically desirable national strategy - in the UK and elsewhere. Technologies which perpetuate 'carbon pollution' and attract investment away from renewables have no place in the world we now have to create.   

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