On Global Responsibility

 I wanted to say a few things about the importance (to me) of irony, but this seemed easier to jot down at the moment.  Hopefully I’ll remember to come back to the irony thing.

The University of Chicago has decided to uphold precedent in its official decision not to divest investments from companies which fund (directly or indirectly) those carrying out atrocities and genocide in Darfur (Sudan).  Given the little I know about the University’s policy, as well as the stance they have taken on political events in the past, this did not surprise me.  Then, as I was watching CNN today, while talking about the Pelosi plane “controversy” there passed by on the headline news ticker a brief statement, more or less as follows:

“More than 430,000 people have been displaced, and at least 38 dead, from flooding in Jakarta [Indonesia]”

That, among other things, made me think more about the point I had laid out earlier, the disparity between the amount of information available (due in part to sophisticated and efficient communication networks) and our inability (individually and collectively) to meaningfully process and understand it all at a comparable rate.  Say this had happened 200, possibly even 100 years ago.  Would information about these events been readily available to the average person in America?  And more importantly, would they have felt the need to respond?

This is not an endorsement of action or apathy – just a thought.  We suddenly have a much greater awareness of simultaneous events around the world, and also a greater interconnection between places through telecommunications, digital networks, and rapid transit by air, land, and sea.  With this seems to come a growing conviction that along with this information comes greater moral/ethical responsibilities, that because we know about a natural disaster, political and/or ethnic conflict, etc., we should also be moved to do something about it.

Cliches about the “global village” and “citizens of the world” aside, it seems that we might soon need to play catch-up in defining our responsibilities in the world, which means sorting out what the nation’s (for example) role should be in relation to other nations and peoples, not to mention the earth itself.  Clearly this could turn into an even more abstract meditation on the twilight of nationalism or something, but it does make one wonder.  The paradigm of the United Nations, US foreign policy, the problems of sorting out the sovereignty of the EU, etc. etc. still seems characterized by the nation as the functional unit of group “international” relations.  Should we move beyond boundaries of nationalism?  Can we?  Are there more effective organizational units for meeting the needs and preserving liberties of individuals, preserving stability (if not harmony) among diverse groups, managing resources efficiently, and providing a collective identity and narrative with which to understand ourselves?  And who cleans up the messes?


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