The Politics of Exigency

Fierce Urgency & Democracy Rooted in Deep Principle

Exigency is an immediate state of pervasive intense demand on our attention. “Exigent circumstances” are considered to be both emergent and critical enough to override one’s normal free will and moral decision-making. Under extreme pressures, the argument goes, one is less able to “live up to” the best of what we expect of ourselves and each other. This leaves one with less agency, less sovereignty, and less capability for doing anything other than tending to whatever actions will allow for survival in the face of a threat. In that sense, whether we know it or not, “exigent circumstances” are by far the most commonly used excuse for deviating from what would normally be considered acceptable or ethical behavior.

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Beyond Feudalism: Shared Sovereignty, Human Dignity & Open Information

There is a tension between the feudal system and modernity, which is most usefully illustrated by the differences in how feudalism and democracy treat knowledge. In the feudal system, where powerful landlords control access to resources and consume the political space, general scientific, historical, and technical knowledge is jealously guarded and is shared with working people only in order to achieve a specific objective of the ruling class. Knowledge is used to guarantee lifelong indenture and the perpetuation of rigidly determined power structures.

Democracy, by contrast, requires that all people have routine access to high-precision, traceable, tested knowledge of all kinds. Modern societies, those born amid the collapse of feudal regimes of various epochs, enter into modernity by committing in one way or another to the idea that knowledge is a universal right and that people should be able to access it, rework it according to tested truth and lived experience, and assist in the ongoing work of expanding the wider pool of human intelligence. Continue reading “Beyond Feudalism: Shared Sovereignty, Human Dignity & Open Information”

Freedom from Tyranny: Redefined

A New Blueprint for Human Liberty

We want a future characterized by freedom from tyranny and deprivation. We want a future characterized by open access to education and empowerment. These wants are also needs, if we are to build a human civilization capable of the flexibility and resilience required to outlast the risks that flow from our own frailties. The metaphysical structures we call institutions have developed over long centuries fraught with scarcity, conflict, injustice and the reaction to injustice. We know this, and we let ourselves forget it. So, it is worth remembering: we are always, in subtle and deliberate ways, striving to free ourselves from the inefficiency of rigid institutions that ignore human need and the nuance of life as it happens at the human scale.

We can design the future we want. We can design institutions that “know” how to receive, to sift through, to leverage, and to be enhanced by waves of change. Knowledge is a constellation. The knowledge in your own mind is a constellation, but the constellation of all that is known extends to all human minds, and to all that we use to document what we perceive and comprehend. That constellation of knowledge relationships is also a map of the future, though we don’t yet know with perfect clarity which elements we will inhabit and which we will escape. Continue reading “Freedom from Tyranny: Redefined”

Macrocritical Value Generation: The Roots of Future Opportunity

Historically, when observers to the Bretton Woods institutions would raise issues of macrocritical value distortion, they were generally told “That’s not our business.” The common practice was to treat environmental damage, the degradation of basic rights, limited access to education, as “unquantifiables” or as “social issues”. IMF leadership would refer to the founding mission as dealing exclusively with the health or unhealth of fiscal math in a given country—its budgetary solvency. At the World Bank, the mission of ending poverty was not seen as directly linked to the building of basic civic and economic infrastructure required for sustained human development.

So, for a long time, macrocritical considerations would make their way into analysis and reports, but global economic leaders went on about their business without worrying too much about environmental impacts, gender inequality, or systemic multi-directional feedback loops like the climate system.

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Intergenerational Equity: Time to Stop Adding Harm to the Future

In the Paris Agreement, 195 nations acknowledge “that climate change is a common concern of humankind,” and agree to “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on … intergenerational equity.” Intergenerational equity refers to the ethical principle that we should not discount the cost of harm when it falls on future generations. A number of other broad, basic, and also pragmatic ethical principles accompany intergenerational equity as the foundation for both national and international climate action, but it is necessary to take a moment and absorb the significance of this particular element of the world’s first universal agreement on climate action. That intergenerational equity should be a principle guiding how governments plan for and respond to climate disruption suggests a new baseline for international law: actions that project harm and degradation into the future must be avoided.

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access2good-v1The ACCESS to GOOD Project is an open, collaborative, ongoing reporting process, aiming to identify observable levers of action for adding value, momentum, and scope to investments in climate action and resilient human development.

ACCESS is a framework for analyzing the level of progress on comprehensive climate action. The axis standard aims to measure six qualifications of public policy, investment prioritization and business action:

  • Aspiration
  • Collaboration
  • Climate
  • Energy
  • Sustenance
  • Security

GOOD is a framework for analyzing the generative tendencies, inclucing community-building reinforcements and local value added of day to day economic activity, at the human scale. This analysis operates on the premise that all economic behavior has at its roots a basic and specific demand for generative optimizing capabilities operating organically through routine human behavior.

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Gratitude Makes Innovation Possible

We are constantly making decisions about the world. We don’t think of them as decisions. Instead, we tend to feel the world has imposed on us a situation, which we may or may not need to accept. We feel the decision like an open question, and we sit in judgment. Is it a good world, a bad world, a dangerous, or a loving place? These qualifications flow from our experience, our foresight, our fears, our aims and our human connections. The question of whether we are grateful to be part of this world seems to be reserved for special occasions. But whether we live with a sense of gratitude and wonder determines how and to what extent we value the details of our existence that make it worth the struggle. And that can determine to what extent we know how to make it worth the struggle.

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Lima: World Bank / IMF Civil Society Session

For Better Accountability and Inclusiveness of the Bretton Woods Institutions: A Role for Civil Society Sponsor: Group of Lecce Panelists: Susanna Cafaro (The Group of Lecce); Sargon Nissan (Bretton Woods Project); Joseph Robertson (Citizens Climate Lobby); Moderator: Domenico Lombardi (Centre for International Governance Innovation); Final Remarks: Carlo Cottarelli (Italian Executive Director at IMF) The aim … Continue reading Lima: World Bank / IMF Civil Society Session

The Luminous Particular

The poet Jane Kenyon was known for her mastery of the style known as “the luminous particular”. The phrase is a reference to imagery, expression and ideas, that ground us in the local, personal, intimate, in ways that illuminate our experience of existence and of truth. She can define the undefined by writing that happiness “comes to the woman sweeping the street / with a birch broom”, “to the boulder in the perpetual shade of pine barrens”, or “to rain falling on the open sea…” Her excellence in bringing the reader into the intimate space of detail informs my own thinking about writing, meaning, and what we value and how.

The particular is what we tend to find most luminous, but our political language is full of the assumption that the opposite is true and correct. This often leads to conflict between what we talk about and what we value.

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