March 17, 2009

“Layla, you don’t seem much chastened… given the failure of your fiat.”

Fiat? As confused as the rest of us, Sandy Hunt’s wheels squealed and he momentarily considered chucking a ewey. Had Layla succumbed to her inner auto as well?

No. Naledi Jacob, a smart philosophy professor from the University of Cape Town, was referring to the fact that a very small number of women continued to fall pregnant.

“Let me quote what you said:

‘Until that meeting there will be no conception… no new babies.’

Well, that’s been proven false.”

“Yeah, look, I find it bizarre that a trickle is still getting through. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details but I understand that there are just a few thousand cases per continent… a 99.99 per cent drop in what would be expected… hardly failure Naledi.”

[Naledi, cheekily cheerful]:
“I agree… in part. What really intrigues me is … why… why is your miracle not absolute?”

“I don’t know. It could be me. I’m far from perfect.

Then again, it might not be a blemish. I have this theory. Maybe this miniscule rate of failure, or falsity as you might call it, is actually additional information… sort of a sign piggy-backing on my miracle confirming the oneness of humanity. All the analysis has shown no bias towards any slice or dice of the population… be it wealth, culture, religion, geography or race. It’s just random… governed by statistics. It’s affecting everyone the same.”

“Oh I think you’ll find there’s a strong gender bias. Still, it’s a novel way of looking at it and I’m reassured that you have reflected on the situation. If you are right, though, that extra freebie has had a detrimental effect on those unfortunate people who managed to somehow bypass your injunction.

It’s reported that many of these women, and the men where they could find them, have been subjected to the most ruthless testing in the hope they might yield up an antidote to your spell. And if these wretched people manage to avoid the evil clutches of the authorities then they have to deal with their communities treating them as lepers and devils. In fear of their own friends, they quietly stay inside… to give birth or more likely to wait for some back-street abortionist. What are these people? Martyrs? For some random cause?

This seems so unnecessary. I think it would be reasonable to view your action as a failure… not based on any petty bivalent logic but because it has introduced more prejudice, divisiveness, even jealousy… behaviours which you are seeking to eliminate.”

[Layla, cheesy grin]:
“Maybe it’s a form of homeopathy?

No, seriously, I’ve been appalled at their treatment. I’ve done what I can to stop it. Spoken on TV. Visited victims. As you say, it’s this type of inhumanity we’re trying to stop.”

“And yet the ban remains?”

“It does. You think lifting it would help those that have been targeted?”

“No, but it would prevent further targeting.

Let’s leave that to one side and look now at how you don’t appear to have thought through the consequences. Let me point to the logistical problems associated with the ‘gap’… think, for example, of all the infrastructure surrounding children that is being drastically impacted… health, education, childcare.

Think of the pain for those people who may be on their last chance of IVF. And there has been a dramatic increase in teenage sex and the transmission of STDs.”

Naledi is not Hunt or Melland. Like Layla, Naledi is a beautiful girl. Just 28, she is already one of the most widely respected ethicists in the world.

“This situation… I liken it to that of a prep teacher who finds that some of her five-year-olds have been misbehaving. They’ve been bullying the other kids. Her job is to sort it out… to harmonize the playground.

What interests me is the strategy this teacher might employ to bring about some form of resolution. Does the teacher knock the bully’s heads together? Does she force all the kids to shake hands? Maybe she employs a more nuanced approach?

You see, this teacher has a power advantage and is in no danger from the bullies. And she isn’t directly affected by the consequences of her decisions. There would be a great temptation for her to lazily choose the path of least resistance. She might, for example, suspend playtime until everyone signs up to play nicely together.

You are obviously not like us Layla. It’s clear you are not bound by the same constraints. I feel I have to keep an open mind on what constitutes ethical behaviour in your case. Still, I’d like to try to understand your thinking… your strategy? Have you chosen the path of least resistance here?”

Layla’s insides tighten, jarred and offended at the suggestion that she was altogether different to other people. Not nice to be so dismissively excluded. Couldn’t everyone just celebrate her specialness… smiley face? And from Naledi… she admired Naledi.

But there was no point being in denial… Naledi’s comments ground hard into a particularly fertile site of anxiety – her fear that she wasn’t doing the right thing.

“I have no idea what’s the best thing to do, Naledi. This whole thing was spur of the moment… not meticulously planned. I don’t understand the subtleties of every political situation… that’s why the WCA is doing all the leg work. But I had to do something to kick it off.

This is my attempt to get beyond the limitations of nation states and current power structures without an almighty bloodbath. In hindsight, I’m reassured that no one has been directly harmed… though, as you’ve explained, it’s not been pain-free.

My aim is to give the WCA some space to show their mettle and bring about an implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that can be enforced… under whatever version of global governance they deem appropriate. The WCA weren’t overjoyed with what I did either. They were angry and informed me, pointedly, that my action wasn’t proportional to what they were trying to achieve. But, look, I decided to stick with it. I felt I needed to.”

“You rejected their submissions? Do you reject my bullying analogy as well?”

“Not entirely. Actually, it’s something I can appreciate from my psychology training. I suspect you know this, Naledi… and this is your way of gently guiding me to think in those terms.

I find the idea of a Buddy System for nations quite appealing. I guess Assertiveness Training might work at some level too. Bystander Training? I suppose. Certainly, a set of Restorative Practices sounds very sensible… they’d probably be based on community consultation to seek justice for the victim and rehabilitation for the transgressor.

Then again, all these approaches… they are kind of there already. Unfortunately, there’s no school… no authority to support and enforce these very thoughtful and carefully crafted processes. So the Buddy System ends up as a protection racket.

What the WCA is doing now is setting school policy. Their preliminary proposals cover the various responsibilities that you’d expect a global governing body to address: – global defense capability; environmental action, elimination of poverty, improvements to health and education. There are all manner of wonderful economies of scale too. Government efficiency and effectiveness will to be monitored by an impressive algorithm of checks and balances. Warms the cockles.

Getting back to the bullying scenario. The WCA and their forerunners have had the ability to design a decent global society for some time but they never got much implementation done. I think a more apt analogy for our situation is that a teacher may want to do something about bullying, but rather than getting to talk directly with the five year-olds, she is forced to sit down with their lawyers.”

“Okay, so you feel it’s necessary to be the biggest bully… but benevolent.”

[Layla, a luttle but dismayed]:
“Or I could be the momma bird… feeding the chicks; keeping them from pecking each other; making sure they don’t fall out of the nest… sustaining them until they’re mature enough to be left alone. I guess, in the end, it doesn’t matter how I’m portrayed. But I’m sensitive to being depicted as a nasty pasty when I only what to improve the lives of everyone.”

[Naledi, generously]:
“I’m sorry Layla. You’re so big and tough compared to us… it’s too easy for me to compensate by being gruff. The weird thing for me is that I trust you without reservation… I believe you have the best of intentions. But I shouldn’t, should I? It can’t be right to handover personal sovereignty to you. The last time I gave someone that much leeway he cost me my house… as well as the two research assistants I found him sleeping with.

I understand that it might take a lot of force to turn around a ship as big as this… that you’ve got to break some eggs to make an omelette. The sadness for me is that it implies we can’t, through consultation, bring about this change ourselves… that we require some external force to order us to work together and not plot to dominate each other.

We’re very lucky to have you. I can see how you providing a ‘protected period’ can help us navigate the transformation from our current nation-centred order to a global order.

It’s a real chicken and egg situation. To get to a healthy global community we need a pervasive sense of world citizenship and tremendous advances in science and technology. But world citizenship and scientific advances are best cultivated in a global environment which is at odds with the current, self-interested needs of nation states. I’ll admit it fries my brain.

But what you are trying to do, as ostentatious as it is, gives us some trial time… time to sample the benefits… and blame you for any problems.”

“The fall-guy strategy. Hey, I like that, Naledi. I wish I was as smart as you.

All along I’ve been consoling myself… imagining that this painful hiatus would be followed by a wonderfully beautiful and symbolic outcome… new babies conceived following a glorious global agreement would come into being under a shinier set of circumstances. A change as momentous as DNA mutation. But your words seem more practical. Yep, I’m Macavity, without the guile.

Not everything has gone as I expected but don’t be sad Naledi. Turns out not everyone care’s if there’s a next generation… but most do. Not everyone wants a wider distribution of resources… but most do. Most find this prohibition horrible but give it overwhelming support until the result is achieved. And those you’ve talked about who’ve been badly affected… they are willing to suffer till the end. I’ll honour that. It’s just a pity that most haven’t been more vocal and active. They probably valued their own lives and their families lives… their adversaries are vicious.”

“And what if it doesn’t work?”

Layla had a naughty thought.

“I have a plan B! Bit harsher but pretty much the same outcome. Say, outside of Australia, everyone in the world were to kark it… in whatever way; nuclear fall-out, disease, guilt, boredom… wouldn’t we have a ‘hey presto’ world government of Australia? Job done.”

[Naledi, wondering where the halllooo Cape Town reverberation went?]:
“Hey, I’m really, really sorry for othering you but let’s stick with plan A? And Layla, you must be aware that your beloved Australia is not without its own black history… that it has plenty of room for social improvement.”

“Naledi, if this whole global transformation goes as smooth as that calm ocean in your eyes, there’ll still be many difficult issues and challenges to face. This isn’t an end… it’s a restructuring… to give us the agility to deal with our immediate problems and continue to excavate the universe.

Plan B is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s the kind of approach we’ve seen from our proud nation states. Everyone else who can’t kill us is expendable in the pursuit of our self-interest. It would work… temporarily. Then, as the Aussies ventured out to lay claim to the spoils of a deserted world, they’d set up their own new boundaries… they’d have to if they wanted to keep their bounty… and we’d be back to where we are now.

Much as you’ve said, we’re not looking for a global empire; we’re looking for a global environment in which we find mutual satisfaction from providing service to each other. It’s a spiritual transformation we’re after.”

“Well, that’s some comfort Darth Parkin. I suppose I’ll have to suck it and see. Always seems to come to that, doesn’t it?”

A bemused and grimacing Layla weighs Naledi’s response and shrugs.

“Anyhow, despite all the complexity, it’s worked out alright. This famous meeting… it’ll be held here in Melbourne in two months… in May… as a special session of the UN General Assembly with extended participation. All those countries with vastly differing interests and cultures have signed up to the agenda.”

Oh we said. Really? Are you certain about that? It’s really going to happen? Wow? How?

[Layla, responding timidly to the shocked silence]:
“Ermmm, maybe I should have mentioned this earlier. An official announcement is planned for the day after tomorrow. I didn’t want to rain on their parade. But I have, haven’t I. Buggar.

Look, while they have been publicly very critical of me, most governments have been beavering away over the last six months… working with thousands of WCA people on the detail. I think they want change too but need to be seen to be acting manfully in their national interests only to succumb after a heroic struggle to impossibly overwhelming forces.”

That wasn’t the truth. At best, it was wishful thinking. There were still a number of governments, regimes and warlords holding out… despite the major coercion being applied by other sovereign nations and WCA power brokers. She’s a liar, she’s a liar. They all knew it now, the WCA people, the government people. But no-one was going to be the first to say so. Buddy system my arse Naledi. This woman is dangerous and we have to get closer to her. The recalcitrants came to the table. Photos were good though.


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