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Citizen Diplomacy and Global Innovation
Alex Steffen, 17 Oct 08

One of the most tragic consequences of the Bush Administration has been the wall it's driven between the people of the United States and the rest of the world. Seven years of war, jingoistic xenophobia, terrorism fear-mongering, anti-intellectualism, immigrant-bashing and disdain for international law and diplomacy have left a wider gulf between the U.S. and the rest of the world larger than anytime since American doughboys went sailing to France in the First World War.

On these shores, that gulf manifests itself in an explosion of people who don't know anything about the outside world, and don't care, and even consider themselves more patriotic for it -- "ignorant proud," my grandmother would have called them. Indeed, I've read that if it weren't for immigrants and the children of immigrants, the share of Americans speaking a language in addition to English would be at an all-time low. Only 21% of Americans even own a passport, and fewer are going overseas (further than Canada or Mexico). And, of course, as Ethan has extensively discussed, Americans get less -- and more narrow -- news about the wider world than the people of any other developed nation. Even well-educated Americans know far less about the world than their peers abroad.

But the closing of minds is not just an American phenomenon. Like most Americans who travel a lot and spend a lot of time around people from other countries, I can tell you that knee-jerk anti-Americanism is at a level I couldn't have even imagined 10 years ago. Not only do a great many people -- especially, in my experience, young people in Europe -- regard the U.S. itself as a corrupt and collapsing empire far behind the times; many have begun to treat Americans themselves with an open contempt. Even in more polite conversations, you sometimes get the sense that people abroad think Americans have all retreated back to the caves.

On both sides of this gulf, then, we have less and less willingness to learn and share and cooperate, at just the moment when the survival of civilization itself pretty much depends on rapid diffusion and evolution of innovation across the planet. That ain't good.

To make matters worse, we're headed into a global recession, and one of the things that's likely to go up on the chopping block first is exchange: business travel, conferences, learning journeys, international vacations.

In reality, we need the opposite. We need a heck of a lot more people traveling to more places, and sharing more ideas with more people. We need a flood of them in both directions. Bridge-blogging and more foreign news and online forums and so on are all great, but they won't build what we need most, which is a sense of comfort with one another.

It'd be great to see a global commitment to citizen diplomacy and global networking. Universities should step up their funding for languages and study abroad programs. Companies should commit extra funding for sending staff to foreign conferences and meetings. Foundations and donors should give more to support travel and event costs. Government programs (like the Peace Corps here in America, or its various analogs in European countries) should get a big infusion of funding.

I could go on -- nothing is easier than spending other people's money -- but the point is this: we need a huge increase in the number of Americans who are meeting people from elsewhere and sharing ideas about how to build a bright green future.

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Carl Sandburg, great poet of the American heartland, put it this way:

"The bridge says: Come across, try me, see how good I am."

Yes to a new generation of citizen diplomats and a revival of global citizenship.

Posted by: Ted on 17 Oct 08

It seems especially unforgivable to be uninformed about the rest of the world today. Access to the world's news and culture is so easy and cheap now compared to 100 years ago, or even 10 years ago! You'd think anyone in a network connected location would be almost incapable of not having a global viewpoint. Alas, not true.

And I think technically 0% of the US population owns a passport... they are after all the property of the federal government, and must be surrendered upon demand like most forms of government issued identification.

Posted by: Zane Selvans on 17 Oct 08

...really great post, Alex. You nailed a really important issue there.



Posted by: Johnny Laird on 20 Oct 08

Recognizing that which is a product of arrogance and also shameful behavior.

Our lexicon of business activities is being expanded daily, thanks to the "wonder boys" on Wall Street. We are learning about derivatives, collateralized debt obligations, credit default swaps, recapitalization, puts, short selling and so on. We are gaining a new vocabulary from the recent meltdown of the financial system and expected slowdown of the real economy worldwide.

Where did this debacle begin? Well, it began in the center of human community’s banking and investment houses in the financial district of NYC. Supposedly, the "brightest and best" among us go to Wall Street, know what they are doing and do the right thing. Unfortunately, such assumptions turn out to be colossal mistakes.

How did this calamity occur and why is the human family in such dire economic straits? It appears that grotesque greed and a culture of corruption have come to dominate significant operating systems of the global political economy.

Powerful people in high offices within huge business institutions with access to great wealth are recklessly and deleteriously manipulating the unbridled expansion of the global economy in the small, finite planetary home God blesses us to inhabit.

Self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe have surreptitiously "manufactured" a sub prime "asset bubble" and perversely fostered its uneconomic growth within the world economy. Not unexpectedly, this asset bubble did what bubbles do. The sub prime bubble burst and made a mess. Global credit markets have frozen, stock prices are tumbling and the value of the dollar is gyrating.

Evidently organizers, managers and whiz kids overseeing the global economy, and the unraveling {ie, deleveraging} of the worldwide sub prime swindle, are running the artificially designed financial system of the global economy as a pyramid scheme. This is to say that the international financial system is being operated so that most of the wealth funneled pyramidally into the hands of a small minority of people at the top of the world economy where this wealth is accumulated and consolidated. Note that thirty percent of annual corporate profits end up in the accounts of a tiny number of people. At the same time, the vast majority of people on Earth, near the bottom of the global economic pyramid, are left with very little wealth. Does the economy of the family of humanity exist primarily to provide wealth to the already stupendously wealthy? The "bankstas" among us evidently think so.

In the 1980s, this extremely inequitable method of distributing wealth and arranging business activities was called a "trickle down" economy. We have been repeatedly told how this 'rational' economic scheme is good because it "raises all ships." And yet, from my limited scope of observation, the billion people living on resources valued at less than one dollar per day and the additional 2.7 billion people being sustained on two dollars per day of resources now appear to be stuck in squalid conditions. The 'ships' carrying these billions of less fortunate people {ie, more people than lived on Earth in the year of my birth} do not appear to be lifting them out of poverty.

Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on 21 Oct 08



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