Archives for the month of: January, 2012

The global environment is connected to the security, economic prosperity and social well-being of both states and individuals. Until recently, the concept of security has only been associated with national security which emphasised armed conflict as the means to attain security through state power. The concept of environmental security broadens this definition by focussing on the transnational nature of the global environment which disregards human-constructed borders . Because of this the environment should replace the traditional realist idea of security as the key issue in global contemporary politics.

All people are in reality transnational actors who can make choices which contribute to the directions of global politics. The American anthropologist Margaret Mead states: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”. Realist theorists believe that all decision makers are alike in their approach, that they are unitary actors with no essential differences and make their choices through rational calculations. To make a rational choice one must recognise a problem and define it objectively through access to a complete set of facts. The next step is to select the desired goal and then identify all of the alternatives. Finally, a choice must be made which includes a cost-benefit analysis based upon an accurate prediction of success.

The challenges to the global environment in the century ahead include global warming, ozone depletion, and the loss of tropical rainforests and marine habitats. These challenges are as much a threat to humanity as the threat of nuclear warfare. However, because the threat of nuclear warfare focuses on mutually assured destruction more focus is given to this threat because of its perceived and tangible reality. On the other hand the threats to the global environment are more difficult to perceive because one cannot see ozone depletion or see the immediate effects of global warming. Rainforest destruction happens far away from the major cities in which much of the global population, and so does the loss of marine habitats.

To counter this disassociation from these real challenges, imagery is effective in trying to enlighten global citizens of the inherent ordeals that they and their descendents face in the near future. Through the mass media, the world is defined by images. Many of the perceptions derived from this imagery can distort or intensify our experience of the world’s political realities. Our assumptions or interpretations of these realities can affect the way we act upon them. Environmental NGOs and IGOs such as Greenpeace and the UN Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) use imagery effectively to try and make humans act in a global effort to protect the environment on which they rely from degradation and loss.

The challenges that have arisen out of environmental problems will in effect bring about the ‘politics of scarcity’. This concept emphasizes that resource scarcity brought about by restricted access to food, water and oil will be a more likely cause future international conflict than any military challenge. Human life depends upon what ecologists term ‘the global commons’ which emphasizes the interdependence of humanity with the planet’s ability to sustain it. Lester R. Brown argues: “In ecology, as in economics, we can consume principle along with interest in the short run, but, for the long term, that practice leads to bankruptcy”. The goal that these challenges present to us is one of sustainable development.

In 1987 the World Commission on Environment and Development authored a report called Our Common Future. It concluded that the world cannot sustain the growth that is required to meet the aspirations of the world’s growing population unless it can adopt a new approach to economic development, equity, resource management and energy efficiency. It defined a ‘sustainable society as one that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The alternatives to action on achieving such goals as a sustainable society have diminished since 1987, as the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged in 2009 at the Copenhagen Climate Conference: “We must harness the political will to seal the deal on an ambitious new climate agreement…If we get it wrong we face catastrophic damage to people, to the planet”.

Data from the World Meteorological Organisation that monitors the global surface temperatures show that global warming is not a myth. NASA and the IPCC both predict that global temperatures will rise by up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. This will cause sea levels to rise, heat waves and droughts, increase storm damage, extinctions of ecosystems, increase prevalence of diseases and increase hunger and water shortages.  Deforestation causes threats to biodiversity, desertification and exacerbates the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the cause of global warming. The demand and consumption of fossil fuels has caused global warming but is also a threat in the fact that its depletion will cause instability in global economic and political systems, as advisor on peace and security Michael Klare asserts: “We are nearing the end of the Petroleum Age and have entered the Age of Insufficiency”.

Through neglect, environmental security will compromise human security. With effort and recognition of the impending threats solutions can be achieved, with conversion to renewable sources of energy, adherence to international treaties, sustainable development and independent state and local solutions. The potential of these threats is as pronounced as any threats of armed aggression and in fact, neglect may exacerbate armed conflict between people. Therefore, the imperative to rationally manage global environmental security must replace the traditional realist theory of military security as the key issue in contemporary global politics.

Nicholas Georgouras, “Light” 2008

The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 was crafted to preserve the great powers at the time so that they could serve their self-interest in staying in their prime position at the top of the global pyramid. It left the contemporary global system being a socially constructed reality which does not reflect the inherent resemblance of all nations as being made up of human beings. The post-colonial reality allows that hierarchy to continue with Western governments benefiting from centuries of seizures of territory and resources and its legacy to persist through ethnic conflict derived from colonially-imposed borders and unequal exploitative relationships. It is this legacy which creates the imperative for the notion of universal human rights to be an overriding issue of global politics.

Most wars now occur in the Global South, a circumstance which is derived from their colonial origins. The Global South has the highest number of states with the largest populations on the least income and with the most unstable governments. These factors lead to failed states which lead to mass emigrations of refugees, disease and famine. The armed conflict which happens within these failed states happens more frequently than armed conflict between states with 2017 seeing 49 armed intrastate conflicts. These civil wars have a high cost of life, have child soldiers as participants and perpetrate genocide, an example being the slaughter of eight hundred thousand Tutsi and moderate Hutu people during a few weeks in Rwanda in 1994.  

This liberal view that the individual is the seat of moral value is fundamental to the notion of universal human rights. One of the corollary concepts of liberal theory stresses the unity of humankind, the importance of the dignity and equality of individuals, and the need for the promotion of human rights and liberty. Rather than being a ‘subject’ of the state, the general consensus in contemporary global politics is that people are important and have worth and therefore ethical and moral issues belong in the realm of international relations. However, the accuracy remains of Jean Jacques Rousseau’s observation that ‘man is born free, and everywhere is in chains’. Globally, a select few of the total population are prospering while there are many who can barely survive.

Constructivists make humans the primary level of analysis, with human ideas defining the identities that impart meaning to the behaviour of others. This contemporary thinking has shaped a consensus that claims that all humans have the same moral status and that ‘to accept human rights [is to make on the state] the moral demand to respect the life, integrity, well-being and flourishing of…all human beings’. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserted many civil and political rights such as freedom of assembly, freedom of thought and expression, the right to participate in government, and indispensable social and economic rights. The Declaration also asserts that ‘if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law’. This is the essential argument of why human rights are integral to global politics.

Although the Declaration and the further multilateral treaties which enumerate these rights are legally binding on states, there have been many who have not ratified these agreements or have objected to specific provisions. For instance, the United States ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights with reservations, but did not ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Considering that the US is the most powerful state in the liberal democratic world, this is an indictment against the moral values purported to be so important to this global group. Human rights abuses continue, with 350 million indigenous peoples being without a homeland or political representation and subject to persecution and genocide; with women in the world continuing to be disadvantaged in comparison to men; with up to 4 million people subjected to slavery and human-trafficking; and with children being subjected to neglect and abuse through slavery, hunger, conscription and sexual exploitation.

Therefore. as so many people of the world are the target of oppression and violence by states, the global community is morally challenged as to whether international treaties can go on being blatantly disregarded by the states that have ratified them or have some consensus with them. In principle, international law now provides protections for all people everywhere to live in freedom and security. So that these protections can finally apply to all people, traditional notions of sovereignty must be transcended. Global politics must now recognise and respect these laws so that the assertion of the Declaration of common interests of all citizens in all states is recognized and upheld.

The modern state, which was born from the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, gave unrestricted control of the state to its rulers. This was the beginning of the concept of state sovereignty which is still dominant today. The most potent shaping forces in the contemporary world are the interactions of states when enforcing their interests, capabilities and goals. However, during the latter half of the twentieth century the supremacy of the state is under challenge. Global affairs are now dominated by intergovernmental organizations that transcend national boundaries. Global international organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union have become independent global actors which implement their own foreign policies. Also groups of people carrying on various enterprises, such as multinational corporations, are examples of nongovernmental organizations which also transcend national boundaries and exert their influence globally.

Post Cold War, the United States has dominated world politics with the political scientist Francis Fukuyama even suggesting that it signalled ‘the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government’. However because of the ascendance of other great powers such as China, Japan, Russia and India others, such as the journalist and foreign policy advisor Fareed Zakaria, argue that a ‘post-American’ world has arisen through which many other state and nonstate actors direct and define global society’s responses to global challenges. While the United States remains the greatest military power, other dimensions are emerging industrially, financially, educationally, socially and culturally that are moving the globe away from American dominance.

Although some suggest that competition between states could be renewed as they jostle for power in commercial relations, they also manage their security relations collaboratively which can be seen through their cooperation in fighting terrorism. The danger of the polarization of these states into two antagonistic camps could be managed through newly developed international rules and institutions that can manage these mixed-motive relationships. Rather than a quest for hegemony, these great and emerging powers are active trading partners and the question arises will these commercial relationships reduce the potential for future military competition?

Multilateralism could be the approach that these great powers take to cooperate to achieve global solutions to problems that affect all of their citizens. In an ever shrinking global environment in which all actors are increasingly reliant upon each other, a new global system of power and responsibility is more widely distributed. How these great powers will make their choices about war and peace will affect all people and determine the fate of the world.

A new concept of responsible sovereignty is emerging which requires states not to protect only their own people but also to cooperate across borders to protect global resources and address transnational threats. This entails intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and non-government organizations (NGOs) providing a greater role which ‘differs from the traditional interpretation of sovereignty being non-interference in the internal affairs of state’. Global problems require global solutions and an increasingly greater number of non-state actors have arisen on the world stage to engineer adaptive global changes.

The United Nations is the most prominent IGO to have emerged in the last sixty years. Its Charter sets its agenda as the maintenance of peaceful and amicable relations between states based upon humanitarian values and the attainment of common ends through the harmonization of state actors. Although it is challenged by persistent financial troubles it is an adaptable and reforming institution that remains the forum of choice for negotiation and promotion of humanitarian concerns. Through its claim to represent ‘the collective will of humanity’ it is in the position to act on issues of global relevance such as shaming human rights violators, combating global pandemics, and promoting conflict-prevention measures.

Increasingly, NGOs are becoming more influential in global politics through their ability to lobby and influence international decision making. This activism is able to transcend the traditional distinctions between what is local and what is global. Five of the most visible types of NGOs are non-state entities that comprise of ethnic or indigenous peoples, transnational religious groups, transnational terrorist groups and multinational corporations. However, while these groups have a strong participation in world affairs some of their influence can often be minimised by differing groups pushing policies in opposing directions.

With the world being far more interdependent than ever before and transactions across state borders increasing through the movement of people, information and trade, non- state actors are becoming more important to the shared concepts of people across the globe. The centrality of the state as an insular actor is declining. Although our constructed images of global politics are resistant to change, change is possible through the reshaping of our insular perceptions. By ridding ourselves of false assumptions about other people we can reshape the future of world politics so that it does not rely on the insular attitudes of singular states but on the basis of a global people. As the philosopher Martin J. Siegel observes: “War for survival is the destiny of all species. In our case, we are courting suicide [by waging war against each other]”. It is the realisation of this by state leaders that will finally lead to the end of the concept of the sovereign state.

Freud believed that dreams have a meaning which can be interpreted through the use of symbolic relationships[1]. Dreams can be divided into three categories in relation to their manifest and latent content[2]. The first category is dreams that are intelligible and that can be easily related to one’s mental life[3]. The second category is dreams which, although sensible and clear, have a confusing effect because they do not fit with our mental life[4]. And the third category is dreams that are incoherent, disconnected and seemingly meaningless[5]. It is the second and third categories which are significant concerning the manifest and latent content of dreams[6]. The manifest content of a dream is the fragmentary and illogical story that it tells[7]. The latent content of a dream is concerned with the ‘dream thoughts’ that occur within this dream story[8]. Freud asserts that, on analysis, the manifest content of a dream deals with material that is quite different to the latent thoughts[9]. The distinction between the two contents show that the essential content of a dream is obscured, playing a subordinate role and the most latent content is not even present or is only remotely alluded to it[10]. The more obscure the dream, the more displacement has occurred[11].

[1] Freud, Sigmund. “On dreams (extract)” in The Essentials of Psycho-Analysis , Freud, Sigmund; Freud, Anna , 1986 , p.88

[2] ibid.

[3]ibid. p.89

[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] Smith, Dr. N., Lecture 20, The Unconscious, in “Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics”, PHI130, Macquarie University, 2011

[8] ibid.

[9] Freud, S. , “On dreams (extract)”, p.98

[10] ibid.

[11] ibid. p. 99

The problem of ‘hard consciousness’ is a sub-problem of the wider mind/body problem. For David Chalmers, the hard problem is qualia or the qualities of sensed experience[1]. The dualist position on mind/body relations is that although we need bodies and brains to have consciousness, consciousness is not the same as our bodily and brain states[2]. Mental events are of a different order to physical events, however they causally interact. This explanation does not explain how they interact but presumably as matter obeys certain physical laws so the mind obeys different laws pertaining to the realm of mental events[3]. However, there is an opposing simplicity argument against dualism and that argument is based upon the principle of rational methodology known as ‘Ockham’s razor’[4]. This can be expressed as not multiplying entities beyond what is strictly necessary to explain phenomena[5]. Therefore, materialists argue that there is only physical matter and only one class of physical properties and  theorizing that there are two separate substances, as dualists do,  gives no advantage[6]. As a further alternative view, in his Philosophical Investigations (1958) Wittgenstein assesses the ‘unbridgable gulf between consciousness and brain process’[7]. He asks: ‘How does it come about that this does not come into the considerations of our ordinary life?[8]’ He posits that it is not our consciousness that is a strange thing but our attitude towards ourselves that is strange. Whereas our consciousness is normally intentional, philosophical investigations into the ‘hard problem’ of consciousness do not envisage a context for their concepts. Therefore it is only the study of philosophy or being mentally troubled through which one is inclined to see consciousness as a ‘thing’ or to wonder at ‘it’ being connected to matter[9].

[2]Townley, Dr. C., Lecture 14, The Mind Body Problem, in “Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics”, PHI130, Macquarie University 2011

[3] ibid.

[4] Churchland, Paul M. “The ontological problem (the mind-body problem)” in Matter and Consciousness: A Contemporary Introduction to the Philosophy of Mind , Churchland, Paul M. , 1988 , p.12

[5] ibid., p.18

[6] ibid.