Friday, August 7, 2009

What is to be done?

Your last entry is a chance to reflect on your role in relation to the big issues we face in the global arena. It’s not easy to figure this out, since these are such big issues that seem so distant and unrelated to our lives. And it’s pretty unlikely that any of us is going to sit down and try to negotiate a peace treaty with North Korea, or try to persuade the Iranian government to recount the votes in their last election. But we are all part of global politics in various ways.

You can think about your role on a range of different “levels”: in your day-to-day actions and interactions, in your community, regionally, nationally, and globally. In your entry you might write about your role on one or more of these levels. There are also different realms we operate in: the political realm of voting or writing letters to Congress, the economic realm of buying things and working a job, the religious realm of participating in a spiritual community. In each of these there are different ways in which we participate in global politics.

One way to look at this in terms of how “political” you are. A number of you mentioned “not knowing much about politics” at the beginning of this course. But if we look at a basic definition of politics (used by Harold Lasswell)—the process of determining who gets what, where, when, and how—I’d say you all know plenty about politics. I would argue that we can’t help but know something about politics in that sense, since we can’t avoid being involved with the processes that determine who gets what, where, when, and how. Every day we make decisions about how to spend our time and money, we pursue careers, talk with friends and coworkers, consume resources, and live out a set of values.

So if we can’t help but be at least a little political, what kinds of goals do we have? What role do we have in relation to these big political issues like war, poverty, justice, and the global environment? I’d encourage you to think about what constitutes a “realistic” set of goals in regard to these issues, and I’d suggest that the goal should be somewhere between doing nothing (which is really impossible unless you’re dead) and achieving world peace or ending poverty (not going to happen). We can’t fix any of these problems in some final sense, but we can work on making things a bit better.

When we were looking at the impact of climate change in class, we sketched out two possible scenarios for the what the world looked like in 2050—one in which we worked hard on combating climate change and another where we did very little, and those two worlds looked significantly different. Neither scenarios involved utter chaos and catastrophe and neither one looked like paradise, but one looked better than the other (fewer species going extinct, less people dying from tropical diseases, fewer major storms, etc.) I think those are the kinds of trade-offs or alternative futures we have to work with here, and I hope you see that those the difference between those various outcomes is really important and that we therefore do need to engage on these issues.

I look forward to reading your thoughts and “narratives” about your role in the world, and sense of what it means to be a global citizen.

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