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Why Forgiving Ourselves and Each Other is the Path to Global Justice.:: {SITENAME}

Why Forgiving Ourselves and Each Other is the Path to Global Justice

By John Bunzl,
Founder, International Simultaneous Policy Organisation.

2006, Xth conference of International Coalition “For Humanism!”

When we protest against transnational corporations, politicians and unaccountable global institutions
such as the WTO, the IMF and the World Bank; when we protest against those we regard as causing
or exacerbating global warming, ecological destruction, pollution or the widening gap between rich
and poor, we inevitably blame them. Often, we go further to blame individuals who may shop at
supermarkets, or who fail to buy Fair Trade or organic foods and so on. In protesting against them, or
in decrying their behaviour, we inevitably point our fingers at them: “YOU are the ones who are
destroying our world!” In fact, it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the Global Justice
Movement’s principal mode of action is protest; a mode which inescapably implies the blaming of
one section of society or another, or one institution or another, for our global ills. And to be fair,
there’s a lot to protest about and without protest these important issues would never come to wider
public attention.
But dire as our global problems undoubtedly are, should not the question be asked as to whether, in
some sense, we are not all to blame for our present predicament, NGOs and global justice activists
included? After all, who amongst us is so utterly de-linked from the global economy as to be able to
honestly claim not to be contributing in some way to present problems, be it by driving when we
might walk, by buying the products of transnational corporations when something more eco- or
socially friendly might be better, or by failing to buy organic food when cheaper non-organic
alternatives better suit our budgets - or by flying to holiday or conference destinations and thus
contributing disproportionately to global warming emissions? Because for any of us to pretend that
we are beyond reproach is not only likely to be untrue, it leads inexorably to a kind of “eco-fascism”
whereby self-styled “eco-warriors” vilify and victimise the rest of us who, for one reason or another,
apparently fail to live up to their criteria for what is required to “save the planet”. Indeed, the reality is
that through our individual and collective choices, lifestyles and socio-economic system, all of us
play a part, to a greater or lesser extent, in exacerbating our increasingly dire global predicament. So
to pretend otherwise is not only divisive and untrue, it ultimately serves only to divert us from what
should be a common effort to find solutions and instead leads us into an endless loop of factional, ‘us
and them’ blame and counter-blame.
And if we are all to blame, perhaps we should take the further step of asking ourselves whether the
corporate executives or market traders we commonly regard as being in positions of power are really
in any position to significantly alter their polluting or socially irresponsible behaviour? It should after
all be clear that in a competitive global market any corporation single-handedly taking on a greater
measure of social or environmental responsibility - and thus increasing its costs in the process - would
only lose out to its competitors causing a loss of its profits, a reduction in its share value, a
consequent loss of jobs and, ultimately, the prospect of it becoming the target of a hostile takeover.
You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that, in a global market, corporations can generally
only afford to behave as responsibly as the aggregate behaviour of their major competitors permits
and, since they cannot reliably count on them to simultaneously take on higher standards, it is
virtually impossible for one or a restricted number of market players to make the first move. So while
it’s clear that corporations could take some small steps towards more responsible behaviour and
should be encouraged to do so, we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that they have the power to
make the really substantive and fundamental changes needed to solve our global problems. Indeed,
they manifestly don’t.
As George Soros points out, the same goes for global investors and fund managers. With respect to
his own role he explains that: “As an anonymous participant in financial markets, I never had to
weigh the social consequences of my actions. I was aware that in some circumstances the
consequences might be harmful but I felt justified in ignoring them on the grounds that I was playing
by the rules. The game was very competitive and if I imposed additional constraints on myself I
would end up a loser. Moreover, I realised that my moral scruples would make no difference to the
real world, given the conditions of effective or near-perfect competition that prevail in financial
markets; if I abstained somebody else would take my place.”i So it’s not corporate execs or fund
managers who are destroying our world, it’s the system in which they - and we - are all implicated.
WE – all of us – are destroying our world.
After all, do global justice activists really think business leaders are any less aware of our
environmental crisis than anyone else? Of course they’re not! But they’re caught in a vicious circle of
destructive global competition which systematically prevents them from behaving in the way activists
– and they themselves - would like. In his book, “When Corporations Rule the World”, David Korten
astutely observed that “With financial markets demanding maximum short-term gains and corporate
raiders standing by to trash any company that isn't externalizing every possible cost, efforts to fix the
problem by raising the social consciousness of managers misdefine the problem. There are plenty of
socially conscious managers. The problem is a predatory system that makes it difficult for them to
survive. This creates a terrible dilemma for managers with a true social vision of the corporation's
role in society. They must either compromise their vision or run a great risk of being expelled by the
That’s not to say, of course, that some corporations or CEOs aren’t greedy or careless, or that we
should become apologists for poor corporate behaviour. But more often than not, it is destructive
competition and the fear of losing out, rather than pure greed for profit, which daily drives the
socially and environmentally detrimental decisions of business executives. For as they rightly point
out: “If we don’t do it, our competitors will” – and in a globally de-regulated market, they’re right! So
what is the point in blaming them when they’re caught in a system which effectively prevents them
from behaving otherwise? And are global justice activists and NGOs in any position to point fingers
when, were we in the shoes of corporate executives and subject to the same competitive demands,
we’d likely be behaving in much the same way? So it is not corporations or their CEOs at whom we
should be directing our primary fire, but at the destructively competitive global market system of
which they are merely its most high-profile prisoners.
And what about governments; the institutions who are responsible for “the system”; our leaders who
are supposed to regulate markets to balance social and environmental interests with those of business?
In a world where capital and employment quickly move to any country where costs are lower and
profits therefore higher, what chance do governments have to impose increased regulations or taxes
on business to protect society or the environment when doing so will only invite employment and
investment to move elsewhere? Environmentalists commonly decry government laxness in properly
regulating corporations but what choice do governments have when they cannot count on other
governments doing likewise? Any government making any significant move to tighten environmental
or social protection regulations would face the prospect of uncompetitiveness, capital flight, a loss of
jobs and a resulting loss of votes. Again, that’s not to say that governments are powerless to do
anything at all to improve matters or that we should stop pressuring them. But it does mean that their
room for manoeuvre is extremely curtailed to the point where they, too, are largely caught in the same
vicious circle like everyone else. So, governments of whatever party are now constrained to pursuing
only those narrow policies they know will not displease world markets; a pathetically narrow range of
policies which reduce democracy to a hollow kind of pseudo-democracy; an electoral charade in
which whatever party we elect, and whatever the party’s manifesto may have stated, the policies
actually delivered inevitably conform to market demands and to each country’s need to maintain its
“international competitiveness”.
So activists should ask themselves whether they would act greatly differently were they to be sitting
in government instead of our politicians? When significant strides to protecting society or the
environment mean losing jobs and votes, would we really behave much different to the politicians we
so commonly decry?
As I have hinted, at the root of the present world predicament lies a vicious circle of destructive
competition which no-one can be said to be in control of and no-one can therefore be held wholly
responsible for. Furthermore, the global institutions of the WTO, IMF and World Bank whom we
might expect to be in control of the global economy are, in fact, operating under the delusion that
competition is always a beneficial phenomenon; a delusion forced upon them by their understandable
inability to control the free movement of capital and corporations. For in having no control over their
free movement, and thus in accepting that state as a “natural given”, they are necessarily lead to
prescribe yet more competition (i.e. more structural adjustment, more privatisation, more tax cuts,
more fiscal austerity, etc) as the cure to our global ills and not less. In failing to realise that economic
competition becomes destructive when it fails, as at present, to occur within the framework of
adequate global regulations that protect society and the environment, the WTO, WB and IMF serve
only to exacerbate the very problems they think they’re solving. Those in charge of the institutions we
expect to exert beneficial control over the global economy and whom we commonly believe to be “in
power” are, therefore, relatively powerless to influence its out-of-control competitive forces.
So, by blaming governments or corporations or international institutions, we actually accord them far
more credit than they really deserve. For in blaming them and in holding them responsible, we imply
that they have the power to substantially change the system when we should instead be recognising
that the lunatic herd mentality of global markets has already taken over the asylum. Disconcerting
though that realisation may be, all those we think of as “in power” are in fact as much prisoners of the
system as the rest of us. And were the leaders of the Global Justice Movement to take their place,
would they be in any better position, given the radical and global free movement of capital, to take
greatly different decisions? I think not. Of course this should not mean that our protests should stop –
far from it! But what it does mean is that we should not fool ourselves into thinking that protest or
other conventional forms of NGO action can ever be adequate to bringing about lasting, substantive
and beneficial solutions; it means that each of us who truly cares about this world must earnestly seek
for another way.
Surely, therefore, the greatest mistake we can make in our fight for global justice is to blame others
for our sorry global predicament as if we ourselves were blameless or as if we could do any better?
All the while we fail to recognise that we are all to blame, or that we would ourselves likely behave in
much the same way as those we presently vilify, we perpetuate division, discord and resentment; we
build adversarial barriers instead of removing them and we thus make impossible the atmosphere of
cooperation, understanding and forgiveness needed to foster an atmosphere of global community; an
atmosphere in which the productive negotiation necessary to finding appropriate solutions could
When - finally – we take all this on board, far from being overcome by a feeling of desperation and
despair, paradoxically we reach a crucial and fundamentally important intellectual and spiritual
turning point. A point at which we can move to a new and liberating level in our thinking and being.
We move from what the prominent American philosopher, Ken Wilber, calls ‘first tier’ thinking to
‘second tier’ thinking; from nation-centric thinking to world-centric thinking; from what he calls
‘flatland reductionism’ to integral holism.
So once we stop blaming others, we start to see that, in reality, no single person, group, organisation,
country, religion or culture can be singled out. We start to see that even those who benefit hugely
from the status quo are in no position to actually change the system and we start to see that we are all
caught – to a greater or lesser extent – in the vicious circle of globally destructive competition: a
“prisoner’s dilemma” from which there is, ordinarily, no way out. In short, we start to see – finally -
that we are all in the same boat.
From a collective realisation such as this, we would have gone a long way to creating the preconditions
for building a genuine global community: the conditions of forgiveness and nonjudgemental
acceptance of ourselves and each other; the inclusiveness necessary to beginning our
collaborative search for global solutions. After all, it is upon such a state of genuine Global
Community that any properly functioning global democracy must surely depend. In short, we would
have created the conditions in which we could recognise the reality that we are ALL ONE; all one in
the recognition of our common human fallibility and ‘brokenness’; all one in the celebration of each
others’ differentness, all one in the brother/sisterhood of humanity and all one in the eye of our
respective God.
Fortunately, this latest and most essential of humanity’s evolutionary journeys has already begun
through the work of a number of organisations around the world whose perspective has moved
beyond the ‘first-tier’ mode of protest, blame and ‘either/or’ thinking to the ‘second-tier’, nonjudgemental,
world-centric, ‘both/and’ thinking needed to solve global problems. For as Einstein
rightly suggested, “no problem can be solved with the same thinking that created it”.
One organisation that seeks to embody this new thinking is the International Simultaneous Policy
Organisation (ISPO) which offers us all – activists and business executives alike – a means by which
we can firstly take back control of our present, hollowed-out pseudo-democratic processes and,
secondly, how we can co-create the policies necessary to achieving environmental sustainability and
global justice. Finally it offers the crucial means for citizens the world over to bring our politicians
and governments to implement them without any nation, corporation or citizen losing out. It thus
turns the destructive, competition-led politics of globalisation on its head by offering global citizens a
practical and peaceful way out of the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’; a veritable way for all of us to take back
the world with a new politics of citizen-led, international co-operation for our emergent - but yet-tobe-
born - sustainable global society.

i The Crisis of Global Capitalism - Open Society Endangered, George Soros, Little, Brown and Co. 1998.
ii When Corporations Rule the World, David Korten, Kumarian Press & Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 1995.

International Simultaneous Policy Organisation

P.O. Box 26547, London SE3 7YT, UK
Tel. +44 (0)20-8464 4141 Fax. +44 (0)20-8460 2035

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