I have plunged into the
Age of Consent
George Monbiot, The Age of Consent, A Manifesto for a
We have been reviewing this book intermittently over the past month. For all its shortcomings, the topic of this book gives it disproportionate importance. Few, if any, intellectuals have the guts to approach world problems from a universal perspective, and you have to hand it to Monbiot that he does not shirk from our prime responsibility to do so. First, I want to emphasize that Abdu'l-Baha, although He wrote Secret of Divine Civilization for his homeland, was not a national reformer only, He was universally concerned. In the following, he states this clearly, reacting against the nationalist agitation in which some Iranians had become embroiled in at the time.
"However, we have nothing to do with these proceedings and counter-proceedings. We are commanded to quicken the souls, to train the characters, to illumine the realm of man, to guide all the inhabitants of the earth, to create concord and unity among all men and to lead the world of humanity to the Fountain of the Everlasting Glory. The reformation of one empire is not our aim; nay, rather we invoke from God that all the regions of the world be reformed and cultivated; the republic of men become the manifestors of the bounty of the most glorious Lord; the East and the West be brought nearer together; and that the Turk and Tajik, Iran and America, India and Arabia, Japan and Persia, China and Germany; in brief, all the nations and peoples of the world become as one soul and one spirit, in order that strife and warfare be entirely removed and the rancor and hostility disappear so that all become as the waves of one ocean, the drops of one sea, the flowers of one rose-garden, the trees of one orchard, the grains of one harvest and the plants of one meadow." (Abdu'l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu'l-Baha v3, p. 489)
Another universalist reformer was the 16th Century Czech genius, Jan Amos Comenius. He wrote,
"Also previous reformers have confined themselves to some particular task and concentrated on the removal of some abuse encountered here or there. In some cases they have lacked the means to obtain their ends, but too often their efforts are a tale of conflict and increasing disunity, not only in politics, but in schools, and most abominably in the church (`for verily the abomination stands there in the holy place.' -Matt 24:15-16). Therefore, in our present situation we desire not simply orthosis or reform but Panorthosia, which is universal. General and full reform of all people, in all things, in all ways." (Comenius, Panorthosia, Ch. 1, para 7-8, p. 49)
Monbiot's concern is to confront injustice and environmental destruction head on, by instituting universal, political reforms, which he lays out in Age of Consent. I think his proposal deserves far more attention than it is getting. Monbiot puts forward a startling suggestion for ending the current planetary oligarchy. Just stage a global free election. Do not worry if national governments do not sanction it. Elect a world body anyway. With the entire population of earth as its constituency, it would rapidly have prestige and influence enough to make the effort worthwhile.
If the whole world's population picked about seven hundred representatives to serve on what would amount to the first democratically elected parliament for the whole human race in history, then even if the major players on the international scene openly rejected it, it would still exercise a powerful moral force. It could legitimately say that it speaks for everybody. No existing international institution today dare make such a claim. What passes for democracy in the West is a joke, a device cleverly designed to flout the will of the people rather than act as a channel for it. Monbiot sees an initially powerless world parliament working solely by moral authority, but eventually becoming an official ruling body with all the prerogatives of government.
Monbiot points out that this was done at least once before, when the
"We already possess an example of a people's parliament built on moral authority, which managed to bring the world's most powerful government to heel. In the fifth century BC,
"At first the tribunes of the plebs had no constitutional powers; they could merely urge the authorities to recognize the needs of their constituents. But, backed by huge numbers, they were hard to ignore and impossible to kill. Gradually, the scope of the Consilium's powers began to increase, and in 449 BC, after a second secession of the plebs, it was officially recognized by the state. The tribunes, now ten in number, were granted a right of veto over the business of the government. The resolutions adopted by the Consilium Plebis (known as plebiscites) gradually began to be passed into law. The plebeians also elected a number of officials - the aediles - whose purpose was to record all proceedings of the Senate (the patricians' parliament), ill the hope of being able to hold its members to their word, and to establish a body of written law which would protect the plebs from arbitrary treatment by magistrates.
"The power of the plebs lasted for about a hundred years. By 367 BC, at least one of the tribunes had been admitted to the Senate as a consul. But (and there is surely a lesson here for all democratic movements) the transformation appears to have been rather too successful, for the tribunes began to accumulate so much power that they ceased to identify with the powerless..." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, pp. 96-97)
Lacking world governance, a strange rule applies, the richer you get the more selfish you become. The truly spiritual can see that with spiritual wealth, the reverse applies, the richer you get the more selfless you become. Even a quasi-physiocrat like Buckminster Fuller understands that this principle should apply to material goods, but sadly in the mind of the plutocrats, it does not.
"Man has now completed all the plumbing and installed all the valves to turn on the infinite cosmic wealth." (Quoted in, Buckminster Fuller: At Home in the Universe, Alden Hatch, Dell Publishing,
When materialism spreads to large numbers, the selfishness that it breeds is amplified. Thus, the nation state is far more cynical than most rich individuals, who often retain their self-respect by offering a small amount to charity, and avoiding cheating the poor. Such is not the case on the international scene.
"The problem is simply stated. Most of the world's purchasing power resides in the hands of the people who need it least, while those who need it most, for such necessities as food, clean water, housing, health and education, have almost none. If no means is provided of shifting some of that money from those who have more than they need to those who have less than they need, the world will continue to be a miserable place for the majority of its people to inhabit. This redistribution is simply not going to happen through aid.
"Nations, like people, appear to become more selfish as they get richer.
"The biggest economy in the world, the United States, offers a smaller proportion of its national wealth in the form of aid than any other substantial donor - a mere 0.1 per cent of its gross domestic product - and this has declined as its economy has grown. Overall, the money given by the rich world to the poor world diminished, in real terms, by $7.1 billion (or twelve per cent) between 1992 and 2000. But even if, in a sudden fit of compassion, the rich world were to start pouring its money freely into the hands of the poor, this would merely trap the poor nations in patronage, dependency and blackmail. Their people would neither respect themselves nor expect to be respected by outsiders. (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 186)
Worse than the selfish, short-sighted motives that run the world's agenda is the fact that the whole system is set up to cheat the poor of their natural resources. Most international regulations boil down to open theft.
"The world's most powerful governments claim that the economic relationship between nations is governed by a single formula, which they call `free trade'. In reality there are two formulae. One of them is the market fundamentalism to which the poor nations have been forced to submit... The other is the way the rich world lives. (The rich world promised to respond in kind) but ... has responded by breaking every promise it has made." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 189)
Without democracy on a universal level, there can be no consent. Without consent, we are all reduced to slaves or slaveholders. The way it is set up now assures that the slavery and suffering of most of the human race is hidden behind a cloud of statistics and monetary complexity.
"Poverty can appear to many of the rich world's nations as something of an abstraction. It might be easier to understand when we recognize that the immediate cause of famine is not drought or crop failure, but the poorest citizens' lack of purchasing power. As food stocks decline, the price rises, and even if there is in absolute terms, enough for everyone, the poor have no means of obtaining it. Poverty, for many of the world's people, means death by starvation or one of the diseases associated with it." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, p. 188)
Lie, cheat and steal from the poor and give it all to the rich. That is how the world works right now. In spite of that, a great deal can be done if we iron out some of the structural injustices in international exchange that keep poor areas poor.
"Besides giving and spending, it is hard to see how money can be extracted from the hands of the rich. Theft has served the powerful nations well, but the poor are in no position to reciprocate. If giving is destructive of respect and independence, then we are left with nothing but spending. Trade has, so far, proved an improbable answer to the problems faced by most nations -but it is the only possible answer." (Monbiot, Age of Consent, pp. 186-187)
Monbiot puts the reform of currency high on the agenda of the elected world parliament that he says we should elect very soon. Why are we not moving on this?