In the aftermath of the September 11
attack, and the buildup to war, my heart is full of fear and sadness. But I'll try to write of hope.
Economist, oddball, poet, and philosopher Kenneth Boulding has spoken of the world as being organized by three types of systems:
- The Threat System, which is embodied in armies, police, prisons, mafia.
- The Exchange System, which is that of commerce, of voluntary trade and reciprocal dealings.
- The Integrative System, which is the bonds of such things as family, community, nationality, and faith.
The first two systems are those which are developed one way or another to deal with conflicts of interest
, the third is the creation of common interest
, at best, Love
As we build up to war, the Threat System is on great display. Bush has said, "Those who make war against the United States have chosen their own destruction." The Integrative System is being used in service of the Threat System1 to make sure that Americans and America's allies are clearly behind extensive military action.
But I suggest that the Integrative System be used to help prevent further war. This was the goal behind the Peace Corps, and it is a good one.
Congress has approved $40 billion in funds in response to the attack. I'm not going to say that shouldn't be spent, but if we can spend $40 billion to respond to violence (and this may just be the first installment), can we spend another $40 billion to prevent it?
By all appearances, United Airlines Flight 93 was the only one of the four hijacked airplanes which didn't serve as a weapon. Passengers, including Jeremy Glick and Thomas E. Burnett Jr. were able to use their cell phones (and/or perhaps air phones) to communicate with loved ones on the ground. They learned about the other crashes. What might have been a foolish move in a "normal" hijacking became the only viable--and heroic-- option. They interfered with the hijackers, and died, but likely saved many others.
This was a tragic, yet beautiful, example of the power of an open society. Military jets were not able to stop any of the attacks, but regular, brave people, with the ability to speak with each other, saved lives.
On a happier note, India has been experimenting with providing easy access to cell phones. It appears to be doing wonders, allowing those in the rural areas access to their relatives in the cities, and thereby access to better political news. It gives tradespeople and fishermen access to market information so they can make better deals instead of selling at whatever price whatever middleman wants to pay at the moment.
Arthur C. Clarke, some time ago, proposed flat-rate world-wide telephone service. I'll second that, and take it one step further. Let's give EVERYONE a cell phone. Let's make sure the planet is blanketed in repeaters, and airdrop the phones on tiny little parachutes if need be.
If everyone can speak with everyone else, it's inevitable there will be somewhat greater integration. Allowing those in the deprived areas of the world access to the centers of power will make the world--informationally--a more democratic place. And those who feel they can take part in the world by talking will feel less need to do so by blowing people up.
If we can afford $40 billion to clean up this mess, we can afford $40 billion to really change the way things work. We should be willing to think big about making peace, as well as making war. I want to be able to pick up the phone and call an Afghan farmer (hm, wouldn't help much unless the farmer spoke English, but one thing at a time...).
The results of the Integrative System can also be seen in very positive ways. At a concert on Thursday night, there was collection for relief. The Red Cross
may have more blood donations
than it knows what to do with. I passed two separate car washes raising money for relief this morning.