Blog No. 13. Destination 2050: Newtown Connecticut : this is actually part of an even bigger issue.

December 20, 2012

By Peter Ellyard


 The major political consequence of the massacre of children and teachers in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut this week has been the increased recognition, even by the pro gun lobby, that this is a consequence of permitting unlimited individual ownership of what are actually weapons of war.  Most people recognize that unlimited individual rights to own guns means that communities all over the USA will be much less safe. In the US the right to own guns is embedded in the 2nd Amendment to the US constitution.  At the time of that Amendment ‘guns’ meant ‘muzzle loaded muskets’. Guns have become more lethal than the writers of this amendment could have ever imagined, but unfortunately the attitudes of many gun owners to gun ownership are still stuck back in the late eighteenth century.  

            If a person went into a café in the USA or indeed most other parts of the world and lit a cigarette he/she would be justifiably treated as a pariah and asked to either stop smoking or leave the café. We recognize that that person’s smoking would cause collateral damage -harm – to others and most of us no longer tolerate such behaviour when we are threatened by it. The rights of the individual smoker in these circumstances must give way to the rights of the community. The US is as intolerant of smokers in cafes as is anybody in most parts of the world. This issue of finding the most appropriate balance between the rights of individuals and communities is central to the gun ownership debate in the USA, and smoking in cafes everywhere, and generically speaking it is perhaps the most important issue our emerging global community faces.

            Individualism implies that if there is a conflict between individual and community rights, individual rights must prevail, Communitarianism on the other hand says in such circumstances community rights must prevail. Getting the right balance between the rights of individuals and communities is actually the elephant in the global room as we face many global dilemmas of this kind.  Issues like climate change, dealing with the consequences of greedy bank behaviour, protecting the European community from destructive actions from some of its members, eliminating weapons of mass destruction from the Earth, creating peace in the Middle East, modifying the global trading system so that it is fair for all ,are just a few examples of this fundamental generic dilemma. Our global society is now so interdependent and interconnected that an action by one person, organisation or nation can threaten all of us.

            The USA is currently communitarian in terms of smokers rights but individualistic in terms of gun ownership. This inconsistency is unusual as the level of, and balance between, individualism and communitarianism , tends to be consistent across all major issues in most cultures.  If we extend our consideration of smoking in cafes to the whole planet we recognize that the ethics are When I have worked with coal and oil producers on shaping their future in emerging 21st century I discuss the smoker in the café. By 2030 zero industrial carbon emissions will be demanded all over the planet and those who dump industrial carbon into our atmosphere will receive the same opprobrium as a smoker in a café receives today.            Garrett Hardin in his famous essay ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’ said the only way to ensure that individual and community rights are balanced in our emerging global society is the ask and answer the question’ what kinds of mutual coercion can we mutually agree upon?’ The bottom line is that all our solutions from now on must be crafted to result in win/win outcomes or otherwise there will be no agreement. Win/lose is no longer an option in our emerging interdependent planetary society. Indeed the issues the people of the USA must face both in deciding what to do in terms of gun control or avoiding the fiscal cliff for that matter, is to recognize that over time the whole world is becoming more communitarian. We have no choice but to recognized that humanity shares a common home and has a shared future and we must adapt accordingly or face the consequences of our failure to find agreement. Our warming global climate is the perfect illustration of this 21st century reality and of the consequences of our failure to reach agreement.

            John Donne said 400 years ago that ‘no man is an island’ and that ‘we are all involved in mankind’. Global realities today are forcing all of us to be ‘involved in mankind’ whether we like it or not.

            However becoming more communitarian does not mean that only alternative is to be less individualistic. It means that we must be differently individualistic. My definition of ‘sustainability’ is doing things and taking actions that produce zero net collateral damage to others. A sustainable lifestyle is one that enables us to enjoy our individuality in ways that does not threaten or harm others. Here the environment is our shared planetary home which we should not defile or endanger. By contrast a healthy lifestyle is enjoying our individuality in ways that do not cause collateral damage- harm – to self.  Some of this involves becoming smarter, creating innovations that enable us to achieve both of these.  In my books Destination 2050 and Designing 2050, I have a lot to say about innovating our way to global prosperity, harmony, sustainability, health, justice and security by the year 2050. Developing and marketing the innovations to achieve this a major component of the  emerging 21st century global economy. In my books and elsewhere I discuss the innovations not yet created that will do all the things we will need to achieve these outcomes over the next 38 years to the year 2050

            As the US wrestles with its gun ownership dilemma, it needs to recognize the generic aspects of this national conversation. This kind of conversation is needed more and more as we find ways to balance individual behaviour with responsibility to respect community rights. There is no bigger conversation we will need to have over the next 20 years than this one. But if we do it well we will create the innovations to help our emerging planetary society find new means to ensure that individual needs and community needs can simultaneously be met for the benefit of both .


19 December 2012

peter@preferredfutures .org


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