Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Variable geometry

Gardenia_2005Today, watching this picture of a beautiful gardenia plant that grows in my appartment, I thought I would write something about variable geometry, or why we apply to others rules that we don't want for ourselves. A gardenia flower blooms following its rules and does so for no other reason that the intrinsic merit of blossoming. That is how things are when there is harmonious geometry instead of variable geometry. When the path we choose is that of variable geometry there is a lot of tweaking around and of urgent fixing to do. And that goes with pain and tons of ill effects when those who suffer from variable geometry engage in another form of variable geometry following their own deficient logic. That is why the variable geometry that brought Enron down and ruined its stakeholdes produces the variable geometry of Sarbanes-Oxley and Halliburton deals in Iraq. That is why the variable geometry of human rights, free and compulsory public  education, labour laws and social care (only for developed countries) yields the chaos of terror, war and turmoil... Violence breeds violence. Doing more of the same will yield more of the same results.

I've been following the news actively since 1983, when as a young adolescent I started discovering the world through the lense of media organisations that were not the giants of today. I can still hear the voice of my professor of history and geography urging us to be informed and aware. She did well and I can never thank her enough for that. Following current affairs in several countries through the productions of different media organisations I came to realize the importance of relativity: the war in Bosnia Herzegovina was not the same story if one listened to French, German, British, Russian or Hellenic broadcasts. And to a certain degree this diversity of views was a good thing because it gave us all the opportunity to analyze events and shape a personal opinion. The trend at work since the turn of the millenium is one that I find worrying because it has two effects:

  1. homogeneous coverage - as a direct result of self-imposed censorship and fear to be labelled unpatriotic or pro-terrorist (whatever that means), many news organisations departed from their traditional philosophy and started giving us a single "agreed" way of interpreting events. This trend is reinforced each time there is an extreme act of terror against civilian populations because it becomes more difficult for a news channel to look at the bigger picture. Of course, each and every single human being with a good level of consciousness about Life, the Universe and All-the-Rest will find these destructive acts absolutely horrendous. Now, a few good questions: how do we achieve a "good level of consciousness"? How do we educate human beings today in various parts of our world? How do we deal with hardwired pre-homo sapiens codes that push individuals to "fight or flight" behaviours? Are we not applying different rules and requirements to education and human care in different countries of this planet when our fate is common whether we like it or not? Instances of what I call "variable geometry".

  2. unlimited political influence - political leaders are able to influence and sometimes shape the interpretation of events and the news that are transmitted to citizens, which directly boosts their individual political influence. For the first time in decades the information we are being provided is so questionable and subject to executive influence; for the first time in decades the checks and balances that any citizen wants in a democratic political system are being tested so harshly. And of course, this tacit if not explicit cooperation of the shadows between prominent politicians and large news media organisations is a threat to democracy and freedom in our countries. This assault on civil liberties in the western world is taking place at the very moment the same people who grab more power in our countries go to war in the middle-east and elsewhere with an official goal to establish and protect democracy and freedom. That too is variable geometry.

So let me make a list of occurrences of variable geometry in our world that I see as necessary to tackle if we are serious about sustainable human development in this universe now:

  • public, compulsory, quality education in western countries vs no education and extremist propaganda in poor countries of the planet

  • labour laws in western countries vs the jungle in emerging countries

  • social care in Europe vs chaos virtually everywhere else

  • relative indifference to the genocide in Rwanda (over 2 million dead in a matter of weeks) vs overwhelming outrage for the attacks in NY, Madrid and London

  • environmental protection in Europe vs indifference virtually everywhere else

  • free trade agreements instead of fair trade agreements

  • free trade when it comes to the exports of the western world vs subsidies for western farmers

  • open Internet access in the western world vs controlled connectivity in numerous countries

  • ...

Gardenia3_2005I could go on with this list, but it is not my purpose. I personally believe that education is the root of everything for tomorrow and if 200 billion dollars can be spent for a war without cause, I can hardly see why we cannot fund a true international programme of high quality education worldwide. Perhaps that would also improve things on the front of real global freedom, sustainable development, illegal immigration... And as ever in human endeavours, the technical and material part of such a programme must be supported by a different philosophy, what I call harmonious geometry. What soem other people will call human respect. A philosophy that does not distinguish between what happens to our kids here and what happens to a kid in Ethiopia or Bangladesh. A deep conviction that "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" as M.L. King would put it.

No justification in the world is strong enough to support the adoption of wrong means to achieve an admirable and fair goal. What really matters is the path to an objective and not the objective itself. When my gardenia grows it does everything it needs to do moment by moment without worrying about the flower it will eventually produce and without looking for shortcuts that would violate its essence or its existence.
We humans (and our leaders in particular) have a lot to learn from a simple gardenia plant...

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