Can Human Consciousness Rise to a Level Where We Can Collectively Solve Our Looming Global Problems?
Hello, if you’re like me, you worry that humanity may not be up to the task of confronting and solving our many global problems. Lately, however, I’m more optimistic. That’s because I’m tracking a number of spiritually- or morally-based practical visionary solutions to these global issues.
This is the first of the book reviews on these visions which will be appearing on the website of the Portland Theosophical Society. In this first review, I describe the Simpol Solution, the most far-reaching, the most innovative, and the one I’m most excited about. (I also add my own examples to those provided by the authors, who both are British and have few U.S. examples.)
The Simpol Solution;
Solving Global Problems Could Be Easier Than We Think
By John Bunzl and Nick Duffell, 2017
Synopsis: Can we humans cooperate enough to solve our looming global problems? The Simpol Solution argues that we can if we understand what’s blocking us from doing so. Simply put, the chief blockage is the economic imperative, above all else, to “stay competitive.” In the language of Simpol, we suffer from Destructive Global Competition (DGC).
Competition, at times a boon to innovation and growth, can at other times become so destructive that it either collapses the current system or forces humanity to a higher, more inclusive level of cooperation. This situation, according to the authors, is precisely where humanity currently finds itself: solve our problems at a higher level or face collapse.
While capital easily moves across national boundaries, government action remains national. Competition for investment and jobs means that any one government acting alone to substantially benefit its citizens or solve a global problem could effectively make its country less “competitive” in relation to others. Hence, to solve our many global problems, governments must implement solutions simultaneously — Simpol (Simultaneous Policy) and also with more than one issue at a time (multi-issue framework) compensating the losers on one issue with a win on others. The Simpol Solution is a campaign that presents an innovative global strategy to counter the new situation where markets, not people and governments, rule. In this strategy, we don’t need a new global organization. Citizens will essentially drive governments to cooperate. Working in the U.K. for 17 years, Simpol won the support of 65 MPs in the last election. Check it out at Simpol.org.
Simpol stands for Simultaneous Policy. It is a spirituality-based process and program which calls us as humanity to evolve to the new “world-centric” consciousness which, the authors contend, is necessary for both understanding and solving global issues. It’s also a new way of thinking (both/and rather than us/them) and a set of action steps to take us to global cooperation. The authors describe Simpol as the next evolutionary step to a higher consciousness, an embrace of human “maturity” and a call to “come home to who we really are.”
For theosophists and other spiritually-minded people, Simpol provides what we might describe as a possible outer form for the inner reality of the sisterhood/brotherhood we’re always talking about and calling for. Simpol is both a WHAT and a HOW to get there, a policy and a process but in down-to-earth terms, not spiritual ones.
You don’t need to be spiritual, however, to understand and appreciate Simpol. For more secular folks, Simpol calls on evolutionary biology and game theory to show the ongoing dance of competition and cooperation. Competition, at times a boon, can at other times become so destructive that it either collapses the current system or forces humanity to a higher, more inclusive level of cooperation. This situation, according to the authors, is precisely where humanity currently finds itself: solve our problems at a higher level or face collapse.
The polarity between competition and cooperation, according to the authors, applies to all systems, whether the cells in our bodies, our politics, or all of human society. Think of cancer as destructive cell competition.
Einstein’s Five Minutes
The authors begin their analysis of our global dilemmas by citing Einstein: when asked how he’d solve a problem in only 5 minutes, he said he’d spend 4 minutes understanding the problem and one minute solving it. So in that spirit let’s turn to the diagnosis of the chief issue preventing us from solving such thorny global issues as climate change, mass migration, deforestation, fair corporate taxation, poverty reduction and wealth inequality, worker rights, financial market regulation, and many, many more.
The Chief Blockage
The authors argue that we humans are in a vicious cycle of Destructive Global Competition (DGC). This is not just the “globalization” we all hear about but the “Neoliberal” version of it. While it has its complexities, Neoliberalism is essentially extreme economic liberalism, market fundamentalism, the idea or ideology that all competition, whatever it is and wherever it occurs, is always beneficial and consequently that governments with their regulations and intrusions into “market forces” should be reduced to a minimum. Neoliberalism arose in the ’70s and became the dominant economic philosophy by the mid-’80s. This was the era of Reagan, Thatcher, and deliberate union-busting. And DGC holds all of us, from idealistic activists to even greedy and craven CEOs, in its grip.
If you don’t understand or keep track of economics, you might be unaware of how DGC operates, of what’s really going on around the world. While there has been a movement of “conscious and socially-responsible capitalism,” this benevolent philosophy, according to a June, 2017, article in the New Yorker, has pretty much lost out to another one: “the primacy of investor rights.” This latter economic philosophy states that companies should do anything within the law to increase a company’s (short-term) stock price, “whether that be firing workers or polluting the environment.”
That same New Yorker article (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”) describes what happened to one company who tried to do the right thing. In the U.S., Juno entered the ride-sharing market thinking that treating its workers better than Uber would lead to success. Juno even gave drivers stock in the company. But as a consequence they couldn’t find investors to finance their growth and they had to sell out to another corporation who cancelled most driver benefits.
In other words, under the dictates of DGC, any one business or nation that attempts to benefit its workers or its citizens becomes less competitive in the long run and essentially gets “punished” by the market. Any corporation that diverts profits from shareholders to workers, for example, can get sued. Or the market will simply drive down the stock price of corporations who try to be socially responsible seeing them as less friendly to investors. In addition, trade organizations such as the WTO favor capital over workers and the environment. And most trade pacts allow corporations to actually sue governments for compensation if regulations hurt their profits! The authors cite many examples of DGC from South Africa to France.
DGC means that any one company or nation which actually moves to address even more difficult global problems will find itself at a competitive disadvantage not only nationally but globally. Consequently many problems can only be solved on a global, not a national level, and solved simultaneously. This is the “prisoner’s dilemma” writ large. The result: a race to the bottom as capital has become so mobile, it can transfer capital or even operations to other locations if its demands are not met.
That’s why Boeing in Seattle, despite billions in profit, tried to break its machinist union by threatening to move operations out of the city. As Robert Reich says in his book Saving Capitalism for the Many, Not the Few (2015), large corporations such as Boeing feel they have no choice if they are to “stay competitive” in the global market. (In a subsequent book review, we’ll be looking at Reich’s vision and his analysis of how money is being transferred upward to the top 1% inside the market which makes such transfers largely invisible to the average person.)
And when markets go down, as they invariably do, there are loud calls for even more competition, privatization, and austerity and, of course, a big rollback of regulation.
Worldwide, the authors report some of the consequences of DGC:
- Governments don’t hold bad corporations accountable. They can’t afford to.
- Corporate taxes fall around the world while government taxes are shifted downward.
- Public education and other social services are defunded.
- Mass migration increases from both poverty and war.
- The rise of a pseudo-democracy: cynicism at governments’ inability to solve problems; massive voter apathy; the rise of the right-wing and separatist movements.
- Global problems not addressed because not in any government’s or corporation’s immediate interest. If the market could benefit from solving global problems, the problems would be on their way to solution.
- Massive and growing disparities of wealth. Increasing personal and public debt.
- A postmodern intellectual climate that opposes meta-narratives such as Simpol and refuses to consider one problem or cause as primary in a ‘hierarchy’ of causes. Simpol puts DGC as primary while the Global Justice Movement fragments into a long list of causes.
In short, the extreme mobility of capital which allows it to cross national borders to escape taxes or regulations puts markets in charge. Capital is worldwide but governments aren’t. This creates what the authors call a “new context for governance” and requires us, in turn, to think globally.
The Inner Side of Globalization
Reviewing all these dysfunctional global issues might tempt us to rail against these seemingly ruthless corporations. And the authors certainly don’t excuse corrupt CEOs and multi-nationals. But if we’re to move to a higher and more inclusive level of consciousness, we can’t adopt a “us vs. them” way of thinking. In fact, we’re all complicit in this global system and must face ourselves as well as these outer economic forces and institutions. This is the “inner” or consciousness side of globalization.
One of the book’s authors, Nick Duffell, is a psychotherapist and trainer. And the Simpol Solution is full of psychology especially the crucial issues of human belonging and identity. The authors contend that one of our strongest and hardest-to-give-up identities is the one that comes from being “stridently against something,” an identity that makes us feel that we’re one of the “good guys” which, of course, requires bad guys to oppose. To truly recognize DGC, according to the authors, requires “an inclusive, non-judgmental” stance, a “radical forgiveness of each other and ourselves.”
And from a strictly spiritual point of view, we know that all of humanity is essentially One and that all of us in varying degrees have participated in creating or benefited from the present circumstances we find ourselves in.
The Simpol Campaign: the What
In 2000 in the U.K., one of the book’s authors, John Bunzl, an international entrepreneur, founded the International Simultaneous Policy Organization (ISPO) and launched the Simpol campaign. Working now for over 17 years, they have had some success in Britain where 65 MPs have signed on to Simpol in the recent election.
Simpol starts by distinguishing national-only issues (unilateral) from those global ones that can only be solved by nations working together (simultaneous). This distinction preserves national prerogatives and takes into account the different levels of economic/political development and the different degrees of consciousness. For example, national housing issues don’t necessarily make a nation less economically competitive in relation to others. Here’s more on the WHAT of Simpol:
- Simpol is a global policy platform, a network made up primarily of citizens in democratic countries.
Many people have dreamed of global institutions such as world parliaments or federations. According to Simpol, we don’t need a new global organization to solve our problems. Simpol does have national organizations but it’s not a new political party or NGO. Regular citizens are Simpol’s actors and drivers.
- Simultaneous Implementation of Policy
This prevents any one nation from being put at a competitive disadvantage in acting to solve global problems.
- Multi-issue framework
The world usually tries to solve global problems one at a time and there are always winners and losers. Simpol advocates negotiating two or more issues at the same time so that the losers in one issue can be compensated with the other. Example: Carbon emissions could be paired with a global transaction tax, most of which could go to the losers (often developing countries.) This pairing makes global solutions in the immediate interest of governments and corporations.
- Simpol includes non-democratic countries. Simpol relies on self-interest and reciprocity to appeal to all countries. It doesn’t push “values” such as “democracy.”
- Simpol doesn’t require us to stop working on individual issues such as environmental justice, racism, etc. As citizens, we can add Simpol on top of other activities. See below. But we need to let go of and grieve the loss of a number of things: our status as the good guys; the idea that just chipping away on our chosen issues will solve these global problems; the “myth of the sovereign state” (that is, the idea that our national governments can really solve global problems while DGC operates).
The Simpol Campaign: the How
- Realize that most big changes are brought about by small groups of people. We need only a focused critical mass, perhaps 10% to 20% of any nation.
- Create Simpol as a tag, a brand, a symbol of global cooperation.
We citizens create the Simpol brand by asking our own politicians to sign the Simpol Pledge. We let them know that we will give a strong preference to signers in our votes.
- Get Politicians to Sign the Simpol Pledge.
Signing this Pledge is not risky at the moment because Simpol is not implemented until a sufficient number of nations are on board. With many close elections, the bloc of Simpol voters can have an effect.
- Determine A Range of Global Policies Democratically.
The authors don’t want to determine ahead of time what global policies should be because it’s premature and subject to new global developments. Yet throughout the book, the authors highlight policies that will rescue nations from DGC and help developing countries. There is a re-distribution element in many of the trade-offs advocated.
- Start at the national level.
Simpol supporters in each country will meet to set global priorities, probably drawing on work already done by experts, think tanks, NGOs, etc. At the global level, representatives from the different nations will negotiate multi-issue policies for simultaneous implementation plus verification and enforcement.
Up until now, evolution has been for the most part blindly driven by natural selection and competition. But the authors show that evolution’s deepest story is actually cooperation, at ever higher levels. Today, conscious choice can replace natural selection. Humanity can reach maturity and cooperate. Let’s work for that goal.
If you find Simpol workable and hopeful and you want to support it, go to Simpol.org and click on the Support button. You can also email this review to others.
—Linda W. Phelps January, 2018
The Theosophical Society in Portland is not responsible for any statement on this website made by anyone, unless contained in an official document of the Society. The opinions of all writers are their own.