KAMPALA – One of the attractive qualities of Kampala is the pace of life. It gives you time to think, and I spend afternoons just pondering. And a seemingly inevitable conclusion I keep reaching about where we are going as a species, is the fact that, as I concluded in part III, we left the responsibility of change to those who are most comfortable in their current position of power. Who comes to mind is corrupt politicians, or dictators, maybe. However, I am rather pointing at hegemonic institutions such as the U.N. and all its associated organisations. After all, the U.N., like any (representative) body of power has as a first priority the maintainance of that power.
Institutions like the U.N. have a vested interest in the current inequalities in this world because the important parts that make up the U.N. (e.g. the Security Council) consist of mostly individual member states that profit from these inequalities themselves.
It is not the case that I claim the U.N. is doing nothing about the poverty and suffering in this world. They do, in a multitude of ways. Neither am I asserting the U.N. is an evil institution that deliberately reproduces these inequalities. Rather, I am questioning to what extent an institution like the U.N. can address the challenges we face as humankind given the fact that these crises demand a radical change that will upset the current power relations in this world. In order to deal with the incessant overconsumption of 20% of the world’s population, fueled with exploitative capitalism, steps must be taken that will greatly impact the lives of most of the people who will read this blog. Social systems must be overhauled, culture rethought, behavioural patterns reiterated, power structures deconstructed, and power relations abandoned.
lt seems counter-intuitive to me to leave the responsibility for these issues to institutions whose very purpose prevents them from finding solutions in the first place. It’d be like a CEO who fires himself in order to save the company. Although that is actually not unheard of, the functioning of institutions like the U.N. are not dependent on the goodwill and morality of individuals. Rather, they run on collective effort that obstructs and deflects a sense of individual responsibility, even if the individuals working there are good people with the best intentions.
The employees, and people representing their country in the U.N. do not make up the actual institution. Paradoxically, a social collective is not a mere sum of individuals, as Emile Durkheim famously pointed out.
If we would be interested in finding out where exactly in the interrelationship between the parts and the whole we can locate the interest in power preservation that inhibits the capabilities of the U.N. to adequately and truly address these challenges, where would we have to look? Can we simply state that particular member-states obstruct particular initiatives that contradict their national interests? The U.S. certainly has a history of vetoing any proposal that could potentially change anything that could endanger their hegemonic power position.
If we were to zoom in and consider the U.S. government to be the whole and its employees the parts, then can we again point out specific members of the U.S. government that can be held accountable for these behaviours? I am sure some sociopathic characteres could be located, however, my point here is that it is never that simple. We cannot just look for the rotten apples and expect the tree not to keep growing them. It is the structure of governments and the structure of international institutions like the U.N. that do not only enable power preservation and an inherent sense of conservatism, these structures demand it.
Therefore, the inability of the U.N. to succesfully and truly address the series of global crises we are facing is a logical result of the way the U.N. is structured, and by extent the way our governments work.
A political realist, or anyone in politics, really, would argue that although definitely not perfect, the political systems we have in place are our best chance to change anything. My counter-argument is that these systems are structured in such a way their chances of success are inherently close to zero given that these changes might endanger the existence or power positions of actors in the political systems. I imagine that without me offering an alternative, this political realist will stick to his or her point regardless.
Traditionally, political decisions are made in a top-down fashion: the government makes a decision, the Senate passes a bill, and everyone must from that point onwards adhere to it. In a democracy, politics and their top-down aproach is kept in check through elections and bottom-up political participation. As I have noted in part II, political participation in most of the modernised, democratic world is limited to themed outrage and viral videos of politicians saying stupid shit, all of it floating through the air in a bubble that will eventually burst after which no one will consider it to have any importance whatsoever.
It should not come as a surprise that the checks and balances of democracy are not checked and are definitely not balanced anymore. What we are now relying on is the CEO who is willing to fire himself. A small cluster of individuals somewhere in some branch of government or U.N. delegation, or wherever, that is not ruled by preservation but rather by idealism and integrity. And you know what? Sometimes these people or these groups of people emerge. But, they are sooner or later drowned again in a system they cannot possibly survive in, precisely because they act against their own interests. With the public as a passive witness to all of this, our attempts to change are a gigantic circus act, or a surrealistic rendition of a Greek tragedy.
The final part of this series will be published soon.