Thursday, 1 October 2009

Interdependence Day

24 October – the designated United Nations Day – should from now on be celebrated as Interdependence Day. The establishment of the United Nations was a momentous step forward away from the anarchic nation-state politics which brought us countless continental conflicts and two World Wars. And underlying the institutional development of the UN was a principle with deep emotional and moral resonance, namely, that we are mutually dependent on each other. We thrive when we respect and respond to one another’s needs, but we are weakened by every attempt to dismiss the concerns of others as insignificant.

So what does appreciating our Interdependence entail? For a start, we should redouble our efforts to challenge those who want to split the world into separate groups with one-way dependencies. They must not be allowed, for example, to get away with dividing people into the ‘well off’ who hand over money with nothing in return, and the ‘poor’ whose lives are dependent on state benefits or philanthropic donations. We are, in fact, equal as citizens and we all depend on each other’s cooperation and good will. We should contribute to the protection of each and everyone of us through our ability to help, and draw on universal benefits we are entitled to count on.

Similarly, attempts to segregate society into the ‘wealth creating’ private sector and the ‘resource draining’ public sector have to countered. The private sector has its economic role but left to its own devices, it is quite capable of losing control and destroying people’s livelihood, whole communities and the environment. The public sector needs to be scrutinised democratically, but unless it is strong enough to take collective action in our common interest, the ruthless and irresponsible would get away with ruining the lives of countless others. When the private financial sector has exploited weak regulations to behave utterly irresponsibly, wiping out people’s savings and jobs, it is not time to be duped into jumping on the ‘slash the public sector’ bandwagon.

As such divisiveness is spreading globally, a worldwide sense of interdependence is even more urgently needed. Jobs cannot be protected for one country if other countries are starved of employment opportunities. We cannot turn a blind eye to the biggest polluters just because they are backed by regimes more powerful than any other single country acting on it own. We have to join forces to stop the climate change deniers make matters even worse.

And we certainly cannot have a small elite of nations which can deploy troops all over the world and bomb others at will, and expect the vulnerable countries to ignore chances to increase their military capability. A world with a few super protectors on whose mercy the rest depend for their security will neither be safe nor peaceful.

Democratic public institutions at the national and global levels hold the key to translating our moral interdependence into mutually supportive arrangements to secure our wellbeing. Total independence from others is not only unrealistic, but it breeds a self-deceiving arrogance that ignores the dire consequences one’s actions could have for others. We need each other’s support, and in this thoroughly inter-connected world, that means we need to work through strong and resourceful democratic governments within our respective state, and at the global level, through the United Nations. If the UN is not robust enough as it stands, the answer is not to weaken it further, but to boost its resources and democratic responsiveness.

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