For years, we have seen a fundamental mismatch between the magnitude of the common global challenges we humans face and the insufficiency of our existing institutions to address them.
In a better world we can imagine, for example, we would have a global health organization with a robust pandemic surveillance system reaching to the far corners of the earth. When the first tripwire of a pathogenic outbreak was hit, a fully resourced team of experts would immediately be dispatched to work with local authorities to squelch it. If the outbreak could not be contained, the global health organization would then lead governments and civil society organizations around the world in a coordinated effort to share best practices and allocate resources where they are needed most for the common good of humanity. The organization would be a repository for the most reliable information and coordinate consistent messaging the world over to help facilitate the most thoughtful, targeted, efficient, and effective response possible. After the crisis had abated, the organization would then study the lessons learned, strengthen its surveillance capabilities, intensely prepare for the next pandemic, and work to help prepare local officials, civil society leaders, and general publics for future threats.
We already have an organization kind of like that, you might say, the World Health Organization. Established in 1948, the WHO, is, according to its founding document, “the directing and coordinating authority on international health work.” Yes. On paper. In reality, the organization, with which, in full disclosure, I have the honor to be associated, is underfunded, understaffed, and under-empowered by states. The Chinese authorities waited at least 4 days from when they identified the novel coronavirus (later named SARS-CoV-2) until they notified the WHO, and it took another 42 days from then until the first WHO team of medical experts were allowed in. Then, the WHO, however well-intentioned and capable its leadership and staff, did not have the capacity, tools, or authorities to drive a coordinated global response. The world is now in deep crisis and many people will die because of our collective failure, realized over many decades, to build the type of robust response infrastructure we now need. For our own collective good, we must do better.
Last Tuesday, I was invited to give a talk to Singularity University’s global virtual summit on the COVID-19 crisis. I had initially planned to discuss whether the tools of the genetics revolution could be used to win this battle (a topic I explore in my book Hacking Darwin). After listening to the excellent presentations of my SU faculty colleagues speaking before me, I decided to change tack and hurriedly put together my thoughts for what became this talk entitled “The Future of the Past: The Coronavirus Pandemic and the New Normal.” In it, I make the case that this year, 2020, is more equivalent to 1941 than it is to 2001, the year of 9-11. Like 1941, our world is at risk, the future of our system is at play, and some fundamental cracks in the way we have organized ourselves are becoming clear. But just like in 1941, when leaders like FDR, Churchill, and others came together to plan for the world they wanted to build after the war, we must now start laying the foundations for the very different world that will emerge following the current crisis. The core issue is not whether the world will change but is instead what values will guide that transformation and what institutions and processes can be reformed and established to realize those values.
The brilliant planners in the early 1940s recognized that the rigid models state sovereignty that had led to World War I and of excessive nationalism to World War II needed to be tempered with new models of shared sovereignties and broader and more inclusive political identities. Our multilateral institutions including the UN, World Bank, IMF, EU. NATO, and others all stem from that basic insight. But today we are seeing in sharp relief that our system of national states and the multilateral institutions they have created is not able to sufficiently address the greatest common challenges facing our species and our collective home. To do this, I believe we must add a third leg of this stool. That leg, what the crises of our time demand, is that we create a new global, democratic political force representing our collective aspirations as members of the same species whose common interests far outweigh what divides us.
Since the YouTube video of my talk went a bit viral these past days, I have been inundated with messages from people suggesting well thought out master plans for how to achieve this goal. Many of these plans make great intellectual sense to me. But my gut tells me we can’t create a new, democratic, and inclusive system from a master plan generated by a few very well-intentioned and self-appointed visionaries. Instead, we must build this new political power center bit by bit (or brick by brick (choose your metaphor) from the ground up, starting with a declaration of principles. To get this ball rolling (too many metaphors!), I have drafted and included below my first draft effort. Very soon, I will be placing this text in a more open, wiki-like platform to open it up for an inclusive, public deliberative process equivalent to Iceland’s (albeit mixed) 2011 effort to crowdsource its constitution.
Once this is done, we will work together, as openly and collectively as possible and feasible, in a democratic process to determine next steps, perhaps collectively developing a constitution and/or committees to explore how we might best address particular global challenges. Our goal is not to work down from an existing master plan but to work up from a foundational set of common values moored to the existing principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals. We should not seek to undermine or supersede our states and international institutions but to augment and complement them.
None of this will be easy. Huge questions remain. How can we keep an inclusive process from becoming chaotic? How can we secure the participation of people off the global information grid or living within authoritarian states? How can we protect ourselves from attacks from or manipulations by national security services? How can we move from a small number of people involved in this process now to hopefully billions in the future? I don’t have complete answers to any of these questions, but I do have every confidence we will find them.
Because 7.7 billion humans, with our far greater commonalities than differences, if given the connectivity, infrastructure, and half the chance, can, if we put our hearts, minds, and labors to it, make that so.
We are now amassing an incredible alliance of partners in this mission, which I invite you to join by signing up here.
Please find below this first draft text. Once we have the group editing platform in place, I will post that information as well.
Declaration of Global Interdependence
The globalization of our world has for millennia brought both wonder and terror. While this increasing connectivity has helped us share ideas and help each other, it has also created new opportunities for us to threaten, harm, and exploit one and other and for deadly pathogens or destructive invasive species to spread.
Our ongoing technological revolutions that have fueled this growing interconnectivity have likewise been used for good and for ill. The same nuclear technologies, for example, that provide energy to our schools and hospitals also make possible the nuclear weapons threatening to destroy us.
In the early days of the Second World War, when victory by the Allied powers was by no means assured, a small group of enlightened leaders from the United States and Great Britain came together to articulate the principles of the world they sought to create after the war. Announced in 1941, the Four Freedoms and Atlantic Charter became the North Star of the war effort and the foundations of the post-War international system.
Soon after the war, country representatives came together in San Francisco to create the United Nations and then ratified a series of treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, designed to foster unified action to solve collective problems and prevent future cataclysms. With all of its flaws and shortcomings, and however imperfectly and unevenly, this system has made the world safer over the past seven decades. While far too many people still suffer from hunger, malnutrition, poor sanitation, political instability, disease, and oppression, overall indicators for health, wealth, well-being, peace, security, and stability have all increased dramatically in the post-War era.
Now, however, our world is facing a set of global challenges our governments and existing institutions seem unwilling or unable to address. This include:
- A failure to build the predictive, preventive, and responsive infrastructure to save us from global pandemics;
- A failure to prevent the dangerous proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and other weapons of mass destruction;
- A failure to address the climate change crisis that threatens to make render portions of our planet unlivable, destroy natural habitats, and harm many millions of people;
- A failure to defend the survival of all species and the sustainability of our planet;
- A failure to prevent the ongoing destruction of our ocean ecosystems through overfishing, pollution, and global warming;
- A failure to protect the most vulnerable among us from depravity, hunger, malnutrition, disease, and disorder;
- A failure to protect the basic civil and political rights of people oppressed by authoritarian governments;
- A failure to protect the safety, security, and well-being of women and girls, indigenous peoples, migrants, minorities, people with disabilities, racial and religious groups, or those with all sexual orientations and gender identities.
- A failure to spread the benefits of new technologies to help the most vulnerable among us;
- A failure to prevent the weaponization of space and other global commons;
- A failure to establish systems to help ensure our most cherished collective values can guide the application of our most powerful technologies.
These failures stem from the fundamental mismatch between the national identities of our various governments and our collective identity as humans sharing the same planet with a common desire to protect ourselves, our families, and the ecosystems around us.
For better and for worse, the system of dividing our world into separate states remains an essential form of our social organization, at best allowing for the provision of goods and services within delineated geographic areas. Our current multilateral systems, including global organizations like the United Nations and many regional organizations around the world, are also essential and must be strengthened so they can do far more to address our shared challenges.
We assigning our names to this declaration call on all governments of the world to come together in the spirit of the 1945 San Francisco conference to set a path forward for truly uniting our nations to solve our most pressing common challenges based on the principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Sustainable Development Goals.
But even this will not be enough. Our greatest global challenges can only be addressed if a fully inclusive global political force can champion our common humanity and our common home. That political force is the democratic voice of all of us.
Today, more humans are literate, educated, interconnected, and socially and politically aware than at any previous time in our history. Considering the magnitude of the global challenges facing us and the failure of our governments and institutions to address them, we can no longer entrust the future of our families, species, and world to our political leaders alone. As we call on our governments to do far more for the common good, we recognize that no matter how well-intentioned some of our governments may be, they cannot as currently configured solve our global problems for us.
Our bottom-up process seeks to augment and inspire, not supplant, the essential work being done by many government and international institutions. Our process will include broad and inclusive global dialogues designed to develop norms to underpin global agreements. We recognize the need to balance democratic expressions popular global will with frameworks that respect inherent human rights. We will use the new technological tools that facilitate inclusive global connectivity while recognizing that people who must be part of this process are not yet connected to this global grid. We will build this additional pillar of our world bit by bit from the ground up based on shared and evolving principles rather than seek to implement a preconceived master plan for where this process should end.
Our species and our world today stand at a crossroads. Our governments and international institutions have done a great deal to help improve our lives in many ways, but they have collectively failed to do enough. As the global challenges facing us grow, this collective declaration of global interdependence seeks to add a new voice and new power center to our global arena.
With this power, we will begin planning the next phase of our world just like the few experts did so effectively in 1941, only this time the experts planning our future must be each of us for the benefit of all of us.
The future of our species and our world has the potential to be bright but only if we all come together to make it so.
To this end, we citizens of our various countries and the world mutually pledge to each other the energy of our lives, the opportunity of our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
First draft, Jamie F. Metzl, March 20, 2020
- After completing this post, I sent the link to people on my personal email list inviting them to join the effort and bring in any others they thought appropriate. The response was overwhelming.
- A few days later, I organized a Zoom meeting for everyone who had volunteered. A hundred and thirty people from 23 countries on five continents joined that first meeting on April 1. Following my opening and framing remarks, a leading expert of participatory democracy and another expert on global campaigns shared their thoughts. In the open conversation which followed, everyone agreed that we needed a focused action plan to move the agenda forward. We agreed to establish the following working groups:
- What lessons can we learn from other experiences of popular democracy and global campaigns?
- What’s the best architecture and process for building our community and movement?
- How can we best include and engage the younger (and older) generations?
- How can we utilize a network of networks approach to best leverage existing communities that could be allies and partners?
- How can we best connect with people who may be outside of these networks due to poverty, national political contexts, lack of internet access, etc. (the members of this WG decided to merge themselves into WG 3)
- How can we best articulate what we mean by global interdependence and frame our vision?
- How should we think about funding our work?
- How can we best engage creative communities and use arts and culture in our work?
- These groups were then tasked with meeting regularly over the following two weeks to develop at least three specific next steps in each area which would be presented to the plenary meeting on April 22. Among the preliminary findings of the working groups:
- All the groups recognized the need for broader inclusion and agreed that each member should invite two more people to the working group whose voices and perspectives would add to our essential diversity.
- All the groups recognized the need for a relatively short mission statement and articulation of principles. My Declaration of Global Interdependence was a first step, but we need to develop something new that draws on multiple resources and inputs. The framing working group (group 6) is working diligently to put together a draft.
- All of the groups recognized the need for a centralized electronic architecture including a website with a way of collecting participant info into a database, a collaborative digital workspace for our growing community, a social media presence and identity, and a robust mechanism for receiving input and engaging with people who are not part of our planning group. Our architecture group (group 2) is working on this with input from the MIT Media Lab.
- The funding working group agreed that at this stage it makes most sense to keep things as simple, uncomplicated, and inexpensive as possible. We will still however, need a little seed money to build out our basic infrastructure.
On April 22, the larger group met again in a global Zoom meeting. People from thirty different countries on five continents joined. After my opening and a beautiful musical performance by Abigail Washburn and Wu Fei, we heard reports from the working groups on progress and next steps. We also discussed the revised declaration and key next action steps once the declaration will be released. Everyone agreed that a continued push to further enhance our diversity and engage other organizations as widely as possible was essential.
On May 6, 2020, Our new organization, OneShared.World, was officially launched. On that day we:
- Called on all people of the world to sign the Pledge of Interdependence located at OneShared.World;
- Announced the launch of emergency action agendas to strengthen global public health (expert advisory committee chaired by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Dean Michelle Williams) and to support the most vulnerable populations in the Southern Hemisphere (expert advisory committee chaired by Ambassador Rick Barton);
- Issued a call to artists around the world to share all forms of creative expression celebrating our shared humanity and launched the Instagram site and hashtag #onesharedworld; and
- Declared May 6 Global Interdependence Day.
On May 12, 2020, OneShared.World officially released the Declaration of Interdependence in multiple languages and demanded that the leaders of all nations—as well as transnational groups such as the United Nations, the G7, and G20—place core principles of interdependence at the heart of their agendas.
What began as this blog post had grown in six crazy weeks into a global movement of thousands of people in nearly 50 countries.
We now invite people around the world to sign the pledge of interdependence and join our movement.
Once we fully recognize our interdependence, we’ll realize that helping others is not charity. It’s one of the best investments we can make in helping ourselves.
I’m happy to have met you on my flight back to Toronto. I truly believe in everything you’re saying here and believe the biggest failure to come of this disaster would be neglecting to make a change like the one you’ve outlined. Please keep me posted – I will help however I can.