Bursting at the Seams

Jeffrey Sachs – Speaking on solving global problems at the Reith Lectures. He may be a one-man Club of Rome.

And how can it be, ladies and gentlemen, that we think we can be safe? We think we can be safe when we leave a billion people to struggle literally for their daily survival, the poorest billion for whom every day is a fight to secure enough nutrients, a fight against the pathogen in the water that can kill them or their child, a fight against a mosquito bite carrying malaria or another killer disease for which no medicine is available, though the medicines exist and are low cost, thus letting malaria kill one or two million children this year. How can this be safe? How can we choose, as we do in the United States, to have a budget request this year of $623 billion for the military – more than all the rest of the world combined – and just $4.5 billion for all assistance to Africa and think that this is prudent? One might say it is science fiction that a zoonotic disease could arise and somehow spread throughout the world, except that AIDS is exactly that. How many examples do we need to understand the linkages, and the common threats, and the recklessness of leaving people to die — recklessness of spirit, of human heart, and of geo-political safety for us?

President Kennedy talked about a way of solving problems, and that too will be a theme of these Lectures. We are entering I believe a new politics, and potentially a hopeful politics. I’m going to call it open-source leadership. If Wikipedia and Linux can be built in an open source manner, politics can be done in that manner as well. We are going to need a new way to address and to solve global problems, but our connectivity will bring us tools unimaginable even just a few years ago.

We have new, old, and reinvented tools – online and offline – for generating collective wisdom toward solving complex social problems. What’s missing is the same thing that has always been missing: a bit of vision from the stakeholders, who might be committed to resolving differences among the different holders-of-stakes, to attempt a true dialogue with a meaningful consensus for action.

Dialogic design may be a means for such open source politics. It provides a means of engaging people with a problem in common in an open, democratic, and productive design thinking process. Policy making is a design problem, wherein a large and variable set of unwieldy inputs and voices overwhelm the decision maker, and a sensemaking process ensures to arrive at a decisions that intuitively organize the meanings and needs of the policy into a course of action. This is very hard work for politicians and policy wonks, neither discipline of course, being trained in design thinking. But it is a problem of designing, nevertheless.

In dialogue, you are heard and your contributions are honored, as are all contributions. Wisdom is that which emerges from the common through the exchange, understanding of the problem space, and generation of design possibilities. It is not wikiality – whether online or on-face, its the real deal.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Dialogic Design, Global issues, Globalization, Human Values, Participatory Democracy, Systems thinking, Wicked complexity

2 Comments on “Bursting at the Seams”

  1. Bob Jacobson Says:

    One would hope. It’s always entertaining when power insiders like Sachs, who already have access to the levers of power, applaud the possibility of those levers being removed from his clutch and the clutches of his cronies, and given over to the common folk. It conjures up visions of the Czar urging on the Russian Revolution.

    Though the vision’s right, in arguments like Sachs, there’s never a path suggested to attain it. That way hope can live on without threatening the status quo. It’s a kinder, gentler form of demagoguery. Which is not to say that the rest of us shouldn’t busy ourselves finding solutions, as they must be found.

    But the mega-issue remains, how to implement the new ideas in a perverted social order? Let’s be honest: all power in today’s global economy flows from capital. And capital, by its very purpose and nature, imposes limits on change: structures and ideologies — even a sort of religiosity — that defeat profound change or coopt it. Resource-depleting, pollution-rendering, war-supporting capitalism is our society’s version of the flat earth theory. (Communism was another, but it proved an inferior system, unable to contain change on its own terms.)

    Exchange all we like, so long as it’s through channels supported and maintained by capital and agents of the state, our conversations will inevitably be reifying. So what else can we propose? Sachs is right about one thing: not changing means we collectively sign a global suicide pact.

  2. Bob Jacobson Says:

    BTW, Micah’s optimistic article on Open Source Politics, in The Nation in 2004, was just a little disingenuous. The Dean campaign was ultimately ruled by insiders, albeit left insiders, who really wanted change – unless it meant they would lose control. They beaned Dean worse than he did himself. The subsequent “opening” of the Democratic Party has proven to be mostly window-dressing; the results are still the same.

    So, how does one transform a closed system from the outside? It’s the question of our age and I thank you for raising it, Peter.


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