Friday, September 26, 2008

Musings on a rainy day

Welcome, 2048 Bloggers. We’re kicking off this blog with a series of notes in response to the question: is it possible to effect change through law? We invite your comments on this topic, and any other that relates to 2048 and international human rights and the law.

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From: Marc Fine, 2048 Project Manager,  9/22/08

Dear friends and colleagues:

I’ve been doing a lot of reading (historical, background of League Of Nations, U.N., foreign policy, etc), and have been stumped by this dilemma: How can meaningful change occur? Here is why I think progress is so difficult and frustrating:

 There are the purists, who insist that what ever structure/law/policy is proposed must be the optimal, best solution. There should be no compromises, because this would equal failure, and would be an immoral cop-out. Even if the proposal has no chance of being accepted, it is better to be right than successful in this regard.  Examples: Voting for Ralph Nader; almost anything the Berkeley City Council Proposes, usually the first draft of anything. Nothing ever happens, because there is no buy-in. The “beautiful losers” syndrome.

 Then, there are the “realists”, the realpolitik folks who believe that a good bill, or candidate, while not perfect, is better than no bill/candidate/policy at all.  Examples: League of Nations, The U.N. charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, NAFTA, most treaties, etc. These have all fallen short of expectations, and failed, to a great extent, to create the results hoped for.

 I welcome your insights. This whole thing has put me in a funk.

 From: Kirk Boyd, 2048 Executive Director, 9/22/08

There's a middle path and it was taken by the inter crime court--you draft what is optimum then something less is approved. Don't  be in a funk. We're the catalyst!

 From: Steve Gordon (attorney and history maven), 9/23/08

In my experience, meaningful change comes from within. I can't resolve your issues and you can't resolve mine. The League of Nations (which did not include the USA or the USSR) may not have been a good idea (what's the point of a powerless organization of some, but not all, of the world's powerful nations?) and took no effective steps to prevent World War II. The United Nations, which at least has the virtue of being more inclusive, hasn't stopped very much of the bloodshed that has occurred since WWII. If you are waiting for national or even local leaders to solve any significant problems, you will be waiting a long time. Come to think of it, we have been waiting a long time. Change yourself and change your world!


 From: Kirk Boyd 9/23/08


 I wish you well and change inside is a good place to start -- it's  worthwhile, but my answer is the same that I have been saying to the people I've been meeting at the (SNAP) conference here at Boulder. It's a good start, but not a finish. Law is the finish. It's reached the point now where our personal change, whether it's driving a Prius, or starting a non profit to give kids better milk, is not going to do the trick. In fact, thinking that it's enough, which I'm not sure you do, distracts us from doing what needs to be done, change our agreement (law) about how we will live together, including the amount of degradation to the environment we will allow anyone to do.

Don't be offended. A few people were tonight, but most, including the Leaders of this gathering, get the idea.


From: Kirk Boyd, 9/23

Good thoughts. Steve's right and that's why I don't eat red meat and drive a Prius, and often ride a bike. Hopefully 2048 will build a bridge with these thoughts as you have in your comments.

From: Jessica Trupin, (community activist) 9/23

Haha!  I eat meat almost every day and drive a 20 year old Volvo.  But it’s local meat from the farmers’ market.  Lord, the hairs we split!

From: Jessica Trupin, 9/23

I think you’re both buying into an old fallacy – that there’s one place where change has to happen.  It has to happen on all levels and it must be constantly cared for and maintained.  Steve, you’re absolutely right.  If we as individuals don’t empower ourselves by constantly learning and living lives where we make our choices out of love instead of out of fear (which I see more often than I care to share) then we can only hope to make a faint, occasional impact on the world.  But Kirk, you are totally right as well.  By working at the macro level of laws, we both craft the framework and touchstone by which we all live and we send a message to others about what we value.  Without the laws that we agree on (and the pathways to change those laws as our societies change) we can’t move our societies forward.

 But the law isn’t the finish.  We still need education and ethical/moral guidance.  What good is the law if no one knows it or can read it or engage in it?  The law is a living thing (as I’m trying to teach my daughter) – it’s the embodiment of the continual work of people who think about actions in a different way than the average person.  But it’s imperative that children (and unfortunately, a lot of adults) learn the critical thinking skills necessary to read, understand, interpret and debate the laws because – see above – it’s a living thing that governs all of our actions and guarantees our freedom.  Or maybe I just spent a bit too much time at temple this weekend.

 There’s never one simple answer.  We can argue and argue it, but we can only hope to fall into the camp that can best use our passion, whether it’s individual action, local, state or federal, international NGO, direct action, theatrical direct action (see:  Nickelsville), international law, culture, education - and the best thing we can do is to understand that all of these forms weave together and we should understand, not denigrate, any of them.  And always remember that the end of law is punishment for the transgressors.

 From: Marc Fine, 9/24

I love this conversation. I finally feel grounded. It’s the “middle path” plus Tikkun (healing, repairing, mending the world) that I love.

From:  Steve Gordon, 9/25

 Hi Kirk, As someone with a lifelong interest in history who (sort of) sees law from the "inside", I'm not as enthralled as you are by the possibilities of meaningful change through law. Just one example (I could give lots more): Since the Nuremburg war crimes trials following WWII, it has been"international law" that starting wars and mass murder of civilians are illegal activities subject to punishment. Enforcement of that "law" has been hit or miss. The "little guys" (e.g., Serbia, Saddam, etc. get punished. Who punished the USSR  for invading Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979 or Soviet war crimes against Germans and non-Communist Eastern Europeans after WW2?  Who has punished the USA for starting wars against Iraq and other nations or for war crimes against Vietnamese, Iraqis, and other people? Who punished the Chinese Communists for the "liquidation of the landlord class"? Winners punish losers, same as always. Law is bullshit Kirk.

 Nothing will change until people change. Changing ourselves is a lot harder than passing a law. Laws are to make other people do things "the right way"(as if some legislative body or dictator knows what is right for you). Most of us interpret at least some laws differently for other people than we do for ourselves. I do that sometimes. This is true of nations as well as individual people. (See the sporadic enforcement of the international "law" against genocide). We as Americans have way more laws on the books than we had 100 years ago (you'd be surprised how few laws there were in 1908). Has it made us better people? Has it reduced violence? Has it made us a less toxic society? No, no and no. The essence of law (local, national or international) is to make life more secure for the ruling classes, not the best interests of the local, national or international community. Waiting for leaders to solve problems by making new laws is an exercise in futility. We have lots of laws and none of them have improved us in meaningful ways. It's time to give up pretending that we can change other people through law. The place to start change is inside ourselves. The place to finish is not more laws, but helping other people change inside too. Law isn't the answer because it doesn't ask the right question. Law asks "how can we make other people do the right thing"? The question that leads to change is "how can we change ourselves and others so we can create a better world"?

 From: Marc Fine, 9/25

I appreciate this conversation. I never quite understood the point of the law...ten commandments, Talmud, up to present time, until I started diving into this project. I agree, to some extent, with you, Steve. Especially when I'm in one of my cynical moods. But, as a pathologic optimist, I prefer to plunge ahead. The more I study the human rights literature and movements, the more I appreciate what a grand effort it is. As someone once said: It's a game worth playing.

From: Jessica Trupin, 9/25/08

I'm not going to address international law, because it's so varied.  But think about it this way:  women are now considered full citizens in the United States (at least the lower 48) in a way that they weren't 100 years ago.  There is now a legal basis upon which a woman can stand when prosecuting her husband of rape - an option that didn't exist, because the laws didn't exist, 100 years ago.  Do more laws make a less toxic society?  Here's my MPA answer again:  it depends.  But what the hell's a non-toxic society?  What does it look like and where do laws and the enforcement of those laws fit in to it?  More laws do nothing - selective enforcement of laws can itself be criminal.  But a new law can be an expression of justice that enough of us agree on. 

 Again, I think that the framework of the law rolls along slowly, moving us all forward or backward.  Yes, we're starting to have laws against same-sex marriage.  So there's the backward.  But there's a field on which this can be played out that doesn't involve sword-fighting or carpet-bombing.  That's the forward.

 As for international law, call me when they've got Kissinger in the dock.  I lean towards your interpretation, Steve, that it's written and pursued by the winner.  What would it mean to have it written and pursued by all?  Kirk?  I much prefer a legalistic society, because I'm small, female and wouldn't survive for three minutes in an anarchist society. 

Again, I push for the “one can't live without the other” school of thought.


J. Jia said...

Although both Republican and Democratic candidates have focused a great deal on the issues concerning Iran and Iraq, it should be noted that the United States’ attention should not be limited to the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East. Though I have faith in our government’s agenda, it is clear that whoever the next U.S. President may be, he will be facing many international relation issues, and he will be asked to lead America and re-established its positive image not just in the Middle East, but also in the global community. Therefore, as election season is soon coming to an end, it is important for both McCain and Obama to demonstrate these traits.

I cannot help but feel that the media is directing people’s attention away from these issues. While I understand that the more pressing issues right now is how to pull out of Iraq and fix the economy, in the long run it is more crucial for the next president to actively engage in the international community—mainly, re-establishing the U.S. as a friend in the Middle East, as well as in the rest of the world, so that US. can re-create a positive image of the government in the United Nation and actively involve (if not leading) other nations in discussing the solutions to some long term global crisis such as global warming, racism, pollution, poverty, and etc. A starting point for improvement would be to first involve in the Human Rights Council, which U.S. withdrew from.

Thus, I think the presidential debate should also incorporate some of these long term questions proportionally. I would like to hear from both candidates about how they would reassert the U.S.’s role in the international community, what methods they would use to achieve that, and what are their perspectives on the current international system for protection of human rights. These are just some of the basic questions through which both candidates can demonstrate to the public, as well as other nations, their qualification for presidency and for an American representative in the global community.

Marc Fine said...

I'm really appreciating this conversation, and hope others will jump in.