Clinton on the world

Bill Clinton’s take on the problems in the world, taken from Metro on Friday 17 August.

Bill Clinton

I sometimes wonder how people who want to be well-informed make sense of the disparate things occurring in the world. I believe every committed citizen of the world needs to be able to answer five questions. I’ll give you the questions and my answers. You don’t have to agree with my answers but you need your own. The questions are:

  1. What is the fundamental nature of the 21 century world?
  2. Is it a good or a bad thing?
  3. How would you like to change it?
  4. What steps are necessary to change it?
  5. Who’s supposed to take those steps?

Self-evidentially, the nature of the 21 century world is “globalisation” but I prefer “interdependence” as a word. Globalisation has an almost exclusive economic connotation. Interdependence means we can’t escape each other and have a chance to affect each other’s welfare.

The answer to the second question is clearly “good and bad”. What’s good is self-evident. I went to Paris for a wedding. Since I don’t speak French, I had to watch two British news outlets on TV. That’s positive.

Then there are negatives. What happened in the UK with the three car bombs was also a manifestation of interdependence. Doctors who spent a lifetime learning to save lives set in motion plans they hoped might kill more people than they had saved in their entire medical career. People are ambivalent about this interdependence. It raises questions not just of security but of identity.

Question three. If there’s something you don’t like about the interdependent world, it probably falls into one of three categories. The interdependent world is unequal. Half the planet lives on less than two dollars a day. Secondly, it’s unstable because of terror and the prospect of the spread of diseases. Thirdly, it’s unsustainable because of climate change change and resource depletion. So you have to do something about inequality, instability and sustainability.

What steps are necessary to change it? We should move the world from interdependence which is unequal, unstable and unsustainable to communities, locally, nationally and globally. Every truly successful community – whether it’s a nation, a town, a sports team, a marriage, a family – has three things in common: shared opportunities to participate; a genuine sense of shared responsibility for the communities success; and a sense of belonging.

How do we move from interdependence to community?  First, you have to have a security policy. There are people out there who don’t want this to work, who cannot be reasoned with. You also have to have a more vigorous diplomatic effort because there are limits to the ability of any military policy to prevail in any place in the world. Finally you have to have a policy to fill the world with more partners and fewer enemies. If the world is truly interdependent, it means that, among other things, you cannot possibly kill or occupy everyone who doesn’t like you. The fourth thing is home improvement. Things must keep improving at home.

Governments and organizations such as the UN have to take the lead in security and diplomacy. But in making a world of more partners and home improvement, private citizens working through non-governmental groups are doing more than at any other time. There’s no set amount but you have to make a commitment not just to let the government do it, to be a part of it.

If you don’t remember anything else I say, remember this: every single fundamental problem of the interdependent world is rooted in an imperfect sense of identity. If we’re fighting over religious or political differences to the death, not just having an argument, if we’re hoarding our wealth instead of figuring out a way to help other people create it, if we’re not bothered by the fact that millions of children die every year of preventable causes and illnesses, it’s because we really do believe our differences are more important than our common humanity.

When the United States, the UK and several other countries pooled their funds to try and sequence the human genome, by far the most important discovery was that, genetically, every human being on the planet is 99.9 per cent the same. And yet we all spend 90 per cent of our time disagreeing. We spend 90 per cent of our time fixation on the one-tenth of one per cent that makes us different.

All of us fix our minds to obsess about things that don’t matter in the larger sweep of things. Whether we leave a world to our children where they can grow up safely and appreciate and respect our differences because our common humanity matters more – that at the root of all of this.

Identity. So I ask you to think about that. That’s something you can do something about. Every. Single. Day.

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