I sometimes think of the tiny circumference of our planet in the context of the odometer of my car. With better roads, a couple of car ferries, and more local security in some remote and outlaw-infested areas, I could drive to Europe or Asia across Siberia. Taking turns with my wife, each of us driving about five hours a day, a pretty relaxed schedule, we could be anywhere on the planet in a few weeks. In the 1970s, I met a young woman in Paris who bought a used car every summer, drove to Pakistan, and sold it.
The short distances of our world are being traversed by increasingly huge populations of desperate migrants who don’t care about roads or security. In the last few weeks, there have been vivid photographs of small inflatable boats leaving Turkey with fifteen or twenty people aboard, and an account of a man who walked most of the thirty miles through the train tunnel from France to England before being apprehended.(After I originally wrote this, but before I uploaded it, seventy-one migrants suffocated in the back of a truck with broken air-conditioning.) All of these stories focus exclusively on the shock and distress of the developed and democratic societies where the illegals are arriving, and the attempts to keep them out. The conditions which cause them to leave are barely mentioned, as if war and famine are a given.
The present migrants are just the first swallows of summer, a precursor of the hordes to come, until we reach the day when (as I keep saying) one half of Earth’s population walks or rides to the home of the other half. When I started publishing the Spectacle in 1995, I said that one of my goals would be to state the obvious, if no-one else is. If you were a Cosmic Planner, a wise alien responsible for the billions of sentient life forms on a tiny planet, you would want to see that world governed at the level of the largest problem that could occur. If there is a dispute over water rights, pollution or commerce on a river, which will most efficiently decide it: a democratic government whose jurisdiction includes the whole river, multiple states claiming just part of it, or warlike tribes each encamped on different banks? A major reason that New Jersey and New York have never gone to war over the Hudson is that they are both part of the United States.
So, as a Yoda-like Cosmic Planner, wouldn’t you want to see Earth under the aegis of one democratic government, representing all of its people? How else in the long run could we engage in any planning, allocation of resources, and systemic alternatives to war at a planetary level? The United Nations and a system of international treaties aren’t doing the job; in recent decades, the United States is often the first one to refuse to ratify important international treaties, on topics as disparate as land mines and carbon emissions.
I also said in 1995 that problems must be solved as far upstream as possible. I first had this insight when a woman from the West complained that Native American students granted scholarships were flunking or dropping out at the private school where she was an alumna. I told her you would have to address poverty and violence on the reservation, and create safe environments in which children could do homework, before they will succeed at private boarding schools. Once you see something, you never stop spotting examples. I have recently had several experiences with pro bono (free) representation of clients in landlord-tenant court breaking down because they didn’t trust me. The fact that you parachute into someone’s life offering free legal services in an emergency does not mean that the individual you are trying to help has any prior experience being able to trust anyone, or being told the truth.
Upstream solutions of global problems must be at the global level. You would need a world government to be able to solve the problems which are driving increasing numbers of migrants to sail the Mediterranean or the Pacific or to huddle on top of trains traversing Central America. Whenever in my life I have said the words “world government” in polite company, I have seen in the eyes of my audience that “You’re one of those Esperanto crackpots, aren’t you?” But really, what’s your suggestion? Fences and even mass murder won’t save us when half the world’s population wants to come live with us.
Fern was a thirty-three year old woman who took a job with the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority governing Iraq in 2003. She was an enthusiastic Oklahoma lawyer and created a women’s empowerment center in Hilla. She was a force of nature, much loved by almost everyone who met her, and one night in 2004, she was machine-gunned to death with two co-workers. They were the first civilian victims after President Bush’s ridiculous “Mission Accomplished” ceremony.
President Bush, vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were responsible for Fern Holland’s death. They invaded a country they had no idea how to conquer or hold, and in their own self deception, hired and sent in people like Fern, with no bodyguards or any conception of the danger. The powerful deceive themselves, but it is people like Fern who die. It is unbearable that Cheney still feels entitled to yammer about Iraq, with no apparent awareness of the unending disaster he fostered on all successor administrations.
I am sorry that all the news I discuss is unrelievedly grim, but the phenomenon of intelligent teenage women in England and elsewhere packing up to join a chaotic foreign insurgency is unparalleled in human history since the Children’s Crusade of 1212. There is simply no parallel of which I am aware, since the Enlightenment: there were no American teenagers leaving to fight for Germany during the Second World War. Even though the numbers are small, the people here in the U.S., some of whom aren’t even Muslims, who decide they want to fight for a violent and ideological foreign despotism, seem to symbolize some sort of a crack in the post-modern facade, a phenomenon we haven’t seen before. Perhaps its a by-product of over-population, declining middle class, a loss of hope and of belief in the Official Narrative. Whatever it is, its creepy and dangerous and new.
I spend as little time in Times Square as possible, because it remains and will always be a fat terrorist target, but I have always liked the idea of street plazas as a phenomenon of which Jane Jacobs would have approved, a little center of community life where people can meet each other and talk. Now Mayor DeBlasio is threatening to rip out the plazas in Times Square to get rid of the desnudas, the topless female panhandlers. I spotted one a week or two ago as I was walking up Seventh Avenue to an appointment: she was so highly painted it took a moment to detect she was topless. Since the advent many years ago of see through blouses and of tops designed no longer to conceal nipples, there is no difference between paint and silk as a garment. Like so many New York flaps, this one seems to be about very little, and will probably vanish in a few months with a little forbearance and good faith.