Nearly everyone, over the age of fifty, knows the photo of the Vietnamese girl, Kim Phuc, who, half burnt, is running away after a napalm bombing by the Americans. At the time, this photo was an icon in the protests against the war in Vietnam. What has this image to do with a planetary consciousness?
Today, the electronic media allow us to watch riots, wars and political unrest, in near real-time. Consider the monks’ protest in Burma and Tibet, the post-election protests in Iran, the fall of the regimes in Tunisia , Egypt and Libya and recently the demonstrations in the Ukraine . This is not only true for disturbances and wars. For the first time in world history, it is now possible to watch and directly observe elections, natural disasters, and many other news facts in other countries around the globe. This increases our awareness that injustices and abuses cannot continue unnoticed, and rulers can therefore no longer rule unchecked.
International media has led to the birth of a global community, with a global public opinion and global ethics. Foreign policies will thereby never be the same. Alongside the emergence of the global public, there is the unprecedented situation where ordinary citizens can now work internationally with people they neither know nor will probably ever meet in person. Think only of the tens of thousands of non – governmental organizations that have been established and are active in all aspects of domestic and foreign policies.
I strongly believe that the further globalisation of the economy will contribute to this global civilisation. In transnational corporations people of different nationalities learn to work together. The interests of these transnational companies are spread throughout the globe and served by enhanced international cooperation, and so, effectively, effort will be made to avoid wars and international tensions. “Bloodless ” cyber-wars are deemed just unacceptable for transnationals because of damage to electronic infrastructure, and the networking on which they depend.
This international cooperation is necessary, for not only images cross borders, but also goods, services, peoples, crimes, diseases, pollution, terrorism, climate change and so on, transgress geopolitical lines. Our national institutions (such as politics, law, healthcare and education) are not or hardly prepared for this fact. Increasing globalisation increases the intertwining of all aspects of society and the new media accelerate this trend even further. Traditional checks and balances in the national, and global, political and social systems are not resilient to these developments. Nation states are no longer capable to individually represent the interests of their citizens, which renders the strengthening of international organisations necessary and inevitable. Thousands of international alliances have already emerged : EU , IMF, G20 , OECD , ICO , WTO , the International Court of Criminal Law , the United Nations; not to mention, the thousands of international NGOs and companies, working across national borders. Although I believe that international cooperation is rather poor and superficial, I also feel that what already exists would have seemed an utopia to a gentleman of the 19th-century. Suppose there had been no EU, what course would history have taken? Suppose that the euro had not been created – would the Netherlands, during the recent economic crisis, have witnessed a scenario akin to that of Iceland – a complete failure of Fortis, ING and ABN AMRO?
We are the first generation
We are the first generation that have the capability to combine the power of a global public opinion and a global ethic with global organisations and partnerships. This combination is significant for the further strengthening of international institutions, as the support from the global public is undoubtedly necessary. Politicians and administrators adjust laws and regulations, if there is sufficient support among the population. This requires a change in the perceptions of global justice and global responsibility. While there is no real world opinion as of yet, despite television channels such as CNN, the Internet and other transnational media, there is already a palatable and growing sense of a global belonging.
I started this blog with the image of Kim Phuc, and I will conclude with another image. The Americans, or at least, NASA, has played an important role in the emergence of this global consciousness. It is an undeniable truth that the publication of the first images of Earth as viewed from space triggered the realisation that this small and very beautiful planet is shared by us all.