For my entire working life the conventional wisdom seems to have been that only a mug would pay their full share of taxes, and that it was every citizen’s duty to reduce their responsibilities in this area to a minimum. Those who succeeded in paying the least amount of taxes have generally been lauded as heroes.
If we are to make the urgent progress that we need to on The Path to a Future, we need to do it together. Areas of blight and conflict will be a drag on all of our progress, because they will suck resources away from more effective uses. The people in conflict are unlikely to participate in the global initiatives needed, such as tackling climate change. We need a coherent policy structure that protects the progress of those that are already building The Path, and provides on-ramps to The Path for the victims of oppression and conflict today, but who will join us tomorrow.
One of the more curious spectacles of our time is the apparent futility, cluelessness and impotence of the world’s governments, especially of the richest countries, in developing coherent strategies toward so-called “rogue states” or “failed states”.
The conundrum of the Occupy movement’s “missing list of demands” is the key to understanding what has to be done.
Protest in a democracy represents a conundrum. Do we want change or do we want to complain?
Who doesn’t realize that our modern world is not serving the majority of us? Probably not even 1% – do you know anyone? We all know the banks have gotten away with theft. We all know politics has been, and is being further, corrupted by money. It’s not difficult to understand that burning millions of barrels of oil into the air every day and dumping tons of man-made chemicals into our waters is affecting our environment detrimentally. Let’s not do ourselves a diservice: we all know that “things ain’t right, and something’s gotta change”.
Our predicament is not in dispute. The solution is.
The fundamental obstacle to a solution is complexity. The reality of our modern world is that it is complex: the banking system is complex, sovereign accounting is complex, the interdependencies of our environment are complex. To understand why writing down half the value of some debts in one of the smallest economies in the modern world could affect the political stability of the largest country in the world is complex; to understand why the largest country can’t just step in a fix that problem is even more complex.
There’s a perfectly natural resistance in the Occupy movement to adopting a “simple set of demands” because, consciously and unconsciously, we all understand that our predicament will not yield to a simple solution or short list of demands. Matt Taibbi, one of the most dogged and brilliant journalists on the financial beat, recognizes this even as he offers a short list of key changes that could be made to address the specific problems resulting from casino capitalism in our overweight financial sector; but, good as his list is, it does not address why we have an overweight financial sector in the first place.
The Occupy movement is a protest movement. It takes its name and its inspiration of the occupation strategy employed by the revolutionaries in Egypt this spring, and it is stirring the wider public to more open consideration of changes that seemed inconceivable only a few years ago. But the difference is that the Egyptians were revolting against a dictatorship and they could coalesce around the simple demand that the dictator be removed; in contrast the Occupy movement is almost exclusively active in wealthy democracies, and cannot reasonably demand the removal of a government chosen by the people a few years ago and available for replacement in a few years time.
The lack of a simple set of demands is not a purposeful tactic of the Occupy movement, it is the manifestation of an understanding that the problems are more complex than a simple list could address. Housing, healthcare, tax policy, the environment, social security, employment and inequality are all prevalent issues expressed in the Occupy protests, and such a broad agenda does not lend itself to a simple list of demands. The protestors can point to the simple manifestations of the problems in their lives, but they also know that any real solutions are going to be complex.
To move forward we need to remember that what appears as complex is in fact just lots of simple things seen at once. And while you cannot solve a complex problem with a simple solution, you can solve a thousand simple problems with a thousand simple solutions. This is the key to system change: it’s not one big solution, it’s a million small solutions.
Self-evidently: every aspect of human society has been created by us, and so it can be re-created by us. But we did not arrive here in one stroke, we are where we are as a result of the culmination of millions of small and simple decisions taken by people like us. When democracy arose it was the next vital step in enabling the broadest possible collective application of decision making to complex problems; and it lies before us now with the same urgent potential that drove its early advocates with such zeal. The short list of demands can be replaced with one: “Occupy the Ballot Box!”
We do not need anyone’s permission, we are not dependent on anyone else’s favors or attention – we are the ones who can bring about the changes we need, one decision at a time. We already have what the Egyptians in Tahrir Square died for: the right to select our own government.
If you support the Occupy protests you must take the next decision and vote for real change. If there’s no one to vote for, you must stand for change yourself – you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to know it all, you just have to care enough to be one of a million decision makers who will contribute to the long list of solutions. If you want to stand for election but need a broad platform that fills in and addresses the complex issues raised in the Occupy protests, take what you want from the Standards of LIFE and make it your own. We will vote with you, we will stand with you and we will bring change to our world together.
One of the most shocking developments today is the proliferation of digital surveillance and identity profiling, with little or scant regard for the protection of individual liberties or the sanctity of our society as a whole. What makes this particularly galling, is that despite there being so much wellrespected, high quality and widely read literature on the subject, both our governments, and we as citizens, have failed miserably to contain or manage the risks associated with the digital theft of our real freedom.
The greatest tragedy of this abuse of our digital identities is that it erodes our confidence in the very technologies that we need to forge our Path to prosperity. We need digital communications technology to drive the blossoming of microeconomic activity, the super-economy of our future. But this is only going to happen if the average citizen can trust the technology to be their asset, rather than an instrument of those that might oppress or manipulate them.
The status we have now is rather like wearing a kimono. If we really wanted to maintain our privacy we would have to abstain from virtually every aspect of modern life: no credit cards, no e-mail, no telephone, no taxes, not attending any major event or walking the streets of any town or city. But we don’t live that way, and who would want to live under those conditions? The trouble is that we assume that there is a rule of law in the digital world, just as there is in the real world. In actuality the digital world has streaked ahead of our legal protections, and operates in a space with about as much oversight and regulation as the credit default swap and derivatives markets, i.e. none at all. If you open your kimono even a crack, you may as well be naked. In the digital world there is nothing to prevent a whole host of people and organizations from tracking your every move, snooping on your communications, storing private information about you, and correlating that with who knows what they think they know about your friends. To make matters even worse, they’re going to mix your identity up with the data they have about everyone else in the world with a name spelled vaguely similarly to yours, and whomever now has your old cell phone numbers.
Neither politicians nor the senior members of our legal establishment have had the technical understanding to be able to grasp the fibers of the digital world. We need to subject digital information to the same rigors and standards that we have developed in the pursuit of, and protection for, the liberty of the average citizen – liberties won at great personal cost to many over the centuries. The digital world needs the rule of law, just as much as the real world does.
We must start by accepting that digital identity is part of our present and our future. Once we’ve done that, we can move on to purposefully create a secure digital identity system that has our privacy and the protection of our freedom at its core. It’s not too late, but we really need to get on top of this one right now.
We need a founding legal framework that enshrines our right to privacy, and includes the right to review any personal information held by any other party. Once we have codified the concept of digital privacy and enshrined the rights of the individual to that, we can move on to use technology in ways that will truly serve us.
A secure digital identity system is possible, and we already have all the technology necessary to build one. The security of the system and the protection of our freedom are not to be found in the technology itself, but in how it is structured and deployed. By separating identity from information, we can control our exposure and simplify the system. Imagine if your medical records at your doctor’s offices did not have your name on them; they have all the information about your health, but only a key to your identity. That key only links the information to you when you turn the key in the lock, using parts of your private identity. That is how digital identity should work.
Here are some of the vital elements of a functional digital identity system, to give you an idea of what we are going to have to build in order to harness the benefits of modern technology to serve us all, as we travel down the Path.
- One of the most important standards, is to avoid the collection of large amounts of data in one place. Data should be dispersed, as much as possible, into separated storage silos, each with their own security and access controls. This limits the exposure of any security breach, and makes it almost impossible to mine for information without the appropriate permissions.
- A functional digital identity system will also allow the individual to disclose only those parts of their identity that they wish to, for any given transaction. Buying a train ticket and cashing a check can require completely different levels of identity verification.
- All this can be done without obliging anyone to carry any form of digital identity card, certificate or token. It can all be achieved with a combination of biometric and biognostic information. If we value our freedom, we can never let it be an offense to be peaceful in public without a form of identity.
- Another important feature of a secure system is that it requires the buildout of a secure network that is used to transmit sensitive information, separate from the general access Internet.
Interoperability between the distributed systems is required for the overall functionality of the system, and that means that we need universal standards for the basic elements of digital identity. Without such standards, the systems and the data they contain will remain veiled behind the barriers of commercial intellectual property.
The xID standards developed as part of the Standards of LIFE provide a framework for the key elements we need, including:
- The content of a digital ID record
- A mechanism for verifying the quality of an identity match
- Audit, search, investigation and management processes
We need to start building a secure, privacy-orientated, public, global digital identity system now.The timescale to implement this is a minimum of three years, and is more likely to be five years, which is half the time we have available to turn our societies into functioning super-trio environments.
We can, and must, start building different aspects of The Path now, and implementing a digital identity system is a keystone element that will make full super-trio functionality both easier and faster.
The reason why all of this matters, is because we need to be able to trust digital systems. Digital communications are vital to enabling the new micro-economy, essential for an energy-efficient future and necessary for administrating our new super-democracies. So we need to reach a place where we can be reasonably assured that allowing our identities to be digitized is not sacrificing our freedom. We need underwear under our kimonos.
Part 19 in the serialization of the The Path to A Future – published 2009.
A new section will be posted every 2 weeks during 2011. Enjoy!
To get a free PDF of the book go to www.standardsoflife.org/thepathtoafuture.
It’s a simple description that will not get embellished much in the course of this book, hopefully because it is self explanatory. But it is worth taking a moment to clarify what is not included in that description.
- It is not utopian.
- It does not suggest equality of outcome.
- It does not speak to the veracity or ascendancy of any particular worldview beyond the simple context inherent in the word “sustainable”.
- It does not include any necessary configuration of peoples or places, nor does it to accord credence to a situation based on the history that led to the way it is now.
- It is not a guaranteed or self-fulfilling prophecy; it will require choices and work all the way there, on arrival, and thereafter.
- ‘Prosperity’ is intentionally modified by the adjective ‘Sustainable’.
What the destination is, is wedded to practical outcomes in the natural world and it is, above all, realistically achievable.
Congruity, [con-gru-ity]: simultaneous,mutual reinforcement in proximity and extremity.
Congruity is our word used to describe the process of building The Path. It symbolizes the unification, interdependence and broad reach that our actions must have, because although we can accurately describe The Path as linear, going from peace to security to sustainable prosperity, we will have to embark on all these processes concurrently.
The reasons for this are twofold: we are short on time, and each step reinforces the others.
We are really short on time! We’ve probably got a decade to get the ball rolling, a decade to get processes up to speed and a decade to spread the changes across the globe. Even once we are on The Path, we will be leaning on advances we will have made just to cope with the wrenching climate changes that will still come our way over the next half century or more. If we can’t get the ball rolling in the next ten years, then we run the very real risk that the changes being forced upon us by then will drive people to reaction, and the opportunity to promote our common good will narrow or even fade completely.
The second reason for congruity is the corollary of why attempts at peace have failed in the past. Peaceful people in the past, particularly prosperous and peaceful people, have been subjected to the crude interruption of the brutally violent. The reason for this was because the prosperous and peaceful were unable to spread the benefits of their prosperity to those others. If we are to succeed on our Path to A Future, we will have to bring rapid change to as broad an audience as possible, as fast as possible and to spread the benefits as widely as possible. Partly because we are all dependant on each other’s actions as we inhabit a single biosphere, and also because our path must travel through peaceful lands, it cannot be built with fences.
As we explore the practical applications of The Path you will see that the elements that make up The Path are interdependent. Peace is a critical element, without peace we cannot afford to secure our social fabric and our personal security is necessary to liberate our prosperity. All of these processes reinforce each other.
On The Path, not only must these congruous processes happen in one place at one time, they must spill over to impact the lives and societies of others at the same time.
That is “congruity”.
So what can we glean from this brief review of the features (conflict, traditions and morality) we must navigate on our path?
• First, all those features do exist and must be navigated. We cannot wish them away.
• Second, they have formed naturally. That is to say that they represent some basically natural aspect of our collective makeup that we must individually own up to. They are not aberrations that we can dismiss as unfortunate. They are simply possibilities that we can seek to exclude from our future, by choosing different aspects of our nature. The difficulty of our passage through them can, and should, serve as a reminder to us about ourselves.
• Third, they are unavoidable and natural, so it behooves us to seek a path that is in harmony with the landscape, which takes advantage of the natural slopes and shelters in the coves eked out by the passage of time. The Path must get across the landscape in order to deliver us to our final destination, and it serves no one to make the journey about flattening mountains or filling valleys. Passage is the password and having built the Path, it will allow everyone to travel along it, from wherever they are now.
In summary, there are three aspects of the world we live in that our path of change has to accommodate: conflict, traditions and morality. These are all reflections of perfectly natural aspects of our human nature, and to fight against them is both futile and fatally distracting.
We have to remember that our purpose is to reach our destination. To do that we need only define a path that navigates the landscape. We need conflicts to be calmed, to reduce their senseless waste. We can allow traditions to fill their role, so long as they do not stifle progress. Morality can continue judging, if it is not harming. To do other than these is to try to change our natures, and that is not the purpose of The Path. The goal of The Path is to show us the way to a sustainable and prosperous future, with, if necessary, all our imperfections unremedied.
So if we’re not going to change these features, what will we do about all the people who have come to identify with them?
Carry on building.
When The Path is mapped all the way to its destination, when they can see the value of the destination and the holistic coherence of its route; their aspirations will trump their old attachments and they will travel with us on the same road.
There is a path across this landscape. We can determine its course, and we can build it.
The most dangerous of the landscape features that need to be navigated are the bogs and swamps of the lowlands. These seemingly flat and vegetated expenses are the premature terminus of many a journey.
Offering the delusion of easy passage, their self-reflecting pools and slippery sod are the perfect traps for fools. Seen from a distance they show neither the steep ascent of mountain ridges nor the obvious cut of valley grooves, and would seem to represent a clear distinction between the hubris of the high and the laments of the low. In reality, these are the mosh pits of morality.
Quagmires are the places where we lose sight of our real purpose, and get caught up in the attempt to assert our moral standards over and on to others. Being right is not the objective, getting to our destination is.
Without delving into moral judgments about morality, let’s consider what happens when attempting to cross a quagmire: you get bogged down. Endless effort is expounded in simply moving from one pit to the next, and soon the entire endeavor becomes focused on navigating the swamp; forgetting that there is a destination beyond there.
Path building is an intensely practical task and there is much ground to be covered. It is a service to all beings on the planet and does not discriminate between opinions; we have neither the luxury of time, nor the surplus resources, to engage with matters less practical than reaching our goal of sustainable prosperity.
Because we often have difficulty identifying quagmires from a distance, we must develop our sensitivity for recognizing when we are entering one. As soon as we find the ground shifting beneath us, we must turn and seek the firm ground that surrounds the swamp. Don’t worry, there is always another way; a course for The Path that is lit by the lamp of freedom.
Towering over the landscape we can also see the great icy peaks of mountains formed out of the chance encounter of great land masses, rising up faster than the natural forces of erosion can soften their edges. Their peaks are cold because they rise up to where the air is thin, and the clouds gather around their shoulders to obscure their view of the land beneath.
It is in the nature of mountains that they are unaware of their shadows, as they bask in the light that strikes them. The taller they grow, the more inhospitable their peaks become; places from which the beauty and gentleness of the land below becomes almost impossible to recall. They find their identity in the height of their tops. They are jealous of neighbors and oblivious to the violent weather, freezing temperatures and thinning air that surrounds their highest accomplishments.
Beheld from a distance their majesty is clear to see, but up close their inhospitability is keenly felt. Unaware of the simple fortune that created them, and their final destiny as the sand on the shore, they are both dividers of lands and peoples as well as bringers of rain and nourishment.
These mountains represent institutions and traditions of every kind; from the monolithic mega corporation to giant government departments, from established religions to superstitions and legacies laced through every culture. They started with a useful purpose and many still serve valuable roles in our societies, so it is better that we see them for what they are, acknowledge them and then move on.
In navigating the Path, the mountains of tradition are better skirted than summited, tunneled than toppled and appreciated than admonished. For they know not of their origins, their shadows or their value, they know only of their height and the weight of their ice.
One of the most recognizable features of our landscape today are the valleys of conflict that cuts across the view, trapping people and resources into separated schisms covered by whirling fog. These are the conflicts which obsess our headline writers and dominate our news. They are not most people’s everyday experience of life, but they obscure our view and add so much to the difficulty of navigating across the land that we have no choice but to build the bridges necessary to unite the different sides. We must bring the light of day to all those enured in conflicts, so they can see the view from the outsides of their chasms.
Conflict entraps all those who are touched by it, innocent or not, perpetrator or victim; they are compelled to look in instead of out. The irony is that many of these valleys were dug out purposefully, by some group expecting to improve their view by placing another group out of sight. Not unnaturally, those forced into the valley resist and start to climb out, at which point the original creators of the valley return to dig wider and deeper, until they find themselves living in the same valley with those they sought to displace.
While conflicts originate with an intention to hoard resources, they act like valleys and inevitably develop watersheds that divert resources from all around to flow down their course. The resources (approximately $3,000,000 a minute as of the time of writing this) consumed in conflicts are stolen from their better uses, be they people or materials, ideas or energy, they have been diverted from their alternative application.
Whatever their origins, we must clear the fog and build the steps that will allow those inside and outside the valleys of conflict to look up and move forward.