Simul-culturalism: How to bridge the political polarization that’s tearing us apart

by John Bunzl and Nick Duffell, authors of The Simpol Solution: a new way to think about solving the world’s biggest problems. Peter Owen 2017, Prometheus 2018.

You don’t need us to tell you that there are some Very Big Problems out there. There seems little point in even listing them. Nor do you need us to tell you that the way we as a species seem to be responding falls far short of ideal. The world has changed and the complexity and speed of the problems — most of them manmade — has intensified massively. Most of all, we’re feeling bewildered and anxious at how politics is polarizing and becoming more extreme. In the meantime, some corporations and the global rich who are able to set up where they want seem to be thriving. Many ordinary folk, however, are getting poorer, angrier and struggling to survive.

In response, many turn to polarised extreme politics, whether right or left, and increasingly towards the group politics of identity, which foster a sense of belonging in a scary, rapidly changing world. Blaming current difficulties on immigrants or outsiders is a predictable, if desperate, response; but it does underline the fact that national cultural identity remains an important cause — globalists, take note! Closing borders or fighting trade wars may offer short-term appeal but won’t solve anything in the long run. With wars, poverty and climate change continuing to blight much of the developing world, mass-migration is inevitable and we’ll have to find a common way to deal with it.

So what can be done? It’s clear that the habitual Left/ Right Left/Right political pendulum has failed to deliver real solutions.

For decades, even left of centre parties courted corporate growth and ignored globalization’s losers, allowing the big banks and multinational corporations to become too big to fail and standing by as the gap between rich and poor widened. This has left the door wide open to the right-wing populists and resulted in the extreme polarization we see. The right has preferred to react to the predatory forces of globalization with trade wars. This may create some jobs at home in the short term, but the global nature of our human existence isn’t going away, even if it is an unpopular thought. On the other hand, the penchant of those on the left for marching, protesting, and signing online petitions may help them feel they are the caring ones, but little changes.

In the end we are going to have to address the Big Problems of the world with some sort of concentrated mainstream collective action. This means all of us working together, and here cooperation rather than polarisation is going to be essential. But how do we get there? Clearly, we’ll need both sober thought and committed action, and we, the authors of this article, do have a simple solution to recommend.

But first, a word on problems. The thing about problems is that most of them tend eventually to point to their own solutions — but only once they’ve been fully understood. There’s a story that Einstein was once asked what he would do if he were given just one hour to solve a very difficult problem. His answer was that he’d spend 55 minutes defining the problem and the remaining five minutes solving it. Happily, you don’t need to be a genius to apply this method.

The problem of household waste, for example, is solvable by intelligent recycling. But before we can recycle anything we need to sort things into the right piles, so the glass doesn’t go in with the paper, and so on. It’s actually the same with the problems we face today. The Simultaneous Policy — SIMPOL — which we want to recommend to you as a good tool to analyse and act on problems that affect the whole of humanity uses this analogy. SIMPOL suggests that the crucial first step — which mostly people overlook — is that we have to sort out which problems can be solved at which level, and then put them in the right piles. The three obvious major ‘piles’ are local, national and global. In this case, the limitations of the capabilities of the different areas are really important and these determine how the issues are sorted.

Over-centralisation has long been identified as major obstacle in local issues, first because the information flow and decision-making process is just too slow — witness how the central planning-addicted Soviet Union came to a grinding halt. Secondly, it’s clumsy and unpopular because people start to feel that out-of-touch central government wants to run their local world. Partly this is what fuels the widespread social unrest in France, at the time of writing, where globalization has left the ordinary folk in France poorer with ever-rising living costs. President Macron’s clumsy, if well-intentioned, tax on diesel to support CO2 emissions control affects people in the countryside, where public transport is poor and traditionally people buy diesel cars, and not those in Paris. An obvious principle, then, is that local issues should be thought through and solved locally, not nationally, because the national level is far too distant.

As an idea that emerged from the European Enlightenment, the nation state has been very successful — until globalization, that is. Nation states specialise in centralised decision-making, often supported by representative democracy, and in cooperating with each other on borders and trade agreements — with varying degrees of success. But today, many of our global problems — notably climate change — can’t be dealt with by any nation alone: not even the European Union is big enough. This leaves us besieged with many manmade problems including extinction of biological species, mass migration, nuclear weapons, tax havens, and so on, that we have to address together, globally.

Not only is the sphere of concern too great to be limited to national initiatives, the constant need of every nation to keep its economy internationally competitive means that any government taking unilateral action would immediately cause its economy to suffer. The needed higher taxes and tighter regulations would discourage foreign investors, cause corporations to set-up elsewhere and unemployment would skyrocket. This kind of competition is now a global phenomenon and it keeps individual countries and governments with their hands tied. Little wonder that global problems only get worse.

National sovereignty is no longer what it was and that is why we need to sort out and differentiate what can still be done by individual nations alone and what can only be done by nations if they work together. We need to use the right tool for the right job. For all the many global problems that fall into the latter category, we need a way to get nation states to cooperate and act on global problems together and simultaneously. Such a tool is what our book, The SIMPOL Solution, proposes and sets out how this can be organised and initiated.

What is the connection between the need for global cooperation and the political polarization that’s tearing our national societies apart?

One way to move beyond the stuck left-right polarization is to recognise that both sides have ‘lost the plot’, but in different domains. The Left have lost the plot in the individual domain — such as individual rights and responsibilities — too often trampling on free speech through their obsession with identity politics and political correctness, as pointed out by the controversial Canadian celebrity psychologist Jordan Peterson. The Right, conversely, have lost it in the collective domain — in relation to the common good — by conflating personal freedom and responsibility with laissez-faire economic liberalism. Given their obsession with individual liberty, the Right struggles to see that what may be appropriate in one domain can be suicidal in the other, failing to properly address collective problems like climate change, which the Left identify but, equally, have little clue how to implement substantive answers.

The simple truth is a bit painful: in a globalized world, solutions are not to be found at the national level, which is why only a radical shift towards a global level of politics can work. Faced with our globalized world, both sides are empty-handed, which is an added reason why mainstream political parties in many countries currently find themselves in chaos and riven by division.

A better way to think about it might be to suggest that while both Right and Left are part-right, they’re looking in the wrong places because, above all, a national political game is impotent. It’s a bit like the Sufi story of the holy fool Nasruddin, searching for something he lost inside but looking outdoors, because the light is better. For example, those on the political right want less immigration so as to safeguard their sense of national and cultural identity; those on the political left want less wealth inequality and less environmental destruction. Both sides are urgently demanding that their truths and values be addressed. Both sets of arguments have meaning and validity, but only global cooperation along the lines of something like SIMPOL can possibly hope to satisfy both of their objectives.

If mass migration is to be stemmed, as the Right demands, migrants need to be able to make a decent living in their home country. And this means mass investment in the Global South on the lines of the post-war Marshall Plan, so that people are not compelled to migrate due to war or desperate economic circumstances. Only increased global cooperation could both stem wars and raise sufficient global taxes on financial markets and multi-national corporations so that revenues could be redistributed in order that poorer nations can develop their economies and allow their citizens to make a decent living at home. Only SIMPOL-style global cooperation, achieved by orchestrated pressure on national politicians, can make that happen.

Conversely, if we’re to solve the problems identified by those on the political left, like climate change and wealth inequality, the solution paradoxically is the same: we need globally implemented taxes and regulations that allow nations to tax the rich and increase redistribution to the poor while imposing tough taxes and regulations on emissions. But, if this is to be done in a way that avoids the risk of businesses and jobs moving elsewhere, and the further degrading of social programmes in austerity programmes, the required funds have to be realised and the political will to tackle it must be galvanised. Again, only SIMPOL-style global cooperation can hope to deliver. The solution for both is the same.

It might seem that we are further away from international cooperation than ever. The solution is not some supra-national body or global parliament that attempts to enforce resolutions downwards. The United Nations’ toothlessness has shown us that. Rather, citizens need to be offered a way to compel their governments to cooperate on issues that are beyond the nation state’s reach. SIMPOL uniquely offers citizens a novel way they can use their votes in their respective national elections to make that happen. As a result Members of Parliament are already being driven to support it.

If we fail to take advantage of the opportunity that SIMPOL offers, the polarisation that is currently tearing all our nations apart will only increase, and — as we have seen in the absurdity of the Brexit negotiations — vast amounts of time and resources will be squandered while those Big Problems continue to get worse.

So what kind of world would SIMPOL create? We call it “Simul-culturalism”– each national culture being respected and supported in its own context by a global economy that is genuinely fair to all. Global cooperation, as SIMPOL would enable, would allow us to truly address the global problems that nations today cannot reach. SIMPOL would ensure that poorer nations get better support and their citizens become more likely to thrive at home. This, in turn, would reduce mass-migration and permit developed nations to regain their own cultural composure and distinctiveness. The divisions of left and right would be healed while all national cultures would thrive, simultaneously.

At this time of desperate short-sightedness and division in the world, now is the time we most need to get SIMPOL’s healing message to more people. So please help us do that. Tell your friends and tell any NGOs that you’re involved in that there IS a solution that reconciles. Or better still, at this time of year, when we remember goodwill to all mankind, gift them the book The SIMPOL Solution for Christmas. All proceeds go to supporting the SIMPOL campaign.

A powerful new vision for cooperative, people-centred global governance — driven by you.

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