by Jack Kessler, firstname.lastname@example.org
June 15, 2010 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on June 15, 2010.
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The conference held at Belém in the Amazon last year, "Global Forum on the Sciences and Democracy", has produced an interesting digital library book: part-print and part-digital -- multimedia, a book plus a DVD plus a website -- nearly, as the World Cup announcer keeps proudly intoning, "Available on your TV, online, and on your phone"...
Entitled "Sciences et démocratie", from C&F Éditions, in Caen, and in French, the book is a "doculivre", a document-book: [tr. JK]
-- it offers viewpoints from a number of minority positions -- minorities which collectively may compose a global majority, in fact, at least at their overlaps and interstices -- on "science" issues which currently a number of the world's largest nation-states, or the polyarchies and elites which rule them, seem to take for granted --
The Belém conference papers are included, in this "doculivre" -- the texte d'appel, déclaration, compte rendu...
And the DVD offers both discussion and imagery very difficult to imagine, via printed text, both because of the subject-matter and because this was the Amazon, at Belém, and that particular scenery and its people really must be "heard" and "seen"...
And there are good websites:
-- and the "doculivre" may be obtained from C&F Éditions at,
-- and the discussions in it are to be continued and expanded, at the next conference, at Dakar in January, 2011...
http://fm-sciences.org/ [en travaux]
One need not "agree". Even more interesting than the "substance" here, perhaps, is the "procedure" --
I was raised in Hans Kelsen's "positivist" world, in which boundaries were clear, and hierarchies were set in stone. Little did I realize -- little did any of us realize, back then -- but that world was breaking down, already had broken, and a new one was emerging. What John Dewey might have called that "Myth of Certainty" was breaking up: like an old-fashioned ship, one with rigid hull-plating, hitting a very large iceberg...
What emerged, from all of that 20th century radical change, was a newly-international and even a trans-national world -- one populated now by new international and trans-national ideas -- such as the notion that the workplace is migratory, that races can blend, that women have a role, that nation-states are artificial, that Global Cities have more in common with each other than they do with their own hinterlands and nations, that ideas can span all boundaries.
So nowadays we have NGOs, non-governmental organizations: we have had these before -- not since the Treaty of Westphalia, though, have we given them political power.
But now they are taking it. Groups like this "Global Forum on the Sciences and Democracy" nowadays are countless -- they exist for every issue, every interest, in nearly every nation on the earth now -- they are co-opting much of the geopolitical agenda, perhaps in light of the nation-states' failures to address that agenda adequately since the second World War.
Certainly the nation-states have tried, and there have been some successes: we had Bretton Woods, and GATT and the WTO, and the UN and all of the wonderful things-international which such institutions have brought us. But since the 1989 Fall of the Wall, at least, there has been an increasing sense of failure, of a need for something new -- due to oil spills, to the questionable "independence" of some ex-colonials, and the occasional if unforeseen successful independence of some others, to the tragically-missed opportunity at "9/11", to ill-defined "wars" on terrorism and piracy and migratory labor and HIV -- a great need for better forms of what used to be called international organization has emerged.
Are these NGO groups the answer? Is this "Global Forum on the Sciences and Democracy" the way our geopolitical system is going to be formulated and operated, going forward? It seems more open, and more free, than the stultifying bureaucracies of the now too-long-in-the-tooth United Nations appear to offer. The NGOs have been dignified too, recently, with the appellation "soft power", by no less than Joseph Nye and other distinguished commentators. Which system will be more effective, then? That remains to be seen...
In the meantime the NGOs are by far the more interesting. Whether it is protecting whales using their little speed-boats, or distributing vaccines in the desert sun, or disrobing to ban fur, or fighting land mines or deep-water oil drilling, it seems there is a role now for NGOs -- such as these folks involved in this "Global Forum on the Sciences and Democracy" -- perhaps because the UN and the nation-states are not addressing such issues effectively, perhaps because they have "sold out" as their most ferocious critics claim, perhaps simply because 2 approaches are better than 1.
The other interesting angle in all this for me, then, is that some nation-states seem to see these new developments better than others do. Qua américain, myself, I wish that my own nation did: or I hope that it will -- "See better, Lear!" -- now that it has made some recent political changes... I notice good work by nationals from everywhere, in some situations -- Darfur, the Aceh tsunami, Haiti -- many disaster responses are truly trans-national now.
France, or people in it, has offered the world at least one recent disaster-relief paragon, in the admirable and effective Médecins sans Frontières. Perhaps this "Global Forum on the Sciences and Democracy", likewise, will develop some new approaches -- there were Canadians and Brazilians and all sorts of other nationalities, at that Belém conference, see their DVD -- which the old national-bordered and hierarchically-structured governmental authorities have not discovered and would be unable to operate. Perhaps it is time for some truly-"global" thinking, and perhaps it now takes not nation-states and UN-models but NGOs, to do that.
The other day, watching the World Cup, "on TV, online, and on your phone" -- along with nearly a billion people in nearly every nation of the world, I understand -- I heard the announcer comment that one team was from Mexico and the other from South Africa and, "The referees are Russians?!" -- "I suppose it doesn't matter," the other announcer said.
Jack Kessler, email@example.com
FYI France (sm)(tm) e-journal ISSN 1071-5916 * | FYI France (sm)(tm) is a monthly electronic | journal published since 1992 as a small-scale, | personal experiment, in the creation of large- | scale "information overload", by Jack Kessler. / \ Any material written by me which appears in ----- FYI France may be copied and used by anyone for // \\ any good purpose, so long as, a) they give me --------- credit and show my email address, and, b) it // \\ isn't going to make them money: if it is going to make them money, they must get my permission in advance, and share some of the money which they get with me. Use of material written by others requires their permission. FYI France archives may be found at http://firstname.lastname@example.org/ (BIBLIO-FR archive), or http://listserv.uh.edu/archives/pacs-l.html (PACS-L archive), or http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/Collections/FYIFrance/ or http://www.fyifrance.com . Suggestions, reactions, criticisms, praise, and poison-pen letters all gratefully received at email@example.com . Copyright 1992- , by Jack Kessler, all rights reserved except as indicated above.
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