Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on August 4, 2016.
These days, every day brings news of a fresh outrage somewhere in the world. As the body count grows, empathy fatigue has set in. And the perpetrators of violence must have come to the same conclusion because they are finding ever more imaginative ways to kill innocents and stupefy the rest of us. The question is: is the ubiquity of violence a passing phase in a world that is allegedly getting more civilized? Or is violence simply a part of fundamental human nature? Each day, as the news alerts on my iPhone bring fresh news of horrific killings somewhere in the world, as I get really, really fed up with it all, someone has been coming to my mind. His name is Joseph de Maistre (1753-1821), a conservative political philosopher that I studied in graduate school several seasons ago now, and one whose ideas have stayed with me. Last weekend, I went to re-read one of his classic texts: Considerations on France (1796).
The work was a reaction, a fierce and uncompromising one at that, to the French Revolution, much like Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. But, as often happens with the leading figures in the history of political thought, a particular historical event prompted reflections on the nature of man and the judicious organization of political communities.
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2016. This post was originally published on August 4, 2016.
Over the past six weeks, hundreds of thousands of people living in El Alto and La Paz -the world’s highest capital- have been subjected to constant water shortages and cuts, which are now reaching dangerous limits: more than 90 neighborhoods are getting water only every three days, and for three hours only. Others don’t see a drop for more than a week. And the luckier ones are getting water for two hours daily. (I know this because my extended family lives there).
The administration of President Evo Morales recently declared a state of emergency to cope with one of the worst droughts in the last 25 years. But the water situation has been deteriorating for a long time given that around 25 per cent of the water supply for La Paz and El Alto comes from the rapidly shrinking glaciers in the surrounding Andean Cordillera. Other cities around the country are also being affected by water shortages due to the climate-induced drought.
Add to that the fact that three main dams that supply water to almost two million people in the highlands are almost dry, and no longer depend on the glaciers’ runoff.
People, Spaces, Deliberation bloggers present exceptional campaign art from all over the world. These examples are meant to inspire.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Violence against women is a major hurdle to development, and unless its root causes are addressed, many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) will not be met. It’s an issue that stains the futures of millions of women and girls, every day, all over the world.
In a 2005 report, the World Health Organization stated that violence against women is a major threat to social and economic development. It has been linked to poverty, lack of education, gender inequality, child mortality and maternal illness. An unprecedented number of countries have laws against domestic violence, sexual assault and other forms of violence. Challenges remain however in implementing these laws, limiting women and girls’ access to safety and justice. Not enough is done to prevent violence, and when it does occur, it often goes unpunished.
Up to 7 in 10 women report having been physically or sexually abused at some point in their lifetime. Up to 50 per cent of sexual assaults are committed against girls under the age of 16. One in four women experiences physical or sexual violence during pregnancy.
Those are grim numbers and part of the problem is that violence against women is simply not recognized.
So how can we tackle this global issue? One way is by bringing more awareness to it.
The work was a reaction, a fierce and uncompromising one at that, to the French Revolution, much like Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. But, as often happens with the leading figures in the history of political thought, a particular historical event prompted reflections on the nature of man and the judicious organization of political communities. My copy of the work is part of the series that I consider the best in the field: The Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought. This particular one contains a magisterial introduction by the great Isaiah Berlin. Here is how Berlin sums him up:
What made Maistre so fascinating to his own generation was that he forced them to look at the seamy side of things. He forced them out of bland optimism…Maistre’s contribution is a violent antidote to the over-blown, over-optimistic and altogether too superficial social doctrines of the eighteenth century. Maistre earns our gratitude as a prophet of the most violent, the most destructive forces which have threatened and still threaten the liberty and the ideals of normal human beings. (p. xxxiii)
Liberal constitutionalists like me tend to dismiss religious fundamentalists of different stripes as a wild bunch better avoided than understood. The attitude also arises from intellectual confidence: that liberal constitutionalism solved the problem of religious differences by banishing religion to the private sphere, and by making the commitment required of citizens only one to a slender constitutional framework within which citizens of different persuasions can pursue their ideas of how life ought to be lived. Yet, in the world we live in today the untrammeled spread of hate and medieval violence in the name of a Deity is brain-freezing and, sadly, shows no sign of abating. Therefore, it is pertinent to ask: Why is this happening? What can be done about it?
I have just read a deeply wise and elegantly written contribution to the search for understanding. It is Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Sacks is a British religious leader of global renown both for his teachings and his erudition. In what follows I discuss the core ideas in the book, at least the ones that spoke to me.
Difficult social problems are fiendishly difficult to communicate. For, these are issues about which experts disagree and citizen-voters, too. The causes are unclear, the solutions are unclear, and then there is the ideological deadweight that tends to drag meaningful debate and discussion all the way down to seedy depths. Above all, public debate on complex social problems also leads to framing battles: you frame the discussion to privilege the ‘solution’ you want. So, for instance: what do we do about homelessness in our cities? If you don’t want public funds spent on it, you frame it as an individual responsibility issue. You argue that the homeless need to pull themselves up by the straps of their dirty sneakers. If you want public funds spent on the problem, you frame the issue as a structural challenge. You ask for a focus on unemployment, targeted welfare schemes, improved care for the mentally ill and so on.
‘Chi-Raq’, Spike Lee’s new movie, tackles a horrendously difficult problem: the horrific and persistent gang violence in inner cities in the United States of America (and, by implication, several such places across the globe). His setting is the South Side of Chicago. The title of the movie is a play on Chicago and Iraq. The movie opens with these stunning statistics: while American deaths in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2011 came to 4,424, between 2001 and 2015 there were 7,356 homicides in Chicago. Think about that for a second: 7,356 homicides.
How the new peace and violence development goals can be met
For the first time, issues of violence and peace are part of a global development framework. The recently launched Sustainable Development Goals aim to “significantly reduce all forms of violence and related deaths everywhere”. While admirable in its intent and ambition, is this possible? And, if so, how? Earlier global agreements, notably the Millennium Development Goals, did not consider issues of conflict and violence. Critics point to the omission as one reason areas affected by conflict and violence lagged so far behind peaceful and stable countries on achieving the goals. Human development indicators are often far worse in conflict areas. On top of this delivering development is made more difficult by continuing violent insecurity, politicised divisions and militarisation. Unsurprisingly, people in these areas see reducing levels of violence and conflict as the most important way in which their lives could be improved.
Understand COP21 in these 7 graphics
Today marks the third day of COP21, a key milestone in the global effort to combat climate change. For the next two weeks, representatives from more than 190 countries will work towards creating a legally binding and universal agreement that spells out how countries will cooperate on climate change for decades to come. A strong Paris agreement can send the signal to the world that the global transformation to a climate-resilient, zero-carbon economy is underway. Here’s a visual look at recent progress the world has made, as well as what needs to be done in Paris and beyond to truly overcome the climate change challenge
The year that is ending in two weeks has exhibited two sobering characteristics. First, it has been marked by apocalyptic violence (the massacre of school children in Peshawar, Pakistan being the latest outrage). Second, it has been marked by pressures on communication freedom, and the relentless squeezing of civic spaces. The violence we all know about; for it seems to be kicking off everywhere. But the causes are legion; the politics in each case is bewilderingly complex. So, we’ll leave these alone and hope for the best. But we might usefully reflect, as the year closes, on what is happening with national public spheres and the emerging global public sphere.
There is a narrative of hope and freedom about the global communication context. That narrative celebrates the mobile wave and the astounding spread of information and communication technologies. It talks about how wonderful all this is for voice, for enlightenment, for freedom. Look, we are told, see all those cool young kids with their fancy gadgets, social media skills, and their ability to launch collective action eruptions, even revolutions! See how admirable and hopeful all this is, we are told. And, yes, events have often backed up the fevered hopes and dreams, even this year. Yet, as the year ends, the overwhelming sense one gets is that dark and powerful forces are counterattacking. They are certainly not on the ropes. Let’s look at the particulars:
"An artist has an obligation to tell the truth. [...] that the true horrors of human history derive not from orcs and Dark Lords, but from ourselves. We are the monsters. (And the heroes too). Each of us has within himself the capacity for great good, and great evil."
- George R. R. Martin, an American novelist and author of the international bestselling series of epic fantasy “Song of Ice and Fire,” that HBO adapted for its dramatic series Game of Thrones.
Elif Yavuz, a former World Bank consultant, was amongst the 68 people who died in the attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi in September of this year. At the time of her death, Elif was working for the Clinton Foundation. Hers had been a life dedicated to fighting poverty and disease.
The horror of what enfolded at Westgate is a reminder of the pervasive threat of insecurity, and at the same time of our efforts to protect lives and preserve human dignity the world over. The massacre raises questions, too. Are we deploying the right tools to help put an end to such violence? And what is the role, if any, that development practitioners can play in preventing them? The recently released World Bank report, Inclusion Matters: The Foundation for Shared Prosperity, provides us with some ideas.
The Al-Shabab attack in Nairobi was a tragedy for the victims and their families. Nevertheless, countless numbers of people across the globe die every day in less violent circumstances, and yet just as needlessly – from disease and malnutrition for example. Consider malaria – the issue on which Elif had been working: the latest data show that more than one million people, the majority of them children under the age of five in Africa, are likely to die of malaria this year. Many of these deaths occur in countries where wealth and opportunity are to be found, but the wealth is concentrated in the hands of only a few, while others are barred from opportunities. The evidence suggests that these inequalities, and the feelings of injustice and powerlessness they engender, have the potential to fuel conflict and tempt people to espouse radical ideologies and resort to violence as a means of addressing injustice.