Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 04/12/21

Do national borders cause wars or keep the peace? An interesting question and one which filmmaker Arthur Kenagis weighs in on with The World is My Country, his documentary chronicling the life of actor/dancer-turned-peace activist and World Government proponent Garry Davis. The film is airing this month on several PBS stations and was reviewed by me in this space last week. My conversation with Arthur follows the promo below.

JWK: What led you to create this film and why do you think the story of Garry Davis is relevant now?

Arthur Kanegis: Ever since I was a kid, and experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis — and realized our entire world was hanging in the balance and we could all be completely destroyed — I have been seeking for ways to open the doors to peace.  As I grew up I learned of the power of meditation, silence and of visualizing what we wanted.

I made a documentary with Paul Newman called War Without Winners about the risks and dangers of nuclear war.  I was also the nuclear war researcher on the film The Day After, faxing out data to the crew about how much damage would there be a half a mile from the epicenter, how much damage would there be a mile away and so on — so they could build the sets.  I’d be in Washington, DC going over to the Pentagon and doing the research by day, and at night I’d wake up with these terrible nuclear war nightmares. I couldn’t shake them.  I couldn’t say, “Well, there’s not really monsters under the bed” because the monster was very real and we could be destroyed in a moment’s notice.

In trying to calm myself by meditating, I thought back to the George Fox song “‘There’s an ocean of darkness and I drown in the night till I come through the darkness to the ocean of light and the light is forever and the light makes us free and I will dwell in the glory of the light’ said he.” And I realized that simultaneously with this “ocean of darkness” – the death, the danger, the despair – there’s an “ocean of light” – people helping each other, reaching out, touching one another.”

I decided I wanted to make a film that would inspire people with a vision of what we could move toward, not what we’re against.  Everybody knows what they’re against.  But where’s the vision of how we can come together as a planet?  What do we want to move toward so that we can save this incredibly precious human race? And this amazingly beautiful planet that we’ve been given?  That’s when I discovered Garry’s story and I said “This is a great way to help open people’s eyes to a better way in our world.” That’s why think he’s also so relevant today.

JWK: The whole topic of borders is certainly relevant to current headlines.  How do you think Garry would view the situation going on now on America’s southern border?

AK: He would say that what’s happening is that this is all being caused by a dysfunctional system.  When you get to know people one-on-one you realize that people are precious.  They have the same goals, wants and visions.  These political divisions that have been put upon us aren’t real.  I mean God created this beautiful green Earth.  He didn’t create these borders.  When Garry looked at it from the plane he was in while flying over Germany being ordered to bomb a city he thought, “Oh, my God!  Why am I killing these people because they’re on the wrong side of some invisible line?!”

If you take any one of those immigrants trying to get in and you get to know them family to family, get to know their stories, their hopes and dreams, across cultures, you might very well find you’d love them.  It’s like what the Pope said in his (Fratelli Tutti) encyclical that if we all possess an inalienable dignity, what does it matter which country my neighbor was born in?

So, I think Garry would say that the crisis is a function of the broken system that we have in the world and that we – the human race – are very inventive and can come up with something that would work much better for all of us.

JWK: I believe that Garry was sincere about his perspective as a former World War II fighter pilot but I have a different viewpoint.  From my perspective, I look at history and I think that the war began – most wars begin – because of a lack of recognition of national boundaries.

AK: Inherent in the very idea of boundaries is fighting wars.  That’s why we build these walls around our cities.  The whole idea was if we can just kill the bad guys somehow we’ll solve our problems and we’ll be safe – or we can threaten to kill them so they won’t attack us.  That’s such a fragile, fragile way to try to keep peace.  It hasn’t worked.  Centuries and centuries have had wars after wars after wars.   And yet Garry discovered there really is something we’ve discovered that does eliminate wars and it’s not borders and division.  It’s something very different.

JWK: That point of view suggests that without national borders there would be no wars – but, certainly, there have been civil wars.

AK: Here is what Garry discovered  when he was desperately seeking for an alternative to the threats to the very life of the planet.  He realized that inside countries – with one government, where we all accept one government – we don’t fight wars.  We may have crimes but we don’t go to war over them.   When Tim McVeigh blew up the federal building, Oklahoma didn’t declare war on Michigan for harboring a Michigan militia.  They handled it as a criminal justice matter.

If you have two sovereignties – people who dispute the sovereignty or have two different sovereignties within a single border – then you could have wars.  But if not, you don’t have wars, you have crimes that can be settled with cops and courts, not armies and bombs.

Garry did not advocate eliminating countries but rather adding a higher loyalty.  In Europe, when they did take down the borders that were separating everybody, they still had separate countries, separate cultures, separate music and separate identities but they didn’t have to use borders and wars to control it.  They used  the power of law – and something even more powerful.

I think Jesus really had the key when He said “Love your enemy.” When you kill an enemy you create more enemies.  Their family hates you.  They’re going to retaliate – and then your side retaliates back and that can go on for centuries.  But when you love your enemy – when you get to know somebody as a human being – you connect and the “enemy” is gone.  Where is our “British enemy”?  We fought a fierce revolutionary war against the British.  Where’s that “enemy”?  Where is the terrible “enemy” that we fought with Germany and Japan?  Now, they’re our friends.  Fierce borders and guns and bombs? Or friendship?  Which makes us more secure?

JWK: But there are borders – and those borders are respected.  That’s why there’s peace.

AK: Garry didn’t think there shouldn’t be borders…There are borders between each state in the US, but California would never go to war with Nevada.  Neighboring states don’t go to war with each other.  They take their disputes to court because we have a legal system that we’re all part of.  We respect the law and we don’t fight wars between states when we’re all part of one country.

JWK: But there have been such wars – not only in our country but throughout the world.

AK: Because there are different sovereignties competing for who controls that country.  Now, the thing that’s actually worked and kept the peace is when we create a system where people are involved.  They feel like they’re a part of that governing system…Garry realized this after World War II.  All of the groups that were fighting each other around the world — the same ethnic groups — were living side-by-side New York.  If war was human nature, they’d be blowing up each other’s city blocks.  But instead they’re playing chess in the Washington Square.

Why are the exact same peoples who are killing each other in other countries, living together side by side in peace in New York? Because they are functioning within a system of law.  And when you have that system of law keeping us all safe, then people can get to know each other as people.  And that’s when the bonds of love can grow.

So Garry realized there already is a powerful thing that does eliminate war – and it’s law.  The question is what kind of law can serve all the people worldwide?  That’s what he challenged us to invent.

JWK: That assumes a benevolent world government.  What happens if it’s not benevolent?

AK: In America the separate states – Virginia, Maryland and all that – had border skirmishes, had criminals who escaped over the border and then couldn’t be caught, had different currencies, all those challenges.  When they decided to raise their sovereignty to the national level to create the United States, they had to give up a little of their sovereignty but they gained something much more powerful!  The Founders realized – even back then – that this was the beginning.  .  Thomas Paine said “My country is the world and my religion is to do good.”  We can follow in the footsteps of our Founders and begin to raise our sovereignty to a higher level — and that can actually make us all more secure, more safe and help us have a sustainable planet that flourishes and thrives.

JWK: You mention Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti that says “If every human being possesses an inalienable dignity, if all people are my brothers and sisters, and if the world truly belongs to everyone, then it matters little whether my neighbor was born in my country or elsewhere.” Most people would not dispute that.  People are people and have the same value no matter where they’re born.  But there is a principle of maintaining legitimate boundaries for human beings.  When we violate that – for example, by stealing – that’s when problems set in.  I’m sure the Church would love to have a world government with the Church in charge but most people probably would not be happy living in a worldwide theocracy.  What kind of worldwide government could possibly be set up that everyone would live under peacefully?

AK: That was, again, the challenge faced by our Founders.  They had to invent something different.  We had big states and little states.  We had all these different things.  So, they came up with a bicameral legislature.  We’ll have both a Senate representing the states and a House representing the population.  They came up with a three-part government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) so there would be checks and balances.  They invented systems to cope with exactly the problem you’re talking about and exactly the problem they faced back then.

Well, now we have a different world and we can invent something completely different.  We don’t have to take their model and try to impose it on the world.  That would be archaic in today’s world.  But now we have something incredible.  With the internet and with people doing Zoom conferences all over, we have a way that people can be directly involved in governance to preserve the life of humanity.

What Garry said was that back in 1776 if you wanted to have a democratic system you had to elect representatives and send them along via horse and buggy to a distant city to talk to each other because there was no other way to do it.  But now we can all be directly interactively talking in something like these Zoom conferences but across cultures.  It wouldn’t just be throwing people together to fight about who’s right and who’s wrong.  Rather, in these little interactive conferences – Garry called them “syntegrity groups” – you’d have a tool kit to draw on for enhanced communication.  It would be a solutionary system of governance where we all work to come up with the best solutions.  And the more diverse your group the more impact you would have on the solutions we all come up with for our planet.  The tool kit would help bring out what are our hopes and dreams?  What do we care about?  How do we interact with each other in a way where we understand people across these boundaries and how do we come up with solutions that work?

The old system of electing representatives becomes a race to the bottom -the lowest common denominator.  If we have to pick one leader versus the other – 51% wins, the other side loses — it becomes a real fierce fight.  If, instead you bring these same people together from across the political divides and first explore “Who are these other human beings we’re connecting with?”  And then we ask “What are our real hopes and dreams?”, “What do we want for the planet?  And then after that explore “How do we come up with solutions?” you get a very different answer than you get with win/lose democracy – where one side wins and the other loses.

Garry said we don’t have to be stuck in these old systems.  We can invent a more interactive system that brings to the top the highest and best wisdom of each individual and helps amalgamate that into the will of the people of the planet…

The Declaration of Independence says it’s the right of the people to institute new government.  Almost every constitution in the world says it’s based on the people.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights invokes the will of the people as the basis for the authority of government.

So If we have the right to invent something new, let’s just go ahead and do it.

JWK: How do you make this transition?  Do you have a worldwide election?  How does that happen?

AK: When Garry and I would talk about it – we’d have fascinating discussions about this – we’d say that we don’t have to make a worldwide transition all at once. Buckminster Fuller said you never create change by fighting the old system.  You create something new and draw people to it.  Einstein said the same thing – “You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created.” You have to step up to a whole new level.

Look at how some of these new tools have taken off.  Why was Facebook such a success?  Here is something that helped people fulfill a basic need.  We want to connect with one another.  That ended up with over a billion people having a big impact – in some ways good, in some ways bad.  Well, say we developed an interactive kind of app – a system – that would be a tool that helps us develop solutions that work and we could sign up for that tool in our community – to solve our local problems.  If we find that works for people we apply it to our larger problems.  We find an interactive tool that gets us past our divisions and brings us into agreements and imbues them with the power of law.   It draws on the natural instincts of people to do good and help others in their communities and the world.  Imagine how powerful that would be.

Just as Facebook fulfilled the need to be able to connect with each other, if we can create a tool that gives people a sense of empowerment that they could solve problems and come together and create solutions in their communities, in their cities, in their states and our world, people would be attracted to it and they could find their true power – what Garry called “the sovereignty of the whole”.

Garry called this solutionary rather than revolutionary because it doesn’t “overthrow” the old system.  It just creates something new and attracts people to it.

In the current system, there’s no way the will of the people (is) being expressed at the global level.  We don’t elect representatives to the United Nations, it doesn’t have a people’s assembly – and it’s not a government.  As Eleanor Roosevelt says in the movie, it’s a place where words can be bandied about not bombs.

Garry challenged us to be the Thomas Jeffersons, James Madisons, Thomas Paine’s and Betsy Rosses of inventing a new system.  The human race is very inventive.  Why are we stuck in these old broken systems?  Let’s invent something new.

JWK: Ideally, Facebook, Twitter and all these things would democratize the public square so that people can have their voices heard.  But, on the flip side, as we’ve seen, people can also have their voices just turned off by a powerful corporation – or, maybe, a world government.  The very things that can help democratize the world can also be used to control it.  If everything worked the way you say, I guess that would be great but I don’t see that as guaranteed.  As has also been said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” I mean who’s going to be running this world government and why should we trust them?

AK: Democratizing the public square, that you mention, that is really the key and yet, the very challenging question that you’re asking, we found that in other areas.  For instance, we used to think that you could only have currencies of nations and then these cryptocurrencies started.  Well, we can invent something new in the political sphere which starts bringing us together and then creates something that really has every single person on the planet feel like they can have an input and are stakeholders.

Say you’re issue is “I’ve got this creek next to me that’s polluted and I want to fix it up.  So, I signed up for this World Citizen kind of app.” Garry called it “SmartGov.” I click on the app and I see who are my neighbors in the area working on this issue.  I see where there’s a meeting coming up where I can meet with the people on the opposite side of the issue and we can try to come to a synergy.

You know, synergy is not just win or lose.  It’s how do we come to not just a consensus but something  even better than any of us started with when we first came into the room, a synergizing of all of our ideas with integrity via “syntegrity groups” that really brings us together to tap into our creativity and together invent new solutions.

So, we start solving these problems and what happens is this app tells you what are the best solutions that have happened around the world.  We can click on it and we see that in Egypt they solved the exact same problem doing this or that.  We have algorithms that bring to the top the best solutions and we can look at them and say “Well, would that work with our group?” or “No, we want to modify it this way.” We all become solutionaries and everybody’s got a stake.

JWK: I think all that’s fine but I think you can do that now.  Nobody’s saying that there should be no cooperation around the world, and if you see a solution to a problem somewhere else, fantastic.  Let’s look into it.  But I don’t see why you need a world government to do that.

AK: Garry said let’s devise a whole new way.  We think of government as a bunch of buildings and these representatives we send to meet in the same room and them controlling over us.  Garry said government should be a service.  For instance, there’s ICANN that governs domain names.  If you try to have the exact same domain name or the exact same email address as someone else, they won’t let you.  Well, that’s a nonprofit organization run worldwide that governs these for the internet.  That governing is a service to us just like the postal union.  He said governance should be a service that serves us.  It’s not government over us.  It’s really truly government of, by and for the people of the planet done from the grassroots bottom up.  So, there are no overlords to take over.  If the system is robust enough and interactive enough, you can’t really take it over because it’s all the people being involved.

You do have to develop secure systems so it’s not fake people and bots and stuff taking over.  There are technological people working to solve that.  How does each person have a digital identity that is really them and they really are interacting?  We’re coming to solutions on those kinds of things.

We have a People-Powered Planet podcast where we bring in great speakers on how to solve some of the key problems you’re talking about.  What we want to do is just inspire people with the vision and the wonderful story Garry had that takes us into imagining the world we choose.  Let’s get young people’s imaginations spinning with how do we solve our problems rather than how do we fight off and blow up the other guy.

JWK: I think you could have something in between blowing up the other guy and world government.  I think you can take the same principle that applies to individuals and expand it to countries.  As an individual, you have a home or an apartment and you lock your door.  You want to help and cooperate with other people but you still lock your door.  We are told by psychologists that, as individuals, it’s important to have boundaries.  Why doesn’t that principle hold for groups of people and countries?

AK: You’re absolutely right.  We do need boundaries.  Garry and I never thought we shouldn’t have boundaries.  We need a rich diversity of cultures with all the differences.  We need people able to keep out intrusions on their culture and control their lives and create what they need.  Garry envisioned this as a very decentralized bottom-up system, not the same for everybody in the world but with all of us having the same access to tools that can help us resolve our problems so we’re not using war.

I mean war is an archaic and incredibly stupid way to solve problems.  Think of it.  Does it ever really solve it?  No, you create more enemies.  You create more problems.  That was something old.  We had to do that before we developed new tools.  Today we can invent something far more creative, a much better way of solving problems than war.  That doesn’t mean we give up any of our diversity – but we do a have to protect our planet.

Certain issues – like saving the planet – are global.  If your pollution’s going out all over the world — and they can even see it from the satellites — that’s not a local issue.  That’s a global issue.  It’s threatening the very survival of our planet.  So, in that case we interactively have to all be able to govern and say “Okay, we’ve passed a Global Clean-Air Act of the People.  What you’re doing is illegal.” This citizen-based governance can say, “We’re issuing an injunction.  Shut it down.” And if they don’t stop poluting, what happens?  We don’t enforce it with troops and guns coming in.  We enforce it with an app that we use when we shop in a store and scan products.  It goes beep beep beep flagging a company as a world law violator.  Then you don’t buy their product.  You go to apply for a job and beep beep this is a world law violator.  You don’t apply for that job.  When these companies start to find out, “Hey, if we violate world law, we’re gonna lose business, customers, workers and clients,” they’ll jump aboard and say, “Hey, we’re leaders in supporting this interactive SmartGov, this people-powered planet.” We can draw people to something without having to smash them over the head.  We don’t have all the answers but let’s start struggling with asking the right questions and then finding those answers and finding that root of spirit in each person – that genius and beauty and difference that can come together to solve problems.

Note: For more information on Garry Davis, The World is My Country, including how to view the documentary on a PBS station in your area, click here.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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