Missing: Political creativity

By Johan Galtung

A key slogan during the student revolt in Paris May 1968, soon 50 years ago, was Imagination au pouvoir! Bring imagination to power!

We were there, walking with thousands from Champs-Élysées to Place Etoile where a stentorian voice commanded us to sit in small groups in the circles under the Arch to “discuss the situation”. So we did.

France is now suffering from more imagination deficit than ever. To call Le Pen-Front National “extreme right” when the issue is for or against the EU is not helpful.

Left-right was 20th century politics.

Why not think bigger, beyond EU: for or against EURASIA, Russia-China are ready? Trade fills trains London-Beijing; a West-East axis, not the old colonial obsession with North-South (neo)colonialism.

And how about both, EURASIAFRICA? They hang together geographically.

Another word for imagination is creativity.

Engineers apply it to matter, architects to space, artist to form, scientists to how things hang together, humans to how people may hang together. And people who use their democratic power to how politics hangs together. “Populism” so-called–yes, democracy is populist=peopleist, and there have been solid No’s recently to elitism shared by dominant political parties.

Thus, the French managed to get rid of Socialists/Gaullists. England graduated from Tory/Liberal to Conservatives/Labour long ago; now with the labor party disappearing.

Brexit was not elitist, and Theresa May, loyal to populist Brexit, is no classical conservative.

Sooner or later USA will be liberated from Democrats/Republicans, the alliance running the US political machine.

Trump did. Fired FBI director James Comey called him “crazy” (NYT 12 May 2017); “autistic”, rather. Trump is now up against “Fired by Trump, unite!” – and a Nixonian future.

What is happening?

All over, old social faultlines yield to new. Like right-left to war-peace? People see it more clearly than those with vested interests – including money! – in the old. Vox populi, vox dei.

But that divine voice is not heard at the level of world politics as there are no world elections or referenda, and the EU is not the world.

There is something static, almost dead about the world state system, particularly how states relate to each other; as if they have found their final form and as if their relations will remain anarchic.

Concerns for security, no violence within and without, are legitimate; but not dominance of police and military using violence and threats as knee-jerk reflexes, devoid of imagination, even of reflections.

In addition, more seriously, as if the agenda for inter-state relations had only one point: security, guided by what is known as paranoia.

Except that states do trade across gaps of distrust, even paranoia?

They do, and often very creatively, for mutual and equal benefit, greatly helped by market price mechanisms defining what is “equal”. And all are better off with good business deals.

But they do not want other parties to be much better off. They watch each other, knowing that the survival of the other party may be a condition for own survival. But they do not want all-out winners, with themselves as all-out losers.

However, cooperation by exchange for mutual and equal benefit can be expanded much beyond economic goods supplied and demanded.

This is where the theory and practice of negative and positive peace enter.

Negative peace calls for non-provocative security, defensive defense, including guarding well what should be defended. Better than hunting for terrorists not understanding what they want. No violence, no exchanging of bad for bad; including psychologically, as threats.

Positive peace goes beyond that, into exchanging good for good, like in trade. We would put our fingers on skills. “You seem to do well on something I am not good at; on the other hand, I am good at–“. At the personal level we may think of cooperation between the bright student with no skills in sports and the sporty but somewhat dumb student, both lifting each other up. And at the inter-state level?

Using an Octagon map of our present multi-polar world, with Russia-India-China-Islam emerging, USA-EU declining, and Latin America Caribbean-Africa as the classical “Third World”, we get 8×7/1×2 = 28 bilateral relations.

All these poles have bad as well as good aspects. It is entirely legitimate to be on guard against the bad aspects, and entirely illegitimate not to be open to the good aspects, like skills. Examples abound, spelled out on the cover pages of A Theory of Peace (TRANSCEND University Press, 2012).

Take two giants, nos. 1 and 2 in population (not smaller Western states), China and India. China is good at lifting the bottom up (but has still a far way to go), India not, ridden by caste. India is good at accommodating cultural diversity with its linguistic federalism (except in Assam); China not.

How about meeting, comparing notes in an open-ended dialogue, itself an instrument of mutual and equal benefit? Preferably not behind closed doors because others have also much to learn, not the least from willingness to having problems publicly discussed.

Take the old super-powers, USA and Russia. USA good on individual freedom to innovate and practice, Russia on divesting itself of an empire almost without violence–both short where the other is strong.

Of course, it takes some courage for them, as also for China and India, to admit shortcomings, but that could be forthcoming. Furthermore, the more forward-looking the better to make sense to the whole world of the great advantages of having a skills market where good can meet with good, not only bad meeting with–deterring, fighting, winning over–bad.

There is a major problem though.

Overfed with the developed-developing dichotomy, many believe that the former have no problems whereas the latter have only problems. Much better is a Yin-Yang perspective: something is missing in all; something has been accomplished by all.

The limitation is in our limited political imagination. Grow so that world visions will open up in our minds, shared with others in new speeches, enacted in new acts. We can if we will. And we will if we imagine.

Originally published at Transcend Media Service, TMS, here.

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