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Unfortunate: Concepts ‘earth without borders’, 'universe as family’ are called unrealistic

By Bharat Dogra 

Socrates said, “I am not a citizen of Athens, not a citizen of Greece, I am a citizen of world.” A time may have come today 2400 years later to give much more attention to this most basic identity of human beings which unfortunately is also most neglected. Most members of humanity have been identifying themselves more in terms of national, regional and religious (unfortunately even narrower racial and caste-based) identities than the most essential one of being citizens of world. This has led to serious problems, culminating in a survival crisis—world-level threats to basic life-nurturing conditions of our planet. As scientists increasingly confirm the survival crisis and warn that we do not have much time to resolve this, the (so far elusive) solutions may involve a much wider and deeper commitment to the most basic identity of humanity emphasized by Socrates.
Finding solutions to survival problems involve much higher cooperation of humanity living in all parts of world and saying a firm ‘no’ to all future wars and to the race for highly destructive weapons related to wars. Only then—and in accompanying conditions of peace and non-violence in everyday life-- can humanity be free to use its enormous creativity for resolving climate change and other related serious environmental problems.
This is close to the beautiful concepts of ‘earth without borders’ and ‘universe as family’ which are generally not criticized but dismissed as being unrealistic and too idealist and far-fetched. However our deeply troubled world is likely to need more idealism, and if the problems of survival crisis are unprecedented then we may need solutions which were considered far-fetched earlier.
However the concept of a world government needs more careful handling as this has been used in not just in an idealist but even tyrannical context. Leaving aside the tyrannical context entirely, here the reference is to a form of governance which has no conflict with increasing democratic freedoms and increasing decentralization in managing daily affairs. Here the concept of world government is considered mainly in the context of world peace, a future without wars and arms race and involving much higher worldwide cooperation for checking climate change and related survival threatening environmental problems.
For such higher objectives of a peaceful and secure world the concept of one world government is clearly relevant, as emphasized by some of the most prominent of world’s leaders known for their deep commitment to peace. Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King were all committed to this. Nehru said, “I have no doubt in my mind that the World Government must come and will come for there is no other remedy to the world’s sickness.” Albert Einstein was even more emphatic when he stated—“With all my heart I believe that the world’s present system of sovereign nations can only lead to barbarism, war and inhumanity. Mankind’s desire for peace can be realized only by the creation of a world government.”
Wendell Wilkie had contested the US presidential election unsuccessfully, but he went much beyond the narrow agenda of this when he saw firsthand the devastation wrought by World War II. He now advocated that the USA should be free of ‘international imperialism’ of Europeans and should strive for “equality of opportunity for every race and every nation’, while at the same time not hesitating to criticize the “race imperialism” within the USA. He wrote the widely read book ‘One World’ but tragically died soon after in 1944 before he could take forward his new vision further.
So clearly the concepts of One World and even World Government, linked to peace and justice, have been advocated by some very wise leaders of world in the past and the challenge before us now is to relate these to the most pressing needs of our times, more particularly to resolving the survival crisis.
As this is a big issue and would involve big changes not normally considered these days, it would be better to suggest various variants of the changes and reforms that can be considered, instead of placing just one version for discussion. A wider discussion can then reveal what can be more practical and doable. A United Nations type of representation at world level is not adequate, as here a country gets in one representative with one vote regardless of whether its population is one million or one billion. The representative is not elected but appointed by the government—which may be highly authoritarian and human rights violator. Finally five countries, which have the most weapons of mass destruction and are the most frequent invaders, have a veto power. Hence it is important to go into concepts of world government which go much beyond the United Nations or its basic pattern.
Here, before proceeding further, we may also consider the related beautiful concept of ‘Earth without Borders’ (incidentally also the title of a recent book by this writer). This is often used to convey the idea that those who work with a spirit of serving humanity should not be confined merely to serving their own country, but can be used to convey much wider changes as well, as was the purpose of my book.
Clearly a profession like that of doctors ideally should serve those who need care the most. Hence the USA may be attacking Iraq at a point of time but a US doctor may go to heal the people of Iraq injured in a bombing attack as she feels that it is these innocent victims who need her care the most. Hence we have the concept of doctors without borders or doctors without frontiers which has been taken forward by several senior and eminent public-spirited doctors in recent times.
Similarly we can speak of public service by other professions going beyond any narrow thinking to serve the entire humanity based on where it is needed the most. This includes the concept of journalists without borders and writers without borders, of course. Somewhat similar is the commitment to one world. In this thinking public spirited professionals such as doctors say that they regard the entire world as one, all people as one people, and they do not discriminate among them. They are willing and eager to serve anyone anywhere depending on where their services are needed more.
This concept has been important also for the spread of philanthropic activities to those areas where their care is needed the most as thousands of people have been enduring great risks and hardships to work in the most risky and difficult zones to serve the most needy persons, abandoning the comforts and security they can easily get in their own country.
All of these visions of ‘earth without borders’ and ‘one world’ are very noble but these have been confined to a very restricted base of some professionals and philanthropic organizations. We need to consider now if the time has come to move these to a wider level where the thinking of the entire world or most people can move much beyond the confines of nation states.
Like other concepts of human history the concept of nation state evolved in terms of certain needs and served its purpose at a certain stage of human history in terms of providing unity of certain people at a certain time. But it also led to a lot of problems when this unity of some more powerful people was use to dominate and exploit other people. This created enormous distress in the world. Of course this needs to be checked. In addition we need to look at problems of fast changing times. There has been a certain need for the strong concept of nation state at a certain stage of history, but is this still the most important need today, or does the entire humanity have some bigger needs today?
If there are more pressing needs today then should the concept of nation state change in important ways, and should it give way at least partially to the concept of earth without borders and one world in such a way that in most important and urgent contexts the care and protection of the entire world without any discrimination can receive more attention?
Most of us have been accustomed to thinking of our world as being structured mainly on the basis of nation-states. However there is another way in which we can look at world, and this is to look at the world as just one unit, one vast family of human beings, as well as other living beings.
Of course for day to day governance decentralization is best - the more the better - and so for smooth and people-friendly functioning district councils or village councils should have a very important role. However this is only for managing daily affairs better (decentralization is always better than top-heavy centralization) and the basic reality should remain that of one world, in which all people are equal and live without any discrimination as equal citizens of this world, with equal access to certain basic human rights.
To this we should add that Earth is not just for human beings. The concept of one world should therefore include the welfare of all forms of life (and not just human beings).
From the point of view of welfare of all forms of life this is obviously a much better way of looking at world, and it is not surprising that several eminent and thoughtful persons have been supporting the idea of one world in one form or the other at various times.
However, more than any other point in human history, there is now more compelling need for this ideal to be advanced and realized to the extent possible. The reason why this time is so crucial for this viewpoint is that in recent times a survival crisis or existential crisis has emerged on our planet.
To understand the very critical times through which all inhabitants of planet earth are passing, the concept of a survival crisis is of crucial importance. Briefly, this concept refers to a range of serious problems which taken together can badly disrupt the special life-nurturing conditions of earth due to which such a wide diversity of life has flourished here. This disruption can take place within the 21st century, in fact as early as within the next few decades. Several very senior scientists have argued along these lines in several statements in recent times.
The serious problems which constitute the survival crisis include nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction including robot or AI weapons, spread of arms race to space, space pollution and junk, climate change, ocean acidification, freshwater crisis, air pollution , disruption of food safety and around half a dozen other serious environmental and safety problems. Most discussion on these dozen or so survival problems takes place in isolation from each other but in the practical world we are more likely to face the combined threat of several of them taken together, increasing the risks.
From the point of view of the welfare of all living beings on earth this survival crisis constituted by all these problems taken together is clearly the most important issue. This is true for this generation but this is even more true regarding the welfare of future generations, our children and grandchildren as well as the next generations of other life-forms.
The present world leadership and international institutions have miserably failed to find timely and credible solutions for this survival crisis taken as a whole. There are several statements by leading scientists, experts and statesmen testifying to this. In fact some of the problems which constitute the survival crisis have worsened rapidly in the recent past.
Increasingly in my recent writings and books I have been pleading that the greatest importance must now be accorded at world level to resolving the survival crisis within the framework of justice, democracy and peace. While very significant reforms in governance at world level are needed to find and implement solutions which work, these can come only if there is a great resurgence of people’s movements at the grassroots and a yearning for social values in tune with the big challenges ahead. More specifically I have suggested the coming together of the movements of justice (including gender justice), peace, environment protection, democracy and sincere spirituality to make it possible for people to respond adequately to the challenges ahead. It is tough, it is possible.
Is it possible to resolve the survival crisis within the existing structure of the world based on around 200 nation states of highly varying sizes but dominated by just about one-tenth (or even less) of the total number of nation states?
Unfortunately much less complex issues have not been solved despite efforts being made for several decades by the existing world system of power rivalries among and within the existing nation states and their vision guided by narrow self-interest. This self-interest is in turn guarded by powerful, highly resourceful elites and corporations that dominate the deep establishments of various nation-states.
In the context of survival crisis we cannot wait for too long. We have just a few years to take the most critical decisions.
Hence we cannot delay any further big reforms and changes which are long overdue, which in the interests of welfare of all people and all forms of life should have been made long ago, but their need is much more compelling now. The least we can do immediately is to at least put these reforms on agenda.
Of course no one is saying that merely restructuring the world at governance level will be adequate. We also need very basic changes in value systems and in human thinking to create and sustain a safer world within the framework of justice, peace and democracy. This is a continuing task which too is helped by the 'one world', ‘earth without borders’ and 'world as family' concepts.
While the concept of one world has often been discussed before, the special context today is at two levels -
 Firstly, we should link this concept of one world with the special need of our times to resolve the survival crisis.
 Secondly, the concept of one world should co-exist well with increasing decentralization for managing daily affairs, with emphasis on justice and equality.
It is a basic principle of effective governance that it should be in accordance with ability to achieve the most important aims and tasks. In terms of this very basic definition, the huge, colossal failures of existing governance systems in our deeply troubled world facing unprecedented threats have been exposed in more and more glaring and disturbing ways in recent times.
This failure is occurring moreover at the most critical juncture of human history when the effectiveness of world governance in facing up to the most formidable challenges is of most critical importance in the sense that this relates to protecting the very life nurturing conditions of our planet. To complete the alarming picture, the failure is actually the most glaring precisely in the context of the most critical issues like disarmament and checking climate change.
The existing governance system with all its heavy infra-structure, commissions and committees and organizations has been reasonably good at identifying the crucial issues. It has been even better at issuing statements. But in terms of effective action it really lags far behind the actual needs, which can be disastrous keeping in view the time-bound urgency of the issues.
With respect to the most life-threatening issues of weapons of mass destruction, climate change as well as about a dozen other extremely serious environmental and safety issues, action at world level is far behind what is needed and the larger perspective that is needed for the timely satisfactory resolving of these issues within a framework of justice, equality and democracy is also missing woefully.
Unprecedented threats demand unprecedented response. So it is time to consider out-of-box governance changes and improvements which can create the kind of world governance systems that are needed for resolving the most critical issues of our times and the near future in a time-bound framework before it is too late. This cannot be done very abruptly of course but we need to know carefully what we are aiming at and the direction in which we ought to be moving. Let us try to imagine what kind of world governance system we may like to see about three decades from now.
It is the year 2050. About 10 billion people live on earth. For the purpose of highly decentralized administration of daily affairs, they are divided among about 1000 provinces each with an average population of around 10 million (this may range between 5 million to 15 million, depending on population density and other factors).
Each of these provinces, apart from electing its local members for highly decentralized governance at levels of province, district and village, also elects a representative for the World Government. The lower house of the World Government is constituted in this way, each of its 1000 elected members being elected by people of one province.
The World Government also has an upper house, consisting of the best available experts on climate, biodiversity, oceans, weapons, peace and other issues of critical importance. These experts are elected to the upper house based on a system combining recommendations of professional associations, provincial administrations and lower house representatives.
The lower and upper houses of the World Government elect a Council of Ministers which is coordinated by two leaders who change once every two years or so.
The World Government takes critical decisions on protecting the life-sustaining conditions of planet on issues like climate change, species protection and other critical life-protecting environmental issues.
In addition the World Government has the responsibility of preventing any war or civil war, as well as ensuring that no province has any nuclear weapons, or other weapons of mass destruction (including robot weapons). It is responsible for ensuring that no outer space related destructive activity is carried out by any human being or agency.
In fact a province is allowed to keep very few weapons only for policing needs or checking crime, not for war.
However the World Government is allowed to have some stocks of conventional war weapons, and perhaps just about 10 nuclear weapons (with supporting infra-structure) as the World Government has the responsibility of checking any wars and checking the emergence and spread of any big terrorist force. Any disputes relating to provincial borders are settled by the World Government, involving the concerned provincial governments and their neighbors in the settlement of the dispute. No province has its own army, but contributes personnel to one and only one world army (a very limited armed force with land, air, sea and space sections).
Another task of the World Government is to ensure that a World Constitution is created to ensure that -
a) all people are equal and there is no discrimination based on class, gender, race, colour, caste, ethnicity, previous nationality etc. (although affirmative action for those who suffered extreme historical disadvantages or injustice is allowed),
b) all provinces have to satisfy certain norms of democratic functioning and are governed in highly decentralized way by representatives elected in free and fair elections,
c) people can move freely from one province to another within the limits of some restrictions,
d) all provinces are free to decide their imports and exports, but certain basic qualitative and safety norms have to be agreed by all of them,
e) all provinces have to observe certain norms of justice and equality, human rights and rights of all forms of life,
f) all provinces have to follow certain norms of controlling infectious diseases,
g) all provinces have to follow certain norms of protecting other forms of life, such as heavy curbs on hunting and harming habitats,
h) jobs and income of all former soldiers of army, para-military forces, air force and navy will be protected by giving them work at the same salaries in protection from disasters, rescue work, eco-restoration and related works,
i) Issues relating to that currency which can be accepted all over the world will be decided by the world government.
Within these broad guidelines, all provinces and districts are completely free to grow in a highly decentralized manner according to their local conditions and creativity.
The world government will rush relief to areas seriously affected by disasters and work for a hunger-free world.
In other words the world government representing all people on equal basis and obtaining the best available advice creates broad conditions of protecting life-sustaining conditions, avoiding war and maintaining peace, bringing down all weapons to minimal levels, ensuring democracy and decentralization and compliance to these conditions is ensured at world level.
Once these conditions have been ensured and some norms in keeping with these conditions have been set up, then in these secure conditions there will be the most space for realizing the enormous creative potential of people in various walks of life for creating a better and safer world.
With respect to protecting the life-sustaining conditions (like checking climate change, elimination of weapons of mass destruction) all provinces have to ultimately abide by the decisions of the world government, whose chief mandate is to protect these conditions within a framework of justice, equality and democracy, although any province can certainly appeal in case of anything that appears to be unjust or improper. In a democratic spirit they can certainly debate and oppose some decisions, but in the end, after all has been said and discussed, the provinces have to abide by what the world government says with respect to protecting the life sustaining conditions.
We should aim to achieve such conditions - or somewhat similar conditions within a decade or two. By year 2050 it should then be possible to check climate change to such an extent that remaining within the most essential limits can be achieved more or less. Also by 2050 elimination of nuclear, chemical, biological and robot weapons should be more or less achieved, although a very small stock can be maintained by the world government only (not by any province) to guard against any rogue elements or terrorists.
Can such conditions be achieved within less than two decades? The basic reason for trying to achieve a fast pace of change is that basic life sustaining conditions of planet earth have to be protected. The basic structure of a different world outlined above, along with other decisions for a justice based decentralized world, can achieve this and also bring several other highly desirable changes. However we can also consider other visions.
The vision of a different world outlined above is based on complete elimination of nation-states. As outlined above, there is a truly representative world government which protects the basic life-sustaining conditions of earth at various levels in a framework of justice, democracy peace and protection of all forms of life. At the base there are highly decentralized provinces and districts, committed to decentralized governance, justice, peace and elimination of poverty.
However, the concept of nation states has become so deeply embedded in recent times that many people may not accept this. They may like to consider a different vision which is based on the creation of a world government while retaining nation-states.
In this more limited vision the nation-states remain as before, while electoral constituencies for world government are created, ignoring national boundaries, on average one for every 10 million people. Hence the Lower House of the World Government is created. The Upper House consists of experts as in the earlier version.
The mandate of the world government is to keep climate change to acceptable limits, eliminate all weapons of mass destruction and to protect other essential life- sustaining conditions. To the extent that it is necessary for this purpose, nation-states surrender their sovereignty to the world government with respect to decisions on these issues. On these aspects, all nation-states have to abide by what the world government decides. On other aspects, nation-states continue to retain their sovereignty.
In yet another version, we can go one step further. In this version, the nation-state continues to exist, but disbands its army (this includes army, air force, navy, special border protection forces etc.). All former soldiers will get re-employment, with their salary and pension protected, in disaster and accident protection, rescue and eco-restoration work, as well as in peace keeping forces of the world government. In this version the only army will be with the world government and the world government will take care of all border disputes or disagreements.
All these three versions of significant change can be debated and considered, together with other alternatives that may be suggested by more learned scholars and experts.
The idea of a World Government finding effective solutions for survival crisis within a framework (and strengthening this framework) of peace, justice and democracy is a wonderful and very exciting idea. Many will agree with this but ask - is there even a little hope that this can be achieved in the near future, before it is too late?
If we look at the actual record of the international community for resolving much smaller issues, the situation does not appear hopeful at all. To take an example, the Palestine issue has been discussed endlessly for more than seven decades without any justice-based solutions being found. There have been ups and downs, and certain times appeared to be more hopeful than others, and some efforts appeared to have more success than others, but the overall result after over 70 years is a very dismal one.
What hope, then, for much bigger changes of the kind that we are considering?
Before we consider this question let us take another one. If our world is facing serious problems, should we not consider the most obvious and effective solutions, even if these appear difficult to achieve at present?
I think that the most obvious and effective solutions should certainly be considered no matter how difficult and impractical these appear at present. These should be on the world's agenda for all the people to see. In particular, these should be on the table for all the younger people and children to see, because it is their future which is most in danger under the present system. Adults have been thinking for too long along old lines. Give children and teenagers and young people a chance to see that such solutions are also on the agenda. Who knows? In their (as yet) uncorrupted innocence they may decide to choose these solutions.
As the survival crisis intensifies, there will be a new wave of yearning for new paths and solutions. There will be a turmoil and people, particularly young people, may be willing to consider all options.
In such situations the sincere and honest solutions which appear impractical today may appear the most obvious solutions to the younger people, and these may get much higher acceptability among all solutions.
For this to happen, it is important for some thoughtful people to keep these ideas alive and to provoke discussion on them so that the details of such solutions can be worked out.
The writer is a veteran journalist and author. He is Honorary Convener of Campaign to Save Earth Now with its SED (Save the Earth Decade) Demand. Several eminent persons have endorsed this campaign. His recent books include 'Planet in Peril', 'Man over Machine—A Path to Peace', 'A Day in 2071', 'Protecting Earth for Children' and 'Earth without Borders'



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