Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Reply to Tony Blair

In a recent article for Project Syndicate, Tony Blair promotes education for cross cultural dialogue, amongst students around the world 12-17 years of age. Here's some of his concerns:
...stories of terrorism and violence perpetrated in the cause of a false view of religion...Today, in an arc that stretches from the Far East through the Middle East to the streets of cities in Europe and in the United States, we face a scourge that has taken innocent lives, scarred communities, and destabilized countries."
Blair seeks to counteract growing terrorism, the result of fanatical Islamists, as well as "Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists who disfigure the true nature of their faith." However, I sense underlying economic causes, which I wonder whether Blair has taken into account. In recent decades, there has been a sea change in rural life in the U.S. While there is frequent dialogue regarding struggling areas in the cities, the lack of economic access for rural areas is mostly ignored in U.S. dialogue. Discussions about poverty are not the same thing, for they mostly revolve around governmental solution finding instead of actual economic viability at local levels.

So when political insurgent problems finally arise which start out rural in nature, they can be like a fire which is practically impossible to put out. Rebels of all stripes may be inclined to laugh and fire their gun in the air when people look astonished and ask, "Why can't we all just get along? Where did all this anger come from?"

Much of what was labeled a war on poverty, should have been taken on as a campaign to restore economic viability and diversity at local levels, decades ago. Terrorism has more backing than ever, in places around the world. But it wasn't always this way. Today, anyone with money who has issues with the status quo, can just tap into the economic vacuum that was ignored at local levels by everyone for far too long. Finally, the hate spilled over into the cities and everywhere. Any nation or government which hoards the main economic action for its cities and capitals, leaves its rural areas too vulnerable.

One only hopes that Blair's efforts can do some good. Still, I am concerned that the outreach he supports, will mostly reinforce good feelings that those of different faiths already want to extend towards one another. In other words it works as a social signal for those who already stood to gain, from being so inclined. Efforts in this regard, don't take into account why different faiths step into community roles which they never should have had to assume in the first place. Who else was around to help citizens discover better ways to help themselves? Too often, the purpose of formal education has been to encourage escape, from places which are consequently left with little economic purpose.

For too many places, local faith ends up as the last provider of social coordination and integration, left standing. In all this, the fact that we have history to show us how to avoid episodes of conflict, isn't enough. When people are not economically connected to one another in real ways, they will keep stumbling over and over again. No government can afford to forget that, yet it is a crucial mistake which formal education and governments have been making all along. Working through the same channels to repeat a similar message again mostly reinforces the status quo.

Local education is often not a contributor to success at local levels, because it is taken on for purposes mostly beyond the community which commits to it. This is true both for teachers and students. In many instances, their activities are not connected to actual ongoing services needs and wealth creation potential amongst the community. Once a student graduates, oftentimes a dozen years of efforts simply stop with no further place to go.

That may still hold true even when private schools provide better quality education, for the purpose remains externally and institutionally directed. In other words, education is still mostly about preparing people to look for something other than the ways they are experiencing reality. Supposedly, other institutions are able to pick up where schools leave off, but the coordination amongst these doesn't really exist. That translates into students not knowing how to proceed from their present circumstance, and not knowing how to help others from what they've learned. It's left to one's local faith to pick up the pieces - whatever that faith happens to be.

A lot of this comes down to patterns of centralization or decentralization, and how they are ultimately arrived at locally and nationally. Today there are calls for decentralization in the U.S. but so far the dialogue is reactionary. What matters is whether proposed methods for decentralization are productive or reactionary, for there is a world of difference between the two. One is simply fed up with dictates from elsewhere. Whereas the other is prepared to take knowledge use, and apply it so as to allow communities to take better care of their own and create renewed wealth.

Before anyone can actually become capable of economic diversification at local levels, they need the rights to knowledge use for individuals which would make that possible. Such knowledge use rights would make local education effective, so that all in community could become part of local coordination efforts for services and wealth creation. These knowledge use rights might also encourage local leaders to once again take the chances on extensive support of local educational efforts. In some parts of the world, villages without local knowledge use are even hampered further, by terrorists who block the entry of doctors who would come to help the wounded and the sick.

When people who are geographically isolated are expected to rely on coordination from economic structures far away, they don't trust them. But that's not the worst of it. They may not trust each other. They become reluctant to approach their neighbors for anything, because they don't see their neighbor as being invested with value or skill either. That's particularly true  if no institution is currently investing in the skills of locals. They may no longer see the product formations of others as valuable, and begin to reason that if they need something they can tend to it themselves. It's just not a good idea for any society to go too far down this path.

Instead of providing choice and freedom, products and services are now seen as something to be parceled out on merit, instead of spontaneous ability and aspiration to share with others. People in every community need knowledge use and economic diversity where they are - not just access to cities in critical moments of their lives. Otherwise, no social diversity will ever make sense to them, and understandably so.

This set of affairs has been going on for too long, and I don't like the fact that it is happening. Without the right to local knowledge use wealth, no village can aspire to economic and social connectivity. Every faith struggles to turn its own radical members around when they have been economically abandoned - in some instances for centuries at a time.

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