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There is much anguished concern about world governance. There are many meetings on the matter, many studies by the eminent and others, and many research centres devoted to the topic. It is also quite clear that the capacity to govern according to the principles, which many have struggled decades to elaborate, is being rapidly eroded -- most recently as result of terrorism and especially in response to it. Many of the bodies in which hope might have been placed in engendering and ensuring meaningful world governance have themselves proven to be significantly inadequate -- if not fundamentally flawed.
Democratic processes are widely abused, even in the countries held to be models of democracy: funding of political parties by vested intrerests, cash-for-questions in parliamentary bodies, flawed elections, indicted presidents, ministerial 'sleaze', unrepresentative decision-making, flawed public consultations, voter apathy, lack of transparency, reliance on spin, bribery, corruption, etc. It is no longer irrelevant to ask what proportion of the peoples' representatives -- even in intergovernmental assemblies -- have a criminal record of some kind (or are employed by those that have). It is therefore completely unclear how processes that are so inadequate on the national scale can be replicated on the world scale with any hope of compensating for such defects. And yet there is an increasing urgency in order to respond to crises on a global scale.
Where to look for inspiration? Think-tanks specializing in such matters have failed to generate proposals that engage public awareness or address public concerns. They focus instead on replicating national democratic processes -- suitably adjusted to a world scale -- without addressing the obvious flaws in principle and often minimizing the significance of such flaws in practice.
It must be seriously asked whether the understanding of strategy, planning and management, primarily developed for the closed systems (with a single leader) of corporations, public administrations and the military, can be expected to be work effectively with open systems like societies, communities or ecosystems (with multiple 'leaders'). Efforts to ensure 'consensus', 'harmonization' or 'rationalization' within such open systems could then be viewed as a desperate effort to adapt a complex social reality to the simplicity of the tools available. Such adaptation is supported by preference for implementing technologically complex, high-budget, closed system solutions to social problems (eg dams, highways, building complexes, etc) rather than low-tech, low-budget solutions adapted to open systems (eg Grameem bank, etc).
This paper explores one way of presenting the challenge of world governance that is meaningful to most people of the world -- both women and men. The question it raises is whether the skills and processes associated with cookery hold insights which might help to frame the challenge of world governance in new ways. Any focus on food and its preparation could well be considered a healthy way of grounding discussion about governance that often fails to recognize the basic needs of the governed.
One of the most obvious features of cookery is the range of styles and preferences and how they are accomodated. These are evident in notions of:
Such preferences have their counterpart in the ways in which people determine their representatives and engage in any collective decision-making process. Why is it assumed that in the case of world governance, some 'one-size-fits-all' process could, or should, be discovered and imposed on all?
Independent of access to such variety, people have taste preferences. Some like highly spiced food, others prefer steamed food, etc. These have to be accomodated. How are varying preferences for decision-making processes to be accomodated -- especially when some prefer authoritarian regimes and others prefer highly participatory regimes?
Such basic preferences for styles of cooking should not be confused with the preference of people for different styles of food on occasion. Indeed, even within any one style, cooks repeatedly endeavour to titillate the palate through new food preparations. People get bored with eating the same food every day -- if there is food to be eaten -- and seek variety. The variety may in part be imposed by seasonal variations in the availability of particular foodstuffs. Why is it assumed that the situation should be different with respect to collective decision-making, especially at the world level? Should there not be variations -- notably according to region and to theme?
Part of the art of food preparation over a period of time is to programme a variety of foods so that the preferences of each are appropriately met -- even if compromises have to be made by each in turn. What provision is envisaged in world governance for different preferences? How might they be handled over time so that, for example, Germanic, Swedish, Latin, African, Arab, Japanese, and other styles have their place -- or can be called upon?
The past century has seen a considerable increase in awareness of food preferences beyond those of taste and style, namely those associated with diet and taboo. These are most obvious on international airlines forced to deal on a daily basis with thousands of real people with real concerns. For example Singapore Airlines offers such variants as:
Such needs and preferences, whether inspired by health, ethical or religious concerns, raise the question as to whether processes of governance need to be attentive to analogous variations. Even though food may be recognized as an indisputable 'universal value', the above articulations of this 'universal' value suggest that different groups may have alternative needs and preferences with respect to governance. This casts light on the stressful debate regarding 'Asian values' and points to the possibility that there are other value variations to which world governance may need to be sensitive. Are there indeed the equivalent of 'food taboos' in the case of governance? Is it appropriate to endeavour to declare them irrational in an effort to impose some 'universal' form of world governance?
World governance is faced with a basic issue of how to respond to the hunger of the many, especially in developing countries, whilst having to deal with the dramatic increase in obesity in industrialized countries. Both involve a form of malnutrition -- the first requiring a minimal diet and the second a more balanced diet. Governance faces more general variants of these problems which might be expressed as malnourishment of the human spirit. For many, the world provides them with little to nourish their development as human beings. For some, so much is provided and available -- notably as a surfeit of information and stimulus of every kind -- that they incrreasingly suffer from a form of obesity of the spirit, of the kind that monastic orders traditionally addressed by fasting and retreats.
Whereas, in terms of food, the challenge is expressed in terms of calories and dietary balance, the question is how is the challenge to be articulated for governance. Is the widespread concern with overcoming the 'digital divide' merely an analogue to that regarding the food divide -- requiring a closed system, high-tech approach attrractive to developers, rather than an open system, low-tech approach from which little profit can be derived? By analogy with calories, how much information do people need daily to nourish their development as human beings? To what extent do many effectively suffer from sensory deprivation -- like caged animals?
Beyond the focus on calories, is the question of a healthy balanced diet and the challenge in many countries of dietary monotony. Related to this is the challenge of providing vitamins and trace elements. World governance faces a similar challenge in providing people with a balanced diet of information for their healthy development -- partly to counterbalance the consequences of cultural homogenization. As the extent of voter apathy has illustrated, world governance may indeed face a challenge of overcoming a sense of monotony. How is world governance to avoid the challenge of being profoundly boring? What are the 'vitamins' esssential to enlivening governance and ensuring a healthy population?
One approach to ensure that food has appropriate ingedients to safeguard health is to include additives or to use basic foods, like rice, that have been genetically modified to provide protective genes. This is of course extremely controversial because of the dependencies that it creates on certain patented food products -- to the advantage of particular coporations. In the case of governance, information can of course be provided to the population that is designed to create dependencies that ensure a measure of control. It might be argued that developing a taste for particular media programs, music, or video packages could be used to this end. This recalls the controversy over the use of subliminal advertising -- here adjusted to be more of a visual stimulus. As many have remarked, advertising clips and images tend to be of superior quality or interest in comparison with other information products.
Chinese cuisine stresses the need for five complementary foods on a dish -- suggesting the value of exploring five complementary forms of information in any form of balanced governance. At present the challenges of governance tend to be articulated through linear text (whether in documents or speeches). This may occasionally be supplemented by a sprinkling of statistics, selected photo opportunities or sound bites.
It is interesting that traditionally women of northern peoples recognized that
the increasing diversity and abundance of foodstuffs locally available in spring
increased the probability of their pregnancies were successfully carried to
term in the autumn -- and hence the fertility rites of spring and associated
sexual activity. By what information does policy need to be nourished at its
conception to ensure that it is brought to fruition rather than still born?
spring meeting / resolutions / decisions coming to term
Particularly interesting is the challenge of detecting and responding to food allergies -- especially when anticipating little known guests. Some allergies can be quite devastating to those affected. Governance may well be faced with an analogous challenge. Some policies that are valuable to many may well have a devastating effect on a few individuals or sub-cultures. As with cooking, should such possibilities be envisaged? Is the sufferer responsible for making their allergy known and avoiding particular foodstuffs? To what extent should governance recognize the range of allergies to policies that may be formulated -- and make provision for those so affected?
Those selecting foods are now sensitized to the potential problems associated with excessive pesticide use, genetically modified foods, inappropriate animal feed, and the introduction of hormones into meat products -- all exemplified by the BSE crisis and its effects on the food chain. In contrast to these risks, consumers may consider the merits of organic foods. In considering the challenges of world governance, there is an analogous choice to be made between 'enhancements' of the relationship to voters -- news management, 'killing' unwelcome news and discrediting its propagators, tinkering with news stories ('spin'), and enhancing positive news -- and what might be termed 'organic' news as provided from sources on the ground. The case for the former is that it allows for greater control -- by ensuring it -- under potentially unstable conditions. The case for the latter is that voters become progressively more educated about the specious nature of the arguments presented in support of 'enhanced' information on policies and the 'pollution' of the 'information chain'.
community network independent grassroots media
Food is much appreciated because of its taste. Much is made of the merits of 'local specialities' -- which may even be specially flown in from distant parts. There is a continuing concern that the taste is being bred out of certain foods (such as fruits) to meet commercial compromises that ensure better transportation and sales on the basis of how the food looks -- namely a nostalgia for the taste of products in the past. Governance is faced with similar challenges. Local projects may be much valued for their special qualities (responsiveness, personal touch, etc) and efforts may be made to replicate such 'best practices' from distant locations. However there is also a marked tendency to impose particular standardized project styles because of comparable reporting methods and ease of public relations presentation. These may well be experienced as alienating and even 'tasteless'. This contrast is notably evident in the appreciation for 'wild' or 'free range' animal foodstuffs over those which have been factory farmed. Strategies developed spontaneously, 'on-the-fly' may be similarly appreciated over those which effectively come off a policy production-line. This dilemma is particularly evident in the'directives' of the European Community.
Certain foodstuffs may not be appreciated at all when first tasted. Those familiar with them would speak of an 'acquired taste'. For a gourmet, there is even a need to 'educate the palate'. To what degree does governance recognize that its policies may not be appreciated initially? To what degree should the directives of the European Community, for example, be seen as an 'acquired taste' -- for which some form of citizen 'education' may be required? Fundamental in both cases is the question of whether people should indeed be expected to acquire a taste for something that they initially find distasteful. Whilst politeness may be expected of guests in the first case, and of foreign visitors in the second, what provision is to be made in the case of world governance for people who absolutely dislike a particular policy by which they are affected?
It is useful to consider preferences for the variety of styles of food consumption, such as:
Each of these has analogies to ways of envisaging world governance.
Clearly the gourmet international style, as in the restaurants of the various intergovernmental agencies, suggests an approach whereby selected elites negotiate confidentially amongst themselves in luxurious surroundings -- on behalf of the interests of others who could never afford to be at the same table, even if that was permitted. The Davos Forum has come to exemplify this mode of govrnance in the eyes of many. This approach has been developed to convey an aura of expertise through which the best and the brightest, and the most powerful, apply their insights to the challenge of governance -- without of course neglecting the necessity to ensure they are appropriately rewarded. It is indeed the case that the best and freshest foods are made available at such tables -- as with the best and freshest information -- no matter the distance from which it must be brought. The recent Okinawa meeting of the Group of 7 is reckoned have cost approximately $100 million per participant country, although of course there were many people in each delegation.
Most of the governed can only afford to eat food prepared at home often grown by themselves -- with their family.
As noted above, concerns have arisen with regard to factory farming and slaughterhouse procedures, as well as the transport of live animals under horrendous conditions. These have encouraged many meat eaters to switch to vegetarian diets, whether or not they were persuaded by other arguments in favour of such diets. Some have gone further and now exclude all dairy products from their diets.
Purchase of animal products avoids the need for consumers to deal with the reality of killing the animal prior to its preparation. This is not the case when live animals are purchased for eating, as in the case of crustacea, frogs, fowl or rabbit, for example -- or when animals, such as fish, are selected by clients for preparation in a restaurant. The cook is then confronted with the task of placing lobsters in boiling water as part of the preparation process -- or tearing the legs off live frogs.
Many ethical concerns are enshrined in food preparation provisions particular to religions or cultural groups. This is the case with kosher and halal meat. Although here the concern is less with ethics in relation to the animal and far more in relation to any ethical impurity or uncleanliness that may affect the consumer as a result of improper preparation.
There are many practices governing participation in the process of eating food. These include separation or exclusion of :
Each of these may be significant in their implications and consequences. Women,
for example, may prepare the food, but may not necessarily serve it, or be present
at table, or even be seen by the guests -- according to culture.
women suckling pigletsd
This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.