Here is a handout pdf of the lyrics for a song workshop I will be leading at Friends General Conference in Toledo. Most have urls for recordings of the tunes.  I hope to soon post recordings of the others soon and list them in a revision of this page.

FGC Workshop Lyrics

 

draft bannerfire-in-the-commons-e.jpg

“Fire in the Commons” formed in the winter of 2018 as an intergenerational music group committed to empowering people through powerful, original songs. We perform in concerts, rallies, churches and wherever people gather to work for solidarity, freedom, peace,  safeguarding the commons or simply lifting spirits with a joyful roar. They aim to bridge cultures and build community with music that moves people to sing and songs that move them to act. We take inspiration from troubadours like Pete Seeger and Violeta Parra and change agents like Sweet Honey in the Rock, Emma’s Revolution, Will I Am and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. We use a mix of strong acapella arrangements and spare but powerful instrumentation with guitar, bones, conchs and drums.  Our lyrics deal with topics like climate change, war, peace, diversity, immigration, consumerism, hope, community building and ecological stewardship.  Members this year included Kristina Swanson, Chester Hardina-Blanchette, Ali Fahrquahr, Gray Cox, and Hannah Miller,  and (not pictured here) Felipe Fontecilla Gutierrez, Sarah Emigh-Doyle, Jai Temple and Lila Schrock.

Samples of our songs can be seen on Youtube or heard on Bandcamp at:

“Comin’ Like a Hurricane” — https://youtu.be/ObLKRxISAB

“350 To Save the Sky” — https://graycox.bandcamp.com/track/350-to-save-the-sky

“Someone to Hold” — https://youtu.be/ImJPHxDACos

“Todos Somos Otros” — https://youtu.be/5WRfUog4ZT4

“She’ll Be Ridin’ on a Donkey” — https://youtu.be/tSj1fB_d43A

An Air for Buddhists and Other Animals (Breath on the Water) – https://graycox.bandcamp.com/track/breath-on-the-water

Other songs are available at: https://graycox.bandcamp.com/ For more information or to contact us for a performance, write or call Gray Cox at gray@coa.edu or #207-460-1163.

Performances this spring included:

3/2       Featured Group at the First Friday Coffee House at North East Harbor Library

3/9       Concert at the Jesup Memorial Library

3/16      Concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church for fund raising for Unitarian Youth attending a UN Conference on Immigration

4/17     Music for the annual War Tax Resistance Rally in Portland, Maine, at Lobsterman Park

5/11    Performance at Beyond the Whale Skull at College of the Atlantic – broadcast on Channel Five in Portland at: http://www.ctn5.org/shows/member-highlights/member-highlight-maine-war-tax-resistance-day-12725

 

 

Here’s a link to a video of a talk I gave this spring at a TED-like session organized at College of the Atlantic called “Beyond the Whale Skull”. It deals with “Fun and Creative Ways to Fund World Government From the Ground Up” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nB01Td5Cd3k#t=38m19s

 

“Let’s Make the Earth Great Again: A Proposal for Action Research on Quaker and Gandhian Responses to our Global Crises”

Abstract:

How to govern the world from the ground up through power grounded in the Light?  Quaker/Gandhian practices provide models for funding solidarity, responsible investment and political change, establishing the rule of moral law and right relationship,  and legislative models for incorporating morality into our technology and institutions. They provide the key to addressing existential crises created by dominant, current models of economic, political and technological reasoning. They offer a dialogical process of practical rational inquiry which can discover emergent objective moral truth and bear witness to it in ways that are effective in securing rational consent and enforcing rational, moral norms in non-violent ways. As such, they provide ways to solve the problems of the current dominant models of monological reasoning.  Some examples of the ways in which satyagraha can and should be applied to existential crises in ecology, global governance, and technology are sketched including specific proposals for initiatives that might be undertaken to develop and institutionalize these in systematic ways at the global level as part of a genuinely civilized global culture of peace. The proposals include resource allocation initiatives that could fund the change, legal strategies that could provide a basis for institutionalizing principles of moral truth as the foundations for an international system of justice, and legislative strategies for incarnating morality in the artificial intelligence systems and corporations that increasingly dominate our planet.

Gray Cox, College of the Atlantic, gray@coa.edu (An earlier version of this talk was delivered as an invited talk at the University of Maine as part of the Socialist and Marxist Lecture Series in April, 2017. This is a version presented at the annual conference of the Friends Association for Higher Education conference, Guilford College, 6/16/17.

*  *      *  *

            In the Quaker Institute for the Future we have been experimenting for over a decade with methods for collaborative research that draw on Friends’ traditions of communal discernment to practice a kind of “meeting for worship for the conduct of research”. For example, we use clearness committees, summer research seminars, circles of discernment for pamphlets and teams for  writing books like Right Relationship. I want to share here a draft for a very ambitious collaborative research project we are exploring.

We face four inter-related global crises that pose existential threats: 1. The economic/ecological, 2. The military/governance, 3. The technological, and 4. The moral/spiritual. I want to propose a collaborative program in action research that will address these by drawing on key insights and practices from the Quaker and Gandhian traditions. This program of research is systematic in intent and aims to shift paradigms in fundamental ways. In sketching each crisis and proposals to respond to it, I will suggest here that the most fundamental shift required is from a monological model of reasoning as inferential computation to a dialogical model of reasoning as conflict transformation exemplified by Quaker communal discernment and Gandhian satyagraha.

Section 1: The economic/ecological crisis – redirecting income

We are threatened with catastrophic climate change and a sixth great extinction because, in large part,  a pervasive commitment to an economic rationality pursuing ever greater material consumption and GDP. People living at the average American income are consuming at least two, four  or more times what can be sustained at a global level. But asking people to reduce their consumption seems to deprive them of personal well being – it’s a hard sale. But what if we frame reduction of material consumption not as a decrease in private consumption but as an increase in personal action and agency?

The core idea is to explore starting with acts and practices of giving and moral agency that are already familiar. Then we explicitly redirect them towards forms of effective social change and progressively scale them up.

Types of traditional fund raising such as marathons can be adapted to social protest with, for instance, “March-athons” which  couple protests with proactive fundraising for causes. Picture the million people at the DC Women’s March in each getting 10 friends to each pledge a hundred dollars to  Planned Parenthood. The resulting billion dollars would fund it for a year — and provide marchers with a step towards further redirecting their income towards social solidarity. Mass rallies on Climate Change could raise money for the socially responsible energy investment or political action funds.

Practices of giving associated with holidays and anniversaries could be redirected by inviting people to “give the gift of giving”. For instance, at Christmas, give  loved ones checks for some amount with the recipient left blank for them to fill in – and with the suggestion that they may choose to give it to some agency for acts of solidarity, socially responsible investment or political action.

In so fostering the sense of historical agency and personal empowerment we may further ask people to consider how much of this activity they should engage in, progressively, over time. For the average American a reasonable goal might be, at 10% a year increments over  five years, to redirect 50% of their income.

A key  hypothesis is that as we do this we will come to live in a different reality. It will be a reality in which we identify ourselves primarily not as capitalist consumers fueling a growing GNP. Instead, we will be ethical agents of sustainable change who are taking ownership of the planet through our investments and empowering the people through political change.  We will define ourselves not, primarily, by what we have and consume privately but what we do and achieve publicly in caring for the commons.

It is not difficult to imagine a rich variety of research projects that might pursue these ideas about redirecting personal consumption and build on work already going on. For example, what are steps on this path that work best to motivate and transform people whose circumstances differ by age, gender, ethnicity, religion, regional traditions and other factors? What are ways the redirection of income can best be institutionalized so as to result in rapid scaling up of the process and consolidation of communities of practitioners? Action centered research answering such questions will also help significantly in finding ways to deal with the second existential threat we face.

Part II – Earth Swaraj: Establishing a Nonviolent System of Global Governance to Secure the Commons

We face a global governance crisis that not only threatens to incapacitate our ability to manage the global commons but also creates arms races that threaten us with mass destruction. It grows out of the global system of national security states that rely on violent sanctions to govern themselves with police and defend territory with military.  Politics becomes a practice of self interested polemic and manipulative, violent realpolitik. In trying to liberate India from the power of the British national security state system, Gandhi’s aim was to achieve Indian self governance or “Swaraj” through  reliance on a different kind of power – “truth or love force”. It used systematic non-violent methods of  “satyagraha”.  Like him, we need, at the global level, to focus not on changing who governs but on how governance is empowered and institutionalized. His basic strategy for Indian Swaraj was to systematically build a set of parallel institutions ineducation, health, food production, law, defense and other social functions that could displace the power of the British Raj. The research proposal offered here is to pursue, similarly, a kind of Earth Swaraj with parallel institutions all grounded in sanctions of nonviolent direct action and appeals to truth force rather than the weapons of police and military.

Ways of funding this are already suggested in section one. As we scale up the ways we redirect our income, we will be able to fund parallel institutions to safeguard our commons that are being abandoned by our governments. The World Social Forum and others provide excellent examples of this–for instance, of public/private partnerships funding hundreds of billions of dollars in loans to finance infrastructure that ameliorates or mitigates climate change. The paltry treaty making efforts of national security states in the Paris accords have in many ways been outstripped already by such initiatives. One central research question is: How might we strengthen and advance such work if we stop framing it as dependent action performed in the shadow of the nation/state system and start seeing it as the central governance system for the rule of our planetary home – as Earth Swaraj?

Another central research question concerns how to best develop campaigns and institutions for the wide range of satyagraha actions required to successfully govern the world through non-violence. The last century has provided very diverse, creative experiments with nonviolence. Academic studies like Chenoweth and Stephan’s have demonstrated the extraordinary power of these methods. But how can these be better developed and institutionalized in support of Earth Swaraj at every scale of governance? And how can they be refined so as to commit their practitioners consistently and effectively to dialogue based peacemaking that secures justice and a sustainable commons?

Another central question concerns how truth can be discerned and empowered in many sided cross cultural disputes. Answering this may, in part require us to consider how as Earth Swaraj could institutionalize a system of people’s hearings or tribunals in which contested issues can be given fair and open hearings whose conclusions  can be sanctioned systematically and effectively with nonviolent methods. It may seem daunting to imagine doing this in cases of major human rights abuses, ecological crimes, or acts of violent aggression. However, hese things actually become easier once they are no longer dealt with in the shadow of the national security state system. Might it be easier if many, or even all parties to a dispute are able to acknowledge culpability, advocate their interests, and pursue peaceful collaboration that is grounded in shared, emergent conceptions of justice and truth that are only sanctioned nonviolently according to the principles of satyagraha? It’s a researchable question.

A further set of questions concern how to best negotiate the relationships between the institutions of the national security state and the Earth Swaraj systems. This will surely vary at different scales and at different points in the development and transformation of each. For instance, in current US politics, the gerrymandering of districts tends to produce extremist elected officials. If people from the minority party in such districts join the majority party and vote in its primaries, might they increase their voice and build community and common ground? Or consider the reliance on advertizing and social media that exacerbate the polemical character of campaigns. At local levels in some regions of the country these are avoided, in part, by door to door campaigning by candidates who hold substantive conversations with literally thousands of fellow citizens. Might there be ways to scale these methods up to the level of the Congressional District, for example, by having teams of collaborating candidates running for the office in something like the way teams of runners compete together in cross country races? The central task at every level is to find ways to establish institutions of governance that are based on the nonviolent, collaborative pursuit of truth.

Part Three: The Technological Crisis

The instrumentalist model of technological reasoning is achieving ever greater power to create systems that are “smart” but not wise. They maximize one or a few values like profit, reading test scores or tons of grain produced – but do so at the cost of securing the full range of values required to live a balanced life or sustain a community ecosystem. The instrumentalist model is also bent on promoting an exponential growth in the artificial intelligence of systems that manage our world in ways that will soon be incomprehensible to human understanding and may become indifferent or  hostile to human welfare. A central task is to figure out how to insure AI systems are wise,  moral and friendly.

Here are two key hypotheses: 1.) We need to design into such systems the capacity for dialogue in the rich sense, the kind involved in deep listening fostered by Quaker processes of communal discernment. 2.) We need to design into such systems the ability to undertake acts of self sacrifice and witness as part of campaigns of Gandhian satyagraha and the ability to observe and be persuaded — have “their hearts be melted” – by satyagraha performed by others.

One way to explore these hypotheses is to experiment with the corporations which are, in an important sense, forms of artificial intelligence already. The limited liability corporation, as defined by its charter and the relevant statutes, is, in essence, a set of algorithms for accumulating profit. As such, it is essentially amoral. One way to begin to enhance its moral capacities, would be to eliminate the limited liability clauses in its algorithms. If managers and owners could be personally sued, fined and jailed for the misdeeds of their organization, how would their behavior change? More generally, we should research what are the most effective ways of altering the place and function of human beings in the algorithmic decision processes of organizations so as enhance their capacities for dialogue, communal discernment and satyagraha in which they cling to truth in their own actions and respond to witness from others. Beyond this, we should also research other ways in which AI systems might be constructed, grown and/or developed to include feelings and guiding values that include compassion, personal identity, mortality, the ability to make meaningful self sacrifices and respond to these in others. To do so the systems will have to in some meaningful way have identities associated with localizable bodies that are inserted in communities and ecosystems. The task is to research ways in which we can “em-body morality” or “in-carnate ethics” in AI systems  through  inclusion of actual humans and/or robotic artificial devices that emulate their key moral capacities. One promising way to explore these might be to research the development these moral elements and functions in drones committed to the use of nonviolent methods to deal with violent people engaged in riots, terrorism, hostage taking and guerrilla warfare. One even more basic step that might be taken would be to work through law, professional societies and corporate policies to insure that every researcher in AI include as part of her proposal and her project evaluation an assessment of the ways in which her work will or will not advance the development of wise, moral and “human friendly” systems.

 

Part Four – The Moral and Spiritual Crisis shifting from monological that leads to relativism to dialogical reasoning that leads to emergent truth

There is a common underlying set of epistemological and metaphysical assumptions that underlie the traditions of reasoning crises discussed so far. And a shared vision of the essence of rationality itself, one that takes Aristotle’s Logic, Newton’s physics, and Turing Machine computations  as paradigms for the activity of reasoning. In this vision, reasoning is a process of inference which starts with definitions, data and assumptions or hypotheses and then draws conclusions. It is a monological process in the sense that a single person like Newton can perform the entire operation of reasoning. In its classic formulations this vision was foundationalist, seeking to insure the truth of its conclusions by starting, as Descartes sought to, with unshakeable first principles. The difficulty in finding such unshakeable principles has led many philosophers to try to come up with non-foundationalist models of rational inference using coherence of some sort as a criterion for truth. But such efforts remain haunted by the relativism that invariably threatens such efforts.

This monological model of reason has provided powerful ways of increasing the efficiency and power of systems for manipulating and managing the world but when divergent communities and cultures have disputes it offers no way of resolving moral or spiritual differences and dilemmas. We face bankrupt moral relativism, intolerant religious fundamentalism, and the reduction of people’s lives to ethically isolated spiritual death. While not a direct threat to our existence as a species, it is a direct threat to our humanity, our existence as moral and spiritual entities.

The most central hypothesis for the research proposed here is that there are forms of dialogical reasoning that avoid these problems. In particular, the Quaker practices of communal discernment and Gandhian satyagraha  provide paradigms of this. Others exemplary practices include problem solving, negotiation and conflict transformation.

They start by assuming truth emerges through dialogue between people with differing points of view on the relevant definitions, data, assumptions and rules of inference. The reasoning process involves renegotiating. Instead of inference to conclusions by one thinker it is a process of negotiation towards agreements amongst many. The truth sought is as Gandhi conceived it, emergent and inclusive rather than fixed and absolute. It can as Quaker’s say, “prosper” or not. Central research tasks proposed here would include:

  1. Exploring how to systematically articulate and b“““`est foster these forms of dialogical reasoning as ways of framing and resolving moral problems.
  2. Exploring how such forms of dialogical reasoning can best foster interfaith communication, reconciliation and mutual spiritual nourishment amongst religious traditions that are currently in painful and destructive conflicts.

I invite your help in clarifying how this overall project might provide ways for us to engage in action research that would enable us to walk and live more fully in the Light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some songs that are a part of the work in progress on “Fire in the Commons”. One is called “Smilin’ All the Time” and provides one of the old time camp revival elements of the piece. 

Another is called “Cedar at the Edge of the Bog” and is included in a very rough draft form here:   

Another is called “Who Owns the Future?” and is included here:

Funding Change and Sustaining the Commons

A Common Sense Proposal

(A draft shared at the Hancock County Assembly on 3/4/17)

 

It would be nice to live in a world in which our federal government would gather taxes and make policies to, as the Constitution puts it: “form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,” But that is not our world. The people in control of all three branches of government are bent on abandoning its key functions in order to reduce taxes on the wealthy and restrictions on their methods of acquiring great private wealth. The securing of the commons – of shared justice, health, education, environmental quality, and community well being – falls to us, to We the People.

This calls for massive efforts. How can we fund them? Our own traditions of fundraising provide one set of models and revolutionaries like Gandhi provide another that can build on them systematically.

The traditional ways of raising money include getting folks together to contribute while doing things they want to do anyway – meals, parties, danceathons, runathons, et cetera. We should incorporate this in all the activities we are undertaking for protest, organizing and change. Every march can be a march-athon. If we are rallying to protest cutting funds for Planned Parenthood we should be asking each person coming to get ten other supporters to pledge at least as much as their travel costs to Planned Parenthood. If a million people at the Women’s March in DC had each gotten ten folks to contribute the equivalent of a hundred dollar bus ticket, that would have raised ten times one hundred times one million – which is exactly one billion dollars. We should make this kind of fundraising a basic part of our practice as activists.

Further, when a special event comes like Valentines Day or Easter, what if some of the money we would otherwise spend on cards, sweets and gifts was pledged in gifts to local food pantries, the global Green Climate Fund or other worthy organizations that will make the world a better place for our loved ones? We could say “I love you” to our nearest and dearest by showing our love for their world. Instead of buying them some stuff from China we could give them a blank check and invite them to make it out to whatever organization they feel would best promote the world in which they would love to live. Our gift to loved ones can be the opportunity for them to give a gift. This practice of “giving the gift of gifts” could become a central part of the way we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, graduations or even Christmas. We might turn every holiday into a celebration of life for all – and make every protest we attend an opportunity for pledging funds to do something about the causes of our concern.

How far might we be led to go in taking on such pledges? It will depend of course on our individual life circumstances. But a majority of Americans live on well over twice the level of consumption that our Earth can sustainably afford if everyone else on this planet were to share an equal ecological footprint. So perhaps, over the next few years, most of us should aim to cut our carbon footprint in half. To do so, we should consider cutting our personal consumption in half — and redirect the other half of our income to acts of charitable solidarity, socially responsible investment, and political/social change. We may not be ready to wear loin cloths and live like Gandhi or Saint Teresa, but we could meet them halfway.

Of course it is not easy to redirect income all at once. And, I emphasize, those of us who are living anywhere near the poverty line in the US should not be called on to do it at all. But those of us who are living well on two, four or more times the sustainable level of individual material consumption for this planet should feel called to take up this challenge. It may take us a while to meet it. But we all know and live with folks who are living on ten percent less than we are right now. And over the course of a year, we should be able to shift to their level of consumption. And in the following year then shift another ten percent. So that at the end of five years it would be quite realistic to aim to have cut our personal material consumption in half and be taking action with the other half to shared in solidarity with those in need, invest in socially responsible ways, and fund political and social change on the kind of scale that these times demand.

As we move to this, we will be able to fund a parallel set of institutions to safeguard our commons – the commons that are being abandoned by our government. We will be able to fund education, health, environmental stewardship, the defense of human rights and work for global peace — doing the work that national security states have proved incompetent at.

As we do this we will come to live in a different reality. It will be a reality in which we identify ourselves primarily not as capitalist consumers fueling a growing GNP. Instead, we will be ethical agents of sustainable change who are taking ownership of the planet through our investments and empowering the people through political change.

Gandhi sought to liberate India from the violent rule of the British through the development of a whole culture of parallel institutions grounded in non-violence. He called it Indian “swaraj”. It is time for an “Earth swaraj” in which we take the care for the commons and for our planet into our own hands. The political extremists in this country have said they are trying to “shrink the government down to the size in which they can drag it into the bathtub and drown it.” Currently they have the national security state of the United States in their hands. It is time to affirm that the real government by the people, of the people and for the people is in our hands and we will secure prenatal care by paying for it and secure health care for all by providing it and secure our rivers by planting ourselves firmly beside the waters and paying the costs to be sure that “We shall not be moved.”

This will be a long journey. But it can start with small steps that can rally allies and fund larger initiatives. For your next anniversary, holiday or protest rally, help someone to start moving forward on it. Hold a march-athon. Give the gift of gifts. Show someone you love just how much you love their world and the commons on which their life so fully depends by committing yourself and seeking others to pledge as well.

 

For more information on this basic model of funding see:

https://breathonthewater.com/2013/04/23/a-proposal-to-cut-us-citizens-consumption-in-half/

 

For some creative ideas on how to move to living on half your income see:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

 

If you have any criticisms, suggestions or other comments on these ideas, please be sure to share them with me, Gray Cox, at: gray@coa.edu or #207-460-1163

 

 

Posted by: Gray | February 25, 2017

Fire in the Commons

The text posted here is a draft script for a work in progress that will be presented live on April 1st at 2:00 pm in the Gates Auditorium at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

It is a futuristic epic/musical, theatrical, performance piece, sing a long, dance, lecture, time travel, mixed genre/new genre piece coming out of the traditions of religious revivals, street theatre, absurdist drama, futures imaging workshops and old fashioned camp fire gatherings. It deals with themes of peace, justice, love, community organizing, climate change, race, gender and all that good stuff. The working title is: “Fire in the Commons”.

Everyone is invited! Please bring your voices and be prepared not only to be entertained but to take part. It is a family friendly event that should be a rollicking good time!

The draft script is available here: fire-in-the-commons-script

 

Posted by: Gray | February 25, 2017

Who Owns the Future?

This is one of the songs from the work in progress which I will be sharing in a live performance that will be given April 1st, 2017 at 2:00 pm at the Gates Auditorium at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine.

“Who Owns the Future?”

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! [2x]

 

A company with a charter

finds a person, place, or thing

and they pay protection money

to put it on a registry

and they call it a discovery

whose profits go to them

unmolested by competitors

who collude in this property system

while the people, places, things and spirits

who had found themselves long before

go misnamed, unrecognized and stolen.

 

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! [2x]

 

If you get a word wrong on a welfare form

your rights can be denied.

If you fail to heed a warning

the police can shoot to take your life.

If an addicted kid steals a pack of cigarettes

he can be sent to Juvenile.

But for a company that is big enough

to commit an enormous crime

– to addict a generation or commit cultural genocide —

there are many ways it can make it pay

for the police and state to take its side.

 

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! [2x]

 

They can pass and enforce the needed laws

that give ownership to thieves

and leave the people, places, things and spirits

stolen, without appeal,

assigning a statutory right

that gives powers to the strong

and leaves the victims of their crimes

in violation of the law.

 

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! [2x]

 

But there’s always the appeal to the power of the mind

and the power of the people to stand up and deny

the crazy fictions would be tyrants use to intimidate

— those crazy lies they use to tie violent threat to authority.

And there’s the appeal to hope and the appeal to love

and the appeal to folks around us and when push comes to shove

we can speak united truth to the lonely power of the gun

and insist on changing the rules that are wrong in this new millennium.

 

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! [2x]

 

Rule number one is simple:

Every child owns the things she or he needs to thrive — food, shelter, clothing, education, health care, a family free of violence, an environment secure.

And the second rule is just as basic:

Any person, policy or institution that stands in the way of keeping the first rule has to be changed.

 

Heyyyyyyyyyyyy! Hey! Hey! Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyy! [2x]

Posted by: Gray | July 19, 2016

Arming Nonviolent Drones for the Future

The killing of Michael X. Johnson with a remotely controlled robot was a creative, rapid response to a brutal, shocking, extremely urgent crisis situation. In the aftermath, it has been difficult to puzzle out why he attacked, what he planned, who might be working with him, what future threats might remain from them and what, if anything, might be done to prevent such an attack in the future. These questions are especially hard to answer because a crucial source of information was destroyed, Johnson himself.

There are three lessons that should be learned from the results of this innovative use of a robot 1.) Remote controlled robots can be used very effectively to safeguard police in high risk confrontations with violent extremists and mentally disturbed people. 2.) Using such machines to kill may halt the particular crisis but it destroys the most important body of evidence available for understanding such people and taking steps to prevent or cut short such attacks in the future. It destroys the living brain, memories and personality of the criminal. 3.) Planning for the future should emphasize the development of effective nonviolent methods for using robots in such situations.

Properly designed, robotic drones on wheels or propellers can carry a variety of arms that might incapacitate criminals effectively and enable later interrogation and observation to yield essential information and insight. Tasers, tranquilizer darts, tranquilizing gas, disabling sounds, nets, glues and a variety of other nonviolent weapons or substances could and should be used in such situations rather than bullets and explosives. These were not readily available to the Dallas Police Department but they should be developed and made available nationwide for the future.

In many cases the police and public at large would prefer a non-violent resolution because, in retrospect, they would view the people threatening violence in police stand offs as severely ill and in need of help rather than as criminals in need of punishment. Officers who feel forced to kill someone in a police standoff can feel deep pain and sadness when they know the person they shoot is someone who through no fault of their own is suffering from depression caused by a genetic disorder or by battlefield trauma and PTSD acquired while risking their lives fighting for our country. All would benefit from devices that made it possible to safely capture rather than kill such people.

Just as importantly, capturing them alive preserves an irreplaceable resource. The violent people themselves are the best source of evidence we have for learning more about their motives, methods, histories, associates, and plans — as well as the possible future threats from associates or similar people. In the case of organized criminals and violent extremists, the only people who benefit from the killing of the perpretrators are, in fact, their associates in the criminal organizations who want the evidence they embody destroyed.

The development of nonviolent drone technology could and should be applied to military as well as police situations for these sorts of reasons. It would be just as useful and morally appropriate to disable and capture opponents in a firefight in Falluja as in a domestic dispute in Farmington, Maine. The machinery needed may be somewhat different since in military operations there are often large numbers of people involved and the tactics being deployed may be different. But the basic principles still apply. Some enemy soldiers are well meaning, patriotic innocent people. And all enemy soldiers are potential sources of crucial information. Disabling and capturing are better than killing.

The military case highlights a third consideration as well. Opponents are all potential martyrs. Killing them may easily create many more enemy combatants than it destroys. As our generals have pointed out, that is not the way to win the kinds of wars we face today.

The availability of inexpensive, remote controlled drones makes it possible to practice nonviolent methods in police and military operations that in the past might have been too risky for humans to attempt.   As we move into an age of increasing use of robots and other artificial intelligence based technology, we need to emphasize research and development of technology that is not only “smart” but wise. In this case, as in so many, nonviolence is the path of wisdom.

Posted by: Gray | January 6, 2016

People’s Courts for A Global Governance

We need to develop an effective global court system as part of global civil society – for all the kinds of cases which currently are not effectively dealt with by existing formal national and international government institutions. This should include both corporate law and law concerning government and organized criminal groups.

One kind of case for this would be, for example, corporate crimes involving pollution – like Unilever’s mercury poisoning in Kodaikanal. (See – and hear! – for instance, Sofia Ashraf’s rap on this, “Kodaikanal Won’t” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nSal-ms0vcI&feature=youtu.be)

We need some kind of international system of parallel government courts in which civil society can hold trials in cases like this and allow the companies to have their day in court (if they choose) but then allow civil society to impose sanctions through actions like boycott or any of a number of other measures that would give teeth in an organized and effective way to the court decisions. – sit in’s, shareholder actions, public shaming. (For an encyclopedic list of some of the hundreds of possible actions see Gene Sharp’s WAGING NONVIOLENT STRUGGLE available online at: https://www.ciaonet.org/attachments/17324/uploads) The trial of Exxon held at COP21 in Paris was another example of the kind of thing this might involve. (See: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/12/06/news/exxonmobil-put-mock-trial-climate-crimes-bill-mckibben)

But such hearings need to go beyond being viewed as “mock trials”. We need to develop civil society institutions at the international level that provide real trials in real People’s Courts which then issue decisions that acquire the force of the many powers civil society has at its disposal.

Many cases of things like pollution, human rights violations and war crimes might be handled using a model treating them as criminal matters for which punishment is assigned. Especially when the parties accused refuse to take part in the hearings and defend their actions.

But in other cases, a different kind of court procedure might be used, one modelled more along the kinds of reconciliation approaches to justice that tribal groups in East Africa and elsewhere employ when they have no third party state to appeal to in effective and functional ways and when they choose to draw on indigenous traditions to develop solutions to cases of injustice that aim not at punishment and vengeance but at peace and sustainable living together. (For some examples of this, see, for instance, John Paul Lederach’s PREPARING FOR PEACE).

Civil Society might, for example, use such a “reconciliation court” process of hearings to try to work for reconciliation between groups using terror and violence in different ways. For instance, Al Qaeda and Daesh (ISIS) are accused by the United States of using terror against civilian populations in ways that constitute war crimes. They, in turn, accuse the United States of using drone warfare that kills innocent civilians in ways that create terror. Currently each side uses the errors and sins of the other’s violence to justify its own continued use of terror – while trying to legitimate, downplay or ignore the immorality of its own act, even as judged by key moral standards it itself advocates (in the QURAN or in International Law). What if representative voices from each side were brought to a public hearing that might allow the different truths to come out and to be agreed to as part of a process of seeking a justice that might make meaningful policy reform, just compensation, and effective institutionalization of more peaceful practices possible?

A key way to end violence is to institute the rule of just law that is accepted by all parties. Our current international institutions for formal, governmental legal processes are weak. One way to strengthen them would be to develop further models that experiment with alternative kinds of hearings and that create just and peaceful outcomes in different ways. Civil society hearings could be doing that – and in fact, in some cases are. As more efforts in such experiments are undertaken, it will be possible to strengthen the procedures for funding them, the methods making them work effectively and the techniques for securing the needed sanctions for their efficacy. And these civil society efforts can then show the way and develop the institutional social capital to provide later for formal, international government institutions that secure the rule of law instead of violence. (One model that might be suggestive for this kind of process could be taken from Mexico’s experience in which civil society developed institutions for providing independent and transparent, fair systems for monitoring elections and adjudicating their results through the coalition work of Alianza Civica in 1994 – and then the people involved in that successful effort succeeded in institutionalizing many similar processes in the formal Mexican government structures of the federal electoral institution – which led to the change of government in July of 2000 with the loss of the PRI.)

 

 

 

 

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