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


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.

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            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:



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



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.)





The Maine Legislature has established a  Citizens Trade Policy Commission which has been holding hearings on the Trans Pacific Partnership — a treaty on the fast track for approval, a treaty which is designed to promote the kind of growth that will help make irreversible Climate Change inevitable and will profoundly undermine democracy in Maine and in the US at large. For an elaboration of my reasons for saying this, you can read the remarks that follow which I had the privilege of sharing with the Commission last Thursday evening.

Remarks for the  Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission hearing on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — Thursday, December 11th, 2015 at Rangely Hall, Eastern Maine Community College, Bangor, Maine

From J. Gray Cox,

9 ½ Cleftstone Road

Bar Harbor, Maine 04609



My name is Gray Cox. I grew up in Bar Harbor and teach at College of the Atlantic. I want to start by thanking you for providing this opportunity for us to gather and to speak. This is a dark time of year and in many ways a dark season in which to be living. But it is a delight to come in to this large, spacious, open room that is so full of light and have the opportunity to listen and share our concerns and views. It is the sort of thing we do here in Maine, in town meetings, public hearings, church groups, libraries and all kinds of other settings – come together to care for our communities.

I want to specially make mention of my gratitude for this opportunity tonight because this gathering represents precisely the kind of thing that defines us as Mainers and that threatened by the TPP and its mechanisms for undermining and supplanting our democratic practices in towns and states and even at the federal level.

The issues at stake here cross party lines. They invite us to stop thinking like Republicans and Democrats because of this. We need to think like Americans and Mainers. We have to think in terms of the whole BECAUSE this is a treaty that will change our whole relationship with the Pacific Rim AND, more importantly, with the systems of governance we have developed over the last 400 years in this land. I would like to begin my comments by reaffirming a comment made by Represetnative Sharon Anglin Treat in her December 1 “SUMMARY OF KEY ISSUES IN THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP (TPP) AGREEMENT” (http://www.maine.gov/legis/opla/CTPCSummaryTPPAnalysisST120115.pdf) . The comment concerns the ways in which the proposed agreement will effectively give up the sovereignty of our federal, state and local governments and pass it on to a system of committees dominated by corporate interests.

As Rep. Treat notes:

“Negotiated in complete secrecy over a period of six years, the 12-country TPP is now in final form and cannot be changed. Congress can only vote to accept or reject it. Nonetheless, this agreement is a “living agreement” that additional countries can join in the future, and will put into place roughly 20 committees to manage trade in agriculture, government procurement, the Internet, food safety, financial regulation, and other topics covered in the deal. Some committees have narrow authority, but others are open-ended in scope. Like the negotiation process that created TPP, many of these ongoing committees, even those dealing with public health and food safety, will be subject to confidentiality provisions that will hamper scientific peer review of their activities and limit public and consumer oversight of their activities. And, unlike a state or federal law that can be repealed when new information comes to light or conditions change, trade agreements require the agreement of all parties to commence negotiations to make changes, which as a practical matter will not occur.”


People who are advocating for this treaty and the transformations it will bring in our governance systems will tell you that it is about three things, three things that frame its importance and value. They will say it is, first, about whether we want to have a rational economic policy that follows modern economic theory in advancing our national economy as a whole by seeking benefits of trade in what is called “comparative advantage”. Second, they will tell you that it is about whether Pacific Rim economies in particular – and the world economy in general – are going to be dominated by the Chinese or by us. Third, they will tell you that it is about whether we want to pursue development as a free market, capitalist society or promote the government regulations and interventions of a socialist society.

Each of these three ways of framing the issue is fundamentally mistaken.

Regarding the first, the theory of comparative advantage, like the Newtonian physics that was believed at the time David Ricardo developed it, holds true in some limited circumstances but not in others – and it most especially does not hold true in our circumstances today.

The basic theory of comparative advantage suggests each country is better off if we each specialize – producing whatever our natural resources, capital and labor best fit us for. But, first, it is crucial to note that the comparative advantages are often to corporations not to average citizens. When the comparative advantage is that they have lower taxes or other costs because they lack health care, education, and workplace safety or because they have less regulation and can freely pollute or because they can bribe officials to grease the wheels of deals and avoid regulative enforcement . . . in these cases, these are only plutocratic, extractive comparative advantages, not democratic, sustainable ones.

The point about sustainability bears emphasis. Monoculture and other forms of specialization for the sake of comparative advantage are only beneficial when and if our over riding national aim is extractive and accumulative. If the aim is sustainability then each country is better off diversifying, and connecting locally, and regenerating and developing good relationships within its borders.

The theory of comparative advantage and the relentless pursuit of economic growth that is coupled with it is designed for an earlier age – a prior age when there was no need to worry about the carbon footprint of transport and the threats of climate change and the destruction of habitat around the world. Amongst the students at the college where I teach, there is enormous concern about climate change and its many implications. These young people are deeply concerned about our common future and the ways in which the issues of climate, now, in Naomi Klein’s memorable phrase, “Change Everything”. They are working here in Maine as well as in Bolivia, India and a host of other sites to develop local farming and alternatives to petrochemical based agriculture, alternatives to fossil fuels, alternative transportation systems, sustainable fisheries, resilient wildlife management, and school programs that provide action based service learning on these issues. And a large group of them has been taking part annually in the climate negotiations which have been dragging on since before they were born and which now, still, in Paris, are leaving us hanging, unsure of whether the negotiators will be able to reach any meaningful agreement. The nations of the world have already agreed that science tells us that meaningful treaty will have to find a way to lead us leave 80% of the carbon fuels we have already discovered unused. We will have to change our economies in a fundamental direction in order to leave those petrochemicals in the ground. Finding a way to do that is a central challenge of our time. And the TPP is designed to encourage long distance economic trade and development that would move us in precisely the opposite direction. For that reason alone it should be opposed.

But sustainability is about much more than just climate. It is about securing the diversity and integrity of our country’s economic system in ways that make it resilient in the face of change. On this score the doctrine of comparative advantage provides a myopic understanding of reality – it holds true only when we look at short run situations in which the basic social and ecological conditions for sustainability are already provided and can be presupposed. In todays turbulent world, are we better off specializing in making only whatever particular items we can make the most money with given the current international market conditions? Are we better off pursuing “comparative advantage” by giving up the ability to be self reliant in the production of food, fuel, and our other necessities – without which we can not survive let alone thrive? Just reframing the issue in these terms lets us hear the voices of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth and a crowd of other proud and self reliant forbearers calling out: Self Reliance! We can only hope to survive as ourselves and thrive as ourselves when we do for ourselves! We should not allow any treaty to strip us of our abilities to provide for ourselves come what may. And we should not allow it to leave us naked and powerless to govern ourselves with local, state, and federal policies that promote just such economic security and freedom from dependence on far away suppliers and unstable international markets.

The question is not whether we will sacrifice comparative advantage for special interests of workers or environmentalists. The question is whether we will sacrifice economic security and sustainability for special interests of corporations.

What of the second point — when advocates for the treaty argue that it will help prevent China from dominating the economies of the Pacific Rim and the world? We should reply that the issue is not which country will dominate some region of the world. The question is, which economic system will govern and dominate us. Will it be one of our own making? One we can remake as needed? To adapt to not only to new technologies but new cultural trends, changes in our population, and advances in our moral insight like those that came with Civil Rights in the 60’s, the Women’s movement in the 70’s and the Americans with Disabilities in the 80’s?

As Mainer’s we should not be worried about whether China is selling more objects of plastic, metal and food stuffs in Vietnam than we are. We should be worried about whether we can produce and consume here, in Maine, the kinds of things we think that we and our children should have. Can we make Maine be the way life should be or not? That is the question. What power do we have over our own lives and communities – regardless of who is the top dog, currently, in whatever international trade competition you might care to bet on and speculate about.

And what of the third point in which the advocates for the treaty tell us that it is a question of whether we want to pursue development as a free market, capitalist society or promote the government regulations and interventions of a socialist society? This simplistic contrast between Capitalism vs. Socialism is a false dichotomy. Every economy on this planet is a mixed economy with voluntary exchanges in markets of many different kinds AND with government playing a crucial role in framing the contexts of those markets – the rules of property, the public infrastructure that makes trade and economic growth possible and makes sure it promotes the public well being.

Every society is a mixed economy – a political economy. The question is, will it be controlled by a few or by the many. Our political economy in the United States is increasingly controlled by the few. It is the particular kind of oligarchy classified as a plutocracy – where the few who are most wealthy exercise the most way in how our political economy works. The TPP with outrageously centralized, undemocratic principles and processes for implementing them would push us even further in that very wrong direction.

I would here highlight a later section of the remarks of Rep. Treat refered to before. In the section on on the so called Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) procedures which provide a “A PRIVATE LEGAL SYSTEM JUST FOR CORPORATIONS” she notes:


“The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) procedures in TPP are of particular concern. ISDS allows foreign investors the right to sue governments for lost profits caused by regulations in offshore private investment tribunals, bypassing the courts or allowing a “second bite” if the investors do not like the results of domestic court decisions. Policies can be challenged under ISDS even if they apply to both foreign and domestic firms – in other words, even if they do not discriminate against trading partners. ISDS clauses in other trade agreements including NAFTA have been used repeatedly to attack environmental and public health measures. Even unsuccessful challenges take years to resolve, cost millions to defend, and have a chilling effect on the development of new legislation. The cost just for defending a challenged policy in an ISDS forum is $8 million on average; Phillip Morris’s ISDS challenge to Australia’s tobacco regulations has already racked up litigation costs of over $50 million for the Australian government, and the case is still in preliminary stages. • TPP would double the number of corporations that could use ISDS. More than 1,000 additional corporations in TPP nations, which own more than 9,200 subsidiaries in the U.S., could newly launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government. • The “reforms” to ISDS touted by the Obama Administration are largely cosmetic. ISDS tribunals would not meet standards of transparency, consistency or due process common to TPP countries’ domestic legal systems or provide fair, independent or balanced venues for resolving disputes. There is still no appeals mechanism; the arbitration panels would still be staffed by private sector lawyers paid by the hour and allowed to rotate between TPP ISSUES judging and advocating for investors; and problematic “minimum standard of treatment” and “indirect expropriation” language from past trade agreements is largely replicated. • The TPP investment chapter actually expands ISDS liability by widening the scope of domestic policies and government actions that could be challenged: Financial regulations for the first time could be subject to “minimum standard of treatment” claims under the investment chapter. Pharmaceutical firms could demand cash compensation under the investment chapter for claimed violations of World Trade Organization rules on creation, limitation or revocation of intellectual property rights.”


The people of Maine, like those of the rest of America, fought and died in war after war to secure freedom for themselves and others – the freedom to govern themselves, and not be governed by the interests of foreign sovereigns and corporations. The first nations of the Wabnaki who were here first – and our still here now – have cherished the lands and waters of this region and the ways of life they developed here as independent, sovereign communities – and the others who have joined them in living here join them as well in cherishing those same values and seeking to secure them for all who live in this Dawnland of the Americas. The peoples of Maine have worked day in and day out, hard, from one season to another , year after year, down through generations – straining their backs and freezing their butts and pushing themselves hard to make a life for themselves and their children – the way they think life should be – not the way some international rule or corporate lawyer or committee of three in an ISDS thinks it should be. The people of Maine have done their duty paying taxes and going to town meetings and serving on Warrant Committees and wrestling with referenda driving down to Augusta and arguing with friends and working out shared solutions with political opponents in order to fashion a system of governance for our communities and our political economy that suits us and expresses how we think life should be. And if my mother was still alive to have her say about this I am sure that she would say that she would be damned before she would let some TPP come along at tell us how our life should be.

In closing, I want to thank you again for making this hearing possible and for carrying on this tradition of open, public dialogue and democratic discussion and policy making that is so treasured by us in Maine. This is a tradition that is so treasured that we will come to gatherings at the end of long work days, sometimes driving great distances or through harsh weather to get to them, spend hours hearing each other out (even when it is sometimes painful to do so), and spends even more hours talking about it all afterwards and preparing for the next meetings. All of us, regardless of political party, treasure this tradition and the way of life that it has made possible. It makes us who we are. It defines us as people. I want to thank you all for representing it so well and for allowing us to carry it on in this gathering this evening in this open spacious place so full of light. Thank you!





Posted by: Gray | December 16, 2015

The Ways of Peace: A Philosophy of Peace as Action

Why does the concept of peace so often get defined in a logically negative way, in terms of what it is not – not war, violence, conflict . . . ?

And why can we say in English that nations are warring in the Middle East but cannot say that “Nations are peaceing in Scandanavia”?

This book provides a systematic account of how the meaning of peace has been obscured in our dominant culture — in something like the way that Heidegger argued that the meaning of Being has been obscured. And it provides a detailed account of how  practices of Quaker communal discernment, Harvard style “principled negotiation” and Gandhian satyagraha can provide paradigms for developing an alternative culture in which peace is understood in rich and practical terms as an activity we can perform to create an alternative world of peace.

Here is a link to download the book as a pdf: 00fullversionwaysofpeaceword

From the Preface:

“We can conceive of peace in many different ways, and these differences are related to a variety of assumptions and practices we can adopt in our culture. This book is about those differences.

Part I describes the ways in which we usually talk about peace. It argues that our conception is fundamentally obscure. We do not know what peace is and we do not know how to promote it. Part II develops an explanation of how peace has been obscured. It has been obscured by a network of beliefs and institutions in our culture. Part III critically evaluates some key parts of this cultural web and argues that there is an alternative cluster of assumptions and practices which we ought to adopt. It is a cluster which is intrinsically better—regardless of whatever it may imply about peace. Part IV argues that it happens to imply that we should think of peace as an activity—a practice we can cultivate at high levels of excellent performance.

This book is intended for a broad audience that includes parents, diplomats, social scientists, lawyers, labor/business mediators, social activists, philosophers, military officers, educators, theologians, and politicians. Its style is meant to provide good reading that is illustrated with meaningful examples. Its arguments aim to be intellectually compelling without being academic.”



Posted by: Gray | December 16, 2015

Reframing Ethical Theory for AI

A paper of mine just came out in the Journal of Evolution and Technology. It deals with: “Reframing Ethical Theory, Pedagogy, and Legislation to Bias Open Source AGI Towards Friendliness and Wisdom”.  You can download it at:  http://jetpress.org/v25.2/cox.htm — and perhaps figure out if it is of interest by reading the abstract here:


Hopes for biasing the odds towards the development of AGI that is human-friendly depend on finding and employing ethical theories and practices that can be incorporated successfully in the construction, programming and/or developmental growth, education and mature life world of future AGI. Mainstream ethical theories are ill-adapted for this purpose because of their mono-logical decision procedures which aim at “Golden rule” style principles and judgments which are objective in the sense of being universal and absolute. A much more helpful framework for ethics is provided by a dialogical approach using conflict resolution and negotiation methods, a “Rainbow rule” approach to diversity, and a notion of objectivity as emergent impartiality. This conflict resolution approach will also improve our chances in dealing with two other problems related to the “Friendly AI” problem, the difficulty of programming AI to be not merely smarter but genuinely wiser and the dilemmas that arise in considering whether AGIs will be Friendly to humans out of mere partisanship or out of genuine intent to promote the Good. While these issues are challenging, a strategy for pursuing and promoting research on them can be articulated and basic legislation and corporate policies can be adopted to encourage their development as part of the project of biasing the odds in favor of Friendly and Wise AGI.

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