Monday, 9 April 2012

You can change the world

This is the text of a speech presented by the Secretary-General of PGS Model United Nations, Andrew Jones, at the PGS MUN Conference, on Saturday, 31st March, 2012

© Daniel Rollins 2012. Used with permission

Who does it take to change the world? Politicians? Or can others work to change the world around them without having to enter into the turmoil of politics? We see people every day, managing to have an impact, both good and bad. One of the most influential events of the 21st century, the attacks on the Twin Towers was carried out by Islamic fundamentalists not by politicians. But really, who holds the keys in the modern world, the politicians or the people?

So let's take it to an extreme, with a world in which only the politicians can make the decisions and the people simply accept their fate. This totalitarian regime would be governed by the views of the few, whilst the majority would be reduced to having no voice. Of course the notion of democracy would be none existent as the politicians emphatically clung to power. Could this kind of world possibly succeed?

A good contemporary example of a country in which virtually all the decisions are made by the government is Cuba. Accused of humans rights abuses, Cuba's government has a notorious level of control over its people's freedom of expression and speech. In 2008 it had the second highest number of imprisoned journalists, second only to that of China. Similarly Cuba's economy has faired little better, recently in 2011 the country was forced to devalue its currency as the economic situation took a turn for the worse. This has mainly been due to the economy's reliance on foreign credit in order to sustain growth. Is it really therefore beneficial for a country to be run by politicians? The case of Cuba would certainly suggest that this sort of system grossly reduces personal freedom. This however overlooks some of the positives of the Cuban politician led system.  

The Cuban health care system has been described as their greatest triumph, performing well above comparable systems. Rates of life expectancy are ranked third in the Americas ahead of the United States a country which is keen to profess the freedoms which people enjoy under its own system of governance. In education, rates of illiteracy have steadily declined to less than 5% of the population. Remarkable for a country which has suffered set back after set back, mainly at the hands of an invasive United States. Surely therefore a system in which politicians make the decisions can succeed. Although admittedly this can come at the expense of freedom.

©Daniel Rollins.  Used with permission

Indeed is our own system slightly closer to being politician rather than people led. Who decides on the country's economic policies? Who decides when to reform the NHS and how to do so? Certainly  on the face of it, very few of the decisions have been taken by a “civilian.” Recently I wrote an article for the Portsmouth Point ( which focused on the Health and Social Care Bill. From the onset, it was clear that the Bill had little support from the general public or for that matter from those in the Medical profession. For whatever reason this was, this level of objection has completely failed to significantly influence government policy. Therefore is it really possible to say that politicians do not have a key role in the decisions we make as a country?

Turning our sights to the United Nations, the most influential politicians in the world come together in order to decide on policies. The decisions they make, good or bad have had some of the most profound effect on the world. From helping to lift the people of Libya out of tyranny to failing to prevent the deaths of over 800,000 people in the Rwandan genocide. The scale of the issue is irrelevant, as any decision taken by politicians at the United Nations have wide reaching consequences and ultimately have the greatest impact on the world. However on the whole I don't think that this world really exists. Instead the system which does exist is balanced between who has the largest voice in the decisions made however in practice this system is rarely utilized by the people and therefore instead we seem to lead the issue of decision making up to the politicians.

©Daniel Rollins. Used with permission.

So what of a world in which politicians are not the decision makers, were the people's will is absolute, a pure form of democracy. There aren't a higher level of people, who make the majority of the decisions, instead everyone is attributed an equal say. Many would view this democratic state as  impossible on a national level. The logistics of voting on every issue are simply infeasible and too time consuming to ever be effectively implement, or are they? Could a society exist in which the people are firmly in charge and the politicians are none existent in the modern sense of decision makers. Although no country does operate on these parameters, communities throughout the world use this democratic system in order to make decisions which affect them. However is it really possible for this ever to work on a national level?

©Daniel Rollins .Used with permission.

The Island of Eigg, located just off the tip of Scotland offers an example of how community based democracy can be extremely successful. The Island's residents bought the rights to the Island in 1997, through an organization called the Heritage trust. This action also lead the way for a swathe of land reform in Scotland demonstrating how communities have the power to impact policy on a national level. This was simply the beginning, with Eigg now boasting the world's first electricity grid which is entirely powered by the elements. In fact their Green efforts as a community won them the National endowment for Science, Technology and Art, a prize worth £300,000. As a community it is fair to say that it is an impressive feat when considering that  they have only had genuine control for 14 years. Working in collaboration with Scottish authorities, the residents of Eigg mainly make their own decisions based roughly on a majority vote. Surely this community lead spirit could succeed at least in part on a national level? Well at least in a ideal world anyhow. Pragmatically however, short of reducing everyone back to a form of primitive communism this sort of system will never truly exist, as logistically it is impossible. Also seemingly Eigg seems to form a small minority of communities who have made a genuine impact at least at a national level. It seems that a system which is thoroughly run by politicians is more likely than that which is run by the people. This however may not remove the possibility of anyone being able to change the world.

An individual. Having looked at the powers of a community to change the world, how much change can a single individual make on the world. Certainly it is undeniable that as an individual, a politician does have a greater level of impact on the world. What however about those who have not devoted themselves to the art of governance, could you or I actually make a serious difference in the world?

©Daniel Rollins. Used with permission 

In August, one individual certainly managed to change at least Britain on a national level. Indeed I think I can say with confidence that the majority of the world looked on in shock as scenes of violence, rioting and looting were seen on the streets of London. Mark Duggan's death certainly did have an impact on the world, one individual managed to spark a week of rioting. This is not the only case were an individual has maybe inadvertently changed the world for the worse. A single gunman Anders Breivek managed to have a massive impact on Denmark. Osama Bin Laden has arguably brought about a decade of violent bloodshed which has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the world. The response and even euphoria at the news of his death certainly proves as much. The actions both inadvertent and intentional of these individuals seem to suggest that it is easy for an individual to have a negative impact on the world. In some cases, all that is required is a magazine of ammunition and a target. Indeed it seems that the media focuses on these people rather than reflecting on those who have had a positive impact, many of whom remain unnoticed.

So could there really be a way for people to have a genuinely beneficial impact on the world? Without having to be a politician. Surely the best way for this to happen is through small actions, maybe helping a handful of people. About a year ago a video was played on Russell Howard's Good News showing the work of Patrice Mellet in helping the improverished children of Haiti through sport (see the video below)

The actions of Patrice may not be ground breaking or world changing however it is undeniable that they are having a serious impact on the children of Haiti. Not only has Patrice's work directly helped those children stricken by suffering, however he also offers a role model of an individual giving back and making a difference. One of the key principles of most philosophers is to live in harmony with society. This world is not a small place however we are all interconnected,. If people try to impact the world through good or bad actions the consequences are far more influential than many people are willing to acknowledge. An individual as we have seen can impact the world fair more easily through negative actions. However simply by acting as a member of society, living in harmony and trying to make a difference, even for just another individual we can make a serious difference. I would like to leave you with this quote from the film “Kingdom of Heaven”, “What man is a man if he does not try to make the world a better place.” Thank you.

© Daniel Rollins. Used with permission.

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