Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"On the Commons": Law schools put out paper on intergenerational justice and rights of future generations


David Bollier has a few intriguing articles from “On The Commons.” One is “The Rights of Future Generations,” summarizing an article from Vermont Law School, link here. The report is called “Recalibrating the Laws of Humans with the Laws of Nature: Climate Change, Human Rights, and Intergenerational Justice”, by Burns. H. Weston at the Climate Legacy Institute at the University of Vermont and the University of Iowa, and Tracy Bach, URL here. There is a Model National Environmental Legacy Act and a concept of “Legal Guaridans for Future Generations”.

On Alternet he has an article “’More, Better, Faster!’ How our spastic digital culture scrambles our brains”, here. A subtitle is “The digital communications apparatus is crowding out deeper relationships and more deliberative modes of thinking.” There is a “loss of leisure” and obsession with building an instant-gratification communications apparatus when sometimes we have nothing to communicate (rather like a famous line in “Cool Hand Luke”).

Bollier gets a nod in another “On the Commons” piece by Jan Hively, “The Shift from Me to We” here. Bollier is quoted as saying “A commons arises whenever a given community decides that it wishes to manage a resource in a collective manner, with a special regard for equitable access, use, and sustainability.”

What strikes me about all of this is how our notion of “self-concept” has evolved in the past three or four decades of growing “individualism.” The focus on “personal responsibility” can work for certain kinds of people really well and make them productive with little need for social inter-dependencies. But one of the points of a community is that it does have to deal with taking care of and giving “value to” everyone, so “logically” then responsibility means sharing responsibility for others as well as for your own bills. "Sustainability", as a virtue, transcends "personal responsibility." The “family” used to be the main instrument for fomenting these more collective values – and the emotional component of its nerve center – everlasting marriage – has essentially been hollowed out, rather like a mountain with too many coal seams. Families and to some extent communities “impose” on people to develop interpersonal “skills” (I use the term broadly) that go way beyond what people believe necessary for their own chosen goals, because, beyond the capacity of choice, one never knows when he or she will have to step up for others (the “you’re elected” problem). We see this now with eldercare (and the evolution of a “medical Gestapo”). We also see that “families” used to be the conduit for generativity – having an emotional investment in future generations, and willing to sacrifice for the future -- with the willingness to accept some limits on self-generated logic and reason and accept some "non-rational" motives. The behavior of the “family” in recent generations hardly bodes well for “intergenerational justice” and the “Rights of Future Generations.” Filial responsibility could turn out to become a key concept after all.

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