Small Places Can Think Big Thoughts…

EDITORIAL, 31 Jul 2013

#283 | Johan Galtung

… said the mayor of little Jondal municipality in Hardanger, Western Norway, Jon Larsgard, opening the annual–last week of July 2013–symposium of the Hardanger Academy for Peace, Development and Environment.  Especially when big places, capitals in the NATO countries, think small thoughts.

Like invading and killing in Afghanistan and Libya instead of solving the underlying conflicts.  Like trying “free trade” areas across the Atlantic and across the Pacific against trade with the BRICS countries–Brazil-Russia-China-India-South Africa –instead of global economic cooperation to eliminate the misery at the world bottom, the 140,000 or so dying every day from hunger and preventable-curable diseases because they have no access to the “free” market–no money.

Jondal qualifies as a small place: 1,100 inhabitants, but growing because it attracts immigrants enough to compensate for a falling birthrate, like many other places, small and big, in the West.  A beautiful place situated between the long and deep Hardanger fjord and the Folgefonna glaciers–melting–with cherry an apple fruit-blossom clothing the hills in white in May.  Add sheep and stones and some steel, and retirement funds for the older part of the population.  And, indeed, the tourism attracted by the beauty, watching the same hills the Vikings looked at a thousand years ago, say between 800-1050.  The fjord was ideal, easily defended, shielding the ships for their deadly expeditions in the winter season.  A belligerent culture.

There are seven cooperating municipalities in inner Hardanger, but the biggest, Odda has only 8,000, still qualifying.  Add the water-falls from the plateau up there, generating electric energy, also for export. They live a good life; neither too little nor any excess. And the tunnels–financed by Norwegian oil money making Norway a Swiss cheese–now connects Oslo and Bergen through Jondal.  An extreme periphery coming closer.  And yet a little place–

–opening itself generously to the summer symposium year after year, opening the school for the meetings, the church for concerts and ceremonies, the beaches for grilling, the mountains for hiking.

And hopefully an empty TBC sanatorium, closed for lack of tuberculosis–a liberation from a scourge, to be celebrated, we do make some progress we humans–as a permanent site for the academy.

Dedicated to creative solutions to problems of peace, development and environment.  Like saving military expenses by solving conflicts. Like lifting everybody on earth up through a minimum living wage.  Like getting the global warming temperature increase down to one degree by stopping burning fossil fuels, turning to mixes of the many alternative resources, and by declaring ecocide–killing nature–a crime against humanity, like genocide.

But why not universities for that–Norway has many? Yes, much can be done. But something is happening to the much celebrated academic freedom: increasingly supposed to pay for universities by serving the free market. That means serving those who can pay for the services: rich corporations, the IT (Information Technology) industry, legal services against those standing in the way of Western expansion by economic and military means–the environment and peace movements, key targets of the many US and allied surveillance activities.

This will hardly last forever; it will generate counter-forces. But pay attention to the fact that almost all books in the USA with critical-creative approaches to problems are not published by university presses–they are for well disciplined PhD theses.  Free-standing academies are needed, not against the West but for the world–act locally, think globally!–with the West having its appropriate place in a dialogue of civilizations; Western liberal and Western Marxist, Islamic and Buddhist, Japanese and Chinese, to mention some major ones. None is universal, all carry gifts to humanity.

Back to Jondal, to the local community, the small place.

`        Yes, there is a state system, and our conceptions of human rights, democracy, peace, development and environment are still tied to that system. The states are the major duty-carriers of human rights, the rights-carriers being their citizens.  The states are the receivers of the mandates coming from the people in periodic, multi-party free and fair elections. The states have the monopoly on foreign policy, a major instrument of peace and war. The states are the units of development, whether in the liberal sense of economic growth and rule of law or in the Marxist sense of being the unit of basic transformation revolution for major economic distribution.

And that system, carrying so many obligations, is today waning in salience, yielding to nations and local communities below, to regions and corporations above; and to a weak global level, the UN system, so crippled by Anglo-American dominance and the veto system.

All the other five have increasingly to take on some duties traditionally carried by the states. The focus here is on the local level. Beyond thinking big thoughts, they can start practicing them.

Local levels could switch from competitive companies to cooperative cooperatives. Local levels could have their own foreign policies, relating directly to other local communities in Afghanistan. Local levels could have their own development policy, like introducing a minimum living wage locally. And local levels could switch from carbon-fossil-fuels to wind and solar, waterfalls, hydro- and geo-thermal, tidal and biomass sources; nuclear being too dangerous.

To wait for national policies in that directions may mean waiting for a very long time as the last progressives may have a de facto veto.  And perhaps more importantly: many states will be well served by having local communities leading the way, doing experiments if not on behalf of humanity, on behalf of the rest of that state.  Thanks, dear Jondal!


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He is author of over 150 books on peace and related issues, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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