Monday, February 18, 2008

“CIVICS AND SCIENCE”

This should be the mantra of democratic societies around the world. I’ll outline a series of issues to explain how these themes relate. My proposals are not only intended to be practically useful but also politically viable. The clarity of the concepts as well as their international appeal is therefore important.

I. The viability of the US economy is an issue of strategic importance for all democracies and ought to be addressed by a “national science project”.
a. The US is not likely to reclaim manufacturing jobs that have drifted overseas and needs to leverage its position as an innovative, well-connected society by emphasizing science education at all levels of society.
b. The importance of civics education in this country is not easily disputed.

II. Oil-based economies tend to lack the civil society necessary to moderate militant passions (e.g. in Saudi Arabia, Iran) and/or to moderate authoritarian tendencies (e.g. Iran, Russia, Venezuela); the West can do the world a service by developing energy alternatives that gradually free us from dependence on oil.
a. A “national science project” would help drive the sort of innovation necessary to achieve this task.
b. A recent review (see previous post) of US efforts in Iraq gives added teeth to the idea that ‘soft power’ is necessary to cement the institutional change we seek in such countries. Organizations such as Creative Associates work to spread civics education abroad. Efforts that support the development of strong, accountable local governments should be expanded.

III. The rise of China is likely to be one of the most significant geopolitical issues of this century. The environmental challenges that we face as a planet have the potential to humble all of us enough to turn potential confrontation into cooperation.
a. Exchanges between Chinese and Western science have most productively taken place in the realm of medicine. Americans are clearly seeking a more holistic view of their own medical health. Our country could drive down its health costs by developing a culture of prevention and wellness.
b. The best opportunities for civics cooperation would take place in a context in which the wisdom of Chinese holistic traditions (as manifested in medicine and in the current purposeful progress of the society) are openly acknowledged by Americans. In such a context, opportunities would be enhanced for the United States to offer guidance to China on increased public participation in government.

IV. Take a moment to think about each item above and you'll see how global environmental challenges are relevant to each.

Conclusion: Catchiness is not a luxury but a necessity in any age. This is particularly so when interest and faith in national institutions is declining (See here to be shocked into believing this last claim.). The phrase "Civics and Science" is one example of how to encapsulate a broad range of critical issue under one slogan.

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