Social Citizenship, Think Tanks, & Politics of Difference
By Cyrellys Geibhendach
One of the primary concerns in dialog between groups in the theme of Contact and its relevance to human systems and orientations is the politics of difference. The politics of difference and the compartmentalizing behavior established from efforts toward influence of power and information control hampers communication and discourse on the subject.
This politics involves status, power, and privilege. Our world is currently a multi-faceted collection of fragmented social themes and interconnected but diversely oriented organizations based on or in those themes which operate in tandem with governmental and other non-governmental organizations, institutions, and social systems. Power and influence is being continually adjusted and situated in various forms as influence through individualism declines and groups establish themselves seeking to attain a voice in an increasingly complex globalized world.
Many have noted the attacks on individualism and the sovereignty of individuals. Americans particularly have a great concern that dialogs about redistribution and global politics is tearing away a fundamental respect, commonality, and solidarity with universally accepted beliefs on individual rights and privilege which people once possessed. This is causing self-conscious social movements or groups who’s philosophical content meaning is compatible to follow the suit of earlier competitors to collaborate and consolidate into organizations which reflect specific philosophical idea systems in order to regain a measure of influential social citizenship.
In light of this, the Chinese – English news is remarking on the growth and establishment of world think tanks. They recently published remarks by James G. McGann, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and director of Think Tanks and Foreign Policy Program at the University of Pennsylvania from an interview with Xinhua.
A quote from the article states, “Regional and global intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and NATO have recently come to recognize the significant role think tanks play in the policymaking process, he added."
"While more think tanks are appearing around the globe, individual think tanks themselves are simultaneously globalizing. Individual think tanks are executing global expansion strategies, in which a think tank establishes multiple physical operational centers, either in different domestic locations or in countries outside of its headquarters, said McGann.”
The article, which did not specify the author, goes on to say:
“He said think tanks have begun to prove their utility in the domestic and international policy sphere as information transfer mechanisms and agents of change by aggregating and creating new knowledge through collaboration with diverse public and private actors.”
"While policymakers may lack the tools to quickly respond to a critical policy problem, often they suffer not from a lack of information but from an 'avalanche of information' that gets in the way of effective decision-making," said McGann.
The article described McGann as particularly positive about the benefits of think tanks to contribute in an interconnected global dialog on policy issues of today. It noted McGann as describing “the encouragement of cooperation, collaboration, research analysis, and solution development,” among others like “networking between domestic political parties, bureaucracy, media, academe and internationally with other think tanks, NGOs and international organizations, and providing expertise on specialized policy issues.”
McGann, during the interview, pointed out the specific difficulties "think tanks" face (acutely present in developing countries) that of independence, funding, personnel requirements, and access to reliable data.
One thing to keep in mind might be the rise of think tanks in the global community indicates that we are not all equal in the community. Social citizenship in groups has greater prestige and influence than most individuals. They command a greater reach via name branding, for instance, which places them within social status levels remarkably similar to celebrity status particularly within their fields of expertise. These organizations are rewriting the book on real vs imagined community and systemic constructions. They are both a product of social system fallacies and failures as well as drivers of new social constructions. Some are even known to transcend the actual of scope of ideas the public at large ascribes to and create formal policies manipulating the public understanding and fundamental interpersonal belief systems.
This rise of special interests and think tanks is reminiscent of the Roman Republic’s treatment of influence where groups such as the Assembly of Centuries, Comitia Curiata and Comitia Tributa ruled policies and the latter that even took charge of various public works and financial matters. These groups effectively established a class system where participation (social citizenship) was based on status and privilege of association.
“Rome organized conquered communities by establishing several different degrees of privilege and responsibility among them. Residents of a few favored communities were granted the most highly prized status, full Roman citizenship. This meant that they were on the same legal footing as the Romans; they enjoyed the protection of Roman law and could hold office in Rome. Members of other communities became citizens sine suffragio (without the vote); such citizens had the right of intermarriage with Romans and had to supply troops to the Roman army on demand. At a lower level of privilege were the socii (“allies”). They received Rome’s protection from other peoples and were also liable for troops. None of these groups, once joined to Rome in whatever status, could follow independent foreign policies,” according to a description from The Western Experience, vol I, Antiquity to the Middle Ages by Chambers, Grew, Herlihy, Rabb, and Woloch.
This type of system constructed a false universalism that didn’t recognize differences and was not representative of the masses. In this way what masquerades as a representative system can in actuality operate as a feudal one with respective allegiances. A system like this ostensibly serves as a means of consolidating power into a severely pyramidal structure with limited or non-existent social citizenship for individuals at the bottom particularly if they don’t belong to a policy making group or have real influence in one.
Like any tool, organizations such as think tanks entail responsibility and functional morality incorporated into their purposing. They are capable of being a double-edged sword which can either benefit the human community or hamper its positive development. It is worthwhile to consider if in the course of the crucial roles these organizations are playing that we might be cementing the divisions between social movements and locking in power and relationships incompatible with representative governance which as an institution is designed to accommodate agency of the people through more direct and transparent contributions by individuals.
Source: Compass Morainn Journal