|Environmental Change and International Law: New Challenges and Dimensions (UNU, 1992, 493 pages)|
|A. Global learning: concept and applications|
1. Assumptions about global learning
The introduction has already pointed to a number of assumptions about global learning. In this section, selected assumptions that can contribute to clarifying the characteristics of global learning will be discussed.
In relation to traditional concepts such as education and training, learning is both wider and deeper than ever before, while still providing access to both sets of experience, in addition to many others.
Global learning goes beyond traditional conceived limits. It extends over time, to outer space, and outside of the traditional context. Over time, global learning has not been linked to a specific period in the life of an individual, institution, or society. Learning is a continuous and permanent activity. The idea of anticipatory learning carries an important time element that is focused on the future. Nevertheless, it should be complemented by learning derived from the past, by drawing lessons from past successes and failures. The wealth of a traditional knowledge - be it in medicine, environmentally adapted and energy-conserving architecture, or methods of conflict resolution - it is still like the wealth of genetic diversity that exists in our environment. Both form a part of our common heritage and both are necessary in the search for valid solutions to current problems and for keeping options open for future generations. In addition, global learning has to be set in the context of different time frames. Government and television are characterized by short time spans; economic cycles and libraries represent larger ones: while environmental and ecological time spans stretch over generations, even centuries and millenia.
With regard to outer space, global learning implies a world or planetary perspective beyond the merely international paradigm. The perspective from outer space is relevant in that the concept of the spaceship Earth, which combines the image of the planet Earth as "one world" with the recognition of the need for planetary management, extends beyond this planet to include all that humankind affects. Since the framework is planetary, the focus is on issues that are global in the sense that they affect all peoples, and communities, also life-forms on this planet, and, ultimately, the life-supporting capacity of this planet.
Thus, global learning implies a holistic approach to learning. The total, natural, and social environment provides both the context and content of global learning. Learning is mediated through the natural and man-made shaping of the world, by way of all socio-cultural processes and products. For example, languages, tools, cities, individual values, human relations, rites ceremonies, art, war, customs, and laws, all create images of the world and impart their positive and/or negative effects.
Seen in more structured terms, major systems that make up the social environment, for example, religion, the economy, government, the military, and the mass media, serve in addition to their overt primary function also as learning systems. In the present context, the function of law as a learning system is crucial. Generally, law is not discussed in these terms; a traditional manner of approaching this issue is through analysis of the use of law to bring about social change. In fact, however,
law is used as an educator.... The success of law depends on the ability of law-making and the law-enforcing agencies to convince the people that the behavior legislated for is right and proper. The more such active laws are dependent upon the sense of obligation and the less they are dependent upon the need for sanctions, the more successful the laws are.8
The intellectual and conceptual context for global learning does not depend solely on current pressing issues. The realities of the sudden global economic, demographic, and ecological interdependence represent a new crucial challenge to human development, welfare, and even survival. Global learning must therefore draw upon the most advanced and progressive thinking available.
The most striking feature of the scientific-intellectual context of global learning is the reaction against the traditional models in Western-dominated thinking and the consequent change in the intellectual climate. There is first the emergence of new scientific paradigms, even of a new scientific rationality, or, in the words of Nobel Laureate Ilya Prigogine, "the opening up of a new theoretical space."9 The new scientific rationality that emerges in a number of disciplines goes beyond the traditional Western linear, deterministic, and, finally, reductionist model of reality. In various disciplines, recent inquiries into the nature and behaviour of complex systems and processes, natural and social, refuse deterministic, static reductionism, and incorporate into scientific models of reality concepts such as randomness, openness, and non-linear and stochastic processes, thus giving surprise, risk, discovery, and creativity new significance and meaning. This evolving new scientific rationality represents in itself a challenge to global learning. In addition, in the cognitive sciences there are emerging new theories about knowledge and learning in self-organizing, auto-poietic systems and theories that go beyond the Western tradition of "understanding as a mirror image of nature" in favour of creative cognition, a concept of cognition as an effective action toward global learning.10 This approach does not only reaffirm emphasis on the context but also provides guidelines for the development of conceptual tools required to advance the self-understanding of organizations as complex learning systems.
Whatever else, global learning would imply sensitivity to the different ways in which societies have organized and managed learning, stretching from the intensely personal guru-disciple relationship to the extensively impersonal flow of the mass media.
As any other knowledge activity, global learning is embedded in the complex, rapidly changing, and barely understood context that has been described as the advent of an information-oriented society, of a new dominant economic focus known as the service economy or the technocratic, computerized knowledge society. Whatever expressions are used, they point to a change in the nature of dominant technologies. The new electronically-based technologies differ from traditional industrial technology primarily in that they no longer construct brutal configurations of matter and physical energy but directly draw upon scientific findings. They represent technologies of organization and information. These technologies, including telecommunications, computers, informatics, and audio-visual systems, have rapidly pervaded modern society as a basic infrastructure in manufacturing and services, in public and private administration, in scientific work, and in entertainment. The forms and modes for the generation, processing, presentation, and distribution of information are multiplying, changing, and converging. They affect patterns of perceiving and coding information. Through the new communications and informations systems we are changing both our way of learning and our knowledge of the world.
Thus, global learning has to be set in this new context, not only theoretically, but also practically. It has to be capable of reaching audiences that are, at the same time, increasingly fragmented and increasingly homogeneous. All media and methods must be within reach of global learning. There must also be an appreciation of their strengths, their weaknesses, and their positive and negative effects as they are deployed.
2. Values of global learning
Assumptions about global learning lead directly to questions of values in a double sense: first, the values and ethical judgements that seem implied in or linked to the concept of global learning, and second, the related question of whether global learning is itself a normative concept.
A global approach, as formulated in the UNU Charter,11 in terms of human survival, development, and welfare, obviously expresses a set of positive values. Thus, what we should be concerned with is a search for an "ethics of human survival," for ethical systems "that are relevant to the crowded, confused, hungry, rapidly-changing, and interdependent world we live in."12
The state of the world makes it obvious that we have not yet managed to evolve into a global morality. There is an obvious requirement not to accept poverty and violence as solutions to problems. There is the ethically more difficult question of how to provide a balance between the specific and the universal, or between competing claims and exclusive universal competence (as is clearly shown by the Salman Rushdie case). Should mutual tolerance then be one of the goals as well as one of the outer limits of global learning?
There are additional moral dimensions to global problems and global learning. The time dimension is one concern. Never before have the consequences of human action - or inaction - presented such a heavy weight on future generations and societies. Thus, our responsibility is not only to present but also to future generations. Another moral concern is that of responsibility in spatial terms: decisions reached on one side of the globe very quickly affect, for good or for evil, populations on the other side. Thus, these extended dimensions in space and time carry their own moral imperatives.
The concept of global learning also carries with it ethical imperatives. From an evolutionary perspective, it seems to be an accepted idea that survival and other basic drives towards self-organization are better served by adaptability than by adaptation; that is, by a highly developed learning capacity. The biologically acquired learning faculty, which has developed into the process called social learning, concerns itself not only with maintenance, but also with growth and development.
It can be hypothesized that, in the long run, it is not enough for social systems to amplify man's behavioral capacity. They must take as their proper role the amplification of the individual himself. The higher order goal that is consistent with, and fundamental to, the evolutionary process is the creation of meaning, which provides the framework for the development of human potential.13
It must, however, not be overlooked that learning can be "negative" as well as "positive." There are many kinds of negative learning - whether by individuals, groups, institutions, or societies. Examples of past and present negative learning abound. The need for unlearning old behaviour patterns is obvious if we are to ensure both survival and welfare, not only for some members of the human race but for all, and not only for humans, but also for other life-forms with which we share this planet.
3. Global learning: Purposes, intentions, goals
Some of the values linked to global learning do in fact also act as intentions, purposes of global learning. In its most succinct form, the goal of global learning is to facilitate learning about global processes and global issues, learning to understand them, and how to act accordingly. In this perspective, global learning appears as both an individual and societal response to current global issues.
This, though, remains too general. To achieve its overriding goal, global learning would imply enhancement of the capacity for innovation, improvisation, and creativity; preparation to deal with change, risk, complexity, and interdependence, including economic, demographic, and ecological interdependence. This would in most cases imply an upsetting and difficult process of relearning, and even unlearning, reductionist but apparently secure simplicity as a way of avoiding reality's complexity. An example is the need for the rich North to un-learn its refusal to do anything decisive about poverty, hunger, and deprivation in the South within the framework of what the OECD calls the "two-track world economy" and begin to accept and address global interdependence.14
Good intentions, although elevated, are obviously not enough. Global learning can also be approached by analysing the failure of global learning, in particular the failure of learning how to manage global issues. From this perspective, global learning will have to be set against not only expectations, but also declared intentions and attendant action, or lack thereof.
It is a basic fact that, all stated intentions to the contrary, we have not learned, either because we have not been able to or have not wanted to learn how to deal with international poverty. This fact is most intolerably demonstrated in the African crisis. Nor have we learned how to humanely manage a world economy except by the rich cynically accepting a two-track economy, within and between countries. We have not learned how to base economic growth on the safeguard of environmental and social continuity.
And in what capacity have we learned to cope with the situation facing us at the end of this century, with another two billion people crowded into a shrinking global village already beset by social erosion, violence, hunger, poverty, environmental deterioration, ungovernable mega-cities, and threats to our survival not only from earth but also from space?15
These failures point to global learning needs. Admittedly, there is a need to learn how to cope with specific issues in their specific contexts. Moreover, there is a need, at a more general level, to learn how to understand and manage complex, interlocking systems and processes that are open to change and thus marked by instability, risk, and unpredictability - and freedom. We need to learn how to manage situations in which facts are often uncertain, opinions divided, values in dispute, decisions urgent, and where action - or inaction - might result in long-term or even irreversible effects.
Approaches to knowledge and learning now vary not only between disciplines and in time but also by and within cultures. There is a growing recognition of the interaction between the questions produced by a culture and the range of solutions that can be offered in that culture. This new openness, the still modest but promising renunciation of claims for a particular rationality, provide an opening; specifically, the recognition that learning how to cope with global issues cannot be sought in any single language, rationality, or culture. A single-culture approach will not be adequate for solving global issues, just as a single-issue or single-discipline approach would be insufficient. We need to learn how to accept and use multiple perceptions and polyvalent perspectives. Different rationalities and cultures are valuable resources in the search for solutions or for methods of coping with global issues. There is thus a need to go beyond the traditional Western "either-or" to encompass the kind of "both-and" that is so strongly expressed in the yin-yang symbolism.
This approach is also valid for the future development of international law. Since international environmental law, as a tool to cope with global change, will require not only adherence but also under standing and implementation in all countries and cultures, there is a need to broaden the philosophical and conceptual bases of international law. Major legal systems of the world should be seen as resources for this development since none of the existing systems by themselves will be capable of achieving the required results. For example, there is a need to find a means of overcoming the profound differences between legal systems focused on the adversary trial system and those that have developed otherwise sophisticated methods for resolving conflicts, which include many traditional legal systems such as the "Confucian-based" legal systems common in China, Korea, and Japan. It has equally been noted that both common law and civil law express an exploitative and reductionist attitude toward nature and the environment. In contrast, other systems such as African customary law generally draw upon the opposite approach.