Network Societies

11/06/2013 09:51 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

At the World Ocean Observatory we often speak of “values,” underlying concepts or premises on which we define, justify, and implement attitudes, behaviors, and actions. We speak of religious values, ethical values, economic values, community values -- again, principles that guide us in our social, political, financial, and communal engagements and interests as individuals, groups, and nation states.

Today, when we speak of “consumption” for example, we acknowledge our right to exploit nature to human advantage regardless of limits or consequence. Such a value statement then informs personal, corporate, and national choices and policies, sets priorities, and becomes a context for accepted behavior.  At a time when fish abound, for instance, we harvest without limit. When fish become scarce, however, we react either by individualized indifference or by modified methods to include voluntary limits or cooperative agreements – changed behaviors that are based on modified values. Sustainability has emerged in the global lexicon as a new value proposition -- that is, a new principle that provides a new response to the changing conditions, themselves a consequence of the previous application of the old value of consumption without restriction. At the local, regional, national, and even international level, such a value shift becomes an area of conflict between present interest and future interest, between individuals and collectives, between geographical areas dependent on the same resource, between nations protective of their proprietary demand on an every diminishing supply. To ameliorate and adjudicate such conflict, we look to communication and compromise agreement, to regulations and treaties, to a consensus built on reason and community interest.

But what if we can’t agree? What if short-term profit for some overcomes the longer-term need of many? What if corporate interests contradict societal interests? What if governments cannot agree or even enforce the things on which they do?  What if one nation state declares an economic, or political, or cultural justification for a specific harvest when inevitably it will deprive all the rest of us of sustainable access? What power can be brought to bear in such a case? How can the imposition of one value system over another be ameliorated or broken?

Thirty Greenpeace activists are being held in Russia for their attempt to protest drilling for oil that the Russians believe to be in their national interest. This is just one instance of such a clash of values. In the United States, and other organizations are protesting hydro-fracking and a proposed pipeline from Canada across the country that they claim will have serious, unacceptable environmental consequence with no concurrent or offsetting public benefit. The tactics here are confrontational and political, based on the perception that there is no middle ground, no reasonable resolution to the specific conflict, no willingness to explore or examine the possibility of a value resolution.

If this is the case, and that change is held captive by lack of compromise and denial, how can we move forward? How can we transcend the colliding interests and build a new forum for discussion and resolution? How do we build a volume of interest that expresses the argument for a new value proposition? How can we catch the attention of those willing to consider change and to work toward new policies and behaviors as an expression of progress?  How do we change the prevalent mind-set?

We have seen the impact of social media in new and revolutionary context: the Arab Spring for example, or other global initiatives that are issue-based and in search of a new constituency as political force. These represent a very different dynamic unification of interested parties outside the conventional parameters of an existing restrictive community or even a nation-state. These virtual assemblies are called network societies, a common space and communications system for like-minded people galvanized by an issue, a protest, and yes an alternative in contradiction or contravention to an accepted behavior.

This may be the way for those committed to the transcendence of entropic behavior and political paralysis to unite behind a change or a new value proposition to find commonality of interest, strategic efficiency, and specific acts and inventions for change. We have spoken often on World Ocean Radio of “Citizens of the Ocean,” a group of individuals informed and motivated by ocean information, educational outreach, and global connection, as a means to defend and sustain the ocean. Indeed, the nascent W2O Citizens of the Ocean initiative can be one such powerful network society, linked as if arm in arm, allied against the bankrupt values of the past, and united as a force for the future. Join us and take the Citizens of the Ocean pledge.