It was a tremendous blow to many politically committed U.S. citizens working to address economic inequality and the crisis of climate change when the independent-minded Bernie Sanders dropped out of the presidential race. As a result, due to political conditions, Sanders had to endorse the lackluster, deeply compromised Joe Biden.It was at that moment when Emanuel Pastreich declared his candidacy as an independent and began to draw attention with policies beyond the despair born of the non-choice offered by the two parties.
Enthusiasm began among a small group of loyal supporters who had known Pastreich’s work on ecological issues and from international relations for years in the U.S. and in East Asia. His speeches have struck a chord with orphaned progressives because he avoided the rhetoric of the commonly called leftist minor parties. He insisted in positioning his campaign within the internationalist political tradition of the United States over the last 200 years, while demanding global justice with an ecologically-based platform, and insisting that until the domination of the economy by the few is undone, there can be no progress. We need not go back too far to hear this echo when we think of a past vice president, Henry Wallace, and then chiefly President Roosevelt.
Pastreich assumes that citizens are capable of engaging in public discussion of complex issues of governance, and he studiously avoids attention grabbing phrases like “healthcare for all” that fail to address the question of accountable governance.
I have worked closely with him at the Asia Institute for many years where we have offices in Washington D.C., Seoul, Hanoi, Berlin, and Tokyo. The institute is a think tank, or better yet, an observatory on democracy, technology, and ecology, dedicated to an honest debate on policy regarding major issues of the day, with a focus on international relations. We bring together experts, citizens, and youth for participatory discussion that I call open reasoning. As a basis of our work, the Asia Institute has kept clear of the pitfalls associated with external funding from corporations or from other interest groups where open knowledge and open reasoning were not primary.
Recently, the Institute has raised its profile as the Covid-19 pandemic increased awareness of biopolitics as an international concern where we have just published an article in the journal ‘the new biopolitics’.
When Pastreich announced his candidacy as an independent for president at the end of February, some dismissed it as a stunt; however, his insistence on governance in accord with the principles of the Constitution and his rejection of the entire political system suggested a deep understanding of the scale of the economic, ecological, and ideological crisis that is upon us today.
Traditionally, the role of the independent in the U.S. brings back memories of Samuel Clemens’ satire and rebuke of government. Pastreich recognizes the traditional role and also is taking on this intensive campaign that was designed to have no appeal whatsoever for the corporate media, Wall Street, and the unusual designers of the system. He drew attention precisely because he had so little to gain personally from the effort other than the notoriety that comes from a democratic platform with realistic policies. In fact, when he began, he did not have a ‘real job’ like many U.S. citizens today.
3E: Energy, Economy, Environment
My work with Pastreich at the Asia Institute has focused on Convergence and 3E, or the intersection of energy, economy, and environment. As a newer branch of STS or science, technology, and society studies, I approach the area relying on the MIT declaration on convergence science and on the activist philosophy of global justice for a new kind of philosophy of technology. In the spring of 2013, I had just finished up a few years of research in nanotechnology at the Sungkyunkwan Advanced Institute of Nanotechnology in South Korea, and I met Professor Pastreich for an Asia Institute function in Seoul with a literary critic, Marc Shell. I had the opportunity to see how he was able to quickly identify critical issues like climate change, nuclear proliferation, geo-financial instability, and technological development/regression. He was also able to address those issues in a manner that was accessible to citizens around the world (often in multiple languages) while at the same time grounding his ideas in moral philosophy and scientific epistemology, along with metaphysics. Here was a specialist in Asian literature that was engaging in the international debate on technology and society; and doing well at it, keeping alive democratic process and the tradition of the modern university going back to Humboldt. After our personal discussions on the various topics, he offered me a position as a research professor at the Asia Institute in the Convergence and 3E program.
The 3E program is based on what was started as a forum of scholars, local administrators, technology experts, and citizens in Tsukuba, Japan, where they developed networks that brought together citizens with policy makers and experts to engage in innovative and forward-thinking dialog aimed at transformation. Evocative, not provocative. This project was not just another conference for specialists. While the conference and concordance of experts are needed and encouraged due to the complexities of society, the Asia Institute has been proactive to join up with open forums as well, and expand the effort from Japan to the United States, China, India, Mexico, Cameroon, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Sweden and elsewhere. In 2013, video enabling technologies allowed for new connections to be made most anywhere there was Internet access and participants took the information from meetings back to their local communities, some of it even developing into new production in a collaborative or open source economy.
Our 3E program makes concrete and realizable proposals for an eco-society where none of the proposals depend on the election of a particular person. The point is rather to pursue an ethical, ecological, political transformation of society. The Asia Institute has offered an alternative model that has encouraged public discussion and partnered with other dynamic groups like Living Bridges Planet in the Nordic Region. Based on this work in Convergence and 3E, I will develop a convergence advisory team for Pastreich’s campaign outside of the Asia Institute that consists of medical and dental health professionals, philosophers, artists, musicians, and scientists.
Also, drawing on models from governance in native American communities and the traditions of the village republic, we have set up a participatory system for advising Pastreich wherein the candidate does not merely make comments that resonate with the frustrated populace, but any citizen can make proposals for a policy that are refined and then passed on to the candidate in a participatory manner. For this process, we have created our ‘Wayside Chats’ for digital, deliberative democracy. Some examples are found in the democratic efforts of people all around the United States and the world and in what La Via Campesina and also professor James Fishkin initiated.
If you join one of the Pastreich 2020 social media platforms, you can see the difference immediately and participate if you are interested. We have citizens making proposals to us on concrete issues that are considered seriously by our staff and then reflected in our policy proposals making our campaign a model of participatory democracy. There are no lobbyists and no overpriced consultants; only the voices of many people considering the social, political, ecological, and technical reality of today.
In summary, the assumption behind the campaign has been that at a deep level, working people know that we are in need of major changes in how we ‘do things’ and they are usually quite aware of what is happening on the ground. The task for all is to organize for wider education and to develop a clearer understanding of reality, and thereby, follow up with policy suggestions backed by widespread organizing and public action. To develop a more accurate view, as the education process moves along, people need to be brought together with others who have specialized training, but in a manner that stimulates a creative dialog; not one in which experts lecture to citizens about what has to be done.
Like our original efforts in 3E, this campaign aims to make sure that the powerful cannot short-circuit the decision-making process because of the organization of citizens internationally, not focused on a particular candidate. That is why Pastreich rarely speaks about getting out to vote, and he has invested his funds to support discussions with citizens about how they can create their own local organizations; and not buy into the current power politics of the day.
“As the old saying goes,” Pastreich explains, “people end up looking for magicians, not looking for leaders.” It does not need to be that way. We can transform American political culture so that citizens retake the initiative in formulating policy. If our political parties are funded by and run by business, or authoritarian structures, then the outcome cannot possibly be democratic.”
The assumption in our campaign, one that integrates with democratic ecological and social movements everywhere, is that the scientific worldview and an individual’s humanity, and not appeal to image or authority or access to large numbers of viewers through corporate controlled social media, must be at the core of the response to all problems, especially public health threats like COVID-19 and existential threats like climate change and nuclear weapons. Pastreich has made concrete suggestions about how citizens can be empowered to determine what the public health measures in their communities are to be, and how to work together with experts to solve them—rather than falling back into the passive mode of assuming that an elected official will solve problems for them. I call this process ‘every day democracy’.
Similarly, Pastreich sees a need for a massively expanded, democratic governance in creating jobs and establishing effective long-term national-state policy on climate change, economic equality, and the right use of technology. At the same time, the government should be smaller in spending on certain armaments, private healthcare, and on foreign military and financial adventures. Thus, Pastreich sees the endeavor as only possible if citizens themselves are organized at the local level and informed enough to play a vital role.
Such a vision is related to Pastreich’s decision to make the reasoned response to anti-intellectualism a plank in his platform. His understanding is that rather than policy makers dumbing down their message to an audience who have their attention spans diminished by non-stop marketing and social media, that the effort should be to create the conditions for people to learn how to learn and then to select for accurate information. At that point, the capacity for all citizens to engage in the policy decision-making process can be maximized for the common good. Moreover, such a process must be connected to engage all people interested, especially youth, in a discussion about philosophy, history, art, and literature because, as Pastreich says correctly,“ only in the humanities will we find the potential to move beyond a conservative/progressive or left/right dialectic and advance to a transformative response.”
Early on, most were drawn to his campaign due to curiosity since he was already known from his writings. For example, the immediate past President of South Korea had publicly and favorably commented on his book about Korea. As an addition to his background of scholarly and public work, his campaign is now bringing wider curiosity about his policies as an independent candidate. The combination of a humanistic, ecological, and evidence-based approach to policy, the appeal to the best of the Western and Eastern traditions of moral philosophy, and his participatory approach to the campaign has shown that it is possible to create hope in the midst of profound institutional decay in the United States (and in Europe) by acting as a guide from the mindset imposed by corporations and consumerism to the constitutionally guaranteed role as a citizen in a democratic republic.
Layne Hartsell, USA (雷恩∙哈特塞尔 - 마이클 레인 핫셀) is a research professor in the philosophy of technology and ethics at the Asia Institute in the Convergence and 3E Program (Energy, Economy, and Environment). His work is in the access to technologies from a framework of global justice.