L19 – Simon Anholt


I stepped in to cover this event for a colleague and I am so glad that I did.  It proved to be interesting beyond my expectations and thought-provoking to the same degree. The subject was huge and worthy of a degree course in itself and so justice couldn’t be done to it in the allotted hour.

How Good Should a Country Be was the third presentation of four all held on the same day under the umbrella title What It Means To Be Human.  This particular lecture was concerned with governance; the others dealt with meditation, the development of the human race in its early stages, and how to deal with life in the twenty-first century.  Several members of the audience were attending all four parts, which called for a great deal of stamina and an attention span of epic proportions.

Simon Anholt is an independent adviser to international governments and their departments, specialising in the way that countries treat each other politically, economically and culturally. To this end, he introduced the Good Country Index, which uses data provided by the United Nations to analyse the effect of each state’s actions on other countries on the planet.  He acknowledged that there were myriad indices relating to how nations performed, but they all look at each country in isolation, which is fair enough, but every action taken by one state impacts in some way on the world order.  This could be via climate change, creating or destroying jobs, affecting culture etc.

There are thirty-five points of reference which are collated and tabulated to provide the list of the countries with the best record of behaviour toward their fellow humans.  Most of them are good by virtue of their lifestyle, history and expectations, which explains why the Scandinavian countries are always near the top, being environmentally aware, non-aggressive, prosperous and scientifically advanced, to name but a few of the markers.

The Good Country Index was instigated in 2014.   Simon said that when he asked the various government leaders by whom he had been engaged about the main problems they faced, he was not hearing any new answers and the ones he was being presented with were not uniquely domestic, but were so large that they couldn’t be solved by that nation alone.

Simon declared himself a globalist and believes that the doctrine of a Dual Mandate, i.e. one where governments not only enact statutes to benefit their own people but also take into account the universal repercussions, is the only way forward.  He also owns up to the fact that it cannot be done overnight as there needs to be a fundamental shift in everybody’s thinking, not just that of politicians. To that end he advocated the use of the internet, which has effectively reversed the colonisation of the planet from being one village in the Rift Valley, through the occupation of the world and its splitting into small, individual states, back to being a global village again. He then went on to say that being a globalist didn’t mean that he was an enemy of parochial governance and was very glad that there were people in the small Norfolk village in which he lives who deal with the local issues.  He took it one stage further by saying that even the individual family structure should be aware of the consequences of its action on others. We used to call this consideration.

All of the above was presented with aplomb and made the subject of governance extremely interesting so, having outlined the problems, Simon turned to the possible answers. This is where I began to question the logic of some of what was being said.  I started the piece by saying that this was an extremely complex and intricate subject which needed to be treated in a more simplistic way than it merited, so we were given the broad brush version.  Therefore, some implications might have passed me by, so excuse me if I have not grasped the unstated nuances.

The first thing was that the myth of a Nazi-style global master race was rightfully trashed and mixed background relationships encouraged.  He had already said that he loves ‘cultural chaos’ which breeds creativity, so to end up with the Blue Mink Melting Pot solution seemed a strange way to proceed, as it would eradicate cultural differences altogether.  Education figured largely in his suggestions, but how this would take place was not made clear; nor was who educates the population and in what way.   To be fair, we were told that there is no quick fix and it will depend on a future generation coming to terms with the problem and having the will to change attitudes, the ones we have cultivated being too insular.

I enjoyed the experience very much and also that my grey cells were given a good kicking, but I did feel that in the final analysis Simon Anholt gave short shrift to the overall theme of the day. I am totally convinced that there is not a politician at any level in the pecking order who would not love to see a common global policy for the governance of the world – just as long as it was their global policy.  That is what it means to be human.

Feature photograph by Dustin Ackrath, who is working in Leeds with photographer Mark Wheelwright under the Erasmus programme.

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