Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Benjamin Barber, a Citizen Without Borders (Asia Institute Seminar)

Why do so many Americans feel the need to put everybody in boxes and categories? Mind if I feel less "Caucasian" than "African"? When someone eventually manages to put us in real boxes, it means that we won't be alive to see the result.

Benjamin BARBER, who happens to be American, loves to get rid of the boxes and walls that pollute this world of ours, that artificially prevent us from seeing far, from reaching different people, from growing into citizens without borders. After all, if you want to think out of the box, why not kick away the damn thing in the first place*?

Which Benjamin Barber are we talking about, by the way? The philosopher? The scholar? The political theorist? The playwright? The lyricist? The environmentalist? All of the above, and much more.

This 73 year young man is in Korea for several reasons: Seoul Mayor PARK Won-soon invited Barber the author and researcher to discuss his future book "If Mayors Ruled The World", CITYNET invited Barber the civil society and global governance activist to inaugurate its new Secretariat in Seoul**, and Emanuel PASTREICH (another American with a taste for holistic approaches) invited Barber the multifaceted agent of change and environmentalist to an Asian Institute Seminar ahead of this summer's Global Climate Fund Youth Climate Summit.

There, it was also Barber the father who shared with Korean parents about the future of education in an interdependent world, or the need to see the formidable universality of sports or music among young people find their equivalent in such fields as justice, environment, or citizenship.

Barber - Pastreich
"Our children have the global tools - especially the internet - but we have to help them use these tools to solve global problems" (Benjamin Barber, here with Emanuel Pastreich - photo by Arthur E. Michalak)

The word "citizen" comes from the word "city", and even more now that most humans live in them, cities have to stop being the problem and to start being the solution, particularly when states are often crippled by more levels of constraints. "If Mayors Ruled The World", indeed: I liked the way he said that learning about the UN at school was nice, but that along with lessons about failures or cynicism, the youth needed also to hear about the successes of C40 or CITYNET.

Hard to tell how many topics were raised during the lively discussions we all enjoyed over lunch, but among them was the question of university departments. Talking about boxes and the complexity of compartementing in multidimentional, interdependent times... Barber wondered in which box people like Diderot or Voltaire would land today, provided they'd be declared fit for our sometimes over-formatted education systems. I suggested on the campus lawn, discussing with everybody coming from all horizons.

Mercifully, high school students have not yet been put in this kind of boxes, and both the Asia Institute and HOBY (Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership) Korea believe in the importance of involving them in the global debate for change. That's why they're organizing the 2013 GCF YOUTH CLIMATE SUMMIT for High School Students (July 12-14 in Songdo, see program and details). Students will not only listen to inspiring lectures but share, collaborate on issues and solutions, and hopefully show a leadership that is not meant at overpowering all others, but at lifting up the whole community to new levels.

That's not just wishful thinking from self-declared American optimists: simply the conviction that the solution starts here and now, and that we all have to be part of it.

We the people, we the citizens without borders.

Pastreich - Barber - Hyun
Benjamin Barber between Emanuel Pastreich (Asia Institute) and Hyun Chul Hwang (HOBY Korea)

Seoul Village 2013
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* mind you: if there are so many innovators in America, that's not because there are more boxes to kick away, to the contrary. 
** the organization is moving from Yokohama to Seoul. Another interesting development for the region following the selection of Songdo for GCF HQs (see "Songdo on the world map (Green Climate Fund)").
ADDENDUM 20130328:
. Dr Barber's website: benjaminbarber.com
. Added 2 photos by Arthur E. MICHALAK (Asia Institute) - thank you again Arthur!

Mot - Barber
Yours truly with Barber the man of wit (photo by Arthur E. Michalak)

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