The Internet & World Law

By Garry Davis

You are sitting at your computer... anywhere. You dial any of a dozen local telephone numbers that connect you with a regional database: TogetherNet, CompuServe, America Online, PeaceNet, etc. Outside the U.S., you might go through the Public Data Network or a local database service. You log on. Among the services provided is an entry to the Internet. You choose that option.

Wham! You're instantly connected to millions of the world's people! The Internet is dynamic evidence of one world. Like the Universal Postal Union founded in 1875, it operates on a world communal basis accessible to every citizen. The political implications are revolutionary in both their public and personal dimensions.

Already, you have resolved to consider yourself a world citizen. And why not? Your major problems are global. Besides, it's your world, too. So now, sitting in front of your computer in your hometown, logged-in to the world and fellow citizens, you are actually in a global, synergetic mode. What to do?

The possibilities are endless, and like all new territory, a bit daunting. Your access to information is virtually unlimited. You have joined the global nervous system, the "seamless web of communication," as cybernetician Stafford Beer put it, permitting instant, personal feedback from your fellow world citizens. You are part of a world people interacting in a peaceful environment termed "cyberspace." In political terms, you are expressing the "self-determination of peoples," a right recognized by the U.N. Charter and by the International Conventions of Political and Civil Rights and Economic and Social Rights.

You are a dynamic citizen of the "global village" of Marshall MacCluhan. In short, you are now a Net Citizen!

You must learn to behave like one. That's called "netiquette." Be peaceful! Don't pollute! Resources are limited, so don't overuse! Be patient! Don't treat people as means to your end. Give as much as you receive! There are no Internet police. There is no positive law to obey or be enforced. Then again, true citizens don't need police. The word "citizen" implies self-policing; "government," self-governing essentially. How does all this gibe with your exclusionary national allegiance? Are there still enemies out there beyond your nation's frontiers? That's what your national leaders claim. But hold on - you are already out there in joyous, peaceful communication. You don't fight people with whom you have implicitly established a new social contract. Is war still an option for you when millions of your fellow Net Citizens are open, friendly, eager to know and live peacefully with you?

Merely by accessing the Internet in your own home, you have transcended nationality. Surprisingly, though, nowhere on the Internet itself will you find the words "world law" or "world government."** The omission is significant and challenging.

Your very presence on the Internet, however, bestows a contractual right and duty of global citizenship. Far-fetched? Well, if the pope, Buddhist monks, Jewish rabbis, Islamic imams/muftis, etc. can swear primary allegiance to a religion, if the U.N. Secretary General can swear allegiance to an assemblage of states, if Justice of the International Court Of Justice can swear allegiance to so-called international law, if transnational corporations can wheel and deal on the global level in overt mockery of national laws, and if satellite technology has largely rendered national borders irrelevant, thereby condoning statelessness and the personal exercise of sovereign choice, then your right to claim legitimate world citizenship by virtue of your Internet relationship is certainly sanctioned as a valid new and global social contract.

How to manifest this new contract? Simple. Declare it... on the Internet. Introduce a statement announcing your new allegiance. Something like this: "Hello, fellow Net Citizens. I am a sovereign World Citizen. As such, I declare myself to be in a global social contract with everyone who is now and who will be on the Internet. Through this contract, I declare my peaceful spirit and comportment toward you. This contract is made freely and without reservations."

Say it however you want. That's sovereignty: choice. Then send a copy to your local nation-state president, informing him of your new primary allegiance. Begun in the early 1970s as a Pentagon computer network - designed, ironically, to send and receive military information after a nuclear war - the Internet currently has a civilian "population" of over 12 million. And as more universities and businesses come on line, the Net grows at an astonishing 10 percent per month!

"The Internet is much more than a network of networks. It's also much more than a huge repository of information. The Internet is a virtual community, existing only ephemerally in physical reality," writes Michael Frasse in "The Mac Internet Tour Guide" (Ventana Press). "Our society has made a commitment to openness and to free communication," adds Lotus Development Corporation founder Mitchell Kapor, writing in Scientific American (Sept. 1991). "But," he warns, "if our legal and social institutions fail to adapt to new technology, basic access to the global electronic media could be seen as a privilege, granted to those who play by the strictest rules, rather than as a right held by anyone who needs to communicate." How to link the Internet with world law? First, let's be clear that world law has not been explicitly defined.

From the Decalogue through the Magna Carta, and on to the Declaration of Independence, the Nuremberg Principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, along with all the nation-state constitutions in between, primordial principles guiding human action have been enunciated for millennia. But there are other aspects of world law. Nature itself, for example, may be said to operate according to world environmental law.

A common denominator, at least in the social environment, is communication. Until this century, communication among humans was restricted and partial. Now, at last, a global nervous feed-back system is in place.

"Common" world law is therefore already operative. Jean-Jacques Rousseau first wrote about the "social contract" in the 18th century. It is recognized generally as the sine qua non of democratic governance. People agree to live peacefully with each other: "My freedom ends where yours begins." "One for all and all for one." "Unity in diversity." "Self-determination of peoples." These and similar understandings define and clarify the social contract. Thomas Paine's "Common Sense," the document that fired the American revolution, complements Rousseau's credo: "Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices." The very fact of the Internet, a concrete evidence of our society's wants, permits a global social contract to manifest itself....without overt government!

John Nesbitt's latest blockbuster, "Global Paradox," (Wm. Morrow & Co.) likewise illuminates the quickening breakdown of the nation-state as a result of "forces that are making the world into a single economy... There also is evolving a new global code of conduct to protect those rights spread by the extraordinary reach of communications technology, which will in time ensure that all communities are held to the same standards of behavior." The 20th century human, dynamically integrated into global interdependence, is at last being challenged into personal world governance! But it is at the same time a collective challenge. A communications vehicle becomes necessary whereby we can individually and collectively exercise world governance. Linked to the Internet with the help of organizations like Kapor's Electronic Frontier Foundation and their counterparts throughout the world, World Syntegrity can evolve into an ongoing global referendum instrument enabling declared world citizens to vote on global issues affecting their individual and communal lives.

World government of, by and for the people of the world is now at our fingertips!

** Until Now!

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