American Scholar Meets with Seoul Mayor; Speaks out about Role of Cities in Global Governance

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Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

SEOUL, KOREA - The Press Center near Seoul City Hall on 25 March 2013, carried a talk hosted by The Asia Institute and HOBY about the GCF Youth Climate Summit. The morning was bright, blue, idyllic, almost too warm for early spring, when Seoul is marked by crisp, breezy air and the soft, splintered sunlight that conveys the imminence of later months.

Barber and Pastreich talk

Visitors who milled about the banquet room across the bucolic Han River took to their seats as the opening statements resounded from the podium. “The issues dominating our headlines – global warming, terrorism, economic inequality – do not stop at national borders,” began the invited speaker, “our chief means of addressing them remains the nation state, a seventeenth century framework constitutionally unable and temperamentally unwilling, to collaborate across frontiers in order to solve problems. Let cities, through a global `Parliament of Mayors,’ run the world.”

Dr. Benjamin Barber stands at the microphone with Dr. Emanuel Pastreich. The cheerful professors appear to be a sort of avuncular pairing of scholars. Barber is an impressive figure, given to chic blazers and mufflers, with an abundant shock of peppery brown hair that flutter over the ears, and the sort of voice imagined for a Roman senator. Pastreich, quick to laugh, in his characteristic three-piece and glasses, flanks Barber as he rapidly absorbs and interprets huge gulps from English into the vernacular for the Korean attendees. Rows of chairs fill with silent onlookers yet the photographers frenzy in activity. The speakers smile at the applause that greeted them.

Barber, whose students have taken research and teaching positions in Korea, quips that this is his first ever visit to the country. He is a senior research scholar at The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the CUNY Graduate Center, and founder and president of the Interdependence Movement and CivWorld. During his tenure at University of Maryland and Rutgers University, Barber authored numerous books including New York Times bestseller Jihad vs. McWorld. He sat for his degrees at Grinnell College (1960) and Harvard University (1963,1966). Pastreich, who is an associate professor at the Graduate School of Pan-Pacific International Studies, Kyung Hee University, directs The Asia Institute, a public policy think that that he founded in 2007. He, too, took a degree at Harvard, as well at Yale and Tokyo universities.

The GCF Youth Climate Summit, sponsored by the institute and HOBY Youth Leadership, among other bodies, is an upcoming three-day event (12-14 July 2013) that brings together outstanding students and scholars from around the world to discuss the future of the environment and to debate how youth can proactively lead the shaping of civilization and assure a sustainable future for everyone. The initiative comes ahead of the United Nations recent installment of the Global Climate Fund (GCF) in Songdo International City, near Seoul, Korea, last year. Invited lecturers this summer include Professors Michael Pruett (Harvard), Marc Shell (Harvard), Johannes Tschapka (Seoul National), and Zhu Feng (Peking).

Professor Barber gazed out at the assembled crowd of guests and spoke about the rapid changes that are taking place today. ‘Interdependence’, he relates, is acting without prejudice to the interests of national and regional identities and recognition of responsibilities to the common goods and liberties of humankind as a whole. Unlike globalization, with its side effect of favoring one over another or forcing togetherness, interdependence, on the other hand, works for global governance yet calls for the pursuit of the ongoing preservation of traditions. Domination by any one political, economic, or cultural hegemony, is discouraged.

When a woman asked about one essential feature of interdependence to stress to her children, Barber answered, “Listening first to kids. When it comes to technology, listen to kids first. They get it better, but they get it only in pop culture. We have to help them translate it to politics, environment, and citizenship.” Young people in turn teach us how the tools work, providing a better insight into their generation, presently molding society.

It was time for Dr. Barber to mention his forthcoming book, If Mayors Ruled the World (Yale Univ. Press 2013), about which he was invited to meet the Seoul mayor to discuss. Barber radiated strength and a smoothness that masked diplomacy and certitude as he discussed the rationale behind his latest project. Because cities occupy the commanding heights of the global economy, contain more than half of the world’s population, and are the prime incubators of the cultural, social, and political innovations that shape our planet, why not transfer governance from international halls of power to cities? Cities, after all, are non-partisan, pragmatic, and unburdened with issues of border and sovereignty, which stagger the ability of nation states to work with one another. As Barber mentions an immortal quote by New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia in his a one page synopsis of the book, “There is no Democratic or Republican way to fix a sewer,” La Guardia exclaimed.

Professors Barber and Pastreich concluded the talk, thanked the audience, and mingled about, further discussing about the urgent need to get youth involved in the most pressing concerns of the world such as environment. Encouraging youth to be more engaged by actually involving them in decision making ensures that the communication gap between young and old does not grow so broad that it becomes a chasm.


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