Sunday, February 26, 2006

Changing the World: I Heart Bill Clinton

...or at least most of this speech he gave. (Hat tip: Instapundit)

Former President Bill Clinton was in Australia recently speaking about a non-governmental organization (NGO) that he is running and, as I understand the article, trying to raise money and support for. I'm not sure how I feel about NGO's in general, considering their lack of success in the Palestinian territories; however, I'm not sure that that's their fault, and they have done some good there in a difficult situation. In other places, they seem to be quite successful.

Clinton's speech was discussing the three biggest changes in recent years that affect the power of individuals to help others: Democracy, internet, and non-governmental organizations. The last one is debateable, but on democracy, he had this to say:

Three things have happened since the end of the Cold War to give private citizens an unprecedented capacity to do public good.

One is the right of democracy.

More than half the people in the world live with governments they voted in. I think that's a good thing.

I think it's good to see the election of a president in Iran and in Bolivia and the election of a Hamas government in Palestine, because the democratic process gives us a chance for resolving problems in all these places - because these elections mean the people have more power.

And the people want the benefits of democratic society.

You can quibble about his exclusion of Iraq, and his calling it "Palestine", but his overall message is correct. Democracy is better, period: It allows the people to decide their future and who represents them. Even in the case of a Hamas, this is a positive - it shows who the Palestinians want to represent them. The next aspect he discussed was the internet:

An example of this is the power of the internet in the hands of people around the world. Remember a few years ago we had the SARS epidemic? Remember when it broke out in Hong Kong and Canada, and the Chinese government was in denial about it?

They turned on a dime, and all of a sudden began to co-operate with the world climate because of the internet. There was a citizen uprising on the internet. The young people didn't fill Tiananmen Square. They filled the Chinese government website.

They said: "Quit denying this. Tell the truth. Turn it around."

And what could have been a cataclysmic epidemic was turned around.

I can give you lots of other examples of that. When we had the tsunami - a terrible event in South Asia - the former president George Bush and I were asking for donations. It was a fascinating thing. We raised more than $US1 billion, and about a third of American households contributed. Half of them did so over the internet.

It was a stunning thing, if you think about the power it gives to ordinary people.

As Glenn Reynolds noted, this is pretty much what Reynolds' Army of Davids is about, which I'd love to read. (Anyone want to buy it for me?) It's simply much easier for people to be a little bit more activist today than it was in the past: It's hard to get people to come to a certain place at a certain time to rally for a cause. But it's not all that difficult to have a few thousand, if not million, people sign an online petition or go to a website.

Finally, he touched on NGO's, and he had quite an incredible message:
There will always be problems in the world.

There will always be things you're upset about.

There will always be things that you wish were different. But because of the rise of non-government organisations in a world that is more democratic, in a world where the internet gives people more access to information, we don't have the excuse that we can't do anything about the problems we care about because the people we voted for in the last election didn't win. So think about the things I've said today in the big picture.
The power of the individual in today's world is so much more than it ever has been in the past. We must use this new found power to do our best to improve the world, one person at a time. R' Israel Salanter said that to change the world, we must change ourselves as individuals. In today's world, this lesson is that much more important, as we as individuals are able to accomplish so much more than those who lived before us. Whether it's simply through exercising our democratic rights, whether it's using the internet, or whether it is through NGO's as Clinton suggests, it is clear that we are in a better position than ever to change the world. As Clinton finished:

We've got an independent world without integrated systems, political, social, legal systems, that allow people to mediate these big disputes and to deal with a lot of their cultural differences, as we saw with the Danish cartoons.

In other words, the lack of structure doesn't allow us to handle certain issues (at least not yet).
But we are moving in the right direction and I still believe that if we all do the right things, this will be an astonishingly productive, autonomous time.
I believe so as well. Let us not just hope he is correct, but actually strive to improve the world - one person at a time.

Let's change the world.

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