The State of the World Forum

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"Nuclear weapons don't care whether you're a Jew or a Christian. All our hearts are beating with the same energy. If that's not unity, I don't know what is."

A rhetorician's pause; Davis punches the air with a li'l fist.

"It's not a new idea. We're just at the end of the road now... We've got to do it together... Well, it's either the millennium or Armageddon. We've been given the responsibility to choose whether the human race is going to go on. It's a big responsibility."


("Support Your World Government Air Force!" declares one of Davis' pamphlets.)

"It's so simple! It's so self-evident! Unity!"

And the hive buzzed on...

In the New York Hilton's ballroom, meanwhile, the eerie 21st-century hum of projectors throbbed through space and the video screens loomed over the audience. And at one side of the room?a curtain, several stories tall, in front of which security men stood at staggered depths in their New World Order suits. An endlessly deferred revelation: What grand expression of millennialist-globalist human consciousness, when the suited men stepped aside, would the parting curtains reveal? Here at the State of the World Forum?

It was hard to tell, because the idea of "globalism"?much less what we're supposed to think about globalism?is too diffuse to pay off in hard conceptual currency. Stalin was a "globalist"; so was Gandhi; so's Bill Gates. And yet the State of the World Forum (sustainability, trade ethics, etc.) arrived last week in the Hilton's seminar halls, advertising such illustrious participants as Mikhail Gorbachev and George Soros (and Garry Davis, for that matter), but attracting little media attention. The Hilton's luscious, overwhelming interiors?waterfalls of ceiling crystal, lonely expanses of gold plating presiding over haunted acres of patterned carpet?accommodated the energies of those who comprised this convocation: academics, environmental activists, new-agers, millennialists, alt-press veterans radiating the caustic energies that apparently sustain them in this, the endgame of the great media-revolutionary nonevent to which they've devoted themselves since the 60s. Intellectuals walked from seminar ("Indigenous Healing"/"Indigenous Wisdom") to seminar ("Making a Profit While Making a Difference: How to Invest to Earn Market Returns and 'Social' Dividends"), shuffling, looking for someone to talk to.

Danny Schecter, veteran of the anti-corporate-media effort, stood around the margins of one seminar room, talking to Victor Navasky.

"Did you get my new book?"


"My new book."

"Did you send it along to The Nation?"


"Oh, terrific, terrific."

Thus, hondlings and small tribal interpromotions. The President of Indonesia revealed himself at some point to great enthusiasm. As did Her Majesty Queen Noor. Thabo Mbeki. Deepak Chopra.

The Forum represented the intersection of several intellectual forces. First, the legitimate self-interests of "developing" societies screwed by the new liberal-capitalist corporate imperium, expressed by saried women and poker-faced African functionaries with ramrod posture, many of them articulate in that aggressive way that characterizes intelligent people who have finally?finally?found someone who will listen to them. Also, the poststructuralist academic theme of Otherness, filtered through philosophical and theological and area studies departments and applied here toward the development of a globalist model of ethics and engagement. Also the earnestness of watchdog organizations like Public Citizen Global Trade Watch, and of the leftish think tanks.

Finally, there was?thank God?a slight residue of good old American anarchic freakdom. The State of the World Forum was the type of, um, "space" in which an Indian statesman could converse with a philosopher swinging around a Derridean vocabulary while Schecter moseyed about introducing himself jocularly as "a legend" to young women and a wonderful all-American eccentric like Garry Davis (straight outta Burlington!) carried on not far from a table bearing Terence McKenna videotapes.

There was also evident in the air a hint?like the weakening effluvium of your old man's Old Spice at the end of the day?of early 90s Internet millennialism. Remember, back before the Web became the 1990s version of the junk-bond industry, it was going to revolutionize human consciousness? And everybody would live in Humboldt County yurts with their laptops and Patagonia baggies and smoke Thai stick all day with John Perry Barlow and Stewart Brand and cultivate organic turnips and rock climb and participate in chatrooms with Eskimos and read Wendell Berry? I do.

On the other hand, a bit of a profit's nothing to sneeze at, is it? From the "State of the World, Inc. Executive Summary" distributed to Forum participants: "Sustainability?of natural resources, the environment and human development?is increasingly a critical factor in business and government decision-making. From this heightened awareness, Forum management and its senior advisors see an extraordinary business opportunity developing. To capture this opportunity, the Forum has launched a new, for-profit enterprise, State of the World, Inc. ('SWI' or 'the Company'). The purpose of this venture is to: Identify and capitalize upon the business opportunities emerging in the sustainable development marketspace..."

Dashikis, saris, the stern sexless suits of Canadian activists (of all things), big scraggly hippie domes. Philosophizing clusters spread over darkling acreage of ballroom carpet. Ghostly super-hotel corridors. Whispering foreigners in the Hilton's sleazoid caverns. Intersections of biology, theology, ethics, statecraft and futurism. The world, in its unmanageable profusion of meanings, radiated out from its center at 6th Ave. and 53rd St., Manhattan, NY, USA.

But no one can even tell you what "globalism" means. A generation ago, the educated classes were supposed to be for globalism, properly understood as a phenomenon administered by genocidal Sorbonne-educated Third World ideological peasants. So we're subjected to a variety of what, if you were paying attention in college, you were taught was capitalism's postmodern sublime: you're lost in a decentered space, without signposts, where the terms of orientation are so diffuse and shifting as to be without stable meaning, and George Winston's playing the bloody piano for some reason (he was, one night) and everybody keeps right on talking.

And, apparently, earning. Remarkably, somewhere in the stratosphere beyond the seminar-room walls, people who I'm not sure showed their faces have figured out how to spin profit from the theorizing of global ethics and sustainability. Move the guards, pull aside the curtains and one of the things you'll be faced with is the rattling of the accounting room.

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