Book Review of “The SIMPOL Solution”

Simultaneous Policy Shift and Opt-in Global Governance

‘It’s ambitious and provocative. Can it work? Certainly worth a serious try.’ — Noam Chomsky

There is much hype about the singularity, but what about synchronicity? Can we have simple opt-in international principles of policy collaboration and coordination? Can we put in place demonstrably effective meta-governance structures? John Bunzl and Nick Duffell have a simple solution to the world’s problems, if only we could all agree, and at the same time. They call it SIMPOL, for ‘simultaneous policy.’ It is crucial that global policy shifts are coordinated and scheduled together in addition to be aligned.

This book has got me thinking a lot about time, and how little we have left to save the world. The temporal dimension of policy is often neglected, and complexity is often favoured over simplicity. The SIMPOL Solution addresses both complexity and time by drawing our attention to the obvious meta- problems, the need for worldcentric thinking, and simultaneous policy; “a global impasse needs a global solution.”

John and Nick introduce an old Einstein anecdote to illustrate that, given an hour of time to solve a problem, “he’d spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and five minutes solving it.” This highlights the importance of the abstraction that precedes action, but also suggests that we have little time to solve the problem. We actually have less than five minutes, as “the Doomsday Clock now stands at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight” according to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (2017).

For The Abs-Tract Organization (TATO), defining the problem is paramount, and so is building rapid consensus and convergence on the meta-problem that is a greater threat to all humanity than any petty political or ideological conflict. May the singularity also be synchronized via the SIMPOL solution.

Untangling the mess we’re in

It’s About Time

Other temporal terms come to mind: accelerationism (2), speed and politics, quickening, and of course, periodization (vis-a-vis metamodernism). “Thinking takes time, and accelerationism suggests we’re running out of time to think that through, if we haven’t already.” — Nick Land. It is as if we’ve squandered the 55 minutes on trying to fix the problem which was ill-defined in the first place. We don’t have time to argue, as the world goes to hell in a handbasket. Luckily some people have already ‘defined the problem’ and know how to solve it. It’s time to implement it together, because time pressure will force our hand one way or another.

In The SIMPOL Solution, the background of neoliberal competition and corruption (ch.1) sets the stage a “New Context of Governance” (ch.2), detailing the lag time of governance to catch up to its circumstances, and dispelling myths of sovereignty. Getting past blame (ch.3) is difficult, as denial is a key theme in stalling global progress (everyone is dragging their feet). After some discussion on negotiation and identity (ch.4–5), the first half the book nicely concludes its summary of the relevant long-term human history leading to the present crisis, opening up the second half to focus on solutions.

We now come to “A New Thinking Platform” (ch.6), which begins by asking us to heed Einstein’s advice. This conviction for abstraction is something that has been echoed a lot recently by the likes of Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek; we need to think-think-think!; abstract out, get a handle on the meta-problem, on ourselves, on our collective worldview, only then we can solve the crisis. The authors use Beck’s “spiral dynamics” to illustrate levels of thinking and our ascent to more integrated worldviews. This approach is effective, albeit somewhat dated as we move into even more abstract and secular theories of globalization (and metamodernism).

Next, the “Criteria for Worldcentric Political Action” (ch.7) compels the creation of civic consciousness on a global scale (not reducible to acting locally). With this realization has to come some practical form of global citizenship, and the book does a good job of distilling the intellectual preconditions for that. This chapter provides a (10-point) check list for The Simultaneous Policy itself (ch.8). The book closes with “An Evolutionary Perspective” (ch.9) which contextualizes globalization as a natural evolutionary process, urging the collective decision to make cooperation and competition work together “like dance partners.” They also note other books that make a case for the inevitability of global governance, such as the much lauded Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny.

How it Works

All this abstraction is lacking if I don’t have a graphic to supplement it with. Luckily, SIMPOL provides one on the role and function of voters in the grand scheme of things. In national elections, voters should support politicians who adopt the SIMPOL brand, as they can be held accountable to this well defined and principled approach to policy.

SIMPOL isolates the temporal aspect of the problem, and entreats the reader to simply ‘sign off’ on a global civilly coordinated policy shift. Time/ synchronization is of the essence. In general, I like this idea of having an ideal platform, and then only supporting the politicians who can live up to it. SIMPOL encourages citizen action, but wouldn’t it be great if leaders already in power had the courage to act on these beliefs publicaly, which they already hold, instead of being surreptitious about it?

p. 164, The SIMPOL Solution

Where SIMPOL is lacking is concrete examples of policies we should already have consensus on, and that it would benefit us to adopt simultaneously. Climate change is the obvious one, which they touch on by suggesting a currency transaction tax coupled with a climate agreement. Drugs is another major issue. TATO is one think tank, as well as The International Drug Policy Project (IDPP) at LSE, that advocates the end of prohibition and the legalization of drugs worldwide. This is one issue which, if you are up to speed with the consensus and urgency of it, would have dramatic benefits from simultaneous enaction. One could only hope that demilitarization would be in the top five, along with Universal Basic Income, and universal health care.

The SIMPOL Solution is like a policy pledge to close the global governance gap. The term pledge is key, similar to the investment concept of ‘threshold pledge’ where nobody risks anything until the quota is met. The authors also speak of a governance gap, like a democratic deficit, that could be bridged by a simultaneous policy. In short, the book and concept is a vital contribution to the metamodern zeitgeist; a chrono-sensitive call to action in fast times restrained by slow politics. The SIMPOL Solution is soon to be published in US markets by Prometheus Books.

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