THE GENERAL ACCOUNT

An account is any area of responsibility, anything for which a person makes account. The stewards of Earth, those who have taken responsibility for its welfare, usually focus their attention on a specific area of responsibility, which they believe in most strongly or can have the greatest impact on. This can be a geographical area or social group, or it can be a particular concern, such as conservation or civil liberties. Specialization is natural and even necessary; but the general account, the responsibility for the whole, must also be addressed.

The mandate for those who hold the general account is to know what others do not know, and do what others cannot do. They must be arbiter and advocate, mininstrant and guardian. They must hold accountable themselves and others with regard to all things. They must see the world as an integral whole, and deal with it as such. Specialists deal only with parts; the analysis of the whole into parts is a task for the generalist, as is the synthesis of the efforts of specialists back into an integral whole. The generalist can facilitate the work of specialists in other ways as well, especially through communication.

But the ultimate reason for the general account is the ethic of stewardship itself. The steward has limited powers, but not limited responsibility. It will never view a problem in the world as belonging solely to someone else. The whole should be the concern of all.

O.T. Ford, steward of general account

Generalism in world studies

Interdisciplinary study is best understood as the assembly of a new and unitary field of study across the established lines of two or more existing fields. It needn‚@Yt be new to the world to become necessary, merely unrepresented in a particular institution. The interdisciplinary approach is available as an option to those who have multiple interests and desire to study all of them; and while this characteristic certainly applies to me, such an issue is best resolved by the addition of majors or minors to an established field of study. My own past formal and informal study have been the assembly of a unitary field of study across the established lines of all existing fields, in principle and as much as possible in practice; and it is my intention informally and my desire formally to continue this study as a deliberate policy.

There is, unfortunately, no international guild of generalists to promote and nurture this discipline, no recognized market for it, and few institutions that teach it as a matter of principle. There is at least one notable area in which it is practiced, namely government at the sovereign level. The democracies of the world typically have several hundred elected magistrates empowered to determine general social policy, both internally and with respect to other states in the world (a government in a democracy being nothing more than a tool for the exercise of the collective social will). These magistrates, despite their portfolios, usually excel only in a few key areas, such as public speaking, fundraising, and electoral strategy (including the increasingly-valuable art of determining social will, mainly through polling), none of which I would criticize as craft but none of which qualifies a person to make decisions on general social policy. These skills, which I have studied for the last few years, could just as well be applied to the advocacy of general policies arrived at a priori through a study of the world. But that is not much in evidence in my examination of politics here or elsewhere.

The world is an integral whole; the analysis of its many problems and the development of solutions to those problems can only be successfully done through an understanding of that integral whole. Environmentalists and managers of natural resources recognize that human boundaries and borders do not affect the primary subject of their concern; they must also be aware, though, of how human borders affect their ability to safeguard the environment and manage natural resources. The selection of any random state in sub-Saharan Africa will reveal social, ethnic, linguistic, and political issues that cross borders, and many of those issues transcend the idea of borders altogether, being global if not universal. But beyond the need to deal with specific issues on a global level, there is a need to acknowledge the connections among these specific issues. The need for habitat protection across borders may be apparent to a zoologist operating in eastern Africa, but the achievement of such protection requires addressing poverty and economic development, ethnic conflict, the desire for self-determination, democracy, education, and spirituality.

Generalism also has more immediate effects in the study of global problems, and in the development of global policy. A generalist, by knowing the subject as a whole, can facilitate the work of specialists. It will always take a specialist to determine the minutiae of a particular aspect of policy; but it takes a generalist to recognize which specialties are needed, to connect the minutiae into a whole, and even to communicate with the various specialists, since it is in the nature of specialism to be expert in one area to the inevitable exclusion of most others.

An area that I have come perhaps closest to specializing in has been linguistics. But while I have given attention to linguistics as such, particularly phonology and classification, I have given more attention to language directly, studying grammar and vocabulary for five modern and two ancient languages, history and development of dozens of others, nearly all of the world‚@Ys writing systems, and native names across the world. While it is natural that someone with a reformist inclination would proceed from such studies to the construction of an artificial language, this project evolved into the development of a semantic code to be used more as a tool for the understanding of concepts, what the essential units of meaning are, and how they are analyzed and synthesized. As such it has been informed by language and linguistics, semiotics, epistemology, psychology, history, and broader areas of anthropology and sociology. More practical in the field of applied linguistics has been the proposal of reforms to written and spoken language not with the intention of changing any person‚@Ys everyday language, but contributing to a framework of intercultural communication, taking into account not just linguistic and semiotic processes, but also political, social, historical, and psychological processes. Ultimately these, along with the research behind them, have been in the service of political and social ideals and the reforms necessary to achieve those ideals.

Those latter reform proposals have addressed fundamental social rights and responsibilities, electoral and administrative structure, administrative geography, and a broad set of policies, some of which could be adopted as law but many of which are intended only for voluntary adoption by individuals. Accompanying these prescriptive theses are descriptive theses on society, politics, history, economics, psychology, semiotics, and other elements of a comprehensive theory; and while such a project may seem laughingly broad, it must at least be conceded that isolated theories are useless if they cannot ultimately be linked to comprehensive theory, and are more readily verified if they can.

The first issue that needs to be addressed at this stage is generalism itself, a discussion of the nature and application of the approach in world affairs. The last term is crucial, because the world cannot be seen solely as international affairs or relations, as defined by the interactions of sovereign states, equivalent to history as defined by kings and presidents. Twentieth-century Africa provides, as suggested earlier, many examples where specialist knowledge is insufficient to dealing with social or political or even environmental issues. Power politics, internal social movements, interstate cooperation and conflict, the global economy, the state of education, and climatic trends all affect agricultural production, habitat-conservation efforts, and economic development, which in turn affect all of the former, including even climatic trends, dependent on the actual state of the land, and eventually the global economy. Literacy and numeracy among children in Siberia affect whether they can function in the internet society, which will affect the use of Siberia‚@Ys vast natural resources, which can determine the course of a world recession, the policies and composition of the Russian government, whether fish live in Lake Baikal, and, of course, the health and welfare of the children themselves.

It is possible, in more words than I have used here, to demonstrate the value of a broad understanding of the world, its history, its culture, its material processes, and its present state, for the development of theory and policy at the global level. I am inclined to find its value self-evident; but those giving advice to decision-makers at the global level are still largely specialists, and the decision-making itself could, to understate the case, be improved.

 

Of The Ford