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Turn On, Tune In, Wake Up

A new plan for a televised State of the World Address intends to use mass media to tackle global problems.
by Carter Phipps

Over two centuries ago, when thirteen separate states on the North American continent were struggling to overcome their differences and form a greater union, Federalist and founding father Alexander Hamilton counseled citizens to “think as a nation.” The political and social issues of the day, he felt, could not be addressed appropriately unless America's colonial residents began to think of themselves as parts of a greater whole, with common interests and a common fate. Fast-forward two and a quarter centuries, and much the same could be said of our time. In these days of global uncertainty, 193 nations are facing unprecedented challenges, from globalization to global warming, that are no longer containable within their individual borders.

Luckily, today there are a growing number of innovative projects and initiatives designed to encourage people and governments from Bilbao to Budapest to think about themselves as planetary neighbors whose fates are inextricably linked. For example, there is the well-known State of the World Forum founded by Mikhail Gorbachev and Jim Garrison, the World Future Council proposed by Jakob Von Uexkull, the Club of Budapest founded by Ervin Laszlo, the World Commission on Global Consciousness and Spirituality, and the recently convened World Wisdom Council, just to name a few. Global consciousness, it seems, is getting organized. Well, those keeping track can add one more initiative to the list: the World Address Foundation. The brainchild of Stephen Balkam, an American entrepreneur living in London, the foundation's vision is to provide a global complement to the American president's annual State of the Union address that will be called the State of the World Address. Imagine Bush or Clinton's recent State of the Union addresses and then think global—a few hours of carefully presented programming designed to inform and educate the world population on issues that confront us all, directly or indirectly. For example, what do we do about poverty in Africa? Looming water issues? Nuclear proliferation? Middle East terrorism? The spread of flu epidemics? Don't expect answers, just a forum that can highlight crucial issues and invigorate the creative problem-solving capacity, not just of a nation but of a planet. The current plan is to aim for September 21, 2006, as the date of the first iteration of the World Address. And the foundation, which has already garnered some high-profile supporters, is hoping to enroll several prominent international figures to deliver the speech, which will be televised around the world. They are looking for someone with the stature of “Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Mary Robinson, or the Dalai Lama,” says Balkam.

Inspired by visionaries like Buckminster Fuller and integral philosophies like those of Clare Graves and Ken Wilber, Balkam came up with his idea on the eve of the Iraq War during a long flight to Asia, at that rare moment when “you have read your book, watched a movie, done all of your work, and still have hours left in the flight.” He hopes that a few hours of a World Address—delivered by universally trusted faces, broadcast all over the world, and delving into “where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going as a global body of people”—could provide an extraordinary moment for world consciousness to reflect on itself and see the reality of an interconnected society. Perhaps such an event could begin to tap, as he puts it, the “collective wisdom of the world.”

Hamilton knew it in the late eighteenth century and Balkam knows it today—the future will be decided largely by how we think about it. The World Address Foundation is one more step toward encouraging us to think not as a tribe, ethnic group, religious orientation, or nation-state, but as an integral global society.


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December 2005–February 2006