On June 15th 1215, King John of England met a rebellious group of English barons in a meadow by the Thames to discuss peace terms in an effort to avert civil war. Deeply unpopular and his kingdom in turmoil, the king wasted little time in agreeing to the barons’ terms and affixing his royal seal to their Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of the Liberties) – or Magna Carta as it later became known.
The Magna Carta was written by Stephen Langton, the then Archbishop of Canterbury to create a better deal for the church and royal subjects. It enshrined things like church rights, basic civil liberties, respect for property rights, a fairer taxation system, and – perhaps most significantly – an end to royal impunity from the rule of law. This was especially welcome in a time when the royals were essentially omnipotent despots who murdered, pillaged and taxed their subjects at will.
Although the document did not ultimately prevent civil war and was re-drafted many times before being entered into the statute, its fundamentals have historically stood as the founding cornerstone of democracy and human rights that we know today.
Even though much has changed in the world since medieval times, it’s quite surprising also how little has changed. We still have a virtually untouchable ruling elite, who can buy influence or legal defence to avoid being accountable to the law. We still have unfair ‘taxation’ in the form of high costs of basic food and shelter. We still have poor human rights – not just in tyrannical regimes – but in all so-called ‘free market’ countries where the labour system begets poverty and the coercion of people into lives they would not otherwise choose just to afford a modest level of survival.
Obviously things have improved dramatically in the last eight hundred years, but shouldn’t we have evolved by now beyond this absurd oligarchy-supervised fight for survival – given the extraordinary technological advances of the last two hundred years?
And, considering the critical damage inflicted on our environment in the race for profit, our insane rate of resource consumption, and an inequality gap that continues to grow and grow, isn’t it time we started doing things radically differently?
Is it perhaps time for a new Magna Carta, fit for the 21st century?
I certainly think so. So I wrote one.
The Free World Charter is a very short document that seeks to re-organise human priorities away from the imaginary divisions that breed conflict and waste, and move towards optimal group outcomes within our shared physical reality. No matter whose ideology we subscribe to, or what icon we worship, our highest priority must be to that which sustains us and our shared future on this planet.
Among the Charter’s ten principles, perhaps the most noteworthy social division it seeks to address is that of the market economy itself, where the sixth principle states:
6. Our community provides for all its members the necessities of a healthy, fulfilling and sustainable life, freely and without obligation.
As counter-intuitive as a society without money or exchange may sound, there is no longer any logical reason not to do this, and the benefits would be enormous. With minimal combined effort at our current level of technology, we could easily provide for everyone, free up our time spent in unfulfilling jobs, maximise efficiency in all areas of production, work harmoniously with our environment, and create a better quality of life for all species.
So much media hoo-ha is given over to aspirations of peace, equality and unity in the world, yet I have always found it strangely odd how people prefer to continually promote those aspirations rather than question the underlying obstacles to them. Almost everyone you speak to would happily aspire to such a world, yet seem blissfully unaware that it is mostly our market system which prevents it from happening.
Technologically, we have already won the battle for survival. We just need to organise ourselves so all can share in that bounty.
So who am I to write a new Magna Carta, I hear you say? Well, I’m no Archbishop of Canterbury, that’s for sure, but I am someone who cares a lot for our future, our community of species and our planet. So much so that I spent around six months in late 2010 distilling the entire hopes and fears of humanity as I saw them into ten simple, distinct principles.
But who wrote the Charter is not important. What’s important is who endorses it. As of writing, almost sixty thousand people across the world have endorsed the Charter in any one of the twenty-seven languages in which it has been translated.
Thanks to the noble aspirations of the original Magna Carta, we understand that power needs to be in the hands of the people, not the rulers. Today we understand that our shared fortunes on this depleting rock are more important than any of us individually. Technologically, we have already won the battle for survival. We just need to organise ourselves so all can share in that bounty.
As more and more people endorse The Free World Charter, we are edging ever closer to a world beyond rulers, servitude, markets, greed, poverty and waste – into what I hope can some day become humanity’s golden age of enlightenment and freedom.