A moment without how or why

“Synaptic plasticity” is one of the contemporary metaphors of the plasticity of nature and culture. In the past, deities were also plastic. Ovid or Apuleius poetically described their « metamorphoses ». Among the Greeks and Latins, Zeus or Jupiter could take all forms. The idea of the plasticity of God is therefore not new. But among Christians, this idea is pushed as far as possible, with the paradoxical form of « kenosis ».

Madness for the Greeks, scandal for the Jews: Christ is a man and he is also God.

He is not the God of the Hosts, but the God in his glory, the Lord on the right hand of the Lord, the Messiah of the end times.

Madness, scandal, is that this God in all his Glory is also a God ignored, humiliated, tortured, mocked, crucified as a stateless slave.

Madness, scandal, is an infinite God, eternal, creator of the worlds, reduced to the state of a human wreck, a pantelante, dying on the wood, in the midst of rotten corpses.

Kenosis, from the Greek kenoein (to empty), reflects this strange idea of the descent to earth of a God emptied of himself and his power.

Who can do more can do less. Hegel did not hesitate to use divine kenosis as a metaphor for a kind of philosophical kenosis. Without fear of any celestial lightning, Hegel put the former at the service of the latter.

Kenosis is a free erasure of divinity in favor of human freedom, and this erasure is part of the divine project. This paradoxical idea of kenosis can also illustrate, according to Hegel, the philosophical process of voluntary self-dispossession, the dispossession of subjectivity.

Divine kenosis signalled the possibility of a space and time of transcendental emptiness. Philosophical kenosis now applies to man himself. Man is no longer a fixed substance, he is a disappearing subject.

To make an image, Hegel multiplies the figures of God’s exit from oneself. The German language is rich in possibilities in this field: Ent-zweiung, Ent-fremdung, Ent-aüsserung. These forms of exteriorization, and even alienation, are not to be taken lightly from a God who fills the world, or who envelops the world with his thoughts and his Word.

By philosophically recycling an eminently theological concept, Hegel wants to « bring to light the kenotic essence of modern subjectivity, » comments Malabou.

Hegel is ready to bend any wood, including cross wood, to support his speculation.

But in what way is « modern subjectivity » kenotic? How does it mimic the divine recess? By its own emptiness?

The emergence of the concept of kenosis on the philosophical level indicates that Christ first became a noetic representation. For Hegel, it represents, it embodies a speculative idea, that of « absolute truth ». « If Christ is to be only an excellent individual, even without sin, and only that, the representation of the speculative idea of absolute truth is denied.

The Christ who died on the cross, descended to the bottom of the abyss, represents « the negativity of God relating to himself ».

God denying himself represents the absolute truth of his own negation. Is this not the figure of a « plastic » God, par excellence?

« Plastic » refers to what can take on a shape, but then resist deformation to a certain extent. In the philosophical context, what is more « plastic » than the mind? νοὖς (noûs), in its passive reception state, is « the sleep of the spirit, which, in power, is everything » says Hegel in his Philosophy of the Mind. Plasticity contaminates everything. If the mind is originally plastic, as its epigenesis shows us, then the very concepts it can express must also be plastic in some way. The mind is characterized by its innate ability to receive forms, but also to give forms. He extends this property to his own form, which he can deform, reform, reform, transform, transform, by epigenesis, by work or by any other appropriate operation.

Thinking, by its very nature, takes itself as an object of thought. This « thought of thought », this noesis noêseos, this notic plasticity, is the philosophical translation of what was originally a primordial neurobiological property. Thinking is a kind of living being, a being independent of the one who thinks it, and who in this own life, takes itself for form and for future transformations. Thinking takes itself and expands itself freely. Hegel uses the word Aufhebung, which can be translated as « divestment ». Aufheben combines the senses of Befreien (to liberate) and Ablegen (to get rid of).

This withdrawal movement is reflexive. It can be applied to itself. There is always the possibility of a succession of the succession, a divestiture of the divestiture. But who is the subject of this second degree succession? Who decides to divest himself of his act of divestment, and to do what with it?

In other words, what can be generated by a moment of true freedom? What can we hope, at best? Another moment of pure freedom, with no connection to any of the above? The establishment of a new causal chain, imposing its own determination until another possible free moment “arrives”, a moment without how or why, and where, for reasons that are not reasons, would another moment of pure freedom follow?

In reality that is a mystery.

The origin of the transcendental

C. Malabou’s Critique of Neurobiological Reason is an anti-Changeux charge. Neurobiology, with its young arrogance, has proceeded to a « capture of metaphysical ideas ». Neuroethics takes on the discourse on the Good, neuro-aesthetics the discourse on the Beautiful. All this may worry the professional philosopher. Neuroscience has become « an instrument of philosophical fragmentation ».

Immediately the image of cluster bombs tearing up bodies in Vietnam comes to mind. We are still going astray, no doubt.

But Malabou hammered the point: « The emergence of neuroscience is a pure and simple threat to freedom – the freedom to think, act, enjoy or create. « It’s a kind of « mental Darwinism ». Epigenesis selects synapses. The size of the brain increases four and a half times after birth. The genesis of the synapses extends to puberty, and during this time education, the family, social and cultural environment, are part of the nervous system. Our brain is therefore largely what we do with it, it results from life itself, day after day, with its hazards, its surprises, and its hazardous wanderings.

So is synapse development determined or not? This is the great philosophical question that runs through the time, symbolized by the battle of the Titans. Einstein versus Planck. The ultimate interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Malabou sums it up: « The object of science has undoubtedly become freedom ».

This debate is actually very old. To stick to the modern, he began with the acrimonious diatribes between Erasmus and Luther. We didn’t get out.

The gene adds a new stone to the concrete of determinism. The content of the DNA is apparently invariant. Hence the idea of code, of program. Mice and humans alike are genetically programmed. But then, how can we account for the surprises observed during the epigenesis, if only the determinism of a code and a program are involved? Epigenetic plasticity raises delicate questions, which the overly simple image of the DNA « program » is unable to address. Changeux proposes to abandon the notion of a genetic program in favour of interaction between cells and « cellular communications ».

But if we leave a simplistic determinism, how far can the field covered by neurobiology go in theory? This field covers a wide field, and extends to society and culture. These are also consequences of the synaptic plasticity of the nerve networks of millions and billions of people. Conversely, societies and cultures favour the epigenesis of brains. An entire research programme could be based on the exploration of the biological foundations of culture. For example, moral judgment would only be the brain’s translation of the neurobiological phenomenon of empathy. Another feature of neurobiological origin specific to humans is the existence of a sensitivity to the « beauty of parsimony ». This trait would be useful to the species because it allows the detection of shapes, groups, ordered distributions. From this, Malabou deducts a conclusion, which brings us closer to our initial question: « Epigenetic freedom appears precisely today as the very origin of the transcendental. »

Epigenesis is the condition of freedom; and freedom is the foundation of the very transcendental idea. Hence this question: freedom, a possible window on transcendence?

The free brain is able to reflect on itself, and to provoke actions and experiences that affect it in return. In the not too distant future, it can be expected that human brains will be able to design and carry out structural modifications on human brains, first experimentally and then on a large scale.

Could we consider changing the level of consciousness, could we awaken men to other forms of experience through neurobiological modifications? The practices of shamans from different periods and different regions of the world during the initiations show us that the ingestion of sacred plants can cause such results. So why not an equivalent with psychotropic drugs, specially sharpened for this purpose?

If there is indeed a « neural man », there are also, iobviously, a social man, a cultural man, a spiritual man, who cannot be reduced to heaps of genes and neurons. There is also a free man, — a critical man, who can and must exercise his mind in order to « freely criticize » the conditions of his own evolution, be it material, neural and perhaps psychological.

Fragment Metaphysics and Survival Theory

To think of the great totalities, to imagine the « hyper-objects », we must no longer try to develop universal machines à la Hegel.

It is better, more modestly, to favour clues, traces, fossils, waste of all kinds, rejects that are so revealing, such as radioactive residues that made it possible to geologically date the beginning of the Anthropocene, or the micro-plastics that now line the bottom of the Marianas pit or the seagull’s mouth.

To try to think of the Whole (of which we have no idea) we must start by collecting its fragments.

The fragments are perhaps the most sincere manifestations of a totality that they do not even suspect, but which they testify to, by presenting themselves without pomp, in their derision, their nudity and their truth.

The fragment is short. In short, it summarizes the agonizing totalities.

The very idea of fragmented thoughts, or fragments of consciousness, seems to me to be a good introduction to a vision of the world capable of representing both (systemically) everything that penetrates deeply into the furrows of the earth, everything that amalgamates with the layers of dead corals and shells sprayed on the bottom of the oceans, everything rises in soft effluences towards cumulonimbus haloed with toxins, and even towards the geostationary layer, which is about to be saturated with satellite micro-fragments.

The idea of the fragment is powerful, promising, because it applies well to the being of modern man, and even to its essence.

If God is « one » as the so-called monotheistic religions hammer with obstinacy, it is because Man is not one, nor is the world.

If Man is not « one », it is because he is diverse, multiple, divided, mixed, indefinite, mixed, in a word, « fragmented ».

But then, from a theological-political point of view, a new question arises.

It is not an insult to Judaism or Christianity, two religions both based on the belief in the Messiah (in his coming soon for the former, in his apocalyptic return for the latter), to propose this experience of thought: if the Messiah finally arrived (or returned) on Earth, what could he « save »?

If God is « one » – and if some « Messiah », through Him delegate, condescended to come down one day to save what is « savable » in Man – what in this indistinct mass, composing each man, made of myriads of fragments, could be « savable »?

Modern philosophers are perfectly clear on this subject, of course. It’s been a long time since they buried metaphysics and all that follows. It is therefore useless to seek lights in their decreed darkness, after the Lights.

We have to rely on our own, and weak, forces.

I see three main lines of thought to try to answer the question of what is potentially « savable » in Man.

1. The diachronic track.

The multiplicity of the person can be revealed in different times. Will we be dying what we were foetuses? What we revealed in the bright flower of youth, what trace do we still keep in the shadows of old age? If our life is a millefeuille, what are the best crumbs?

2. The synchronic track.

At any moment of his life, the person is made up of intertwined multiplicities. She is all at the same time but to varying degrees, brain and sex, soul and pancreas, heart and lung, interacting with herself. According to infinitely varied plans, the ulcer affects reason, the hormone desire, the rise of blood accompanies the descent of meaning, the rise of the spirit follows the intoxication of sounds, the implacable darkness of memory fraternizes with the expanded vision of hope, the glow of the lower sun seems in phase with the rising moon of the coming consciousness….

Of all this, what will the (putative) Messiah remember?

If death cuts Man off from his memories, his passions, his dreams, his pluralities, what does he bring to the One « savior »? It is possible that in a lifetime, only a few fragments, rare, unique, blessed, of which we may not even be aware at all, will be considered worthy of « saving ».

There are other metaphors to say it. How many crushed petals for the precious ointment? How many bunches of grapes crushed for the nectar to be born? And if Man is not only a vine or a profuse nature, but a fragment of infinity, the Messiah will grasp with a steady hand, in the chaos of lives, a moment of light, a sincere breath, a whole spark.

3. The dialogical track

There is still one possibility open. The one of defining the « I » through the « You » encountered. Everyone is reflected in the millions of living fragments they have given or received in return. One could imagine a man’s life as the sum of his encounters with what he is not, and his relationships with whom he is not. But it is what he is not and all those who are not that give him the strength and energy to become what he could not have been, if he had not, like a basalt mountain, felt the immense flow of slow lava flowing on his skin from the depths of the Earth.

Diachronic, synchronic, dialogical, Man is all this and more.

It is essentially birth and evanescence.

It is only from this that great world politics should take into consideration, from now on, to ensure its survival.

Global Governance and Knowledge Societies

Abstract: The global information society tends to create a unified market of formatted exchanges and practices, which do not always take into account the cultural specificities and the special needs of the many “knowledge societies” around the world. It also has to confront the extreme disparities of access to information and knowledge between the industrialized countries and the developing countries, as well as within societies themselves. This inevitably induces the need for fundamental political choices and arbitrages on the goals socially desirable, and a definition of the “global common good”.

The so-called “Information Society” is based on information technologies and the exchange of informational goods, on a worldwide scale. In contrast, “Knowledge Societies” are not technology-driven, but mind-driven; they are not necessarily global in scope, but rather based on distinct cultural, political and economic traits, shaping up specific “epistemic regimes”. An epistemic regime characterizes the cultural, economic, societal role of information and knowledge in a given society. For instance, the epistemic regime of the global information society relies heavily on the merchandizing of information and the development of “intellectual property”, as opposed to the epistemic regimes of, say, the 19th century European universities, which considered as obvious that knowledge was a public property, that academic research should flow freely, and that, to be useful, research had to be useless…

The global information society tends to create a unified, global market of formatted exchanges and practices, while knowledge societies come in much more different cultural flavors, and are a key ingredient for an effective diversity. For instance, the notion of a “knowledge society” is not equivalent to the French “société du savoir”, at least linguistically. The etymology of the word “knowledge” and of the auxiliary verb “can” are closely related, while the etymology of “savoir” is linked to the old Indo-European root sap, “to taste”, whence words like “sapience” or “sapid”. Knowledge points to utility and power, savoir points to theory and contemplation. This is not just a matter of words. It is a matter of thrust, of vision, of ends. It is a matter of shaping up the fundamentals of a society, giving rise to certain hopes, but also generating diverse societal divides. Let’s note in passing that the “educational divide” or the “economic divide” are certainly more important than the “digital divide” to understand what is really going on. For the three billions humans who are still living on less that 2$ a day, or for the two billions humans having no access to electricity, what can be the meaning of expressions such as “information highways”? But who would dare to say that these people have no “knowledge”? They do need crucial knowledge, that they will not find in the arcanes of the “information society”.

Information and knowledge are indeed essential factors of competition, wealth and power at the global level. But they are also sources of growing inequalities. There can be no doubt that the emergence of an information society, at very different rates in different parts of the world, arouses great hopes. It is possible to go so far as to speak of a revolution comparable to the invention of the alphabet or printing. A new culture is emerging, based on symbols, codes, models, programs, formal languages, algorithms, virtual representations, mental landscapes, which imply the need for a new “information literacy”. But this revolution has to confront the extreme disparities of access to this new culture and this new literacy between the industrialized countries and the developing countries, as well as within societies themselves.

This educational divide accentuates disparities in development, excluding entire groups and countries from the benefits of information and knowledge. This is giving rise to paradoxical situations where those who have the greatest need of them – disadvantaged groups, rural communities, illiterate populations, or even entire countries – do not have access to the tools which would enable them to become fully fledged members of the information society.

One cannot compare knowledge and information to other commodities. Knowledge and information have very specific properties, very different from the material outputs of the industrial model. Knowledge and information possess a specific characteristic that economists refer to as “non-rivalry in use”, and that is also a characteristic of “public goods”. As a contrast to material goods, information can be shared with the whole world at almost no marginal cost. Some see in the Internet the lineaments of a new social architecture – more democratic, horizontally structured, self-organized, anti-hierarchical, open and interactive. However, the growth of networks will not of itself provide the foundations for knowledge societies. For one thing, while the cost of replicating information and disseminating it can be very low, reproducing knowledge is a far more expensive process, because cognitive capacity is not easy to articulate explicitly and transfer to others, and requires an effective assimilation by individual learners, as well as by the collectivity, which is an inherently slow process, not a technical one but a mental one.

A knowledge society is then not just another instance of the market economy. It inevitably induces the need for fundamental political choices and arbitrages on the goals socially desirable, particularly in order to enhance equitable access to education and knowledge, and to balance with much more refinements the interest of the different stakeholders in matters of “intellectual property”.

In effect there is a political problem, not just a policy one. On the one hand, globalization allows for and benefits from growing returns, snowballing effects and competitive gains, particularly in IT, which in some cases do lead to obvious (and unacceptable) monopolies. This is the “Winner Takes All” effect, at the world level. On the other hand, globalization does not always answer to local needs. This could be called the “Global Winners Local Losers” effect. In other words globalization does allow enormous gains for the global winners, but one can suspect that if no proper action is taken, it aggravates in many ways the situation of local losers.

The crux of the matter is that globalization is tautologically “global” in nature, and hence does not give due consideration to local problems. The “invisible hands” of globalization will not solve the very special needs of local situations. On the contrary, one should be confronted with the fact that an unregulated globalization does aggravate the “Global Divide”.

Here are some examples.

As we know, Internet access disparities are considerable. Although telecom privatization and deregulation have made traditional operations more efficient, they are not a guarantee for local universal access to the Internet. Furthermore, the trans-border nature of telecom industry is more favorable to those who can impose revenue terms because of their advanced technology, high speed Internet backbones and net-concentration. This advantage has allowed few dominating operators to exert pressure on others to shoulder their access costs, making it even more difficult to provide the most basic services in developing countries.

With the mounting pressure to abolish bilaterally negotiated cost sharing arrangements, developing countries will face with an unprecedented burden to maintain their telecommunication systems. The net result of this « rate re-balancing » is that the operators in developing countries will be forced to offset the costs by increasing their local call charges. ISPs in developing countries are normally located in urban centers, hence the dial-up connections to rural areas are already expensive. Secondly, the over-concentration of Internet backbone business in some international hubs3, is an another disadvantage particularly for the ISPs in developing countries, who in most cases must pay the entire costs of two way links. This has led to a situation which is, indeed, in the long run counterproductive to Internet penetration and eventually will prevent many in developing countries from tapping knowledge resources.

What counter-measures are available to developing countries? The issue of strengthening regional peering arrangement and intra-regional networks has to be brought forward to be high in the agendas of regional forums. Serious thought should be given to the possibility to establish high capacity regional backbones to connect each country within a multi-hub global network in which nobody dominates connectivity.

The need for a global regulation

The question of a « public sphere » capable of setting norms for regulating the private and market interests in favor of the global common good, is essential. A recent study (Kaul, 1999) explains why the market forces alone cannot regulate the global public goods, such as universal access to information and education, or access to limited public resources such as the broadcast spectrum. Global public goods cannot be left alone and require enlightened interventions measures by governments and international agreements within a global regulatory system at national and international levels.

The definition of the “global common good” is not self-evident and implies the emergence of a global political representation of a global public opinion. Important social issues (such as basic education, basic health or maintaining peace) belong to the political sphere. We then need some sort of global governance, to help tackle global issues related to the Information Society, including a global taxation system (such as the famous Tobin Tax on all financial transactions proposed by Nobel Prize Laureate James Tobin). Why not imagine a global tax on the use of global public goods such as the frequency spectrum, geo-stationary orbits or the sea-floor used by transoceanic communications cables, to help reducing information access imbalances and fighting global ecological concerns?

Paradoxically, regulation is even more indispensable for the “free market”. As we know, free market is based on “fair competition”. But who can guarantee “fairness”? Who sets the rules and enforces them? This is why the regulators still have a role to play. Fair competition not only calls for forms of regulation such as the U.S. Sherman Antitrust Act or the Treaty of Rome, but cannot live with the hypocrisy of double standards. In effect, there is not (yet) a global antitrust law. If monopolies do threaten “fair competition” provisions in the US or in the EU, there are some possibilities of regional regulation. But no regulatory mechanism on antitrust is available at the world level. WTO or the ECOSOC council of the UN (which is far from being an “economic security council”) have no legislative tool nor political mandate to “regulate” monopolies or oligopolies that would have passed regional antitrust law tests, but could still be very damaging for a worldwide “fair” competition.

Regulators are supposed to incarnate the general interest and the common good. But where are the regulators in charge of the global common good? For instance who is supposed to define the need for “universal access” at the global information age and to ensure its financing? What should be the new “universal access” paradigm? Should it be only based on physical access? Should it include fair telecommunications tariff policies, including adequate subsidization of certain classes of users? Should it also include free access to certain contents, for instance access to all public domain data and governmental information relevant to citizens imbued with their duty of being well informed on all affairs of state and eager to enforce democracy? What should be the minimum level of service for users? Is it possible to cost obligations to the public service mission in a meaningful way?

Problems of interconnection, interoperability of networks and services are also to be regulated as well as fair allocation of resources (access to numbers, availability of radio-frequency spectrum, pricing the spectrum, frequency auctioning, Internet domain names).

Let’s not forget, that in recent years, telecom regulators have been unsuccessful in restraining the anti-competitive behavior of the dominant operators and promoting effective market competition. Today, in nearly all countries, on the major regulatory issues, the big players make pressure to impose their views. The public telecom operators (PTOs) often represent a bottleneck that can slow down or even stop improvements, especially in new service development. If policy makers and regulators adopt a hands-off or laissez-faire position on the issue of competition, most telecom customers run a risk of being served in a marketplace with a competition policy but few real competitive options. This is why a really competitive (and fair) market needs strong public policies.

This is even truer for developing countries, notwithstanding the compelling ideology of deregulation. Developing countries have been strongly invited to opt for American or European models of deregulation. That is to say general deregulation plus heavy regulation on the incumbent operator to ensure that new operators (often mobile) are able to gain market share. But in developing countries the situation should be reversed. New entrant mobile operators have heavy financial and technical backing from their non-national partners (often very powerful global oligopolies, themselves limited on their own turf by antitrust laws). Whereas, the incumbent operator has no such support and therefore the regulations should be reversed to protect the incumbent from the new entrant. This is often complicated by the fact that any universal access provision is applied to the incumbent whilst the new entrant is given time to build his network and gain market share.

In other words, there is not one regulation model but many. There are many sorts of “knowledge societies” under the sun.

An equally important regulatory issue is the access to knowledge content. There is undoubtedly a market-driven trend to merchandise information and knowledge. The knowledge base for the knowledge economy is being developed largely through publicly funded ventures such as universities and research grants, while the exploitation of knowledge to produce products has become mainly a concern of private industry. While it is true that industries increasingly do their own product research, it is also true that the publicly funded institutions produce the researchers, and publicly funded academic institutes continue to be a fountain of knowledge. Then who should own the knowledge? Shouldn’t there be an arrangement to ensure that all research grants of public funds are issued on the condition that research information is made available for fair use, on a non-exclusive basis? The principles of free access to information in the public domain will have to be defined and promoted.

Current law and practice generally concept allow “fair use” of published information for research, study, reviewing and reporting. Access to knowledge resources on the Net, if ethically applied, can be seen as an application or a corollary to this fair use principle. But the “fair use” concept is more and more threatened. The most forceful counter-arguments to extending the concept of fair use to the electronic domain come from publishers. This reflects the tension between access and ownership. The analogous printed materials are browsed either in a library or a bookshop, hence they are less vulnerable to copyright infringements. But electronic text available in the Internet is not only storable but also can be duplicated and re-distributed at will. Therefore, pressure is mounting from publishers to tighten copyright laws and to make browsing on screen and sharing them through networks without permission, illegal. Policing of such tightened laws will be problematic with the difficulties of proving how and where the material is obtained and with ample opportunities to make changes to electronic text. In extreme cases some preventive technological solutions such as disabling of printing can be applied. However, it would seem more fruitful to expand the definitions of « fair use » and to inculcate « info-ethics » principles of respect for legitimate intellectual property.

Another, perhaps even more important strategy for development of knowledge resources is to increase the volume of public domain information available on the Internet. To this effect the governments and publicly funded institutes such as universities should be equipped and obliged to make their information available in public domain. The global public domain of information should be freely available, at no cost, to everybody, while being protected by “copyleft” legal regime against predators.

Finally, one should consider with the utmost attention the actual trend to broaden patentability. Through the patenting of software, all intellectual methods may be patented in the future4. In the US, for instance one can already patent business methods or even learning methods. This intellectual land grab could have disastrous consequences on the access to knowledge, on education and on fair competition. There is a need to start a complete re-foundation of the intellectual property rights global framework taking into account the fast changing balances. Until now, we have witnessed a continuous and relatively unchallenged international move in strengthening IPR laws. It is time to open a very wide international democratic debate on the very goals that should be socially pursued in terms of intellectual property. It is a philosophical and political debate that should not be obstructed by mere juridical constructions, and should be conducted out of reach of vested interests, in order to search for the “global common good”. For instance the viewpoint of developing countries regarding access to knowledge should be particularly taken into consideration if we are serious about bridging the gap between info rich and info poor.

An education society

Global markets without people capable of creating, and effectively “using” (or “tasting”) knowledge are unsustainable. With the advent of the knowledge society the opportunities for life-long education will become the most important requirement for our future. Education systems with their traditional approach of fixed courses to make us ready for our adult careers will no longer suffice to meet the demands of knowledge society and economy. Therefore people will have to have more avenues to obtain continuing formal education at various stages of their careers. A lifelong education society should provide facilities and opportunities for lifelong education along with the required level of ICT support. Telecommunication and ISP operators could assist these efforts and promote the development of their own future markets by establishing concessionary rates for Internet access in schools, academic institutes and public libraries.

In a wider sense, the national policies to promote public domain information and to ensure that they provide information and applications to improve education, health, environment and government functions should be considered as a priority. The availability of public domain and other heritage information is an indispensable investment in education and therefore in the development of a knowledge society for all.

The importance of the “public sphere” for education is central to ensure re-usability of contents, methods and tools, interoperability of services, quality, multilingualism, and harmonization of curricula. Educational systems and other public service organizations will have to work closely with industrial concerns to develop standards which are flexible, open, freely available, and meet the needs of both industrialized and developing countries. It is clear that the international community, including UNESCO, has a special role in promoting and guiding this process.

Education must no longer be seen as a period of learning limited in time but as a process to be pursued throughout one’s existence. The learning career today extends over a whole lifetime. Lifelong education for all is not, then, simply the addition of initial education and continuing education: it presupposes the development of a “learning society”. From this standpoint, we need to redefine the role, missions, profile and functioning of the universities. Universities, if they don’t adapt, are virtually dead. But if they succeed in this mutation, they will regain an essential centrality in our societies. Universities must break free from the ivory tower syndrome, become a local development resource and a center for lifelong education and open up to the world of work.

UNESCO’s mandate includes education, science, culture and communication. Its constitution stresses the need for education for all, the free exchange of ideas and knowledge, the spread of culture, the co-operation among the nations in all branches of intellectual activity, including the international exchange of persons active in the fields of education, science and culture, the exchange of publications, and the initiation of methods of international co-operation calculated to give the people of all countries access to the printed and published materials produced by any of them. This mandate, conceived right after WWII, is indeed still at the heart of the emerging knowledge society. UNESCO pursues four main objectives within this framework:

-Agreeing on common principles for the construction of knowledge societies;

-Enhancing learning opportunities through access to diversified contents and delivery systems;

-Strengthening capacities for scientific research, information-sharing and cultural creations;

-Promoting the use of ICTs for capacity-building, governance and social participation including empowering women and youth.

To accomplish these objectives, the most important factor of success is the political will. In other words, we also need a political and legal globalization to help “govern” it. The technological and economic globalization imposes as well the need for a “world rule of law”, and a political definition of the global common good to guide the elaboration of this world rule of law. But in order to avoid the risk of a world Leviathan, or of some sort of tyrannical and global Titan, this also implies to take into account the cultural specificities of the many “knowledge societies” around the world. It is an urgent task that will be possible only through the rise of a global civil society, fully conscious of its historical and political role.

Selected bibliography

J. Baudrillard, 2000, “ Vers une société de l’immatériel ”, Les Clés du XXIe siècle, UNESCO/Éd. du Seuil.

D. Bell, 1976, The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, NY, Basic

M. Castells, 2000, “ Information, réseaux, identités ”,Les Clés du XXIe siècle, UNESCO/Éd. du Seuil.

R. Debray, 1997, Transmettre, Odile Jacob.

R. Debray, 2000, Introduction à la médiologie, PUF.

D. De Kerckhove, 1999, “ The impact of new information and communication technologies on culture(s) ”.

J. Derrida, 2001, Papier machine, Galilée.

D. Frau-Meigs, 2002, Médiamorphoses américaines, Economica

M. Guillaume, 1999, L’empire des réseaux, Descartes & Cie.

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