Sunday, March 19, 2006

A life to benefit all

Some thoughts on the survival of humanity beyond our time


The resolutions needed to achieve welfare for all and sustainability across our planet at the same time should not be extensive or especially restrictive. More over, they should essentially encourage humans – and not cage them – to be productive in their best possible way, to their own benefit but not less to the benefit of the community of which they are part.

Secondly they should encourage a human enjoyment of life far less determined by individual material consumption and possession, and far more determined by the equilibrium between our material needs and the capacity for regeneration of our consumption. We cannot sustain life, nor can we effectively contribute to the prosperity of all mankind, if we allow ourselves to be simply driven by the laws of supply and demand, whether at the level of consumer markets or at the level of labour markets.

Human life primarily geared towards the well being – and continuity - of all does not by definition go against the principles of a society based on individual choice and political freedom. Nevertheless it should serve as a countervailing value – or countervailing purpose. The degree to which we contribute to the purpose of our community – which ever its scale - most certainly should have a bearing on our actual individual benefits. Individual efforts should make a difference – to all, and to ‘self’.

If anything the western world, i.e. if it desires to continue its level of welfare and its potential for future welfare creation, should embark upon a conscious program aiming at equilibrium in terms of its use and regeneration of resources, both ‘at home’ and in the rest of the world. We should redress our current claims on the resources of other parts of the world in as much as we cannot effectively secure its regeneration capacity.

Secondly the family of nations is in need of a program aimed at the happiness of all human beings living on this planet and at the secured sustainability of life and diversity on our planet over a longer timeframe. There is no reason why we should not apply the wealth of our technology in reaching this objective. However we would still risk an unhappy ending if we were to sit back and simply rely on technology to solve our problems for us.

Humanity has the capability to add new opportunities to its survival and prosperity as a species. We should redress the current process leading to the diminishment of such opportunities.

In this process ‘community’ – i.e. the circle of humans with whom we share our economic and social life – will acquire a new importance but also: new appearances. We have progressed from tribal communities to nations, from nation to nation treaties to federations (or unions) between states. At a larger scale we have already experimented with the unity of most of not all nations on our planet. At each of these scales the human society will continue to evolve. But what is most needed in the immediate future is the re-appearance of ‘community’ in our individual lives. It is an economic necessity, it is a political necessity, and it is a necessity immediately derived from our needs as human beings, ranging from the enjoyment of life – and love - to that of ‘purpose’.

In the course of this development we may also bear in mind that whatever we wish for, as a human being, or as a community, is best served if first of all we give – whatever we have to give – before we receive; that contributing to the well being of others, as our prime objective, is much more satisfactory in our own lives than spending all our energy primarily to take, or acquire for the sheer satisfaction of ourselves. If the animal world has already grasped this concept, a fortiori we can expect humanity to grasp it – and enjoy it.

If however, for our happiness and continuity, we continue to rely largely on commercialism, and on capitalism driving it, as the prime force shaping our lives, we will seriously risk destroying it. Indeed we will perish by the force our own selfish desires. But we do not need to abandon commercialism, the force our markets, all together. Nor do we need to install a rigorous dictatorship to plan and execute the production and distribution of goods according to ‘needs’ determined by tyranny or absolutism. We can still foster a world governed by individual responsibility and individual liberty. Political freedom should govern our societies and our human ‘mindset’. In this sense, liberalism can still serve as a legitimate and responsible basis for the government of human communities. But in economic terms this force of individual freedom should primarily be directed to serve the prosperity of all: the continuity of our community or society, which ever is the level at which we are capable of contributing.

One of the dividing lines between the animal world and humanity is how we deal with (and care for) those who are unsuccessful – or incapable of (fully) competing - in the ‘winning game’. In a world based on the prosperity of communities, there should be sufficient incentives for every member of society to contribute, whatever the level and limitation of his (or her) capabilities. Their individual prosperity will continue to be a function of their contribution but in as much as wealth is independent of labour, they should enjoy it in equal measure with their fellow human beings. Individual health and well being as well as individual security will be a function of individual (previous) contribution but also on the total wealth (=added value) created of the community – either at regional level or at nation-state level. In such a system, the employment of labour should be encouraged (through premiums or otherwise) and it should pay towards our social security according to the wealth it creates (not according to the number of individuals employed). There is the possibility for every one to contribute – and to share -, there is no need for any one to be left out or to beg on the streets.

Are we talking about yet another Utopia? Is this another attempt to bring humanity back to its primitive existence in a herd? No I don’t think so.

First of all, we are living in a world which runs the risk of becoming a huge nightmare. We have to substantially refocus our ‘way of life’ in order to avoid such a nightmare. Technology without doubt will play a large part in addressing that risk. It will help us create more efficient and sustainable sources of energy, more efficient means of production – and recycling –, with improved productivity of the natural resources which provide us with food, clothing and other material provisions. Technology will come a long way to help us redress pollution and the pressure on our eco-system. But even if we push these developments to their utmost potential, there remains the fundamental requirement for humanity - the western world in particular - to adjust to the natural limitations of our world – as much as it may continue to enjoy its opportunities.

Secondly, there is a need to construct a new fabric of society to guide, inspire and sustain the human community. We need not necessarily to go back to the classic foundation of the family community or of ‘neighbourhood’. We have the ability to create communities of common interest, of shared skills, professional networks, communities of parents (families). It is conceivable to re-form existing corporations into communities with a broad social and economic function.

How should we look at the emerging competition between the family of nations (representing man the herbivore) and the amalgamate of global corporations (representing man, the predator)? What role should we aim to assign to our democratic institutions – and democracy in its entirety? It is interesting to note that an increasing number of scholars quite independently from one another raise this question and that they do so very much on the basis of their understanding of life’s evolution and the progress of humanity to date – in all its dimensions.

“Management is essential to produce an effective, cooperative planetary society. But our current forms of government are seriously limited in their ability to discover and adapt the management that is needed. If humanity is to fulfil its evolutionary potential, it must discover new and better processes for establishing the various levels of governance. The development of a managed planetary society is not enough. The next great evolutionary challenge for humanity will be to invent a new form of governance that will overcome the serious flaws in our existing processes” (Evolutions Arrow, John Stewart, Australia).

I have taken this citation out of randomly selected documents on the internet, and if anywhere in the world one can read numerous articulations of these shared concerns, it is on the world wide web.

But before the internet can effectively bring us together in a living intellectual community, the existing community of nations – whatever their weaknesses – should already come some way towards a shared view of the world in which we want our future generations to progress and flourish. We don’t need to answer how they do that, as long as they have a chance to do that.

And whether or not we allow our religious (communal) beliefs to have a bearing on the direction we take, the application of our rationality should largely suffice to respond to the call of the entire community of life to make sure it will no perish long before its time by virtue of the most primitive instincts which we carry as a human being: the hunger for more, more, more... It should be possible to make life a happy experience for all if we decide to do with less for ourselves and a little more for the others.


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