Will we be able to achieve global peace?
The ideal of world peace is taking on a form and substance that no one could have imagined ten years ago. Obstacles that had long seemed insurmountable have fallen in humanity’s way; seemingly irreconcilable conflicts began to yield to processes of consultation and resolution; the will to counter military aggression through unified international action is gaining ground. The effect was to awaken in the masses of humanity and in many world leaders a hope for the future of the planet that had almost died out.
All over the world, huge intellectual and spiritual energies are trying to make their way, energies whose increasing pressure is directly proportional to the frustrations of the past decades. Signs are multiplying everywhere that the peoples of the earth want to end the conflicts, suffering and devastation from which no country is now immune. These emerging impulses for change must be harnessed and directed towards overcoming the last barriers to the realization of the ancient dream of global peace. The effort of will that this task requires cannot be evoked by mere calls to action against the myriad evils that afflict society. It must be stimulated by a vision of human prosperity in the truest sense of the word, by an awareness of the possibilities of material and spiritual well-being that are now within reach. It must also benefit all the inhabitants of the planet without discrimination, without imposing conditions alien to the fundamental objectives of such a reorganization of human affairs.
History has so far documented the experience of tribes, cultures, social classes and nations. With the material unification of the planet in this century and the recognition of the interdependence of all who inhabit it, the history of humanity as one people is about to begin. The long and slow civilization of the human character has been a sporadic development, and, as everyone admits, unequal in the material benefits it has conferred. However, endowed with all the wealth of genetic and cultural variety that has developed over past ages, Earth’s inhabitants are now challenged to draw on their collective heritage to consciously and systematically take on the task of designing their own future.
It is delusional to suppose that we can formulate a vision of the next stage of civilizational progress without a thorough rethinking of the attitudes and assumptions on which conceptions of social and economic development are currently based. Clearly, such a rethink will need to address practical issues related to political direction, resource use, planning procedures, implementation methodologies and organization. But fundamental questions will soon arise, related to the long-term goals to be pursued, the social structures needed, the implications of certain principles of social justice for development, and the nature and role of knowledge in bringing about permanent change. Indeed, this reexamination will be forced to seek a broad consensus in understanding human nature itself.
All these conceptual and practical aspects can be discussed towards the problem of a global development strategy. Namely, prevailing beliefs about the nature and purpose of the development process. The assumptions underlying most current development planning are essentially materialistic. In other words, the purpose of development is defined in terms of the successful promotion in all societies of those means of obtaining material well-being which, through trial and error, have come to characterize certain regions of the world. In reality, something is changing in the development discourse to accommodate the diversity of cultures and political systems and in response to the alarming dangers created by environmental degradation. But the basic materialist assumptions remain essentially unchallenged. Nowadays, it is no longer possible to believe that the conceptions of social and economic development that gave rise to the materialistic view of life are capable of meeting the needs of humanity. Optimistic predictions about the changes it was supposed to bring about have faded into the widening chasm that separates the relatively declining standard of living of a tiny minority from the poverty that afflicts the vast majority of the world’s population. This economic crisis, which we are experiencing at its onset, without precedent, together with the social disorganization that contributed to its generation, reflects a serious conceptual error regarding human nature. Indeed, the level of reaction provoked in human beings by the stimuli of the dominant order is not only insufficient, but seems almost insignificant in the face of world events. This shows that if the development of society does not find a goal that transcends the mere improvement of material conditions, even these goals will not be achieved. This purpose must be sought in the spiritual dimensions and motivations of life, which transcend an ever-changing economic landscape and the artificially imposed division of human societies into “developed” and “developing.”
If the purpose of development is redefined, it also becomes necessary to re-examine the assumptions regarding the correct role of the actors in this process. The crucial role of government at all levels needs no further explanation. But future generations will find it almost incomprehensible that, in an age that pays tribute to egalitarian philosophy and related democratic principles, development planning can regard the human masses essentially as beneficiaries of the benefits of aid and education. Although the concept of participation is accepted in principle, the decision-making possibilities left to the majority of the world’s peoples are at best secondary, limited to a series of options formulated by bodies to which they have no access, and conditioned by objectives often irreconcilable with the perception them on reality. This approach is implicitly, if not explicitly, approved even by institutional religions. Dominant religious thought, hampered by paternalistic traditions, seems unable to transform its professed faith in the spiritual dimensions of human nature into a faith in humanity’s collective ability to transcend material conditions.
Such an attitude misses the significance of what is perhaps the most important social phenomenon of our time. While it is true that the governments of the world are trying to build a new world order through the instrument of the United Nations, it is equally true that the peoples of the world are electrified by the same vision. Their response took the form of a sudden flowering of countless social change movements and bodies at local, regional and international levels. Human rights, the advancement of women, the social requirements of sustainable economic development, the overcoming of prejudice, the moral education of children, literacy, basic health care and a host of other very important issues urgently require the patronage of bodies supported by a growing number of people from all over the world. The transformation of the way so many ordinary people are beginning to see themselves, a change that is dramatically sudden in the panorama of the history of civilization, raises fundamental questions about the role assigned to all of humanity in designing the future of the planet.
The basic principle of a strategy that can lead the world’s population to assume responsibility for their collective destiny must be the awareness of the unity of humanity. Deceptively simple, in human discourse, the notion that humanity constitutes one people fundamentally calls into question how most institutions of contemporary society perform their functions. In the form of the antagonistic structure of civil government, of the principle of clientelism upon which civil law is largely imprinted, of the glorification of the struggle between classes and other social groups, or of the competitive spirit so prevalent in modern life, conflict is accepted as the main resort of human interaction. It represents an additional expression, in social organization, of the materialistic interpretation of life that has been progressively consolidated over the last two centuries.
What applies in the life of the individual has a counterpart in human society. The human species is an organic complex, the spearhead of the evolutionary process. That human consciousness necessarily operates through an infinite variety of individual minds and motivations does not detract from its substantial unity. Indeed, it is precisely the intrinsic diversity that distinguishes unity from homogeneity or uniformity. Clearly, the progress of the race has not come at the expense of human individuality. As social organization increased, so did the possibility of expressing the latent capacities in every human being. Since there is a reciprocal relationship between the individual and society, the transformation needed today must take place simultaneously in human consciousness and in the structure of social institutions. A global development strategy can find its purpose in the opportunities offered by this dual process of change. At this crucial moment in history, that goal must be to create lasting foundations upon which a planetary civilization can gradually take shape.
Preparing the foundations of a global civilization requires the creation of laws and institutions that have universal character and authority. This can only begin when the concept of the unity of the human race is fully accepted by decision-makers and when the relevant principles are propagated through the educational systems and the mass media. Beyond this threshold, a process will be set in motion by which the peoples of the world can be engaged in the task of formulating common goals and striving to achieve them. Only such a fundamental reorientation can also protect them from the ancient demons of ethnic and religious conflict. Only by realizing that they are one people will the inhabitants of the earth be able to move away from the conflicting patterns that have dominated social organization in the past and begin to learn the ways of collaboration and reconciliation.