After the release of the statement ‘Who is Writing the Future?’ the Brazilian Bahá’í published 25 essays in Portuguese contributed by philosophers, scientists, theologians, journalists, and politicians in response to the statement and the vision of Bahá’u’lláh.
In 1999 the Bahá’í International Community’s Office of Public Information released the statement Who is Writing the Future?, which offers a reflection on the twentieth century from a Bahá’í perspective. It opens with a description of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies’ commemoration of the centenary of Bahá’u’lláh’s passing , during which one of the deputies asserted that Bahá’u’lláh’s writings constitute, “the most colossal religious work written by the pen of a single man.” The statement comprises five sections on themes central to the development of mankind, including the essentially spiritual nature of life, the need for a social and intellectual evolution, and the creation of a unified global society.
The Brazilian Bahá’í community, wishing to share the document with their fellow citizens, initiated the publication of Quem está escrebendo o futuro? 25 textos para o Século XXI (Who is Writing the Future? 25 Texts for the XXI Century). The book is a compilation of twenty-five essays, in Portuguese, in response to the Bahá’í International Community’s statement and the vision of Bahá’u’lláh. Contributed by philosophers, scientists, theologists, journalists, and politicians, the essays range in topic from “education as resistance to disruptive forces” to “the dangerous crossing to a world republic.” The book is illustrated with twenty-one photographs by internationally known photojournalist Sebastião Salgado.
The book was published as a joint venture between the Bahá’í community of Brazil and Brazilian publishing firm Letraviva, with the authors’ rights to the material being transferred to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
It was released in Rio de Janeiro on 8 December 1999, at a seminar, sponsored partially by United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Ten of the authors sat on panel discussions and offered further views on the book’s themes and ideas to approximately one hundred participants. Canal Futura, a Brazilian cable channel, conducted interviews with the authors, and both the launch of the book and the seminar received coverage in Brazil’s national newspapers.
Following are three essays from the book, translated from the Portuguese.
Labor leader and former federal representative
The invitation to comment on the text Who is Writing the Future? Reflection on the 20th century is extremely disturbing. In addition to the very breadth of the issue, that mocks us as we face the challenge of unveiling it, this is a document whose vigor, depth, universality and synthesis intimidate anyone who attempts to expound on it.
What follows, then, are modest considerations or, perhaps, concerns of a political militant who, at times, strove to raise some issues relating to strategies for the future.
An old Eastern sage says that one of man’s most complex challenges is the act of dissolving old habits and learning new ones. The difficulties of our spirit in adopting new ways to act are, paradoxically, one of the dilemmas of today’s world.
Paradoxical because the century that is now ending has unleashed creative forces unheard-of in the history of humankind but, at the same time, is not showing itself capable of providing adequate answers to old problems – the impoverished state of huge numbers of people, the disproportionate wealth of certain nations and individuals, the ravishment of nature, exacerbated individualism, various forms of fanaticism, etc.
What is even worse, however, is that instead of being mitigated these multiple problems are, on the contrary, expanding and reaching dangerous and unbearable levels – in spite of the vigorous and increasing mastery of our knowledge in the most diverse areas of science and technology.
This seems to be the paradox of the late 20th century: man can master nature, but not his own.
In defining strategies that might countervail the evils that assail the world today, this lag is clearly expressed in the preface of this publication, the text that says:
“The task of delivering humankind [...] requires that we question some of the most deep-rooted assumptions developed in the 20th century regarding what is right and what is wrong.
What are these unquestioned assumptions? The most obvious one is the conviction that unity is a distant, almost unattainable ideal, to be sought only after we have solved – no one knows exactly how – myriad political conflicts, material needs, and injustices.”
This comment raises the crucial issue of developing alternative strategies for the future: the foolishness of believing in the primacy of old formulas and old mindsets, in detriment of the new, whose essence is a concerted effort to create broader and broader social units – an effort based on the concept of Humankind as a vital source.
This is an idea that was in the past evoked by visionaries, but that has become today a real need corroborated by the evidence of facts.
We belong to a privileged generation of politicians who always ardently sought an “utopia”, understood as an expression of a socially necessary and morally justifiable ideal to promote concrete actions and vitalize the spirit.
In our political upbringing, of particular importance was the influence of an internationalist ideal as conceived by a variant of revolutionary Marxism and that might be summed up in the renowned phrase, “The proletariat is without nation” – that is, only within a world-scale socialist organization would it be possible for humankind to shake off the fetters of capitalism and find new bases to build a more just and humane society.
This internationalist ideal pervaded our qualms regarding the future and acted as a kind of strategic focus from which a new institutional, moral and cultural concept might lead to concrete political actions.
The text Who is Writing the Future? raises all these issues once again, but on a higher and deeper tier.
In 1992, I had the privilege of proposing in the House of Representatives a solemn session honoring Bahá’u’lláh. On that occasion, the considerations I made regarding our guest of honor were entirely relevant in terms of the strategies for the Future and I therefore transcribe below an excerpt of my speech in the tribune of the House: “The focal point in the writings of Bahá’u’lláh is the unity of Humankind, expressed in the celebrated phrase: “The Earth is but a country and all human beings are its citizens”.
From this simple sentence derives the most ambitious political project ever conceived: a supranational state, accepted as legitimate by the entire world, endowed with coercive power, expressing the summit of a worldwide organization in which all nations, races and beliefs are united in a single body, free from the warmongering influence of governments and peoples, with its economic resources duly organized and exploited, its markets duly coordinated and developed, and the distribution of products regulated by equitable principles. A federated system of nations, with legislative, executive and judiciary powers on a world level, capable of deploying an international military force but allowing for internal armed forces in each country, organized to maintain and uphold the norms of a new international code based on the principles of mutual cooperation, solidarity between peoples and the protection of humankind.
For Bahá’u’lláh, the great problems of the contemporary world are rooted on social structures and on our value system. A new covenant among nations – setting up new institutions, ordering new and well-defined objective clauses on the rights and obligations of each government, establishing frontiers and limits for each country, and severely limiting and controlling the weapons of each country – must become the supreme effort to which the rulers of the world and the entire human race will dedicate themselves in order to usher a new age for humankind. While this doesn’t happen, according to the prophecies of Bahá’u’lláh, it will be impossible for the world to achieve serenity and humankind will not avoid huge tribulations.
This new world order, prescribed by Bahá’u’lláh as the only remedy for the ills of humankind, does not derive from the belief that men and nations are perfect in their moral behavior or devoid of material interests. It does not seek any homogenization of peoples or individuals; on the contrary, it takes into account ethnic, cultural, language, thought and habit diversities as natural expressions and nurtures the differences in the human species. This new order will in no way conflict with noble and intelligent sentiments of healthy patriotism, but nationalist rage and racial hatred will be definitely abolished.
Thus, the imperatives of a world unified upon new bases will increase the autonomy of countries while avoiding the excesses of an exaggerated centralism.
The principle of the Unity of the Human Species, the central axis of Bahá’u’lláh’s prophetic revelations, is not an emotional appeal to principles of human fraternity, nor a mere idealist proposition, but rather the objective expression of the current stage of humankind – now pleading for an organic unity on the political sphere, seeing that in the realms of economics and communications interdependence must now be taken for granted.
The National State, bulwark of a certain stage in our development, has become exhausted as a means of organizing humankind. National sovereign states must now evolve into a new system that joins them in a worldwide federate body, whereby the concept of “national citizen” is extended to the concept of “citizen of the world”.
An issue that is always raised when one debates these matters, usually expressed as an argument to reject the above-mentioned propositions, runs like this: How can an ordinary citizen participate in the building of something as grandiose as a supranational institution if he or she is far from the decision-making centers and does not even have the minimum necessary knowledge for such an endeavor?
This is a valid objection, albeit badly formulated.
A body politic organized on a worldwide basis is certainly the ultimate expression of the principle of the unity of the human species in its institutional form. Bringing it about must result from a joint decision by the great representative leaderships of all nations and will certainly constitute a synthesis of the multiplicity of efforts in widely varied fields of human activity.
The principle of unity is, above all, a sentiment that, if apprehended by the human spirit – by either logical reasoning, a moral sense, or the evidence of facts –, may swiftly become an active principle. This sentiment may be felt on multiple aspects of our life and it will be in its propagation that we will find the bases to edify the new values and that the new institutions will structure themselves and acquire legitimacy.
When we rebel against all kinds of prejudice – racial, religious, sexual, etc. –, it is the principle of the unity of the human species that pulsates in our heart. When we exalt ecological values to preserve nature as an attitude to be heeded by every individual, regardless of where one lives, it is the feeling of unity that is moving us. The moral indignation of a citizen from another country in face of ethnic prejudices that generate violence (against the citizens of Bosnia, for instance) is a feeling that derives from the same principle. And when this very same citizen demands an international force to sustain military action to defend those citizens, he or she is expressing, in his or her own way, the principle of unity in active form. Likewise, when we agree that a certain tyrant, a former head of state such as Pinochet, should judged by an international court of law we are expressing the same principle.
Thus, the struggle for unity is a manifestation of the will to open up increasingly ample territories in the vast universe of cultural, economic, political and social relations. A manifestation of the will that, at times, expresses a merely bureaucratic view of unity, acknowledging its functional effectiveness, but that, sooner or later, will be adopted by most citizens of the world as a moral imperative.
Whatever the reasons that compel individuals to struggle for unity, and regardless of the importance they attribute to these acts, they will certainly be following the natural course of the future and thereby abbreviating the “time of suffering” of the birth of the new world order.
Another strategic aspect for the future pertains to the type of relationship between people in their collective processes, that is, the form by which people will get together to decide or settle issues within the scope of the social group they belong to – e.g., family, neighborhood association or club of friends – or even within the context of more complex groups, such as the public agencies and corporate enterprises.
According to an old tradition, the most adequate form of working in group is the one based on the principle of verticality, of a superior authority, whereby those who are below usually do nothing but take orders emanated from above – offering, at the most, opinions. This authoritarian method is one of the main factors hindering the liberation of creative potentialities inherent in each individual. Contemporary societies are being deprived of a monumental source of human energy because of a vicious habit intent on perpetuating itself.
Many are becoming aware of this flawed method of human relationship and are proposing other forms. The Worker’s Party [PT] in Brazil, for instance, has pioneered the principle of “Participative Budgeting” as a distinctive element in its program. This social and political mechanism enables us to increase the participation of people in the destinies of their city, encouraging popular organization and, through representation, opening up the decision-making process whereby the use of public money is discussed. Many companies have similar approaches to ensure the participation of all employees in defining products, marketing policies, etc.
However, these extremely propitious initiatives seem to have a major conceptual limitation. In politics, the method of group consultation and participation is understood as an extension of the concept of democracy, a kind of enhanced power sharing (no small feat, actually). In companies, consultation and participation are seen as mere instruments to leverage the organization.
As I see it, the framework for consultation and participation should derive from other premises.
When we speak of direct participation, we are referring to the direct involvement of ordinary citizens in issues that bear upon them – in the places of actual social intercourse. This implies a multitude of places and relationships where human energy is actually concentrated and from where a new creative and transforming force will be bred.
When different individual skills are brought together, the result is more the mere summing up of these skills, for a double-edged operation is set in motion. Firstly, the faculty of perception is enhanced, making for discoveries or understandings of realities that had heretofore remained occult or unknown. In other words, the scope of our knowledge of increasingly complex levels of reality expands and, therefore, we acquire greater control and command over the object of investigation or debate. Secondly, the reciprocal influence between participation and enhanced knowledge turns the consultation method into a dynamic, progressive and proactive factor endowed with synergistic capabilities – quite unlike pyramidal decision structures that are by nature static structures. Thus, it is not hard to imagine the gigantic force that might be extracted from a society if its members were allowed greater freedom of consultation and participation in decision-making processes.
But the most important aspect in the consultation and participation method is that is promotes loyalty and commitment among people, a feat that is achieved when individuals are allowed to understand the meaning of what is right and wrong in the issues they are involved with.
Societies have long forgotten and forsaken an ongoing pursuit of justice as an element to stimulate action and propagate loyalty. The notion of justice has always been associated with formal normative precepts (laws, regulations, etc.) and with the institutions that enforce them – either those pertaining to justice properly (the tribunals) or those of a repressive nature (police stations, for instance). However, although fundamental for progress and civilization, this concept of justice, predominantly associated with concepts of restriction and punishment, does not measure up to of that feeling of “justice” we all have deep within ourselves, telling us what is right and wrong in each concrete experience.
Consultation and participation as elements of interactive processes among people extends and liberates our primal perception of a sense of justice, an attribute inherent in the human spirit that can promote infinitely more powerful forms of commitment and loyalty – and, for this very reason, also capable of stimulating action. That is why I believe it would not be altogether incorrect to state that consultation is, in and by itself, an expression of justice on the simplest operational level. In this manner, paraphrasing Bahá’u’lláh, “If you base yourself on it, you will see with your own eyes, and not of others. And you will know through your own understanding and not through the understanding of your neighbor”.
Considering that the behavioral mien that predominates in collective activities are the spirit of distrust and individualism, one may question if men are prepared to introduce the method of consultation, as outlined above, in their day-to-day matters. This is a cogent doubt and our response to it, as happens with other great issues, will depend on a tremendous educational effort to make people aware of something that exists potentially in their spirit and has an incomparably superior transforming power than other social mechanisms.
The method of consultation and participation, seen from this perspective, is much more than a mere instrument of social action; it is a veritable generative source that forms social units capable of countervailing the dangerous process of social fragmentation that characterizes life in most contemporary societies.
As a last observation on the method of consultation, we must stress that it achieves its maximum strength when individuals participating in collective processes are imbued with feelings of candor, honesty and honorable intentions.
A reflection on the matter of morals is another important aspect in defining the elements that compose a strategy for the future. Any diagnosis of the serious problems we are now facing will come upon a worrisome phenomenon, namely, the increasing fragility of the moral structure of individuals and contemporary societies.
A clue to understand this complex problem may be found in the history of this century’s great ideologies.
Capitalist ideology, always anxious to value individualist traits, has in effect led us to neglect the social dimension as the fundamental goal of moral purpose. In capitalism, social problems are seen not as results of specific policies engendered by those who detain economic and political power, but as anomalies of an abstract entity called “marketplace” – the regulation of which, however, is generally abominated. These psychological mechanisms, on the one hand, dilute responsibilities for social ignominies and, on the other, tend to lead us to see the unemployed more as volunteers for idleness than as casualties of economic policies of exclusion.
In capitalist ideology, the stimulus toward self-sufficiency and individual competition is taken to such extreme degrees that very rarely values that inspire cooperation and solidarity find a space in people’s hearts. But while the sophisticated forms of extolling individual values (which this system is prodigal in creating) may at times camouflage its intrinsic perverse selfishness, in the end they cannot but entangle people in the traps of hypocrisy and guilt.
It is undeniable that the exacerbation of individualism, which seems to be reaching an apogee now, bears close relationship with the increasingly swift social deterioration of our days and with our enormous confusion regarding values such as liberty and mutual respect.
Socialist ideology, in turn, has encouraged people to blame only society for the existing evils and deviations, ignoring individual responsibility and, thus, paving the way for upsurges of authoritarian and arrogant feelings, and stifling emotions such as respect and compassion. All the violence that has been committed to millions of people in the name of socialism will remain indelibly imprinted in our awareness of the 20th century as a tremendous paradox, whereby policies aimed at a supposedly social good transformed the state into a veritable machine of terror.
Overcoming these particular forms of moral vision certainly implies a new strategy for the moral transformation of individuals. In this process, morality is to be understood not as reverence for human virtues but as an operational principle that stimulates action and is valued as a dynamic factor. In this manner, people will feel impelled both toward their own individual progress and toward the implementation of changes in their environment. Thus, we need a dialectics capable of expressing this double objective: from the personal point of view, it must seek to develop the talents and qualities that embellish human beings and that constitute their natural gifts; from the social point of view, it must strive to promote the well-being of the human species, assuming justice and solidarity as essential values of social intercourse among individuals and nations.
Only by availing themselves of strategic long-range supports, including the perspective of educating future generations, will leaderships at all levels, the media and our various institutions be imbued with convictions consistent enough to build a true civilization, providing society with the skills it needs and countervailing the disruptive forces that are being unleashed in the end of this century.
The march of events in the historical stage we are now living in is so vigorous that every gesture and thought, from the most trivial to the most complex, end up disturbing and putting our convictions to the test.
We must seek new paradigms.
For the time being, however, we are unfortunately being swallowed up by the greatest of tragedies: our own banalization.
Theologian, writer and professor at UERJ
When a tree has accomplished its intrinsic potentialities, we say it has attained its climax. It then dies and falls. When people have spent their individual energy supply, they grow old and die. When, over the next ten billion years, the Sun exhausts its stock of hydrogen and, later, of helium, it will become a shining star and die, slowly turning into a white dwarf and, ultimately, a black hole—but having earlier dragged into itself the entire solar system and our own planet Earth. The entire universe and each one of its beings, particularly the organic ones, fall under the law of entropy. They have limited potentialities: one day they will all disappear.
Doesn’t the same happen with social systems? Isn’t our system of social intercourse losing or wasting its potentialities and on the way to dissolution? It is undoubtedly facing a major crisis. The questions is, is it a circumstantial crisis that, once overcome, will usher a new age of prosperity, or is it a structural crisis paving the way for a terminally ill outcome in an ICU?
I adopt the hypothesis that we are in the heart of a structural and terminal crisis. It is structural because it affects every instance, as bacteria taking over an entire organism, producing septicemia and, eventually, death. And it is terminal because it represents the depletion of a paradigm, that is to say, of all energies, all dreams and all strategies that might be able to cope with the system’s own internal contradictions. The system marches irrevocably towards death. Nothing can stop this.
Is it the end of the world, then? Yes and no. Yes, because it represents the end of this kind of world. No, because the world will go on. The end will bring forth the opportunity for a new world to emerge, that is to say, a new civilizing standard capable of providing us with a new meaning to life and all the peoples of the earth with a new horizon of hope for humankind.
This dual perspective of death and life is present in the original Sanskrit meaning of the word crisis. Crisis derives from kir or krl – to cleanse and purify. There is an undeniable affinity between crisis and crucible. The severe process of purification implies death and rebirth: the death of worthless gangue, of aggregates, of contingency; and rebirth of the gist, of essence, of necessity. Whatever is put into the crucible of a crisis, and remains, acquires potential or virtuality of founding a new future. It is a catharsis we are undergoing at the present moment.
Two crises have arisen from our current system of social intercourse, two crises that are unsolvable by the system’s intrinsic resources: the social crisis and the ecological crisis.
The social crisis plots the rich against the poor as never before in the history of humankind. The production process, by using automated technologies, can produce goods and services with extreme swiftness and in an ever-increasing scale. However, these goods are appropriated exclusively by a small elite of nations or by the upper classes of poor, dependent countries. This logic constitutes an immeasurable injustice and a widening ditch between the haves and the have-nots.
There is a very real risk of a bifurcation in humankind. On the one hand, those benefiting from advances in biotechnology who will live on to age 130, surrounded by every kind of amusement and delight; on the other, the great masses condemned to suffer every type of want and deprivation, dying as they have always died, that is, before their time.
It is all the more serious not only because of the perverse abyss between the ones and the others, but also the absolute lack of humanitarian sensitivity. The sense of solidarity and co-responsibility for our neighbors and fellow creatures has become extremely meager. It is in keeping with the logic of the system to exalt the individual, to reward his/her performance and to impose a regime of private appropriation of goods that are produced by the labor of all. This logic inevitably creates inequalities: accumulation on one side, destitution on the other.
Today we are moving from dependence to relinquishment. We relinquish those who are dependent, condemned to being seen and treated as economic and social non-entities. Until when will they accept the verdict of death hanging upon them? We should not discard serious clashes between the North and the South, between those who are inside and those who are outside the reigning system, leading to unheard-of violence and devastation.
The second crisis is ecological. The current consumption-based system is predatory. By extolling maximum consumption of all natural and cultural goods, it submits all limited natural and cultural resources to a systematic process of depredation. The final effect cannot but be the degradation of the quality of life for humans and all other beings of the biotic community. We have assembled a poisoning machine that destroys and kills the air, the land, the water, the living organisms, the ecosystems and the planet itself. How much violence can Earth’s system of dynamic equilibrium withstand? What is the limit of its sustainability – which, once disrupted, may bring disastrous consequences for the biosphere? In addition to being homicides and ethnocides, human beings may well turn out to be ecocides and biocides as well.
The system is like a wolf, whose nature is to devour sheep. It is of no avail to admonish mercy or to file or grind its teeth. Voracity is the wolf’s intrinsic quality and nothing will stop it from being voracious. Such is our current system of social intercourse that was implemented over the last four centuries for all of humankind and that has today achieved worldwide integration. This system lacks any internal value that might lead it to change its course, or of even limit its iniquitous and undesirable effects.
Over the next years, these two crises will give the global system an ultimatum. We are groping our way towards a worst-case scenario. It’s like an airplane about to take off. After it a certain critical point, it can no longer be stopped. If it does not rise in flight, it will crash at the end of the runway. We are currently all smiles, traveling smugly along with our joyful science on the broad highway of history, barely aware that up ahead the end of the line and the abyss await us.
We hear the bells toll. They toll over the world system, today so arrogantly victorious and alienated from the gravity of the disease that has taken hold of it and will lead to its death. Death may come from the two crises mentioned above. It is highly probable that it will stem from the collapse of the world economic and financial system that currently sustains our societies. The truth will surface. But when it does, it will be too late. We will then see productive capital (roughly 35 trillion dollars) breaking away from speculative capital (about 80 to 100 trillion dollars – no one knows for sure). The latter is purely paper and pure simulacrum. In a major crisis, it will undo itself as a soap bubble, with no sustainability whatsoever, tumultuously dragging towards irrevocable disaster millions of people who will perish like flies – while others will seek refuge, surviving in preserved oases and envying those who died before them.
Or perhaps the depurating crisis will arise from ecological havoc. It is not impossible nor improbable that some important link in the Earth’s systemic equilibrium will burst: the regime of climates, seasons, and drinking water might break down; some horrendous contamination of radioactive dejects might spread; the unstoppable decline of human fertility might not stop (as begins to happen in Central Europe); the outbreak of some deadly bacteria might decimate millions and millions of living creatures, humankind included, putting an end to the great adventure of the species homo sapiens et demens – or most of its specimens. The terrific fall of some low-flying meteor is not entirely avoidable, as has happened many times throughout the history of Earth – 67 million years ago just such a piece of flying debris destroyed the greater part of the biosphere and all the dinosaurs. The technical expertise to track an approaching meteorite is still rudimentary.
Conclusion: the desolation of tribulation? Once again, yes and no. Yes, because globalization (particularly in its economic expression: competitive and non-cooperative) has revealed the interdependencies that exist among all of us and the system’s inability to solve humankind’s collective problems and avoid the imminent cataclysm. No, because such a cataclysm might pave the way for a new rearrangement of the Earth and of what is left of our tribes. A new kind of civilization will arise, more benevolent towards life, more integrative of differences, more spiritual and more ecological.
In every conceivable form, we approach the new millenium ashamed of ourselves, of our lust to subdue, attack and destroy everything that is not like us – as so many wars have given witness, most recently those in Iraq and Kosovo. Ashamed of the way we treat our children, millions of whom toil as slaves. Ashamed of how we treat our elderly, abandoned in interminable queues in hospitals and welfare agencies. And ashamed of how we systematically prey upon and trample life on this planet and on the planet itself, as if it were not our only common home.
We are now approaching the dangerous threshold of a purifying Good Friday. But as we have said, it will not be the end of the world. Only the end of this kind of world, worn out in its regenerative capability and lacking in reproductive energy. Another world will ensue. How will it be like? What may grow amidst its ruins?
The whitest lilies grow on the darkest swamps. Amidst the ruins of ancient Mayan cities grow the most luxuriant trees. Something similar will happen with the emerging civilization.
We are swiftly marching towards one single worldwide society – the first of a unified humankind. We’re all arriving there from a long-lasting exile, where we remained insulated in regional cultures in the frontiers of nation-states. We are slowly returning to our common home, Earth, and discovering ourselves as part of the human family. But this phenomenon, that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin saw as the emergence of the noosphere (one mind and one heart united in diversity), must still to enter human consciousness. To achieve this, we must supersede the current civilizing paradigm – a paradigm that atomizes, divides and contraposes – and accept the new one derived from quantum physics, from the new biology, from cosmology, from ecology – in a word, from the sciences of the Earth – capable of relating, including and composing everything with everything else. But this new paradigm can only become hegemonic when the old one and the institutions that support it are dismantled. Then, for the first time, we will witness the collective management of the Earth and the social administration of the demands of the peoples that inhabit the Earth.
After World War I, the League of Nations emerged, the first attempt to collectively think through the political problems of humankind. It failed. World War II gave rise to the United Nations. It lingers on, tottering, until today, wholly incapable of coping with the new challenges for which it was not created.
We are convinced that after the great and cathartic crossing that is to come, there will most certainly be an articulation of peoples and civilizations, rather than of governments. The World Republic will bring about a caring feeling for the Earth and its sons and daughters, and will learn to manage our limited resources so that they may minimally fulfill the needs of all creatures alive today and of all those still to come.
The suffering caused by the collapse of the old world system will convince everyone that it’s not possible to establish a new world covenant founded exclusively on human beings. The Earth, the ecosystems and all creatures must be included in a greater sociocosmic covenant of survival and fraternal intercourse. Such a pact is untenable in a culture that has a single paradigm – a purely rational and material one to boot. The rainbow, symbol of the cosmic alliance between God and the survivors of the Deluge, will act as common reference and inspiration. Diversities will coexist and converge into seeking the common good for all. A new sensitivity is thus required, whose roots are to be found in the logic of the heart and in mutual caring.
This new sensitivity will give rise to a profound spirituality. Human beings will discover that the spiritual dimension is an objective dimension of the cosmos and of each one of us. The dimension of interiority and of each entity’s inherent history. The consciousness that feels itself part of a greater whole, aware of the secret thread interweaves everything, creating an unfathomable dynamic, diverse and converging unit. This living and irradiating guiding thread will be deciphered as God, revealed in our hearts as enthusiasm to live, struggle, create and mould life and nature in accordance with a purpose of wisdom, lovingness and beauty.
This perspective founds a new ethics, erected on two fundamental values. Without these new values – namely, right measure and essential caring – it will be impossible to preserve both life upon our splendorous blue-whitish planet and the planet itself.
The right measure has assured that the living cosmos is still here with us today and we with it. Cultures survive inasmuch as they abide by this principle, known as the Golden Rule. By abandoning it, they become unstructured and die. Our culture is absolutely devoid of measures in every field. Thus the proximity of its dissolution.
And what is the right measure? It is a balance between the more and the less. It is the optimum relative. It is the wisdom to deal with limited resources, both natural and cultural, in such a manner that they might last as long as possible or may be regenerated and reproduced. The sustainability of each being and ecosystem depends on the right measure. It is the right measure that allows us to defy the inexorable law of entropy, the unrestrained wear and tear of all things. Without the right measure, everything ends before it should and dies before its time. With the right measure, everything is prolonged and lives longer.
The first paragraph of the new world constitution will begin with a solemn proclamation of the holy principle of the right measure. Wasn’t it the same with the Greeks and their méden ágan (nothing in excess)? With the Romans and their ne quid nimis (nothing in nimiety)? With the Chinese and their wu-wi and yin-yang (the perfect harmony)? Without the right measure, the planet’s limited resources will not suffice for all – humans and other living beings of nature. The new constitution will not decree: “Thou shalt not consume”; rather, it will state: “Thou shalt consume with solidarity”. It will not say: “Thou shalt not show violence nor the shadowy dimension of human beings”, but rather: “Thou shalt show it in the right measure, in a constructive manner, the pathological as pathological, so that it may be countervailed and cured by health and wholeness.
Without the right measure, the planet will not withstand the increasing rates of consumption. Without the right measure, the peoples of the Earth will not coexist in peace nor will they converge in diversity. Without the right measure, no creative synthesis will be found between the symbolic and the diabolic in human history and in the heart of each one of us. Without the right measure, we will not find the balance between flying upward towards the divine Father/Mother and plunging downward towards the social procurement of our daily bread. Only by joining Our Father and Our Bread will we be able to truly say Amen.
The second founding ethical value of a common future for Earth and humankind is essential caring. To care means to entertain an amorous relationship with reality and with each created being. It is to invest in the heart, in affection, in subjectivity. Things are more than mere things-to-use. They are values we may appreciate, symbols we may decipher. To care means to becoming involved with people and things, paying them due attention, placing ourselves close to them, feeling them within our heart, joining them in communion, valuing them and understanding them in their interiority. Everything for which we care we also love. And we love everything for which we care. When we establish an affectionate bond between ourselves and people and things, we become concerned with them and learn to feel responsibility for them.
As the ancients well taught and as has been repeated by one of the greatest modern philosophers, Martin Heidegger: “the essence of being human is caring”. If human beings are not cared for from the day they are born until the day they die, they will become unstructured, wasting themselves away and finally dying.
More than thinking, loving and creating, humans must know how to care, a prerequisite for every other human expression.
Caring determines the minimum ethos for humankind. Caring is the appropriate ethical attitude towards nature and our common abode, Earth.
Caring will redeem love, life, social intercourse and the Earth. The new millennium will only be ushered in when the ethics of essential caring triumphs. Around the values of right measure and essential caring, there will be woven the social and ecological covenants providing firm bases for the new emerging world society. This new society is suffering labor pains right now, striving to be born in all parts of the world. A little longer, just a little longer, and it will come forth full of life and hope. As the Portuguese poet Camões, we may also say:
“After blustery tempest,
Gloomy night and sibilant wind,
Morning brings forth serene clarity,
Hope of safe port and salvation.”
National coordinator of the PNBE and founder of the Brazilian chapter of the World Business Academy
When I read Who Is Writing the Future?, I was overcome by the pleasant feeling of having been thrust into one of the most beautiful retrospectives of humankind’s history, where grandeur and the ability to redeem more than offset weaknesses and viciousness.
It’s become a common tune in the late 20th century to take the part for whole, the moment for the process, the fact for history, reaction for reflection, the episodic for the rule. Many times our vision is obscured by the hopelessness that the complexity of the world seems almost to imply.
This text, however, affirms the opposite. It focuses on the process that made the 20th century the most challenging chapter in the history of humankind, wherein men and women, in a pendular movement, have oscillated from holocaust to awareness of their unity and interdependence. The civilization that has evolved over the last one hundred years represents a geometric progression of achievements that make the preceding centuries pale, however emblematic they might have been. In this setting, the text is extremely insightful, maintaining that social evolution and technological evolution are actually instruments for the ultimate fulfillment of human consciousness and human potential, and establishing a causal relationship between these two aspects.
If it’s true that humankind’s ultimate achievement is consummated in the maximum expansion of its consciousness and spirituality, together with a deep understanding of the meaning of its journey in this cosmic fragment, it follows then that we’ve never been as close to an unprecedented leap in our comprehension of the meaning of life. The intense flow of events that culminated with the technological revolution has eliminated time-honored concepts of time and space, creating a proximity among individuals and an complicity among peoples which, painful as it is, summons everyone to a new dimension of solidarity. The planet no longer passively accepts the wars and abuses of this or that government. The recent examples in Kosovo and East Timor show that humankind is increasingly alert against authoritarian ventures and the disrespect of human rights. In the case of Kosovo, one could not but notice the concern of allied forces to spare lives in their air raids – paradoxical as this might seem. The so-called surgical war would have been unthinkable a few decades ago.
We are living in extraordinary times that would have seemed miraculous to our forebears. However, side by side with this, human beings cannot dispel the threat of existential emptiness, the absence of values, the fugaciousness of references. Paraphrasing Marshall Berman’s book about the modern experience, “all that is solid melts into air”. In spite of all the revolutions we have made, it seems we’ve reached the threshold of the 21st century without having fulfilled a major transformation: understanding that the attainment of supreme happiness emanates from within ourselves. What approximates human beings to the divine is not their ability to manipulate matter or control Nature, but above all their ability to love. Behind every great transformation perpetrated by humankind, there is a story of faith, persistence and detachment. Heroic or simple feats spring forth from the detached seeking for something one believes is essential. In this century, amidst many horrors, we have also seen Gandhis, Mother Teresas and Mandelas actualizing the destiny of millions and helping them in painful crossings in search of dignity and a meaningful life. This is perhaps the last great challenge for humankind to find redemption from its sufferings in the next century: detachment.
The now-global consumer society conjoins with the technological and communications revolution in a very perverse manner. While notions of space and time disappear, local references, values, cultural traditions and ethics appear to cede to the appeals of glamorized global consumer society. This is nothing new: the consumer society was one of the landmark facts of the 20th century. What is new is the scale in which this is happening. The media try to lead us to believe that only news has value – and, at the same time, that any news is universal. The death of a child becomes a global fact while violence is banalized, exaggerated ad nauseam by the media. What is the logic for this? Sensationalism moves people, vampirizes their energies, assures TV sets are kept on, quantified in ratings that translate simply into greater visibility for advertisers. In the end, advertisers become accomplices to the exploitation of violence, even if their first intention was to promise additional degrees of happiness to spectators who consume their products.
A total change in mindset is called for. We must not mistake the enormous progresses achieved by humankind in the 20th century on the material plane for attainments in the moral, psychic and spiritual plane. We must resume an awareness capable of reflecting on the meaning of life, an awareness that strives to sunder values from material security, prestige from power, by seeking out those who may bring human beings in contact with the perennial philosophy – that which has existed and guided human existence since time immemorial. Our education must concern itself with this philosophy, with learning to think, with the meaning of life, with the interdependence between beings, with the planet’s systemic unity. We need to have citizens functioning in the world aware of their limitations and fascinated by the infinite possibilities of spaceship Earth. We need to stimulate a new solidarity that understands that a fairer distribution of the planet’s wealth and resources is not a charitable action, but a necessity that imposes itself upon future generations. Financial capital will sooner or later be seen as accumulation of wealth on top of misery and, as such, as something not sustainable that will lead to ruin and waste on an unprecedented scale – as the successive crises in Asia, Russia, Mexico and Brazil have shown.
My intention in this article is not to proselytize but simply to alert to the fact that the “century of lights” merely shows us a fascinating course of possibilities: from deliverance from illness to longevity; from mobility throughout the planet to the elimination of distances; from multicultural to intercultural; from a connection between everyone to the integration of the whole. However, these possibilities will be awesome or merely ephemeral depending on how humankind evolves in bringing them about. We must reflect deeply on the role of education and knowledge in building our tomorrow.
Citizens of the world are those who acknowledge as their home any place on Earth, who appreciate diversity for seeing in it infinite manifestations of unity. Because they understand unity, citizens of the world see the indissoluble role of synergic relationships and of interdependence. Citizens of the world perceive the relativity of the individual but know that only through their own identity will they be able to contribute with a mosaic whose richness is directly related to the multiplicity of manifestations. The splendor of the stained glasses in the main nave of the Notre Dame Cathedral is not in the evanescent colors of thousands of tiny fragments, nor in the indefiniteness of their shapes. The standard emanating from the thousands of pieces of glass that scintillate when they refract sunlight leads us to trances of unbelievable beauty. On the other hand, the standard of light and color emanating from Monet’s Water Lilies results from thousands of attempts, expressed in infinite brushstrokes, to reproduce the unique sensation produced by light being reflected in the undulations of water in a small lake in Giverny. The richness of unity is in direct proportion to the richness of the multiples that compose it.
Thus, in the times to come, the more planetary the integration of the human species becomes, the greater will be the need for cultural diversity, for preserving traditions, for cultural identity.
When we reflect on education, we must consider two fundamental aspects: the speed with which information transforms acquired knowledge, and the formation of an individual’s character. This means, in practice, teaching how to learn and stimulating the development of critical and autonomous reasoning skills. Domenico de Masi, the Italian sociologist, says the curriculum of the school of the future will have only three disciplines: mathematics (logic), philosophy (perennial knowledge and cognitive skills) and languages (cultural repertoire and the ability to understand and make oneself understood by others). Thus, while the 21st century heralds stimulating perspectives, it will also be a century during which humankind will have to reinvent itself. Reinventing oneself means an in-depth understanding of our interdependence and our planetary responsibility. Are we prepared for this? Are we intellectually up to this? Are we spiritually evolved for an adequate awareness of what this represents?
I believe the next decades will be marked by a profound revision of education and society. We know that, in spite of numerous advances in technology, the future will not sustain itself if it continues to be based on the unlimited expansion of the consumer society, on the systematic dissolution of humanist values, on the culture of individualism, and on the expansion of extreme poverty and unemployment. It would be painfully ironical if humankind, after struggling for centuries to free itself from barbarism, were now to succumb to it. We will find a way out – and we know it. However, this deliverance can be less or more painful, according to our awareness of what must be done. In my mind, it seems we must use every progress in technology and communications to awaken ourselves for this tomorrow. The media, the entertainment industry and the means of communication in general should, instead of exploiting the darker side of our times and the easy emotions and credulity of citizens, should convey the numerous silent and unseen ways by which millions of people are transforming this planet, day after day, into a better place to live.
Instead of trying to control violence through fear, we should detain for a moment on the causes of violence and demonstrate how to dismantle all forms of savagery in day-to-day actions. Are people who use drugs, for instance, aware of the direct tribute addicts pay to organized violence? We must dispel the built-in fear in sensationalism and nurture positive actions. We must stimulate solidarity as a force of collective transformation. We must give voice to the profound revolution now in course, being carried out by non-governmental organizations and by the tertiary sector. We should stimulate voluntary work as a corollary to the increasing idleness that technology creates through unemployment. We must understand the deep changes in the very meaning of work at the onset of the millennium.
We certainly have much to do, but nothing that we must do is devoid of a greater meaning. Not for one instant should we belittle the transforming role of education in forming the character of individuals. Nor should we ever scorn the incredible resources that technology has now made available. The act of teaching is also that of learning. Thus, teachers must become the new navigators of our age, disclosing the infinite possibilities of this new world and transforming it in a laboratory of integrated learning. Interdependence, unity, equality, life, justice and other concepts indispensable to forming the character of individuals must pervade every nook and cranny where education occurs. And we know education is increasingly occurring everywhere, all the time. Each and every experience has an educational sense and we are all summoned to become apprentices and teachers at the same time. Are we prepared?
The future can be extraordinary. Humankind has not yet awakened to the powers it has developed. Only now we are beginning to perceive the extension of possibilities we have created for our future. Will we be able to think as a unit that is integrated with the planet and its ecosystem, elevating life to its divine condition? The awakening of our consciousness depends on this. We have never been so close to integrating everything in the whole – and, at the same time, never has everything seemed so distant from the whole. Spirituality, planetary consciousness, ethical values, systemic view, detachment and loving care are concepts of ultimate importance that will acquire in the next millennium an enhanced sense of urgency.
Let us enter this fantastic age with an open mind and a peaceful heart. With our eyes focused on the world, let’s get down to work, because everything is still to be done.