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Going Beyond National Soverignty To Stem The Tide Of Perpetual Conflict And Complete Ecological Collapse

By A. K. Merchant

24 May, 2014

As systems of governance in their entirety have become increasingly dysfunctional, international socio-economic and political order requires an entirely new approach and methodology to address the intractable problems confronting nations. The perspective offered by the author is based on his experiences as a social worker that utilizes the spiritual resources of religions as well as the best that secular principles have to offer for building sustainable societies. He is confident, it is still possible to stem the tide of perpetual conflict and complete ecological collapse through a reordering of the present-day structures for the management of our planet.


Events of the most profound significance are taking place in the world. Confusion and panic are widespread and our planet is a state of great turmoil. From Black Sea to Korean peninsula to the Middle East to China Seas and even the Arctic the river of human history is rushing at a bewildering speed. Age-old institutions are collapsing and traditional ways are being forgotten. How shall we address the manifold crises our times? Let’s ponder and reflect, look at the relics of the past, how they never cease to instruct and amaze. See the skeletons of dinosaurs embedded in rock and clay, they had once ruled the earth. See the swords and crown of emperors in dusty museums, they too had once ruled the earth: To what consequence? Things and beings come, play their roles and then their memories too are lost in the sands of time. So what is it that really matters, that will still be there when all things are gone? When kings, emperors, empires, ideologies, the latest technologies too, are all gone? When the memories of the memories of all these are gone? What will still be there? All have perished and disappeared as decreed by the Almighty, nothing remains of them but scattered dust.

Creating sustainable societies that extend from the local to the global level--covering urban and rural areas—will require a fundamental reorientation of both the principles and institutional arrangements related to production and consumption. Initiatives that encourage the creation and distribution of wealth in rural regions and policies that prevent the forces of economic globalization from marginalizing grassroots initiatives deserve particular attention. Promising approaches include strengthening local capacity for technological innovation and fostering respect for the knowledge possessed by a community or culture. Many of the expressions of our times grossly reflect immaturity on the part of the nation-states, as well as individuals, institutions and the civil society at large. Dislocations and disruptions in majority of the countries have become the daily menu of populations, following is a short list: (i) protests leading to rebellion, (ii) love of excessive of freedom in the fight for one's human rights, (iii) skepticism vis-a-vis people in authority, (iv) glorification of individual achievements, (v) and promotion of material pursuits and standards,(vi) consumerism, (vii) destruction of public property, (viii) man-made disasters and what-have-you. Based on spiritual truths contained in holy books of the world’s great religions those who are in leadership positions must guarantee certain universal freedoms, promote universal suffrage, foster sane and legitimate patriotism, encourage the acquisition of wealth through honest means, uphold the principle of property rights, recognize the achievements and sacrifices of individuals who are serving the disadvantaged multitudes.

The horrific experiences of wars in the history of humankind and the resultant two World Wars gave us the League of Nations and the United Nations respectively; the frequency with which world leaders, particularly with the ending of the Cold War and the rise of international terrorism, have met and debated on global issues; the renewed call for a global order that issued from the leaders at the Millennium Summits in 2000; the multiplication of organizations of civil society that focus attention on a variety of international concerns through the operation of an ever-expanding network of activities; the widespread debates on the need for global governance and numerous organized efforts towards world peace; the emergence of international tribunals; the rapid developments in communications technology that have made the planet borderless - these are among the voluminous evidences of an accelerating momentum of a human race desperately seeking to create a new socio-economic Order.

In restoring the value system legislators and law-makers will need to think in terms of curbing the rampant individualism that has come to characterize our culture, and seek instead to nurture the ideals of service and compassion. Unless the judiciary and legal institutions functioning in tandem with other branches of the state are able to reverse the present-day dangerous trends our civilization is doomed to perish. "The principal cause of the suffering, which one can witness wherever one turns, is the corruption of human morals and the prevalence of prejudice, suspicion, hatred and untrustworthiness and selfishness and tyranny among men." The increase in crime, the break-down of the institution of marriage, mental illness, and alcoholism, the dependence upon tranquilizers, the escape from reality into the drug experience, the breakdown of law and order, the corruption of political institutions, and the unethical practices of modern business and industry are all symptomatic of the decomposition of the civilization, as we know it.

There is much more to be learned about both extremes of the poverty-wealth spectrum. The voices and lived experiences of the people--including the poorest--must be heard. Beyond economic variables, for example, a much fuller appreciation must be gained of the social and spiritual resources upon which the masses draw in living their lives. Our understanding of extreme wealth is also incomplete. Given the increasingly global nature of wealth and its extremes, much of this wealth escapes national oversight and management, and is not reflected in government statistics. What are the structures that permit the ongoing existence of extreme wealth? How is it perpetuated by economic and political systems? What kinds of identities and qualities are fostered by its continuing presence? A deeper, more widely held understanding of the implications of the global movements and uses of wealth is needed if the actions of governments and the international community are to advance in an informed and constructive manner.

Today, over 80% of the world's people live in countries where income differentials are widening. While poverty eradication measures have improved living standards in some parts of the world, inequality remains widespread. Numerous and wide-ranging deficits in human well-being are endemic in both poor and rich countries alike. Consider that nearly 800 million adults cannot read or write, two and half billion people lack basic sanitation, nearly half of the world's children live in poverty, and nearly one billion people do not have enough to eat. At the other extreme, a mere thousand or so individuals seem to control nearly six percent of the Gross World Product. These are symptomatic of structural flaws in the economic system and its institutions, and need to be corrected.

A critical dimension of the design and implementation of new economic and institutional frameworks is a world-encompassing trusteeship—the idea that each one of us enters the world as a trust of the whole and, in turn, bears a measure of responsibility for the welfare of all. This principle of trusteeship calls into question the efficacy of present-day expressions of sovereignty. It challenges the ethical basis of loyalties that do not extend beyond the nation state. While multilateralism has strengthened and expanded cooperation among nation states, it has not removed the struggles for power that dominate relations among them. The mere collaboration of self-interested actors in a multilateral enterprise does not ensure favourable outcomes for the comity of nations as a whole. As long as one group of nations perceives its interests in opposition to another, progress will be limited and short-lived.

Trusteeship is a concept equally applicable to many other areas of concern to humanity. Human rights, for example, achieve their highest expression when understood in the context of trusteeship: they come to provide a framework for human relations through which all people have the opportunity to realize their full potential, and all are concerned with ensuring the same for others. The shift to sustainable modes of production and consumption is a further expression of this principle: put simply, to consume more than one's fair share is to deplete the resources needed by others. The principle of trusteeship implies the need for an intergenerational perspective in which the well-being of future generations is taken into account at all levels of decision-making.

Nations that develop such an ethos will prove to be the pillars of a world civilization--a civilization which will be the logical culmination of humanity's community-building efforts over vast stretches of time and geography. Surely, every person has both the right and the responsibility to contribute to this historic and far-reaching, collective enterprise whose goal is nothing less than the peace, prosperity and unity of the entire human family.

Mahatma Gandhi once stated that one cannot create a system that is so good that people do not have to be good. In other words, it is impossible to create a system that is ethically strong without the people involved in it acting from moral principles and this is the raison d'etre of religion. Until we accept that all people, regardless of race, caste, creed, gender, class or national status, are equal members of one human family, each with inalienable rights--and act out of that belief--we are likely to overlook the obscene disparities that now divide humankind along the lines of class, race, caste, creed, religion and nation. Therefore, the real purpose of religion is to promote the acquisition of praiseworthy virtues, betterment of morals and the spiritual development of humankind. Which is the country willing to lead by example? If we look at the top five countries of the Human Development Index - Norway, Canada, Sweden, Finland, United States of America--are these model-nation-state replicable for the countries in the rest of the world.

To act like the beasts of the jungle is unworthy of human beings. For, the virtues that befit human dignity are trustworthiness, forbearance, mercy, compassion and loving-kindness towards all peoples. Therefore, it behoves those spiritually-minded and socially-conscious inhabitants wherever they live in any part of the globe, be they politicians, leaders, scientists, intellectuals, students or just ardent and sincere workers who are passionately striving for the betterment of the world and the well-being all peoples not to fall prey to the doomsday prophets but ever remain hopeful and never give up. Civilization has two essential components, material and spiritual. Both of these have to advance simultaneously if humanity is to achieve prosperity and true happiness. Surely when both these are linked and coordinated it would usher in the coming of age of the entire human race, the advent of that Golden Age sung throughout the ages by seers and sages and poets and foretold in the holy texts of world’s major religions. (1714 words)

The author is General Secretary, The Temple of Understanding—India [a global interfaith association, NGO in consultative status with UN ECOSOC]; National Trustee, Lotus Temple & Bahá'í Community of India; Trustee, Sarvodaya International Trust--Delhi Chapter; Associate Secretary General, Global Warming Reduction Centre; Secretary, Parkash Foundation. Contact: akmerchant@hotmail.com


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