The Turn Towards Unity: Converting Crises into Opportunities

8. Cooperative Security
The proliferation of nuclear weapons has undermined the security of all nations. The increasing threat of nuclear terrorism or blackmail threatens the security of all human beings. These weapons should never have been created. At least now they can have no possible raison d’être. They are a disease that must be abolished. How long should any reasonable man take to get rid of a disease when he knows the remedy?

The remedy is simple. It is not to stop Iran from acquiring nukes or to convince North Korea to give up the ones they possess. It is not to persuade Pakistan to stop making more and ensure the security of those they possess. It is for the international community in the name of humanity to declare the production, possession, use or threat of use of these weapons a crime against humanity and to destroy the weapons of mass destruction en masse. And if the UN Security Council will not do it and the General Assembly lacks the power to do it, then it is up to the people of earth – the only conceivable ultimate authority on this or any other issue affecting all human beings – to do it directly. Surely a mechanism can be found to make that possible.

But nuclear weapons are only a sign of the problem, not the problem itself. The real problem is the present paradigm of competitive security in which each nation is responsible for its own security and largely dependent on its own means to secure it. Under this paradigm, each nation is encouraged to acquire the maximum defensive and offensive weapons capability to protect against any possible threat. As a natural consequence, the more successfully one nation enhances its own security, the greater the real or perceived insecurity of other nations and the greater the spur for them to match or excel in preparedness. This competitive paradigm was responsible for the insane escalation of arms production during the Cold War, which still persists today. That is the logic which led to 70,000 nuclear weapons and now sustains $1.6 trillion in global military expenditure, up by 45% in nominal terms since the end of the Cold War. Weren’t we supposed to be safer now?

The only obvious permanent solution is to shift to a cooperative security system open to all nations in which each contributes to and is protected by the overall preparedness of the collective in exchange for renouncing the right to aggression against any other state for any reason. 6 NATO is a working example, but it remains an exclusive club and a perceived threat to countries which are denied entry. The expansion of NATO may make Europe feel safer, but it will also act as a spur to greater military spending by Russia, China, India, Iran, Pakistan and a host of other states left outside its purview. The only permanent solution is a global cooperative security system, which necessitates an effective system of global governance. We have avoided world war for 65 years, but we have yet to secure the peace. That we can only accomplish all together.

9. Law of the Earth and Human Sovereignty
Nuclear weapons are not the only threat to humanity. As the recent nuclear accident at Fukushima illustrates, environmental catastrophes can be equally or more devastating. It matters little to the hundreds of thousands of people who were driven from their homes, many never to return, whether the event was intentional or accidental. The devastation is still equally great. Fortunately for the rest of the world, Japan is an island. If this accident had occurred in Western Europe, the radiation would have respected no national boundaries. If national sovereignty accords each nation the right to decide on the source of power it will generate for its own use, what does it say about the right of neighboring nations to protection from the threat of nuclear contamination from beyond their borders? While regional security may be achieved by cooperation with other nations, global environmental security can only be achieved by cooperation with all nations. It is not the right of nations that is at stake here but the right of humanity as a whole to the global commons.

Environmental problems are not constrained by political boundaries. Of all the threats confronting humanity today, none so clearly and compellingly necessitates concerted global action as that of the environment. Yet this is precisely the field in which cooperation rarely extends beyond the conference table. International environmental law is rudimentary at best. International courts appear reluctant to address ecological issues that require the formulation of new legal principles embracing a universal concept of sovereignty. The very notion of external sovereignty – that the state is not subject to any higher jurisdiction apart from laws and regulations with which it voluntarily complies – is otiose and counter to principles of justice for all humanity. The emperor wears no clothes.

The emergence of common global environmental threats, such as chemical and radioactive pollution, the exhaustion of non-renewable and water resources, and climate change, compels us to accelerate the evolution of international law. Law is the codified public conscience. It presupposes the existence of a collective. International law presupposes the existence of an international community – a community of people as well as states. Social order does not necessitate law. Primitive societies can be sustained on the basis of arbitrary authority, the rule of force and power. Law becomes essential when the rights of the individual are to be safeguarded from arbitrary action. Law emerges in society with the emergence of the individual. Law is conceived and established only when it has gained legitimacy in the minds of those who are governed and when the collective has acquired the capacity for enforcement. Law represents the power of the impersonal collective over the individual, but also the acceptance by the individual of the impersonal authority of the collective internalized in his own mind. Laws that are not recognized and accepted by the minds of those who are governed have no power. Therefore, laws presuppose the mental development and awakening of the individual. What begins as custom and usage evolves over time into codified law. Customs are based on values. Laws come into existence when the customs are accepted by all members of society. The most fundamental premise of law is that each individual’s existence must be in harmony with that of everyone else. The challenge today is for us to embrace shared values with respect to the global commons and the sovereign rights of humanity as a whole.

10. Conscious Evolution
Nature’s evolutionary method is clear. Like other species, humanity evolves largely in response to changing external circumstances. In lower species, the choices that generate that evolution appear to result from a combination of chance mutation and physical necessity. But clearly there is some subconscious urge in all life forms that distinguishes life from inanimate matter – the urge to survive and adapt for self-perpetuation comes from inside.

Human beings differ from the rest in their capacity to make that adaptation conscious. Humanity confronts problems, challenges, crises and catastrophes, because our knowledge is insufficient and our actions are often detrimental to our own survival and progress. Nature confronts us with our limitations so that we can consciously evolve more adaptive and creative responses to enhance the welfare of the collective and the well-being of its individual members. Through experience we acquire the physical knowledge and skills needed to adapt better. Over time that experience matures into a vital sense of history which imparts the understanding and attitudes needed to associate with other people and organize our collective activities more effectively. The rules, laws, customs and institutions of civilization emerge from that historical experience. Spiritual values nurtured as culture are the alchemist’s precipitate – the sacred essence of that cumulative experience – distilled, enshrined and passed on as the most precious gift from generation to generation. Knowledge, skill, attitudes, organization, customs, laws and institutions must necessarily evolve with changing times and conditions. But spiritual values are universal and eternal. They are our most precious legacy and valuable guide to the future.

The past few centuries of human evolution have been accomplished by a near universal acceptance of one of these eternal truths – the value of freedom. Freedom is the cultural foundation on which the entire edifice of modern civilization is based. An eternal truth, no doubt; yet like all eternal truths, it can be fulfilled only when it expands to embrace and accommodate complementary truths as well. For narrowly pursued as a sectarian dogma, freedom degenerates into self-destructive license as quickly as the value of equality, separately pursued, degenerated into self-destructive authoritarianism in the 20th century. Freedom separately pursued is the law of the jungle that in the name of a high ideal destroys the freedom of others. And if there is one thing which Nature is trying to teach us through the problems, challenges and crises which currently confront humanity, it is the need to reconcile the greatest freedom for each individual with the greatest welfare and well-being for all. Individual freedom can only be attained and preserved for all by founding it on the unity of the collective, on the value of human unity.

11. Individual and Collective
Historically, the relationship between the individual and the collective has been a stormy love affair, a strange mixture of adulation and intolerance, creative inspiration and blind conformity. Nature’s apparent method has been to sacrifice the individual member for the survival of the species. That is the obvious rule in the animal kingdom and in the earlier stages of human evolution as well. Historically, society has been a strict and intolerant parent. It welcomes new members into its fold and finds room for them, provided they strictly adhere to its beliefs, rules, customs, values and ways of life. Tolerance for dissent – political, religious, social and even intellectual – has rarely been given more than lip-service. In this sense, human evolution conforms to the universal pattern in physical nature.

Yet, ironically, we find that all human social progress can be traced back to the willingness of the collective to follow the lead of a pioneering individual who refuses to conform. The role of the individual is similar to that of the aberrant gene in biology, introducing a new or varied capacity which sometimes proves to be of such immense value to the collective that it is quickly imitated by others, assimilated by the group, consciously multiplied by organization, institutionalized through education and subconsciously passed on to future generations in their cultural genetic code.

Society is the psychological gene pool that preserves capacities acquired by past generations; some that are of greatest value for its survival and development, others that are anachronistic or antagonistic to its persistence and progress. The individual is the point of departure from the past and present into the future. Drawing upon the inheritance of the collective, the individual has the capacity to consciously recombine its elements for greater effectiveness and even to fashion new elements out of the collective knowledge and experience. The adventurer, pioneer, entrepreneur, social innovator, revolutionary leader, inventor, original thinker, genius and saint are fine flowers of individuality. They catalyze the development and evolution of the collective by their visions, ideals, beliefs, ideas, passions, original and courageous actions. The uniqueness of the individual is the complement of the unity of the collective.

Although society has always been intolerant of dissent, throughout history it has looked to the individual for its salvation in times of crisis. Thus, the American Revolution gave birth to Washington and Jefferson, the French Revolution to Napoleon, the Panic of 1907 to Morgan, the Great Depression to Roosevelt, the Second World War to Churchill, Indian freedom to Gandhi, and the Cold War to Gorbachev. So too, in times of rare opportunity, it is always the unique individual that leads the way. Thus, the Renaissance gave birth to Leonardo and Michelangelo, the Enlightenment to Newton and Descartes, the Industrial Revolution to the Rockefellers and Carnegies, the electrical age to Edison, the automobile age to Ford, the Scientific Revolution to Darwin and Einstein, and the PC Revolution to Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

12. Shifting Balance
In recent centuries the balance of power between the individual and the collective has been shifting. Though an equilibrium still persists, the scales are no longer weighted so heavily in favor of the collective. The reason is evident. Human evolution is an evolution of consciousness. The collective in Nature is subconscious, living by instinct and genetic programming rather than by conscious volition. Human collectives begin the same way, governed mostly by fixed biological needs, physical habits, vital desire and fears overlaid with inherited social traditions that are difficult to change, and topped by a thin layer of mentally conscious understanding driven by the curiosity to know and the urge to explore and innovate.

But over time the relative balance in this equation changes. The conscious part becomes larger and more influential, more and more subjecting the animal instincts and inherited habits to analysis and conscious control. As it progresses, society becomes more adaptive, inventive, creative and capable of development. The individual is the key to this process, the conscious peak and instrument through which the cumulative experience of the collective experiments with new thoughts, attitudes and actions.

Over millennia, civilizations have discovered that the greater the freedom they accord within limits to their creative individual members, the greater the capacities society acquires for survival, growth, development and evolution. Once realized, society strives to consciously foster at least a modicum of individuality by greater political freedom, rule of law, human rights, economic opportunity, social equality and education.

The past few centuries of Western civilization have led the way in pushing the equilibrium further in the direction of the individual. While the ideal of individuality was born in Europe, the dead weight of social stratification and tradition prevented it from flowering there. Thus, Europe cast its ragged social rebels across the Atlantic, where they could sprout as individuals in the fertile soil of an empty continent. Today America is globally emulated, even where it is not admired, out of recognition that no other society has ever succeeded so far in creating a collective environment for individual development and self-expression. On an evolutionary scale, the results are modest at best. America has become a symbol of pioneering individual initiative, self-reliance, innovation and inventiveness. Social mobility is unimpeded, though social conformity remains the rule. Speech is unencumbered, but thinking at variance with the conventional wisdom is still frowned upon and met with intolerance or derision. The physical individual is born. The social individual is emerging from the womb. The mental individual is still the rare exception.

13. Organizing Individuality
Individual initiative is the catalyst for social innovation. Organization is the mechanism by which nascent inspirations are supported, assimilated and propagated until they become competencies of the collective. From earliest times, human communities have been characterized by a unique capacity for conscious organization. Its most notable expressions include the organization of sounds and concepts (language), productive processes (agriculture and manufacturing), defensive and offensive capabilities (military), mutually beneficial exchange (trade and markets), political and commercial population centers (cities), symbolic media to facilitate accounting and exchange (money), and institutions to optimize the use of resources (banking).

Organizations have traditionally played a conservative rather than a revolutionary or evolutionary role as centers of power and authority (monarchy, parliament and the church). Essentially intended to propagate and preserve what society has already accepted and accomplished, they have rarely led the way, except perhaps at the formative stage of their founding, as the Royal Society did during the time of Bacon and Newton. But even the most revolutionary of organizations, such as the Bolshevik Party in revolutionary Russia, quickly become conservative forces once they are integrated into the social fabric.

That may be changing. For as individuals become more conscious and societies more tolerant and supportive of individuality, the organizations they fashion become more conscious as well. Conscious organizations are conscious centers of conscious individuals. Through them society itself becomes more conscious. This emergent consciousness of the social collective is dramatically illustrated by the phenomenal technological inventiveness of the computer age and the social innovations of the Internet. Individuality has finally managed to evolve a field and platform on which it can compete on almost equal terms with the collective. Google is the epitome of an organization that seems to have acquired the creative characteristics once seen only in remarkable individuals. They and countless other creative individuals and organizations have now given birth to the Internet, the first truly global social organization, a conscious center through which humanity as a whole can become conscious and act self-consciously.

This evolutionary development opens up unparalleled opportunities. No longer are crises the essential and inevitable means for our progress. The conscious individual and the conscious organization have the potential for recognizing, accepting and altering social functioning before it precipitates as crisis, and even of converting looming crisis into unprecedented opportunity. Today even an idea can play the role that a courageous leader played in the past. As Club of Rome awakened the world to the consequences of unbridled growth based on scarce natural resources, as Pugwash and the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War compelled the World Court to question the inherent legality of nuclear weapons, an organization – better still, an umbrella group or confederation of organizations – inspired by the right idea and the right values can awaken and mobilize international public opinion in a manner inconceivable in the past.

Today humanity is at a crossroads, a critical transition point, where it has to renounce the outdated conceptual framework of the past half century, as 60 years ago it renounced the archaic concepts of competitive nationalism that led to two world wars in forty years. The world view based on the sanctity of national sovereignty, a useful concept in the battle against colonialism and empire, has now become the principal barrier to human progress. To expect nation states – especially those who hold the reins of power – to unilaterally renounce an acquired temporary advantage which they regard as a natural right and to cede power on their own is no more realistic than to have expected monarchy and aristocracy in the past to voluntary forego the powers and privileges inherited from their ancestors. Nor is it likely that states will consent to substantially alter the structure of unrepresentative international organizations they presently dominate. Power does not renounce itself. Power relents only to greater power. Where power of governance exercises authority independent of the will of those who are governed, there is need to appeal to a higher authority and to evolve new structures at a higher level.

And there is a higher power in the world today waiting to be summoned, a power more sanctified than the rights and authority of the nation state. It is the power of humanity as a whole. Throughout history, humanity has been a voiceless, powerless witness to the actions of its constituent parts. This is no longer the case. Law is the codified public conscience. Today humanity has acquired the conscious self-awareness and the organizational capacity for self-expression and coordinated action. Organizing the consciousness of the global power of citizenry is the natural step to transcend the nation state. It needs only the right pioneering leadership with the right ideas and the right values to sound the call.

6. International Commission on Peace & Food, Uncommon Opportunities: Agenda for Peace & Global Development (London: Zed Books, 1994), 39-43

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