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Human Centered Development Perspective: Insights from Trieste

Education is the most remarkable of all social institutions, for it is the instrument humanity has fashioned for conscious social evolution. Education is the means for endowing each individual member of future generations with the essential knowledge accumulated by the collective experience of countless past generations, so that the youth of tomorrow can start off and advance further from the highest point attained by humanity until today. Although quantitatively more and better education has been extended to more human beings than ever before, we are still a long way from achieving the goal of universal coverage and raising the level and quality of education from the minimum to the maximum. Moreover, our system of education still largely regards human beings as vessels to be filled with information rather than living, thinking, creative human beings who must be encouraged to fully develop their talents and capacities. Education as a social science is still in its infancy. It has achieved the capacity for mass production. It has yet to acquire the capacity for customization adapted to the unique endowments and potential of each individual. When that is achieved, the now rare geniuses in enterprise, invention, science, thought and the arts may become commonplace.

Mind is the instrument through which we seek knowledge and the characteristics of human mentality impose practical limits on our rationality and effective knowledge. Fore- most among the dominant tendencies of the human mind is the propensity to divide reality into smaller and smaller components, while losing sight of the whole which is more than the sum of its parts. Finance needs to be reintegrated with economy. Markets need to subserve human welfare. The narrow boundaries of economy need to be extended to reflect continuously evolving relations with the non-monetarized sector, its fundamental dependence on law and government, the ecological continent on which it is based, and the social context in which it functions. The interdependence of money power, political power and social power must be reconciled within a single formulation.

Another prominent characteristic of our mentality is its tendency to formulate abstract words, concepts and symbols to represent reality and mistake the abstract symbol for the reality it only imperfectly represents. Like the advocates of neoliberalism, we often mistake theoretical constructs for practical truths or misapply concepts of the physical sciences to the human sciences in which conscious awareness and volition replace the automatic mechanism of physical nature. Survival of the fittest may well be the law of the jungle but cooperation for mutual benefit and dedication to higher principles and goals are the foundations of civilization and culture and those that most distinguish human beings from our animal predecessors.

Future social science must encompass all the dimensions of human life – political, economic, organizational, technological, social, psychological, cultural and ecological – as aspects of a single integral reality. All facets of the complex multidimensional development of human society are founded on more fundamental processes of human development. The quest of social science is not for impersonal knowledge but effective power and the only legitimate power science can seek is the power to realize the welfare and well-being of all human beings. For that it must become a purposeful and value-based body of knowledge reintegrating science with philosophy, ethics and spiritual values. Let us recall that Adam Smith was a moral philosopher in search of an effective formula to promote human welfare, not an impartial natural scientist in search of impersonal universal truth. Economic value is inseparable from human values.

Growing awareness of humanity’s relationship to the environment has been a crucial turning point in our awakening to greater self-consciousness. The dream of unlimited mate- rial production and consumption confronts an impenetrable wall resulting from the depletion of precious, non-renewable material resources and the destructive impact of unbridled, was- teful human activity on the biosphere. Economic value must also reflect ecological value. So also, human security cannot be assured so long as both humanity and the ecosphere are threatened by the calamitous prospect of accidental or intentional nuclear detonations. The very existence of nuclear weapons on earth represents an existential threat to civilization.

But the really confining limits are not material or technological, but conceptual. For human ingenuity has amply demonstrated the capacity to produce more from less. The scope for further increasing the productivity of available resources is enormous. The real barriers are the limits imposed by prevailing ideas and values. We are unwitting and unknowing prisoners of our own conceptions. The greatest need of humanity today is for creative leadership in thought that challenges the conventional wisdom and dogma which often masquerade as scientific knowledge. Society as it functions today is the product of past experiences, developed power structures and vested interests which present an inertial resistance to our future evolution. The want of leadership or political will so often lamented is founded on outmoded concepts, beliefs and values waiting to be challenged, exposed and reformulated. The political will and power to abolish slavery and end colonialism had to first attack the intellectual foundations on which these archaic institutions were based. Courageous leaders- hip in thought must precede effective leadership in action.

Beyond all that we know and conceptualize lies a limitless vista of uncertainty. From this domain issue ever new challenges to our knowing and our security. Uncertainty in physics is the basis for all physical systems: molecules, atoms, even nuclei, would not exist without uncertainty. The uncertainty in social systems is even greater for the laws governing society and its development constantly evolve, whereas the laws of the physical universe have remained unchanged for billions of years. Black swans are an ineluctable characteristic of social life. In a sense, all human action is an endeavor to manage risks and conquer uncertainty by greater knowledge and more effective social organization. But it is a never ending quest. For the very uncertainty in human systems which is the source of the ignorance and insecurity we seek to eliminate is also the source of new ideas, inspiring values, marvelous innovations, more abundant wealth and richer creative potential that are the product of evolving human consciousness. Uncertainty is only another term for the Unknown or the Unknowable, which is our future destiny. Our evolutionary conception needs also to embrace this limitless, indefinable source of human potential.

Viewed from this emerging perspective, the multiple individual lines of the World Academy’s programmatic activity imaged below coalesce to form the first vague outlines of an integrated intellectual framework for understanding and addressing the opportunities and challenges facing humanity in the new century.

Figure 1: The World Academy’s Programmatic Activity
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