Viable Solutions for seemingly Intractable Problems

Life is filled with seemingly intractable problems. But life wisdom affirms that if there is a problem, there must be a solution. Or better yet, the solution to the problem lies within the problem itself. Problems have their roots in disharmony. Disharmony arises when a part separates itself from the whole and acts independently of the wider reality of which it is a part, as financial markets have separated themselves from the real economy and economy has detached itself from social and ecological consequences. Insistence on out-moded approaches under new conditions generates intractable problems, as when the framework of a heterogeneous nation-state is employed for the dominance of a single ethnic or religious group. Knowledge and culture are the supreme values of a society and core element of its capacity for accomplishment and development, yet both tend to be exclusively possessed by elites for their own benefit, rather than freely distributed to maximize their impact on society as a whole. Society evolves by the transformation of ignorance into knowledge. Life evolves by organization. The linking and integration of social organizations spur development. Mind itself is an organization and powerful force for development. Energy makes organization more efficient. Any problem can be solved by raising the effectiveness of energy by converting it into skill or capacity and transforming it into power through organization. What one person sees as a problem is an opportunity for another with wider vision. The difference in perception accounts for the difference in levels of accomplishment. So, those with the right perspective see opportunities where others see insolvable problems. Current problems are the result of irrationality, refusal to benefit from past experience and insistence on repeating past errors. Modern science, which was born to fight the superstition of religion, has become a source of superstition. Fully availing of the latest advances for the widest benefit of humanity is a simple and effective principle for solving apparently intractable problems. Problems exist at various levels; what works on one level may not work for the other. Solutions are possible for any problem because man is always free to draw on solutions from a higher plane.

Life is filled with problems. Rare are the few wise people who look at problems as disguised opportunities. The Adwaithic philosophy of India looks at life as something illusory and consequently feels problems are illusory too. When work refuses to progress and stagnates we feel there is a problem. European settlers seeking freedom immigrated to America and found there an unrestricted atmosphere free of social restrictions and mental superstitions. They came to feel that if there is a problem there must be a solution. In the 1860s the citizens of Chicago realized that they had built their nascent city on low lying areas subject to flooding and decided to raise it. In one notable incident they were able to raise a four-story hotel five feet above the ground when the hotel was functioning. A century later their descendants sent a man to the moon and safely back again. Such achievements are not possible without a glimpse of the infinity in life.

Life is arranged in such a way that what is considered a problem to one person is not a problem for another. Spiritual philosophy has declared that “all problems of life are problems of harmony.” Ironically, marriage which is sought after by men and women as a means to increase their happiness becomes a source of disharmony and unhappiness for many. One loses harmony when mind is divorced from the body or from external reality, or when thought is divorced from logic or rationality. For example, the science of Economics is part of the larger society and is meant to operate for the welfare of society. But over the years it has become disconnected from the rest of society and functions independently and to some extent detrimentally. Economics advocates growth for growth’s sake even when it results in widening levels of inequality and ecological damage. Financial markets in pursuit of short term speculative profits function in a manner that is increasingly divorced from the real economy that undermines real economic development, human welfare and social stability. The creation of 70,000 nuclear weapons by the superpowers in pursuit of increasing levels of national security and the perpetuation of the veto power by the P5 at the UN are some inexplicable instances of thought divorced from logic and rationality.

Life has moved away from its primitive origins and has become civilized and sophisticated. Still the inherent tendency of man is not to change. He insistently seeks to handle new problems in the old ways that created them as if nothing had changed, like the Boxers who, convinced of their invulnerability, faced modern armies with primitive weapons. Such an approach unnecessarily prolongs problems or converts them into situations that defy solution. Insistence on out-moded approaches makes the problem even more intractable.

A modern state is a political entity founded for political reasons and intended to accommodate heterogeneous populations. When religion is made the primary basis for its inception, its very birth is likely to be attended with social strife and prolonged military conflict. The problem results from the initial conception and defies solution without correcting the original premise.

Marx predicted a violent working class revolution. Industrialized England seemed the logical place for it to surface. The world became alarmed and tried to prevent it as far as possible. Instead, the response came from agrarian Russia which was still in the grips of serfdom and did not meet any of the conditions Marx had envisioned for launching a proletarian revolution. Though the call was for freeing the proletariat from his fetters and turning him into a free individual, the way the revolution was implemented in the Soviet Union exchanged one form of serfdom for another, leading to the very liquidation of the individual. The natural solution would have been to remove the fetters of serfdom and allow the people to develop naturally in an atmosphere of freedom rather than trying to develop them violently.

Society has developed knowledge and culture into supreme values. They represent the highest achievements of civilization and their gradual extension to the entire society is the assured path for continued social progress. It is the responsibility of those who have acquired these treasures to extend them to others. But the tendency of elites—the aristocracies of class, caste, wealth, military and political power—is to retain these values exclusively for themselves. When the part refuses to raise the whole society to a higher level, what follows is a violent reaction that leads to beheading a few thousand individuals or a general decline of the whole society. Though the immediate source of trouble may be removed, as it was in revolutionary France in 1789 and revolutionary Egypt a few years ago, the society which has lost its old leadership typically resorts to restoring the lost social order and monopoly on power under a new label. Thus, communism supplanted Czarism in Russia and plutocracy supplanted monarchy in the West.

Life is characterized by many important principles: One is that one moves down in order to rise to a greater height. Division and conflict are endemic characteristics of life based on the tendency of mind to view reality in terms of mutually exclusive opposites and contradictions. Life progresses through mild struggle that takes on the appearance of strife. Life validates desire which aims at delight. Society evolves by the transformation of ignorance into knowledge.

One of the most instructive of these principles is that Life evolves by organisation. There used to be times when history was described as the history of kings. Later it changed into the history of people. Studying life as the history of organization will show how at each stage humanity has resolved its problems by greater organization. Organizations are formed from the interrelationship of systems. Systems come into being by the organization of acts into chains of activities. When two organizations merge, they become all the more powerful, as in the merging of transport and communication to create the modern air transport industry or the merging of education and printing. Thus, the principle for solving problems is to raise the effectiveness of energy by converting it into skill or capacity and transforming it into power through organization. The Bengal Famine of 1943 resulted from a breakdown in the organization of food distribution. A military general became the Viceroy and solved that problem by improving the organization.

Generally, it can be said that Europe where logical mind is developed does not face the same type of problems that confront Asia where logical mind is less developed but spiritual mind is more developed. Mind itself is an organization and therefore problems created by superstitions will be absent where mind prevails. Though railways are present in both places, the mental value of punctuality that is appreciated in Europe ensures that trains come on time, while the same is not true of India where punctuality is not valued. Deficiency in a host of other related values explains the difference between a developed country and a developing one. USA saw the value of delivering letters overnight and developed FedEx, which became a multi-billion dollar corporation and founded a whole new industry.

It can be said that the efficiency of a nation is decided by the energy of the population. The energy is generated by freedom, education, individuality and initiative, etc. Where a village youth perceives a problem, the same problem may be perceived as an opportunity by an urban youth. This is true of nations, populations and organizations. This difference in perception can account for the difference between an upper-middle class and a lower-middle class family. The former sees the situation as a great opportunity, while the latter sees the same situation as an intractable problem. What matters is one’s mental equipment and attitude with respect to the circumstances.

In the last 70 years or so the world has been largely free of hot wars and since 1991 of Cold War as well. As a result, the fighting energies of war have been converted into productive energies geared towards prosperity. Almost simultaneously, the world witnessed the rapid development of higher types of organizations, for air travel, global communications, international financial transactions etc. The advent of Visa, credit card and the internet organized the energies of global society and infinitely multiplied the world’s wealth. But what has been the response of society? It has created job less growth, tax evasion, rampant speculation, unseemly accumulation of wealth and widening inequalities. Disconnecting money from the economy, it turned a surplus of productive wealth into a destructive force. It converted opportunities into seemingly insoluble problems. The opportunities were great occasions to lift emotional man to the level of mental man who can lead a life of leisure and culture. Therefore, those who have the right view are able to see viable solutions to these situations. The essence of what has been said above is that Man is the center of his life. It is up to him to choose to lead a heavenly life or choose to lead a life of problems, which unfortunately he seems to prefer.

A state should be political in origin and not based on religion. A theocratic state will have all its energies diverted to support fundamental beliefs as a result of which it will degenerate into poverty, violence and superstitions and many other things. The one meaningful solution to this problem would be to abolish the religious basis on which the state is founded.

Theoretically, current problems are no different from problems in the past. They come mainly due to disharmony, irrationality, refusal to learn from past experience and insistence on repeating past errors. When an attempt is made to solve problems of a higher plane through methods of a lower plane, the problems only get more complicated. One common experience is that the man who tries to eradicate evil very often succumbs to it. Modern science was born to fight the superstition of religion. Now we find that it has generated its own superstition. Its respect for the social status of a scientist only reinforces such superstition. It regards every university professor of Philosophy as a real philosopher, making a mockery of the term. The capacity to develop a total blindness to events is a crude primitive mental attitude. A truly scientific attitude is to not ignore any event however singular or inconsistent with currently prevailing theory.

The Greek state has developed a financial crisis and the Greek people are asking for a better alternative. They vehemently oppose the proposal to solve the problem through greater austerity measures. The IMF and a growing number of international experts support the view that further austerity will only aggravate the problem and result in a further default. Yet the Eurozone insists on imposing a solution which is sure to fail.

Since the end of World War II the world has demonstrated its capacity to raise production 30 or 50 times. Global per capita income has increased 84 fold since 1800. This multiplication is not confined to income generation alone. Similar progress has occurred in every field. Wealth created by the general progress of society belongs to the society, not to any particular individual. Equality was long ago recognized as an essential principle in politics, where democratic values now rule. The same equality is valid for economy as well, without which true political equality is unattainable. Indeed, economic equality is the precursor to political equality. Only when both of these prevail at the same time does social equality become real. Beyond that lies psychological equality which comes from inner growth and education. While monarchical regimes came to an end with the arrival of democracy, economic equality can come only when prosperity is equally shared by all in the society. While each man must earn his income by work, technological progress is something owned by society at large. Technical progress is not the property of corporations. Guaranteed employment ensures economic democracy. Speculation is ruinous for economic health and must be banned while the right to employment must be made compulsory. There should be no restriction to extending educational benefits to lower income groups.

Ashok Natarajan: Secretary & Senior Research Fellow, The Mother’s Service Society; Fellow, World Academy of Art & Science

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