Saturday, November 16, 2013

New Hopes for a Changing World, Chapter Twenty-One

“The Happy World,” pages 206-213

The goal has been to record some facts, and to identify hopes that are sensible to hold in light of those facts. The facts involve the possibility that the struggle for existence can be eased for all humans, and that, as a result, cooperation on a global scale is a possibility, one that offers much better prospects than continued rivalry. The hopes are that this pleasant prospect can indeed be realized.

Of course, there are legitimate fears, too. But we excessively dwell on fears, and it is hope, not fear, that points the way forward. Grounded, sensible hopes can erode the fear.

Let’s assume that the recognition of the need for human unity has been accomplished. What will be necessary to bring a happy resolution to the longstanding, fundamental conflicts of man versus nature, man versus other men, and man versus himself?

In the man versus nature conflict, an international body will be needed to direct “the production and distribution of food and raw materials [p. 207].” Farming that undermines the long-term fertility of the soil – a practice that might be rational for an individual farmer in the short-term – would be prevented. No one will have the right to be prodigal with the agricultural capital that future generations will depend upon. The international authority also will collect and disseminate information on scientific farming. While destructive farming techniques can be prohibited, no one need be compelled to adopt the best agricultural methods.

“As I write a dangerous dispute is in progress concerning Iranian oil [p. 208].” [Sigh.] The dispute concerns which country among many claimants owns the oil. But the oil was put there by nature, not by any nation, so why should any nation own it? (The oil won’t be used by any single nation, either.) The oil, like other natural resources, should be internationally owned and rationed, to avoid the wars and strife that result from national control.

Population pressures need to be checked by means of education and universal availability of contraception, along with economic development of the poorer regions of the world.

International, monopoly control of the most potent instruments of war is vital to quell conflicts among men. Education will have to be regulated, to prevent the teaching of a “predatory nationalism [p. 209],” including narrow and biased history: history books should have to be approved by the international authorities. [Recall that Russell endorses having histories of a nation written by foreigners, to overcome the usual national aggrandizement.] Economics should emphasize the superiority of cooperation over competition in the modern world. A gradual implementation of free trade, freedom to travel, and student exchanges: all these should be part of the policy mix. An international university, available to good students from any corner of the globe, will attract internationally-minded faculty and students.

People need security from the crowd and from their inner terrors. The animus of the crowd itself usually draws from the personal fears of those who comprise the herd. Wise and loving care in the first few years of life can go a long way towards ameliorating private fears. Still, crowds can be roused to unjust anger, so places of sanctuary, a sort of refugee status for the innocent, must be available.

Provision must be made to promote individuality. Old timers will fail to recognize exceptional talents, so an Academy for poets and writers and other creative people should be by and for the young. The shorter working hours would leave time for those outside of the Academy, too, to indulge their tastes and talents, and adventurous pursuits would be available to the risk seekers. Family money has, in the past, allowed some people (Darwin and Milton, among others) with unpopular ideas to thrive. The future society has to ensure that there are mechanisms permitting exceptional, unpopular people to do their work. [Russell hit upon this theme in The Conquest of Happiness, too.]

Global security comes at too high of a price if it eliminates what is exceptional in humans. The version of security that Russell has outlined, however, is likely to end the psychological barriers to non-conformity. “If this is indeed the case, and if such institutions as I have spoken of can be established, the happy world that I am envisaging can be not only happy but glorious [p. 212].” We do not need tormented souls to bring forth wonderful creations. Humanity is far more capable than the current stunted model suggests, if we choose to unleash its power. [Russell indulges (again) his own taste for vibrant verbiage extolling the potential for mankind.]

[On security being mortals’ chiefest enemy, Russell’s godfather provides some pertinent prose: "He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation. He who chooses his plan for himself, employs all his faculties. He must use observation to see, reasoning and judgment to foresee, activity to gather materials for decision, discrimination to decide, and when he has decided, firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision. And these qualities he requires and exercises exactly in proportion as the part of his conduct which he determines according to his own judgment and feelings is a large one. It is possible that he might be guided in some good path, and kept out of harm's way, without any of these things. But what will be his comparative worth as a human being? It really is of importance, not only what men do, but also what manner of men they are that do it. Among the works of man, which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying, the first in importance surely is man himself. Supposing it were possible to get houses built, corn grown, battles fought, causes tried, and even churches erected and prayers said, by machinery—by automatons in human form—it would be a considerable loss to exchange for these automatons even the men and women who at present inhabit the more civilized parts of the world, and who assuredly are but starved specimens of what nature can and will produce. Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develope itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing."]

How far homo sapiens has travelled, leaving a desert to enter a comparative Eden. But we are reluctant to recognize our good fortune, and we cling to outdated fears and hates, including self-hate. We must embrace our intelligence and the path to peace and prosperity that it promises. We can choose happiness and achieve peace; the alternative is an extinction that would be, if chosen, deserved.

[As noted in the introductory post, New Hopes for a Changing World concludes with an About The Author paragraph.]

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