New Decade Resolutions for Human Society

Dudley Weeks ©

January, 2010

The 21st Century has announced its arrival on the pages of human history with a complex
array of profound challenges.  As we enter the Century’s second decade, we have the opportunity, indeed the responsibility, to assess where we are as human society, and to devote our energies to accomplishing those priorities that are most essential.   Among the multitude of crucial challenges we are facing, I will focus on four of what I will call “Macro Essentials”.

Since we are entering the new year of 2010, and since making resolutions for a new year is a popular pastime, I will frame the Macro Essentials as New Decade Resolutions for Human Society.  They are “macro” in the sense they do not focus on some of the more “micro” and popular New Year resolutions, things such as....resolving to lose weight (starting in Spring because body insulation is needed in Winter); or...resolving to stop smoking (well, at least cutting back); visiting the in-laws more often (but airlines sure make flying uncomfortable); or...watching less TV (or at least not buying that magnificent 54-inch screen).  Those are important, of course, but we also need to focus on Resolutions that affect the present and future of our entire human society.

Before humbly offering my choice of the priority Macro Essential Resolutions, let’s take a brief look at where we are in terms of the Big Picture.  By that I mean a more holistic view than compartmentalizing life into a few narrow issues or desires.

Where We Are: The Big Picture

We are at an infant stage in our development, and all our systems and structures and ideologies are but temporary experiments in our search for how to develop our positive potential, organize ourselves, and use our diversity for mutual benefit.  The ideas, habits, structures and systems we have allowed to become dominant are not sacred creations that represent the best we can be. 

Fundamentally changing some of these dominant attitudes and behavior patterns is, I suggest, the only way to survive and move forward with sustainable quality.  If we make those changes, human society can still be around for the second decade of the 22nd Century.  If we do not have the skill and courage to make fundamental changes, we may get lucky and still be around, but the quality of our existence will be greatly diminished.

So here are my suggestions.
            New Decade Resolutions for Human Society

1.  Mature Beyond Absolutist Ideologies

At its generic root, I suppose “ideology” can be defined as a set of values, beliefs and opinions used by individuals, groups, and societies as a guide in interpreting reality, living life, and creating social, political, and economic systems and structures .  In that general sense, almost everybody has an ideology.  But “Absolutist Ideology” is something altogether different.

I define “Absolutist Ideology” as a set of interpretations, beliefs, opinions, and theories that have been elevated to the level of dogma claiming to be ‘true’ without question.  Proponents of absolutist ideologies in sectors of life such as religion, politics, and economics create the damaging illusion there is no need to keep exploring or to consider the worth of alternative ideas.  Why? Because the “answers” about how things are and should be are contained in that particular ideology.

Absolutist ideologies obstruct intellectual curiosity, the discovery of improved alternatives, and the development of human potential.  The ideologies become “boxes” we create and trap ourselves within.  The boxes have no windows or doors to let in fresh air.  They are made of unsubstantiated notions about a host of things, including human nature, the existence and character of a supreme being, politics and economics, gender and race, and specific stands on certain issues.  Human interaction becomes a process of moving the closed boxes around, often trying to bump the other boxes off the playing field of life.  Allowing ourselves to be entrapped within the closed boxes can suffocate not only our development, but our reason and hope as well.

One of the more disturbing patterns I see in human society is that the more complex and uncertain life becomes, the more tempting it is for many people to grab onto absolutes.  To me, that is not only somewhat lazy (if we convince ourselves we have the “answers” then we don’t have to think anymore), it is also ignoring an important reality: complexity and uncertainty provide us with the opportunity and challenge to explore a wide range of evolving alternatives and possibilities.   

So I suggest one of the major challenges human society faces as we move forward in the 21st Century is to open the closed boxes of Absolutist Ideology and let non-absolutist thinking refresh our still young minds, young in terms of our vast, untapped potential.  We need to understand that we can live effective lives without rigid absolutes.  We need to make exploration and discovery the goal of learning and education, rather than teaching absolutist ideologies and condemning those who dare to question those ideologies.

2.  Put Some Responsibility into our Worship of “Freedom”

To many people, myself included, “Freedom” is a cherished value.  It can allow the human mind and spirit to explore possibilities.  But freedom without responsibility is like a car without brakes .  It becomes a license to do whatever one pleases, and tries to justify that selfishness by claiming “freedom” is at stake.  The recent and lingering economic crisis is a potent example of how freedom can be abused through greed and the self-serving exploitation of others.  As we move forward in the 21st Century, one of our most critical challenges is to infuse our freedom with responsibility and ethics.  If we do not do it ourselves, each of us in our own lives, a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” becomes the last resort to protect “the people” from irresponsible freedom run amok.  Not surprisingly, many of those who indignantly scream the loudest against government intervention in our lives are also those who profit most from freedom without responsibility.
3.  Create Conditions that Make It Possible for Fundamental Changes To Occur in the Distribution of Power, Resources and Benefits

The past several millennia clearly show that human society has long been structured in ways that give great advantage to a few individuals, groups, nations, and systems.  In other words, the distribution of power, resources and benefits gives the few so much and the many so little.  There are conflicting explanations for why and how this greatly skewed distribution exists.

One explanation is based on fact:  those who get to the top use their dominant power to lock in those structures and systems that allowed them to get to the top, and on and on it goes through the decades, centuries, and millennia. 

Another explanation is based on a manipulation of facts and an application of Absolutist Ideology.  Darwin’s “Survival of the Fittest” is twisted around to argue that the grossly inequitable distribution of power, resources and benefits is just the “law of nature”.  This view conveniently ignores the fact that dominance and “fittest” are not synonymous.  The dominant few may be most “fit” in terms of seizing power and gaining control over resources, but that does not mean they are most “fit” in terms of building a cooperative human society in which the potential and the contributions of all people are maximized.

Then there are those who conveniently fall back on a notion of “freedom” to justify the skewed distribution of power, resources and benefits.  They contend it would be anti-freedom to have any limits on monopolization, greed, and excess, all of which promote the skewed distribution.

Calling for the creation of conditions that make it possible for fundamental changes to occur in the distribution of power, resources and benefits is not simply egalitarian philosophy.  Every relationship, every family, every organization, business, community, and nation is stronger and more effective when the potential and diverse contributions of all its members are served by the prevailing structures and systems.So promoting and implementing this particular Resolution is good for everybody, including, ultimately, the ones on top.

4.  Do a Better Job of Balancing the Explosion in Communication Technology with Respect for the Right of Privacy

 A potentially positive aspect of where we are as human society can be found in the quantum leaps in scientific discovery and technology.  I say “potentially” positive because those leaps also have the possibility of landing us in deeply troubled waters if we do not use them wisely.  Nowhere is this warning more acute than in the arena of communication technology and the availability of information.  Information technology has also helped provide another positive; namely, our increased ability to learn about other ideas and other cultures.  To use that ability positively, of course, we need to appreciate other cultures for what they really are, stop using misleading stereotypes, and move beyond a “we versus them”, “we’re superior” mentality.

For the most part, I think the advances in communication technology have brought the world closer together.  However, there are troubling signs of some serious collateral damage.  One casualty is the right to privacy.  From governments, to sensationalist magazines, to mean-spirited individuals who get pleasure from demeaning others, often through lies, we are seeing a growing pattern of disrespect for privacy.  Unless this problem gets at least as much attention as designing and selling the next communication gadget, the technology will increasingly erode one of our most cherished rights.

5.  Treat the Health of the Ecosystem as an Essential Priority, Not as Just One More Issue for Political Partisanship, and Stop Denying the Facts of the Situation

Our arrogance as the latest dominant species on planet Earth often blinds us to a crucial fact: we are but one component of a complex, interdependent ecosystem and we must act responsibly in relation to that ecosystem.  Much more than any previous dominant species, we have a powerful effect on the Earth’s environment.  In a relatively short period of time, the greed and narrow thinking we have allowed to dominate our priorities have already produced gaping wounds that threaten key components of the ecosystem, including ourselves. 

There are those who continue to be in denial, claiming we do not know for sure how much of the ecosystem is being damaged by human behavior.  That is simply not true.  People and corporations who are reaping temporary financial profit from eco-destructive behavior are not the experts on climate change and other damaging patterns.  Those people who are the experts unanimously concur: we are rushing headlong to potential disaster unless we change our ways.

Make no mistake about it.  The Earth ecosystem will eventually recover...but it might do it after human society has died by its own foolish hand, or perhaps even because of it.

Dudley Weeks

(Copyright 2010: Domestic and international law prohibits the public use of this article without the written permission of the author. Any reprint must bear the author’s name and notice of legal restrictions.