Note: This essay is particularly relevant to an American audience, because the author is more familiar with American culture, institutions, and problems. However, because American ways have spread and are continuing to spread around the world as a dominant cultural paradigm of our time, much of this commentary applies to the world as a whole, not only America.
Many people today perceive the arc of history beginning to bend downward, on the wrong track, and feel a deepening sense of powerlessness, frustration, and cynicism. Although there are many specific reasons for this – the worst economy in a generation, a corrupt financial system, and political dysfunction being high on the list – the malaise of the early 21st century mostly boils down to one root cause: the observation that the society in which we live is moving away from the ideal of a broad middle class of economically secure, well-educated and well-informed people with a significant share of influence in how their civilization is organized and led. Instead, we see money and power flowing inexorably upward toward a smaller and more distant ruling class, who use the government, business, media, and other institutions they control for their own self-interest rather than to promote improvement and empowerment for the largest number of people.
Meanwhile, probably in large part as a reaction to unresolved anger and a feeling of hopelessness among the general public, extreme religious movements based on apocalypticism, escapism, and supernaturalism are on the rise and science and reason are increasingly mocked or ignored. An ever larger share of the populace, having given up on this world becoming a better place for their children and grandchildren, look to “the Rapture” or other otherworldly solutions to the existential problems they see all around them, no longer having faith in the ability or will of human beings to order their own affairs on Earth with wisdom and justice.
The awareness of this situation is unsettling to people of conscience who refuse to give up on humanity. Yet it is hard not to be deeply troubled by the realization that leaders of existing major institutions are either incapable or unwilling to do anything to rectify the vicious cycle of problems that are dragging the most advanced civilization the world has ever seen down into what could become a new dark age.
At this point, things have gone so far in the wrong direction that “working within the system” (e.g. running candidates for national political office or other traditional ways of seeking to effect change) is unlikely to bear significant fruit, because the system itself has become systematically corrupted by anti-human values and mechanisms that automatically perpetuate and reinforce the wrong ideas, belief systems, boundaries of discourse and possible outcomes. I don’t mean to suggest, however, that we should seek to tear things down – the revolutionary impulse is best directed at constructing something new rather than to destructive ends.
Neither the big-money lobbyist-driven government nor the predatory corporatist economic system will be toppled through popular protest; we are now living in an era when a determined regime can easily sustain its power even if the majority of people oppose it with disgust, because the people are so fragmented into different subcultures and ideological tribes. The most profound change comes by building a self-evidently better system, making people aware of it, and allowing the competition for human hearts and minds to bear its natural fruit. The old order will wither away from lack of perceived legitimacy; no frontal assault is needed, and such an attempt could actually be counterproductive.
The Solution in Brief
So how do we “build a better system” to supplant the thoroughly corrupted socioeconomic order and societal leadership that now exists? I believe there is a clear path to victory in this regard, and here I will briefly outline it for all who are genuinely interested in finding and implementing real solutions to the monumental problems our civilization currently faces.
A leadership vacuum is the underlying cause of our civilizational rot and popular frustration:
“Whereas human beings are ever in need of informed and inspired leadership, that they may rise to their full potential; and whereas the light of civilization tends to be diminished or even extinguished, replaced by the darkness of cynicism leading to barbarism, when bereft of adequate guidance and inspiration impelling people to reach toward a higher vision of the good, the beautiful, and the possible; and whereas increasing numbers of people in this day are turning away from traditional sources of leadership, finding them provincial, common, corrupt, spent of their spirit and purpose, or unsuited to the modern world, and seeking a worthy replacement to set their hearts aflame, unite them, and inspire them to a sacrificial and heroic life; …” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience: Laying the Foundation for a New World Civilization, Preamble)
In practical terms, this is what has happened and what needs to happen:
“Whereas ownership of the means of material sustenance and production and of the formation of consciousness of the masses of society has, in large part, fallen into the hands of amoral entities concerned primarily with their own immediate profit; and whereas this condition is undesirable, potentially unjust, and likely hazardous to humanity’s future; it is vitally necessary that an institution representing the best intentions of the people of the world, centered in a conscientious and beneficent vision, imbued with high values and universal principles and regarding their advancement and implementation as its very reason for existence, should gain economic power and the ability to exert influence through the channels of education, public information and discourse.” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 2)
The bottom line is that we need a new source of leadership that is capable of inspiring people today to come together and create a positive future for all, and that new leadership institution needs to gain influence and power in the areas of education, media, and control of key economic resources. Now for some details:
The quality of education – the specifics of what is actually taught, and the overall purpose toward which children are educated (e.g. to be obedient workers for The Man, or to be good citizens participating in a shared evolution of society) – is one of the most important factors that determines what the world will be like in the future. Along with the parenting children receive at home, it is probably the single most crucial determining factor.
“Whereas an educated and informed citizenry is essential to a well-functioning democracy; and whereas familiarity with the greatest achievements in every field and the best contributions of every culture to humanity is an antidote to prejudice and short-sightedness and the foundation of broad-mindedness, holistic thinking, mutual understanding and peace; and in order that the people of the world may come to feel a closer kinship through the common reference points they might share, not through the effects of cultural imperialism but by the organic emergence of a global consciousness deriving from the discoveries and creations acclaimed freely by people everywhere, that the Earth might be perceived as but one home for all, undivided; let there be a Common Canon of what all well-informed people should know, including facts, theories, belief systems, creative works, and historical figures.” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 4)
There cannot be a well-functioning society with good values and good outcomes for its people unless most children in that society receive an education that inspires such an outcome and provides the average citizen with the mental tools and the confidence in their own self-worth and responsibility to contribute to its realization. Moreover, a truly high-quality education in this era must be global in scope and instill a consciousness of the oneness of humanity, our interdependence and dependence on the health of the planet we all share. Yet it goes without saying that education in America today falls far short of this goal. Social studies in particular has been cut from the curriculum in many schools, yet this is arguably the most essential subject for children to be taught, so that they will learn the lessons of history and see the big picture of how human civilization has developed and where it is headed.
Therefore, little is likely to change in our society (in a good way) until a new generation of people are raised with a superior educational curriculum that provides them with a deeper consciousness of human history, culture, and the profound progress that has been made and how it was made and what we must do to keep it going rather than choosing civilizational failure.
“That a greater share of influence of hearts and minds may be exercised by people of conscience in collective wisdom, let the Center for Human Conscience acquire holdings, either directly or through a subsidiary, including but not limited to private educational institutions, such as child care facilities, primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities…” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 2)
The public school system is not going to make the necessary changes, because most people currently don’t understand the problem and are unlikely to be persuaded to recognize and solve it – precisely because they did not receive the type of education necessary for them to do so! Therefore, people who see the big picture need to work outside the system by creating and/or supporting a network of nonprofit private schools and homeschooling programs that will offer a curriculum based on a progressive, global, historically and culturally aware perspective. These educational institutions need to offer scholarships to any child whose parents want them to leave the rotten public school system in favor of a superior alternative. The funding for this needs to be found – surely there are wealthy people who believe in our values and have the means to make it happen. Funds spent in this way would certainly bear more fruit than throwing it away on some phony politician, who will always get more money from sources with the wrong values and thus be primarily influenced in the wrong direction if elected.
After people grow up to adulthood, their education in some sense continues through their everyday exposure to the news media. Today, most of the media is controlled by a few large corporations with two main motivations: making as much money as possible, even if deceiving people or focusing on the trivial rather than the truly important will produce higher profits; and shifting public opinion toward ideas and policies that favor the interests of unregulated predatory corporate enterprise rather than the public good. Therefore, most people in our society are continually being wrongly educated, misinformed, and thus becoming ill-informed about important facts and issues simply by watching or reading the news.
“That a greater share of influence of hearts and minds may be exercised by people of conscience in collective wisdom, let the Center for Human Conscience acquire holdings, either directly or through a subsidiary, including but not limited to … media companies, such as websites, periodicals, radio and television stations and networks; publishing and filmmaking companies that create and disseminate products for education, entertainment, and social commentary; and companies that own infrastructure through which media and communications are transmitted.” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 2)
In the same way that poor education of children makes it impossible for an advanced civilization to sustain itself in future generations, a biased media that is corrupted by the profit motive makes it impossible for the multitude of people to understand the problems society faces and make good decisions – whether personal, economic, or political – to help solve the problems. The result is stagnation and decline in all areas of our collective life.
We cannot expect for-profit media to change what stories they cover and how they report the news; that is the natural result of the mindset of short-term corporate gain rather than long-term public responsibility. Nor should we look to government-funded media as an answer, because such media would inevitably reflect the biases of the ruling elite, which are not necessarily consistent with the interests of higher civilization, a well-educated and well-informed populace, and the people themselves.
The solution is an extensive network of media sources owned by a nonprofit organization that exists to uphold the kind of values that produce maximum benefit for society and its people. Such a network would include all forms of media, and would also seek to gain a significant share of control over the infrastructure of transmission and dissemination of news and information, so that the public could have access to it – something which is never guaranteed when institutions that do not share the public interest or the same values are in full control over the electromagnetic spectrum, communications satellites, and internet service providers. As with the creation of a superior nonprofit educational system, funding must be provided by wealthy people who support the goal of an improved media that is liberated from the damaging for-profit model and the risks of governmental control.
3. Nonprofit Ownership of Essential Resources
Nobody believes that the air we breathe should be owned by private corporations. Yet it is seen as entirely normal and justifiable that the soil on which the food is grown that feeds the world should be primarily owned by for-profit companies. This is a dangerous assumption that needs to change. For-profit corporate ownership of the fertile agricultural lands of the world should not be the norm as it is today, because such corporate entities exist only for their own self-interest and not for the public good. If it ever became more profitable to leave vast tracts of potentially productive land uncultivated – perhaps so that the price of food would rise and this might increase the profit margin enough to be a better way to make money than producing more food at a lower price – for-profit agribusiness could choose to let poor people around the world suffer and even die, because moral concern over their fate is not typically a motivating factor in business decisions.
Starvation may increasingly become a problem as world population grows and global climate change renders unproductive much of the land that is currently suitable for agriculture, turning it to desert. Lands of the far north, where there might be moderate temperatures and sufficient rainfall in a warmer world, have very poor soil for agriculture and would be expensive to cultivate. The likely result is dramatically higher food prices that will primarily be a problem for the world’s poorest people – but which will be welcomed by the companies that own farmland.
Furthermore, history shows that landless people typically are reduced to serfdom, peonage or outright slavery. The only exception to this rule has been in the industrial era, when most people began to sell their labor to a corporation for a paycheck. As we proceed into the era of information technology, fewer and fewer jobs will be needed to keep the engines of the economy humming, because artificial intelligence and robots will be able to replace most human work. Families sold their small farms to large corporations and are now landless, seeking better opportunities by selling their labor to capitalist industry, but in the low-employment economy of the future they will not have enough wealth individually to regain a share of productive soil which they could use to survive without outside employment.
“That a greater share of wealth and stewardship of the necessities of life, heritage of the past and birthright of future generations may be secured by people of conscience in common trust, let the Center for Human Conscience acquire holdings, either directly or through a subsidiary, including but not limited to land, especially that which is or may become productive for ecologically responsible agriculture, forestry, extraction of natural resources, or generation and storage of energy, and that which should be preserved as wilderness; real estate, especially properties that may be developed or renewed for socially responsible and beneficial uses, and sites of historical and cultural significance; commodities, especially those most needed to sustain and advance civilization; and financial institutions, such as banks and thrifts.” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 2)
The problem is not only about who owns the farmland; it is also about all other resources that are necessary for humans to survive and thrive, both natural resources as well as financial resources that make it possible for economic growth to occur and which play a large part in determining what types of businesses will arise and grow. Regarding financial resources, it is a very troubling situation to have most of the world’s wealth concentrated in the hands of a few major banks which are for-profit entities chartered with no responsibility for the public good. This situation has emerged in recent decades and cannot be allowed to continue, or else the future development of civilization will be primarily in the hands of institutions that exist in purely for their own self-interest and without any higher vision or moral concerns.
The solution is a network of land trusts and credit unions, collectively owned by great masses of people who would share in the profits, operating on principles of long-term stewardship and sustainability under a nonprofit umbrella. Government ownership of land and other resources is not the answer to the problems caused by for-profit companies controlling the world’s resources; communism has already been tried and failed. People with wealth who understand these problems and the inadequacy of failed theories of the past need to endow a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that exists for the benefit of humanity as a whole with large amounts of funds and properties so that it can begin building a vast portfolio of resources, and thus, over time, drive the future evolution of human civilization in the right direction – a direction that takes into consideration the ideal of an egalitarian society with a large middle class, opportunity and social mobility, and the moral duty to end poverty by ensuring that at the very least every human being will have enough to eat.
4. Global Nongovernmental Democracy
One of the main criticisms of for-profit corporations is that they are typically controlled by a very small group of large shareholders whose personal interest drives the decisions of the company. Very few businesses are controlled by their own employees. None give any significant power to the customer other than the choice of whether or not to purchase their products or services. The goal of a business is to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible, which is then primarily used to reward its executives and shareholders. No moral considerations are involved; some of the most successful enterprises in history have been based entirely on evil, such as the slave trading industry. Some modern businesses engage in grossly irresponsible activities such as clear-cutting rainforests, which harms the environment for everyone in the world. Therefore, it would be a mistake for society to vest too much power in business, both because too few people are involved in decision-making and because the process of how businesses decide what to do and how to do it does not take into account any higher principles, only a short-term profit motive.
As for government, even in what is generally considered the best form of government (representative democracy), politicians’ decisions tend to be just as short-sighted as that of businessmen, and often nearly as profit-driven, because of their desire to be reelected. Political campaigns cost tremendous amounts of money, and thus large donors and lobbyists have an inordinate amount of influence on the positions that politicians take and what they do in office. Publicly financed campaigns might reduce the problem somewhat, but would introduce a different problem: a tendency of status quo parties and policies to be sustained regardless of quality because of their advocates receiving government funds to run for office, while advocates of major change would not be considered part of the mainstream and thus would receive no public funding and would be prohibited from raising private funds. Banning lobbying, meanwhile, would only drive the bribery of government officials underground, not actually solving the problem. Non-democratic governments suffer from even worse corruption and sometimes downright evil acts by the rulers, because military coup or revolution is the only way to remove them, and both of those are uncommon and rarely seriously feared by a strong and oppressive ruler.
Is there any other option for a type of institution that could exercise some type of power or influence over the future direction of civilization? In the past, religion played a major role alongside government and business, but religious institutions that once controlled vast properties and armies – such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Caliphate – have either lost most of their power or have completely disappeared. This is probably for the best, because despite religion’s inspirational qualities, it also tends to be a divisive force. When given too much power, it is capable of some of the worst atrocities imaginable, as history shows.
When we talk about a nonprofit organization working for better education, better media, and accumulation of natural and economic resources for the benefit of the world and its people, the vision is not for something like a private business, nor a new type of government, nor a new religious institution. Perhaps the best analogues among the type of institutions that currently exist are economic cooperatives (co-ops) and nongovernmental or semi-governmental democratic parliamentary-type bodies such as professional associations, umbrella organizations for various causes, and the United Nations. Essentially, the idea is to create a major new power-base in society that emerges from the people themselves, without being a government with armies, but with a vast array of holdings such as lands, properties, and subsidiary companies and institutions.
“Whereas visionaries have dreamed of the day when a multitude of the world’s people will meet for ongoing dialogue in global parliament assembled; and whereas today, with the advent of the internet, it is practical for the first time in human history to make this enlightened vision a reality; let there be a vast, all-embracing assembly, The People’s Assembly of the World, comprised of ten thousand men and women from all nations and places on Earth, representing the great diversity of humankind in common knowledge, spirit and purpose: that the members of this Assembly may take counsel together and strive to reach consensus on matters of public importance; that it may inspire people to live better lives by eloquently expressing the guidance of humanity’s shared wisdom and collective conscience; and that it may address itself to powers and authorities with the boldness that its inherent legitimacy affords, that they may hear and heed the mighty and united voice of the informed citizens of the world, knowing that the wisdom and conscience of the people are a higher authority with greater power than them who might use wealth or weapons to attempt to enforce unwise and unjust decisions.” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 7)
Living as we are in the age of globalization, this new nonprofit nongovernmental institution would by necessity be global in scope and emerge from democratic voting by the people of the world. However, membership in the organization itself – the Center for Human Conscience – and the right to vote in elections for its leadership body would only be granted to people who have demonstrated that they are well enough educated in the basics of geography, science, world history and culture, etc., to participate responsibly, and who affirm the broad-minded, progressive, humanitarian principles on which the organization is based.
“Whereas the Center for Human Conscience is to be a global democratic institution representing the people of the world, let membership in the Center be granted to any person having attained twenty-one years of age who affirms, on one’s sacred honor, the First Principles declared in this Charter, and who demonstrates sufficient knowledge of the Common Canon as assessed by criteria equally applied to every individual. Let everyone who wishes to become a member be given the opportunity to learn the knowledge required.” (The Charter of the Center for Human Conscience, Article 6)
In conclusion, until a large enough group of people come together and give generously of their personal resources to create such a radical new institution and endow it with the means to implement its goals, the problems the world today is facing will continue to exist and likely get worse. Major existing institutions do not have the answers and have been shown to be very difficult – perhaps impossible – to reform enough to make a significant enough difference. New solutions that emerge from outside the established system need to be tried. For-profit business, government, and religion must face competition from a new base of organized influence and ultimately tangible power arising with a credible plan to protect the environment, preserve the advances of civilization, and further improve the world and people’s lives. The plan involves a transformation of education and media, acquisition and sound management of natural and financial resources, and democratic decision-making through a nongovernmental parliamentary body – a global nonprofit institution led by the people of the world themselves, having raised our minds and hearts to a level suitable for responsible leadership, sacrificing for a common cause, doing our best to help raise up the rest of humanity, holding in check and ultimately diminishing and defeating the anti-human forces that currently hold sway.