3. THE PROBLEM
“Technological societies know how to create material wealth, but their ultimate success will depend on their ability to formulate a postindustrial humanistic culture. The shift from obsession with quantitative growth to the search for a better life will not be possible without radical changes in attitudes.”
Rene Dubos, Celebrations of Life
MEANS WITHOUT GOALS
Many of us are troubled by much of what we observe and experience in life. Increasing numbers of us seek meaning and purpose in an often impersonal, materialistic, and adversarial world.
We share a growing conviction that reconciliation among people, nations, races, and diverse political, economic, and religious ideologies is unattainable and maybe even impossible.
It is perplexing and disturbing.
In our passion to consume and accumulate, we are competitive, confrontational, and self-centered.
Full of fear, insecurity, and greed, we exploit each other and ravage our environment.
- We take our pleasures but do not replenish.
- We deplete and exhaust the land, abuse our bodies, and violate our spirit.
- We create unsustainable imbalances.
- We experience and exhibit contradictions that cause confusion and anxiety.
- We are capable of infinite compassion and the cruelest brutalities.
- We create extraordinary beauty and unimaginable horror.
- We are sustained by the fruits of our labor while we destroy the environment from which we derive our bounty.
- We celebrate our uniqueness, deny others theirs, and profess our superiority.
- We’ve been graced with abundance yet many are in great need.
- We have been given every freedom, yet to many freedom is denied.
- Many of us who have every need fulfilled create insatiable wants.
- We have every means to resolve our problems, yet they persist.
- We exhibit a vengeance for getting ahead but sense we are somehow falling behind in some intangible way.
Times of London columnist Bernard Levin wrote of countries that are “full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, yet lead lives of quiet desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside of them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however many cars and television sets they stuff it with . . . it aches.”
“We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; we have more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but more problems; more medicine, but less wellness. We’ve added years to life, not life to years.” Anonymous
Results of surveys taken in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan to determine the effects of technological progress and the steadily rising standard of living on human health and happiness were essentially the same in all the wealthy industrial nations.
While many believed that knowledge and the state of health had improved, a large majority felt that inner happiness and peace of mind had diminished.
Something is wrong fundamentally.
In stark contrast to our measurable achievements, a quality of life for which we long remains distressingly beyond our reach.
It is the essence, the very nectar of existence that remains stubbornly elusive.
- It is a quality of life that can provide us with mental and physical well-being and lead to fewer troubled relationships.
- It is the unfulfilled half of our potential of which our higher selves are mindful.
- It lies dormant, awaiting release and expression like a genie trapped in a bottle.
World-renowned scientist, humanist, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Rene Dubos wrote, “Technological societies know how to create material wealth, but their ultimate success will depend on their ability to formulate a postindustrial humanistic culture.
“The shift from obsession with quantitative growth to the search for a better life will not be possible without radical changes in attitudes.
“The Industrial Revolution placed a premium on the kind of intelligence best suited to the invention of manufactured articles, as well as to their production and distribution on a large scale.
“In contrast, a humanistic society would prize more highly skills facilitating better human relationships and more creative interplay between humankind, nature, and technology.”
Where once our abundance of natural resources counter-balanced our limited knowledge and vision, today we find ourselves in a new arena.
Now, the limitations of our resources and the extraordinary growth of our population must be compensated for by an expansion of our knowledge and vision.
Similarly, we find that we can no longer engage in our primitive form of conflict resolution, warfare, lest we risk our very existence.
We have neither the resources nor the space to repeat the mistakes of our past. To do so would be to exhibit an archaic mentality likely to return a few survivors to an archaic time.
Expressing his concern for what he considers to be a central problem of modern civilization, Dubos notes that “science and technology provide us with the means to create almost anything we want, but the development of means without worthwhile goals generates at best a dreary life and may, at worst, lead to tragedy.”
A stark example is the discovery of nuclear fission, which was first used to make tens of thousands of thermonuclear warheads.
- Today, we stand on the threshold of comprehending the oneness and the interlocking whole of which we are a part.
- It informs us that life is not assured, it is dependent upon the interrelationships by which it is sustained.
- Because these interrelationships are as fundamental as natural laws, our problems are like those we might suffer by arrogantly defying the law of gravity.
- An understanding of the significance of our connectedness and interdependence can serve as a powerful change agent.
- It goes to the philosophical heart of our decision-making process.
- Attitudes among individuals and institutions must change to recognize the balance in life and the sacredness of mutually beneficial life forms.
We are connected.
Life is fragile.
This understanding is the prerequisite to the next step on our evolutionary journey.
Given the complexity of our world, it is a giant step on an arduous journey.
Our planet, as of this writing, is divided into some 195 ever-changing sovereign nations with people speaking 6,909 different languages.
In each nation, a staggering mix of political, economic, cultural, and social factors combine to produce varying qualities of life.
In all these nations, individual, public-sector, and private-sector policies are typically not based on the reality of interdependence.
Decisions, driven by short-term priorities, are commonly based on desires to maximize profit and to retain or gain power, all in the name of progress.
To be continued……
Next: PROFIT, POWER, AND PROGRESS