Human Rights

Preparing for the next evolutionary leap

Preparing for the next evolutionary leap

Fourth International Dialogue on the Transition to a Global Society, meeting outside of Washington, D.C. considers how to smooth the path to a peaceful future

COLLEGE PARK, Maryland, USA -- Over the last five years, small groups of scholars, scientists, religious leaders and policy-makers have gathered periodically to discuss the following question: will the rapidly emerging global civilization come to embody humanity's darkest fears or its most cherished hopes?

Held under the rubric of the International Dialogue on the Transition to a Global Society, these gatherings are founded on the premise that the advent of a global society is inevitable, and will soon be upon us. Trends pointing to the wholesale integration of the world's economies, the blending of its social and cultural systems, and the proliferation of new technologies are taken as prima facie evidence of this new reality.

The question before humanity now, say organizers of the meetings, is how to manage the transition to a global society such that humanity's long-sought vision for an era of peace and prosperity is realized -- rather than the nightmare of a planet gone to chaos because humanity failed to make the next step in social evolution.

The first of these gatherings took place in 1990, under the auspices of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organizations (UNESCO), at the Landegg Academy in Switzerland, which was also the venue for the second and third Dialogues.

In October, the Fourth International Dialogue was held at the University of Maryland, at its Center for International Development and Conflict Management, just a few miles from Washington, D.C. It was organized by the University's Bahá'í Chair for World Peace and the Department of History.

Like previous Dialogues, it brought together a stellar collection of scholars, policy-makers and leaders of thought. Indeed, there were numerous signs here that the Dialogues are now reaching a new level of exchange and recognition, taking on ever greater significance in the worldwide discussion on the effects of globalization.

For the first time, for example, the Dialogue attracted a head of state and a former head of state. President Amata Kabua of the Marshall Islands delivered a major address, as did former President Amine Gemayel of Lebanon. U.S. Vice President Albert Gore Jr., although not present, was said to have "enthusiastically endorsed" the meeting, according to University of Maryland President William Kirwan.

The event also drew several major religious figures, including Dr. Karan Singh of India, a distinguished Hindu scholar and spiritual leader, and Madame Mary Rabbání, leading dignitary of the Bahá'í Faith.

Given the great diversity of the participants, who came from more than 22 countries, the ensuing dialogue was remarkable in that there was a high degree of agreement that the key factor in easing humanity's transition to a global society rests with the issue of moral values and, more specifically, in the promotion of a new universal ethic.

"The overwhelming implication of the phenomenon of a 'shrinking' world behooves us to act as global neighbors," said President Gemayel. "And this neighborliness extends to all the citizens of this globe irrespective of whether they are 'next door' or thousands of miles distant."

"Success in any endeavor in this context will be possible and pursued if we were to be guided by true values, by a universal ethic that informs our actions and permeates the spirit and manner in which we are governed," President Gemayel continued. "The values of which I speak are timeless ones: that is, they have been advocated for centuries by the great religions and by the finest political thinkers from Aristotle and Plato onwards. They include: respect for life, freedom and justice."

This theme, that our collective values will determine how successful humanity will be in making the transition to a global society, was echoed numerous times during the three-day meeting, which ran from October 15-17.

Bertrand Schneider, Secretary General of the Club of Rome, spoke about the global challenges posed by the information revolution. "Even in the most sophisticated and tolerant societies, the new technologies are raising questions about cultural values that are not easily resolved," said Dr. Schneider. "The technologies may be in themselves neutral: the difficulties arise from the way they are used. If satellite TV and the Internet were used only for educational purposes, there would be no problems. But what do we do when they are used to disseminate pornography, especially involving children, which even the most broad-minded find abhorrent?"

The answer, Dr. Schneider hinted, lies in new values of cooperation. "As we move towards a global society," Dr. Schneider continued, "we have extraordinary opportunities to pool our intellectual and economic resources to tackle common problems, instead of either duplicating our efforts or, worse, using them against one another. Everyone recognizes that it makes more sense for Russian, American and European scientists to collaborate, as they are now doing, rather than compete in space. We need similar cooperation and solidarity here on Earth: if we put all our heads together, we stand a better chance of solving the problems we now find baffling. For that to happen, we need not just knowledge, but wisdom."

Dr. Ervin Laszlo, an internationally renowned specialist in evolution and systems theory, said that managing the transition is a matter of humanity's collective choice.

"This is a period of transition, and as with all great transtions, it has a logic of its own... But the change is not predetermined. In any great evolutionary leap, success is possible and failure is possible."

-- Prof. Ervin Laszlo

"This is a period of transition, and as with all great transitions, it has a logic of its own," said Prof. Laszlo. "It's not the past telling us what the future will be, nor is it a random event. It is deterministic chaos. A great deal of freedom is possible. What is not possible is to stay the same or evade it. Change is therefore a necessity. But the change is not predetermined. In any great evolutionary leap, success is possible and failure is possible."

The key to success, Prof. Laszlo said, pointing to his head, "is written up here, in our minds, and in the values we hold."

Religious leaders at the Dialogue likewise emphasized the importance of values, suggesting that any search for a universal ethic capable of guiding humanity's transition should begin with an examination of the moral values which underlie all of the world's great religions.

Dr. Karan Singh said that Hinduism, like virtually all of the world's great religions, teaches the "all-pervasiveness of the Divine" and that the "spark of the Divine resides in all human beings." From these two understandings, he said, we come to see that "if we all encapsulate the Divine spark, then humanity is an extended family. That has to be the keynote of the global society."

"Religion," Dr. Singh added, "can provide the basis for the unity of the human race. It is the only thing that can provide this basis."

Madame Rabbání suggested that the so-called "Golden Rule," found in all religions, also provides the basis for such a universal ethic, the only thing capable of promoting understanding and tolerance. She called on world leaders to move beyond narrow nationalistic perspectives.

"Present political philosophy and many of its proponents are far too often governed by fanatical and opportunistic doctrines, ignorant prejudices, and purely personal ambitions," said Madame Rabbání. "I prefer a concept of power that is different, broad, more altruistic.

"Power ought to to be defined as a sacred obligation towards the greatest good for the greatest number. This means the whole world, and those in power, acting as trustees of the Creator Himself, must be accountable to Him for their acts."

-- Madame Mary Rabbání

"Power ought to be defined as a sacred obligation towards the greatest good for the greatest number," she continued. "In the present context, this means the whole world, and those in power, acting as the trustees of the Creator Himself, must be accountable to Him for their acts. They are therefore obliged to regard themselves not as the representatives of small local constituencies but as the representatives of all that dwell on earth, and they should judge between men with justice, recognizing that the decisions they take in this spirit will surely promote their national interests while protecting the welfare of the whole -- in other words, mankind. I believe these two principles -- of global and spiritual responsibility -- will characterize the governmental institutions that will evolve in our future global society."

The call for a reexamination of religious values in the search for political guidance was echoed by some of the secular leaders present at the Dialogue.

President Kabua said a new global society will be successful only "through a creative interaction of scientific and religious systems of knowledge such that they can recast a fundamental reorientation in our habits and attitudes."

Both science and religions have, in the past, been responsible for great advances and great horrors, President Kabua said. Science has promoted "great inventions and colossal enterprises" and also "perfected the ability of humanity to kill hundreds of thousands of people."

Likewise, he said, "despite the influence religion has had in establishing world civilization, history -- past and recent -- provides ample evidence of the barbaric acts perpetrated in the name of religion."

Only through the concept of human brotherhood and oneness, said President Kabua, can science and religion combine to yield their fairest fruits. In this context, he said, "religion whose purpose is to unify humanity will be a powerful force in harmonizing our spiritual and material needs and progress."