prefice / introduction – DONATIONS, Membership
Considered Working Titles:
Ethical Economic, Legal, Political and Social Institutions: Models for Change: An Outline for reforming the obsolete tenets of modern civilizations
OR: Meeting Human Needs: Ethically Reforming our Economy and Government
OR: Beyond Liberal and Conservative – Vision of a Peaceful Revolution
OR: Humane civilizations worldwide
A DRAFT DOCUMENT by Heinz Aeschbach, MD, Austin, Texas, first published 2008, with ongoing support, editing and additions by Walter Aeschbach, MD, El Paso, Texas; and other articles [more to be added].
Our goal is a worldwide movement that seeks to realize a vision of reforming institutions of civilizations so that they bring the best human qualities out of people and create humane civilizations.
Founders, organization members:
Heinz Aeschbach, M.D., Austin, Texas, USA
Walter Aeschbach, M.D., El Paso, Texas, USA
Crispa J. Aeschbach-Jachmann, M.D., Austin, Texas, USA
Margaret A. P. Aeschbach, MLS, Austin, Texas, USA,
Naoma C. Lane, BS Ed., M.S.S.W, Ed Admin., Ohama, Nebraska, USA
Previous web design and photos by Linda Nowotny
Preface revised 3/2019
The Humane Civilization Worldwide project is the result of our life-long pursuit to find ways of making the world a better place (‘our’ and ‘we’ refers to us twin brothers Heinz and Walter Aeschbach, both psychiatrists). Observing and studying people, it appears that humans’ behaviors are often appalling and hardly rational: considering people’s intelligence, scientific knowledge, and the technological developments that were achieved, we should expect that the world is a much better place than it is. Wars should have been considered obsolete since the times when conquerors stopped pursuing systematic genocides or cruelly mistreating and enslaving conquered people. Crimes should be rare since they hardly ever enhance the thief’s or attacker’s quality of life. It seems hard to understand why cruel traditional practices often spread rather than having been abolished long ago.
This Humane Civilization Worldwide document (published in this website) is a work in progress; we work continuously on improving it. It is written so that any part may be read and understood by itself; there is no need to read from beginning to the place of main interest. Consequently, reading through it includes duplications but we try to avoid contradicting statements. There is no claim that ideas and opinions are original, many ideas may be described elsewhere, sometimes we reinvent what others already proposed. However, we have been trying to create a cohesive, fairly comprehensive ‘blueprint’ for a better future.
In efforts to understand humans, how our instincts and emotions, our responses to stimuli, and our reasoning cause our wishes, pursuits and actions, we studied many aspects of human nature, and we studied cultural-institutional factors that contribute to people’s perceptions and decision-making. Our opinions are based on observing ourselves, people we know, and psychiatric patients, empathetically listening to their stories and discussing their perceptions and thoughts; on independent studies that included ethology (studies of observed animal and human behaviors), anthropology, history, primatology, psychology, neurosciences, and economics. Much anthropological information was gained from reading literature of foreign and native cultures, particularly post-colonial literature of Asia and Africa. Difficulties and failures in developing aid projects also added valuable information about humans and cultures. We discussed our own views and conclusions at length with many people.
Throughout history, progress toward higher quality of life for all has been extremely slow, hesitant and with frequent regressions. Hominids-humans had big brains (close to 1,000g) for over a million years and walked upright for several million years but appeared to evolve genetically faster than intellectually, culturally, and technologically. Simple stone axes were used for over 1.5 million years, until about 0.2 million years ago, with no apparent improvements. The regular use of fire for cooking evolved over about a million years and made chewing and digesting food much easier. Genetic anatomical adaptations in teeth and intestine occurred simultaneously. The development of more sophisticated hunting weapons was slow enough that most African wild life had time to adapt by way of mutations, developing a fear of the small human hunters. It took Homo sapiens tens of thousands of years from the first lines drawn on cave walls, later outlines of animals to the creation of simple but beautiful paintings. Rather than thinking creatively and devising more sophisticated ways, Homo sapiens, the large-brained Homo neanderthalensis and earlier Homo species apparently followed primarily traditional ways of tool use with developments appearing more coincidental than planned and invented.
After the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, the world’s climate appears to have been relatively stable and developments started very gradually to accelerate. However, our instincts and the prevalent primitive cultures did little to improve people’s lives. The largely coincidental developments of agriculture and animal husbandry led to higher population density, hierarchical structures, and the enslaving of most people. Homicides decreased but due to the anonymity of these societies and the human propensity to us-against-them thinking, there was much more systematic cruelty, in warfare and to maintain ‘order.’ Kings and high priests ordered the construction of impressive monuments, there were some technological inventions and a very small number of humans lived in considerable luxury. However, throughout Antiquity and the Middle Ages, progress from century to century was barely noticeable. Fresh water and sewage systems hardly evolved from Roman times to the 18th century. Aqueducts in Mexico look as if built by the ancient Romans.
In recent centuries, the speed of progress has accelerated, in some areas exponentially, and today the majority of people experience much less physical hardships and suffering than ever. However mental health problems including anxiety and depression, abuse-addiction problems, and existential crises are very widespread. Suicide rates are still high, and among adolescents and children rates have been increasing in some highly developed countries. Also domestic violence and antisocial behaviors by gangs are still serious problems, and crime rates, related to and unrelated to drug abuse, remain much higher than we should expect.
Modern institutions vary greatly in their adequacy. For instance, devastating economic conditions are an odd problem: if unemployed people want to work, there is work to be done, and there are resources to work with, why is the money supply exhausted, or why do governments not provide the money supply needed to effectively mediate economic transactions? If there are legal limitations to expand the money supply, people should at least be able to work with local barter coupons? Obviously, healthy adults should find time for meaningful work, time to raise and educate young people and/or to help old and disabled people. Why are so many adults wasting time, engage in abuse behaviors, or, ignoring needs in their communities, work for wealth and luxuries they can hardly enjoy?
An important conclusion is that we have to understand and fight harmful inherent, biological predispositions in a global way by addressing our institutions. Like other highly developed animals, we have a powerful, underappreciated instinct to follow our elders. People then rationalize even worst traditions as necessary. Unlike most animals, humans are also docile, comparable to the few animal species that lent themselves to be domesticated for exploitation; and this docility has been widely abused. When a good idea is proposed, the almost universal response is “that will not work”, and “yes, but…” Work in developing countries often failed when these propensities were not appreciated. Only if an invention promises to be imminently gratifying and or meets an addictive propensity, is it likely to be developed; examples of abusive-addictive pursuits include power and wealth, and unhealthy comfort and food. Inventions of the last few centuries primarily served to expand the power and wealth of aristocracy and later entrepreneurs and industrialists. Capitalism is relied on the greed of industrialists who wanted to become wealthier thanks to inventions and exploitation of cheap labor, and investors wanted to become wealthier without working themselves. Industrialization’s benefits to the poor have been secondary, not a primary goal. For example, inventiveness in ship building was first used to efficiently transport stolen precious metals and slaves, not to provide better nutrition for the poor or for tourism of the masses. Capitalist enterprises and customers are still irrational and prone to abuse-addictive pursuits. While Volvo developed cost-effective safety features in cars, most car manufacturers had to be forced to build cars according to new safety standards rather than mainly focusing on building appealing, fast cars, and people had to be forced to use the by Volvo developed convenient and highly effective seat belts. Good results that benefit most people appear to be largely by-products of industrial developments. Ethics or morality in institutions is usually extremely limited with ethics rules usually having been created as a response to some gross abuse.
From a philosophical standpoint and forming opinions that are based on much research data and observations, we conclude that humans must seek ethical guidelines that are based on an understanding of human nature and on what people universally wish or, more importantly, prefer (people may wish high status, honor, and revenge, but more importantly, they usually prefer peace and stability to contests, conflict and fighting.)
Religions can hardly guide us, since, if there is a quasi-personal God, we cannot know what She/He wishes from us – world religions vastly differ in their teachings and within Christianity, people vastly disagree on details when interpreting the Bible, particularly concerning moral principles. An intractable problem has been the propensity of religions to incorporate inhumane traditional values and practices into their teachings, making it much harder to evolve and eliminate worst traditional practices. Unless isolated and marginalized, pacifist religions usually devised many exceptions to their principles.
We maintain that idealistic concepts such as freedom, equal rights, justice, or autonomy do not work as ethical guidelines either. Considering the major differences between people, gender, temperaments and genetic predispositions, being poor or wealthy, growing up in different environments, etc., the notion of being ‘born equal’ and the term ‘justice’ make little sense; freedom for one often limits freedoms of others and freedom is sometimes interpreted as a right to exploit the environment. The terms ‘unjust’ or ‘unfair’ are meaningful when indicating that rules are applied unevenly with the intent to benefit one group and/or harm another; but, in certain circumstances, rules should be ignored; ethical reasoning is key. If free will exists, it is minimal: we hardly can look back and claim, “I could have behaved differently” without assuming that knowledge, perceptions, impulses, mental state, etc. were different. Even though the sense of being responsible for one’s actions is natural, even needed in our decision-making, we must make efforts to be understanding and forgiving and focus on institutions and cultural developments. We must focus on the goal of preventing ethics transgressions by reforming institutions and helping people who are prone to unhappiness and hostile feelings, supporting people who experience hardships, preventing victimizations as feasible, and treating all people humanely.
Most important in the development of individuals and in decision-making are our instincts, which we usually perceive as emotions, and cultural-institutional ways of enhancing them, suppressing them, and modifying their expression. For our endeavor of particular interest are the institutions that influence our emotional-behavioral systems: economic systems, legal and political systems, and education, which includes influences by entertainment. Many kinds of personal experiences, traveling, and social interactions, listening to personal accounts, etc. add to people’s growth. We have to recognize the great differences between different people, inherent differences, education and background, experiences of trauma and/or luck. Was the person early influenced or abused in pernicious ways; was he/she at a good place during critical phases in life, etc. Our goal is that model institutions will work reasonably well for all people, address individual problems as feasible, and bring out the best qualities in each person.
The purpose of this draft and organization is to
– Develop, explain and teach science-based ethics, which is based on an understanding of human nature.
– Propagate a philosophy of governance that is based on natural, science-based ethics.
– Continue analytical examinations of cultural and governmental institutions.
– Develop model frameworks of institutions that will serve as guidelines or goals for proposed changes of present institutions.
– Offer education and on ethics based commentaries on many political issues, as they come up, particularly climate change
– In addition, the organization seeks to create a worldwide movement of people and organizations who share at least in part or in principle the goals of this organization in order to gain more influence worldwide and help many people find meaning and satisfaction in participating in the movement. The goal of making a small contribution to improving the world may replace meaningless pursuits of wealth, status and luxuries or substance abuse.
It is not sufficient to make sporadic improvements to alleviate some contemptible cruelties and ignored suffering, or to correct specific irrational policies; we need to find and address the cultural-institutional factors that lead to senseless suffering, cruelties, irrational policies and corruption, and the factors that keep governments from effectively addressing serious problems.
Introduction revised 3/2019 [previously revised/edited 2/2012; 2/2013; 8/2014; 1/2016; 10/2017]
Our institutions, political, economic, legal, etc., are far from what people universally wish or “the least bad possible.” And people often appear unreasonable, unethical, and, even if well-to-do, dissatisfied. To make today’s civilizations more humane, we must change the institutions that shape people’s perceptions, aspirations and behaviors, and we must have ideas as to how good institutions would look like.
Considering people’s intelligence, today’s astonishing scientific knowledge and the technological achievements, we should be able to expect a world with much less conflicts and suffering. While observing continuous progress in many areas, we have a shared ethical obligation to seek out the failures of our cultures, observe and analyze them and cooperate in pursuing reforms.
We may visualize humans becoming more ethical but we can only work on improving the behavior of people by changing the institutions that have an impact on individuals. Institutions powerfully influence the development of individuals’ character, physical and mental health, perceptions, aspirations, decision-making, and happiness. While philosophers and even some scientists have been arguing as to whether humans are basically ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ it is obvious that, as most mammals and birds, humans can be loving and caring as well as very aggressive, against members of their own and other species; and like many social animals, they can be cooperative or adversarial, and they may assault as individuals or in groups. Environmental factors and, in case of humans institutions, are key.
People, as individuals or functioning within institutions, appear most of the time hardly aware of broad ethical goals that reflect humans’ universal wishes and preferences, including peace, stability, mutual respect, loving relationships and a better future for our children. Instead people work mostly for what they may want and think of at the time. They may pursue any pleasurable activity; they may seek esteem, honor, or revenge; they may follow addictive pursuits, habits or simply routines and ‘policies and procedures’. Rather than being rational planners, humans primarily follow pursuits that are driven by instincts and culture; these pursuits are triggered by external and internal stimuli and they are experienced as feeling right and/or promising good feelings. People tend to go from one pursuit that is perceived as positive, to another, and dangers, probable deprivations, or suffering rarely stop the course of actions. High rank, social respect, power, and access to mating partners have always been among the main motivators, but cultures often modified and perverted these instincts.
Throughout prehistory and up to modern times, despite their intelligence, humans tended to follow simple traditions and they rarely sought better ways by learning from past and from observations. They appear to have thought mostly about the present and about social relationships; they hardly thought about how they influenced their own and their offspring’s future, ways they may survive and move on. After the last ice age, with the development of towns and agriculture, people lived much more densely in large, mostly anonymous groups. The evolving cultures became extremely cruel in systematic ways, subjugating, exploiting, and abusing the majority of people; leaders despicably abused humans’ and particularly women’s docile nature. Since then, civilizations have struggled to develop more humane institutions.
A likely explanation for the very slow progress is that higher animals, including humans, have a strong instinctive predisposition to imitate and learn from older individuals how to express instincts within their environment. Modern people are not much different, even if many aspects of life became much more complex. We learn mainly from older authority figures and older peers, sometimes from leaders of drug or gang subcultures, but otherwise rarely accept novelty unless it is attractive and imminently rewarding.
Instincts from small group living have not served evolving civilizations well. Biological and historical factors may explain why, in spite of the high level of knowledge, technologically and psychologically, the world appears to be in a deplorable and bewildering state.
Humane Civilization Worldwide (HCW) and its website focus on examining major inadequately addressed problems and offer framework models of institutions that are designed to improve or replace current institutions; the intent is that these rough ‘blue prints’ will guide reforms of the institutions that are the root cause of unnecessary conflicts and suffering. This vision of an institutional framework of humane civilizations is based on our understanding of studies in the fields of economics, ethics, social and political sciences, and human nature. We include fairly detailed proposals for changing economic, educational, political and other institutions that are relevant in all civilizations.
Goals have been to
• Find and analyze major and underappreciated problems in modern societies.
• Establish ethical guidelines that 1. correspond with scientific data on human nature and what humans globally wish and prefer, and 2. consequently address how cultures influence and shape ways people express their emotions and instincts; the goal is to ameliorate conflicts, minimize unnecessary suffering and bring the best out of people.
• Establish a vision of realistic, sensible models of institutions that help develop peaceful humane cultures and civilizations worldwide.
• Increase awareness of the meaning of such goals; address whole populations, explaining problems and ways to move forward.
•Working with organizations with similar ethical goals towards becoming a powerful worldwide movement (people and organizations agreeing, at least with the basic ideas and goals of the presented vision; individuals and organizations may differ in their priorities and some details but should be united in the pursuit of this broader vision, communicating as part of this movement with a voice that cannot be ignored)
The described proposals are only a first step, nothing final, a work in progress. They try to end the hold of obsolete philosophies concerning present institutions but remain pragmatic; progressive thinking will be needed far into the future. The document in this website is incomplete, based on our present knowledge and opinions, and it needs to be continuously improved and expanded.
Our thinking about economic and social order go beyond ideologies of left and right and describe a radical departure from conventional economic views. People want to conserve or save much that is universally recognized as valuable: timeless wisdoms and ethical principles, many natural and on instincts based social patterns, the heritage and artifacts of cultures, animal and plant species, and other natural resources of the world. People also must become liberal in the sense of progressive, generous, tolerant, and broad-minded. The world can neither stand still nor change without direction, and we need to free ourselves, as quickly as possible, from obsolete notions.
There is no claim that ideas and conclusions are original, our own; many have been proposed, even tried, or we re-invented them; but this is an attempt of a comprehensive plan – putting the pieces together and creating broadly useful guidelines.
Philosophers and psychologists wrote much about humans being basically good or bad; this dichotomy makes little sense when observing human nature. Humans have the ability to be considerate, loving, ethical and content with meaningful work, but humans also tend to be egoistic, greedy, power-hungry, shortsighted, callous and cruel (inherent and by teaching reinforced ‘us-versus-them’ thinking is a main cause for humans’ callousness and cruelties). Most philosophers and scholars emphasize individual responsibility1. This makes little sense when considering how the culture, its institutions and significant personal experiences shape individuals’ perceptions, thinking, values and the expression of instincts. And only the institutional environment is readily accessible to change, not the thinking of all or most individuals. The institutional environment and culture that people live in powerfully influences them, as do the anarchic conditions in shantytowns and other poor areas of the world2.
NGOs, religious-charitable groups, political parties and other groups and agents should address many obvious problems; urgent goals that need to be cooperatively, systematically and effectively pursued include:
– Move from isolated efforts to broad cooperation, probably under an umbrella organization.
– Climate change to be addressed from many sides: food choices and production, transportation, insulation of buildings, renewable energy sources, decreasing sun exposure and heat absorption of earth’s surface, sequestering carbon, etc.
– Economics, monetary systems: A stable money supply is important for economic stability. The circulating money should be owned mostly by individuals, enterprises, and agencies, not by financial institution. Lending activities and speculation must be very limited. When the money supply has to be increased to serve a growing civilian economy, governments must no borrow but issue new money. Creating new money that increases civilian productivity is not inflationary. If growth in economy is delayed with investment such as education of young people or in large infrastructure projects, mild inflation is expected but is not disruptive. Only government expenditures that do not increase civilian productivity, such as space programs and military expenditure, are inflationary.
– governmental policies: Systems of taxation should be designed to encourage and discourage specific economic activities. A minimum basic income should be issued to everybody. Free enterprises should be guided by regulations, incentives and disincentives to minimize harm and fulfill needs. Part of the economy should move towards social enterprises that work on the ‘common good.’ Etc.
– Educational system: It should include
– ethics, learning broad compassionate empathy and avoiding ‘us-versus-them’ thinking, etc.
– a broad range of objectives for young people: healthy lifestyle, sciences, art, etc.
– adult education.
It has also to recognize the role of religions as primarily cultural-artistic, not teaching ‘facts’ and morals.
– Punitive-adversarial legal thinking versus systematic ways of preventing most ethics violations: Punitive-adversarial legal systems are fundamentally unethical and is largely based on pre-Christian notions. It should be replaced by science-based ways of preventing most ethics violations; treating rather than punishing people who, due to pathological developments, acted in dangerous and seriously unethical ways.
– Move from ‘equal rights’ to ‘special rights’ of specific groups, e.g. women’s reproductive rights and mothers’ rights when working.
– Freedoms must be limited, e.g. ‘free speech’ must not include the right to knowingly disperse false claims or slender; freedom of some often infringes on freedoms of others or is destructive to the environment.
– Basic philosophy of governing and societies’ institutions need reforms and new ways of thinking: they are still largely based on obsolete notions of the 18th century, focusing on elusive, philosophically-scientifically untenable notions.
Progressive organizations, charitable organizations, NGOs and political parties and representatives within governmental agencies, deal with many issues Humane Civilization Worldwide addresses. Even if some may disagree with specific goals or consider them unimportant, these organizations and agents would greatly benefit from cooperating, possibly under an umbrella organization that represents the majority of people. Whether a group focuses of endangered animals or women’s rights, progressive causes hardly oppose each other, and group representatives agree with a goal to work towards leaving a better world to future generations.
Today it is easy to dismiss progressive causes because each groups appears to represent a very small minority. While a majority of people agree with many progressive pursuits, concerns related to human rights, women’s rights, environmental concerns, climate change, or avoidance of warfare, they usually focus on supporting mainly one or a few groups; thus no groups seems to represent a significant segment of the population. Sadly, many groups appear to directly compete for donor dollars, even if they claim or believe that they encourage people to donate more to NGOs and charities. Obviously, a charitable organization spending much money for fund-raising and advertizing to lure people from supporting one to supporting another, similar organization, is wasteful and counterproductive.
Because of astounding and accelerating progress, much of what is discussed today may seem obsolete in the near future. Capitalism with its top-down managed corporations and encroaching property rights may be weakening while cooperative work on ‘commons’ grows, with sharing and broad access to knowledge. We may expect an abundance of inexpensive automatically and robotically produced high quality goods: scarcity may not remain a central issue of economic thinking. However, natural land is a limited and extremely valuable resource and natural environments require protection. The biologist Edward O. Wilson proposed to maintain and return half the land to a natural state; this is a reasonable, realistic goal.
An optimistic laissez-fair attitude is dangerous, in spite of reasonable expectations that inventions will help alleviate many of the major, still worsening, problems:
– Climate change is, with political will and much education, largely preventable; it is happening now.
– The rapid increase in electric road vehicles is leading to resource shortages3 and/or accelerated mineral resource mining with its own pollution problems. The use of SUVs and air traffic should be discouraged and rail transportation promoted.
– Population growth is slowing, but not rapidly enough, particularly considering the economic progress. The world cannot support most of the world population emulating Western style middle-class living.
– Enterprises’ legal duty to make profits for investors and seeking profits interferes with the pursuit of ethical and pragmatic goals. It also leads to rapid shifting and moving of resources, which creates major instability for people.
– A money supply relying on debts leads to many seriously indebted families. Severely indebted people largely discount their and their children’s future, often become desperate, and they may commit crimes or suicide.
– Other consequences of laissez-fair economic systems include: widening income gap, monopolies with small businesses unable to compete, much waste in wealthy areas while worst poverty unmitigated, responses to major crises inadequate. In addition, poor countries are drawn into the Western economic system with all its problems. Living simply and densely is hardly a priority.
– Since most people in wealthy countries stay comfortable while much of the world suffers, Western leaders are likely to ignore the urgency of climate change and economic problems – there is little political will for needed dramatic actions.
Ethics and improved economic institutions are most relevant for progress and the survival of civilizations. Ethics is not adequately studied and taught, and ethical supervision of agencies and institutions is inadequate. Ethics, as a science, must be further developed.
Ethics must be based on empiricism, the understanding of human nature, not on transcendental philosophies or religions4. Ethics must be pragmatic, observing human instincts and deep-seated goals of all people. Globally, people share some desires and, more importantly, preferences; for instance, people may wish honor and revenge but on the whole prefer peace. Most people share a wish that the next generation, particularly their children and young relatives, have a better life then they have had. Many instincts foster ethical behavior: social instincts, sense of reciprocity, desire to help and share knowledge, and particularly sympathetic feelings and the ability to be compassionately empathetic towards, friends, strangers, even animals. (Empathy means one visualizes being in the place of others or being the other being, making efforts to understand his/her perceptions, emotions, fears, and aspirations, which is usually associated with compassion.) But people also must learn to avoid expressing or vicariously and in thoughts enjoying inclinations such as aggression, vindictiveness, excessive competitiveness, unethical sex, fascination with cruelties and most importantly ‘us-versus-them’ thinking. Perceiving people as “them” or “others” weakens or completely eliminates sympathy and compassion. Tendencies to addictive behaviors have to be addressed as problems of cultures and of ethics.
Ethics must be emphasized in formal and informal education for all ages, and most institutions need ethical consultations and oversight. Individuals must see ethical decision-making as above institutions’ traditions, policies and procedures, etc., since rules of professional and institutional ethics often miss major problems. Education should also teach that dishonest, shortsighted, narrow-minded, corrupt, greed-driven behaviors and other forms of addictive and dysfunctional responses to stress are not only major obstacles to progress, they greatly damage the individual’ s self respect and quality of life.
Ethics must be global and include respect and compassionate empathy for all people and sentient beings, consideration of the environment we leave to future generations, and the scientific understanding of human nature and the world. Thoughtful, sensitive and mentally balanced people of all cultures can find consensus concerning human rights and global ethical principles.
Cultural-religious morals and ‘spirituality’ are not necessarily following ethical principles; they often incorporate unethical traditions and they generally adapt to leaders’ proclivities. Most forms of religious moralities are patriarchal and repress women; inhumane old traditions are readily incorporated as religions’ moral mandates. Members of pacifist religions often justified wars; Christianity was pacifist until the concept of “just wars” was devised, and later Christians abandoned the mandate to always forgive and readily used the death penalty. The term ‘spirituality’ is often used to avoid talking of religious biases; spiritual states are not necessarily connected to a sense of feeling the presence or communicating with a god but may be induced by awe, experiencing natural or artistic beauty and greatness. Humans are able to hold contradictory beliefs and may rapidly switch from one realm of thinking to some incompatible ideas. Religions frequently exploit this inherent perilous problem.
Religions should be a source of positive spiritual emotions and an inspiration for ethical behaviors. However, throughout history religions have divided people and caused or contributed to conflicts, cruelties and wars. Religious texts, traditions and teachings have to be understood as parts of cultures, comparable to poetry, never as truths. We particularly must avoid beliefs that contradict the scientific understanding of humans and nature; and religions must end tolerating, justifying or mandating violations of human rights and global ethical principles. Religious people must accept and be tolerant towards other cultures and philosophies including agnostic and atheist thinking.
While people are able to hold simultaneously contradictory beliefs, they generally are only able to understand and focus on some aspects of religious teaching part of the time. Being religious basically means trying to believe in what one considers the most essential aspects of religious teachings. If Christians would truly believe in the extreme suffering of purgatory and the eternity of tortures in hell, they would be paralyzed by fear. While Christians emphasize in their prayers forgiveness, they also embrace punitive legal systems and vengeful thoughts. There is no record of Jesus addressing homosexuality or mentioning abortions and the Old Testament gives little value to a fetus; still homosexuality and abortion have caused divisive conflicts and severe hostilities in Christian societies.
Founders of religions and religious leaders addressed certain aspects of ethics and cultures, but they emphasize different priorities and many religious doctrines contradict science-based ethical principles. Societies must not justify discrimination and other forms of abuses justified by individuals’ ‘conscience,’ which was shaped by religion.
Climate change, to which humans significantly contribute, is a major preventable threat. It must be addressed from every angle:
– Food choices and production, mainly shift from meat (beef being worst) to plant protein, and more local food production and processing.
– Transportation: Highly efficient family sedans, station wagons and minivans should replace SUVs; ship and rail transportation should largely replace road and air transportation (rails of wide range of gauges and weight; and including high-speed rail).
– Insulation of buildings; smaller dwellings for families and individuals; denser living.
– Renewable energy sources,
– Decreasing sun exposure and heat absorption of earth’s surface, and partly shielding atmosphere from sun light.
– Creating synthetic fuels of CO2, using solar or other renewable energy.
– Sequestering carbon e.g. burying wood in way that it will not decompose and free CO2 (possibly sinking it in polar sea); and other ways of permanently removing CO2 from atmosphere.
Reliance on much beef and other meat is not only an issue concerning worsening of climate change and animal abuse; presently food production is hardly keeping up with population growth5 partly because of climate change. Global warming, water shortages and scarcity of phosphorus are expected to dangerously reduce world food production.6 To what degree technological progress and its application will offset perilous developments cannot be predicted. Problems are aggravated by our present economic system that greatly discourages investments that do not promise short-term profits. Additionally, cultures are slow in adapting to ecologically responsible, healthier living, including mainly vegetarian diets.
An economic system is obviously dysfunctional if there are unemployed people who want to work, there is work to be done, and there are resources to work with, but there is no money supply to efficiently mediate economic transactions.
Economies need a stable money supply that does not depend on financial institutions’ lending activities. Bank lending expands the functional money supply in that deposited money can be lent to more than one person or institution. Banks usually lend “generously” when there is no need to expand the economic activities but shrink the money supply by lending issuing fewer loans when there is an economic slowdown, which is when money is needed to employ people who could provide services, repair buildings and infrastructure, etc.
Countries must never borrow money – if the economy expands, the country must expand its money supply – print new money, If a country’s borrowing from foreign countries or the IMF does not lead to significant inflation, it would have been safe to simply increase its own money supply. If new money is issued, the question is: 1. Does the increased money supply immediately stimulate the economy, allow new workplaces with job growth and increased productivity? 2. Does the increased money lead to a delayed but significant increase in the productivity as in healthcare and educational expenditures, civilian research, or large infrastructure projects? 3. Is the increased money used for expenditures with no positive effect on the civilian economy, such as weapons, military activities, or space programs. If productivity increases, even if delayed, an increase in the money supply will hardly lead to significant inflation; however, military expenditures hurt the civilian economy by increasing people’s incomes without increased civilian productivity and by competing for resources.
If much of the functional money supply consists in loans from private banks, bankers have to decide what new or growing business enterprise should get loans. They are not qualified for making such decisions and mostly rely on past, obsolete data, e.g. if recently values of residence or office buildings rose, they may lend money to builders until there is an oversupply and values plummet.
Federal banks should maintain a stable money supply with limited loans being issued by local cooperative nonprofit development banks. Private for-profit banks may maintain a limited function but must be tightly regulated. Securities markets should have a very limited function and trading should be taxed.
Since money tends to flow from poor, less industrialized areas to metropolitan and wealthier foreign centers, economically depressed areas may need local currencies that function like barter coupons and cannot leave the area. Such money is likely to maintain or increase local economic activities, prevent migration to urban slums and help attract branches of metropolitan industries.
A worldwide currency is needed for government reserves and international economic transactions. Private crypto currencies (electronic money) should be outlawed except possibly as limited local barter currency.
Income taxes are hard to collect and they tend to ‘punish’ actual work while taxing income from speculative investments much less. Sales taxes are much easier to apply and they positively influence economic choices, if taxation rates are graded according to product category considering social desirability. Polluting and very unhealthy products should be taxed much higher than basic, wholesome, ecologically sound goods.
Taxation should cover disability and elderly income (Social Security), health insurance and education at all levels. To eradicate economic hardships leading to child malnutrition, homelessness, etc., a minimum basic income should be introduced worldwide, issued in coupons usable for basic food, shelter, clothing and public transportation; the amount are to be adapted to local conditions. This is particularly important in areas where many jobs disappear due to the rapid increase in automation, robotics, etc.
While free enterprises are valuable, they need to be influenced and directed to incorporate priorities other than maximizing profits; e.g. by targeted taxations that addresses particularly polluting, unhealthy, excessively luxurious and wasteful products, etc. We must also encourage a broad move towards social enterprises with the ‘common good’ rather than profits being their primary objective, along with broader cooperation and greatly limited patent and ‘intellectual property’ rights.
Prior to any major changes, all politicians should observe some economic insights that diverge from dogmatic conservative thinking, including:
– Inappropriate reduction in government spending in an indebted country worsens its ability to pay debts and causes unnecessary suffering;
– Excessive indebtedness of a country should be treated as largely a responsibility of lenders. If borrowing money is appropriate to improve and develop an economy, expanding the local money supply would be equally responsible;
– Increasing the money supply is not inflationary if it increases civilian economic activities. Borrowing and creating new money for defense spending is: it increases the civilian buyers’ income without increasing production of desired goods and services; and the competition between military and civilian industries drives up costs of metal and other material resources, and labor.
– Lending should be limited and mostly replaced by increased saving and the extension of the money supply, in some places adding local currencies.
– In any economy no person should be marginalized or excluded and a ‘safety net’ for the poor (minimum income, healthcare, government-provided for person appropriate education) is essential for the health of a civilization.
– Securities trade needs to be taxed, and the creation of complex ‘financial instruments’ must be limited – sales should be forbidden if there is no ‘informed consent’ to a transaction because nobody understands what is included in the contract.
– Governments must be employers of last resort.
Developments in modern societies fail in many ways and Western economies created grave problems that need to be addressed. Competing free enterprises are creative and there is much progress and material growth, but without government involvement, enterprises largely ignore the unemployed and the poorest people, the needs of poor countries and protection of the environment. They rarely focus on what is most needed. Much of the developments did little to improve people’s quality of life. When productivity increases, people are enticed to seek luxury and perfection, and they may work rather more (particularly in the USA, less in Europe). Consumerism corrupts ethical thinking and often becomes an addiction. Advertisements purposely create desires and/or make people feel inadequate and insecure so that corporations can exploit these anxieties. Buying on credit is today strongly encouraged, leading to indebtedness with detrimental consequences. A lack of meaningful values is often a consequence and a cause of spending excessively on artless entertainment and luxuries that do not enhance happiness. Driven by profits and legally protected as “free speech,” commercial media portray violence, cruelties, unethical sex, and other abusive behaviors as entertainment, thus inadvertently or recklessly reinforcing grossly unethical inclinations in people. While media keep offending and eroding cultural values, some religious groups responded with a return to fundamentalism, rather than focusing on ethical principles7.
Economies with their financial institutions, supported by current economic policies, are self-driving and largely out-of-control. While overall wealth grows rapidly in much of the world, corresponding improvements in quality of life are often lacking. Some developments cause worldwide dire social and political problems, including wars. Over a billion people still live in miserable conditions, few having a possibility to escape extreme poverty. Slums in poor countries are still growing; farm and grazing lands become wasteland. Families and their cultures have been disintegrating. Ecosystems are destroyed. Women, underpaid and working in wretched conditions, contributed greatly to the rapid development of industrializing economies, but even though much discussed, widespread discriminating and abusive treatments of girls and women continue with little political will to stop them8. Even in highly industrialized societies, discrimination remains frequent and institutions do not adequately consider needs specific to girls, pregnant women and women with small children (most institutions of higher education including medical schools hardly consider the special needs of women with young children, even though there are more women students than men).
Whether economics is a science is debatable: economics, as taught in schools and as used in political decision-making, consists of multiple theories with limited validity. Different schools of economics do not even agree on basic principles; indeed economists of similar persuasion keep giving contradictory advice: there is not enough consumer confidence meaning people should dare using their savings and go into debt, versus people do not save enough, there is too much debt! And economists generally lack an understanding of human decision-making processes, the importance of emotions, the frequency of cognitive errors, etc. No school of economics appears able to predict economic developments9. Economic and related political discussions appear stuck within narrow models; particularly conservative politicians and economists keep recommending approaches that lead to much suffering and, in case of recessions, very slow recoveries.
Most modern education systems are far from optimal. The primary goal must not be to make children productive but, while teaching knowledge, we must direct them to become ethical, healthy and happy. Teaching must include teaching broad compassionate empathy and avert us-versus-them thinking, etc. Sex education needs to include learning about psychological aspects of relationships. In many situations, sex-segregated school settings are probably beneficial. Diverse school systems must learn from each other. And civilizations must learn to understand that mass media and the Internet including social networks and games are de facto part of the educational system. Therefore ethical guidelines must be developed that balance the right of freedom of expression with the need to protect children and adolescents from ethically and culturally destructive influences.
Children learn from the people and culture around them: their family and teachers, folklore and games, the media, the Internet, etc. Entertainments of all kinds are powerful teachers and need to be recognized and treated as part of the education system of a civilization with similar ethical oversight as schools. Language, being multilingual-multicultural, the physical-social environments, work places and income distribution also influence people’s values and thinking.
Ethics is not adequately studied and taught. Including ethics discussions in education of all levels would help to establish adequate ethical supervision of agencies and institutions and greatly decrease the problem of corruption in all its forms.
Religion and legal systems are usually seen as substitute for empirical, pragmatic ethical considerations that should be observed in all situations; they are not. Economic systems, functioning like a behavior modification program, often interferes with ethical decision-making; rather than recognizing its destructiveness, capitalist societies often encourages reckless competitiveness, addictive consumerism, greed, and group thinking that lacks empathetic consideration for outsiders. Ethics education must counter these problems.
We cannot wait for people to suddenly decide to become responsible and pursue ethical goals. Peaceful and humane civilizations are possible. But ethics, including compassion towards people perceived as “others,” can and must be taught. Following ethical values feels good and may become self-reinforcing. Cultures should teach people to avoid unethical expressions of instincts and addictive behaviors, such as substance abuse, consumerism, and pursuit of wealth and power. Conflicts and negative feelings towards others are also reduced if cultural institutions teach some common standards and habits, mainly observing reasonable cleanliness, avoiding waste, being careful and reasonably punctual, and above all being polite, honest, respectful and considerate towards others. Particularly consideration readily leads to friendship, attachment and love. Institutions that decidedly address the world’s foremost problems are possible. Good institutions bring the best out of people.
Religions should be a source of spiritual emotions and be part of artistic culture, but they remain a major problem. By definition, religious beliefs cannot be substantiated and sacred scriptures have been interpreted in many different ways. If specific religious texts really were communications from a, the only, God, expressing his/her will, why would God allow so much ambiguity? And religions cannot be genuinely tolerant: believing one thing excludes accepting the validity of a divergent belief. Religious people often claim that all religions essentially express the same moral principles. This is not true – not only are priorities, focus and interpretation of the human condition different, the moral principles of the early books of the Old Testament, Hindu Scriptures, and other holy texts are principally different from Jesus’ teachings as related in the New Testament. Religious beliefs in reincarnation are not comparable with Christian teachings. Generally, religious teachings also reinforce cultural hierarchies and power structures and incorporate local traditions, which may be cruel and ethically indefensible; and virtually all religions incorporate inhumane patriarchal values. Hinduism goes even further in classifying some humans as utterly contemptible.
Teaching children about hell or other cruel punishments after death is a form of child abuse; and it is only possible to accept both, permanent happiness in heaven for some and unending tortures in hell for others, by greatly reinforcing the inherent propensity to ‘us-versus-them’ thinking, which essentially eliminates compassion and reinforces adversarial thinking. Premature rituals such as First Communion and Confirmation feel wrong, almost like child marriages or preadolescent girls vowing to become nuns – children do not understand the meaning of their religion and its sacraments.
Instead of laws and law enforcement, societies must focus on prevention of grossly unethical behaviors (criminal and dangerous actions) and on protecting people from individuals who appear unable to adapt and live within ethical boundaries. Targeted disincentives should largely prevent minor transgressions. People who are in apparent danger of perpetrating major ethics violations and particularly people who actually committed significant unethical acts need treatment, and their freedoms may be restricted. Teaching perpetrators compassionate empathy, offering opportunities to learn skills, creating constructive opportunities, and helping them find meaning in life greatly reduces further crimes.
The principle of an adversarial legal system is indefensible; in the U.S. hired expert witnesses have immunity when expressing very biased opinions and juries are supposed to be impartial and find the “truth.” Previous interpretations of laws are generally considered more relevant than science-based insights. However, the U.S.’ legal system is, understandably, not trusted by most poor people, but it is broadly supported by the country’s conservative population and it is entrenched, it is a matter of cultural pride. People do not want to recognize that it is wrong in principle and bad in execution. Most lawyers do not recognize the archaic nature of legal doctrines.
Legal systems need to be redesigned according to principles of ethics. The U.S.’ legal system, which is supposed to enforce ethical behavior, is essentially a relic of pre-Christian religiosity. As in antiquity, its primary goal is vindication; it uses quasi-religious rituals; it works with logic that is based on false premises: false beliefs about human volition, emotions, reasoning and behaviors, and a principle misunderstanding of mental disorders. Laws contribute little to prevent crimes by the very wealthy “who live above the law” and by poor people who live often in anarchic conditions. Discrimination and brutality in law enforcement including extreme sentences and abuses within prisons are ethically unacceptable and they have little effect on disturbed and disenfranchised people’s propensity to commit crimes. Although disturbed developments in children and adolescents, including antisocial behaviors, such as petit thefts, can be identified and treated, the U.S. has largely failed to address them, and its legal system deals later with the foreseeable severely disturbed behaviors in a destructive way.
Judges and the legal system consider some mental disorders to constitute excuses or ameliorating circumstances while others are considered aggravating factors. Substance addictions tend to be treated as a ‘disease’ in Caucasians, as crimes in minority men, and as a despicable character weakness in crime in mothers. Gender also influences judgments: women tend to be punished more severely in many lesser crimes, men may get longer sentences in more severe crimes since they are presumed to be more dangerous. The suffering of families, particularly children is hardly considered when a mother or an employed father is imprisoned.
Human decision-making processes are very complex. Sometimes people feel like they are choosing freely; sometimes people feel confused and ‘out of control,’ unable to make a rational decision; sometimes they perceive themselves as rational, ‘calculating,’ and doing what is ‘objectively best’; at other times the intensity of an instinct or emotion, a compulsion or an addiction prevent any rational or ethical consideration from stopping the behavior. Abusable drugs imitate the good feelings of instincts and abuse and addiction behaviors (including ‘junk food’ binges, abusive sex, pursuit of power and material goods) interfere with rational and ethical thinking and decision-making. Decision-making always relies on emotional valuations. What feels good and/or right is determined by our biology, basically instincts responding to internal and environmental stimuli, including stimuli that have become associated with an instinct. However, the expression of instincts is usually modified by cultures and personal experiences and may be adapted according to higher values or sublimated with art. Ethics should be the decisive factor in cultures’ efforts to influence the expression of our instincts.
There are conflicts in all human relationships; humans have a propensity to competitiveness and aggression, and humans are fascinated by cruelties. Our instincts have not evolved to serve our interests as individuals and they are not adapted to civilizations that have developed in recent millennias10. While humans are often violent, they also have instincts that drive us towards behaving ethically, and it appears that there has been a more or less continuous progression towards less violence and, later, more humane civilizations, as documented by S. Pinkers11. Even though the majority of major cultures have become more humane in recent decades, there are principal shortcomings in modern civilizations that keep a high level of vulnerability towards a renewed spread of violence and sadistic cruelties. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not followed in any country12; the legal systems rarely addresse major human rights’ issues adequately. In some places, violence including genocidal actions against minorities continues as part of “normal” political pursuits, and involved individuals may be ecstatic while slaughtering the weak13. Revolutions, struggles for democratic governance and great scientific and technological progress advanced the lives of much of the world population, but billions of poor people are continuously exposed to threats of violence and cruelties, some living in traditional societies, others in failing states, many living in slum cities or other islands of anarchy (even within wealthy countries).
In spite of inadequate legal systems, societies may, with significant ups and downs, slowly move towards more humane civilizations, but people must not sit back and watch others work for progress. However small our contributions, our combined efforts to make civilizations more ethical and humane will help billions of people, and, more than anything else, it is such work that gives our lives meaning.
Modern political-legal systems are still based on concepts of 18th century philosophers, which are obsolete. We must move forward. People are not born equal: there are big differences between girls and boys, between children’s inherent temperaments and talents, and between familial, socio-economic, cultural, and physical environments children are born into. Treating two persons the same way is not justice. Since there is hardly free will and every person is different, we need to set a goal of all people being treated humanely, with compassion. ‘Justice’ is an elusive, essentially meaningless term, but injustice or unfair treatment is different: it generally means that enforcement of rules or law are purposely applied differently when dealing with ‘important’ versus ‘unimportant’ people, or that rules are formulated in ways that help or harm specific groups or individuals.
Rather than ‘equal rights,’ we must focus on basic rights with limitations, rights to be protected from unnecessary harm, and special rights for specific population groups, particularly women: for instance, every woman must have ready access to the contraceptive method that is optimal for her and to abortions; pregnant women and women with children need special considerations in education and work settings; sports must consider the higher vulnerability of girls (e.g. concerning brain damage from impacts), etc. Rather than focusing on preventing women from getting abortions, civilizations must address the need for abortions, particularly in underdeveloped countries and among the poor, involving men in addressing ways to prevent undesirable pregnancies.
Freedom is a relative term with multiple meanings that include the right to act freely while following reasonable laws, freedom to practice any religion, speak and express any opinion, and freedom from abuses or imprisonment without grave cause. However, freedom of religion must avoid unethical practices and teachings that contradict sciences and ethical guidelines; freedom of expression must not allow public speech designed to harm, spread information that is known to be wrong, etc.
Democratic institutions work inadequately and must be improved; specific proposals are described in this website. While decision-making by large populations tends to seek reasonable goals and avoid extreme actions, the actual systems often undo this benefit.
– Primary elections often eliminate moderate candidates that would be acceptable to the majority.
– Political campaigns usually evoke emotions rather than thoughtful consideration.
– The systems encourage shortsighted goals and put local interests above larger, much more important concerns (as soon as elected, a primary concern of politicians is to seem effective around the time when the contest for reelection starts).
– Members of parliaments usually fail in achieving a balance between a pursuit of instantaneous advantages for their constituency versus interests of the country, world community and future generations.
– Misguided cultural-religious groups and extremist simplistic thinking political groups ignore complexities and scientific aspects of proposals, and they often inflame politics, exacerbating conflicts.
– The organization of governmental agencies often fosters inefficiencies with lack of adaptability and oversight.
With ‘self-governance’ people elect individuals of their jurisdiction who naturally have associations and interests of the subgroups to which they belong; the voters then have little power unless they have time and/or the resources to lobby. Progress is impeded since local populations and their elected officials rarely see the problems that are obvious to outsiders; problems often include serious human rights violations.
So far, a workable and generally acceptable system of democratic governance has not been attained and there is no consensus as to what the goals of governance should be, even though some areas, particularly Scandinavia, are doing quite well. Much consideration is needed to develop constitutions, regulations and laws that adequately consider strengths and weaknesses in human nature as well as differences between various cultures, subcultures and family cultures, genders and individuals’ characteristics. The primary goal must be to create institutions and elect leaders that address the important issues and challenges in the pursuit of more humane and sustainable civilizations.
People have to clarify the functions of governments for highly industrialized and for developing countries; specifically what tasks a society should fulfill that individuals cannot do and private corporations should not do.
A consensus may focus on the following functions and goals:
– Education that includes teaching ethics, health and sex education, etc.
– Health care, support of disabled and elderly.
– A broad approach to address climate change.
– Supervision of all institutions.
– Crime prevention and institutions replacing the function of present, unethical legal system.
– Establishing a money supply with special consideration that poor people have money for local economic interactions (local currencies may be needed to keep money from leaking from poor areas to cities and foreign countries).
– A minimum basic income
– Supervision of economic and financial institutions.
– Infrastructure, particularly efficient, ecological transportation system (that should include small narrow track trains in sparsely populated and mountainous areas, light rail and two-level trains in densely populated areas and high speed trains for long-distance travel);
– Guidelines for the development of towns and city neighborhoods, with relatively high population density and adequate provisions for community functions; etc. Central governments have also the function of mediating in internal and international conflicts.
Proposals for good governance include:
– The government is secular and incorporates a broad range of members.
– Decisions are generally not based on a simple majority vote but on seeking consensus or a ‘common denominator’ that is acceptable to essentially all representatives.
– Representatives are obliged to work for the whole country, not make decisions that are based on local culture or religion.
– For many positions only objective outsiders are eligible.
– In elections, voters rank candidates and also express whom they consider acceptable versus questionably acceptable versus not eligible.
– Executive committees or cabinets may include parliament members; they are elected by the parliament. Their function is to find what is best for a country and its regions and world community. They also mediate between the interests of regions and districts.
– Most officials with executive functions and judges or ethics committee leaders must not be from the region they work for, and the leaders of a federation must be foreigners. Executive officials may not need to be full-time in the capitals.
– Generally, there should be leading committees rather than presidents, governors and mayors.
Biologically and culturally, women tend to have different approaches to problem solving and different priorities. When electing two representatives for any area, it would probably improve democratic functions if always a woman and a man are elected. The work of governing bodies may be more effective if women and men form separate chambers with women having at least equal power and influence. It may be argued that women should dominate executive functions since women are generally more aware of social consequences of decisions and tend to be more pragmatic. It is important that women in politics no longer have to adapt to male thinking patterns and strategies.
The U.S. constitution has been considered a model but it is failing. The introductory remarks of the constitution are spurious, and there was no attempt to fulfill the stated goals according to the philosophy of its time. The constitution mostly attempts to assure a permanent balance between opposing political forces, that no branch of government or party becomes dominant. Other democracies may be doing worse, but the intent of the U.S. constitution has long been perverted, and in many regards, the U.S. is losing its moral ground and leading position.
In particular, freedom of speech must be limited, not allowing speech designed to harm people, and there must be consequences for purposeful dangerous communication such as making up lies to thwart elections. The term ‘opinion’ must be defined as a conclusion that is based on knowledge but is uncertain, as opposed to what is considered scientifically proven or, on the other side, a hunch, bias, or a religious belief. Journalists publicly interviewing people and communications media must make sure that they are not becoming tools for spreading hatred and dangerous misinformation. They should respond immediately to apparently false claims, asking for sources and commenting that most reputable scientists would hardly agree. Media should not publish “opposing views” in which one is describing grossly unethical attitudes, is hateful, biased, and obviously based on falsehoods.
Tribes, religious groups, and other groups of shared culture or heritage are valuable for people’s sense of identity. However, they must never be a basis of governance. The goals of governments must include following highest international standards of ethics and relevant sciences, never representing the interests and biases of ethnic groups, professional organizations, religions, etc. Tribal ancestry should not influence political thinking.
Western countries have not been able to provide a workable model of democratic governance for Third World cultures as they still struggle with dysfunctions in their own democratic institutions. In interacting with the poor countries, highly industrialized countries have pressured them to abide by Western political and economic goals, often supporting cruel dictators. Poor countries later tried to emulate Western legal systems, but due to costs and lack of qualified professionals, legal systems work in most poor and even some wealthy countries vey poorly. It is time to offer models of governance that are applicable to wealthy and poor countries.
A major challenge is to strengthen and broaden ethical thinking in politics and all institutions. All political decision-making demands thorough ethical considerations.
Ethical dilemmas in political decisions and prioritizing, which have been treated very negligently, include:
– Most problematic developments, such as climate change, have hardly been recognized as problems of the world community that concern everybody’s choices and behaviors. Many individuals, businesses and institutions continue to irresponsibly worsen the problems, e.g. promoting meat rather than legume-based protein foods, marketing heavy SUVs rather than family-seize cars and minivans and expanding air traffic while refusing to invest in efficient rail systems, consuming food from distant places and/or shipping food large distances for processing, when it could be grown and processed locally.
– Access to abortions: As men have been impregnating women at an irresponsibly high rate, women had over a billion abortions in the last two decades alone (averaging more than one abortion per women). Abortions saved the world from disastrous overpopulation, mass starvation, mass migrations and wars. Until recently, more than half of all abortions were, in most areas, illegal; contributing considerably to women’s suffering and to pregnancy related deaths. (The highest rate of all continents has been in South America, which has also the second highest population growth.) All over the world, policies and moral teachings concerning birth control, including abortions, are mostly based on archaic male-centered views and misunderstood religious texts; they discriminate against women and violate their human rights. Families wishing to adopt have always been a tiny number compared with the number of needed abortions. Obviously abortions should be safe and, with effective preventive measures, become very rare.
– Few Western politicians reveal much concern about the millions of people who have been abused and killed in central-East Africa due to wars, which are partly caused by resource shortages and valuable minerals.
– Most politicians are indifferent about extreme pollution killing large numbers of older people and children since this is today mostly a problem of the poor.
– Increase in food production is barely keeping pace with population growth; much agricultural land is expected to become less productive because of climate change and lacking fresh water. World fish stocks have been decimated by overexploitation. People of poor countries who enter the middle class want to emulate a wasteful Western lifestyle that will not be sustainable.
– Heat waves will destroy the livelihood of the majority of South Asian, Sub-Saharan, and central African people and of many Latin Americans. Densely populated costal areas will be more often flooded. However, Northern countries resist necessary mass migrations.
– The USA is one of very few countries that still consider reliance on military force essential in solving most severe conflicts. U.S bombings in North Korean and Cambodia killed a large part of the areas’ populations and led to inhumane dictatorships; later interventions in Central America, Somalia, Yemen and Syria appeared to have worsened and/or prolonged local conflicts.
– While preoccupied with international terrorism, U.S. military actions that killed mainly civilians have been likely to increase recruitment by extremist organizations. People broadly ignore that Western influences (entertainment that is dangerous to traditional cultural values and encouragement of consumerism) may promote religious fundamentalism and extremism, rather than lead to a gradual progress in these cultures. For political reasons and dependence on oil, politicians keep ignoring the Saudi Arabia’s role in spreading extremist Muslim factions.
– Infrequent terrorist acts by foreigners are rarely compared with vastly more deaths caused by irresponsible gun laws: the U.S. has inordinate numbers of suicide, homicide, gun accidents, and ‘home-grown’ terrorism. Neither are attacks by foreign terrorists compared with domestic violence: thousands are killed every year by family members and intimate partners, mostly women and children. Regarding suicides, research indicates that if a frequently used ‘fashionable’ means of suicide becomes hard to obtain, suicides drop rather than people seeking other methods of suicide. In additions, small steps could greatly reduce traffic fatalities.
– The USA has failed to properly address substance abuse disorders and other abuse-addiction problems. Drug-related deaths keep climbing and the demand for drugs along with the U.S.’s irresponsible gun laws are responsible for much of the violence in Latin America. The U.S. needs proper drug abuse prevention that focuses on ethics and meaning in young people’s lives (avoiding existential crises), and treatment of mental disorders, particularly PTSD; and the U.S. needs everywhere readily available drug abuse treatment, including methadone and buprenorphine maintenance, long-term low-intensity residential treatments; and other measures.
Judging catastrophes from a historical perspective, recent problems are significantly less severe than famines, wars and genocides in the past. Crimes have greatly decreased in most countries and most civilizations decreased institutionalized cruelties. However, this is no reason to minimize the significant remaining violations of human rights (or institutionalized ethics violations), and of new catastrophic developments. Even if we do, in many regards, much better than earlier generations, we need to uncompromisingly address current problems and challenges.
1 The great differences between cultures are not related to people choosing to be cruel or diligent/moral out of free will. Goldhagen believes that not seeing people as free agents dehumanizes them, turning them into automatons(Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Worse than War, 2009, p.11). However, it is not free will that distinguishes us from robots (we do not even know whether we have free will), being sentient distinguishes us from automatons.
2 Many strong personalities, including spiritual leaders and humanistic writers, influenced countless individuals; however, institutional changes are needed to solidify progress. Without them, people usually revert to the old ways; this process has repeated itself many times throughout history.
4 Consilience, The Unity of Knowledge, Edward O. Wilson, 1998: chapter 11, Ethics and Religion, p. 238ff.
5 Significant food shortages are predicted. Actually, there still is sizable excess food production, but much nutritious food is used for wasteful meat production, for pet food or processed into fuel for cars. Particularly beef production is extremely inefficient regarding land and water use; rain forests are cut down to produce beef; additionally cows produce much greenhouse gases. In addition, much food spoils while stored and transported and particularly in wealthy countries, much is wasted (compare A Five-Step Plan to Feed the World by Jonathan Foley, National Geographic May/2014, and other sources. There is a vast potential for increased food production, e.g. utilizing hydroponics in areas with limited fresh water, but investments in new technologies appear grossly inadequate (compare Abundance – The Future Is Better Than You Think by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, 2012,p. 85ff, p.100ff.
7 Particularly religious people may study: Our Endangered Values, by Jimmy Carter, 2005.
8 compare: Half the Sky , Turning Oppression into Opportunities for Women Worldwide, by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, 2009; A Call to Action – Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, by Jimmy Carter, 2014
9 Compare: The New York Times, 3/25/2010, Opinion article “The Return of History”, by David Brooks (conservative commentator), addressing the history of modern economics. He relates “In The Wall Street Journal, Russ Roberts of George Mason University wondered why economics is even considered a science. Real sciences make progress. But in economics, old thinkers cycle in and out of fashion. In real sciences, evidence solves problems. Roberts asked his colleagues if they could think of any econometric study so well done that it had definitely settled a dispute. Nobody could think of one.”
10 Biological development fosters the propagation of one’s genes and its copies in relatives, compare: The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins, 1976.
11 The Better Angels of Our Nature – Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker, 2011
12 In most countries there are at best feeble attempts to stop human rights violations and many governments are perpetrators. Human Rights regarding freedom of movement and asylum (article 13 and 14) cannot be realized one country at a time; international agreements are needed. Far too many people, particularly women, fulfill criteria for seeking asylum when living in countries where their basic rights are continuously threatened and violated. A few wealthy states, such as the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, cannot absorb millions of abused and/or malnourished people who wish to move. Additionally, progressive countries have difficulties preventing the continuation of the abuses of girls and women within the immigrant communities.
13 Authors, including D. J. Goldhagen, offer complex explanations for common people’s participation in genocidal actions. The three main reasons are 1. Humans’ (primates’) ready ability to think of individuals outside their own groups as “them” or “others”, i.e. not or no longer deserving consideration, 2. a lack of effective ethics education, and 3. humans’ natural fascination with suffering and cruelties, which is associated with positive and often sexual excitement; with desensitization, worse suffering is needed for the rush and excitement (people want to see accidents and crimes and readily participate in sadistic transgressions). People often celebrate murderous and genocidal actions. Truman was reportedly jubilant after the bombing of Hiroshima (Goldhagen, Worse than War, p. 187 and 3.) Even Chimpanzees and certainly early humans sometimes killed others with apparent excitement and seemingly lacking any empathy or compassion. Compare Through a Window, by Jane Goodall, 1990, p.106: After a chimpanzee group split into two, there were systematic attacks against all adults of the smaller group, including former friends, old, weak and female individuals. As in human inter-group violence, there was frenzied excitement followed by a seemingly triumphant mood.