Humanity marches forward
There's a sense of hope
when the problems in today's world
are put in perspective
The Edmonton Journal: Monday, May 29, 2006
Already the 21st century looks like a repeat of the 20th:
Every day brings more news of war, poverty, human rights violations and
destruction of the environment. Discouraging to be sure. But underneath the
surface, something is happening to lift up humanity.
An awakening of concern
about how we human beings treat one another on the planet is taking place.
This has tremendous possibilities for moving the world forward to a new era
of peace. In fact, this new awareness of a global conscience is the great
untold story of our time.
It is not just in the great questions of war and peace that a new caring
attitude is showing up. We can see it in the spread of anti-smoking laws,
campaigns to stop drinking and driving, and measures to cut down on noise.
new societal concern to provide access to buildings for the disabled, new
efforts to educate the mentally challenged, and a drive to stop the
exploitation of children are all hallmarks of the greater outreach for the
well-being of others.
A new view of the human being, you and me, at the centre of public policy is
coming into focus. A new caring for the wholeness of life is being defined.
Humanity is learning to understand all our human relationships, our
relationship with the Earth, and how to govern for the common good. This is
the stirring of a global conscience.
Wait a minute, I can hear many people say. Wars are still being fought.
Poverty is rampant throughout the developing countries. The air and waters
are being despoiled. The most egregious violations of human rights are
taking place. Greed and corruption continue to infect the political
processes. How can I talk about this new maturation of civilization when we
are still being dragged down by the same old problems?
That's my first point. We have to be able to see past the problems of the
day in order to observe a shift in human thinking. Many people call for a
new global ethic to make the world a more human place. The point I want to
make is that a new ethic is actually being formulated. This is a reason to
give us hope.
We have to stop thinking that the Bush administration in the
U.S. is the centre of the universe. The new Canadian government should
recognize that the world is moving forward despite the
obstacles posed by the present American government.
Consider such advances
as the Kyoto accord, the International Criminal Court, U.N. peacekeeping
missions, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Millennium Development
Goals, the spread of democracy, the reform and strengthening of the United
Nations. These are examples of the positive movement forward of history and
While modern-day politicians are preoccupied with what they call a "clash of
civilizations," the advanced wing of civil society is focused on developing
an "alliance of civilizations."
Increasing numbers of people today recognize
that human beings are made for more than a nasty, brutal and short
existence. We are made to continue the development of God's planet, which
technology now reveals to be one unified place where all human beings have
the same joys and hopes, griefs and sorrows.
Understanding the universal nature of human rights is hard, rooted as we are
in our own locality and daily array of domestic concerns. But thanks to the
marvels of communication, we are now able to see and understand life around
Out of the suffering and gloom and seemingly perpetual conflict in the world
is emerging a new standard by which we judge right and wrong. Our world is
being lifted up, often despite ourselves.
We are still mired in conflict,
but we yearn to break free from the old bonds that have encased us in our
private domains. Increasingly, we recognize that colossal miseries may yet
Fear often immobilizes us. Apathy drags us down. But failures in
building the conditions for peace ought not to obscure our vision of where
humanity is heading in the 21st century.
Two political leaders who got it right were President John F. Kennedy of the
U.S. and President Mikhail Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union.
In the spring of 1963, Kennedy, detecting some improvement in
U.S.-Soviet relations, decided the time had come to make a speech about
peace. On June 10, he went to American University, Washington, D.C., and
called for a practical peace, "based not on a sudden revolution in human
nature but on the gradual evolution in human institutions." He challenged
his listeners to look anew at the Soviet Union and the Cold War, to put past
conflicts behind them and to concentrate on the common interests shared by
both powers. Then Kennedy spoke in words that reached to the core of every
culture: "If we cannot now end our differences, at least we can help make
the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic
common link is the fact that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the
same air. We all cherish our children's future. And we are all mortal."
Kennedy's adversary, Nikita Khrushchev of the Soviet Union, called it "the
greatest speech by any American president since Roosevelt." The speech led
directly to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, in which the U.S. and the Soviet
Union outlawed nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under
On Dec. 7, 1988, I was present in the United Nations General Assembly when
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev astounded delegates by rejecting war as a
means of resolving conflicts and calling for world policy determined by the
priority of the values of all humanity. "The world community must learn to
shape and direct the process in such a way as to preserve civilization, to
make it safe for all and more pleasant for normal life." Then he renounced
force and the threat of force as instruments of foreign policy and said this
applied above all to nuclear arms. Gorbachev went on to pledge unilateral
troop reductions and drastic cuts in the Soviet military presence in Eastern
Europe and along the Chinese border -- a move that ultimately allowed Soviet
satellites to choose their own paths.
Gorbachev's appearance at the UN was the centre-piece of a series of
speeches he gave during that period, which revolved around his theme:
"Today, further world progress is only possible through a search for
universal human consensus as we move forward to a new world order." He
called for a Multilateral Centre to Lessen Danger of War, a U.N.
International Verification Agency, a World Space Agency, a World Tribunal on
Terrorism, a Special Fund for Humanitarian Co-operation.
There is a common note in Kennedy's and Gorbachev's remarkable speeches. The
world is one place and all humanity is interlocked in common survival. This
is the first step in global awareness, which is itself the precursor of
global conscience. Neither Kennedy nor Gorbachev was able to implement the
vision each expressed; Kennedy was assassinated a few months after his
speech, Gorbachev was deposed in the implosion of the Soviet Union after the
fall of the Berlin Wall.
But they were forerunners. Kennedy and Gorbachev and a long list of
international commissions opened the way to the UN's 2000 Millennium
Declaration, which was built on "fundamental values": freedom, equality,
solidarity, tolerance, respect for nature, and shared responsibility.
World leaders accompanied this declaration by adopting the Millennium
Development Goals, setting achievable targets for combating poverty, hunger,
disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, discrimination against
women, and developing a global partnership for development.
An extraordinary meeting of 1,350 representatives from 100 non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) from 145 countries weighed in with a critique of
government failures in many of these areas and called for such specific
improvements as a Global Poverty Eradication Fund, binding codes of conduct
for transnational companies, and tax measures to support the U.N. and other
When terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, the movements trying to develop a
culture of peace were marginalized in the new "war on terror." The
re-emergence of the culture of war often seems to be operating from the
commanding heights of political decision-making. But underneath this panoply
of conflict, a revulsion against war and more violence is quietly asserting
itself. The millions who marched in cities around the world prior to the
2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq showed the shift in public thinking against war.
Even as trenchant a critic of U.S. foreign policy as Noam Chomsky says new
opportunities are allowing us to overcome pessimism, hopelessness and
despair. In his new book, Failed States, Chomsky says: "There has been
substantial progress in the unending quest for justice and freedom in recent
years, leaving a legacy that can be carried forward from a higher plane than
When we start to assemble the evidence of the march of humanity forward, an
appealing vista comes into view. This not only provides hope, it is
empowering. We feel a new strength that yes, "I can make a difference." It
doesn't necessarily make
today's problems go away, rather it helps to put these obstacles into
perspective and gives us a sense of enlightenment.
is a former senator, member of Parliament and Canadian
ambassador for disarmament. The theme of this article is being developed in
his forthcoming book Global Conscience.
© The Edmonton Journal 2006