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Friday
Dec152017

Imagine...

The onslaught of bitter words and violent actions, on both sides, after the United States announced its support of the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel caused me to wonder about the entire human tendency to divide ourselves into tribes and the accompanying sanctification of territories, of beliefs, of traditions and of racial and cultural heritages. Such a tendency is obviously a central part of being human, since it appears to be ubiquitous and to exert a powerful influence on our behavior, and  it has done so since the beginning of recorded history. But then, so is the tendency to kill one another; so being ubiquitous and powerful is no indication that something is either healthy or necessary. In fact, it may be just the opposite. What may have been rewarded by nature, because at one time it contributed to the survival of ours and our relatives’ genes, could, like the appendix, have outlived its usefulness and become a liability.

Human beings around the world and throughout history have fallen prey to believing that their own group’s traditions, possessions and characteristics are hallowed, and their values, even if not shared by others, are still universally true, which makes defending them both moral and necessary. In our modern world, we have every nation valuing its own culture, every religion its own beliefs and sacred figures, every race its own history, physical characteristics, and traditions.

The differences we now see among the peoples of the planet are the result of both separation, mostly caused by geography, and intermingling, mostly caused by migration, immigration and war. But even when cultures represent, as most do, hybrids—products of historical interactions across national, racial, ethnic, religious and cultural lines—they are regarded as sacred, as worthy of preservation and, from a moral point of view, needing to be defended.  As a result, we are a world at war over territory, religion, preservation of culture and over ethnic and racial differences.

Wars are not new. Clashes between religions or cultures are not new. Separation of populations based upon race or ethnicity is not new. Two things are new: the extent of connectedness among people across the world and the threats to our planet and our species that pose global dangers. Our connectedness is a result of global businesses, interconnected financial networks, and internet communication. Residents as far apart as Lagos and San Francisco may communicate with the same digital devices, designed in the U.S. or Japan, built in China, and on which they search for information using Google and stay connected with friends through Facebook. They may initially use them locally, but eventually, they will be discovering information and sharing with friends from each other’s countries. They may even make purchases using a common currency, such as bitcoin. Their investments, if they have the means to make them, are subject to global financial influences. The collapse of a housing market in America or in China can devastate an economy in Europe. Even insulated cultures, such as Saudi Arabia are pushed to lower their religion-borne barriers to entertainment and lifestyle in order to take advantage of the global economy in ways other than through producing oil, and because the young people in their population are learning about a wider culture through the worldwide web.

At the same time that we are experiencing global connectivity, we are faced with a triumvirate of global threats caused by climate change, nuclear proliferation, and pandemics. None of these threats can be mitigated by one country, one region, or one population alone. America can reduce greenhouse gases, but if China and India, or Brazil do not, the planet will still warm. There is no such thing as a localized nuclear war: both international treaties and the drift of radioactive material insure that any nuclear war becomes a worldwide catastrophe. The Black plague  in Europe was spread by travelers following the Silk Road from China. Ebola is spread by travelers in airplanes crossing all the borders of the world. Huge human migrations caused by drought and rising oceans resulting from climate change, as well as refugee immigrations due to war, present an ongoing mix of populations that will make containment of deadly viral outbreaks impossible.

We no longer live in a world in which we can afford to maintain our separateness. Cultures, nationalities, ethnicities, races and religions rub up against one another constantly. Our problems are ones that are global and their solutions require global actions. In the midst of this situation, our insistence upon respect for our differences creates conflicts that are insoluble. To make our greatest moral commitment be a quest to explore and honor our differences rather than our commonalities is a recipe for disaster.

In the case of Israel and Palestine,  we have two cultures whose ethnic and cultural histories provide credibility for each group’s claim to the same piece of land. Wars in the Middle East and drought and famine in Africa have caused a massive influx of refugees and immigrants into Europe. They bring with them traditions and cultural practices that Europeans feel threaten their own historical traditions and current culture. Violence and poverty in countries below the border of the United States causes individuals, families and children to flee north and cross the border, where their language and cultural differences cause panic among residents who are frightened that such newcomers will consume resources and dilute the national character, which they feel is based upon a Western and Northern European heritage.

All of the above conflicts are insoluble from a perspective that chooses the preservation of cultural differences of people living side by side as its primary moral viewpoint.  Contrary to what opponents of multiculturalism have asserted, the idea of “assimilation” into the dominant culture in which people find themselves living is no solution to such conundrums, because each of those dominant cultures is, in reality, just another culture that happens to be dominant in a geographical region and is just as irrationally insistent upon the sanctity of its traditions, its pride in its accomplishments, and the greater humanness of its people, as are the cultures in the regions next to it or from which its immigrants came.

Rather than diverse allegiances to different identities, we need to acquire a single identity to which all people belong. We are all members of the species homo sapiens; we are all inhabitants of the planet earth. Our problems are global—they affect all geographic regions of the planet and all of its human inhabitants. The fact that they do not affect us all equally is a result of geographic differences (e.g. vulnerable low-lying islands, drought-prone semi-desert regions, fire, flood or hurricane prone regions), or what falls under the rubric of economic disparity, but which may equally reflect political or economic oppression. In the long run, we all have to cope with global problems and figure out how, as one planetary race, we solve them. To do this, we must forego a primary identification with any identity other than a pan-human, pan-global one.

What is being recommended is that members of groups, no matter what their basis for membership—national, racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or political—should stop using such membership as their primary identification. In order to solve today’s problems, which are globally based, people must identify, first and foremost, as members of a global community. Other identifications can exist, but they must not supersede this primary identification, because other identifications always contain comparison and competition with other groups, which often interferes with solving common problems. As members of a global community, not only do many solutions require global efforts, but the problems of one segment of the community are the problems of the entire community. No longer can a refugee problem in one region of the world be met by turned backs in another part of the world in order to preserve the latter’s culture, traditions, or way of life. No longer can one group of people be allowed to starve or die of disease while resources are hoarded by another part of the world, which feels as if those resources are designated for “their own people.” A war between group members is everyone’s business, because the participants in such a war are members of the same human group as the nonparticipants.

Such identification with all of humanity, rather than a more restricted part of humanity requires some sacrifice of control—over laws and territory in the case of nations, over behavior in the case of cultures and religions. The cardinal rule should be that no one’s laws or behaviors can cause harm to other members of our human society. Obviously, this would be difficult to define and difficult to achieve and necessitate a massive alteration in how people see their lives being governed and by whom. International bodies would gain power at the expense of local governments.

How could such a radical shift in peoples’ attitudes about group membership take place? The very connectedness and global problems that necessitate this change are the vehicles for initiating it. Open internet communication worldwide is a powerful influence in building consciousness of one’s membership in a global community, as is doing business across borders. Unfortunately, international businesses just as often exploit one population in order to serve the needs of another as they bring people together from different parts of the world. International Trade Agreements could be mechanisms for reducing competition between member nations, but the fact that, as in the case of the TPP, they are often drawn up by international corporations with the aim of serving the needs of those corporations rather than the populations of the countries who sign such agreements, has made them unpopular among a large segment of the population in some countries, such as the U.S. This needn’t be the case if representatives of the people took charge of the process of negotiating and writing such agreements instead of turning the process over to private interests. International agreements such as the Paris Climate Accords or the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (neither of which the U.S. agrees to) are early models of how to treat the safety of the planet and its occupants as a priority for all people in a way that supersedes national affiliation. Finally, those who agree that we are first and foremost members of the human race and that our global obligations to each other outweigh our other identifications must identify social or governmental actions that undermine such an outlook and protest against them.

 

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

                        John Lennon

 

Reader Comments (2)

Very moving and eloquent, Casey. I wish this with all my heart, but I fear I won't live long enough to see it come about even fractionally.

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnca Vlasopolos

My sense is that the perception of God as other is the foundation of the separateness that plagues us... From separateness grows fear, domination and suffering.
Fortunately that story can be dropped and replaced by more benign theories of being such as general systems theory, buddhism and many others

December 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDariel Garner

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