I think ethics is a part of our experience – we all have thoughts and feelings about what is right and wrong. And part of self development is developing this ethical sense. I think part of this is widening our concern beyond our friends and loved ones to strangers and the rest of humanity.
Our current way of living is not sustainable. We are destroying our planet with our current lifestyles. And this is tied up with how we think about ourselves, others, the right way to organise, our relationship to other critters and the planet – and much else. Our way of living is coming to an end.
So we need new ways, which will include the best bits of the old ways. And will need to be built amidst the crumbling of the old ways (and the devastation they create) – it may not be easy; though working for something good and meaningful can be joyous even when not easy.
New Social Roles
A quick and simple way of thinking about the new is to imagine what new social roles will look like. If we think of classical Greece and Rome we may think of philosophers, slaves, hierarchy with particular kinds of men at the top. If we think of medieval Europe we may think of knights, aristocrats, serfs, monks and nuns, organised into an hierarchy of orders. If we think of the modern world we may think of politicians, democracy, scientists, technicians, democracy and totalitarianism. This is incredibly crass and broad brush-stroke and is intended to be.
Here is a broad brush-stroke of what I think could be social roles in a desirable future: designer, maker and maintainer. A world where all have enough to thrive will need to be consciously designed (with self-correction and flexibility as part of the design). It will need to be made well – the best design can fail if badly implemented. And it will require good maintenance: stuff happens, the unpredictable is common – without repair and adjustment nothing can last.
These three roles are needed at every level of living. From a functional house to national policy to international co-operation. And in all areas of activity from school curricula to software program to gardening and health care.
A better world will need to be run on very different principles to this one. Here are some basic ethical values a better world will need to be based on.
Receptivity. Command and control has a place. But if it isn’t based on a good perception of the situation it is useless at best and dangerous at worst (we are currently experiencing this worst). Receptivity is basic.
Equity. The astronomical salaries paid to the wealthy are not morally justifiable when people are starving and suffering easily preventable diseases. [The CEO’s often claim that they don’t do it for the money. That the money is simply a way of keeping score. I say, take them at their word. We can give them another way of keeping score: say gold stars on a chart. If they are right they will readily agree.]
Sustainability. We need to supply necessities from only renewable resources – and probably luxuries too. This is simple common sense.
We need ways of living that don’t cause disease for people. This means alterations to patterns of work, the shape of suburbs and much else.
This will mean an experimental attitude. Trying stuff, seeing what works, then seeing how it goes when scaled up.
Hospitality. Celebrating and welcoming people’s differences. The diversity of skills, cultures, and perspectives that people contribute.
There is Much to do and You Can Probably Do Something Worthwhile Where You Are
If you are overwhelmed by exterior circumstances or a personal crisis: be kind to yourself; access the resources you can to heal. A better world is one where people have the time and support they need to heal and grow. This is not trivial.
If you have a little money, in the wealthy countries you can buy more ecologically sustainable technologies. You can probably grow some of your own food. Sprouts are healthy and cheap. A window box can save you money on herbs. If you can get your neighbours doing this too you can begin to make a significant difference to your expenditure (it is easy to grow a surplus of one thing so that you have enough to give to others).
If you have some free time then there are many groups building a better world. Signing an online petition for a cause you support can take seconds. There may be local groups you could contribute to.
Living the values of receptivity, equity, sustainability and hospitality are not trivial either. A new world means individuals living differently. Few of us will be politicians or international ambassadors but it is very likely we can make a significant difference to those around us, especially those we are close to.
Part of self development is choosing how we relate to others and our world. Usually, for most of us most of the time, we will be able to find ways of relating that are worthwhile and enjoyable.
As always your comments are very welcome – disagreement can be valuable too. I’d love to hear what you think a better world would be like. As well as any small steps to move towards it.