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Like many of you, I spend some of my mornings reviewing the news from around the world. I read the headlines and if I am interested, I’ll read the article.
If I have more time, I go through the posts on Facebook. For the last few years, though, that has sometimes disheartened me. But I also find wonderful items, ones that demonstrate the evidence of good will in the hearts of so many people.
Concern for improving things or for just causes, inventive ways of solving problems and the joyful sharing of achievements and milestones in individual lives, these items voluntarily bloom from the people like an eternal fountain. From what I see through social media, it is abundantly clear that people want to get on to a new world, to a new way of living, one that if it hasn’t been named yet, is certainly felt intuitively.
Evidently, a new spirit has awakened in the world. Its energy has upset the apple cart of thousands of years of living in millions of ways—toppling beliefs, behaviors, and boundaries every day. That massive change reveals the outlines of a new paradigm, as well as uncovering the deficiencies and increasing obsolescence of the status quo. The Baha’i teachings say that this new spirit will:
… make the world a new world, to the end that the old earth may disappear and the new earth appear; old ideas depart and new thoughts come; old garments be cast aside and new garments put on; ancient politics whose foundation is war be discarded and modern politics founded on peace raise the standard of victory; the new star shine and gleam and the new sun illumine and radiate; new flowers bloom; the new spring become known; the new breeze blow; the new bounty descend; the new tree give forth new fruit; the new voice become raised and this new sound reach the ears, that the new will follow the new, and all the old furnishings and adornments be cast aside and new decorations put in their places. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 1, pp. 10-11.
This new spirit of massive change entered during the Age of Enlightenment and has unfolded through the ongoing discoveries of science and thought for several centuries. Our progress as a species now brings us to the apex of the old and the new.
But it is not only science and technology that drive this new paradigm—it brings a new ethic that their capacities demand, and even mandate. As science has opened the door wide enough so that the Earth can actually become, from the practical point of view, “like it is in heaven”—a relatively harmonious environment which sustains the entire global population—this capacity charges us with a new moral and spiritual responsibility. That global responsibility forms the core and impetus of the new ethic.
The father of moral philosophy, Socrates, put forth the idea that justice is synonymous with propriety. Today we might call Socrates’ meaning for justice meta-suitability; that the capacity of a thing, its talent or quality, demands its perfect use on a multiplicity of levels.
According to the Baha’i teachings, to not help find the fullest and best potentiality of something is unjust. We might say then that this new ethic requires that if we can do something, we need to do it. If we can solve a problem, we are obliged solve it:
Whoso possesseth power over anything must elevate it to its uttermost perfection that it not be deprived of its own paradise. … should he know of a higher degree of refinement and fail to manifest it …. he would deprive it of its paradise, and he would be held accountable, for why has thou, despite the possession of means, withheld the effusion of grace and favor. – The Bab, The Persian Bayan, 4:11.
Through this age of science, all the people on the globe have become inextricably linked together. Our interdependencies and interactions have been irreversible for some time now. No nationalist movement can return any nation on Earth to an isolated state—the time for that obsolete condition has passed.
Global climate change provides one example of this interdependence. Our Earth’s atmosphere and climate know no national boundaries. The global refugee and migration crisis, larger now than ever before, affords another striking example. That parts of the planet are oppressive, in one way or another, and that in urgent cases people have to flee these areas, underscores the idea that if the whole world had more justice, the refugee/immigration crisis would abate. Simply, people would not have to flee from where they live if more justice prevailed.
These examples all lead us to an inescapable conclusion: the oneness of the world now necessitates the development of a universal system of justice, of the kind Socrates described.
Statistically, the Earth can actually sustain all the people on it with water, food and shelter. Health, education and employment are also possible, once basic living conditions are stabilized. Unlike any other time in human history, these lofty goals are now completely achievable from the technical and material point of view. In the late 1960s the inventor-designer-thinker Buckminster Fuller quantified the potentiality of global resources and technological inventions and found that there is more than enough to sustain the entire global population—but Fuller put a point on the achievement of this goal. It all boils down, he said, to having the communal will to do it. That is the real issue isn’t it?
In the next essay in this short three-part series, we’ll look at how to establish this new sense of morality in the age of science.