Friday, October 26, 2012
The New Threshold
excerpt from THE NEW THRESHOLD
by The Executive Committee of The Club of Rome, 1973
The Predicament of Mankind
The initial impulse of the Club was a common concern regarding the deep crisis faced by humanity- a crisis which we feel is different in kind from those of the past and which the societies of today are ill-equipped to face with their present attitudes, values, policies and institutions. Men everywhere are perplexed by a range of elusive problems - deterioration of the environment, the crisis of institutions, bureaucratisation, uncontrolled urban spread, insecurity of employment and loss of satisfaction in work, the alienation of youth, questioning of the values of society, violence and disregard of law and order, educational irrelevance, inflation and monetary disruption in the face of material prosperity, the unabridged gap between rich and poor within and between nations - to mention only a few.
These difficulties appear to be world-wide symptoms of a general but as yet little understood malaise. It is this cluster of intertwined problems which we term the Problematique. Their interactions have become so basic and are so critical that it is ever more difficult to isolate from the tangle of the problematique single major issues and to deal with them separately. To attempt to do so only seems to increase the difficulties in other and often unsuspected parts of the mass. For the same reason no nation, not even the biggest, can hope to solve all its own problems since these involve other nations and interact with the global system as a whole.
Interdependence is not, however, restricted to the political context; it also regards to energy resources, food and industrial raw materials, markets for products, transfer of new technology, even the explosion of violence. Beyond these material concerns, the problematique is all-pervasive, because human aspirations can no longer be bounded by a particular environment of culture. What we term the Predicament of Mankind is our own limited perception of many individual symptoms of a profound illness of society for which we are unable to prescribe an effective remedy in the absence of a reliable diagnosis.
Many of the manifestations of the problematique are already causing people, and especially the young, to question the validity of our present socio-economic philosophy. Others, such as Dennis Gabor, remark that our present civilisation is based materially on the solid foundation of scientific technology and 'spiritually on practically nothing'. Over centuries, our society has ostensibly operated, albeit somewhat hypocritically, on the Christian ethic of ‘love thy neighbour’ and the hope of future salvation. This has been tempered, it is true, especially in the Protestant countries, by acceptance of the virtues of hard work and the respectability of success. Nevertheless, it constituted a raison d’être for the individual and society. More recently, socialism raised the standard for the creation of heaven on earth, of equity and human betterment - at times with the fervour of a true religion.
However, as affluence increased and the rationalism of science prevailed, faith in the traditional religions faded and social reform as a result of its own successes has less allure and indeed its cultural and institutional manifestations seem strangely dim. So we are left with our material successes gone sour on us and with little motivation or collective emotional drive towards worthwhile goals for our race. Our rational-material, neo-christian system of values including those of individual freedom and human dignity are questioned, with little in the way of an evolving replacement. Many of those who question our present values most bitterly are merely destructive in their approach.
The Tolstoy reaction of ‘back to nature' becomes ever more unrealistic as population increases and technology dominates. For reasons already explained, the study on limits to growth was unable to include the values problem. However, the debate on the problematique may well generate a new search which the social scientists, including the behaviourists, have hardly dared to tackle. In the meantime, as the crisis mounts, we may have to adopt a supreme ethic of survival for the human race and in our decisions measure the possible effects of alternative actions in the light of their possible positive or negative influences of the probability of survival, and at the same time consider the extent to which the quest for quality of life can pave the way towards a new system of values.
Man and His Destiny
These comments on the need for a new value system lead to questioning of whether we are not indeed facing a deep and basically biological crisis of the human species. Until recently, the average man, fully occupied with his struggle upwards from subsistence, had little time to think.
He was tranquilised by the conventional religions, kept docile by ‘bread and circuses’ and, despite many not able exceptions, left the basic problems to priests and philosophers. Towards the end of the last century, with the rise of the physical sciences, a wave of materialism and rationalismintervened and began to question the traditional tenets.
Freud, Marx and a host of others deepened the questioning, but recognition of the Darwinist principle of natural selection seemed to provide some keys. Survival for the fittest, leading to the evolution or annihilation of species, gave a tangible, if vague, hope for the future. The secularisation of society and of its purpose has now spread, with education and affluences, until in the rich industrialised countries it is now generalised and has become one of the causes of the contemporary questioning of our values.
It is also a cause of present-day violence and crime, of the alienation of individuals from their society and of general aimlessness. On the other hand, it leads the young to seek new forms of religious satisfaction, to experiment with mysticism, to seek new and heightened perception through drug-taking on the part of those who feel alienated and distrust rational scientific approaches.
Organic evolution in fact holds little promise for the further evolution of man; its processes are too slow in the face of man’s potential for self-destruction. His societies will either disrupt or he will design his own betterment long before nature can evolve a higher form for him. In the last 2000 years, man has developed his physical power and increased his information base to an incredible extent, but there is little sign that he has increased his wisdom or spiritual capacity during that period.
He is presumably the only planetary species aware of his own predicament and with the potentiality of self-development, yet the very forces in his nature which have raised him above the animals weigh against deliberate self-evolution. The struggle to survive has cultivated aggressive characteristics, vanity, greed, desire for power, etc., which are not the elements on which to build the wisdom he now requires.
On the other hand, men have learnt to co-operate with one another and live in societies, however fragile, accepting collective values and objectives. Our destiny is in our own hands: how can we learn to achieve it?