As it is well illustrated, man’s achievements are truly owe-inspiring. We have gone to the moon; we have split the atom; we have discovered the blue print of life namely, the human genome, and we have discovered medicines, which extend our lives. But, we have failed to liberate mankind from slavery, racial discrimination and injustice.
The European Enlightenment, transported humankind from the dark ages of classical and medieval thinking, to greater understanding of fairness and justice. Thinkers like Kant, Rousseau and Smith all agreed that human beings should share equal worth. They also agreed that birth should not give rights to some and not to others, and that human beings should not be condemned to poverty because of their circumstance, but helped by the ruling entities to a deserving existence. Another message we had from the Enlightenment was that the concept of fairness should be that effort, talent and virtuous intent, must be rewarded, and that privilege and titles should be earned and not be a matter of birthright. As the Enlightenment continued, many saw the beginning of a glimpse of hope for humankind, eventually becoming democracy, but unfortunately, we are still suffering inequalities and poverty in the midst of opulence and grandeur.
Human nature has been debated over centuries. One of the contentious issues has been whether it is a fixed and unchangeable phenomenon, or one that can be flexible. The idea is complex, and it is not my intention to try and resolve here, what many philosophers have argued for millennia. However, I would like to illustrate both some philosophical opinions as well as a common sense approach in order to offer a modern view, from an observational standpoint. According to Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) in his book Leviathan, we are born bad and wild, and left to our own devices, we are naturally greedy and selfish. It is only the civic state, which will control our hunger for power riches and success. On the other hand, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) argued that when we are born, we are good, and that it is society, that corrupts us. He also pointed out that if conditions are in favour, people become morally responsible and good. In other words, these are just two opinions about human nature. Let’s now look at it from our experience over the last hundred years or so. We have seen that human beings thrive better when treated with respect, recognition and dignity. Revolutions have been motivated by the lack of these human rights. Therefore, I tend to agree with Rousseau’s proposition that human nature is generally good, if the conditions are favourable. The clearest indication for this is that the modern civilized way of life we enjoy today, is the result of our constant struggles for these basic human needs throughout history. So, it can be said, that human nature is naturally good, but only when justice prevails.
In terms of political endeavour, over the centuries, one can argue that many forms of governing people have been tried. From absolutist monarchy to present democracy, humankind has experienced the feudal system, oligarchy, tyranny, dictatorship and communism, to name but a few known systems. Unfortunately, some of these are still in force.
It could be also argued, that all these forms of governance share the same principles, namely the leaders are driven by the social evils of power, status and wealth. I would further argue that this is the reason why all of them have failed to produce a stable, tolerant and egalitarian world. Ever since the beginning, leadership has rarely been about what is good for those who are being lead, but what is beneficial for the leaders. Democracy has not shown any difference.
Many would say, that democracy has developed through the quest for freedom, with the help of the ancient Greeks and Romans. The wisdom of great thinkers, like the Roman statesman Cicero, French philosophers Rousseau and Voltaire, and the English philosopher John Locke, have contributed much to this ideal. The Christian philosophy of equality amongst men, in the Middle Ages, was also very influential. Another important stepping-stone was the actions of the Nobles who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in England. Democracy has flourished and indeed has given us some respite from persecution and oppression from the monarchy, state, and the church. Nevertheless, democracy, many would argue, has moved a long way from the principles of equal opportunities and freedom, to the abuse of power and the embracing of status. It is now marching towards the development of greed and individualism.
There is now clear evidence that poverty, racism and inequality, create social conflict. A society based on economic equality always does better. These were the findings of professor Richard Wilkinson, university of Nottingham, and Kate Pickett, authors of the book The Spirit Level. Their research summary shows a fascinating insight into the correlation between inequality and life expectancy, mental illness, obesity, drug and alcohol abuse. In later chapters, we will examine the evidence for this.
We thought democracy was going to be the panacea to improve the human condition, but even the wealthiest democratic nations have not been able to eradicate inequality. Democracy is not providing the equality humankind needs for a balanced existence. These inequalities have created a struggle between the haves and the have not. In order to illustrate what I call “the natural struggle of human beings” for equality, dignity and respect, I can go back as far as the ancient world, but let’s begin with the French Revolution.
Let’s remind ourselves that the inequalities between the King Louis xvi and the people of France were so disproportionate that the people rebelled against the monarchy in order to continue to exist. Many would argue that they had no other choice but to fight for their lives.
The next example takes us to the Russian revolution of 1917. Again the disparity between the lavish and hedonistic life style of the Tsars, in particular Nicholas II, and the impoverished wretched and inhumane lives of the people, left them no choice but to fight for survival. Unfortunately the whole Romanov family was executed. As it happened, the revolutionaries in their desperation, were not aware that they were changing a dogmatic, absolutist and brutal regime for another one even worse i.e. communism.
In the 60’s the American society brought to light the segregation Laws against the blacks. This was the biggest democracy in the western world remember, and yet it was enslaving and oppressing its people. As we know, the world thanks Martin Luther King for the liberation of his people from oppression. They only had their courage to confront the inequalities, and fought their way to liberation, albeit not fully liberated, many would argue.
Another example of having to fight for survival was Apartheid in South Africa. The hero here was Nelson Mandela with his vision and determination to bring freedom to his people.
Burma, as we know, is a brutal dictatorship that will stop at nothing to maintain the grip of power. This country, which although rich in natural resources like: natural gas, timber and minerals, has its people struggling to survive, while the military rulers live an opulent life style. The fighter here, though not militarily, is Aung San Suu Kyi who is the daughter of the architect of Burma’s independence from Britain, Bogyoke (general) Aung San. He was assassinated six months before independence took place. His daughter has been trying to liberate her country, but in the process, has been imprisoned for many years on and off. Now November 2010 she has been freed from a seven-year house arrest imposed by the military rulers. Aung San Suu Kyi is an example of a hero in today’s modern world still determined and fighting for the basic rights which every human being needs. I am confident that one day soon, Burma will be liberated and for the first time in many years its people can taste a well-deserved freedom.
As I prepare my book for publication in 2011, the struggle continues. The news has been full of the conflicts taking place in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Morocco Syria and many more African and Middle Eastern countries, which as we know, are countries ruled by tyrants and dictators who have been holding on to power by whatever means. The words we hear are that these countries are corrupt. It seems that people are responding in the same manner as in the past i.e. rebelling against oppression, tyranny, trying to gain respect and dignity. This is the story of humanity ever since time in memorial. Throughout the centuries, as I mentioned earlier, the concept of government and governing people has had many labels, namely, absolute rulers, republics, communism, dictatorship, democracy etc. I would argue, that these labels have been the only changes over time, but the main driving force has always been the same: power, status and greed.
All these are examples of extreme situations showing the human courage and determination to seek equality recognition and fairness. Unfortunately success is not gained without bloodshed and unrest. Just these few cases illustrate the desire of human beings in the pursuit of basic rights of equality and fairness. Many would argue that this unrest is justifiable because it is a clear sign of the many less well off, rebelling against the excess and abuse of the few.
If I sound to be waving the banner of communism, let me put you at rest because it is the furthest thought from my mind. As you read subsequent chapters this will become clear. This is not about communism. My idea is about total liberation of the human race from the evils of individualistic thinking, greed, power, status and inequalities.
I believe it is time to re-examine our value system and ask some probing questions. It is only through a drastic change in the way we see the world, and our fellow human beings, that a new environment can be created, where real equality can become a reality. If we really want a more egalitarian society, we must come to realise that we must change the way we think from individualist to collective. The questions below are designed to make you think about established social economic and political norms, and other applicable possibilities. They are also designed to challenge conventional wisdom. You will find the answers in my proposed Demosdictum system, in future chapters.
Debates on ethical and moral issues, are always taking place in all democratic societies, but this happens somehow piecemeal. I would argue that this is an indication of the failure in our democratic world today, because we are unhappy about many issues. Let’s examine the important ones. I would like to put forward a comprehensive list, for the world to consider. I would like to begin the biggest ethical debate in the history of the world, by urging people to consider them together. Find them below.
What do we mean by being human?
Is it about greed, individualism, jealousy, or about kindness, camaraderie, tolerance and consideration towards others?
What do we mean by freedom?
Is it about doing whatever we like disregarding others, or should it be about being responsible for our acts, respecting others and cherishing the little liberty we enjoy?
What is responsibility?
Is it about just complying with the rules, keeping one’s head down, or should it be about an ethical and moral dimension towards our fellow human beings?
What is justice?
Is it about punishing those who commit a crime against the rest of us, and if so, how severely should we punish the wrong doers. And how do we reward those who do good deeds?
What do we mean by education?
Is education about teaching our children for the sake of government’s targets or should the purpose be to prepare them to fit a particular role in society? Are we telling our children to be individualistic and selfish or, should we be teaching them to be part of the whole society and to think collectively.
What is the concept of “good” about?
Is it about self-indulgence, hedonistic pursuits, anything that creates pleasure, or should it be about what is good for our neighbour, our society and our world?
How do we measure the concept of badness?
Is it just about anything that goes against the laws and rules of the land. Or is badness injustice, the result of greed, opulence, abuse of power or irresponsibility?
What do we mean by the word sharing?
Is it about possessions, ideas or reciprocal actions, or is it also about sharing our social responsibilities in good times and in bad?
Why is it that the wealth of nations is still in the hands of the few and not the many?
Is it because the few are reluctant to share? Is it because democratic governments have to please the wealthy donors in order to be elected? Is it because we are too greedy to share? How can we convince the well off that if wealth were shared more fairly, we would have a better-balanced world both socially and psychologically?
How should we view professions?
Should they be about money, status and power? Or should they be about vocation, commitment, pride in helping others?
What do we mean by celebrity, stardom or fame?
Is it about being paid huge amounts of money, and being put on pedestals making them into Gods. Or is it about gaining recognition for their skills and talent in return for a reasonable wage. Are we paying our so-called celebrities too much?
How do we define heroism?
Is it about admiring make-believe fantasy? Or, should it be about honouring those who make our existence more bearable; save our lives; save our houses; look after us in old age i.e. doctors, nurses, carers, police, soldiers, fire men and women, ambulance staff. Shouldn’t we be honouring people who show real responsibility and commitment towards others?
What do we mean by ability?
Is it about kidding ourselves in believing that we all have the same abilities or should we accept the reality that we cannot all be eminent doctors of science or incredible mathematicians? Accepting one’s ability and recognising our worth gives us clarity of mind and the targets to aim for. Shouldn’t it be about treating people according to their ability? Will we ever accept our own worth?
Why do governments measure success in terms of university education?
What about people who are brilliant at manual work, the arts, caring professions or sports? Are we creating expectations so high that we cannot fulfil them? Are we telling those people who do not go to university that they are not good enough?
What do we mean by the family?
Are different kinds of family units acceptable? Should it be the nuclear family where children are supported by both parents? Should it be the one parent family struggling to bring up their children? Should it be the extended family where children have an extra layer of experience and wisdom from grandparents?
What do we mean by ageism?
Is it about when you reach a certain age you are placed on the scrap heap of the unwanted? Or shouldn’t we be harnessing and using the wisdom, experience and sense of judgement of old age?
The above is a huge body of questions, which require answers and it is only the answers to these that will provide a platform for change and improvement of people’s lives. Humanity works best when we share and agree on a set of values that guide our existence. It is my intention to convince you that we, as the human race, have strayed from the natural path of what it is to be a human being. All the above have the purpose of, yes, raising consciousness. We need to re-examine our value system. It is only a drastic change in the way we think, which will illuminate the new brave movement towards a better world for us all. I would argue that it is time to debate and to define once again the above. I am confident that through having this debate and rethinking our value system, we will find our way back again into the arms of human nature where we belong.
My own views and answers to the above questions will be found in my explanations of what “Demosdictum” is, in subsequent chapters. However, I hope you found some of the answers, reading between the lines, on the questions themselves. I would like you to consider them and answer them in your own mind. The main reason for this request is that they will make more sense once you have read the whole book.
I would argue, that democracy today is the sum of materialism, selfishness and individualism. The different party structure creates a conflictive, competitive and individualistic society rather than a cooperative, coherent and inclusive one. Many would argue that the media is far from neutral. Donors to political parties make it even less fair because of the disparity of donations, and pressure groups add to the political imbalance. There is also the language of inequality, which helps the deepening of the self-fulfilling prophecy’s web, to the point of acceptance of the status quo. We hear words and phrases like “the less well off” “deprived areas” “the poor” “middle class” “welfare system” “working class” “social housing” This is just some of the language we can hear in democratic countries all over the world. This narrative reinforces our clear separation within the same society, community, nation, country etc. and the message from it is, that it is an inevitability we have to live with. I totally disagree.
We thought democracy was going to be the antidote to tyranny, and by this, I mean all the other forms of government, but unfortunately the world is full of disappointed individuals today, because democracy has joined the ranks of inequality, status and greed.
Therefore, it is now time to change to a system where new moral and ethical values will drive the changes. Where we all work for the same purpose. Where we all join our wisdom, experience and determination to create a better, more egalitarian and fairer world, in order to change humankind forever.
Democracy has shown not to be the vehicle for this change because it doesn’t fulfil its claims and therefore, many argue, democracy no longer works. I would like to show you why in the next chapter.