Integration through Shared Values
Presented at the
XIV European Center for Peace and Development International Conference
A New Concept of Human Security
Belgrade, 26 October 2018
In a world in which no culture exists in isolation, where people are migrating and mixing in ever greater numbers, and where globalization has made the Earth a single human community, integration has become a great challenge. Some are pushed out of fear of the "others" into prejudice, rejection, marginalization, xenophobia and nativism, all sources of insecurity. A new concept of human security must include approaches to integration that overcome barriers, replace fear by knowledge and trust, and help all to see the positive benefits of unity in diversity. At the most fundamental level, this can be achieved through agreement on shared values. With a strong foundation of common values, differences become part of the beauty and richness of the human race, to be appreciated for the ways they can strengthen all cultures and communities.
The United Nations has provide one recent set of universally-agreed values in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including comprehensive goals and targets addressing the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability, to be achieved by 2030 with an ethical aim to leave no one behind (UN 2015). While world leaders agreed to the fundamental transformation needed to achieve this aspirational agenda, and many governments have developed national plans for the SDGs, we struggle with their implementation. There will be many paths to these goals, but we can be guided and converge along these paths if we can agree on shared values and ethical principles.
The common enemy today is materialism and the consumer society, eroding our traditional values to turn us into passive consumers of global products while subjecting the planet to the rape and pillage of its resources. Materialism's vision of human progress produced today's consumer culture with its ephemeral goals. The breakdown of traditional morality has led to the triumph of animal impulses and hedonism. Selfishness has become a prized commercial resource; falsehood reinvents itself as public information; greed, lust, indolence, pride, violence are broadly accepted and have social and economic value (UHJ 2005).
The fear this provokes of being losers, falling behind or never catching up pushes many to yield to the siren call of xenophobia, nativism, populism and religious radicalization. It is at this level that the war must be fought and the victory won for human security. For our own individual and collective security, we need to counter these negative forces buy cultivating positive values of solidarity, altruism, justice and respect. The other expressions of human security will follow from this transformation.
We need to challenge many of the assumptions that are allowed to shape contemporary discourse—for instance, that self-interest, far from needing to be restrained, drives prosperity, and that progress depends upon its expression through relentless competition. We should not view the worth of an individual chiefly in terms of how much one can accumulate and how many goods one can consume relative to others (UHJ 2017).
Social and Economic Justice
The aim of this transformation must be social and economic justice for all as the aim and purpose of civilization. “Social justice will be attained only when every member of society enjoys a relative degree of material prosperity and gives due regard to the acquisition of spiritual qualities. The solution, then, to prevailing economic difficulties is to be sought as much in the application of spiritual principles as in the implementation of scientific methods and approaches” (UHJ 2010).
Spiritual principles address those dimension of human experience that rise above our animal nature and include our rational, intellectual and moral dimensions that are the real products of human civilization. This means acknowledging the spiritual reality of man. The individual is not merely a self-interested economic unit, striving to claim an ever-greater share of the world's material resources. The nobility inherent to every human being is a fundamental tenet upon which hope for the future of humankind is built. Economic life is an arena for the expression of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, generosity, and other qualities of the spirit (UHJ 2017).
This requires bringing morality and ethics back into economics, as it was originally in the time of Adam Smith. There is an inherent moral dimension to the generation, distribution, and utilization of wealth and resources. The stresses emerging out of the long-term process of transition from a divided world to a united one are being felt in the deepening fractures that affect societies large and small. With prevailing modes of thought found to be badly wanting, the world is in desperate need of a shared ethic, a sure framework for addressing the crises that gather like storm clouds (UHJ 2017).
If the deeper implications of justice are to be realized, other preconditions to the legitimate acquisition of wealth must be taken into account, and prevailing norms reassessed in their light, such as the relationship between the minimum wage and the cost of living, especially in light of the contribution workers make to a company's success and their entitlement to a fair share of the profits. Another issue is the wide margin, often unjustifiable, between the production costs of certain goods and the price at which they are sold. With rising inequality and wealth concentration at the top, justice requires that we address the question of the generation of wealth through measures that enrich the generality of the people (UHJ 2010).
“A stubborn obstruction, then, stands in the way of meaningful social progress: time and again, avarice and self-interest prevail at the expense of the common good. Unconscionable quantities of wealth are being amassed, and the instability this creates is made worse by how income and opportunity are spread so unevenly both between nations and within nations.” “Humanity's collective life suffers when any one group thinks of its own well-being in isolation from that of its neighbours' or pursues economic gain without regard for how the natural environment, which provides sustenance for all, is affected” (UHJ 2017).
Despite the great wealth created by the present economic system, we have failed to distribute that wealth for the benefit of all countries and peoples. On the contrary, while extreme poverty has been reduced in some countries, half the world population still struggles to meet basic needs, and most of that wealth has become concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. As we consider the reorganization of human society, the principles underlying economic theory and practice need to be rethought from an ethical perspective. The aim is to learn about how to participate in the material affairs of society in a way that is consistent with spiritual principles and how, in practical terms, collective prosperity can be advanced through justice and generosity, collaboration and mutual assistance (UHJ 2017).
The design principles for new values-based economic models might include aiming for a dynamic, just and thriving social order that is strongly altruistic and cooperative in nature, provides meaningful employment for all, and helps to eradicate poverty in the world (BIC 1998). The extremes of wealth and poverty in the world are becoming ever more untenable. As inequity persists, so the established order is seen to be unsure of itself, and its values are being questioned. Whatever the tribulations that a conflicted world must confront in the future, every community must take up its responsibility to find ways of addressing the root causes of the poverty in its surroundings, achieving the higher purpose of economic activity (UHJ 2017).
The role of youth
While every generation has a responsibility to question its ethical responsibility and to work for a global consensus on shared values as the foundation for human security, there is a special role for the youth of the world who will soon inherit the economic and social systems in which they will lead their lives.
"The key to resolving these social ills rests in the hands of a youthful generation convinced of the nobility of human beings; eagerly seeking a deeper understanding of the true purpose of existence; able to distinguish between divine religion and mere superstition; clear in the view of science and religion as two independent yet complementary systems of knowledge that propel human progress; conscious of and drawn to the beauty and power of unity in diversity; secure in the knowledge that real glory is to be found in service to one's country and to the peoples of the world; and mindful that the acquisition of wealth is praiseworthy only insofar as it is attained through just means and expended for benevolent purposes, for the promotion of knowledge and toward the common good." "Thus must our youth prepare themselves to shoulder the tremendous responsibilities that await them. And thus will they prove immune to the atmosphere of greed that surrounds them and press forward unwavering in the pursuit of their exalted goals" (UHJ 2010).
Globalization must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that we are all one human family in all our political, cultural and religious diversity, and that we all share many common values. Each human being has a unique contribution to make to her or his family, community, nation and the world. We should make every effort to fulfil that individual potential, and the special contributions of each place, culture, historical tradition, faith and lived experience. The Balkans are rich in that diversity, and should see that heritage as a positive foundation on which to build a common future. There should be no turning back to separatisms.
“The pathway to sustainability will be one of empowerment, collaboration and continual processes of questioning, learning and action in all regions of the world.... As the sweeping tides of consumerism, unfettered consumption, extreme poverty and marginalization recede, they will reveal the human capacities for justice, reciprocity and happiness” (BIC 2010).
BIC. 1998. Bahá'í International Community. Valuing Spirituality in Development: Initial Considerations Regarding the Creation of Spiritually Based Indicators for Development. A concept paper written for the World Faiths and Development Dialogue, Lambeth Palace, London, 18-19 February 1998. Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London. https://www.bic.org/statements/valuing-spirituality-development and https://iefworld.org/bicvsid.htm
BIC. 2010. Rethinking Prosperity: Forging Alternatives to a Culture of Consumerism. Bahá'í International Community's Contribution to the 18th Session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, 3 May 2010. https://www.bic.org/statements/rethinking-prosperity-forging-alternativ…
UHJ. 2005. One Common Faith. Prepared under the direction of the Universal House of Justice. Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa.
UHJ. 2010. Universal House of Justice, To the believers in the Cradle of the Faith, 2 April 2010. Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-o…
UHJ. 2017. Universal House of Justice, To the Bahá'ís of the World, 1 March 2017. Bahá'í World Centre, Haifa. https://www.bahai.org/library/authoritative-texts/the-universal-house-o…
UN. 2015. Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Outcome document of the Summit for the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, New York, 25-27 September 2015. A/70/L.1. New York: United Nations. http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/70/L.1&Lang=E
Last updated 3 November 2018