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Finding a Global Organizing Principle

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“Too often we enjoy the comfort of
opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

                                   John F. Kennedy

After the end of World War II, the Cold War organized global society in terms of political ideological power. The end of the Cold War brought in an era of economic power where more openness and globalization created efficiencies and greatly increased standards of living. We are now at the threshold of the era of the third great power that is beginning to move into dominance and that is culture. The three powers, economics, culture, and politics have been the major forces in history and have tended to dominate epochs of time. Frederick Engels effectively set the organizing principle of the cold war in the Preface of the German Edition of the Communist Manifesto which noted that the basic thought underlying the (Communist) Manifest is as follows: The method of production and the organization of social life inevitably arising there from constitutes in every historical epoch the foundation upon which is built the political and intellectual history of that epoch.

In effect; he noted that economics determines the nature of the culture which drives the politics. We have moved in the last half century from an era where the politics of the Cold War (Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Kennedy, Johnson, Mao) gave way to the power of economics with the rise of technology which brought out the inefficiencies of centralization. The economic era was characterized by Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, and Deng, but was probably best captivated intellectually by Milton Friedman. One of Friedman’s accurate observations was that economic freedom moves then to civil freedom (freedom of speech, press, assembly, etc.) which then moves to political freedom where you choose your own leaders. Civil freedoms impact civil obligations and a necessity for individual responsibility.

What we see today is a global world where culture is increasingly becoming the critical power. The pressures on our existing systems are at cross purposes. The power of economic globalization is tearing down existing structure and the power of local political interest is trying to strengthen the structure. Immigration and out sourcing are key examples. The option may be to use the power of culture to balance the pressures. The Golden Rule is a basic cultural value and if used as a perspective can help put more options into focus.

Today our problems are symptomized by the political issues that often use the tools of convenience, terrorism and corruption, but in reality these causes are cultural as the world goes back to the concept of trying to find a more common code for civilization that is truly a blend of law and culture. Frederick Bastiat in the 1850’s wrote a short book called The Law that perhaps described the phenomenon best for history. His core observation was that “it is not the law that gives you the culture, but the culture that gives you the law.” It is not the political system that can be put upon a culture and change it as we have learned in Russia and Iraq, but it is the development of the culture to have a common appreciation of values which inevitably leads to a codified and individually supported set of laws that are in effect the common good. This is a point where civilization is at a point of transition. Economics is often an issue of rich versus poor, politics is often right versus left or small government versus big government, but culture is ultimately not an issue of good versus evil because that depends upon one’s position of perspective. It is instead a judgment between conscience and convenience. Those are internal characteristics and also national characteristics because they are defined by individual responsibility and by a personal and national code of honor and process. We today have a great difficulty, because of the complexity of the issues involved, in prioritizing the most critical issues that must realign society. What will be the organizing principle of the next twenty years? Where will it emerge and what set of concepts will set the issues to the directions by which we think? Will it be the shotgun approach of media sound bites that are like small pellets of noise that only travel a short distance, or will we be wise enough, for our children’s sake, to choose a perspective much more like a rifle bullet of the most critical issues to define society? Television has made us look at issues for entertainment and drives thought by emotion. From talk radio to the internet these extremes are enlarged. But change must not be in the media as much as in our depth and perspective. The ultimate issue is conscience by which you care for others and the future versus convenience by which you care and prioritize only for yourself and the present. Those are definable terms that can be judged and society can learn to appreciate them on a global perspective. Conscience rests in effect upon two very key concepts: obligation and compassion. The Golden Rule, the common good, the rule of law over that of men are all consistent with this concept and it is their ultimate base. The styles that are used can well be that of realists such as Machiavelli in The Prince or The Science of the Thick and the Black in Asia, with the related concepts of Chinese legalism, all speak to the power of convenience and realists. Machiavelli thought man inherently evil in judging his actions in his epoch. The idealists, Christ, Confucius, Aristotle, and a host of others looked at the redeem-ability of man and that man could be of conscience. The great religions share much in the support of conscience as do the great philosophies. The Golden Rule is key both to Christ and Confucius, but the concept of “Zameer” or “conscience” is at the core of Islam as well. The problem is often how these great ideas are used and it would serve all well to go back to the basics of understanding what conscience provides for society in building the common good and why it is essential to the integration of cultures for the future of civilization. We must build more of a melting pot of commonly understood and enforced values rather than the proverbial salad bowl of interests.

There are in the world today two different theories to look at how the world may be shaped. The first is one best represented by the works of Samuel Huntington of Harvard who focused thoughtfully on how cultures can be the sources of great divisions that lead to conflict. This perspective argues that there needs to be sensitivity when one culture begins imposing upon other cultures for it often results in unintended consequences. The other view looks to globalization and the fact that interdependence is almost an absolute certainty from economic considerations and that the future will have very porous borders and much more of a unification of society that will impact everything from public health through the spread of disease to the financial markets through the freedom of investment. A host of other methods of interdependence will come in part from what the Internet will provide as a boost to globalization. These thinkers feel that unless you have this set of interconnections expanded there will be significant imbalances that will be of dramatic impact and thus there will be clashes because of the driving force of economics. Tony Blair was perhaps one of the major visionaries of this over the last decade. His view of the world needed the pursuit of global values. Like Friedman, he saw the world with a more mature economic interdependence, but at the stage of trying to find the civil interdependence between cultures.

How to find that new balance is a cultural not a political issue as was seen from Frederick Bastiat in that culture shapes the law which in this case might well be ultimate politics, not the reverse. To organize culture internationally you effectively have to have a similar perspective of how you look at the values of society or civilization. It is an organizing principle in which conscience functions very well. The core of philosophy is the understanding that how you think, the method by which you think, determines what you think. Your perspective of society and its goals is critical. If your perspective is conscience you organize by the common good, you use conscience to explain the necessity of joint obligations between men in the sense of morality and the necessity of the Golden Rule of having society act with courtesy beyond just the requirements of the law itself. There are three levels of cultures. The discipline in society of the rule of law to which all people agree to a codification and enforcement; the culture of ethics or the Golden Rule of morality (obligation) where men do for others those things they expect to be done for themselves because of what men should expect of each other; and the highest level of culture which is the culture of service (compassion) in which men do for others those things that they do not expect of others because they wish to be defined by a set of principles that are to their own making and to their gods beyond those that are simply set by other men. If the final culture is achieved, the other two inevitably follow.

The reality of life is that you will never have a society that is all conscience or is all convenience. The dominance of the society is fought in the middle ground and it may well be a sixty percent to forty percent at best. But, if the majority is of conscience it dramatically changes the culture often to individual responsibility rather than dependence, and changes both the economic system in that you have better competition in freeing society of corruption, and in smaller government that gives great liberties because the peer pressure of the people enforces the rule rather than the government being forced to. In finding reality you often find convenience in short term solutions. Convenience might well tell Cesare Borgia when a castle cannot be taken to offer a white flag and then kill them and bribe the others. It solves the immediate problem, but the next castle, in the longer view, is far more difficult because you lose trust and unity. Forces and powers are how you have to judge internal cultures in society. The forces of change compete against the powers of the status quo in economics, politics, and culture. It is the individual dignity of the average man that ultimately is the judgment. If he is satisfied with the situation he does not rebel or change, if he is not he moves toward it. The system of civil liberties makes that transition much smoother and over a longer period of time when such civil liberties are not available you have massive quicker changes that ultimately take place. The three powers, economics, politics, and culture are the ways that you can compare civilizations to each other because the powers may be enforced differently, but the fundamentals are the same. Education, concern for the environment and all other tools usually fit in these categories in different ways. The methods of analysis, measurement and prioritization, and the understanding of trends all have to be used to give a common perspective. The judgment of the three types of cultures previously described give you an idea of the commonalities and the differences of cultures. If you try to find the commonalities you in a large way accomplish a different way or method than you either would have by avoiding cultures because of the fear of conflict, or by intervening in cultures from an economic or political perspective which often will occur naturally but can have negative consequences.

With this new transition the issue is now where leadership will begin. The United Nations does not have the international credibility to unify though it may accomplish some good works. The great institutions that were created over the last century have their own problems often with corruption, bureaucracy, mismanagement or a failure of focused vision to serve as a catalyst. The most likely change is going to take place over periods of time by concepts that have the power to affect structures and ideas. Institutions may be less relevant to change than a broader understanding of the need for a common worldwide organizing principle.

Perhaps the most significant of those is that it forces the study of a World Harmonious Society in China. It is not understood well in the world generally, but may have incredible impact depending upon what approach it takes. This rests in large part with the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. Perhaps no entity is more at focus in this point of change. China’s extremely rapid economic growth has brought with it a great variety of consequences that need to be addressed and China is perhaps the greatest case study of the need for a clear organizing principle, plan, and system for its evolution. Also of importance is China’s tremendous understanding of the power of culture. Unlike Russia which moved to legal and economic concepts quickly but minimized culture, the Chinese model focuses on and studies culture with great intensity because of its 4000 year history and its understanding of the critical necessity to unify people. The new systems of thought in China focus upon a concept following SARS looking at a method called the Scientific Outlook for Development and the goal of many of these processes tends to be what is defined within China as a “Harmonious Society”. It is an understanding of the problems that will be found within that society as growth moves quickly forward. In cities such as Shenzhen that are unique economic zones not only have they seen what twenty-five years of growth could provide, but they have studied the cultural impacts and are beginning to look very thoughtfully at what needs to be taught in school in order to have a society that can work in this new and different environment when twenty-five years from now it is more prevalent in all of China.

Of particular importance is that their senior leaders have begun discussing the concept of a world “Harmonious Society” as a set of beliefs that matter the most to help unify civilizations. What perspective is taken by China as it works through these next few years of refinement of its ideology and approach is critical because its business practices will inevitably have a tremendous effect on the world by the very nature of globalization that has been described. If China seeks conscience as its goal and a method by which its sets that perspective then by the very forces of reality as well as the forces of idealism it could play an extremely constructive part in the reorganization of value based civilization. Much of this will begin at one institution, the Central Party School. The School trains the leadership of China, models critical issues and looks upon social policy. President Hu emerged from the School. The fact that it has had such interest in trying to fight corruption and a focus upon organizational ideas of conscience is very positive. The ultimate key will be whether China takes a leadership position worldwide. It is funding a great number of Confucian Institutes that will help interact with other cultures, but what will be the philosophy of those Institutes and their perspective? Will it be solely to sell Chinese values and language, or will it be to define a more international base by which all people understand each other? Will it be national advocacy or an effort to build a common ground for understanding? While China may play a significant part because of the realism that they can change their culture and impact it over the next generation, the rest of the world is also left with an internal set of issues for their individual societies. Do we look to people of conscience dominating or people of convenience? It is not easy to be a statesman in a modern environment and usually only politicians tend to survive. But the way of change is relatively clear. Conscience works on an individual level where people must interact with each other. The higher you rise in power, the more convenience tends to dominate the situation. The only exception to that is when the population reaches a point that it understands that conscience is what is to be sought and even those men of convenience change their ways in order to promote conscience in order to be elected. That usually only occurs in crisis after men have seen the forces move too much in ways that no longer benefit them and their individual dignity. Each society will have to fight its own battle between men of conscience versus convenience. The one key point is that men of conscience only succeed when they work with others because one on one the lack of ethics of those of convenience gives a significant advantage. There has to be institutions and ideas created on a global stage that replace the politics and economics of institutions and help promote those believers of conscience in order that they may affect the nature and balance of society. All change takes time, often generations, but it has to have solid ideas to be taught and a dedication to teaching them.

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