The current global crisis could be seized as an opportunity to change course morally in the way we organize economic activity. We are moving from a system in which the economy has dominated people and nature to a new system in which economic decisions will be subordinated to the needs of people and Mother Nature: instead of money values ruling over the life cycle, life values will rule over the money cycle.
High moral standards are important but if they are not practiced on a regular basis and infused into the policies of our institutions, hypocrisy and cynicism creep into our lives.
The Global Values Revolution
The nationalism, sectarianism and racism currently infecting our world make it important to clearly state the values that guide us in creating a sense of planetary responsibility in each of us.
Every revolution until now has been a national revolution, with the revolutionaries seeking to run that country differently. Now we are in the early stages of the first global revolution. It is a revolution in values, seeking to switch from money values ruling over the life cycle (people and nature), to a system where life values rule over the money cycle. Instead of subordinating society and nature to the economy, we are learning to subordinate the economy to people and nature.
The global citizenship movement is diverse, yet there are certain core principles held in common. Biomimetic science is teaching us that nature’s central operating principle is unity-of-diversity, so a broad spectrum of social justice groups and environmental organizations are coming together to save humanity from itself.
We can promote the following manifesto of principles while keeping in mind that specific conditions in each community influence how people set priorities.
- We seek to develop a sense of compassion and empathy that is at the core of grassroots internationalism, being able to feel deeply about injustice done against anyone, anywhere in the world.
Grassroots internationalism has been spreading rapidly as more and more people understand that we have a responsibility to those who are suffering economic injustice. Global solidarity takes many forms: the climate change movement, the permaculture movement, sister cities, sister schools, the fair trade movement, the women’s movement, campaigns against corporate abuses, efforts to humanize U.S. foreign policy, and environmental activism. The Internet is helping us develop what some people are calling global brain: a heightened level of human connection and joint action never before seen in human history.
Modern brain science has confirmed that our brains are hard-wired for solidarity: when you do an act of kindness toward others, your own internal chemistry improves, strengthening your immune system and making you feel better. The field of positive psychology is proving that caring about the welfare of others enhances your own health.
- We pledge to take the side of the poor and oppressed wherever injustices are being committed.
During my 30 years at Global Exchange people would come into the office and ask us if we felt burdened by trying to “save the world,” but in fact, working for social justice and environmental sanity is quite uplifting. We have fun doing this work because we know we are standing on the shoulders of amazing justice-seekers such as Sojourner Truth, Mohandes Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. We feel rooted in a historic movement for emancipation from needless suffering, and this global justice movement will help change the course of history. Recognizing the debt we owe to the freedom fighters who preceded us, we need to constantly raise the question: What kind of ancestors will we be?
- We defend the universal rights to food, shelter, healthcare, education and employment, and the basic human rights of freedom of expression, assembly and religion.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, written in 1948, is the most comprehensive statement of humanistic values. The words of Article 1 — “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” — make it clear that this international document draws heavily on the rights established by the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Just because many governments have failed to implement many of the rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights does not mean they are irrelevant. Human ideals have always preceded implentation into policy and practice, often by centuries. We should all acquaint ourselves with the rights described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter, and promote them whenever we get the chance. Each of us, in our own communities, can find people who are being denied their basic rights, and there are many organizations we can support who are working on these local struggles for full human rights.
- We believe in peace, and that international conflicts should be resolved through multilaterial institutions such as the United Nations.We call for sweeping reductions in military spending, with the money going to meet human needs such as housing, health care and education.
The hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world are part of an old model of domination, militarism, and environmental contamination. Instead of protecting the United States, these bases have made us the target of animosity and attacks from groups opposed to the U.S. presence on their soil. By inserting thousands of young, poorly educated yet well-armed Americans into foreign cultures they know little about, we are generating hostility and resentment that fuels the passions of those who would do us harm.
The failures of the United States to impose solutions militarily in Iraq and Afghanistan prove that international conflicts should be resolved peacefully through multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. All governments—especially powerful ones—should strengthen the democratic and developmental aspects of the UN so it can live up to its original promise. Just one percent of the US military budget would be enough to massively expand the peacekeeping operations of the UN, which would help the United States get out of the role of global policeman.
- We shun the unbridled acquisition of material goods, and consumption without conscience.
Corporate propaganda has led many of us to believe that more money equates with more happiness. Yet survey data shows that income and reported happiness rise together until roughly $70,000 per year and then reported happiness flattens out as income rises. This raises the question: how much do you really need?
More and more people are realizing that the commodity culture amounts to counterfeit community. Real community comes from human relations based on compassion and caring, not from owning “stuff.” If it were normal and natural to base our lives on buying commodities it would not be necessary for the corporations to bombard us with thousands of commercial messages every day. They would simply say “go shopping” and we would all run off to the mall.
The good news is that a new sharing economy is being innovated from the grassroots. Internet technology is turning sharing into the new buying. AirBnB allows people to share living space. GetAround allows people to share their motor vehicles. LiquidSpace allows people to share workspace. Yerdle allows people to share their power tools, camping tents, lawn mowers, and every other commodity that only gets used occasionally. Everywhere you look, people are coming together to strengthen the local, resource-sharing economy.
- We support the rights of women everywhere to participate fully in the running of their societies.
Seeing as women do most of the work in the world, shouldn’t women have equal status and equal opportunity with men? Many decades of foreign aid experience have taught us that the single best investment in the development of a country is education for females. So we need a global campaign to elevate the status of women in all spheres.
We all know about patriotism, feeling devotion to a particular part of the planet. But now we are developing matriotism: love of Mother Earth. Why do we refer to our planet as Mother Earth? Because she is the mother we all share, no matter which woman’s body you came out of. Mother Earth always practices abundance and generosity: she gives you oxygen for your lungs, the beauty of nature for your spirit, and the water and food you are made of. And in return she makes just one modest demand: don’t foul your own nest, or you will pay a price eventually.
Matriotism involves creating a “solutionary” culture where women and men feel empowered to change the things that need upgrading: supporting organizations that educate our girls, electing leaders who believe in gender equity, promoting community empowerment, and fighting for the creation of good jobs.
- We support the right of workers to organize to defend their rights and press for better working conditions.
Many transnational corporations moved their production facilities from wealthy countries like the United States to take advantage of low wages and desperately poor workers in countries such as China, Bangladesh and Cambodia. Many scandals of sweatshop fires and collapsing factory buildings have brought to our attention the terrible conditions suffered by workers who make clothes and other commodities for us.
In many countries without an organized working class the rights and benefits we take for granted do not exist yet. Our support for workers must extend to family farmers and landless peasants who grow our coffee and chocolate: they need sufficient land, water and tools to grow food for their families.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23 says: “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” The implementation of just this one article requires a revolution in corporate capitalism.
We can support these rights that are enshrined in international law by being conscious consumers: shunning companies that mistreat their workers; looking for the Fair Trade label that ensures fair treatment of workers and concern for the environment; investing only in companies that have a proven track record of fair treatment of their workers.
- We believe that international trade and investment should be based on mutual benefit, not profit-driven exploitation.
People in power talk glowingly about the “free market” and “free trade,” by which they mean the free movement of capital in all its forms (money, goods, services). But the most important “commodity” of all—human labor power—is not free to cross borders. A TV set made in Mexico has more freedom to cross the U.S. border than a Mexican human being does.
This injustice is due to the fact that international economic treaties are made by wealthy elites who never experience the pain suffered by the poor of the world. The rulers of the global economy never see their own children go hungry, so issues of global poverty seldom hit them at the gut level.
We need to ask two question when discussing rule-making in the global economy: 1. who is sitting at the table—is it mainly wealthy white males or is it the bouquet of humanity?; and 2. what are the dominant criteria for the rule-making—is it maximize profits for transnational corporations or is it meet all social needs and save the environment?
There is a growing understanding that the current economic system is creating more inequality and destroying the natural systems that sustain human civilization. We don’t need tinkering with minor policy adjustments, we need a new economic system that puts the needs of the majority and of Mother Nature above the drive for corporate profits.
- We strive to overcome racism, sexism, homophobia and class prejudice.
Each of us plays many social roles—parent, child, friend, worker, voter, citizen—and we participate in many institutions. So in addition to cleaning up our personal attitudes about racism, sexism and class prejudice, we can also pressure our institutions to address the structural inequalities that divide the human family. It takes courage to be an activist and speak up when we see injustices happening. But remember, it’s the squeaky hinge that gets the oil; a closed mouth does not get fed. Everyone who ever affected positive social change had to muster the courage to speak up and convince others to mobilize and take action.
The good news is that all forms of “rankism”—believing in a hierarchy of rights depending on a person’s physical and economic status—are getting discredited with the expansion of the Internet and the belief in equal rights for all. Mother Nature’s central operating principle is unity-of-diversity, and we humans are slowly learning how to implement that principle in our institutions and our personal behavior.
- We affirm the right of all people to travel freely.
Because the United States and Mexico are somewhat unique in having a long border between a rich country and a lower-income country, immigration has become a hot topic. Yet because the United States is a nation of immigrants we should have special understanding of this issue. Our parents and grandparents did not come here from other countries seeking a free ride: they came seeking an opportunity to work hard and build a better life for their families. Most migration in the world is labor migration: people seeking jobs that will allow them to send money home to their families.
Criminalizing immigration leads to money wasted on fences, policing and prisons, and forces immigrants into an underground economy that leads to their exploitation or worse (hundreds of people die each year crossing the southwest desert of the United States). Our laws, such as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), have removed U.S. manufacturing jobs and flooded the Mexican market with subsidized U.S. corn that sells for less than what a Mexican peasant can grow it for, which pushes thousands of Mexican farmers off their land and into the illegal immigration pipeline.
Numerous studies have shown that immigrants bring far more to our country than they take. Many of our most innovative companies have been started by immigrants, and many of the most onerous jobs are ones that U.S. citizens will not take. Most immigrants would rather stay in their home country but poverty forces them to leave in search of work, so the real solution to the immigration issue is to eliminate poverty in the world. We have the technical means to do this; what we lack is the political will.
- We trust in democracy – the duty of all people to be actively involved in shaping the polices of the governments that claim to represent them.
The greatest threat we each face is the cult of powerlessness: that little voice in our heads that says, “you can’t succeed,” “we’re doomed to failure,” and other negative thinking that drains our courage and leads us to accept the status quo. The word democracy comes from two Greek roots: demos (people) and kratos (rule). If the people don’t currently rule it is our responsibility to make the changes necessary to achieve true democracy on a global level.
Here is a source of inspiration and hope. With Internet technology we could have global voting. The majority of the human race could be asked questions such as: “Should we continue destroying the environment or should we save it?”; “Should we shut down ALL the militaries and put that money into education and healthcare?”; “Should women have equal opportunity with men?” In each of these cases the progressive answer would win the majority of votes. We should take strength from the fact that the majority of the world’s people share humanistic, caring values that favor equality, democracy and justice.
- We must remember that we are borrowing this planet from our grandchildren, and the earth’s preservation is our sacred responsibility.
We Americans have a special responsibility to promote “matriotism”– love of Mother Earth. We are less than 5 percent of the world’s population but we use 25 percent of the world’s resources, and we produce 25 percent of the world’s pollution.
The current era is unique because the gap between what-is and what-could-be has never been this great, and that gap keeps expanding as the bad stuff gets worse and the good stuff gets better. When we do effective education-for-mobilization and people realize that we can fix what is wrong with the world it releases psychological energy that is the greatest renewable resource we have: the human spirit.
This is our opportunity to change the course of history. There is a growing movement that is enshrining “Rights of Nature” into our legal systems at the local, national and international levels. Countries such as Ecuador have created constitutional guarantees recognizing nature’s right to “exist, flourish and evolve.” A growing number of people around the world are learning from the nature-based spirituality of indigenous peoples whose science and spirituality are integrated, which is how they survived for thousands of years without destroying their habitat.
We need a long-term perspective. The masons who built the foundation layers of the cathedrals in Europe that took centuries to build knew that they would not see the final product of their work. But they also knew that they had to do very solid, precise work because of all the weight that would eventually rest on the foundations they were creating. We are the modern equivalent of those masons. We are laying the foundations of a future sustainable global economy that will have no starving children, no clear-cut forests, no wars for oil, and no endangered species. The only questions are how long will that take and how will we muster the courage to save humanity from itself.
Fortunately, we already have a prime directive to guide us on this challenging journey, from the green architect, William McDonough: “How do we love all the children, of all species, for all time?”
Dr. Kevin Danaher is a Co-Founder of Global Exchange, the Green Festivals, Fair Trade USA, and the Green Guardians. He can be reached at email@example.com