Globalization, Social Progress, and the Need for Visionary Thinking and Action
By Eric Stetson — March 2009
(Note: This is an excerpt from an article originally published in 2009.)
When we contemplate the world of our dreams — a world of universal peace, prosperity, and respect for the rights of individuals, communities, and the planet on which we live — our uplifting thoughts are often beset by the sinking feeling that it is only a dream, that such a world could never become a reality. Countless people in numerous cultures and traditions have dreamed the dream of a future world of peace and plenty, equality, freedom and justice for all. They have expressed this dream in moving visions and prophecies that ring down through the ages. Yet in all that time, such a heaven-inspired world dreamed by the most visionary of human beings has never been manifested in our waking life on earth. Shall it remain ever a dream? Or to put it differently, shall we remain asleep in our dreams mixed with nightmares, or shall humanity awaken and finally build the world we long for and deserve to experience as mature beings of intellect and spiritual consciousness?
Though utopia is an impossible goal, humans are intrinsically called to improvement of self and society. And improve we have! In only a few thousand years, the human race has progressed in so many ways and to such a degree that a person from our distant past would hardly recognize the world we live in. Many societies today provide women with equal rights, accept people of different races and cultures in their midst as equals, eschew needless warfare, forego torture and brutal punishments for the deviant, educate their children to a high standard of learning and knowledge, and produce technological innovations that have improved the general standard of living to levels practically unimaginable in ancient times. Much of this positive change has come in the past few hundred years — a mere blink of an eye in the history of our species.
Only the most visionary of human beings a few centuries ago would have predicted that a large percentage of the world’s population would now be living in the conditions enjoyed in early 21st century developed nations. However, lest pride in our recent accomplishments blunt our awareness of what remains to be done, let us recognize that we still have a long way to go toward the ultimate vision of a time when swords will be beaten into plowshares and justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Much of the world is still living in darkness, hardly changed since times of old; and even in the more progressive societies, major evolution of civilization still needs to occur to remedy the lingering scourges of greed, prejudice, hatred and violence we have inherited and passed down like generational curses since the first humans walked this earth. In some ways, modern civilization may actually have worsened some human vices or made it easier for them to be indulged in profoundly imbalanced ways.
Nevertheless, the point is that we can make the world a better place — we already have — and not just in minor details but in great, bold, majestic and sweeping progressions of societal development. Oftentimes these great changes came quickly, within one or two generations. The rise of democracy and religious freedom, the abolition of slavery, and the movement for women’s rights in progressive countries are noteworthy examples. The people who fought for these ideals, these seemingly impossible dreams of their time, are our recent ancestors. They dreamed big, and they worked hard to make some of their greatest dreams come true.
In our own time, we have the opportunity to create a truly global civilization based on universal principles embracing all the best that humanity has to offer. The rise of easily accessible rapid transportation, instantaneous global communication, and digital storage and retrieval of vast quantities of efficiently searchable information provide us with the conditions and tools we need to manifest a vision of universal human civilization based on knowledge, wisdom, and democratic input drawn from all corners of the earth.
Globalization is undoubtedly the key concept of our generation. Depending on how people react to the challenges of globalization, it could either become primarily a source of suffering and conflict or a source of cultural renaissance in the century ahead. We have the power to make it a renaissance — if only we have the courage to dream, and to strive to make our dreams a reality.
One of the unfortunate features of modern society is overspecialization. Many people regard intellectual generalism as a relic of the past, unsuitable for today’s way of life. As a result, they are conditioned to think small, and to laugh at people who dream big. Perhaps the greatest challenge of our time is to regain the ability and the willingness to be truly visionary in our thinking and our actions. Visionary thinking and action is the only thing that will enable our world to survive the growing pains of the 21st century and thrive in a new era we cannot avoid. By visionary I mean seeing the big picture and seeing the end in the beginning.
Seeing the big picture of our time means seeing and acknowledging that no longer can the limitations of nation, race, tribe, creed, culture, language, or any other feature of human beings that distinguishes and all too often divides us one from another remain sources of divisiveness in an era when it is vitally important that we respect each other and work together to avoid potentially cataclysmic and unprecedented consequences for our increasingly interconnected societies and the very planet on which we depend for our survival. In an age of nuclear weapons and rapid environmental destruction, we cannot afford the luxury of separation, unchecked competition, distrust and hatred toward those who are different than ourselves. Instead, we must come to see both the need and the value of universalism — the oneness of humanity and the potential contributions of all peoples toward a global culture that celebrates diversity while seeking essential unity. Furthermore, we must integrate different fields of thought and action into a coherent whole of related parts, promoting the development of a holistic consciousness of human achievement and potential.
Seeing the end in the beginning means envisioning the goal of a world of universal peace, prosperity, and human dignity, and a new culture celebrating the greatest thoughts and works of all humanity, and seeing a path whereby such a world and culture may come into being through a systematic plan of action. It is not enough just to dream great dreams; we must make a beginning toward manifesting those dreams. We must have the vision to see how our greatest dreams may come to being in everyday reality. We cannot predict all the details of how this process may occur, but we can certainly support and implement systems and projects that are well thought through and which offer a realistic chance to make meaningful progress toward our ultimate vision for the world.