The road to Paradise

We would all like the road to paradise to be reasonably smooth, marked by encouraging milestones on the way to show us what progress we are making. A sober examination of our present state of affairs, however, does not promise such a bright prospect. In the next chapter we shall look more particularly at the obstacles to be overcome. In this one we shall look at the nature of the path itself.

If there is to be any future paradise on earth it will involve all people. Unlike the heavenly paradise of mediaeval times, it will not be just for the righteous, the wise, or the privileged. We have to abandon our individualism and walk the road together. Whether we reach the goal depends not on the decisions of a few, but on the combined wills of the whole six billion of us. In view of our present diversity, to say nothing of continuing outbreaks of animosity and violence, it is clear that the road to any future paradise on earth is going to pass through much difficult terrain.

The first problem is that we humans do not at the moment share any agreed picture of what our paradise should be like. Not all are motivated to build it anyway, while those who are, often want to set off in widely different directions. Secondly, as Warren Wagar points out in Building the City of Man, “our solutions [for reaching a better world] have been piecemeal, provisional, parochial, uncoordinated and unsubstantial. They are too often conceived on a national scale, although the real problems are all planetary”. This applies particularly to ecological concerns, where there is great reluctance to place global imperatives before national and local ones.

Further, the initial steps on the road to an earthly paradise may not be all that inviting. The road may lead us through a period of disorder and even chaos, and for that reason we shall be reluctant to take it, if we have any choice.

When the ancient Israelites set out for the Promised Land, for example, they found themselves enduring the hardships of the wilderness and they cried out to Moses to take them back to the fleshpots of Egypt. Even after they finally entered the Promised Land in the time of Joshua, they found it was far from the paradise they hoped for. They spent some 200 years in considerable anarchy before David brought law and order through the establishment of his kingdom.

That may be taken as symbolic of what will precede the coming of any global paradise on earth. It was exemplified in a small way by our most recent New Zealand history. When Roger Douglas introduced his programme for the major restructuring of the New Zealand economy, he warned that there would be a period of initial pain before we entered into the paradise he saw on the other side. Many people are now asking whether the pain of redundancy, the loss of economic security and the general bewilderment which New Zealand society experienced over the past 15 years were really worth while. Are we nearer to a New Zealand paradise or further away?

Yet what we suffered there may be quite minor compared with what we have yet to encounter, both nationally and globally, if we are to reach any future global paradise.

Thus we need to adjust ourselves to the probability that the road to a global paradise is going to be very rough. Even if it comes by a process of natural evolution it will demand a great deal of effort, commitment and personal sacrifice. If it can only come by a more revolutionary method, as seems more likely, the suffering we pass through before the goal is reached will be a great deal more intense.

Limiting our freedoms

Let us first look at a possible evolutionary path. We tend to think of a future paradise as a time that will bring us greater freedom, such as more leisure. In fact, in order to enjoy whatever benefits it brings we may have to accept an increasing number of restrictions on our present freedom. In an era in which we have been glorying in a lot of new freedom, we shall not take kindly to that.

Let me explain by observing what took place at the ancient agricultural revolution. To put it simplistically, in order to enjoy an increased and more regular food supply, the agriculturalist had to surrender the freedom to rove about at will. This freedom, which had been enjoyed by the food-gatherer and pastoralist, is still highly prized by the Bedouin. There are even remnants of it left in New Zealand, as I found out years ago in my country parish in inland Otago. Those who worked on sheep stations, either as owners or as shepherds, showed a certain disdain towards the cow-cockies and the “dirt farmers”, as they called the agriculturalists. Those on the sheep stations believed they enjoyed a much freer lifestyle than those who were tied to the strict daily routines of the farm.

In a similar way, the Industrial Revolution also brought a certain loss of freedom in order to provide a higher standard of living, including a greater diversity of materials and foodstuffs. It entailed the introduction of rigid working hours, wage control, the monotony of repetitive activity and, most serious of all, the possibility of unemployment. In a completely rural economy there had always been useful employment for everybody, partly because they were living so close to the source of their basic food. The Industrial Revolution removed many people one step further away from the forces of nature, and made them wholly dependent on one another for sustenance.

The Industrial Revolution also rapidly increased urbanisation. We now live cheek by jowl in cities. In the more densely populated areas people live in concrete jungles. Is this our idea of paradise? Rural life had always been much freer, so much so that for summer holidays, the urbanite is glad to escape for a few short weeks back into the open countryside.

In both the agricultural and industrial revolutions, therefore, our forebears experienced some loss of freedom and seemed to be further removed from the original garden of nature, whether or not it was conceived as paradise. Yet after each revolution we have gradually become adjusted to the new conditions and thought the change worthwhile. Nevertheless it has left some people feeling a certain degree of nostalgia for what they have lost. The rural person still prefers the freedom and restful peace of the countryside, and the warm personal relationships which bind a rural community together. City people, on the other hand, rejoice in the greater diversity of cultural pursuits which city life provides for them. They sometimes regard their country cousins as unsophisticated hayseeds.

This process of moving from an earlier type of freedom to more restricted lifestyles will intensify in the future. It will be part of the personal sacrifices which have to be made in return for the benefits of a richer global civilisation. Indeed, in spite of our distaste for restrictions it is remarkable how many we have already come to accept during the 20th century.

In the early 1920s, for example, my father drove our family car without ever having driving lessons or being required to have a licence. For decades to come one could park the car freely on the roadside. Restrictions multiplied during the course of the century. First, the vehicle had to be licensed. Then the driver had to be licensed, being required to pass an ever more exacting driving test. Then the car had to have a warrant of fitness. Then we had to wear seat belts. Then we had to pay parking fees, and now we are rightly forbidden to drink and drive. On the whole we do not object too much to the loss of freedom, and for this reason: the increase in the number and variety of restrictions in one area has the effect of safeguarding our freedoms in others.

This process is symbolic of the increasing restrictions we shall be subject to on the road to a future paradise. The restrictions will gradually become more severe. At the introduction of each we shall complain and resist. Here in New Zealand, for example, we have already surrendered the right to defend ourselves with our own firearms, but in the United States it is still a hotly disputed issue.

In the global civilisation of the future we shall find it necessary to impose upon ourselves more and more restrictions. There will also be increasing restrictions on world travel and immigration. Travel for tourism, yes! Travel for permanent migration, no! We shall be less and less free to do just what we want to with the land we believe we own. Land ownership as we now know it may have to be surrendered and replaced by leasing rights which will come up for regular review. This would constitute monitored stewardship rather than ownership.

In the global civilisation of the future the whole earth – air, sea and land – may once again become the common wealth of the human species as a whole, to be used communally by all but with no exclusively personal rights for anyone. Further, the earth will no longer be regarded as the exclusive preserve of the human species only. It has to be shared with the large variety of other species of life.

At the introduction of each restriction there will be strong resistance, and this will slow and delay, perhaps indefinitely, our journey on the road to paradise – that is, if we ever manage to make it all the way to paradise by the process of natural evolution. Our reluctance to make the personal sacrifices necessary for a coming paradise makes it all the more likely that we shall have to face some major global catastrophes. These may have to occur before we humans become sufficiently motivated to be shocked out of our complacency and small-mindedness to build the new kind of civilisation which is now called for.

Signs of the times

As with the pains of childbirth, the birth of the global civilisation will be preceded by some apocalyptic events. Many of these I have already outlined in a chapter entitled “Scenarios of the Future” in my book The World to Come. Some readers have found that chapter depressing. I am not surprised. Yet in describing them, I had no intention of scaremongering, for that is a practice I deplore. I would much have preferred to be able to herald the imminent arrival of a rosy future. But, along with those whose ideas have most influenced me, I have simply been trying to interpret the signs of the times. That, incidentally, is something which Jesus of Nazareth is said to have rebuked his critics for not doing.

To read the signs of the times we have to look beyond our own personal concerns and even beyond the latest public crisis. Parochialism prevents us from seeing the wood for the trees. It encourages us to shut our eyes to the distant scene and treat each immediate crisis as an isolated problem which can be solved by local politics or by the application of an economic theory. In recent decades, for example, we have been taken up with inflation, the oil shocks, Rogernomics, the Gulf War, the falling dollar, increasing gaps between rich and poor and so on. But what of the whole picture, to which each of these relates?

Toffler’s shocks and promise

Let us try to step back and put the crises in a global context. That is what Alvin Toffler did when he wrote his runaway best-seller, Future Shock, in 1970. This was before the first oil shock and the uncontrolled inflation which followed. The book had already gone through 15 printings when I bought my copy in 1972. It was widely read, not so much because it provided a lot of constructive answers about the future, but because he correctly read the signs of the times and interpreted a widespread mood.

His book helped people understand why they were feeling so unsettled without being able to put their finger on the cause. They were suffering the shock of cultural change. It was accelerating so fast that people began to feel they were living in a society out of control. The 1960s had witnessed the student revolts. People had begun talking about the generation gap. Social institutions of long standing, such as marriage, were being ignored. The British social scientist Sir Geoffrey Vickers had said: “The rate of change increases at an accelerating speed, without a corresponding acceleration in the rate at which further responses can be made, and this brings us nearer the threshold beyond which control is lost.”

Toffler did not try to provide a strategy to control change and give it direction. His basic purpose was rather to diagnose the situation, on the grounds that proper diagnosis precedes the cure. Today’s many changes, he suggested, may appear at first to be quite independent phenomena – the break-up of the nuclear family, the global energy crisis, the spread of cults, the rise of separatist movements, the change in methods of communication, and the rapidly expanding influence of the mass media. Toffler saw them as all connected. A cultural revolution of global proportions, affecting everything and everybody, had already begun.

In a later book Toffler compared this accumulation of changes with two earlier revolutionary changes in the history of human culture. I have referred to them several times already. First there was the agricultural revolution, which led to the Axial Period. Then, from some 300 years ago, came the Industrial Revolution. Toffler speaks of these as the First Wave and the Second Wave. He notes that though it took several thousand years to work through the consequences of the agricultural revolution, only three centuries after the beginning of the Industrial Revolution we find ourselves entering a further cultural revolution, this time on a global scale. This he called the Third Wave.

This later book, The Third Wave (1980), which appears to have been not nearly so widely read, did attempt to engender hope for the road ahead. Toffler continued this more positive note, in co-operation with his wife Heidi, in a third book, War and Anti-war, Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century. There they said: “We are witnessing the sudden eruption of a new civilisation on the planet, carrying with it a knowledge-intensive way of creating wealth that is trisecting and transforming the entire global system today.”

This new planetary civilisation could be the global paradise we are looking for. In other words, we may already be on the road to paradise without knowing it or even having had to make any choice in the matter. Yet we must not rejoice too soon. Toffler was under no illusions about the real dangers to be faced before we reach the new civilisation. These he referred to as “nuclear annihilation, ecological disaster, racial fanaticism, regional violence and economic debacle”.

Seizing the moment

If we are “witnessing the sudden eruption of a new civilisation on the planet”, then it is because, in evolutionary terms, its time has come. In saying that, I am reminded of the Greek word kairos which, as biblical scholars came to discover, has a very special meaning. It refers to the decisive moment of change. The evangelist placed it on the lips of Jesus in a well-known verse which can be translated something like this: “The decisive moment has arrived. The kingdom of God is close to hand. That’s the good news. But to enter it, you have to change your way of thinking.” (Changing one’s way of thinking is what is really meant by the Greek word metanoia, which has been too narrowly translated as “repentance”.) If the phenomenon of globalisation means that the kairos or decisive moment for forming the new world civilisation has arrived, we must change our traditional ways of thinking, seize the time now, or we may lose it for ever. That is the significance of speaking of the era we have entered as one of world crisis.

Further, if we do not seize the kairos in this 21st century and lay the cultural foundations of the new civilisation, then human civilisation of all kinds may come to an end.

That, of course, sounds an over-dramatic way of stating the crisis, though no more dramatic than that used by the first Christians. They heralded, as they thought, the imminent arrival of the kingdom of God amid cataclysmic earthquakes and wars. In fact, without knowing it, their activities were laying the foundations of a Christian civilisation which was to last for 2000 years.

What further signs should we expect to indicate that we are now on the road to the new planetary civilisation? Sixty years ago Teilhard de Chardin said: “We stand at a critical point in the evolution of mankind. We hold the earth’s future in our hands. The road to be followed is clearly revealed by the teaching of all the past. We can go forward only by uniting, for this is the law of life.”

The path of unity

The road to the new world civilisation, if we are to reach it at all, will involve the uniting of the whole human race. As we contemplate the present diversity of nations and cultures, giving rise to innumerable trouble spots around the world, we might well think that to be an impossible task. Yet if there is ever to be a paradise on earth, this is the only way to reach it; the alternative road could well lead to the extinction of the human species.

The good news is that the process of globalisation is already challenging us to proceed with the unification of the human race, whether we are ready for it or not. But this will entail the construction or evolution of a number of basic structures for which we are as yet ill-prepared. They will be strongly resisted, as I have indicated, because they will each be regarded as depriving us of freedom and other values which we have enjoyed in the past. They are:

• The formation of a global economy;
• The establishment of a global democracy;
• The evolution of a global culture;
• The spread of a global faith.

Let us look at each of these in turn.

A global economy

The evolution of a global economy has already begun. Globalisation is forcing a global economy upon us whether we like it or not. The peoples of the world are becoming increasingly interdependent economically for the practice of the consumer life-style to which we are rapidly becoming adjusted. Because the global economy was the first clear manifestation of the globalising process which has been creeping upon us for four centuries, there has been a tendency to confine the term “globalisation” to the ideology now promoting the growth of the global economy.

But the coming of the global economy is not going to be an easy ride. Certainly the planetary civilisation must have a global economy. But it is not sufficient simply to remove tariffs, promote free trade, open up a supposed level playing-field, and expect the self-adjusting mechanisms of the free market to do the rest. What is too often overlooked is that far from opening up some pristine level playing-field which has been lying hidden, the current globalising efforts of business magnates and politicians is rather opening up the whole world (especially the small and disadvantaged nations) to the greedy exploitation of the international corporations. The effect of this is simply to make the poor countries poorer and the rich countries still richer.

Global market forces left to themselves are not the least bit interested in the welfare of humankind. The belief that they are is a false myth which stems from Adam Smith. His reference to the “invisible hand” represents the last trace of the Christian doctrine of divine providence, which he had not quite managed to let go. We should have tumbled to the error of his myth earlier, particularly on realising that having written the great textbook expounding the wonders of free trade, he ended his career as the controller of customs.

If the global economy is to be an instrument for unifying the human race and leading us on the road to paradise, it must be subject to human direction and control. But this will not necessarily be applied nationally, as it was hitherto, but from a world centre. That brings us to the need for some central world authority operating within the global economy, as part of the process of the unification of humankind.

A global democracy

That requires the establishment of a global democracy. We need to find some global structure to unify the instruments of power, such as we currently have at national level in the government, the police, the judiciary, and the military. There must be one central point of final authority, responsible to humanity, using the democratic processes.

We have already taken the first tentative steps towards such global unification in order to promote and preserve international security. Two world wars in the 20th century made us realise that we need an international body. The United Nations Organisation, established after World War II to replace the failed League of Nations, has already lasted much longer and achieved more than its predecessor. We have also set up an International Court of Justice which, among other things, can put on trial the enemies of humanity, such as war criminals.

These world bodies have the potential to be the organs of a world state, but they lack ultimate authority. The reason for this is the refusal of the major nation-states to surrender any more of their sovereignty. This has been so from the foundation, when the big five retained for themselves the power of veto in the Security Council. The road to a world civilisation and paradise on earth lies through the formation of a world democratic state.

This body will be responsible, first of all, for world peace. It would control the only legitimate armed forces in the world. They would consist of, say, 100,000 professional troops, drawn from all regions and ready to fly at short notice to any part of the world. Apart from them the national police forces would be sufficient to enforce law and order.

Warren Wagar, in his 1971 book, sketched an outline of this future world state as he saw it, which he described as unitary, democratic, socialist and liberal. He assumed that by the time of its formation we might have a world population of 12 billion. It would be governed by a world assembly of 800 members, and a world council of 25 people chosen by the world assembly. They would have responsibility not only for world peace, but also for the control of world health, the management of air quality, the distribution of water, and all other ecological issues, which can never be confined to national boundaries. In this respect, the way has already been pioneered by the World Health Organisation, as one of the more successful activities of the UN.

Because we humans are still committed to national states we jealously guard our national sovereignty and regard the idea of a world state as carrying the threat of a world dictatorship. There is little doubt a world state could easily turn into a dictatorship, human nature being what it is. That is why its establishment and stability would be dependent on the necessary democratic safeguards. These in turn would depend on the human race reaching a state of democratic maturity. To nurture this we need the evolution of some kind of global culture.

A global culture

Every society is held together by its culture – that is, a cohesive pattern of ideas, values and practices which all share. A world society would be no exception. For any future planetary civilisation to evolve, it must possess its own recognisably distinctive common culture. This would not necessarily obliterate the past cultures but it would relativise them to the status of sub-cultures. Global culture would incorporate all the human values we share by virtue of our common humanity.

In New Zealand and elsewhere we have been learning the dangers of cultural chauvinism, by which we used to take for granted that our own culture was clearly the highest and truest form of human culture. The process of globalisation is already hastening the decay of the traditional cultures, and has made it impossible to prevent the traditional cultures from interpenetrating one another.

We have been coming to accept cultural pluralism and to use such terms as “bicultural” and “multicultural”. This is the first step towards the evolution of planetary human culture, but cultural pluralism in itself does not go far enough. The sense of ultimate authority which used to make us feel completely confident about our own culture, and which we have lost in cultural pluralism, must be rediscovered in something larger. It is this sense of ultimate authority which provides human motivation. We shall find it again in the global culture which will evolve in response to all those things which threaten the future of the human race. The global culture, drawing from all the best that humans have achieved in their past cultures, will also rediscover the experience of faith, which will enable them to go forward into the future.

A global faith

What could a global faith be? The spirituality of the future cannot yet be adequately described. It will not be based on any one race or ethnic tradition, as religion was in the pre-Axial age; it must arise from and involve the whole human race. It will not come from some supernatural source, as Axial religions were believed to do. It will need to be naturalistic and humanistic in origin and form.

As I have said in the last chapter of The World to Come, the raw material of the spirituality of the coming global culture will consist of a growing awareness of the human predicament, an appreciation of humanity’s dependence on the earth, and a willingness to act jointly in response. Certainly it will draw much value from past cultures, and particularly from the Judeo-Christian culture, simply because that is what brought the modern global world into being. As yet, however, this global faith is only in its embryonic stage.

No time to lose

I have attempted to sketch the road that could lead us to a future paradise on earth. Whether the road will be marked by a slow yet painful evolution, or whether it will lead us through unthinkable catastrophes, we do not know.

What we can venture to say is that the longer we delay the natural growth of a global economy, the establishment of a world state, and the evolution of a global culture, the more likely we shall be to unintentionally increase the chances of one or more global catastrophes.

So what are the chief obstacles which are currently holding us back on the road? To those we finally turn.